Monday, February 23, 2009 open

It’s officially Carnival; in the wee hours of the morning, the Mayor of Port of Spain had them fire off the cannons and we were off to two days of official revelry. Jouvert, or day open, from the French, this is Carnival Monday. Though I am inveterate mas peong; I love all things Carnival, Jouvert is my favourite time. As a child it was one of those things denied because of the dirty overtones, I suppose that’s what makes it so appealing. The forbidden.

I love Jouvert because it is so elemental. Standing in the dark chill of the early morning, before the sun comes up to warm the day. Having a cold Carib beer for breakfast even though the more up-market jouvert bands now serve breakfast complete with tea and coffee. Waiting and then there is the mud, glorious mud, slightly warm, anonymous hands slathering every inch of your body. It is like crawling back into the goo from which we emerged, it is not pretty, it is not even particularly pleasant at first, but as the day warms up and the sun rises, with the after burn of the beer coursing through your veins and music in your head you want to dance, dance, dance. It is not the frenetic wining that will come later in the day when you don the pretty costume. It is a slower; more laid back, sinuous winding of your body, usually around the person you’re with, jouvert is never something you do alone. You either go with very good friends or with your lover.

When we produced mas, jouvert was the only time I felt truly free for Carnival, the rest of the time was work. At first, threading my way through the throngs to provide the home viewer with that eagle eye view of Carnival, then later writing for the web while frantically getting stuff on the air and then the years when I ran a mas camp too. If you’re a maker of mas, on the road you belong to everyone and it is very rare that the day is all yours. And so it was for a long time, jouvert was the time to ‘free up’.

So you’d think that having not missed jouvert in years, it is a surprise to note that this is the third year that I’ve not been a participant. When you love someone you make compromises, you learn to live with their foibles, you make allowances. When you love someone who makes you feel bad about yourself, it colours the way you view things, even the things you once enjoyed. One day I know that I’ll return to jouvert but right now, I can’t. This is another thing I let him take, but I’ll find my way back when the time is right. Until then, for jouvert I snuggle deeper in the covers with the hound. We are complicit, he will snuggle making me safe, I will not miss so much the mud.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What's up with that?

We've all seen the news reports of the global economic crisis. Banks, retail businesses, there are no exceptions, every industry is feeling the pinch. Even that king of excess Donald Trump has three casinos filing for bankruptcy for the third time. It's been instructive, at the world economic forum at Davos we learnt that 40% of the world's wealth has been lost. Where did we lose it, under the couch or maybe in we forgot it in our pockets when we did the laundry. The reality is, part of the reason we are in the trouble that we are in is due to a lack of responsibility from the money people, partly through conspicuous consumerism and poor leadership.

Banks have been promoting ways for people to spend money that they don"t have, credit cards with punitive charges, loans on "sale", business' offer buy now pay much later, and keep paying. It's a sad morass and an even worse commentary on our ability as humans to avoid reality. As my old granddad used to say, if you don't have money, why are you going to spend it?

In Trinidad we have our own version of excess. One of the largest insurance companies has hit that wall. This blog was started with a question as to one of the projects funded by this company. It caused quite a stir in some quarters, who knew that anyone read this blog, until that. Anyway, this company has expanded into all manner of things, owning majority shares in the largest bank, an alcohol company, things not related at all to the insurance industry. At the head of this debacle, someone who has taken no responsibility at all. Someone who is basically being left with his personal wealth intact while the taxpayer via Government intervention is bailing him out. It really sticks in my craw, not that I object to the Government moving in and rescuing them, it was the responsible thing to do. This way we avert worse, if the bank had fallen we would have been in deep shit.

There are no easy answers to these issues, it will take a lot of time and patience, many people will go through a really hard time but it's up to us to find the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Carnival in TnT or the curmudgeon strikes again!

