Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Signs on a Saturday at the end of July

Do you have days like these? When you can't see what's coming but you feel the apocalypse in the blood, the tentativeness in the bones. Today, a woman came to the Market, wearing the green t-shirt trademarked for the green party. The green leader - innocent until proven guilty, she declared. She continued, we will win the By-election on Monday. The green leader had instructed, she said, no maxis to his meeting - meaning no "imported" crowd - just people who living right in the area. And there were thousands. So you start to wonder, what if she's right?

Later that day, the illustrious yellow leader surrounded by a national cabinet is imploring the yellow people to question the motives of the green leader and vote for the yellow candidate. There's sense in her words, but the impact of the assembled onstage - backing a candidate, however worthy, from Tunapuna - rings like another Tobago campaign.

On Friday, the Muslimeen led by Abu Bakr paraded through Port of Spain in commemoration of the day 23 years ago (July 27, 1990) when they stormed the Parliament and the national television station. At that time, the Prime Minister and the members who were in the parliamentary chamber were terrorised and held hostage for five days. Employees of the television station were also shot at and held hostage for five days. The Abu Bakr terrorists killed or caused the deaths of about 24 persons during that period. They caused widespread destruction and loss of property in the capital city and urban areas. The curfew that followed lasted six months. All the insurrectionists were freed two years later; the courts allowing the validity of an amnesty that had been framed at the height of the hostage crisis.

Was theirs a just cause? Did they speak for a sector that was disenfranchised, disenchanted? Do they to this day command an army of hungry landless young men adrift? Who sanctioned a march of this man and his group, whose presence is a constant reminder of "Trini tolerance," a laziness that floats on the line of least resistance, in allowing "who shouts loudest", an unwillingness to look deep under the skin of "all ah we is one."

There was no uncertainty 23 years ago. My sister and her family were coming in from Italy. The son and I would be waiting to meet them at Piarco. I was sitting on the edge of the concrete pond facing the exit from customs at the airport, while the six-year-old son was shuttling between me and the doorway, wanting to be the first to see his two Italian cousins. A heightened scurrying among the porters. One came forward and addressed a man who was sitting on the edge of the pond next to me: they take over the parliament; the television station. We both asked at the same time, where? what country? Uncomprehending, unbelieving, that the event was taking place here in Trinidad and Tobago.

We returned home through some areas in pitch black. On national television, the Muslim leader held a gun. For the next five days, everything was rumour and extrapolation. Living in the country, we only heard of the explosions and sieges in town. Only heard of the destruction of Port of Spain; of the bodies piling up. But the country areas were under siege too - no electricity, no gas, no grocery supplies - even though it was difficult to feel besieged in the lush languid tropical torpor of Trinidad at the end of July.

In five uncertain days, we came of age, and have been treading water, barely unfloundering, since. We walk side by side with those who perpetrated murder, terror, who stole from us,. We are one people. Do we know what to do with this? Do we yet know what it will take, of communities, of individuals, to be the Trinidad and Tobago of our dreams?


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tonto: the silly one

You don't have to be a kid of a certain age to appreciate the new Lone Ranger movie, with Johnny Depp as Tonto, Armie Hammer as John Reid (the Ranger's alter ego) and William Fichtner the human-heart-eating villain Butch Cavendish. You don't have to be old enough to remember the television series, or even older to know that the first stories were made for radio in the 1930s. But you do have to have a developed sense of humour, a sense of the absurd, appreciation of the bon mot delivered dead pan or sotto voce. If you love bad puns, and ironic twists, if you are happy to talk back to the screen, giggle hysterically at silliness, laugh out loud, and thrill to the theme song, you should see The Lone Ranger on the big screen. Get your popcorn and sweet drink, scrunch down in a comfy seat close to the front, and two and a half hours will fly by.

Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger; Johnny Depp as Tonto:
not exactly Abbot and Costello, but a well-matched pair!
In the old days of radio or black and white television, the escapades of the ranger and his apache sidekick Tonto were told in truncated episodes between the bookends of a rousing musical theme and "Hi ho Silver, away!" The horse reared up on his hind legs as the masked hero waved before riding into the sunset. This full feature version directed by Gore Verbinski attempts to tell the whole story - at the very least, to set the scene for Lone Ranger sequels. And this telling comes direct from Tonto. We meet him late in life, in a museum attached to an amusement park. Tonto is spending his days posing as "the noble savage" in a Wild West diorama. He comes to life and advises a youngster dressed as the Lone Ranger: "Never take off the mask..."

