Little known fact: In a former life, I was an event planner.
I’ve always loved party planning, even before I got paid to do it. The creativity, the organizing, the execution. I love it. And I used to do it. A lot. And along the way I amassed an arsenal of party supplies. Chafing dishes, décor, lighting, and on and on. If there was an occasion that even suggested a celebration, I was on it. Fully locked and loaded with everything you’d need. Superbowl parties, graduation galas, birthdays, anniversaries. Hell, even middle of the week dinner parties. You name it, I planned it. Then hosted it.
But I left my party planning days behind when I moved to this tiny, laid-back rock in the Caribbean. Partly because planned events aren’t really a thing here (and I didn’t want to re-create my old life here anyway). But also because I only shipped five medium size Home Depot boxes containing the bare “essentials” when I expatriated. Catering supplies certainly did not make that list. (Although in hindsight, perhaps a chafing dish would have been more practical than, say, a black feather boa. Less fun, surely, but far more practical. Hindsight, always 20/20.)
Sadly, all those things it took decades to collect were left in the custody of my ex (let’s call him Lou*). What happened to all my stuff after I left remains a mystery to this day, as Lou and I don’t really keep in touch. Or speak at all. (Yeah, unfortunately, it was that kind of breakup.) But if I had to guess, I imagine that Lou hosted a very large backyard bonfire shortly after my departure, fueled exclusively by all the things I left behind. It’s just something he would do. Right after he held his divorce party.
But I digress…back to the topic of THIS blog…
There has been no serious party planning for nearly six years here in paradise. But then something funny (in a surreal sort of way) happened recently. I realized I was turning 50.
Ok, obviously I knew the day was coming, so it wasn’t a surprise in the conventional sense. What I mean is that I finally came to terms with the fact. It took awhile, but it finally happened. Eventually.
And once acceptance occurred, I decided that if anything merited a full-blown extravaganza…this was it. And truth be told, I sort of miss planning parties. This was the perfect excuse to throw a real shindig. (Plus, the past few weeks in the Caribbean have not been kind to anyone, and I needed a diversion.)
So I went into full-blown event planner mode. On an accelerated schedule. Because this epiphany hit one week before the big day. One week on island time is like 1 day (1 minute?!) in the real world, because everything here happens poco poco. But I wasn’t letting that stop me. I am, after all, an experienced professional. I laugh at island time (said in my bravest voice)!
And one of the first decisions I made was that I absolutely needed a fancy cake. (This was, in no small part, fueled by the sight of a fancy wedding cake at a reception I recently attended. I was craving a spectacular fondant creation for my own party, and damn it, I will NOT be denied! Because…50!!!) Admittedly, I sort of became obsessed with having a fancy cake at my party.
So I frantically started outreach efforts to everyone I know on this rock. Who can make a cake for me? I need names, people! All I can say is thank heavens for Facebook. I found three bakers here (fancy cakes are in serious demand, it seems. Who knew?!). I selected the first one who responded that she could help. Good start! Plus, her Facebook page had loads of images of pretty cakes that, presumably, she created. Delightful! And she was available on short-notice. I can almost taste the cake of my dreams!
Then, because this is still an island and nothing ever goes smoothly, came the first bump in the road. After sending her a picture of what I was envisioning (see the above vision of sophisticated simplicity), she messaged me back with disturbing news. Our online exchange went something like this:
Fancy Cake Baker: Thanks for the photo. But I’ve never seen black cupcake papers here. (Shit…of course not…this is still a tiny Caribbean island. What was I thinking?)
Me: Oh, darn. I was really hoping to do a whole black & white theme. But I understand (she’s the expert, after all…I shall defer to her wisdom). How about gold?
Fancy Cake Baker: Zilver. (My Dutch is not amazing, but I believe this is silver. Well done, me!)
Me: No gold available at all? (Still trying to salvage my dreams.)
Fancy Cake Baker: Zilver. (Silver it is, then.)
