Monday, August 31, 2009

What gives?

You might have noticed of late the posts here have been somewhat middle of the road forays into the day to day activities of Coffeewallah-land. There's been an absence of commentary about the state of the country, the news, in fact anything that could raise the level of one's blood pressure or cause offence. In fact, this has not been about apathy, it has been a deliberate experiment in 'positive living".

What in heck is that you might wonder? Or more to the point, have I finally lost my mind? Well, I've never claimed to be normal so there might be some small insanity going on but after the crazed intensity of the early part of this year, I thought that I'd give what a friend of mind calls "being positive" a try. That is, always looking to find the good in everything, taking every situation as it is and not getting caught up in the emotion etc. It's been an interesting experiment, one that in a way has been good and in others, has made me understand that medication is not the only way you can duck responsibility for yourself.

Now other than a long standing addiction to caffeine, a newer hang-up on Reese's peanut butter cups and a habit of talking to my dog I would say that geezer-dom has been wholly embraced. I've gone from having a circle of friends and plans most evenings to coming straight home from work and settling down to a quiet evening with my book, the dog and the tv. It's not a bad existence and I'm not a hermit by any stretch of the imagination, I've still got friends, I still go out from time to time but truthfully, only when I really want to instead of feeling like I have to. So far so good. Now, just to conquer the personality quirks.

Anyway, the theory of positive living was to always approach life looking at the good things, seeing only the good in people, being upbeat all the time, in short being one of those people who sometimes make you want to beat your head against the wall in the hope that they go away because they are so constantly upbeat. One of the things you very quickly learn while on anti-depression medication is that you feel nothing or you feel everything. It is artificially induced well being where there are no highs nor lows, life tumbles along in somewhat oblivion. It is unnatural and after a while, despite how "good" things are, you long for something else. Some people might call it self destructive but as my counselor pointed out, it might also be a part of being human. What can I say, all that goodness was quite frankly, tiresome. Now there is nothing wrong with being positive and always looking at the bright side or whatever but in truth it is another way to not take responsibility for yourself, in long, there must be some middle road. What do I mean? Well, if you constantly dress things up all the time you only see the things you want to see and sometimes, fail to see the situation for what it is. Or worse, in your well meaningness, you belittle or play down someone else's right to express themselves authentically. If you constantly tip toe around always going with the flow, you never take a stand, you never acknowledge that something is not right or that it could be better. You never innovate because you're too busy pointing out that "everything happens for a reason" or that "you are where you're supposed to be", instead of maybe asking, "what the hell was the reason for this" or "screw it, this pisses me off". You're right, everything happens for a reason, maybe that reason is to question, to exercise free will or just to make you appreciate what you have or to make you want to do better.

I don't know, the answers are somewhere out there in between. But if it means that I've got to give up seeing the things that are not working and commenting on them, well, maybe this is not for me. Because sometimes, all it takes is one person saying might just be you.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why would you want to read this...

Sweat is trickling along my shoulder blades and between my breasts, prickly heat raised along my arms. It is sticky, humid, outside a breeze stirs but all that is blowing is hot air. The brief interlude of rain earlier in the afternoon has only raised the heat. This situation is not helped by an intensive session of elliptical walker and resistance bands, cooling down will take a while.

The bout of exercise was really to counteract the after effects of a late lunch of stewed chicken and red beans, admittedly not cooked at home. The heat of the day negated any desire to spend time in the kitchen, which incidentally gets heat reflected from the roof next door. At first there’d been some guilt, of late the kitchen has seen little cooking and a combination of take out boxes or quickie meals cobbled together. Cereal can fill many roles and sadly, I’ve let it. Crap that; the chicken quietly thawing on the sink was unceremoniously bunged back into the fridge, much to the disgust of the hound, living in hope that it would have been forgotten upon hearing the jingle of house keys knocking against the car key. Sadly for him, mummy remembered and returned to safely tuck it away, maybe tomorrow.

