Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Market days

Have you ever had a ripe mango? Peeled it with your teeth, tugging at the leathery skin to reveal the soft, glistening yellow flesh beneath. Digging in, the sticky juice running lazily across your chin, fingers and down towards your elbow as arms held away from your body to let it drip to the ground. The mango is soft and sweet against your tongue, better if it warm from sitting in the sun, the sugars developing, not cloying, just a piece of goodness. Sucking on the seed to get every bit of it off.

Now you might be offended by this description but there is a huge amount of sensory pleasure to be gained from food eaten with your hands. In my family, as children we were fortunate enough to have had access to fruit trees which we plundered with impunity, sometimes eating the unwashed fruit while still up the tree. It was magical, fruit eaten at its peak, not shrink wrapped, under-ripened science specimens from the grocery or quailed from long periods sitting in the blazing sun by the side of the road.

They say that you never miss what you never had, one trip to the market in Tunapuna was enough to awaken all those old memories, before the suit and heels, before eating with your hands was a no-no. Well sometimes depending. Tunapuna market is an interesting place, sorry, no pictures, forgot the camera. It’s now all housed indoors but it used to spill out on to the road and pavements, taking on a life of it's own apart from the chaos that was the Eastern Main Road. For years it existed as a loose amalgamation of stalls knocked out of spare pieces of wood and old corrugated galvanized iron for cover or bags spread out as buffer between the produce and the surface below. A place where farmers from the surrounding districts would come to sell their produce plucked from their gardens in time for market day. It was also inhabited by a host of characters who harked their wares in loud voices “tomatoes, fifty cents a pound. Come here!” The doubles men used to stand outside the gates so that you could get your morning breakfast as you left to go home bag bulging with goodies.

It’s been a really long time since tomatoes were that price and the market is all in the concrete building but the stalls have not changed all that much. You could always buy whatever you wanted in the weekend market, even clothing. The piles of fresh vegetables are all still there but these days it’s also bootleg DVD’s and CD’s and other sundry items. Don't be fooled by the technology, it’s still all cash transactions and surprisingly many of the same familiar faces albeit older.

Threading your way through throngs of people all looking for a bargain, bags slapping their sides, eyes eager. Squeezing an eggplant for firmness, picking up handfuls of peppers, green beans or plantains to be weighed. Rows and rows of canary yellow bananas or the succulent red flesh against pale green of a just cut ripe watermelon. Mouth watering, planning Sunday lunch as you go. Maybe some knobby sweet potatoes with their purple skin lightly coated with dirt as though just pulled up that morning or fresh dark leaved spinach. Mounds of fluorescent green lettuce or crisp watercress continuously sprinkled with water to keep it fresh begging to be taken home.

The meat and fish section removed so that the smells don’t overpower you. Mostly it’s pretty clean and “orderly”, sure, it’s no HiLo, but at every turn there is an adventure in cooking waiting to happen. What’s that odd looking vegetable? Don’t know, ask the vendor and you’ll get a lecture on what it is, how it’s grown and how to cook it. See, you don’t need google all the time.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Don"t stop till you get enough

You didn't think you were going to get away so easy did you. Of course there was going to be a blog on Michael, how could there not be. Michael Jackson was the defining voice of my generation. Like Elvis in the fifties, the Beatles in the sixties, MJ was the eighties. Watching the media hysteria unfold in the wake of his passing has been close to that when Princess Diana died in 1997. Everybody is clamouring for the inside story, every piece of his life is being picked over, again and again. His weirdness, his popularity, all the allegations, his spending, his life still under the microscope as it had been for his whole life. If you were in any doubt as to his popularity, his death caused the internet to overload, Google to freeze and YouTube to crash.

It is apparent looking at the mounds of footage being aired, that Michael Jackson, for all his money and fame, was a profoundly sad, lonely individual. As with the J.M. Barrie character Peter Pan, here is a man who never grew up. Put on stage at five by his ambitious father, it was the beginning of a life where he was constantly exploited by the people around him. If you look at his behaviour he wavers between boy and man, as though knowing he was supposed to act like a "grown up" but not quite knowing what it meant. And how could he, he's been "handled" all his life by various minders. If you look past the weirdness though, you will come to appreciate the consummate performer and know that the like will never pass this way again.

