Answering some call of duty, to the extent possible on Carnival Tuesday, I urged mortified limbs all the way from Darceuil Lane, Belmont to the Woodbrook Socadrome and back. I had to park somewhere, and I had to see what was being revealed under the exquisite sun lighting on that day.
In between points A and B in east and west Port of Spain, I also had mas bands to watch, people to meet and greet, and company in which to eat and drink. So it was 6 p.m. when I had finally trudged through the Carnival litter to discover the setting that proclaimed itself “A New Carnival Area”.
At that time, at the place formerly known as the Jean Pierre Complex, little remained to reward my latecoming diligence. Marking the eastern side of the notoriously jerry-built stage, two hangings, each about 20 feet high, one represented a fire-breathing devil, the other a Carnival face that first suggested Destra, but turned out to be some other woman.
Peering through the wire fence from the St John Ambulance Association and Brigade side, I caught such little action as yet occupied the stage. Two uniformed policewomen, or their lookalikes, assured of the absence of spectators, were taking photos of each other, wining on what had been the Socadrome stage.
It was a small reminder of the extent to which, in all but in name, the Carnival has been upheld as an exercise by and for women. Watching the endlessly passing parade of mas, my eyes three times caught the little event of women symbolically passing the baton to women. That occurred as women mas players left the roped-in ranks of their bands to present their headpieces to little girls still spectating on the sidelines of the action.
So self-evident as to become even unspoken is the reality of Carnival as a women’s “bacchanal”. This has enabled maybe a Leroy Clarke to see in Carnival only female and homosexual-suggestive projections.
It is what I have called “new mas”, in order to over-distinguish it from old mas, whether or not identified with proverbial themes. As in such and such having “turned ole mas”.
For the new mas, by definition, entails exposure of female bodies. Mas watching will thus little differ from girl watching, and observation of what the engineering of female apparel, together with the use of suitable fabric have now made possible.
Brassieres sized by “cups” become receptacles into which overflowing content may be poured. Bikini or thong-tied underwear become indistinguishable from overwear, more than likely encased in hose which, reflecting Carnival movement, may or may not display vertical and horizontal “runs”.
Eventually, “Eye Candy” could be the title of the mas today’s Everywoman is playing. And “candy” exists in the eye of the beholder.
This year’s soca celebration of plus-size women’s bodies as the favoured model,“Rolly Polly”, advertised assets distinct from the “Coca-Cola” ideal. Mr Kill@ sang on his way to Soca Monarch finals: “I am challenged by your size/When you start to roll it/Me and you will mash up paradise.”
Since women had visibly not awaited the power soca validation to flaunt their physical attributes, Mr Kill@ did more to endorse than to boost a pre-existing “fashion statement”.
Even if not by specific mention, it is women who are targeted in the censures of behaviour which, going back annually over at least 120 years, fulminate against those who “flaunt their want of shame”. This year, the Archbishop of Port of Spain, Joseph Harris, and the Mayor of Port of Spain, Raymond Tim Kee, echoed condemnatory sentiments also voiced by the Maha Sabha secretary general, Sat Maharaj, containing terms such as “lewd”, “lascivious”, and “vulgar”.
Schooled in this regard by Errol Hill, the late Carnival researcher, playwright and author, I rely on his teaching that declares the notion of a “clean Carnival” an absurdity. The Carnival remains, incorrigibly, what it has always been: an exercise of self-expression without regard to manners and in non-conformance with prevailing proprieties. Nor, in this respect, do I see it changing for better or for worse.
It is women who, through participation in overwhelming force, continue to define the Carnival. It’s also worth noting that, it’s a woman who, in the person of NCC chairperson Allison Demas, has assumed the position of “Carnival leadership”. Another woman, Rosalind Gabriel, it appeared over the last weeks, has effectively emerged as leader of the opposition to the latest version of arrangements for the parade of the bands.
Carnival summons and thrives on a cantankerousness of attitude, without which it is likely unrecognisable. Ranting and raving will dependably continue over competition terms and conditions, and results.
Amid all this, it feels counter-intuitive to celebrate one consistently positive out-turn reflected in the way Port of Spain, hopelessly overwhelmed by Carnival litter, hours later on Ash Wednesday morning, once again appears to be swept clean. Credit for this is owed to CEPEP, and the unique legacy of its founder, former prime minister Patrick Manning.
Again, observing the liveried CEPEP crews, it is women who undeniably predominate among them.