Horizon at Sandy Point

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wedding words

Why do people cry at weddings?

The bride and her dad were crying as they began the walk towards the groom. Twenty-six steps to place her hand in the hand of the man she had chosen to be the life partner - not a small task to give away someone you have looked after for 28 years 11 months and 25 days. Would the groom with all his charm and good looks, his willingness, his earnestness ever live up to the love of a father? A father is forever a father - nothing changes that love.

And then there was the reading by the groom's sister that melted even the stoniest hearts. "Falling in love is like owning a dog," she began. The title of Taylor Mali's poem brought chuckles and smiles. Yes, love would be exactly like my dog living in London! But before "you have a leash on love" the  bridesmaid was sobbing. "Sorry," she was saying in between the verses. She says she couldn't look at her brother and his bride without a heart that overflowed.

By the time she was at "Is love good all the time? No! No! Love can be bad. Bad, love, bad. Very bad, love" there was a punctuation of sobs. Tears flowed from the guests. But no one was unhappy, or embarrassed, or self-conscious, because in the end, "love needs love, lots of it. And in return, love loves you, and never stops."
 (See full poem below *)

The bride herself was brought to tears two nights earlier when she was presented with the "welcome to family" video. It certainly was not caused by the words that describe this fortunate 30-something young man - already a year older than his father when he married! Nor the happy-go-lucky family snaps that show him as a plump and pampered baby; as a boy surrounded by cousins and playmates; as a young adventurer on vacations in strange places. So what is it that prompts the overflow of emotion, these tears of joy? 
(Copy this link to Letter to Leah:

There were no tears early in the week. Family and friends were arriving from everywhere. The Italian cuginos came to Tobago for three days with the groom and his friends. Others came from Barbados, from France; and the elders from right here in Trinidad. We were following the ancient custom of a great gathering at the autumn equinox to unite unrelated clans. The ancient rite would culminate in feasting and dancing, and provide comfort and celebration and a sharing of gifts before hunkering down for the long nights of winter.

And so, the wedding of Leah and Orion begins a new cycle of life. Generations of Whites, Corbins, Wong Chongs and Ganases have already been there, and no doubt, will continue to fall in love and wed …  or not. There will be challenges: sickness, success, good times and bad, fallings, failings, happiness, sadness. But if every other marriage echoes in this union; we hope that this wedding of Leah and Orion transcends the ordinary. May they find in every day, their special secret joy that can never be duplicated or obliterated.

And when tears are shed, we hope they will always be just enough to "wash away the unlovely." (borrowed from David Rudder) Or in the words of the psalm, let there be always "joy in the morning." (Psalm 30:5)
Leah and Orion: September 27, 2014

by Taylor Mali

First of all, it's a big responsibility,
especially in a city like London.
So think long and hard before deciding on love.
On the other hand, love gives you a sense of security:
when you're walking down the street late at night
and you have a leash on love
ain't no one going to mess with you.
Because crooks and muggers think love is unpredictable.
Who knows what love could do in its own defense?

On cold winter nights, love is warm.
It lies between you and lives and breathes
and makes funny noises.
Love wakes you up all hours of the night with its needs.
It needs to be fed so it will grow and stay healthy.

Love doesn't like being left alone for long.
But come home and love is always happy to see you.
It may break a few things accidentally in its passion for life,
but you can never be mad at love for long.
Is love good all the time? No! No!
Love can be bad. Bad, love, bad! Very bad love.

Love makes messes.
Love leaves you little surprises here and there.
Love needs lots of cleaning up after.
Sometimes you just want to get love fixed.
Sometimes you want to roll up a piece of newspaper
and swat love on the nose,
not so much to cause pain,
just to let love know Don't you ever do that again!

Sometimes love just wants to go for a nice long walk.
Because love loves exercise.
It runs you around the block and leaves you panting.
It pulls you in several different directions at once,
or winds around and around you
until you're all wound up and can't move.

But love makes you meet people wherever you go.
People who have nothing in common but love
stop and talk to each other on the street.

Throw things away and love will bring them back,
again, and again, and again.
But most of all, love needs love, lots of it.
And in return, love loves you and never stops.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Out of China

I can only speculate on what spurred my grandfather to make the long journey and move his family from China to Trinidad. In the 1930s, what was happening in the Chinese countryside, especially port provinces like Guangdong? Were Mao's movements and "long marches" were stirring the countryside? What was the effect of Japan's incursions? How exactly did the growing turmoil affect my father's parents we can only discern from the slow revelations of historical research. But we do know that my grandfather - much as he loved his native land - made a few trips to Trinidad in the 1930s. On one of those trips he brought my father, a boy with a serious determined face, then took him back to China before bringing him back at the end of the 1930s (maybe 1938 or 1939) to stay.

