Blue: A St. Barts Memoir
powerHouse Books (October 16, 2018). Hard cover, 264 pages, $24.95.
Blue: A St. Barts Memoir is an affectionate, poetic account of the artist's family's annual visits to St. Barthélemy in the French West Indies. As in his popular Paris in Winter, the pages of Blue are full of lyrical writing and vivid watercolors and ink drawings. Coggins and his family have a passion for the simple yet sophisticated pleasures of life on the beautiful French island. That passion is contagious, and the reader is soon caught up in rituals developed and refined over 20 years. Much of it centers around the mountain villa where they stay and the timeless joys of the Caribbean: swimming, reading, sailing, meals overlooking the sea.
Coggins describes the natural world lovingly, and captures it in his drawings—sublime sky and sea, lush tropical gardens, abundant wildlife from iguanas to whales. He writes about social life, about the famous and glamorous but more about people who live on the island, chefs, artists, wine sellers, sailors. Blue is a delight for the eye and the mind, an antidote to the pressures of urban life. It's a deeply personal telling of one family's experiences in an idyllic setting, but Coggins's gifts as storyteller and illustrator, conveyed with humanity and a love of life, make Blue universally enchanting.
“What is it about the beach that makes up happy? What is it about the sand and the waves? Because it returns us to childhood?”
“Tropicbirds with their long elegant tails circle the rocky shoreline.”
“Iguana! It pauses for a moment, aware, it seems, that we are transfixed by its strange prehistoric shape, the power of its otherness.”
“Across a valley, mountains run bumpy as a dinosaur’s back between bowls of cobalt-blue sea.”
“The bright white hacienda-like villa spreads across the hill behind a long railing of balustrades. We love the setting, both wild and quiet. It faces a broad canvas of sea painted in a variety of blues by Homer or Monet, take your pick.”
“Like the Durrells in Corfu, we commingle with nature. Doves fly through the house, kingbirds dip in the pool. Humpback whales spout and splash in the distant blue.”
“The island is a place to read, the sun a lamp, the beach a big bed.”
“Backlit at sunset, the islands are fantastical silhouettes. The sky above the graying sea is pastels of rose, lemon, and apricot, like samples of makeup on a woman’s cheeks.”
“The shrieks of the wild peacocks in the valley are the very opposite of the gentle cooing of the doves along the cliff wall. A rooster crows, baby goats cry, jeeps and scooters honk on the road below. There is the smell of jasmine.”