The heat in the car almost derailed the process, even with the air con cranked up, the steering wheel was not pleasant and the sun beating mercilessly down through the windscreen caused a vampire like hissing and thoughts of shriveling up and blowing away as dust. This is when you know you’ve become an old geezer; the temperature gauge read 34.5 degrees outside. I know it wasn’t that hot on a regular basis when I was a kid, 34 degrees was usually a high, of late, it’s the standard. Of course this, the last weekend before school re-opens would either have been spent outside running around or on the beach, burning to a crispy brown one last time. Now, my thoughts turned to swiftly acquiring the goods and returning home and maybe eating in the shower, the only cool room in the house!

The roads were strangely empty for a long weekend, the only place with lots of cars, the supermarket car park, stocking up for school? Maybe everyone was still in Tobago, Great Race weekend they’d all be trying to get back today. Lot’s of people in Creole Cuisine, seems none of wanted to cook in the heat, at 2:00 however, the choices limited having been raided by the smart people who’d decided earlier to err on the side of no stress Sunday lunch. Goods in hand, back into the car hoping that it had not had time to heat up again. No digressions, it was straight home out of the sun again. The stewed chicken was tender, nicely browned, the beans floury, with lashings of Allana Stuart’s pimento sauce it made a lovely meal. If you’ve never had it, pimento sauce is a piquant sauce with body, made from flavour not hot peppers. It adds a little kick that enhances the flavour of the food without being overpowering like pepper sauce.

It is still hot, even as night falls and the day’s heat slowly relieved by a cooling breeze. It is amazing that the hound, covered in thick fur still hopes that we will play ball, I cannot believe that he wants to run around. He is panting in the heat, his water bucket supplemented by the occasional ice cube as a treat. All I want to do is veg, not moving with my book for company. He’ll have to settle for lying in front of the fan. Tomorrow is Independence Day, happy 47th Trinidad and Tobago!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Dog Catcher

There is a little black, furry cur that hangs out on the pavement near to my office; I pass him on the way to work, most mornings he’s lying on his side in the shade of the tree. He is a scrofulous, scabby sort, but something about him, makes me pause for a second look. On the occasions when his eyes are not tightly shut against the intrusion of morning, the look he gives me makes me want to sweep him up and hide him from the danger that lurks. He was a member of a larger pack of abandoned dogs that congregated on the front of the library building but now, he is all alone, the others are gone.

It happened a couple of weeks ago. Late one evening, after the streets had grown quiet, after the hectic rush of traffic had gone and all that was left were the few stragglers, making their way in the twilight. That evening I was without my parking lot comrade, the pair of us usually left behind after most of the rest of the office has gone for the day would make the trek to the silent, forbidding car park together. He had stayed behind to finish something and I was too hungry to wait for him. In the half light, the streets were eerie, like something in a movie or reminiscent of something you read.

A clanking, grinding noise heralded the arrival of the pickup dragging behind it, a cart, covered in BRC wire. There coming slowly up the street, the City Dog Catcher on the prowl; it was a Dickensian moment, the poor benighted souls trapped within the confines of the cage being carted off to the workhouse. Except, in this case, it was the furry denizens abandoned by their humans who were encaged. Strangely, they suffered their fate in silence, nary a bark nor even whimper from any of them as though all resigned to their sinister fate. We know there is no animal rehabilitation in Trinidad. It froze my soul, as many pairs of eyes stared at me, not accusingly but with a wary look that said, could you have been my master. The pack that for weeks had greeted my passing them by with varying degrees of tail wagging or hopeful looks that said, “do you have any food”. Who banded together and would be seen grooming each other, sleeping in a heap, or just hanging out, like men in a rum shop.

Their grubby countenances, these orphans, several with matted fur, maybe never knowing the reassuring touch or affection of a human, and their eyes, sadness, resignation, incomprehension. In those moments as the vessel of doom drove past, I thought of my pampered pooch, who at that moment was probably lying happily on the bed, waiting patiently for me to come home, to go walkies, maybe toss around his ball. His body, a transport of joy at the sound of the key in the lock; for these poor characters it was the end of the road. In my guilt that I could not offer any consolation, I scurried across the road, but there was no escape, there it came clanking past again. Sitting calmly on the floor, a little fluffy character, his fur stained grey from lack of care, the kind of dog you see in the homes of the wealthy and yet, he had become a street dog, A victim of circumstance. I confess, things were different, they would have been a different result, but I've learnt the hard way, I cannot save everybody.