Carnival, the annual bacchanalian festival is on the go racing towards two days of revelry in the streets of Trinidad and Tobago. We Trinis talk about the explosion of colour, culture, music etc but what it all comes down to is, Carnival is big business. Fetes costing five hundred dollars and up, mas costumes that are equivalent to a house or car payment, is it all worth bankrupting yourself? To anyone who knows me, reading this would fill them with wonder. Clearly I must be getting old and more curmudgeonly. After all, I am the woman who would spend fourteen to sixteen hours producing some or other Carnival feature, then race off to party before catching a couple of hours sleep, put in some time at the mas camp and then start all over again. What happened you might ask.

I applaud all those soca artistes, mas makers and fete promoters for their embracing of the environmentalist’s challenge to reduce, reuse and recycle. They’ve been doing a marvelous job of this! A week ago, watching the Soca Monarch preliminaries, subjected to the same tired, boring, stupid lyrics and arrangements, I thanked the performers, they’ve saved me a ton of money, I have no desire to go anywhere and have that crap playing in my ears over and over again. Understand, most songsters don’t release an album every year, at least not the really talented ones. They generally take their time, craft their product and then release it. Not soca artistes, they release an album every year, it’s hard to be innovative and creative all the time. What generally happens is the recycling of melodies, pap filled song lyrics and intensive sampling of other people’s work. With the exception of Machel Montano, the product of many soca artistes does not transcend the current year of release. And even Machel has his off days, does anybody remember what he sang last year and how does it stack up to say….Big Truck?

Touring the mas camps have not made it any better, with the average costume costing anywhere upwards of three thousand dollars. For years I played mas, made mas costumes and ran a mas camp. I fail to understand why a costume that I will wear for one day is going to cost more than my car payment. Sure the cost of everything has gone up worldwide, sure the musicians are charging more, and yes security costs but there is a recession going on people. Who the hell is going to be able to sustain this? You’d better find some way to cut your production costs and yes, it is possible, try making a smaller mark-up why don’t you. Because despite all the cries of poverty from bandleaders NONE of them are in this for the fun and games, they all are in it because they make money. Look Brian McFarlane is a personal friend, it does not help that while going through his designs I realized that I probably could dig through the back of my closet and find a few that look exactly the same. Yes, admit it, you’re channeling Minshall because that’s the only person I paid to play mas with, all my other costumes were ‘free’ because I was part of the band machinery.

I fail to understand the lure of the all-inclusive fete, what’s up with that? Women go out and buy and outfit for the occasion, this on top of the ticket price which can range from $400 for the basic fete to $750 for a super, superior event. You stand around with your drink having a social ‘wine’, everybody looking to see who wearing what and who came with whom so they could tell their friends they were there. It’s like a very expensive cocktail party with ear splitting bad music. Fine if you like that sort of thing but you know, $750 gets me two pairs of shoes at the Outlet and I’m going to be wearing them a lot longer than the one night.

So you see folks, even though this is our national festival I’m happily giving it a miss this year, again. I’m really glad I had the times that I did when mas and Carnival were a big part of my life but that chapter is pretty much over, thankfully. My pocket and my knees would probably collapse under the strain now. That’s the nice thing about getting older; it lends a different perspective of what really enjoying something is about. These days I find wielding a glue gun making costumes more fun than wearing one, and really, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Guess that pop personality Rihanna's song was a little too close to home, the singer an alleged victim of domestic abuse by boyfriend Chris Brown. It is distressing for any woman to face this situation but brings home the fact that even the rich and famous are not immune. It is equally sad that the non-white community come under scrutiny again as the usual perpetrators of spousal abuse, remember OJ Simpson?
Spousal abuse is not limited to colour, class, marital status, economic background. It can happen to literally anyone.

Statistics across the globe point to an ever increasing trend of domestic abuse. Is that we're keeping better records, or that more women/men are reporting it or that the numbers are in fact on the increase is not clear. But they are going up. The types of violence vary; physical, psychological, related to power and control issues, sexual, verbal, drug & alcohol related, with related causes. Much research has taken place, papers presented, reports, articles, you name it, people are aware.