Akung (grandfather) brought the three boys including my father Wong QuiOn. Then he went back to bring out Apo and the younger siblings. Apo, Daddy's mother, was a peasant. She delivered her own babies and went back to work.  But you could be peasant and illiterate but not stupid.

Not to be underestimated is her determination to keep the family together; to earn by hard work what was required to succeed in a place where she did not understand the language, had no friends, and looked at everyone across the shop counter as scamps or tricksters. Discipline was swift: a slap and a harsh Chinese command. When she came here with a baby girl, Wong Tai Yow was most likely in her early 30s; she had three more children, seven in all. Not my grandfather's only offspring, since in between the trips back to China, he had taken a Trinidadian wife with whom he also had seven children.

The late 30s and early 40s marked the end of their lives as Chinese in China. They fled the process that birthed the new China. Perhaps they knew what they were fleeing. Trinidad - a completely alien land with similarities to the landscape and climate of Canton (Guangdong) - represented the new beginning in a brave new world where their hope was not for themselves but for the children.

Paul Theroux, in his 1987 book Riding the Iron Rooster, describes Guangdong: "It was a very wet province, Guangdong, and distinctive for not looking exhausted: it was fertile, orderly and energetic, and yet everything and everyone I saw had a specific purpose, which seemed to me very tiring to the eye - nothing random or accidental." Except for the agriculture and orderliness, this might be Trinidad.

In leaving China when they did, they escaped the generation-long birthing process fathered by Mao Zedong from 1945 to 1976. At the height of Mao's reign, around 1958 - a period known as the Great Leap Forward - exhortations to produce coincided with a time of famine which resulted in privations and poverty, and spelled death for many. It is now estimated that over 45 million were sacrificed. (September 17, 2010 The Independent, Arifa Akbar)

Henry Wong Chong's line may not have perished, but family left behind would certainly have suffered. His wife, my grandmother, was always collecting things to send back to China - the printed cotton of rice and feed bags, the string that sewed the bags shut, were all carefully cleaned, collected and mailed. My grandfather was also responsible for bringing other extended cousins out of China.

As Trinidadians, we do not look back. Akung's son, my uncle Henry, now 90, was a shopkeeper, and took pleasure in hunting with his pack of dogs. He considers himself Trinidadian. Two generations later, in the comfort that Trinidad has afforded, some of us try to find the China our ancestors left behind. Paul Theroux's book offers an inkling, an insight to the country and people that were already rapidly changing in the 1980s. The yoke with which Mao harnessed the people - you were either Red Guard or worker - was being thrown off. Here is another paragraph that rings true.

"It is a great society for mending things, I thought.  There was no need for a man to be put on the occupational scrap heap simply because his arm had been chopped off. You found a way to reattach the arm, and you sent him back to work. … It was always obvious when a thing had been patched - it was a society of patches. They patched their underwear and darned their socks and cobbled their shoes. They rewrote their slogans and painted out Thoughts of Chairman Mao, and come to think of it, that was a form of patching too. But Mao had spoken repeatedly of the evils of wastefulness. … An entire section of his thoughts is entitled Building our Country Through Diligence and Frugality."

Is this why my parents never discarded anything? Fortunately we had space on the farm: for piles of glass bottles; cans; parts, tools, broken machinery that could not be thrown out because we might have a use for them later on. Is this where I got my pack rat gene from?

Paul Theroux's book is an entertaining ride by train through China, an easy journey into the past and a foreign country. One third way through, and I catch glimpses of grandparents. I am looking for a little more of myself.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love, anytime and anyplace

We learn love in many ways. As a child, upon the breast of the mother, cradled in sheltering arms of any adult, through what may be given or removed to keep us safe. At different ages, we learn what it is to receive love; and then what it is to give. Love fulfilled occurs when the lover and the beloved become one, aligned in outlook and purpose. You can think of this love as between two persons. In the widest context, the happy individual is in perfect harmony with his or her world.  Love and happiness are closely aligned, but not necessarily entwined.

Our understanding of love also goes through stages, phases and revelations. I think it might be a stretch of imagination for a young mind to perceive the profound beauty of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera." For one thing it may be difficult to enter a book about love where the first event is a death. I am not sorry to be reading this amazing book later rather than early in life.

The infatuations of youth are familiar. The comfortableness of a suitable marriage, a well-regulated household and ordered life resonate well with couples who seek security, status and upward mobility in their lives. Everyone who has passed puberty understands the flaming passion of first kiss, the knot in the belly of sexual attraction, the yearning when apart, the thoughts and dreams of the beloved.

Later on, there emerges love that is patient, constant and - an old fashioned term - abiding.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez explores love in all its forms. The perversions of carnal encounters are also a form of love. Such fleshly distractions, friendships and interest in the world can help focus the mind to the ideal of abiding love.