Without attempting to be revisionist, we learn why Tonto - the Spanish word means silly or foolish - wanders without family or tribe. He is more than a cypher for the native American; he becomes a symbol for the loss of innocence, but with no loss of humanity. And so if John Reid is the lawman to tame the wild west, is the chosen "spirit walker" - the one who cannot be killed - then Tonto accepts that he must be the guide because even a foolish Indian is wiser than a principled white man. When Tonto calls his charge Kemo Sabe, he might as well have called him stupid stubborn or naive. Silver also appears at the right moment, a horse with a mission!  On the other side, the bad guys have a singular objective, and all their actions - ambushing the rangers, building the railway, and provoking conflict so that the Indians are persecuted for breaking the treaty - are motivated by greed.

So, Tonto steps out of the shadow of the ranger. And who better than Johnny Depp to play the wise fool. Certainly, it seems that all his other roles were leading to this: the quirky quirkier quirkiness of Jack Sparrow, the tortured soul of Willy Wonka, and the timid unlikely hero chameleon Rango (also directed by Verbinski and Depp as the title character).

Tonto with "dead crow" and face lines like railroad tracks

Kirby Sattler's depiction of the "noble savage"

The character of Tonto comes - according to  Depp - from many other sources, among them a great-grandmother with native American heritage. He wanted the technicians to mould his face into hers. Another influence was the painting by an artist called Kirby Sattler. In this image, a crow flying behind the warrior's head seems to be part of the head-dress. Tonto uses his "dead crow"to channel his living spirit. The lines on the face are railway tracks in uncharted territory. And portends the climax of the action: the 20 minute train chase that involves moving through and riding horses on top two moving trains. We won't say more.

Tonto and the Lone Ranger's "spirit horse" 
This Lone Ranger and this Tonto, together with Silver the spirit horse, interact at a level of play and imagination that most of us leave behind in childhood. This movie - true to the spirit of the Lone Ranger radio and television series - allows us to suspend reality and enjoy childishness. It entertains us with more than a bit of silliness, the theme of that other deeply felt Depp movie, Finding Neverland. Ultimately, this may be Johnny Depp's gift - the silliness of a wise and playful heart.



(All photos from the publicity albums for The Lone Ranger 2013. Additional information from http://collider.com/johnny-depp-lone-ranger-makeup/)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

More than words

In the early 1990s, the Guardian newspapers were riding a new wave, linking with readers, providing "information for life" with a modern edge. Or so it seemed to many of us. I had been there five years. We were attracted to the country's oldest newspaper by the ideal of journalistic integrity and the vision of a successful modern medium, articulated by Alwin Chow. Young people with computer savvy took charge of graphic and layout and dragged the "old lady of St Vincent Street" into the information age. Banks of computers replaced typewriters, proof-reading and layout tables, typeset replaced by plate burning and fast modern presses.

Between November 1995 and April 1996, shortly after the change of government, there were incidents that started like small cracks in the ground, but not earth-shattering. It is remarkable that when the worst happens, you are never prepared. You carry on calmly and unemotionally. Your heart is racing. Your mind is reeling. And then, it is over. I never stopped questioning the series of events, re-looking the twists and turns and what ifs, interrogating the past. But not my decision. When I think about the day my newspaper career ended, it is to look back to see what else it would teach me; or to remember the people and the partings.

It was April 1, a Monday, my precious day off because I edited the Sunday paper. We were also in the middle of the Easter vacation. My little car was packed with children, for the day at Blanchisseuse. (In order to have a day to myself or dedicated to the children, I would plan to go somewhere away from phone or office. Contrast Saturday when the children of editors and journalists had the run of the newsroom, the only way for many of us to get the newspaper out while keeping an eye on our youngsters.) I returned home to a ringing phone. It was Alwin Chow's wife giving me the news that Alwin had been fired from his position as managing director of the Guardian newspapers.

I went back to where the family were still off-loading the car, saying, almost to myself: "I have to leave the Guardian."

"Are you sure?"

"I don't have an option."

The next morning I returned to the office to submit my resignation and pack up my personal belongings. Why did I feel that there was no other way? The irony of April 1, All Fools Day, was the "constructive dismissal" of the person who was quixotic enough to stand against interference with the independent editorial process, ending three months of unsureness.

