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Dry soul blues

Published: 
Thursday, May 7, 2015
THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY

You tell yourself it’s easier to find an honest person in politics than enough grass to kick a ball around in the Savannah: from St Ann’s roundabout to the old Casuals Club Corner, there’re a thousand different shades of brown, only half-a-dozen spots of light green. Rugby players at the Caribs ground raise a cloud of dust around their feet, the kind of new graphic they’d add to FIFA, the PlayStation football game, but they should save it for FIFA 22 and the desert heat of Qatar.

The North Stand frame is still standing, months after Carnival, even if the country’s is collapsing: Moody’s have downgraded the economy but it doesn’t matter to anyone who matters. Such enlightened/deluded businessmen as want to earn more so they can pay their workers more might worry but the price of oil or the mood of Moody’s wouldn’t bother many. 

You never have to starve in this Christian town; nor the Hindu one. It’s an election year and everyone is gallerying themselves, whether or not they have anything to show, but the old Queen’s Park Savannah can’t win herself a few nighttime truckloads of water to bring a little green contentment to Port-of-Spain.

You look into the Savannah and you look into the soul of T&T. There are buildings in London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park, too, but they made theirs as small as possible, and to enhance their precious green spaces: we seared our Savannah, our own wild heart, with a scab of pitch for no good reason. But you can’t reverse it: too many sufferers now rely on the filthy, smelly paved Track for either a meal or to eat a food. Corn soup trumps ecology in the Limers’ Republic: there are citizens and then there are denizens.

You’re on your way to the fifth NGC Bocas Literary Festival, where you’ll hear the prose and poems of the now late Raoul Pantin. 

“When this journey begins/ the hills around my city/ are charred brown/” read his daughter and granddaughter, “My Savannah is a dust bowl.”

You’ll also hear historian Brinsley Samaroo (whose Foundations of New World History course, in ’77 at UWI, made you a Caribbean person, despite Dickens, despite Led Zeppelin) and former mayor of Port-of-Spain, Louis Lee Sing, sit down with Sunity Maharaj (moderator and also pinch-sitting for Basdeo Panday) to conduct a discussion that will depress you for the rest of the day.

Dr Samaroo will recall the popular protests in 1903,1937, 1970 and 1990, recurring crises all underlying a desperate need for real change, and of the official deafness and blindness to them—and even the official sleight of hand that attenuated or even misrepresented them as something other than what they really proved: in this place, human beings have been denied for as long as they have lived. 

Louis Lee Sing will confess that his great and many talents weren’t great or many enough to overcome a system laying all power in the hands of the current incarnation of the Governor General. From the podium, one overpowering idea flows, tsunami-like: the rabble’s grievances in ’03, ’37, ’70, ’90 are legitimate, usually more legitimate than the administrations that deny them; and, as long as they exist and are ignored, they must fester and become boils that must either burst or be regularly lanced.

But you’re wondering whether it’s not cancer.

You’re in a literary festival and great opening lines of great books and poems float up into your mind unbidden: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times (A Tale of Two Cities). It was love at first sight: the first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him (Catch-22). In the beginning, there was The Word (John). Call me Ishmael (Moby Dick). It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen (1984). I come from Des Moines: somebody had to (The Lost Continent). Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ the falcon cannot hear the falconer (The Second Coming). April is the cruellest month (The Waste Land). Mama died today; or maybe yesterday, I don’t know; I got a telegram from the home (The Outsider/Stranger).

But the opening line transfixing you comes, not from a great work of literature, but from the French Revolution chapter of the A-Level European history textbook you last read close to 40 years ago: It could be said that, in 1789, France was in a truly revolutionary position because it was impossible to effect social change except through upheaval from the bottom. 

Louis Lee Sing is declaring that modern Trinidad is in a truly revolutionary position; and Brinsley Samaroo is confirming that state as a historically permanent set of affairs, and Sunity Maharaj, and you, concur.

You leave Bocas telling yourself that, in Trinidad, “Mouth open, ’tory jump out” and the people on top see it as their function to silence the people below. And you wonder how long people will take to understand that, if there is a cancer in the body, the cancer doesn’t die: the cancer kills the body. And the Savannah’s seared red skin is hard. And you shiver at the name Raoul Pantin gave in the poem his daughter read to the fear rising from the depths of the soul, the soul of T&T: “I will not survive this drought.”

n BC Pires is tuning and tuning in the widening choir and singing for a Savannah supper of rain. E-mail your umbrellas to him at [email protected] tell yourself it’s easier to find an honest person in politics than enough grass to kick a ball around in the Savannah: from St Ann’s roundabout to the old Casuals Club Corner, there’re a thousand different shades of brown, only half-a-dozen spots of light green. Rugby players at the Caribs ground raise a cloud of dust around their feet, the kind of new graphic they’d add to FIFA, the PlayStation football game, but they should save it for FIFA 22 and the desert heat of Qatar.