In the long traffic ridden drive home, there was much time for introspection. The image of those dogs stayed with me a long time, yet another example of the randomness of life. How easily we could slip from one position to another.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rain, rain

The smell permeates my sleep, tickling at the edge of memory; one that goes back so far that it seems that is has always been there. In the half sleep, half wake state of early morning, struggling to get my eyes open as an impatient dog does the dance of “ I have to go out, I have to go out”, the aroma is a reminder of good things, of days long past.

For the past two or three days there have been whiffs of it, the sweet, banana-ey smell of ripe plantains being fried against a richer backdrop, the aroma of dirt soaked and wet trees. It is the smell of rainy days, of coming home to a warm kitchen, counters covered in flour, the hiss and spit of hot oil in a battered black frying pan, the vibrant yellow turning golden brown with blackened edges, a quick drain before being stuffed into the fluffy white saada roti and handed over to waiting hands.

If like me, you are life-long sufferer of “sinus” attacks, your sense of smell is always compromised by the lingering nasal drip and blockages that remove most of your olfactory responses. Since eating is a sensory pleasure that involves all the senses, the loss of one can make things sometimes, less so. And yet, almost thirty years later, there are some smells that remain, that are so evocative that the merest twitch of a nose and fleeting whiff, are enough to transport, to visualize, and to remember. These smells are so inextricably intertwined that they are not a logical progression, they just are.

August was the month that we were all at home, “summer camp” meant weeks at my Granny’s house, endlessly riding bicycles up and down the yard or the back street, climbing trees, getting dirty, causing mayhem and generally getting into trouble. My mother used to apply for her vacation, my granddad too. Granny, who’d already had a month of us driving her nuts would breathe a sigh of relief and resign herself to whatever entertainment Pappy planned.

August is the month of rain in Trinidad, huge, droplets falling from the sky, sometimes a warm gentle shower but mostly pounding torrential downpour, cold rain that comes from high up. Being locking indoors with everybody was frustrating. As a child, I never met a rain puddle that didn’t say, “ jump in me!” The odd thing was that if you parked me with a stack of books, I would happily read away the day, living in my own little dream world, a state that persists today. It’s my brothers who would instigate the trouble. Playing in the rain, freedom from the fetters of adults, clothes sticking to your body, dancing in the droplets or being pelted by them, eventually being so cold that you went indoors to receive your scolding secure in the knowledge that you’d do it again.

The smell of rain, before, a heavy lingering smell, full of promise, rainy-ness, of mysterious green things, after a downpour, newness, wet earth and trees, fecundity. After the rain the place would look as though it had been washed, shininess, the plants acid green, the sky bright, even when covered still in grey clouds. The evening smells after a day of rain, of cocoa or Horlicks, fried plantains and bakes, tomato choka, stewed chicken leftover from lunch, hops and cheese and always, the promise in the nose of rain waiting to come while we, tucked up in our houses, snug against it, ate and laughed, got scolded and slept, twitching in our dreams, of playing in the rain.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cooking for life

Spending Sunday morning cleaning the stove is one way to get into a meditative state, largely because looking at what one is scrubbing can be kind of gross. Especially when you consider that what is coating the stove might in fact also be coating your insides. Not pleasant unlike the steak devoured happily, stewed chicken as indicated by the brownish crusty stain on the otherwise white enamel and other sundry remains of meals cooked and eaten since the last time the stove was cleaned.

Generally West Indian kitchens are often covered in a sticky residue near to the stove and on the ceiling as is discovered when you try to re-paint the walls et al. West Indian and East Indian cookery often involves a lot of browning things in hot oil, searing in hot oil on high heat, long cooking with sputtering sauce everywhere. That residue is left by fat granules adhering to every surface requiring constant scrubbing with abrasive grease cutting detergents which take the skin off of one's fingers. Ah, the joys of cooking. Once upon a time, my kitchen was the scene of much cooking for Sunday lunches with friends or dishes to be frozen for other friends who were unfamiliar with a stove. That all went the way of when I realised that my entire weekend revolved around the kitchen, preparing for the meal, cooking the meal, cleaning up after the meal. Oh yes, what fun, for everybody else but the cook!