In January, in the run up to Carnival - that silly season - the Prime Minister (himself) had called the newsroom to complain about what he considered an unfair headline. It was unusual, a Prime Minister - the busiest, most demanding job in the land - calling the newsroom to complain. What was more astonishing was the emotion and ire in his voice. He was apoplectic, was the view of the reporter who took the call, and the editor who tried to speak low and slow to calm the situation. He never called again. Instead, there were nightly reviews by a member of the board before the paper went to press.

Compiling the Sunday paper one Saturday: the board member was apologetic; the production manager came to support the editor. These two gentlemen had been friends, colleagues, in another life. It was awkward, it was tempting indeed to slip something in the paper, something really outrageous. But editors are responsible people, keep the the public interest, keeping the public trust.

How much longer we might have tolerated this imposition by the paper's owner, I am not sure. Journalists on a daily basis operate on a treadmill. This is the industry where brains and perceptions and discussions and words are forced to a deadline, to create the product every single day. If the objective was to get rid of the editor in chief and reform the news bias, it was reasonable to assume that production would continue. But the adamant managing director seems to have got in the way and was axed precipitating the break up: six or seven editors followed him. The editor in chief responded by digging his heels in; and didn't leave until weeks later - notions of "going down with the ship"?

Was there another way, I asked myself, again and again. Indeed, the Caribbean Publishers and Broadcasters Association (under Ken Gordon as its chairman) had been attempting to intercede with the owner, and with representatives of the government.

Though I consider myself a perceptive editor, my forte was features, revealing the personalities, the background, the complexities and inevitabilities that create the news. The spotlight was always on the news. I may not have been a target of the owner. But to assume that as a reason for staying would have been disingenuous in the circumstances.

Pressure in 1996 brought by the government was passed on by the owner. It was the owner who invoked what he perceived as the right of his investment. Never mind the paper was in the black for at least two years. It was the owner who came to the newspaper office before the end of that week, to pound the desk and give the clearest message of his owner's right to those who remained, who had not yet resigned; and it was this, the door is there, all ah all yuh could leave too.

It's hard to say - in hindsight - what staying might have achieved. Continuing to be employed in the place that placed us at the centre of the most important story of the month - even the year - was surely more than conflict of interest.

I had been told many years before by a British consultant that the most powerful person in a newspaper is the owner. Words, photography, talent, skills are traded in service to the agenda of the owner. It might be a good bargain when there's alignment between the newsroom and the owner. But there's something inherently unsustainable, even cruel, if there is no independent guarantee of, at least, non-interference.

These lessons and more came home in that period between April 1 and May 3, World Press Freedom Day, in 1996. It is a lesson for everyone - not just journalists - to learn that the free press is a continuous negotiation; that an independent media rests upon one quality - trust -  forged among owner, journalists, readers.  Their agreement is to a principle, not - as is usual in industry - to profit. Furthermore, we learn that a newspaper survives, even thrives, on the most rudimentary skills as long as trust is intact.

In 17 years, I have moved from being an editor for the news, to a reader, a watcher. I watch the 24 hour television news with the same "grain of salt" that I give the daily newspapers. I believe I have a right to know who owns the media through which we receive the news; and I read regularly enough to understand the personalities of those who bring us the news, their strengths, their biases. I accept that every medium has bias; but bias does not negate trust. When trust is broken, it is seldom regained.

(Dear reader, the only news at the "old lady of St Vincent Street" is that the instincts of the owner haven't changed.)




Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Artist in Tobago

Mythic woman with wings, leg of a bird and another of a shark,
with additional protection of dogs looking in opposite directions:
this is the spirit of Luise Kimme overseeing the work of those like Dunieski Lora
who will keep her legacy alive.  
In 1985, Luise Kimme published the first book about her work in Tobago. She wrote in English and German, accompanied by hundreds of photos and drawings, some postage stamp size. Such audacity in her book, "Chachalaca" - named for the cocrico, national bird of Tobago - with its kaleidoscopic impression of people and events recorded during her early years on the island. Here's her immersion in village life, so much passion, such wild love, absorbed with complete and utter nakedness that was both beguiling and terrifying. This proper German bourgeois artist delighting in the details of an island, a small island. Swinging down the road on a bicycle, buying fish, dancing at Sunday School.

