Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Who's on the leash?

Everyone loves my dog. He is a ridiculous creature I admit.


Swimming on his back

It's hard not to smile when you see his curly tail waving, like a feather duster or Carnival banner. His front legs are bandy; the back pigeon-toed. He rocks down the driveway like a Chinese dragon danced by four drunken bearers. His tail rolls with the gait.

The fuzzy face is a dark lion's mane, out of which peer inscrutable button eyes, sometimes honey brown sometimes amber.

He is a large living stuffed toy that does the "downward dog" yoga slide when he's sitting or getting up. He pulls his back legs under his rump or stretches them straight out. He goes to sleep and his head lolls to the side.
On the leash
Such a dog is no creature with a wild past. He is the legacy of the peoples that bred him; and of the family that keeps him; an inspiration for blogs and blank verse, ipad photography and phone videography.

This dog goes
inquisiting with his nose
the spoor of creatures
on two or four.

He traces musk memory
pillar to post to grassy stalk
tree root and park bench
where he's been before
each day is new territory.

On the line and lag of his leash
the human is anchor and ship

Who's walking who,
Whose mind runs on unseen trails
nosing lyric and line words wind whispered
meandering and leaping
unstumbling without pause

Who's leading: who
holds the end of the leash

Stretched out to sleep



Pause in the park


Sniffing out animal scent

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Breakfast with the artist

"I am having the salmon." Each morning, he pondered and paused over his selections from the elegant and luxurious Dutch buffet that was a feast of fruit, eggs, cheeses, breads and yes, gravlax.

And I, my inner heart amazed to be dining in such a fine place with a famous artist, would have my fill of fruit, and maybe the ham, and then yes, the gravlax.

Eating slowly, we would natter on about the people we had met for the first time the day before: what characters! The publisher, the urbane and proper but wicked German, who with a twinkle in his eye was smiling at our island amazement and anticipation. Were we being too exotic, a little provincial in the town that dedicated entire museums to their artists? The director of the art foundation, the petite capable energetic Dutch who cycled everywhere in Amsterdam. Were we equal to old world grace and civility coupled with charming efficiency? Our wonder at arriving there, on the verge of being transported by high speed train to one of the most important museums in the world - the Kunsthal in Rotterdam built by Rem Koolhaas: too third world? The Kunsthal curatorial team was welcoming curious and respectful. Half-day touring the spaces and facilites filled our heads with possibility; with dreams.


Walking to art museums in Amsterdam, a magical city for dreaming art.
A giant show with immediate and blistering deadlines. A hall of hanging cloths. Small screens filled with island faces. Wings and banners. Projections for endless replays of mas on the savannah and street. A Red room. Levels and mezzanines for history, design, technique, sound and light, music and lyric. Humans or automatons to move the giant costumes; halls high enough for them to dance in! Were we over-ambitious?Were we cruisin' for a bruisin'? 

Beyond dreams too, the publication house, one of the oldest in Germany, in a snowy town that has turned industry to beauty. A fine art house steeped in the craft of reproducing art in fine books. Surely this house was adequate to the task of showcasing the new art of an island people, to print an impeccable document - the singular work of a favoured artist - to astonish and stir the old world.

Back at home on the small island, with the sudden compulsion of a mas to make, the dream evaporates like mist in the Carnival Tuesday hot sun. 

Breakfast with the artist, on Pluto:
"How can you put me in a box?"
"This box is the mind of another creator.  It is not your box."

"This is not me." (It's not large enough, it's not what I have in my head about my own importance to the world.)
"It is a tiny capture, a whisper, a taste of what's to come..."

"One hundred and twenty pages ... 25 years work in 120 pages?"
"There will be another book ... many other books. This is the start, the first step. Consider it the catalogue to the first exhibition..."

"How can I expect mere mortals to describe me, the artist who has given his life to represent the soul of a small island?"
"Mere mortals perceive and appreciate complexity in collectives, in repetition, in mas ...in a band. A band is a marvellous thing, from the idea of the artist to the garment executed by the seamstress, from the painter to the drummer, from the dancer to the spectator... the work of many hands towards a moment that might be remembered for a long time."

