La samanna impressions
Texto: Luis Revenga

Sunrise illuminates the sand on the beach of Baie Longue, which seems to stretch out toward infinity. Its soft white sand is the perfect setting.

The clouds that delimit the horizon on slightly overcast days lend vigour and solidity to this extraordinary landscape, creating a romantic scene reminiscent of a painting by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).

In the pond, whirlpools stirred by a cool, gentle breeze bestow a feeling of pleasure, well-being and serenity that slowly increases as they swirl and we listen to the murmur of water and wind.

And then, La Samanna, the hotel we have not built in our imagination, the hotel that is actually there. On these pages it is a real place; it exists. We are not writing the chronicle of a dream.

Pilar Pequeño (PP): It was a privilege to work in those luminous spaces at La Samanna, so full of peace. I gained new insights and feelings and was able to experiment with my work by taking different kinds of photographs. Of course, I can only convey these experiences in black and white; that has always been my way.

But, I point out, advertising, pamphlets, postcards and other material to do with the hotel industry and tourism are always in full colour. We laugh. We are aware that this is how things are and that it may even be the only way to sell a product nowadays.

PP: As I review the material we’re going to use for this book, I feel a certain nostalgia. I remember the beach and the happiness, the exuberance of those dogs that seemed to play with both the light and the sand, that lay placidly sunning themselves or followed me along the beach trying to attract my attention. I lived magical moments there that I would like to be able to communicate to everyone who looks at these pages..

The various buildings in the La Samanna compound, the porches, bedrooms, other indoor and outdoor structures and nooks, and particularly its geographical location (it resembles a set of perfectly mounted refined jewels contained in a magnificent case), nature, that magical part of the Caribbean that is Baie Longue, the group and its arrangement exemplary in their precision,...

PP: At La Samanna you feel so close to nature. This was a special sensation for me in spite of having spent a good deal of my life next to the ocean  you’ll recall that my family is from Galicia on Spain’s north-western coast. I had never been to the Caribbean until I visited the island of St. Martin. Homer’s watercolours had shown me its visual effects and atmosphere: gardens, light, fences, and houses. It all suggests so much and is so full of history.

That is true. The preliminary sketches that always accompany Pilar Pequeño’s photographs reveal a certain admiration for Winslow Homer (1836-1910). In some details of a location, her notes on plants and the final prints (ready to be published or shown at an exhibition), we also observe the influence of Claude Monet (1840-1926), particularly the series of paintings he made during his stay in Giverny. This is clear in the photograph of the whirlpool in the pond (pages xxx) and in that other shot of the gorgeous bulb/palm tree (pages xxx), which is not just the palm tree, even though we see it here removed from its natural environment in La Samanna, the sea and that special light it receives from the sand’s reflection. In this photograph we discover the essence of the palm. A very special palm tree prototype.

Luis Revenga (LR): Does a palm tree become more a palm tree in the Caribbean?

PP:As I said, the Caribbean is its natural environment. The palm trees we dream about are just like that and there they are. It’s like imagining them in paradise. They mark the path to the sea and to the beach where they are located.

LR: And the smell?

PP: That too. It is like the taste of that red cocktail that welcomes you to La Samanna. It is impossible to define, although it will always remain in our visual and taste memories. Fragrances and light made up our first impressions on arrival. The scent was very delicate, the breeze was redolent with soft spicy aromas and all the gardens were illuminated. And the shapes of the flamboyant trees, which are backlit at night so their lovely profiles stand out. It is different in the morning. Caribbean light changes often and that is why it is so interesting to try to capture the various lights and their effects on the sea, the sand, the plants and the porches… Light enters diagonally and low down at dawn, and if we stroll along the beach our footsteps on the sand light up leaving a trail of small half-moon-shaped tracks. That was when I used to start work. And it was during one of these sunrises that I met the dogs that accompanied me every day.

As we can see in this book, with its sequencing of Pilar Pequeño’s photographs, the light is continually changing during the days at La Samanna as the hours pass calmly and quietly by. Sometimes, although rarely, the day is cloudy and the light in the gardens, on the leaves and windows works a spell, particularly if Pilar Pequeño’s camera captures the miracle originating multiple hues of blacks, whites and greys.

