It wasn’t the kind of place from which I expected to see that kind of thing. The vista, over the Dry River from near Prince Street corner, consists of orange-painted Duncan Street public housing apartments, standing at acute angles in a row.
What struck me, emerging from Angee’s roti shop near the base of Laventille Road, was the neat brace of air conditioning units mounted on the back walls of those apartments. It had been my first stop at Angee’s.
For some years I had patronised a roti shop at Charford Court. On my first visit the proprietor had predicted of his place some doors north of Renegades’ panyard on Charlotte Street: “You will come back.”
Yes, I had come back to the place generically called “Roti Shop”. When I could find nearby kerbside parking.
For weeks I drove past, while that roti shop was inexplicably shuttered. Until the day I saw construction workmen idling on the sidewalk ledge. “The roti shop closed?” I called from the car window.
The workmen pointed south, in the direction I was going anyway. So it happened, that I found, or entertained an implied recommendation to, Angee’s, three blocks south and east, along a wavy Charlotte-into-Piccadilly Street way out of Port of Spain.
Angee’s “large” goat dhalpuri (“slight pepper”; $33) held bulk enough for first, lunch then, dinner, appetites. The real reward was the sight of those air conditioning units on those apartment units, set at an angle on Duncan Street.
I had read somewhere, that many tenant-residents in the area largely shrug off what amount to laughably low-cost rental accountabilities to the Housing Development Corporation. Accordingly, little-documented as a feature of life in this republic, free or almost free livings at State-supplied accommodations register as part of what people qualify for, on the basis of having been born in this place, or having successfully attained the equivalent of legal landing here.
In this place, where the juice of existential sweetness more or less freely flows, but where it’s the fashion of political posture to pretend that hardships apply, that people in the “Plannings” must be poor, life is, for want of a better word, good. Even as so ample a force of CEPEP brush cutters or T&TEC or WASA navvies attend a job site where half of them must sit around and watch, complaints about proletarian overwork and underpay are nevertheless sure to be entertained.
To live, to work or, otherwise, to have cause to be in and around Port of Spain in the second decade of this new millennium, is to know a well-fed lifestyle postmarked by images of people carrying styrofoam dishes in plastic bags. For the identifiable working class in and around Port of Spain and Scarborough, eating out and taking out have come to constitute the same experience.
Eventually, all forks will be plastic, and no knives other than plastic, nor will any table tools capable of real cutting find hands of diners willing and able to wield them. It’s thus been proved that, in this T&T, we cannot have both food enough in quality and quantity for vagrants, and what some civilisational hold-outs still call “class”.
Roti ruminations at Angee’s were actually prompted by news that people were not shopping as expected for Christmas 2013. From newspaper business pages, it appears that Christmas goods are not moving off the store shelves in anything like the normal pattern.
It cannot, I guess, be a shortage of money, or of the disposable cash. It’s on such occasions that I miss benefit of the economic wisdom of Dennis Pantin, the late professor from whom I learned the concept of “absorptive capacity” or, as I understand it, how people in an economy manage to spend or otherwise make use of money coming into their possession.
My mind too had been blown by the news, last month, that killer bandits who held up the Sentinel Security van on the highway to Piarco made off with $17 million in T&T Central Bank currency, plus US$150,000.
Now, where, in the consumer-goods part of this economy, did such a windfall of some $18 million get absorbed?
If the bandits and beneficiaries aren’t spending their ill-gotten, Lotto-like, gains at malls in and around Port of Spain and San Fernando, then what? Which merchants, where, are making profits off the shopping sprees afforded by that grand heist which cost one security guard his life, and his security firm employer its good name? And maybe also its business contracts?
The air-conditioned orange-painted public housing apartments mean that much for T&T life and times: that everybody, all of us, are cool.