BUT IS IT ART?

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.

THE COLOUR OF POWER IS… GREY

Fact: people in Barbados enjoy long lives. UNICEF thinks Bajans should count on living an average of 77 years. Bajans think this is linked to the popular daily habit of going for a pre-breakfast dip in the sea. My semi-retired parents have turned this early morning ritual into an art form. The old market basket Mom has kept for too long, yes, the same one she almost shamed us by taking to Kensington Oval, is packed daily with bananas and freshly brewed Blue Mountain coffee. By 6:30am they have already made the ten-minute walk to the beach and are in the salt water bobbing up and down while sipping coffee and chatting to the other early bathers. So well known are they now that one man passed her basket on the sand and remarked to his companion
“Dat de Trini lady basket. She gine be in de water ever since.”

Their ritual, minus the basket, is one relished by a good portion of BARP (Barbados Association of Retired Persons) members. The old timers swear by the magical properties of a “sea bath” which, coupled with a healthy dose of Church attendance, should see you to a century. There is the added attraction that when you reach these dizzy heights in Bim it is done in style. We don’t settle for some generic greeting from HRH. Here we do things proper. You get nothing less than a visit from the Governor General and his good lady wife. The press are invariably on hand to photograph the event and next day your picture is in The Nation or The Advocate accompanied by an interview where you reveal your secret recipe for long life. I’m with the gentleman who swore that it was his daily two units of alcohol that took him to three figures. My parents may be in secret agreement with this gentleman. Why else are they so reluctant to share that flask of “coffee”?

Whatever the secret to long life, if you are living longer, and in a long-term relationship, “till death do us part” means, eh, perhaps a bit longer than you might have bargained for. So how do you keep the music playing? Is it love, obedience, respect, passion? I think it’s selective hearing and I’ve been practicing.
“Where’s my wallet?” asks The Husband every, single, freaking, time he is about charge out the house.
For the past two decades I have responded by hunting for the elusive wallet that is not mine and which I have not touched. But times have changed.
“Where’s my wallet?” now elicits a response like,
“Yes, I would love another cup of tea dear.”
“Not tea! I need my wallet now.” his voice rising.
“Of course I don’t mind if you take the kids for a long bike ride this afternoon.” I reply breezily.
Just a few days of these senile moments and he no longer wants to play hunt-the-wallet with me.

Of course instead of being petty and pre-maturely senile I should be worshipping the man. So I have decided to heed his pleas. While I cannot agree to his exclusion from this blog I will honour his request for a more dignified role commensurate with his professional standing. It's nice to have a challenge. He could become He Who Must Not Be Mentioned. That has a nice ring but may be too close to a certain dark lord from the Harry Potter series. Maybe The Husband could become The Children’s Father or as we like to say on this small rock, De Man Who Tink He De Chilren Fadder. But after several sleepless nights I think I have found a title that suits his requirements and my blog….. drum roll please… all hail L’Éminence Grise.

Now you are probably thinking that I have stooped to a new low and that it is reasonable for this man to engage the services of some Rottweiler divorce lawyer who will lend a sympathetic ear to his sobs of “mad woman” and “irreconcilable differences”. But stay with me - there is fuzzy logic to my madness. You see the island is very, very small and he is a bit of a top dog in his field (something to do with regulation, finance, blah, blah, boring, boring). The demand for his wisdom is so great internationally that recently he wrote both the speech for one person and the rebuttal for his opponent in a debate on regulation. And then he flies off to privately advise the top grizzly bear in the great north ahead of an international summit.

But the pudding in the souse that secured his new name was a phone call he got last week. His Grey Eminence (or Eminen to his friends), answered the phone to a lady who said something like, Hola, hablo español? to which came the reply,
“Terribly sorry but I don’t speak the lingo.”
“Ay caramba! Hombre! One moment… de madre… You hold there.”
I gestured violently and mouthed to him,
“Don’t believe anything about winning a lottery.”
“She didn’t sound Nigerian.”
“Yeah well Nigerians don’t have a monopoly on the scam. It could have moved to Equatorial Guinea. They speak Spanish.”
“Okay. Shhhhh.”
“And remember not to give out your bank details whatever she says.”
“I’m not an idiot.”
“So you keep saying.”