The North Stand frame is still standing, months after Carnival, even if the country’s is collapsing: Moody’s have downgraded the economy but it doesn’t matter to anyone who matters. Such enlightened/deluded businessmen as want to earn more so they can pay their workers more might worry but the price of oil or the mood of Moody’s wouldn’t bother many. 

You never have to starve in this Christian town; nor the Hindu one. It’s an election year and everyone is gallerying themselves, whether or not they have anything to show, but the old Queen’s Park Savannah can’t win herself a few nighttime truckloads of water to bring a little green contentment to Port-of-Spain.

You look into the Savannah and you look into the soul of T&T. There are buildings in London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park, too, but they made theirs as small as possible, and to enhance their precious green spaces: we seared our Savannah, our own wild heart, with a scab of pitch for no good reason. But you can’t reverse it: too many sufferers now rely on the filthy, smelly paved Track for either a meal or to eat a food. Corn soup trumps ecology in the Limers’ Republic: there are citizens and then there are denizens.

You’re on your way to the fifth NGC Bocas Literary Festival, where you’ll hear the prose and poems of the now late Raoul Pantin. 

“When this journey begins/ the hills around my city/ are charred brown/” read his daughter and granddaughter, “My Savannah is a dust bowl.”

You’ll also hear historian Brinsley Samaroo (whose Foundations of New World History course, in ’77 at UWI, made you a Caribbean person, despite Dickens, despite Led Zeppelin) and former mayor of Port-of-Spain, Louis Lee Sing, sit down with Sunity Maharaj (moderator and also pinch-sitting for Basdeo Panday) to conduct a discussion that will depress you for the rest of the day.

Dr Samaroo will recall the popular protests in 1903,1937, 1970 and 1990, recurring crises all underlying a desperate need for real change, and of the official deafness and blindness to them—and even the official sleight of hand that attenuated or even misrepresented them as something other than what they really proved: in this place, human beings have been denied for as long as they have lived. 

Louis Lee Sing will confess that his great and many talents weren’t great or many enough to overcome a system laying all power in the hands of the current incarnation of the Governor General. From the podium, one overpowering idea flows, tsunami-like: the rabble’s grievances in ’03, ’37, ’70, ’90 are legitimate, usually more legitimate than the administrations that deny them; and, as long as they exist and are ignored, they must fester and become boils that must either burst or be regularly lanced.

But you’re wondering whether it’s not cancer.

You’re in a literary festival and great opening lines of great books and poems float up into your mind unbidden: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times (A Tale of Two Cities). It was love at first sight: the first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him (Catch-22). In the beginning, there was a Word. (Genesis). Call me Ishmael (Moby Dick). It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen (1984). I come from Des Moines: somebody had to (The Lost Continent). Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ the falcon cannot hear the falconer (The Second Coming). April is the cruellest month (The Waste Land). Mama died today; or maybe yesterday, I don’t know; I got a telegram from the home (The Outsider/Stranger).

But the opening line transfixing you comes, not from a great work of literature, but from the French Revolution chapter of the A-Level European history textbook you last read close to 40 years ago: It could be said that, in 1789, France was in a truly revolutionary position because it was impossible to effect social change except through upheaval from the bottom. 

Louis Lee Sing is declaring that modern Trinidad is in a truly revolutionary position; and Brinsley Samaroo is confirming that state as a historically permanent set of affairs, and Sunity Maharaj, and you, concur.

You leave Bocas telling yourself that, in Trinidad, “Mouth open, ’tory jump out” and the people on top see it as their function to silence the people below. And you wonder how long people will take to understand that, if there is a cancer in the body, the cancer doesn’t die: the cancer kills the body. And the Savannah’s seared red skin is hard. And you shiver at the name Raoul Pantin gave in the poem his daughter read to the fear rising from the depths of the soul, the soul of T&T: “I will not survive this drought.”

n BC Pires is tuning and tuning in the widening choir and singing for a Savannah supper of rain. E-mail your umbrellas to him at [email protected]

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