Among some of the larger sculptures in Luise's gallery in Mount Irvine

Christ figure

Lady with White Hat by Dunieski


Unfinished pieces by Luise
All of this, even as she carved out a niche for solitude and devotion to art.  Her artist's head and hands - conditioned in Europe and modernism, seeking for Apollo - still yearned for Dionysus, for Thoreau's "wild and original."  In Tobago, according to her friend Herbert Schmitz, Luise lived with "sensuality - far away from our habitual restrictions." In Tobago, Luise Kimme came home. She loved how the people looked - the men with voluptuous sheep's lips, the women wearing rubber slippers, lifting or tugging children - she loved how they walked and talked - such easy grace - how they danced and sang. So she stayed and crafted a new world of majestic personalities, a grander vision of island people. We miss her now, Tobago misses her. But Luise has surely left a legacy that's greater than "two sons." (She was once distressed when the man left her, because she said, "he wanted a woman and two sons.")
Mother with two children: small bronze by Luise

Small bronze by Kimme
It's 17 years since I was sitting in this passageway - a sitting room that was on the way from one end of the house to her workshop - hearing her life story. Even then, she was  thinking of what would happen to her sculptures, as if they were children. Not yet 60 at that time, she was also predicting that she wouldn't live long past 72. (On April 19, 2013, she would have been in her 74th year.) She always spoke softly, short sentences, staccato phrases. Her tone matter of fact, brooking no contradiction. As she said, so it was. Now I am in her house again, I wander off to look closely at what she's left behind, to hear what the sculptures might whisper.

Bunty O'Connor (middle) chats with Cuban artist Dunieski (left) and Luise's sister

Her sister is here from Germany to look after Luise's estate. She's establishing a foundation to administer the trust which will provide for young artists who wish to come, stay and work in Luise's Tobago. A Cuban artist is setting up the kilns to create bronzes of Luise's wooden sculptures. He is a young man with his own family back in Cuba. Dunieski Lora is delighted to be doing this work, eager to press ahead with Luise's vision, which will surely enable his own artistic growth.

When she came to Tobago and sculpted her "larger than life"creatures of myth and fable - soucouyant, la diablesse, Papa Bois, Zandolie taking wife, Heel and Toe and Bele Queen, a pantheon of heroes - Luise Kimme defied the convention of her day. Why was she adoring and adhering to the human form in the way that she did? "Like Egyptians", she called the Tobagonians, with narrow waists and broad shoulders. Whatever Europe may have thought, she made Tobago stand taller and prouder. No doubt one day, many words will be written about the white lady with her chain saw and chisel. She may be compared with Gauguin for his work among the noble natives. Or classified with Minshall - whose work she adored - holding up the mirror so that we living in paradise could see ourselves.

Original fretwork created by Luise

Patterned and crazy fretwork

She spent a lifetime - over 30 years in Tobago - obsessed with this work. She let nothing get in the way. She worked all the time, even when she was in pain. She went through phases trying to make the work easier: fretwork and flat pieces using a jigsaw; painting murals on the Black Rock church; always drawing. She was certainly on to another phase with the small bronzes, that are nothing like her ten-foot people. Here are the textures and details allowed by working in more malleable materials which are then cast in metal.

She has left her mark in the landscape of Tobago, in the way we think of Tobago these days, and certainly in the way Tobago may think of itself. There's possibility here, quiet power, and pride. And at the last, Luise will have her place: "Later on, they will forget what colour I was."

One of the Cuban musicians

From the Cuban nightclub
From the Cuban series

From the Cuban series

Dancer

Luise's bronze horse with dog, cat and rooster:
the musicians of her hometown Bremen?


Do you see the human form hidden in this abstract?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Taking care of Tobago

We are at the Grange on our last morning in Tobago, a sea bath before leaving. It is Friday but we are not alone. A young couple. Three boys horsing around, heckling the couple. A solitary sun-bather. The tide is turning, stirring up the pebbly sea bed. The Trini swimmer slips over the breakers and heads out to open water. Two brothers (Tobago A and B) neck deep near-shore are looking on.

More to the sea than meets the eye. At Grange Bay we are
barely scratching the surface!

Tobago A: Where she going? She dunno it deep out there?

Trini: Doh worry, she just going to swim laps across the bay. She's a swimmer and a diver.

Tobago B: Where she from?

