Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Smoke free, free at last

In the middle of the dreadful flu with wracking coughs that hurt my chest and make my eyes water, it just struck me like a light going on. The house has been cigarette smoke free for the first time since it was built. All the bowls that have ever been used as ashtrays have been washed out. All the butts that have been thrown on the driveway have been swept away. It's not something that you miss, but you know it's not there. The familiar smell clinging to worn garments is now just sweat. Even the car smells better.

I've never smoked but hearing from everyone else, smokers and their non-smoker spouses, I realise how hard it is to stop.  Impossible not to follow the reflexive urge with the breakfast coffee, when you are sitting on the toilet, after something enjoyable like a great (or indifferent) meal or the classic smoke, after making love. I feel the ex-smoker's tension when some cowboy, or glamor or drama queen, lights up in the movie. And in the real world, there are any number out in the real world who feel nothing about blowing smoke in your face - laws notwithstanding. It's offensive to the non-smoker whose response is disgust. It's torture for the ex-smoker.

Fortunately the world has gone the way of restricting smoking places - and if that seems reactionary or conservative, it's fresh air for non-smokers.

Smokers start at any age, and it is impossible to induce them to stop at any age by logic or reason. Show them pictures of amputees - limbs lost due to narrowed arteries and diminished circulation - blackened lungs, bad livers, and you imagine them crossing themselves and thinking "that could not be me!" Unfortunately the wake up calls are almost as dire. A broken bone that is shattered and almost too brittle to hold a screw cannot easily be fixed by a body that is depriving itself of the ability to make useful calcium and actively replacing nutrition with lungfuls of smoke that just barely does not kill you.

To my other friends who do smoke, I don't wish you life threatening experiences. I will warn you however that my home is now a no smoking zone! And to those of you with children, keep them away from smokers for as long as you possibly can.

Friday, April 20, 2012

It is human to ...

Thoughts of those incarcerated for killing someone #1

The woman, little more than a child, ill-equipped to take care of herself. Did she strike at the child in rage, at emptiness, at a short life so unfulfilled for so long, curtailed by a child. Now the little one is gone - a crime heinous to humans, murder by the mother. What must she be thinking, feeling?

I'se big woman, 20 yuh know. I have big belly an chile since I'se 18. Long time I know how to look nice and be wit a man. Ent have nutten, buh ah know how to make man want me, how to get a chile. Buh dis chile is sumting else again, dis chile, she only bawling she hungry. I hungry too, what about me me what about me. I hungry too, hungry for a life, hungry for nice tings clothes and coloured hair not diapers and shit and bawling mammy mammy mammy. She have pain in she belly. I gie she pain to kill pain. Dem who callin me murderer, dey know what it is to be so hungry is a pain? Is sorry I sorry I kill she. Ah din mean fuh she to dead. Is only to kill de pain ah beat she in she belly. Ah sorry sorry sorry. I'se not a murderer. Jus hungry too and nutten cyah fill mih belly, no man no chile not even blows. So you feelin sorry for she buh look me still here to ketch. She gone and dat is ah ease for me. I still here wit dis pain, not sorry for she any more. Sorry for me sorry sorry sorry sorry

I don't know what I expect to find in this kind of introspection...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Walking the significant other

The usual routine: the front door squeaks open. The significant other leads the way through the house and I am released by the back door. Go, she says, go piss and run. It's still dark with no hint of light over the eastern hill. The two black ones greet me at the gate. I am torn between sniffing butt, romp-romping a bit and finding a new place to pee. So scuffle scuffle romp and then gotta run. Sometimes dew clings to my hairs and damp cools the skin. Dry season mornings are cool and fresh before the heat breaks out the sweat.
Downhill run

Inside the fence with the black one

Green hill of home

Cool tile

Two days ago, the routine changed. Yes, there's still time to romp and scuffle with the black ones, sniff where they have ranged overnight and canter down the rocky slope with no bush to tickle my butt. The light is just opening up the world and the significant one is wearing running shoes and holding out the leash. Am I this lucky? I am spinning in circles and leading the pack around the two legs. Don't knock me down, she says. And all the four legs lunge for the big gate. But I am the lucky one. She clips my collar and opens the gap just wide enough for me to slip through. It smells different on this side. And I think I am mad with wanting to run and sniff and pee this side that side back around. Take a giant leap over the big culvert. I am flying, but I can feel her pulling me back.

Don't tie me up she says. Walk she says. We are going down hill and it's hard to walk with glee to be free.  Run run run says my heart. Pace she says. Hold up Sox. Learn to walk with me.

At the bottom of the hill, the two they call Jack and Mary sit on their open yard. They never run out: some kind of electric control on their collars, poor things.

