My daughter and I spent most of yesterday chilling out; we were very tired after our flight from Jamaica to Trinidad, and the late time to bed. We took a nice breakfast, including, for me, the statutory fish and bakes. She had some school work to do, so I had no problem with her lounging on the hotel bed, listening to some music and working on her exercises. I was writing and reading, as usual. Every now and then we’d break out into a song: we listen to some of the Jamaican popular radio stations while driving to or from school or after-school activities. One of our favourite songs is a Soca hit by Bunji Garlin, We ready for the road. It’s an infectious sound.
We joined my wife and her colleagues for a cocktail by the waterfront, where there were some of the regular characters of Carnival: Dame Lorine, Fancy Indians, Midnight robber, and Moko Jumbie. My daughter was fascinated by them; no surprise. We took a picture her between the legs of the boy on stilts. We enjoyed a small plate of Basmati rice, vegetable and chicken curries, and buss-up-shut, washed down with some cool coconut water. We were then ushered to the hotel ballroom for an ‘evening of culture’. I had not known what to expect, but thought it would be around a Carnival theme. It was.
A stage was well-decked with the lights and banners of a concert. The show began on time, at 8pm, and we were into the rocking, swaying, hand-waving, and ‘chipping down the road’. The show opened with a singer named ‘Fes’ and his dancing men and women. His long dreadlocks swayed like the snakes on Medusa’s head, and he had us in his hand from the first beats. I tried to just revel, but was caught by the words. Trinidad is about partying and in the season of Carnival there is just nothing else in the air but its spirit; it just carries you away. “Drinking and win’ing” are what the season is all about. Putting it in the words of a Trini: “Carnival Tuesday reach, yuh woman wining down de road wit a drink in one hand and she bottom rolling on a man”. The woman or man could be you.
Carnival is not the time to get high and mighty about the moral fabric of the country. It’s about bacchanal–debauchery. I whispered to a friend that I was looking forward to my daughter’s questions the next day. “Daddy, what is a bumper?” I’m not sure if I’m going to go into all the elements of Bacchus/Dionysus–the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Roman/Greek mythology, from whom my own name is derived.
For a while, I could not get my head out of thinking about the economic impact of Carnival. Not the tens of thousands of visitors to the twin islands for the fete of all fetes; not the millions of dollars spent and the many more millions earned by the event. No. I was thinking about the drop in output and productivity during this period. Strangely, perhaps, the official view is that, on the contrary, productivity is higher during the Carnival period. Hard work and diligence are much in evidence in getting costumes and floats and all the street party paraphernalia ready in time. I still wanted to hold onto my image of lounging and liming for days, though.
The songs seemed to want to portray the time as one where wasting effort was very much accepted. Soca icon, David Rudder had us all nodding and shouting “Yes!” when he sang Guilty. He was accused of rousing the people and getting them onto the streets, and the judge asked him how he answered the charge. “Guilty!” he proudly proclaimed; again and again, till the judge, herself, fell under his spell.
“Wave your hand if you’re wutless!” We all waved. We were on the road…next stop, Perdition. We were cast out of Eden, completely, when Bunji Garlin hit the stage. My daughter and I were laughing at each other at that moment, and her mother realised that her priorities were off for having been secreted away all day into the early evening. People were on their feet. Hands were waving in the air. Some were rushing into the aisles. This is a good reaction–to get people from ‘chair dancing’ to actually moving all of their body parts, and not feeling or looking self-conscious. Some, clearly, foreign visitors whose cultural vibes had been lost in baggage claim at the airport, barely managed to tap their fingers. As Jamaicans say, “Mi sarry fi dem.”
We were treated to Rupee–the mixed-race Soca star from Barbados, making his first appearance in Trinidad for seven years. He got the crowd laughing more than dancing as he went through his older songs, and he showed us how Trinis can animate any event with their voices and mannerisms. “Oh, Gawwwwddddddd!” he said, slapping his cheeks and his thighs. “Dat you, Rupee, bay? Oh, Gawwwwddddddd!” Maybe, he was positioning himself for a next career. He’s a graduate of Barbados’ top school, Harrison College, so his head is well-prepped. He got us rocking, eventually, with Tempted to touch. Spirit willing; flesh weak. It’s OK. Breathe in. Carnival time.
The evening ended with Destra, the queen of bacchanal. Her energetic style did not come across too well on stage, but she tried to get us ready to accept that ‘rolling your bam-bam’ was not only alright, but essential. Our region has already received the intellectual seal of approval for its obsession with ‘full figuredness”, with an Oxford University study showing that big-bottomed women were smarter and healthier.
If ever a name was made for a task, the researcher, Dr. Carpe, could have coined carpe diem (and Caribbean people may eventually have the phrase “carp dem” to described their full-fendered female friends 🙂 The time for seizing was now, and the place was here.
Thankfully, she was the last act. I looked at my 10 year-old, enjoying her first Soca concert. I wondered what the question mill was churning and would throw out the next day. I didn’t need to rush her probing, but I am going to be as prepared as I can be to deal with the scales falling from her eyes.