"You trying to pin me down, to make the work small..."
"The review is the work of the critic.The exhibition is the work of the curator. The book is the work of the publisher. Surely each artist deserves respect to allow his work. Surely it is not for the artist to be photographer, juror, critic, apologist and press agent for his own work ..."

The book dies, a slow and painful death. The exhibition is slaughtered. The world moves on.
Each year, a small or big piece of the artist shows up in another shape or form, in someone else's work. And who is to care?
Mask for the broken heart

Monday, February 4, 2013

The marriage that made me

My parents were married 62 years ago today. Born 259 days later, it's easy to conclude that February 4, 1951 - or some day near to it - was my date of conception. Their honeymoon which was in Bombshell Bay (now Gaspar Grande) - accompanied by the customary lime of best friends and family - had to be aborted when Dad dived onto a rock and buss his head.

Cecil Wong Chong and Yvonne Assing, circa 1950
The wedding itself - on Carnival Sunday at All Saints on the Savannah - was subdued because my grandmother, Mummy's mother Ellen, was dying. I wasn't given her name, and was christened instead for an Irish nun at St Joseph's Convent who was one of the few teachers that impressed my mother. My sister, born one year after me, was given a version of Granma Ellen's name, Helen. My daughter was given Ellen.

So few photos remain from those days - and those that do are so faded, the faces little more than pale blurs. It is hard to discern what two young persons in their mid-twenties might have been thinking, far less feeling. How long did they know each other? One story had it that he met her when she was teaching English to Chinese immigrants. Did they go to the cinema together - he was an avid movie fan, loved westerns and war films. Were they good dancers together?

Was marriage an end in itself, the proper way to sanctify physical attraction, a departure, an entry into a world with a partner and helpmeet. What expectations might they have had of each other, or themselves. The husband's and father's job would certainly have been to provide. It would be the job of the wife and mother to make sure the home was comfortable and the children healthy and sensible. After they were married, or maybe after I was born, my mother stopped working at LJ Williams where she did secretarial work, and joined my father in the shop. She spent the rest of her life pursuing, organising, supporting his vision -  which was mainly about being his own man, making his name in business through farming - and then ensuring that five children could take care of themselves. Only once did she go on a vacation with her sister, without us; and we were lost for the three months she was away.

More than sixty years later, we agree that as parents they fulfilled their roles to excellence. The jury is still out on how happy they were in themselves, or together. Perhaps happiness is over-rated; be productive instead! Today, however, we remember the anniversary of their wedding day, and the union that produced five children and ten grandchildren.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

New market for new ideas

I love a market. Especially open air or itinerant markets where the farmers and artisans are the ones who haul their goods to the site, set up stalls and sell directly to you. This is their own farm produce, their plants and flowers. They are serving food that was cooked in their kitchen, showing off the handiwork of their hands. Anywhere in the world, freshly harvested fruit and vegetables excite me. Dasheen, cassava or eddoes with the moist earth still clinging to the roots are fascinating pre-food. Do you notice the sheen on tomatoes still plump from the picking. Almost as much as I take pleasure in picking freshest produce, I seek out conversations with craft creators and artisans about their work. These are always informative and entertaining.

Well-shaded spaces in the Green Market

Cushcush and green fig: hearty "organic" food

The idea of the market is as old as human civilization. Beyond basic and honest civility, openness and communication are the only rules.

You can talk to anybody.
"So did you bring the silk fig today?" This seller promising special bananas alongside his plantain for a couple weeks. Last week, you found out that he worked for the same company that you did - and practically at the same time - but over ten years ago. He's into real estate and has an agricultural holding, a gentleman farmer.
"Next week, bring your plantain shepherd's pie for us to sample."
"That's easy to make," he responds, "you should taste the honey-baked plantain."
"Bring that too!"

