I was looking at a tourist map of Saint Lucia the other day and was amazed to find the Cloud’s Nest Hotel was still marked. Memories flooded my mind and I was immediately tempted to get into the car, drive down south and check the place out.
According to the map, the Cloud’s Nest Hotel is still situated at the top of the short cul-de-sac opposite Theodore Street, almost at the end of Clarke Street, not far from the Vieux Fort Fishing Complex. Just looking at the map took me back forty years in time to when we used to escape from the Halcyon Days Hotel on an evening, perhaps once a week, and make our way to what was then our favourite restaurant. There weren’t many restaurants around in those days, at least, not as many as today, but the Cloud’s Nest would have stood out no matter how many restaurants there might have been.
Strangely enough, just recently I discovered a small, out of the way restaurant in the north. It’s a gem of a place, not because of its location or its décor, but simply for its food and value for money. It is situated just by the Gros Islet Highway opposite what used to be the Boy Scouts’ Headquarters – perhaps it still is – on the other side of the side road from the Jade Terrace Restaurant by the bus stop. The food is delicious and incredibly good value. The portions are generous. It appears to be a family business – they are of Indian origin, I think – and they have done a great job of creating an oasis of calm right next to the main road behind a screen of palms. They deserve to succeed.
But back to the Clouds’ Nest Restaurant! What a name! Whoever came up with the name deserves a medal. The clouds’ nest! Can you imagine clouds nestling together, soft, white, fluffy, cuddly, calm, secure, right at the top of the short gentle slope.
It was a magical place. You parked your car in the street that appeared like a forecourt and up a couple of steps into what seemed to be a crowded, cluttered living room. We never went there during the day, only in the evening, and my recollection is one of lights, fairy lights, but my memory may be playing tricks on me. Even from the outside, the house looked warm and welcoming.
Once inside, you sat down in an armchair or sofa, or even a hard-backed chair and admired the what seemed to be thousands of photos, cards, pictures, memorabilia that populated the walls and crowded every surface. It was as though a hundred years of family events, personal, private and public were on display.
Eventually someone would appear, more often than not, a woman we took to be the lady of the house, though we never really knew who she was. From the very first time we met, she appeared to know us and welcomed us into her home. A sort of menu appeared and she would help us choose. It was easy really – fish or lobster for the most part.
There were no prices on the menu – that’s how I remember it – and why I remember it so well was that the price varied from time to time even though we almost always ate the same meals and drank the same drinks. I came to the conclusion that the lady operated according to the best principles of market economies – she charged what she thought the customer could pay or what she believed she could get away with.
The more often you came, the more you ate and drank, the higher the bill at the end of the evening. There were no rewards for frequent visits or loyal patronage. The beauty of the thing was that you enjoyed yourself so much it all seemed worth it.
Sometimes, there was a gentleman in the wings – we assumed he was the husband, but we never received any confirmation – and he would sit and chat with us until we were called in to eat in what appeared to be a very compact family dining room that had been cleared to make space for the evening’s guests. The small kitchen was off to the side.
The gentleman appeared to expect us to know him. He might have been a politician, a local official, or even a government minister. I remember him trying to interest me in buying land up by Savannes Bay. Whatever he was, we enjoyed his company, but we never bought the land. Precious memories of a time that now seems too innocent to be real; not once did we worry about security, crime or violence; we just went out for an evening of quiet family fun downtown – now what price that?