It was 1979, Off the Wall was released, we all knew who MJ was, he and his brothers were famous as the Jackson Five but this was something else. Off the Wall rapidly became the most played album at parties, school bazaars and the like. Long before YouTube, iPods and even MTV which did not make it's debut until three years later; CD's were still in their infancy and you bought vinyl which was by no means cheap. One of the guys in the class above mine had it and made his friends really happy ripping copies onto cassettes. We were pirates even then. It was my first year in high school, there are still a lot of good memories of that album and in case you hadn't guessed, Don't Stop till You Get Enough is one of my favourite songs of all time.

In those days Michael Jackson was still a black guy with an afro, but you know, it didn't matter everyone loved his music regardless of colour, class or geographic location. Much has been written by people infinitely more qualified than me about his talent, dynamism as a performer etc. , for my generation, he was a good time. As time wore on, his fame grew with the release of Thriller and then Bad. He was the face of the MTV generation, he pioneered the artform of music videos and his quickly became legends, short films using real directors, elaborate sets and story lines. Sure he was somewhat weird. In hindsight it can be seen that he was mentally ill but who wouldn't be under all that scrutiny. The pressure to top yourself over and over again. Think about it. Living in a glass bowl cannot be fun. His eccentricities became more and more pronounced, the chimp, his skin colour, he rapidly degenerated into a caricature, parodied mercilessly even as people wanted to be seen with him. The allegations of sexual abuse were the final straw and his popularity waned. Ironically, the very people who pilloried him were the people who did not question why an adult would blithely leave their children for unsupervised sleepovers with a grown man. MJ was bewildered by his treatment, he couldn't tell what he had done wrong but really had he? The doubt exists today, was it all a scam to get his money?

Admittedly I was a Prince fan, that weirdness more compatible with my own sensibilities, but the magic of MJ was undeniable and I confess you will find the music is in my iTunes library; a couple of nights ago while reminiscing several of us found out that we could do the Thriller dance. It amazing how many people talking about him, everywhere you went this weekend people had an MJ story irrespective of age, my friends kids who weren't even born in his heyday were crying having discovered him all over again twenty something years later. Grannies were talking about seeing him perform as a child at the Queen's Park Savannah and I have a memory of my mother singing along to Billie Jean before she died. He touched many lives with his work and gave many people a lot of happiness. And for that alone, Michael Jackson will be remembered fondly for a long, long time. Go listen to Man in the Mirror and ask yourself how you want to make a change.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Return of the Dragon Lady

For the last two years that this blog has been going, it’s written on a Mac laptop. If you’ve ever seen the Mac ads with Justin Long personifying a Mac computer and some uptight dude a PC and you read this space, you might have a picture of the author. Ironically, the Coffee blog was started to fill the void left when my favourite bookshop closed after eleven years.

A Different View was where I came into my own. It was the shop that gave me the freedom to process and grow; the books, conversations and most of all, friendships were a huge part of my life. When the owner decided that her life needed to take another path, many of us, though happy for her, were left wondering, what next? The happy, loud Saturday limes with Stuart, Richard, Adele and the other transients who came and went were the mainstay of our week; it was here that ideas got tossed around, we talked about everything under the sun and explored our creativity. It was our home away from home. Two years later we still have not found a place to call our own and have resorted to e-mails, phone calls, gallery crawling and the occasional lime at someone’s house, but it is not the same. The shop was a special time and place and we’ve all had to acknowledge that we were lucky to have had it.

Living a creative life is not easy. Like any other profession, there are the days when you don’t want to get up and go to work. When you work as an artist, writer etc, you can’t exactly call in sick and not go to work, most times, the work does not wait for you and you aren’t paid if you’re not working. Most people think if you’re doing creative things that you float around, being all arty farty and it’s all wonderful, it is not. There is nothing worse than sitting staring at a blank page, blinking cursor, deadline looming and knowing, that you don’t have an idea in your head but you need to come up with one, fast. There are the days when the words flow, faster than your fingers can hit the keys but they’re all crap…of course, there are the times it’s almost as bad as giving birth, each word painfully yanked by its roots, painfully strung together to form coherent sentences. Forget paragraphs, you’d settle for sentences but nothing doing. Needless to say, now that this is not my life, I miss it like hell, the urge to create is still there simmering under the surface.

Lately, it’s been a challenge to write. Not that there is nothing to say, there is always something to say but there must be a balance so that the blog does not turn into a space that exists only to complain. Because in the end, this is not the reason for being, it is about living at least part of my life in a creative way. That was what drove my pardner Slacker and I to challenge each other to write, the almost urgent need to one up each other morphing into some really good stuff. Sadly, something we haven’t done that much of late. Life intrudes. Coffeedude asked weeks ago about the return of the Dragon Lady, well now you know. It is a titanium MacBook Pro with a blank page and blinking cursor.