we hit a home stretch of sorts, just a week and change
till Christmas. I wish the next few months were unfolding
for me in Trinidad. In my San Jose de Oruna days and the
preceding Kalay Village days, this was always a special
time of year for me.
The first half of December meant the annual pilgrimage
up the islands to Martinique for a ten-days of jazz or
international guitar festival. This was an early Christmas
present or rather a series of surprises and familiar gifts.
Reunions with my Martnik partners and the boys from Odessa
Cluball two of us; night concerts in shimmering
Fort-de-France or in the grounds of old rum distilleries;
after-concert receptions for artistes and media held in
old colonial habitations, where the mahogany tables groaned
under the weight of French Creole delicacies and the Neissen
Rhum flowed freely.
The chic capital of the French Antilles was always an
ideal place to go shopping for gifts. If you were too
broke to hit the Parisian-style boutiques, the narrow
streets were thronged with vendors selling an assortment
of kitsch watches and costume jewelry, and the best and
worst of Taiwanese kids toys you knew wouldnt
survive until Boxing Day but would elicit the broadest
of smiles come Christmas morning.
If I was flush enough, Id put aside a whole morning
to browse through the fabric stores, mulling over yards
of bright madras to buy a length sufficient to make me
two New Years shirts. And then lunch in the covered
market amid the aromas of fresh spices and tropical blooms.
There would be trips up north to St Pierre, which until
Mt Pelee blew its stack in 1902 and wiped out the entire
population of 40,000 (bar the drunk Syparis whod
been locked up for customary disorderliness the night
before) rivalled Havana for culture, style and nightlife.
In the 1880s and 90s when New Orleans was rocking
to rag and the beginnings of jazz, St Pierre was jazzing
to the beguine, so whos to say jazz didnt
begin in the Caribbean? I used to walk the bare streets
of this fabled ghost town, listening to the strains of
long gone clarinets, the syncopation of the ka drums,
which had soaked into the scorched stones along with the
bones of the incinerated.
There would be trips down south to St Anne, at the southern
tip of the Island of Flowers, for one of my favourite
concerts in the Caribbean: a freeko held in the tiny village
square overlooking the warm waves.
On stage you might find the West Indies Jazz Band, or
Malian kora maestro Toumani Diabete. The square would
fill with dancing figures: old men pulled from their seats
at the zinc-topped bar tables by bele rhythms or ancestral
beats to which their blood was still attuned; the youthful
Creole avant-garde fresh in from studies at the Sorbonne
or the Film School at Columbia, New York, all wild locks
and West African print pants.
It would always rain at some point at this concert; a
fine slanting drizzle ideal for cooling dance-heated bodies
and, if it really poured, there was the porch of the church
in which to shelter while the music swept across the square
and out to sea heading for le Diament, an outcrop of rock
the British captured at one point, renaming it HMS Diamond.
And because this was Christmas season, wherever you went
in the night there would be the strains of the Chantez
Noel, communal Creole carol singing to the accompaniment
of drums and percussion.
Even for a total infidel like this Jewish Creole, it was
impossible not to soak up lesprit de Noel. Id
spend the last of my change on decorationsthe kind
you just couldnt get in Trinidad and hit Piarco
several pounds heavier than when Id flown out and
with bags bursting with gifts.
Arriving in Trinidad in mid-December has to be magic:
the mounting frenzy of redecorating; the rounds of pre-Christmas
fetes; the roadside parang and the continuous query, How
yuh Christmas coming?
And what I love the best was the certain knowledge that
the fete now start and could only go on growing, through
Christmas, into Boxing Day and the delirium of Carnival
season. Boy, them Trinis know how to celebrate life, living
and the sheer luxury of it all.
So youll forgive a little detachment here, as Yule
in the Big Fug just doesnt cut it. And while allyoh
waylaying yuhself come New Years, Ill be heading
back to the plantation of a college to which Im
Can you believe it?
For now Ill forget Im due in the classroom
come January 2. To help with my forgetfulness, I have
a special present arriving live and direct from Washington
Caroni. Miss Rachel, my eldest daughter, better known
in these parts as the Hindu Princess, will be landing
at Gatwick around the same time you might be reading this
column. In which case, share some of our Trini family
joy and Merry ho ho Christmas to you all.
I hope she walk wit me rum.