Love in the time of cholera is the love that survives through a lifetime. It is constant in lives separated by careers, riches, success, and loss. It lives under a flag of its own, against the vagaries and differences of society and norms, against the odds. And, finally, it comes to this. So beautifully and lovingly articulated: two souls together. This paragraph is the crux of the book. But as you read, there will be many other paragraphs that remind us of the nature of love.

"They were together in silence like an old married couple wary of life, beyond the pitfalls of passion, beyond the brutal mockery of hope and the phantoms of disillusion: beyond love. For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime and anyplace, but it was more solid the closer it came to death." - Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Metamorphoses in Medulla

Medulla's white box is the perfect setting for new pieces in ceramic and bronze by Bunty O'Connor from Trinidad, and Dunieski Lora Pileta from Cuba. Explorations in Bronze - which featured about ten pieces from each artist - was mounted and opened on Monday (September 8) and runs until just before midday on Saturday (September 13). It gives way to the New Media selections of the Film Festival which opens on September 16.
Explorations in Bronze, featured at Medulla September 8 to 13

The white box is a spectacular stage for these pieces. It shows to advantage artworks that sat atop  rubble and detritus of the workshops where they were made. These things of beauty have emerged from the rough surroundings of galvanize shed, the litter of electrical cables and gas cylinders cluttering the dirt floor. They are the more wondrous for the humble materials from which they were made.

Medulla is the gallery in the basement of Isabel Brash's Cocobel house on Fitt Street. The name means pith or core, and this "medulla" is appropriate for shows like Explorations in Bronze by Bunty and Dunieski. Here are two artists from opposite ends of the Caribbean; with very different backgrounds, different gender perspectives, finding the crux of the work; and more importantly the pleasing and gentle harmony of working together. Brought together by a mutual friendship with Luise Kimme - the sculptor from Germany who flowered in Tobago - Bunty and Dunieski came to this collaboration just two months ago. It felt too ambitious to Bunty. But she was persuaded by Dunieski who had the need to complete a Trinidad exhibition before returning to Cuba and a new baby.

Bat and Flower, ceramic plate, Bunty

In the beginning, ceramic plate, Bunty

Maman de l'eau, ceramic statue, Bunty
Bunty in Tobago
As August passed like a ticking crocodile, Bunty and husband Rory learned the art of bronze casting: of sculpting in wax to lose it, and pouring molten metal into plaster moulds. It was hot, dangerous, equal parts terror and tedium. The learning process involved trips to Tobago where Dunieski maintains Kimme's castle on behalf of her sole heir and sister, Ilse. It was an apprenticeship to the resourcefulness of the Cuban who was inspired by driftwood, coconuts and bamboo roots cast up on the beach; to the skill and alacrity with which he creates the moulds and casts the bronze; and to patience with oneself when you are learning something new.

Alligator, bronze, Bunty

Metamorphoses might have been the name of this exhibition. The artist in clay has fingers that feel their way to shape and substance. Fire hardens the clay and crystallises the glaze or colour.  In the fire of the bronze artist, the intermediary is wax which is sacrificed to create the plaster mould into which molten metal is poured. Who would have thought that a creative process so dramatically removed from imagination, that passes through many stages, would produce such fine textures, grand gestures as emerged in Dunieski's Bamboo Jumbie or the Spirit of the Tree.

Bat woman, bronze, Bunty

Bronze, Dunieski

Venus with pig, bronze, Dunieski

Spirit of the Tree, bronze, Dunieski
Sleeping child, bronze, Bunty

Methuselah, bronze, Bunty

Sheep on coconut, Dunieski

Bunty's Sleeping Child, Alligator and Methuselah (the ancient turtle) were first shaped in clay. They were transformed to bronze in the process that schooled the O'Connors. Dunieski is a patient teacher, as interested in the students' work as in his own. Attending to his own creations, the month seemed to pass in a kind of artist's mind block, a period of gathering made more tenuous by an impending deadline.

At the last minute, Dunieski surpassed and surprised himself. As he sat and burnished the Jumbie, three days before the exhibition, he marvels at the transformation of the bamboo root. He is amazed not by his work, but by the creature that came through him - and by how he is changed by its passing. He imagines a phalanx of Jumbies, some with arms upraised (playing mas), outstretched as if waving a flag, cradling a pan. Jumbies with wings, frozen in flight. A carnival band of Bamboo Jumbies. He is laughing. It is his birthday, a momentary respite. Then he is back in Tobago, at work in the furnace and fire. Making a metamorphosis. Transforming himself.

Bamboo Jumbie, bronze, Dunieski

Bronzes by Bunty and Dunieski

Dunieski Lora Pileta, Tobago

Recycled, recycled materials, Dunieski

Winged woman, Dunieski