Trini: Trinidad.

And so the talk turned to the daughter's occupation as a marine biologist studying coral reefs for her post-graduate degree and following her passion, life in the ocean. How she started swimming in primary school, played water polo through secondary, scuba dived and worked on a turtle conservation project in Tobago. And sad that Tobago's reefs are deteriorating from exploitation and lack of care, now that she can compare with Australia's Great Barrier Reef; Aruba Curacao Bonaire; the Bahamas ...

Tobago B lives in Brooklyn where he works as a technician in a hospital; he flies back to Tobago at every opportunity for the sea bath and his mother's nourishing fish broth. Tobago A works in the division of Sport in the Tobago House of Assembly; he remarks on the swimmer's fitness and calm rhythmic unhurried stroke.

Trini: More Tobagonians should be encouraged to have an interest in the sea: learn to swim, to dive, observe the living reefs; be guided through the ecosystems. Surely there's opportunity for young people here to make a living from conservation.

Tobago B: Tobagonian children don't specially like the sea... we take it for granted.

Trini: But isn't that because they haven't experienced what's under the sea? Could be that the beach is for family outings and remains just a place to socialise. What if the sea becomes a shared experience with schoolmates, through structured programmes from primary school: learning to swim; learning to snorkel; to scuba-dive? Through class projects, they would explore the ecosystems of reef and shore, and the relationship to life on land. What if they were able to study the geography of the ocean - the way we learn about islands. To leave out the sea is to leave out everything that connects all ...

Tobago B: True, true... Most Tobagonians don't look to the sea except for "sea bath" and fish to eat.

Tobago A (definitively): She should come and work with the Tobago House of Assembly.

Trini (curiosity aroused): Doing what?

Tobago A: Doing whatever she is doing out there ... in Australia.

Trini: She will come back, she does have an interest in Tobago. But that may not be for three or four years. Tobago needs to start already. What sports do you teach the kids?

Tobago A: Football, the usual.

Trini: What about swimming, for well-being and water safety? Good swimmers, responsible divers, could be taught in Tobago's calm waters. The sea as a classroom is all around, easy to get to. More Tobagonians should be involved in the sea, don't you think? Not just fishing and taking tourists to the reefs. Tobago should be conserving and ensuring the survival of reefs, turtles, fish. From small, you should be taught to appreciate what's in the sea. You should be making the policies for protection of the reefs, for turtle conservation, for regulation of jet skis and boats near shore...

What lies beneath is a world - different, complex, interdependent -
that we should get to know! Photo by Anjani Ganase

By this time, the swimmer has returned. She is challenged by Tobago A to see who could stay underwater longer. Then to a sprint. They conclude that her advantage is from "swimming all her life."

Trini Swimmer: In Curacao, kids of three and four are swimming across Piscaderabai (a small bay near the research station). Similar programmes could be conducted all over Tobago - there are many local swimmers who may be happy to coach. There are dive masters who may be willing to teach small children. On-line, the Catlin Seaview Survey is being created as an exploration tool for people who may not be able to go near the ocean or underwater (see catlinseaviewsurvey.com) but in Tobago, everyone should be able to see under the sea. It should be part of our heritage.

Tobago A: You know the Director of Sport? I think he'd be interested.

Trini: The ideas are in your head now - go for it!

It's near lunchtime. Tobago B - who is heading back to New York and his job - is looking forward to a hearty fish broth - made with a deep sea fish called georgy - which we are invited to share. But we need to be on our way too. We part friends, the brothers to Buccoo close by; we to the boat for Trinidad.

Maybe next year, we'll be sharing the water at Grange Bay with a class of kindergarteners!

(Photos of Tobago's coral reefs were taken and loaned by Anjani Ganase, marine biologist.)

Who wouldn't like to know more about these reef species?

While the sand may provide a hiding place for this ray,
it is also smothering the corals

Many species such as turtles and fish need healthy reefs to thrive.

Shouldn't all children grow up with an understanding of coral reefs
especially these in Tobago waters. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The far end of the island

There's sand in the shells of my ears, and the salty smell of the sea still clings to clothes waiting to be washed. We rode the boat back, a vast Moby Dick that swallows cars vans pickups trucks and passengers by the hundreds for supper on one port. You know what it's like to be in the belly of a beast when the sea is churning above ten knots and the wind is running in the opposite direction! If you are lucky, you'll be disgorged on the other island three hours later. I knew a man from Brazil who happily took the ferry on a Friday, just to visit Tobago's beaches - you don't know what you've got, he used to say - until he turned back to Trinidad on Sunday evening. You could see the calm on him those Mondays after. He especially loved Speyside.