Me: Right…ok, silver it is. I’ll do a black, white and silver theme. (Because I’m a flexible Island Girl…roll with the punches and all that. I’ve learned the hard way that it is best not to hold too tightly to any preconceived notions here.)
Fancy Cake Baker: Do you have a cake stand? (Wait, wouldn’t that come with the cake I’m paying a fortune for?)
Me: No (ruefully thinking to myself, hell yeah, I had like six cake stands…once…in another life). Maybe you have one I can rent or use?
Fancy Cake Baker: No. (Say what?)
Me: Ok, I can figure something out. No problem. (Frantically start scanning my kitchen to see what I could MacGuyver into a cake/cupcake display.)
Fancy Cake Baker: Try XYZ Baking Supplies, they have baking things. (You don’t say.)
Me: Ok, great. Thanks! I’ll go there Monday first thing. (Rearranges work day in head.)
And we went on to sort out price and payment and all the boring details not germane to this story.
I then checked “fancy cake” off my To Do list, and headed to XYZ Baking Supplies first thing Monday morning to get my cake stand. By this point, my desire to have a fancy cake has overtaken my entire existence and is now bordering on an unhealthy obsession. Could the identity of this whole party revolve around a fancy cake? It was starting to look that way.
But let’s focus on the sweet part of this story rather than my unhealthy obsessions, shall we? Let’s focus on the thing that happened that made me reconsider my island’s rather undeveloped status. The thing that challenged my assumptions that life here is, as I have occasionally and fondly referred to it, second-world chic. The thing that suggested my little, backwater rock is growing up.
As it turns out, XYZ Baking Supplies is a party planner’s heaven! Seriously. It is jam packed with everything and anything I might need to throw the soiree of my dreams. I had to sort of pinch myself to ensure I was still on my rock and had not been transported during the short, air conditioned car ride to a strange, unfamiliar land – one chock full of resources. Or that I wasn’t suffering heat-induced delusions (35C will do that to a girl). Because before me were resources never before known to me on this rock.
It was party manna from heaven around every corner. Beverage dispensers that keep your batch drinks chilled until poured? Check. Chafing dishes? Of course. Professional-grade food coloring? Hell, yeah! Four types of cake stands? Oh, which one to chooooooose.
And then…the ultimate surprise…a very large, colorful rotating display of cupcake accoutrement. Seriously, everything you’d ever need to make the cupcakes of your dreams existed on that display – including…wait for it…black cupcake papers. Front and center. Like six packs of them. 24 count each. (Right next to the gold ones, as it happens.)
Which begs the question of just how often my chosen fancy cake baker actually ventures to XYZ Baking Supplies. I mean, smart-ass me might wonder why, as an advertised fancy cake maker, she is not fully acquainted with the baking supplies at this magical retail outlet. After all, this rock is exceptionally tiny, so you quickly get to know the stores that sell the stuff you need on the daily.
I briefly entertained these thoughts, but then decided against any further snarky thinking. Because of all the island life lessons I have learned so far, one that sunk in pretty fast (and the hard way) is that being a smart ass gets you nowhere really fast on this rock.
So instead, I simply snapped a pic of me gleefully clutching the treasured black cupcake papers and sent it to her with a message along the lines of: Yay! Look what I found! I will buy these and drop them off for you to use. I’m so excited I found these! Isn’t this great?!?!
Her response did not appear to match my level of blissful enthusiasm. I merely received a thumb’s up.
Which highlights another island truism. As an island transplant, you will feel an extraordinary sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when you are able to achieve things here that by mainland standards would seem like a no-brainer. Such as finding something you once thought as rare as a unicorn or central airco on your rock. But when you share your enthusiasm with a seasoned islander or – even more dramatic – a local, they don’t quite grasp your amazement and wonder. Instead they view you as rather simple and childlike, I think.
But, to carry on with my euphoric high (because positive trumps negative every time), I am choosing to go out on a limb and believe that in a few days, I will be in possession of the fancy cake of my dreams accompanied by stunning white frosted cupcakes in designer black paper. Fingers crossed!
* names have been changed to protect the guilty