Learn to run with me says my pounding heart. My feet barely touch ground. Must pee in this patch. Must sniff that side. We are on the straight now, heading to the park. And for a few seconds we are coordinated, she's actually keeping up with me. I am allowing her to feel comfortable. Maybe I can do a bolt on the wet grass when she lengthens the leash. Ah-h-h, wet grass and smells to drive a creature crazy: little two legs and many four legs, and some strange others - like the sniffs from the high forest, wild with sharp teeth and red eyes.

Those two short scotties on the corner aren't so friendly anymore. They sit together on their pavement and snarl. And so many others behind their gates calling out and cussing me. Come ovah heyah, come ovah, they call, we go do for you! I'm up to the challenge, but she's still attached to me.

Now we are running back to the hill. Too soon - but my water bowl would be nice. And sharing the adventure with the black ones. And flopping belly down on cool tile. I will sleep a little. But tomorrow - yes, tomorrow, a little faster, a little further, a little longer...

The nose as an important sense organ!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The devil's books

It always pleases me to see the work of an artist I know, a "sister" from school days. Here's Wendy Nanan and her current work.


The Devil’s Book

Wendy Nanan looks inside “books and stupas” and gets a glimpse of what the devil must be thinking. See her exhibition of papier-mache sculptures at Medulla, 37 Fitt Street, before April 24.


Imps and devils have been a feature of Trinidad Carnival since the 1880s according to Errol Hill’s book “The Trinidad Carnival.” Over time, there evolved a hierarchy of devils in bands. Imps are the proletariat. The Beast or Dragon is a central force to be controlled, or let loose. But the real leader is Lucifer, the king devil, the gownman, the bookman, dressed in flowing robes with an oversize papier mache devil mask. In the tradition, each character has a function. The imps control the beast. The imp with the key uses it to open the way across water – usually a drain or canal on the city street. Gathering the membership, the band follows a route to the house of the leader, Lucifer, King Devil, Bookman. On his doorstep, the Bookman ceremoniously records in his book, the names of all present– and who knows what else – before setting out to the carnival streets to frighten small children.

Thus the “devil” in Carnival took charge of the word – literacy and reason -  and locked it up in the secrecy of the book! We suspect that he records everything, totting up all misdeeds for that final accounting at death.

In this exhibition, Wendy Nanan acknowledges her fascination with the devil’s book. Peering inside, she finds that  “Surprisingly the Devil is thinking of religion and the shortness of life.” For her part, the fascination is not only with the thought or the word, but the impressive process to capture and conceal or reveal the devil’s ideas.

She uses the bookman’s technique of creating oversize papier mache books, and appropriates his role to create her own books for her own ideas. In so doing, she enters a process both physical – the making of papier mache - and meditative. And true to the art of the carnivalesque, what she creates is both decorative and devilish. A summary of the art and industry of the book?

You have to smile at the lion (Jah) and the elephant (Brahma) acknowledging each other in The Bounce. Smile too at Nelson Island – the (preposterous) notion that in the span of three generations from the sub-continent, an Indian woman becomes Prime Minister in these New World isles. And why not? 
Nelson's Island

The Bounce

The collection is eclectic and ironic, no religions are sacrosanct in the devil’s book. Though, to tell the truth, Christian symbols are largely absent. (This perhaps to allow the average mas-playing Trini perspective to appreciate the view without getting bogged down in unnecessary defence of his or her own dogma.) Dogen’s Rules captures sayings of the Zen teacher. The Sound of Ohm is a fiery and far-reaching symbol of symbols. We are reminded that the Gods are Watching. I like that Nanan’s Prayer Book invokes the names of female deities – did you know that there were so many?
The Gods are Watching

The Sound of Ohm

Stupas are mounds or structures that house religious (usually Buddhist) relicts. Hotei’s cake is made up of kitchen moulds, fitting tribute to the old kitchen god, the laughing budai (not Gautama Buddha), a kind of Santa Claus.  The graceful Stupa of the Compassion of Snails reminds us that even small creatures have purpose and usefulness. – these snails kept the Gautama Buddha cool.

These books and stupas convert the spare Medulla gallery into a meditative space, and worth entering even for a brief escape from the dry season heat and busyness of the world.

Rooted in old traditions – both of carnival and bookmaking – Nanan’s work uses iconography that is familiar and therefore accessible. From this comfortable even welcoming stance, she is able to gently evoke feeling and thinking about religious symbols and concepts that we largely take for granted. In the beginning was the word, and the word was God. But the book – and maybe thinking itself – must surely be the devil’s.

To see some photos of this work, go to the Medulla page on facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.400469603296938.102490.310678552276044&type=3 

(Photos courtesy Medulla Art Gallery)