Twin rods on the pirogues used to fish - wahoo, mahimahi or tuna

The road from Scarborough to Speyside heads north east, along the windward coast for the most part. It rises from the broad undulating flat around the sheltering harbour. Then, you follow its winding track for miles, up along precipitous cliffs dipping to bays where lines of surf widen and disappear into the sand, a never-ending procession. Little bays of aquamarine and turquoise emerge around bends in the road: King's Bay is one of these. Descend from a stretch of hairpin bends to Speyside. Homes nestle on the hills around. Facing the bay is the playing field, schools and shops. On the seaside, you'll find beach huts, the fish depot, a pier for boarding the boats, and Jemma's famous treehouse restaurant.

Scuba divers at Speyside

Getting ready for a dive at Speyside

We pass the water wheel which was brought from Scotland over a hundred years ago to grind the sugar cane that was grown in this area. Over the hill is Batteaux Bay around which Blue Waters Inn is built. The brief contemporary history of the area - a sugar estate, Goat Island and Little Tobago - tells of the Tucker family who retained ownership of Blue Waters on Batteaux Bay as a bird lovers retreat. See the link http://www.bluewatersinn.com/history.cfm

Batteaux Bay from the crest of the road

Batteaux Bay from the restaurant at Blue Waters

Watch the sea, sipping something cold

Scuba diving the reefs is also offered. Offshore Speyside and around the islands are magical places to visit - mainly by tourists.  It is hoped that awareness comes quickly to young Tobago to cherish and protect not only the beautiful island, but its marine life, that unseen priceless resource.

In Charlotteville, over the mountain from Speyside, we meet Patricia Turpin whose family owns the estate upon which this town was built. Turpin was recently awarded the prestigious Euan P. McFarlane Environmental Leadership Award. Turpin is the founder and president of Environment Tobago. See this link: http://irf.org/wordpress/?p=175093914

It seems that time still moves slowly in Charlotteville. There are rumours of a cruise ship complex to be built here. One hopes to never see the day. A few more houses have crept up the hills overlooking the bay. The fish depot is in a sorry state of being demolished. There's an area hoarded up for new construction. But for this hour, there's time to take a nap under tall trees on Man-o-War Bay; to admire the "garden" towering over the holiday cottages; to give thanks for small mercies - some may call it neglect - on the far end of the island. Fortunately, time is slow here. Perhaps we can slow down too, to hear what these lovely places tell us, to give ourselves time to catch up with nature.

Charlotteville dreaming on the horizon of Man-o-War Bay

Fish head lunch for birds

Forest garden at the Man-o-War Bay cottages

Cottages on the edge of the bay

Peacocks at Pat Turpin's


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hope is a Hero

From the time I could read, I've loved comic books. Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes peopled my universe, along with Phantom, Ghost who walks, and the hundreds of other literary, fictional or real characters that danced in my head stuck in a book. It didn't matter to me whether they were from DC or Marvel, Enid Blyton, or any of the classic writers, say Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, or myths and legends of the Greeks and Romans. I would say that comic book tales and heroes are part of the bedrock of my appreciation of literature. But because comic books hardly ranked as "literature", we had to hide to be able to enjoy a new comic book right through. Superman and Wonder Woman were right up there in the pantheon of a young girl's archetypes.

When the super-hero tales were re-told in movies, they were instant hits. They are natural cinematic subjects, fit for larger than life celluloid screens. There was never a debate whether the movie was better than the comic. We never worried whether it was "true" or too fantastical. Super-heroes fly beyond the predictable and expected. And so it continues. When you enter the comic book, or movie,  you suspend belief.

This is not an S, it's the Kryptonite symbol for Hope.
Still, there are a few things in the 2013 Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) movie that provoke questions, even as others are answered. Throughout the unravelling of his life story - which begins with his "natural birth" to enlightened parents on Krypton and his fostering on Earth by caring Kansan farmers - we are fascinated by what is made real (and believable). How advanced Krypton is in technology and science; but at the same time, how like Earth whose humans seem equally hellbent on a self-consuming path to the destruction of their planet.

