E., my buddy and fellow artist, is a plain-talking man.
“Cy’dear Persaud. Dem bags under yuh eyes real big. Stop writing all dat shite and rest up. And den we better start making de work we promise people.”
I looked in the mirror for the first time all week. E. was wrong. Those bags under my eyes are not big. They are of such magnitude that any bigger and my eyes would become two very tiny slits of darkest brown.
“If I put cucumber slices on my eyes and lie down for an hour, do yuh think the bags will shrink?” I asked optimistically.
“Man slice up de whole damn ting and put it pon yuh face! But I telling yuh now, dat is bare waste of cucumber.”
Were we not artistically joined at the hip I would request that he leave my residence and not return, particularly at meal times.
But he and I are one. Our proposal for a multi-faceted work to be part of an international show in February has been accepted, although it is clear not every one appreciates our art. Four local proposals were accepted and we came together as a group last week to present our ideas. At the end of our (stunning) presentation, a traditional sculptor, whose figurative busts in clay are also in the show, asked for “a list of people in Barbados who would like that sort of art”. I was about to tell him I would have the list delivered to him by Bim’s fabulous drag queen Deedee, who is also a martial arts expert. Deedee would know exactly where to put it. But E. kicked me hard and blurted out some pleasantry on our behalf. I suppose the sculptor has a point. When the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts decides that “world class art” includes a ceramic plaque with flying fish and the inscription “we too love Barbados” or a three foot Border Collie made from a pre-cast mould is a reflection of the lived experience of Bajans entering a recession, it is no wonder that he should ask for that list.
It still makes me angry though. Am I really living in the same salty space that led our Nobel Laureates, Walcott (who read some of his poetry here recently) to write Omeros, and Naipaul, The Mimic Men.
“Why didn’t you let me have a go at that sculptor?” I later mumbled through gritted teeth.
“You gine cause a disturbance of the peace and get deported to Guyana.” he answered through the side of his mouth.
“But I’m not Guyanese.” I retorted.
“You tink dey care? he shot back. “And you could pass fuh Guyanese if yuh doh open yuh mouth.”
I stamped on his toe. Hard. Nobody f***ks with my children, art or identity.
(p.s. Now you know why a bunch of tiny rocks in the Caribbean Sea cannot effectively form a single market in goods, services, people and capital.)
There have been no disturbances of the peace, or even a speeding ticket, to warrant deportation to either of the small islands I have passports from, so I decided to make a start on our sort of art. For this we hit town – Bridgetown to be precise. Shamefully this was the first time I had walked around the capital since moving here almost two years ago. How could I have claimed to be a part of this small rock and never explored Swan Street with its crowded little shops, or had a fish cutter and juice in Mustors off Broad Street? Day trippers off the cruise liners usually make it to Broad Street to visit the jewelry stores and stock up on mementos like t-shirts and key chains that are one hundred percent Made in China. But Bridgetown is so much more than Cave Shepard and Columbian Emeralds. It is Abeds, run by a Syrian family, where you can get every kind of fabric you desire. And we spent ages in the Chinese owned $3 store with gyrating Santas, and even longer in a quaint, old fashioned, leather goods store where a cobbler was making shoes by hand with such skill that Berluti, the famous bespoke shoemakers, would nab him. And if you look past the rubbish, open drains, and seventies-style concrete blocks, there are still gems of architecture and history like the old Synagogue or the unnamed building with romantic, original wrought iron balustrades encircling it.
We ate lunch at Wine an’ Dine overlooking the Careenage while E. told stories of the various incarnations of the crumbling warehouses as brothels, discos, and restaurants. One was even a church for a some time. Later we meandered over to Mrs. Ram’s famous emporium, Furniture Ltd. and Handy Man Hardware. Furniture Ltd. is a huge, dusty warehouse, piled ceiling high with everything from toilets to bolts of fabric. But the main trade seems to be in unnecessary plastic objects and shiny polyester clothing. Locals who know the store claim not to have noticed any stock change since 1972. I loved the place and would happily have bought armfuls of kitsch stuff for some post-ironic event had the prices matched the value I placed on them.
Although we didn’t buy anything we did have extremely attentive service. From the moment we set foot inside Furniture Ltd. a young lady began trailing us. I told her we would find her if we needed help but she just kept following us through aisle after dusty aisle. I don’t know if it was the invasion of personal space or the feeling that I was being treated as a potential shoplifter that made me snap.
“I thought I made it clear that if we need your help we will come get you. Is that okay?”
The poor girl raced off. In the distance I could hear her complaining.
“Mrs. Springer, she say she doh want me up under she.”
“I never say stick up under she. You must just be dere to help de customer.”
I owe that girl an apology, and commission from a sale of some overpriced, unnecessary, plastic object.