Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

First job

My soul was born in 1970. I didn't take part in the Black Power marches in Port of Spain, didn't fear the guerrillas in the hills, nor despise the mutineers leaving the Regiment in Chaguaramas. I was a fairly unconscious teenager - teaching "O" level mathematics to examination classes in the day; and liming until just before the curfew at night. I felt kinship with the marchers and knew a few of them. But as Trinidad emptied - persons fleeing the apparent "race turmoil" and uncertain economy - I too knew that I would soon be "leaving on a jet plane" taking my brother to an apprenticeship on a poultry farm in Georgia, myself to university on full scholarship at a newly de-segregated school in the mountains of Virginia. Southern USA - the politics of black and white in America - was culture shock. By the end of the year, I turned my back on the mathematics (matrices!) major and dived into the world that danced in my head since I learned to read: humanities, literature, ideas, fiction, criticism, writing.

In the isolation of a campus (field indeed, of dreams, of mountain and valley) bounded by the Blue Ridge Parkway, Tinker Mountain and the Shenandoah, I mined memory and re-introduced myself to Carnivals past: George Bailey's Saga of Merrie England; Saldenha's Mexico; Silver Stars Gulliver's Travels; and the lyrics of Sparrow, Kitchener, Melody, Bryner and other older calypsonians. So many snatches of old calypso, childhood amazement at costumed kings queens bands, streetside terror of jab molassie, double entendre that I could understand at last. I searched for similarities and found the morality plays and street pageants of medieval Europe; theatre and masking traditions around the world; poetry, plays, Shakespeare, Oedipus, Bacchae, Lysistrata, Diaghilev ballet and Isadora Duncan, Shiva dancing the world into existence, Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey! Here I thought was a place to spend my mind!

So it was that in 1974, I came as an assistant junior reporter - not even a writer - to the Carnival arena in the Savannah. Eating the dust of the stage and begging permission of the rough crews guarding the  gates, we witnessed the parades of kings and queens, kiddies, traditional devils, demons, wild indians, and bands of mas, steelband competitions from fete to finals, and among the cameramen and journalists, self-styled judges and jury of the best and the worst. If anyone thought playing a mas was the bomb, much more so was the thrill of seeing new every year (yet old as the hills) expressions of a nation's culture, written in time and gone by the midnight separating Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday.

There's no saying what - if anything - was gained from 12 or more years of a carnival publication. These compilations of  photographs, commentary, advertising, worked on for a month of little sleep never made a profit. I once saw pages of unsold magazines being used to wrap glasses in a well-known department store. I like to imagine that these efforts contributed to a different appreciation of carnival as art, distinct from the experiential arts of making and "playing" mas, making music with pan or calypso/ soca. I like to believe that our publications were at the beginning of introspection that is an important part of self-discovery and knowledge. That there was a contribution too to "publishing"in a tiny market. And if they coincided with a kind of hopeful age that lifted for a time the traditions of a new nation, that too is something.




1 comment:

  1. Appreciate the way you are mining memory for lodestone.
    As contemporaries, it's fairly easy for me to match up and compare notes.
    Read two excellent memorial novels recently. Sense of an ending (Barnes) and Cat's Table ( Ondaatje).

    Plus tarde.

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