- nyugen e. smith
"...not like long time"
they would say,
"...not like long time"
i returned to a place i call home
and when i call it home,
something in the way it falls from me
makes me question.
home questions me.
asking about distance
about love and what it means
they soak in
for a place to rest
for some time.
to soak in.
some corners i remembered.
stepping up onto concrete ledges
a little more than half
my little height
just the right amount
of new dwellings.
my face was new.
just the right amount
of things stayed the same-
like the standpipe.
no longer refreshing faces
three-quarters of its former self
life no longer
it is dry.
is how she will be remembered.
on that busy corner.
it is possible
for six cars
to slide past
one to another
on fractured thruway
in the midst of
on the fracture
to find life.
many mornings i awoke soon after the sun was up and spent time in the kitchen with grandma making breakfast then sitting and talking while we ate. on most days that we did this, i would wash the wares we used and if there was time, i would assist in the prep for lunch.
thinking about, planning for, and preparing food is an important part of every day. at the end of my trip, grandma told me she was going to mail me two certificates. one for trinidadian cooking and one for sewing. we discussed flavor, how to make it pop when making fish, how to steam provisions, used new technology with old recipes -she was right about the toaster oven being able to make a bake. she joked about the fact that the word "bake" was actually on the temperature dial. it worked. i was wrong. we talked about using too much salt, too much sugar, to much oil, too much pepper, my mother's love of cooking, my cousin who calls for recipes, talked about me replacing all the beers i finish from the case, and other things.
every morning, she would ask me "...so what yuh doin' today?" and would always ask what i had done when i returned. hearing grandma singing in the house made it home. her high pitched falsetto and spiritual rhythms she made with her voice that would bring on the spirit every so often, traveled through my body. everyday. i sometimes chuckled to myself when she found her new singing voice. even wrong words to songs would be sung aloud with blessed assurance.
grandma was a bit excited about carnival, it seemed. she made sure we had all the ingredients for the baked goods that make up part of her memory of carnival. "...is to make a sweetbread, cake and a pone, fuh canaval". it didn't all happen at once. the sweetbread, grandma made about a week before the cake, which i made. it was a "box cake", betty crocker. we added some of elaine's mixed fruits that are stored for a future fruit cake. it was good. kind of fun to eat, though i felt a way about not making the cake from scratch. the sweetbread lasted a while. i was savoring it and i think grandma was too. unless she was hoping i would eat it up quickly. the fruit mix must be a "secret weapon" because the sweetbread got some too. it gave the bread a nice moisture.
what didn't excite grandma about carnival was all of the skin she saw wining and grinding on carnival promotional commercials. "...look dey buttom all outside." "...why dey gettin on so?"
long time (ago), people would dress up and they would dance in a decent way with each other. this i heard a number of times. a smile and brightened eyes often accompanied this retelling. the funny thing was, if i or anyone in her company decided to buss a whine in the middle of the kitchen, grandma would absolutely love it and would belt out a scandalous laugh and encourage slackness to continue. endless jokes and laughter. i was often reminded that i need to keep in touch, to remember her. i was reminded to call my uncle shel, to call uncle tony, go to his church sometimes, call my aunt jill. she was pushing me to stay close.
at home, the phone rang often. if it didn't ring much, grandma would make calls to those she usually hears from and had not. seeing how much she enjoyed the communication made me a little sad that i had been so absent. knowing that the person on the other end enjoyed speaking with her made me think about all that i had missed over the years. yet, everyday i was there, grandma showed me that she loves me.