LR:Pilar, how do the reds of the flamboyant trees turn out in black and white?

PP: The colour of the flamboyant tree is dream-like. I don’t hesitate to use the word dream when referring to St. Martin and La Samanna. These trees are found all over and they cover the ground and the roads with petals, creating a symphony of reds.

At breakfast we used to sit at a table near a flamboyant tree that seemed to hang over the sea. It is the ideal tree for colour images. There are photographers who work in colour and I really like their work, but in my case I prefer to use the abstraction provided by the absence of colour. When I try to transmit the feelings that an image produces in me, I do so with lights and shadows, chiaroscuro. Black and white emphasises the structure and forms of things and makes them more evocative, heightening their visual effect. Black and white offers me the essence of the Caribbean, of the flamboyant tree and the palm, flower and fruit. Everything here is more intimate. I try to capture this mystery and emotion through insinuations made with light and shadows. For me, the tropics are more tropical and the silence or sound of a wave is greater in black and white.

LR: And the name La Samanna?

PP: I’m glad you asked me that.

And she told me something surprising about the hotel’s name. Like other tales about the island, this one is in the best Caribbean literary tradition. It is like the beginning of a beautiful story. The first owner had three daughters named Samantha, Anouk and Natalie and naturally he loved the three of them equally. To perpetuate their names eternally, he took the initial letters of each and formed the word Samanna, the name the hotel has retained until today.

Pilar Pequeño’s still lifes follow the purest tradition of the great Spanish eighteenth-century painters by analysing lights and shadows and stripping the object of everything superfluous or accessory. She elaborates and reinterprets real images to offer the viewer the essence of a flower or a space. She abstracts colour by substituting it with balanced lights and shadows.

A mysterious fan emerges from the geometry formed by the multiple leaflets of a palm leaf. A wall confirms the eternal validity of the colour white. A porch is equivalent to repose. A chair on a La Samanna porch expresses the spirit of tradition and modernity that characterises the hotel, a prolongation of the splendour, elegance and comforts that fortunate travellers have always enjoyed from the nineteen thirties until the present time.

The history of this Antillean island in the Caribbean corresponds to the literary characteristics of magic realism. It was Christopher Columbus who sighted the island on 11 November 1493, the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, and baptised it in the saint’s honour. Dutch conquerors (1620) were followed by a Spanish reconquest in 1633, and a succession of such adventures caused many a mandatory change in nationality. Finally, however, the inhabitants became solely Dutch and French. On 22 March 1648 the kingdoms of France and Holland signed an agreement that divided the island into two parts. The legend goes that in order to make this division, two citizens, a Frenchman and a Dutchman, started out from the same point and headed in opposite directions around the island. The border was drawn to the point where they met again. It is also said that of the two halves of St. Martin, the French part is larger because the Dutch walker was more prone to drink and not as agile as his French counterpart. The island of St. Martin is approximately 240 km to the east of Puerto Rico. Its main cities are Marigot, on the French side, and Philipsburg, on the Dutch side. Baie Longue is one of its most spectacular beaches.

Despite the exquisite symphony in black and white found in this book, Pilar Pequeño regrets not having been able to offer us the sounds that so moved her during her stay in St. Martin.
Pilar Pequeño, en esta exquisita sinfonía en blanco y negro que supone este libro, siente no poder ofrecernos los sonidos que tanto la conmovieron en su estancia en San Martín.

PP: The sounds  the whispers of small animals, the birds chirping and singing, the murmur of the waves and the wind  these sounds are always with you in St. Martin, causing extraordinarily vivid sensations. Every night when I left my room at the La Samanna hotel, a tiny, strange and lovely bird would be softly singing: cho-wi, cho-wi, cho-wi.

Two dogs run along the Baie Longue beach, trying to outdo each other with their frolics and offering a unique spectacle. The palm tree finds its natural environment in the Caribbean and it highlights and shapes the magical lights of sky and sea on sand.

PP: I couldn’t resist the temptation to install a small studio in my room. I couldn’t stop placing the flowers that I picked in the garden in the shelter and light of that large window. I made still lifes.

Del libro "La Samanna, impresiones ". Editado por La Samanna en 2007.

 

Diseño: Óptima! comunicación visual