Sunday, January 21, 2018

Life and death in T&T

SIXTY-SEVEN murders and counting, Carnival 2014 around the corner and the best thing that members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service could do last Tuesday is query a bar licence on judging night in the pan yards.

With their flashing blue lights pinpointing their location, there they were standing outside the sidewalk establishment, the young proprietor with a wad of paperwork in his hand, trying to explain to the senior officer—looking sharp in his creased khaki suit, with his female colleague at his side—that he was bona fide and could sell alcoholic beverages.

While the dapper officer was trying his best to maintain law and order by shutting down the makeshift bar, hopefully no one was calling his designated station with a real emergency and the desk sergeant had to tell the poor victims that there was no vehicle available.

Free enterprise won out on the night, though, and what else would you expect outside the home of Phase II Pan Groove, the band that beat City Hall and could not be removed from its perennial location under the towering condominiums of the elite establishment known as One Woodbrook Place.

Not that Phase II hadn’t given in to the system, the Petrotrin banners announcing the sponsor of one of the all-time pan rebels of T&T.

Maybe it was the nauseating scent of oil from all those spills not far away in the Gulf of Paria, but as you gazed out over the crowded arena, filled with all those who had come to hear the reigning Panorama champions Tuesday night, my eyes were seeing things in the bright lights.

No doubt there was an acclaimed genius at the front of the band, the incomparable Boogsie Sharpe, and with his baton having just extracted more sweet notes from his players, he announced a bathroom break. And as a woman came up to greet him, from a distance she looked like another Carnival icon, Pat Bishop, who is looking down from above. And people like me with Express connections began thinking about editor-at-large Keith Smith, a mentor who is also spectating from the sky.

And along with the pore-raising music from the national instrument, played by its finest exponents—arguably the most disciplined people in T&T—you met old friends, some with their grown children, and you remembered Annalisa and other companions taken too soon.

With Boogsie still in eyesight, you also thought about other friends who not so long ago had been vampires on dayshift, cocaine fuelling their existence, but thankfully some like Uncle Harry had come back from the abyss.

And reflecting on the resiliency of crackheads, it crossed my mind that despite being the murder capital of the southern Caribbean, Trinidad is also the land of the living and no useless politician, bloodthirsty gang leader or greedy money launderer could ever change that.

It was six days before Panorama Sunday and three weeks before Carnival Tuesday and a nice feeling was beginning to settle over this complicated and compelling country.

Those who had headed abroad and made their way back for mas in March were also in attendance, one guy with a slight accent ordering two beers and a water at the Irie bar with the bamboo trimming and rasta colours. When told the cost was $25—about US$4—he was smiling at the value as he walked away.

And on this moonlit night in the middle of February, you met ex-neighbours and long-lost family, and other friends reflecting on Carnival misadventures, recalling the year Fish summoned the Spartans to duty, straight from Jouvert into Carnival Monday. Or Rufus, Weasel, Rocky and Bertie, God rest his soul, on wild walkabouts around the Queen’s Park Savannah on Carnival Saturday. And there was talk of those who failed to pay the entrance fee in last year’s Jouvert band, to the beer-fuelled chatter about playing “bat” for this year’s Jouvert.

There’s nothing like it, eh? Carnival time in T&T!

We may never replace Bailey, Minshall or Kitchener, but the Mighty Sparrow is back from the cold to warm our hearts and Stalin, Rudder and Shadow are still lighting up the stage.

The youths may be moving to a different beat, but many of them appreciate the input of the legends of Carnival and will, in turn, add their own contribution to our unique national festival.

To think that the week before I was planning to write about the Super Bowl and Super50, but neither lived up to the hype, the former ending in a blowout and the other sporting attraction failing to fire for the most part.

And I was going to claim that the Queen’s Park Oval was the only place in the world where you could have seen both of those spectacles at the same time, one through technology and the other live and alive.

But with T&T capitulating to arch-rivals Barbados that first Sunday in February, it called for other distractions, like the gallows humour that Trinis are renowned for.

That same Tuesday in Woodbrook outside Phase II, someone mentioned that later in the week they should venture forth to All Stars pan yard on Duke Street, but being reminded by a quick wit who exclaimed that the only way you could make it to that part of Port of Spain was in a bulletproof vehicle like the “Popemobile”, not even the panmen being allowed to practice in peace.

And the police are checking on who has a bar licence, as if that was a matter of life and death.

Well, at least we can all look forward to a Super Carnival.