-table salt. bought to make home-made ice cream in the old churner
we worked outside in the garden replanting flowers and cleaning up the soil around them, we changed curtains in the whole house. altered some that didn't fit the new rods. one day, the sewing machine stopped working so we took it to get fixed and picked it up the next day, so we could use it right away. on a few occasions, we sucked mangoes and commented on the level of sweetness of each. i was told that i should know how to hang laundry to dry outside in an orderly way. i learned that one should not pick any bush after six o'clock in the evening. neither for tea nor for bathing. i learned that grandma is impatient and openly expresses displeasure through grunts, saying the word "shit", and telling the source of her frustration, that she "feel to throw de blasted ting outside an done". i learned that she has everything she needs and everything has its place and everyplace must be clean. grandma reminded me that everyday she is a day older. my offers of assistance when she exits a car or begins to get up after being seated for a while, is always rejected. its followed by a verbal reminder that when no one is around, she has to manage on her own. when i was leaving to return to the states, she told me that i should send a "little change" sometimes because it costs money to upkeep the house and it's this house that we all come to when we visit trinidad. and she's right. i wrote down some of her sayings. some long time tings. one that i now use regularly is, "drunk or sober, mind yuh bizness".
grandma elaine saw the purpose of my visit as work. it felt good that she thought of it that way. i didn't expect it. not sure what i expected. she would tell people on the other end of the phone line that, "...he's working. he come to see we canaval and write a report; tuh take back tuh america, nah." ...this was her summary. i'll take it.
it was not difficult to find out about the many carnival related events that were happening. my primary source for information was word-of-mouth. people freely shared their opinions on what they thought i should see and the people i should meet. i wanted to make it to as many lectures, talks, screenings as possible. it was fantastic that i could organize an event schedule for myself leading up to jouvay then another for post carnival. i do wish that i had gone to a fêté though...not one... so much was happening at once.
here's a list of the events that i attended:
Lecture: Dance Til Dawn - The History and Heritage of Jouvay ; A conversation between Dr. Kela Francis, author/scholar and Attillah Springer, writer/activist, who have been researching and practicing Carnival as ritual both within and outside of academia, Dance Til Dawn - The History and Heritage of Jouvay will look at the 19th century Jammette Carnival expressions and how those laid a foundation for how we experience and engage with Carnival today, including elements of ritual, drumming and dance.
Sofía Gallisá Muriente and Nimah Muwakil-Zakuri: Inabordable/Unapproachable,
artist talk at alice yard.
Puerto Rican artist Sofía Gallisá Muriente, co-director of the art space Beta-Local, was artist in residence at Alice Yard, where she had been in conversation with curator and writer Nimah Muwakil-Zakuri. They shared their respective projects that engage with complex personal histories through affective archives. The evening included an installation of archival, visual, and video materials, and a public conversation.
Film: King Carnival, 1973, by Horace Ové
Nalis Amphitheatre, Port of Spain. presented by Trinidad+Tobago Film Festival as part of their
2017 Carnival Film Series — a showcase of Carnival-themed movies and other film related events, from February 5 to 11, sponsored by bpTT.
Made for the BBC in 1973 by legendary Trinidadian-British director, Horace Ové, King Carnival is acclaimed as one of the best documentaries ever made about the history of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, with its in depth look at the pre-Lenten festival, from the cultural cornucopia which provided a platform for civil unrest and protest, to the twentieth century celebration of all things Caribbean, which has spawned over 170 T&T-styled carnivals throughout the year and across the world.
there was a post screening conversation with:
tony hall, Artistic Director & Co-Founder – Lordstreet Theatre, Trinidad (1990-present), lecturer at university of the west indies (st. augustine), university of trinidad (port of spain)
ray funk, retired american judge and long time researcher of steel pan and calypso
i played mas this year with cat in bag productions. we were in the small bands category and placed fourth in competition out of 30 or so bands. for a few days, i worked with our band leader/cat in bag productions founder/artist/fine art framer, ashraph richard ramsaran, adding lamé fabric to the headpieces. other band members would also come to our mas camp to work too.
one on one interview at wings roti shop with ray funk, retired american judge and long time researcher of steel pan and calypso and collector of rare films from the caribbean.
There was the panorama steel pan semi-finals in queens park savanna. people could either buy tickets to go into the grandstands or stay out on the green aka the track to hear and see the bands warm up before they go into the grandstands for competition. the green was a good lime.
one afternoon, i attended the lunchtime series at uwi's (st. augustine) institute for development of gender studies. here, nikoli attai (ph.d canidate at the women and gender studies institute in toronto, canada) presented on his research: "bullerman carnival" tourism and the praxis of caribbean sexuality in trinidad and tobago.
