On several occasions during the past few days, I’ve been driving near the outer edge of downtown Kingston and felt a real pull to go inside and take a little drive around. Today, I found myself driving my in-laws to Port Royal, to the famous Gloria’s, for lunch and wait for my wife to arrive at the airport from the US. I showed them where downtown was located, from the distant viewpoint of Palisadoes. Mechanical problems with the departing plane meant that we had no extra passenger to take, so I decided to take a little tour with the visitors to let them have a sight and feel of the heart of Kingston as it used to be, and as I fondly remember it as a boy. We took in the waterfront, which still has a strong flavour of the old downtown, but is more notable for the modern towers which house several major institutions–Bank of Jamaica, Digicel, Scotiabank, Grace Kennedy, etc. We turned north and headed up towards Parade. It was midafternoon and the place was the hopping bedlam of pedestrians shopping and walking, taxis, city buses, hand cart vendors, ladies sitting with piles of fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop to take pictures as I maneuvered the square.
A flood of memories rushed into my head. What if they were romantic muddling of reality and wishes? So, lovely to see old Ward Theatre, and its eggshell blue, even if peeling and tattered-looking. Kingston Parish Church, beautiful and strong pillar, ready to grace any square. I wanted to get out of the car and abandon my visitors to run inside the mad frenzy that I remember was Coronation Market. “Look at those people!” my mother-in-law yelled, stunned at what was a regular-looking gaggle of Saturday shoppers. In a city that is very asleep in its commercial areas, downtown has its energies raised.
“Ackee!” “Breadfruit!” “Buy wun callaloo, nuh sah?” “Banana!” “Spen’ a quattie!” Voices coming from half a century ago. Prickles came along my arm as I looked around at the busy bus station. I remembered a bus ride back in the early 1980s. I remember riding on the train, sadly, no longer plying between Kingston and Montego Bay. The modern city buses were invisible to me: I visualised the brightly coloured old country buses, once full of women with their produce perched atop the buses; inside with them, children headed to visit and men looking for action. “Gwan, driva! Don’ let ‘m pass!”
I’ve a lot of catching up to do. I wonder if anyone remembers where Mr. Fong’s shop used to be? It would repay a walking tour visit or two or three or more…