Archive for March 9th, 2008

March 9, 2008

Disappearing world

Little did I know when I posted yeterday’s entry ( on my site) that it would elicit a flurry of thought provoking responses. Sometimes I get a whole different insight into the topic when I see what the comments say. Generally, though I must say the comments are quite reasonable as would be expected when someone actually bothers to read a blog on such a topic. As regards the difference between “preference’ and “orientation” as explained by Bruce I think it is an important distinction. There is a world of difference between preferring one thing over another and having no choice in the matter. That being said let’s move right along to the topic at hand.

All this recent talk about the Boissiere House and the constantly changing face of Port of Spain reminds me of how little respect Trinis have for their built environment. The Government and some sectors of the community seem to think that anything old is best torn down and replaced with something bland and concrete so that we seem “modern” ( whatever that means). The other night I was spending a few moments at Alvin’s lounge and glanced over at downtown to discover that it was suddenly sporting taller buildings and, for reasons that escape me, some sort of strange colour changing light display on one structure. Either the builders were nostalgic for Shanghai or someone had a serious fixation on Las Vegas. The display is so completely un-Trinidadian and so blandly representative of thousands of buildings around the world it almost made me want to cry. Port of Spain was never the prettiest capital in the world, even a browse through the Harpers Monthly archive will turn up some disparaging comments about the city dating back over 150 years, but it had a certain disorganized Caribbean charm.

Today, as I drive around the Savannah and environs I am shocked at the state of some of our classic architecture. Stollmeyers Castle ( aka Killarney) is in complete disrepair largely as a result of the PM’s office using the grounds as a car park.  Whitehall is looking ok but the PM has indicated that he wants something different and is planning , last we heard, to  move into the parliament building once he finds a convenient place to move that pesky democratic institution. Millefleurs is looking like a shabby tramp despite it being a heritage building. Roomor, that brilliant bit of ironwork is rusting slowly away as the family living there seems unable to maintain it as their ancestors did. The only three buildings that are bucking the trend are the Archbishop’s house which is kept in perfect condition, Queen’s Royal College which is still in use and is being renovated as we speak and Knowsley which is home to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and which still looks pristine. At least there are some gems that have been kept for future generations to see we once had some style and grace. Otherwise they might be forgiven for thinking we were a bunch of brain dead Philistines who didn’t appreciate what we had. I shudder to think after virtually destroying the Queen’s Park Hotel ( a deco gem) , razing Bagshot House ( still nothing built on the site) and turning the George Brown house into an appendage to an office building, that one day parents will point to the Hyatt and tell their kids that it is the pinnacle of Caribbean architectural excellence.

There are other bits of Trinidad that used to define the place that are also disappearing or have all but vanished already.Civility and hospitality are still around but becoming increasingly rare. They still pop up occasionally when they are least expected but they are becoming the exception rather than the norm. Street vendors selling tonka beans and plum chow have been replaced by pirate music and DVD vendors. There is still the odd oysterman around Trinidad but they are certainly not as ubiquitous as they used to be. The once common sight of dapper older gentlemen in suits oblivious to the tropical heat wandering the pavements has been replaced by swaggering thugs and inconsiderate drivers. The Trinidad of old is vanishing fast and I suppose such change is an inevitable part of development but I cannot help but think we are tossing away some of the best things about life on these little

islands in exchange for a golden future that is , in fact, rotten at the core.


March 9, 2008

Acceptable Hatred

I am still fighting a cold but managed to drag myself to work today and get the news on with the two Melissas and Robin. My day started off strangely, however, as I checked my usual list of RSS feeds and came across a link on Caribbean Free  Radio that led me to a blog from a Jamaican journalist about homophobia in Jamaica. It so alarmed and upset me I took several minutes to regain my composure and immediately called Alvin to have him read it. Alvin takes such things very personally and he vowed to read it immediately. I think most people would be living in a cave if they didn’t realize that Jamaica is a hotbed of hatred when it comes to homophobia. Time magazine voted it the most homophobic place on earth…no mean feat in a world that includes Iran and Afghanistan.

It is easy to think that Jamaica is miles away and they are easily avoided but that is hardly the point. I have always operated on the “no man is an island” principle and by that logic no island is immune from observing the norms of civilized behaviour. The conduct of many Jamaicans when it comes to this issue is a shame on the entire Caribbean. I was horrified to read that upon discovering his son was gay a Jamaican father urged his schoolmates to lynch him. Of a policeman who very bravely announced that he was gay and was so threatened by the public and his colleagues he had to seek refugee status in Canada. This sorry state of affairs is encouraged by a religious establishment that refuses to tone down its message in the face of people being killed and a musical establishment that seems to rake in money from encouraging such violence. The entire structure of Jamaican society from the politicians to police seems complicit in encouraging such hate crimes. I wonder if they would feel the same if the subject was changed from Gay to “black” – another pesky genetic trait.

I am not averse to picking a fight with those who are religiously inclined though it is usually not very satisfying as it only ever ends up in the brainwashed mantra “because the bible says so”. Attempting to point out that the same book also says lobsters and shrimp will land you pretty darned close to the 5th circle of hell will inevitably result in a blank look or a reaction that Jesus changed those rules. Moving on to ask what the New Testament view is on the subject ( given it is never mentioned despite it being such a big deal to God) will almost always result in an invitation to a church in order to save my eternal soul. The whole thing is pointless. The fact of the matter is that someone choosing to believe whatever they want does not give them the right to impose their beliefs on anyone else. If someone wants to believe homosexuality is something people choose, apparently because it is a more attractive option, that is their right – but if I believe that all left-handed people must be painted blue it does not give me the right to walk around with a gallon of paint attacking them.

By all accounts many Jamaicans are obsessed with homosexuality.They seem to spend all their free time being disgusted by  whatever  gay people do in bed and plotting ways to stop this gash on their psyche. A psychologist faced with someone who spends all his free time thinking about something unrelated to him and fixated on stopping it might draw some fairly easy conclusions. It is a form of mental illness. What can be done about a nation suffering psychosis? I am not sure but the message needs to be hammered home to them from both the international community and by economic force. It is no good pretending you are a reggae version of the magic Kingdom when some of your citizens are being beaten and killed behind the scenes.What makes the whole scenario even more maddening is that the sanctimonious attitude of Jamaican’s towards this matter is undermined by the fact it is seen almost universally as a sex and drugs destination.

Is the rest of the English Caribbean any better? I would say yes because it could hardly be worse. Speaking for Trinidad & Tobago I know there are archaic laws on the books but in everyday life there is little evidence of violent homophobia. There is, of course, general violence that affects everyone but at least the perpetrators have the good grace to be even handed in their mayhem. None of my gay friends have ever told me about any unpleasant incidents relating to them living their everyday lives. There are a few gay establishments in Trinidad and they seem to be doing well without any problems other than normal business hurdles. Trinidad is not perfect and there is an urgent need for politicians to develop spines and implement the appropriate equal rights legislation but at least in practice this society is remarkably quick to just accept people for what they are. Perhaps Jamaica could start by at least heading in our direction as imperfect a direction as it is.

Until such time as our Jamaican cousins can grasp a firm hold of common sense and realize that hatred of anyone because nature made them a certain way is odious I will do my small part by not buying anything with “Made in Jamaica”  printed on it.