I visited one of the mas camp buildings of the legendary mas maker/designer,
my first visit to queen's hall auditorium in port of spain was for
take 2 the concert: afro calypso and latin jazz. this event was held for the purpose of establishing a steel band orchestra (Afro Calypso & Latin Jazz Steel Orchestra) in 2017 to serve as an extension of ALJA with the aim to merge Afro Calypso rhythms with afro-Latin rhythms. Furthermore, this project will present an international-quality fusion of Trinbagonian Calypso structures, Caribbean-Latin rhythms, and American Jazz modalities, for the uplift of musicians and aficionados, and also to diversify entertainment choices in the nation’s long term economic interest.
on a number of occasions, i visited the granderson lab (the sister space to alice yard) in belmont which offers a residency program, artist studios and was the mas camps for vulgar fraction, led by artist/designer/organizer, robert young and touch the sky, led by artist/designer/performer, alan vaughn. touch the sky is a band of moko jumbies (a traditional mas role performed on stilts)
it was great to accompany the camp to the savanna for carnival king and queen semifinals competition. families and friends of the performers helped to carry costumes and short sticks. many walked from granderson lab to the savanna.
two days of collaboration with robert young, artist/designer/organizer and
richard ross, photographer
the old yard: an educational highlight for me was The UWI St. Augustine's highly anticipated staple on the annual UWI Carnival calendar, The Old Yard, hosted by DCFA (department of creative and festival arts) at its Agostini Street, St. Augustine, Gayelle – an actual yard with architecture reminiscent of years past, a dynamic experience highlighting cultural history and featuring a carnival masquerade show with portrayals of traditional Carnival characters including Bats, Minstrels and Burrokeets, Midnight Robber and Dame Lorraine.
one on one interview with university of the west indies professor emeritus, gordon rohlehr. rohlehr is a leading scholar on calypso and west indian literature. during the first visit (which lasted over three hours) there was hardly a mention of calypso. during my second visit to his home, which was just supposed to be a drop off of money for one of the books he wrote, he spoke about calypso for about and hour and a half. I didn't even walk with any recording devices or camera.
the next event was the carnival king and queen competition at the queen's park savanna. this was a long event. the competition in a judging of small, medium and large band king and queen costumes. I was not that enthused about most of the costumes. I cannot slight the amount of work that I know must have gone into making them, however the majority of them used the same materials, and the creativity in the architecture of the costume didn't vary much. Perhaps if I spent more time in mas camps and spoke to more mas makers, they could teach me more about this work. I don't know enough
I checked out the rapso group, 3 canal's 20 year anniversary show at queen's hall auditorium. it was this concert that sealed the deal for me as to what jouvay band i would play with this year.
one on one interview about jouvay and performance with tony hall, Artistic Director & Co-Founder – Lordstreet Theatre, Trinidad (1990-present), lecturer at university of the west indies (st. augustine), university of trinidad (port of spain)
i attended the the annual re-enactment of the canboulay riots which is considered by many to be the official start of carnival. it took place on the piccadilly bridge in port of spain at 4:30am.
meanwhile back at granderson lab... i assisted vulgar fraction in preparing the templates for their carnival costumes using a previously made garment.
next was the panorama finals. we were in the grand stands for this, as opposed to being on the green as we were during the semi finals. the finals last a very long time. i met friends there at 8:30pm (after it began) and it did not end until 3am. small, medium and large bands competed for the respective titles in steel pan competition.
on sunday, some hours prior to jouvay, my wife, Sherene the queen came to trinidad to experience carnival for the first time. we picked her up from the airport and and the fun continued.
then there was jouvay. the pre-dawn celebration before carnival monday. participating in this ritual event was what i had been waiting for. we played with 3 canal. in blue. blue forever, forever blue. the experience was surreal.