Monday, September 18, 2017

The Queen of Port of Spain

Queen Street runs straight from Piccadilly to Richmond. If you stand on the bridge across the East Dry River, in the shadow of the United Brothers Lodge (251 SC), you can see the sheer shiny walls of the new Government Campus at the other end. But here at street level, you can walk a cross-section of the city – indeed of Trinidad herself – that is assorted multicultural and multilayered humanity; 19th century wooden homes, solid square "independence" apartments, giving way to post-coup (both 1970 and 1990) high-rise windowless commercial structures.
Looking west on Queen Street, towards the new government campus on Richmond Street

Everybody here is about some business. Buying or selling, breezing out or browsing, there is vigor on the street, liveliness and purpose that still speaks of possibility. Here is a street that is close to the hearts of Trinis, and especially those who live in Port of Spain, meaning the catchment from the hills that ring the city, Laventille to St Ann’s and Cascade, and even the flatlands fleeing to the west. The grid of downtown Port of Spain (the central business district) was laid out by the Spanish and improved by their last governor, Don Jose Maria Chacon, who gave up the city to the invading British under Sir Ralph Abercromby in 1797 rather than see it in ruins. It was Chacon who diverted the East Dry River to the foothills of Laventille.

Look up at the United Brothers Lodge at the eastern end of Queen Street

Piccadilly Street runs above the East Dry River, the diverted St Ann's river that is the eastern boundary of the city.
Tiny houses at east Queen Street have been divided into tinier apartments

George Street eatery

Residential side of Queen Street at Duncan Street apartments

Mixed residential and commercial use buildings at east Queen Street

From east to west, we walk from the Jama Masjid Mosque towards Nelson and Duncan Streets, still residential areas. Tiny houses have been partitioned into tinier apartments. Solid government-built apartment blocks are a modest three-floors, and residents hang over the open walls of common-area staircases. At George Street, homes give way to commerce: the corner is dominated by the downtown branch of one of Trinidad's most advertised roti shops.

One street over, busyness intensifies. The Heritage street market on Charlotte Street crosses Queen Street and runs a tented half mile from Park Street to Independence Square. The old Port of Spain Market that once straddled the block between George and Charlotte Streets is now completely enclosed in the East Side Mall.  But outside on the street, any and everything might still be bought: bright gold bangles and earrings, jockey shorts, panties and bras, slippers of every colour and size; but mostly fresh food, bodi, cassava, breadfruit, pumpkin, ochro, chadon beni, and fruit in season.
Queen Street haberdashery

Queen Street fashion

Between Henry and Frederick Streets was the fabric and fashion capital of the country: textiles from all over the world. In August, emancipation and independence season, the shop windows feature African prints not found in any of the malls.

Cross Frederick and enter a quieter district. Who would believe the corner of Frederick and Queen saw the start of the largest grocery chain in the country. Who can still remember Canning’s Corner? One block away is the 126-year old Trinidad Building and Loan Association in an imposing 1932 structure, the picture of stability and longevity. Opposite, the spire of Holy Trinity Cathedral. And on the next block, straddling Abercromby and St Vincent Street, the serene modern National Library structure floats above all.

Modern skyscrapers line the walk to the end of Queen Street at Richmond: a multi-story carpark and office buildings Best of all are the oliviers filtering the harsh overhead sun. We should plant more trees in Port of Spain.
At the corner of Queen and St Vincent Streets

Edifice to the stability of The Building and Loan Association at Queen and Chacon Streets

Tiny eatery

Remodelling a hundred year old Queen Street structure

The National Library

Quieter end of Queen Street
We need to plant more trees in Port of Spain

In this heart of Port of Spain, which was once called Cumucurapo, or was it Conquerabia - there's no one left who can confirm this - we wear the weight of the past ever so lightly. Sometimes, too lightly, our centre of government, the esteemed parliament now housed high above the city in one of the modern towers on the waterfront; the Red House still - close to ten years - under wraps. Perhaps it's a good thing to be agile and adaptable, to recognise the parliament as the people not the building. But surely, it's time to be not quite so tolerant of a constitution with one foot in the colonial past and just a toe in the future.

 We still don’t know – or much care – which queen is to be remembered by Queen street. Who was Frederick? Or Duncan? Today, we have our own queen worthy of being celebrated in a street name. Some people will perpetually call it Queen Street, becoming anachronisms to children and grandchildren, much like those of us who continue to shop at HiLo, or were connected to the world by TSTT.  But Janelle Commissiong Street has a nice ring, conjures the smile of a real Trini. Why shouldn’t we remake and rename ourselves. Brian Lara Promenade has already replaced Marine Square. We have Hasley Crawford Stadium, Ato Bolden Stadium, Brian Lara Cricket Academy, Wendy Fitzwilliam Boulevard and Keshorn Walcott Lighthouse. Let Janelle Commissiong have the heart of Port of Spain.

This visit to Queen Street coincided with the publication of Janelle, celebrating 40 years of Miss Universe 1977. When asked what she wanted her street to be called, Janelle Commissiong replied, "the cleanest street in Trinidad and Tobago." Here's a link to the publication Janelle:

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