Snack on "organic" chataigne, boiled and lightly salted

You taste new things.
"Sweetest sapodilla down by the end." The overheard comment draws a rush of buyers for the egg-shaped brown fruit, sweet as honey.
"Those five fingers not sour at all." Small heaps of the yellow-orange star fruit disappear within the half hour. Someone is already making five finger chow on the spot.
"Queen orange!" you exclaim. "Ortanique,"the vendor corrects, "and over here, king oranges."
This week, you sample the hot creole cocoa. The cold chocolate is milky and minty. But the hot cocoa is stimulating with a slight smoky edge. Buy a couple of the creole chocolate pods to sample at home.
"You don't have to grate your fingers. Just break a chunk of the chocolate and melt in hot water. Add milk and sweeten to taste."

Sample cocoa tea, and learn how to make it

Eating outside opens appetites.
Today, try aloo pies or doubles, or a chunky slice of cake with a fruity frosting. The coconut bake lady has made her name with wholewheat bake and buljol or tomato choka. There's a hole -not only in stomachs - when she is not there. Cheups.

The "coconut bake" lady serves breakfast

You share cooking secrets.
Fresh fish this week includes shrimp, crabs and lobster still alive, over there. Cleaned ready to cook redfish, carite and salmon in the other corner. I'm looking for moonshine, a silvery fish my Dad taught me to steam with ginger and salty black beans.
"How to cook salmon?"
"Steam or stew? Steam Chinese style with ginger and chive and pour some sizzling oil to finish. Or stew with a Caribbean sofrito of tomato, onion, garlic and pepper in olive oil. Leave the fish whole."

Do you know how to cook a moonshine?

People remember you.
The farmer-vendor has different roots this week, more yams and cassava. You buy a breadfruit instead. And he presents you with three little cushcush roots, a gift.

Is it organic?
Ask the producers directly - find out their growing and harvesting practices.

People know what you like.
My Dad used to go to the central market in town every Saturday. If you went with him, it was mainly to help carry the bags. "Mr Wong, look what I have for you this week."
"The sweet orange now coming in, here try this,"and a peeled cut orange is thrust to him.
"I keep these three fat caraille for you."
"I know you like winter melon - I have one left for you."
"Special jumbo shrimps how you like them."
And even after all the children had left home, and he was cooking for a household of two or three, he still returned with bags of greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, always more when the prices were down.

Paramin farmers - dedicated to producing healthy food

You appreciate hand made.
When last you saw someone crocheting, or knitting? Colourful crochet accessories and shirts remind me of things my mother made.
"First thing I look for when I travel is thread..." the craftsperson starts this conversation, "this is all cotton from Venezuela. Others are nylon or polyester blends."
Imagine collars decorated with beads and feathers. Cloth bags in a variety of shapes and patterns.
The candle maker is a petite girl; her candles are scented: white ginger; peppermint, mocha, nutmeg. "All the candles are soy wax. The wicks are wood chips. They will burn completely, you just have to make sure that the wax liquefies to the edges."

Elegant soy wax candles with wooden wicks 

You can provide feedback.
"You know that water cress I bought last week went yellow two days after."
"This week, it should stay fresh longer." And indeed, it does.
"That pumpkin squash bakes beautifully." This to people who are choosing the bright orange wedges of pumpkin nearby.
"That bhaji was the best, cooked down soft and sweet."
"Can't walk here when it rains..."

Playful accessories with feathers and beads

And you can be a seller too.
Being in the market gives you ideas. Hmm, I can make breads. I can sew aprons, kitchen towels, bags and oven mitts. I can bring the surplus from my avocado and mango trees. I can make brownies and peanut punch. I can ... Next thing you are signing up for your own booth, to share the fruit of your garden, the work of your hands.
Dare to wear a crochet bikini!
And so, the market is not just where some people come to sell, and others to buy. It is an arena where the buyers begin to understand at a deeper level what they are buying - someone else's labour, something transformed in the alchemy of soil, water, air and sunshine into fruit, root, vegetable. Here, the sellers buy from each other.

More than mere commerce, the market is a place of human interaction, communication, community, communion. Ask the people who go - religiously - to the San Juan Market, the Tunapuna Market, the Chaguanas Market, the Central Market or any other, every week. The habit is built upon relationships they may not be willing to change.

The San Antonio Green Market is both market and a space for fresh ideas - where it may be possible to build healthier practices, gentler lifestyle and appreciation of the green heart that is the Santa Cruz valley.

Hawaiian torches grown in Santa Cruz