It's also hard to believe, even in country-bookie Kansas, that Clark Kent spends over 30 years living so innocently - albeit in obscurity - and without being found out. Still, Man of Steel holds interest precisely because we already know the story, and want to believe in the goodness of the guy. We are curious about the spin on the Lois Lane character. Yup, she's a hotshot journalist with the Daily Planet. She already knows his secret. As it turns out, everybody knows his story. His secret is no secret.

This anti-catharsis makes the final showdown between Kal and Zod anti-climactic. How is a fight between two men with almost equal super powers expected to end? When Kal and Zod battle over Metropolis, destroying the city in the process, it does not move you. We know what the end will be, just not the how.

Fortunately, the film does more than let good triumph over evil. It resolves the duality of the man from Krypton and the man from Earth. There's no need to look deep in order to consider the debate: what accounts for who you are,  environment or genes. In the end, Kal inherits both the superior scientific and technological knowledge of his birth parents - through the clever holographic tutoring by his father Jor-el (Russell Crowe) - and the compassion of his Kansan caregivers. He loves all his parents unrestrainedly. He is the child of two worlds.

In Lois Lane, he meets a clever girl who finds out his secret before she knows him, and she is ready to help protect him. All the people who love him are stronger than the man he has shown himself to be, or the man he is destined to become. Perhaps what is attractive about this version of the (now 80-year old hero) character is his vulnerability, his tabula rasa openness. We have Superman recast as a millennial (as defined by the Time feature, May 9, 2013) - taken care of, protected, loved by those who intuit what he is yet to become.

The old tale begins where this re-telling ends. Alter ego Clark Kent comes to the Daily Planet to be taught his craft by people who already know who he is.

Superman was created in 1933 by teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Man of Steel proves he can be re-interpreted as a hero for any age. Again and always, we come face to face with what it is to be human, what it means to meet destiny made mainfest.

The hero still wears a red cape!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

She grows more beautiful ...

The way to Englishman's Bay from the Crown Point end of Tobago follows the rugged west coast. You go by Black Rock, pass Plymouth and Arnos Vale, Moriah and Castara. Though maintained and often re-surfaced, the road is narrow, winding uphill for most of the way, and challenging. Only skilful and careful drivers need ply this route. It's not just the road, the views are distracting. Whether or not the sky is clear, the sea slips in and out of sight. Dwellings and parlors cling to the edge of the roadway; and tracks to other houses tucked in the valleys are barely obvious. But you won't miss the silk cotton tree with its heavily buttressed trunk beside the roadway.
Castara - on the way
A mere 15-mile one hour drive takes you a world away from the rush and hustle of Store Bay. You shed the busyness of other people's lives. Castara charms you with its scaled down accommodation options, its school with a beachfront, its perches and retreats invisible up the hillsides. By the time you get to the cliff overlooking Englishman's, you are ready to be stopped, to be awed by its crescent shape, its fluid indescribable colour, between two headlands, protective like horns. Descend to sea level, and creep around the river on a sandy track.

From the lookout above the bay

The single structure, painted lime green, houses a souvenir shop and kitchen on the ground floor. Upstairs, the view is enchanting through innovative vertical "french windows." Fishing net is piled up beside a shed, its roof overgrown with wild pines and epiphytes. A sailboat, fishing pirogue or cruise craft shifts at anchor. There are never more than a dozen people enjoying the beach. It's a wonder that the powers-that-be have allowed no other development of the loveliest beach in the world. Everyone who comes here keeps the secret hope that this little piece of heaven remains untouched.

Eula's restaurant

Innovative shelter - wide open, or closed up like a box
Today, there are booby birds dipping arrow straight and soundlessly into the bay. They float for a quick second before lifting off again on powerful wide wings. This is a beach where turtles have been seen coming in to nest. Parrots roost in the coconut trees, and rise squawking as the sky darkens for rain. Strong breezes move the clouds to sea; the sun comes out and the sand heats up again.

Roof garden?
This girl claims it's her favourite beach

Perhaps it was once frequented by an Englishman who laid claim to land in this area, and by extension, the beach itself. Maybe it is still part of one of Tobago's old estates. Even if it had no name, it would still be one of the enduring symbols for Tobago - pulchrior evenit - that grows more beautiful with each encounter.

Water like silk; forested shore; wild birds; nesting turtles; who needs more?