It is an academic exercise to wonder what drives people to these ends. Same kind of thing that breeds dictators, warmongers and serial killers. Ultimately it is about power. The question remanins, what do we do about it. Having seen domestic violence close up leaves me to conclude that there are no real answers, just individual solutions that people employ for their own survival.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday, dusting Sunday

Yes, long time no blog. Really, it’s not because I haven’t wanted to, you have to admit, the news of late has been rich with blog material, and as we all know by now, there are opinions to be expressed. Sadly, due to the abundance of work and other such, my spare time has been a trifle, sparing. So much so that there are days when I would happily send the little demonic device, aka the “crackberry”, complete with blinking red light, out the window into the Port of Spain harbour. Alas, the windows are fixed reinforced glass and they don’t open; seems like I’m stuck with it and all that it implies.

My house has suffered from a lack of TLC, this morning, afraid that I would be overcome by the rising tide of disorder, I set out to conquer the vast frontiers of laundry, piles of things, mysterious glowing objects in the fridge and the ever present rolling swathes of dust balls, Zeus fur and things I don’t even want to think about. Even I, not noted for being particularly a domestic goddess, cannot abide the disorder in the castle. Lest you think that I’m an absolute slob, keep in mind, creative writing is my shtick.

Anyway, the last straw was being unable to find some earrings that my brother bought me a couple of years ago. It would be extremely distressing to lose them knowing that they’d been safely tucked away…..somewhere. The search has been instructive. While going through my walk in closet, re-ordering the clothing, shoes, bags and general detritus of a working woman’s closet I came upon Teddy. He caused me to stop.

Teddy, now a mouldy, balding, seeping stuffing, stuffed toy has been with me all my life. He once was a rather handsome black and white panda, my first ever toy purchased by a rather proud grandfather returning from wherever it was he’d been working. We were one of the only two families to own a telephone in our neighbourhood back in the late sixties and most of the seventies. Young people today don’t know how easy they have it, in those days there was a waiting list for a phone and you had to bribe someone to get on it and then bribe someone else to get one, after that is, a wait of anywhere up to ten years. Then it sat in your house like a decoration until someone else connected you, maybe. Ours worked because Pappy was an important dude to his company and they made sure it did. But I digress; I am told that my Granddad, upon hearing of my birth via the all important telephone, flew back to Trinidad to welcome his first Grandchild, he came to the hospital bearing Teddy. He’s been my companion ever since.

As a child, weaned on Enid Blyton, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and other sundry authors I had a pretty active imagination. I read voraciously from the moment I could put letters together to form words. I am still that way. Those stories were responsible for me getting up in the night to see if in fact Teddy and the other toys were having a picnic or balls. Haven’t caught them yet but am still holding out hope that one day I will. My home office is filled with hundreds of books and yes; I’ve read them all. My house has been a treasure trove for me this morning. Not for the things that I’ve found hidden away under other things. But for the memories they bring.

Those earrings bought by my brother are very special, as are all the other pieces of jewelry he’s bought me over the years. Not for their value as objects but of the love that came with them and the occasions that they marked. He’s a lucky sod my brother; he drinks wine for a living. True. Well, he does other things too like run a couple of restaurants, supervise a bunch of staff, that kind of thing, but he’s also the person who buys the wine. He’s one of those people who stand around, sniffing, swilling, swirling and spitting. He can tell you about the accents, colours, what hints are in there, admittedly I think that his imagination is bigger than mine; it’s wine, red, white or sort of pink, you drink it. Going out to dinner with him is always an experience but he’s a good egg and I love him.

Despite my work load and knowing that instead of writing this blog I should have been editing an article that must be in for publication by tomorrow, writing up the proposal for the official commissioning of two new offices, going through my consultants report, doing research for my own article due end of this week, you get the picture; I’m kind of glad I took the time out to tend to my house. It’s given me that space to breathe and to remember that my life is important too. While clearing out some bags I found a bookmark that I thought was lost, it says, “ I try to take it one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.” Now ain’t that the truth. Trick is not to forget that you can stop and smell the roses, or in my case, the aroma of garlic, fresh tomatoes, balsamic vinegar from the spaghetti and meatballs simmering on the stove.

Happy Panorama prelims Sunday everybody.