Needless to say, I love reading about food, experimenting in the kitchen and generally trying new gastronomic delights. My shelves are littered with books by cooks, chefs, food editors and restauranteurs. Currently I'm reading "My Life in France" by Julia Child. Mrs. Child a french method cook famous for introducing the technique to the average American housewife in her cooking shows and books, was an unlikely hero. These days when everyone on the Food Network is coiffed, made up and reality TV friendly to death, Mrs Child, 6'2', a halo of red hair and a rather high pitched voice was different, but the woman could cook and she was actually fun to watch! FYI, read the book, it's more entertaining than Meryl and Amy trying to be Julie and Julia.

Last evening, while watching TV there was a programme on two people, one a raw food proponent and the other a calorie counter on a reduced calorie diet. The aim of both parties, to live longer. Now I have nothing against vegans and other people who watch what they eat. I watch what I eat too, I just like it to taste, look and smell good. Truthfully, watching the raw food guy who happens to be a long distance runner did not encourage conversion to the green sludge which he loudly proclaimed, YUMMY! That fresh chard and broccoli might have benefitted from a quick saute in some good olive oil to be paired with a delicately prepared fillet of fish all washed down with a crisp Pinot Grigio. Frankly, the sludge looked gross, like something you might have scraped up from the bottom of an old water tank and his appearance did not help, pale, fleshless, with sunken eyes, he vaguely resembled a refugee as did the reduced calorie couple. They went on and on about living longer to the point of nausea. I just wanted them to shut up because they were boring as hell and for all their protestations they did not appear to be enjoying themselves. Guy Fieri on an hour later was much more entertaining and that dude looks like he really, really enjoys food.

It is instructive to note than many gastronomes, on a steady diet of butter, wine and other forbidden things lived to a ripe old age, Mrs. Child was in her eighties. Seeing my Auntie Enid, an octogenarian trying to get around has not inspired me to want to live to "ripen" into that kind of old age. Sure, I like being healthy and want to be around for quite a while; I exercise, I avoid margarine, fake sugar and all those other genetically engineered foods for the real thing which I then eat in moderation. Okay, there is the coffee and chocolate thing but that's my business.

What's my point? Nothing really, this was just my distraction from cleaning the kitchen so that I could put it back together to get Sunday lunch going. A nice roast chicken, yes with the skin on, oven roasted potatoes and carrots (strategically placed under the chicken to be self basting) and a tomato/basil/crumbled feta cheese salad with balsamic dressing, all washed down with some Chardonnay. Mmmm, good.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Walking in the park and reminiscing

Well maybe not. If you read this blog you'd have realised that I've been on a personal journey for the last year and what a ride it's been. The question came up whether or not this blog should go on...there are so many things I want to write about but, in the course of changing my life, it's getting more and more difficult to carve out the space to write here too. Most days the last thing I want to do is boot up the computer and write after a long day at the office.

Until yesterday when the Bookman and Adele reminded me once again why we blog. Thanks guys. In the coming weeks I hope to share some of the work that I'm doing towards a larger piece, Notes from Paradise, that I'm working on. You've already seen some of it, the bits on the market, Woodford Square, thumbnail studies really. Here's one:

"Do you know that the Beatles came to Trinidad? No, really, they did, somewhere in the early sixties and there are pictures to prove it. It’s one of those really well-kept open secrets of this little island. Noel Norton took the pictures of the Fab Four on some or other beach with then Prime Minister, Dr. Eric Williams and his young daughter, Erica. It is impossible to imagine that they, the most successful, recognized group of the time managed to slip in and out of the country with nary a person noticing. But it did happen, yes, I’ve seen the pictures and they are real.

The pictures were commissioned by the Tourism Development Authority of the day and the prints are probably now moldering away somewhere if they haven’t already been thrown out. They were part of a repository of hundreds of images relating to this country’s heritage. Sadly many of the photographers are now either deceased or so old that they’ve been relegated to the retirement pile but these people managed to document some of the most wonderful things about Trinidad and Tobago. It is mind boggling that they are all hidden away somewhere and not on display.

It was almost an accident, that they came across my desk in a stack of material that I was cataloguing. At first there was some mild skepticism and then another look. Sure enough it was them, Mr. Norton confirmed it a year or so later when interviewed for a piece that I was writing. "