At this point a man comes on the phone and, in heavily accented English, identifies himself as the Under-Secretary General of the UN and asks if The Husband would agree to be on the Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System under the chair of NL, Joe Stiglitz. Well he never asked for bank details so I gestured a thumbs up to get rid of the daft señor. But this week I saw something official from the UN roll off the printer. Yup, that call was genuine – they’ve found L’Éminence Grise. As Eminin would say, let the bodies hit the floor…

CRIMES OF ART

If you think history is going to be made on a certain Tuesday in November, and you are a West Indian through and through, there is only one proper course of action. You have to plan a lime. And we Trinis take organization of an historic event lime very, very seriously. Cooking must start at least 24 hours in advance. You must have one fridge cleared of normal domestic requirements like cheese and tomatoes and lined with liquid refreshments. I favour an alphabetical arrangement:
Shelf No. 1 – Banks (what passes for beer on this rock);
Shelf No. 2 – Carib (what Trini people assert is the beer);
Shelf No. 3 – Coconut Water (to give that something extra to the Extra Old);
Shelf No. 4 – Wine (for the health conscious to get their vitamin C allowance).
Finally you must be careful to invite only those whose politics you are sure of and share. Those beer bottles have to be returned intact.

But even the distraction of having a few friends over on the election night of a lifetime could not stop the sweating, hand wringing and nail biting that preceded the hours before That One was declared The One Elect. Friends from all over the world were emailing their coping strategies or sometimes just emailing as a coping strategy. C. in Cairo drank a full case of Coke Zeros and hurt his thumb texting his sister in DC. How many McCain supporters could she spot in the voting queue and how exactly was she going to nuke ‘em? R. in Geneva decided to take a more Zen approach. He trusts that the universe will do the right thing and, if this is not the moment for change, then we must wait as the endless cycle of life reveals itself. When I grow up I want to be like him - just later man. First we have to get Pallin back to Alaska. Who’s been keeping an eye on the Russians while she’s been shopping?

In anticipation of her plane full of children and clothing making that one-way journey back to Anchorage, the assembled mob in my yard made a couple banners expressing common dreams and hopes. There was only one small problem. Have you ever tried making banner slogans, by committee, at a gathering where alcohol is flowing? Not easy. But in the spirit of the night we came together and said Yes We Can. I still have a banner left hanging between two trees that says “Bajans for Obama” – ironically composed by a majority of non-nationals. And as the results became clear, we on this small rock joined in the collective happiness that crashed through the world, shouting, crying and hugging each other – a combination of relief and hope surging through our veins.

But when Second Born woke the next day he was not pleased. The Law is The Law and he takes a dim view of those who transgress – Obama euphoria notwithstanding. He and I have spent time together on YouTube listening to the preacher’s dream and he knows about Rosa, so I thought the foundation was laid for him to understand why unknown person or persons might be moved to hang a banner on a public monument of a freed slave, proclaiming 500 years + Obama = Hope while he slept. But he was having none of it and thought that I should take responsibility for undoing this travesty by removing it soonest - before the police arrested anyone.

A day later it was all over the local TV and on the front page of The Nation and the back page of The Advocate - full colour photographs of Bussa with banner. As Second Born read the blurb suggesting that Bussa himself might have approved of the graffiti, he softened. By the time he had spoken to his grandma about the newspaper coverage he was positively beaming.
“How come you like the banner being there now, little one?” I asked.
He grinned cheekily.
“Well, it made people happy so the police won’t mind.”
Maybe his rigidity is softening enough for me to postpone lecturing him on The Impact of Non-Violent Protest On The Legislating of Fundamental Human Rights – From Gandhi to Banksy.

So the world is changing and we on this small rock have joined in the collective happiness that is rippling through the world - our exuberance in part that when America as a society was asked to live up to the ideal of non-discrimination she came through. Actually it would be more accurate to say there has been a resounding victory for most notions of equality. In Obama is symbolized a triumph over discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, social origin, association with a national minority, property and birth. So it is even more crushing that on that same day in California a majority said no we cannot overcome discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Let’s make a promise that we can.

SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED...AFTER 500 YEARS




I don't know which idiot went with a friend at 3am and put this up on a national monument affectionately known as "Bussa". Some people have no respect...