Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Vanilla, tonka and saffron


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It is fair to say that United National Congress (UNC) governments have a low pain threshold for comment and criticism. Until Manning, the PNM were a little thicker-skinned and subtler in how it punished its perceived political enemies.

I speak with the personal knowledge of one who both regimes have attempted to victimise for little more than expressing opinions contrary to theirs. Fortunately at this stage of my life I do not need their freeness or patronage.

There has never, however, been much difference between UNC and People's National Movement (PNM) in their resort to attacks on the media when things do not seem to be going their respective ways.

Mr Jack Warner, the controversial Minister of National Security, has now taken political counter-attack to a more questionable area. He has colour-coded the protest march against Section 34 and other lapses in good governance. He has gone on, mistakenly in my view, to suggest that the protest is insignificant as a result.

Here is his mistake. Our electoral politics are subject to the mood in the marginal constituencies. Elections in Trinidad and Tobago are now decided by what voters do in those constituencies unless the rest of the country is sold the cat in bag of one love or partnership as in 1986 and 2010.

Neither Port of Spain nor Oropouche are marginal areas so any sensible politician should be concerned about the effect political mistakes and protests have on the mood of those in the marginal constituencies. In particular he should avoid creating the feeling that the Government is so bad that we must vote them out all costs. That is precisely what happened in 1990.

Equally important there is a turn off factor. By this I mean that there are voters who sometimes take the position that they cannot hold their noses and vote for either party. These voters may stay home on election day and the default numbers also become significant. Accordingly, a sensible politician would also seek to avoid turning off the uncommitted flock.

The tragedy of the Congress of the People (COP) is this: In 2010 the COP presence in the Partnership soothed the anxieties of the floating voters sufficiently that their noses became less sensitive to the reek of visceral past history. However, once in partnership in Government with the UNC, the COP fell in with and continued to support the skewed governance, which disappointingly emerged from the Partnership.

Now the COP is yet again embarrassed and finds it necessary a day after Mr Warner's colour coding to warn against raising race in politics. That's nice but if, as the new chairman of the COP professes to believe, that the COP must listen to the people, when does the COP intend to re-negotiate its deal with the UNC or alternatively negotiate a new deal elsewhere?

I regret to say that it seems crystal clear to me that the distancing statements of Prakash Ramadhar and Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan are little more than the proverbial "tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing". Introducing another proverb, their credibility is melting "as fast as a cent shave ice on a hot day".

The vanilla bean, the tonka bean and saffron are good sources of education on colour coding. They show us that dark beans produce delicious products, such as ice cream and crème brulee served as partners with menus spiced with saffron.

Perhaps those engaged in the colour coding of political activity should wake up and realise that the recent marches and other protests may be capable of leading to the production of better tasting political alliances and a more palatable political menu. It looks like COP will be left out of the kitchen.

While on the subject of vanilla and tonka beans I should mention the business opportunity they present for us. Those beans are among the most expensive flavour ingredients on the international gourmet-food markets and tonka bean wasting here.

Nicole Austin, my Trini gourmet guru tells me that tonka beans are in Waitrose supermarkets in London. Prices established online vary from the equivalent of $60 at the supermarket to $225 for 100 grammes, that is for 3.5 ounces or about six tablespoons.

Nicole says this: "If I am asked what makes the food in Trinidad good, I have a ready answer. The delicate blend of spices and flavours that runs through our local food like the east dry river runs through town is something that is still special. We may not have had the confidence to translate this into the food served at numerous restaurants that have sprung up over Trinidad. Nevertheless, it is time for it to take its true course".

Many chefs have the required confidence but as they progress the wrecker takes away their customers' vehicles. Meanwhile, Mr Warner appears to be letting everything get up his nose and sting like mustard oil. He needs to avoid melting down as fast as ghee in a hot frying pan.