Archive for November, 2009

November 29, 2009

There’s something about Liz

T&T has been a flurry of activity these past few days with the visit of HRH Queen Elizabeth II and 50+ heads of state visiting for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Naturally, those of us in the news business have been running about trying to gather stories as best we are able given the fact the local media have been treated like scabrous lepers and excluded from most of the main events. Thankfully we have a media pool provided which worked out quite well despite numerous last minute changes to the schedule of events. CHOGM has been, as would be expected, a non-event since nothing significant has ever emerged from the Commonwealth except nebulous decisions to possibly do things. WHat can anyone expect from an organization that gives the same voting rights to Vanuatu as it does to the UK or Canada?  The reality of life is that bigger developed countries have the authority to make important global changes and any other discussions are just idle chit chat. Even the UN recognizes this by having the security council to hold the rest of the throng in check when needs be. Now our illustrious PM’s ego is even further out of check courtesy our money.

In my view the only meetings that result in anything earthshaking are the G-8 and G-20 which at least have only heavy hitters and tend to end with actual decisions for concrete action. How can anyone take the Commonwealth seriously when the majority of its members have questionable human rights records? Not me. It is easy for them to talk about grand plans for sustainability ( a buzz word if ever there was one) and climate change – let’s see them commit to something as simple as assuring basic rights for their own citizens.

In any case, the average person here didn’t really care two hoots about CHOGM as Queen Elizabeth seemed to steal the show. HRH did her usual things and politely sat through the requisite “cultural ” shows and plaque unveilings. While she carried herself around with the customary grace and Prince Philip managed to keep his foot out of his mouth ( no mean feat) one can’t help thinking that the whole time they were thinking “another day..another set of darkies beating drums and dancing.”

I was rather thrilled to know that HRH was staying at the Carlton Savannah which meant that for the first time in my life I spent two days sleeping in the same neighbourhood as the Queen. Understandably, my Irish mother was not as thrilled about my proximity and expressed her predictable views on royalty during our weekly telephone convo. I know the monarchy is not really essential but to me it conveys a sense of timeless civility and order. Where else could you get that much glittery class for a few pence a year – paid by UK taxpayers. In a world full of useless and irrelevant things the Queen is at worst innocuous and is undeniably decorative. Long live Liz.

November 20, 2009

Take me to your leader…

There are weeks that are dull and there are weeks that fill me with trepidation. My life is such that the two convenient slots would pretty well cover most of my life thus far. This past week fell into the latter category but, as is often the case, turned out to be interesting. I have no idea why I consider new experiences to be traumatic but I generally enjoy them once I get going and have yet to meet a challenge that I did not enjoy accomplishing or, in retrospect, consider a “learning experience.”

Our newest landmark in Port of Spain is the National Academy for the Performing Arts which has spawned not inconsiderable controversy. Had it not cost about $100 million US to the taxpayers  it might have been lauded as a noble experiment but since it did it is regarded by many as somewhere between a gross waste of resources and the greatest travesty since Celine Dion. Personally, I am an arts kind of guy, but when I know for a fact that hospitals here are awful and many people do not get a regular supply of water,  I tend to be rather circumspect about the necessity for new venues for performers. In any case, the PM needed the thing finished in time to show off to his new friends for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2009 and we got hire purchase terms from China so it is now a fact of life in Port of Spain.

There can be no doubt that it is impressive both inside and outside. There are varying opinions on its architectural merit that range from gleaming icon to hideous and inappropriate . My opinion lies somewhere in the middle. I certainly don’t think it is reflective of anything Caribbean or Trinidadian but that is what happens when you make an arrangement with the Chinese that includes them designing and building the thing. Apparently shiny  and metal is de rigueur in Shanghai these days. The Government says the design is meant to represent the national flower – sure it is and my behind represents an interesting rococo end table. When will governments learn to quit when they are ahead when it comes to testing our gullibility?

Anyhow, to cut to the chase, I got a call not too many days ago asking if I would be the announcer for a mainly classical cultural show being held at NAPA. At first I thought it was a clever plan to lure me into the building so that I could be buried under concrete. I have not been shy in stating my views on the necessity for the structure and the way this country is going that could easily mean interment. Given that the caller was Mervyn de Goeas who I met many years ago and whose work  I respect I suspended my disquieting thoughts and agreed. Actually, had it not been someone I know I would have probably said no as I truly hate speaking in public. Broadcasting is usually done in a studio and there is little chance of anyone jeering at me or pelting past-peak produce. Since I was told I would be in the wings I figured the curtains would shield me.

Now that I have done the two shows I am happy that I agreed as it gave me a chance to wander from my comfort zone and to get reacquainted with Mervyn who I had fallen out of touch with for an ungodly number of years. When I think about it – it is amazing that such a thing can happen in such a small island…but I digress. Mervyn was brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed my time backstage and the chance to share our contrasting views on the world. I am a cynical and jaded bastard and he is preternaturally happy to be alive and experiencing things. This mental state might be understandable in a young person but in someone my age it is nothing short of a miracle. Apparently life on the stage can give a different perspective. I tend to think, though, that since he deals with fantasy and mind manipulation  for a living ( 7 Cacique awards which are the local version of a Tony) the goings-on in this country would not seem unusual to him.

I was also pleased to be able to wander about a stage and mingle with the crew and performers. I have a great love for theatre and never had a chance to pursue it myself so any opportunity to mingle with show folk in their milieu is a thrill. That being said the main stage at NAPA is a thing to behold. When the government picked it they must have been given a catalogue by the Chinese and picked the model labelled “Big Mother F$%ker”. It is colossal by any standard and I am sure it would be easily able to accommodate any opera or Broadway/West End production. Heck…it could even be used to play a regulation game of football. It is also a slip stage which is unheard of in this country…at least I never heard of one. I suspect that I am correct on this one because the audiences for both performances applauded wildly when they saw the instruments on stage moving towards them when the curtain rose. This is very much a space designed for opera and classical performances which are the only ones that could attract  1,200 people able to afford the ticket prices to support the cost of paying to rent such a venue. The only problem is that we have no opera or classical music culture in this country but that is another story. Were I able to adopt the methods in A Clockwork Orange I would love to “adjust” the taste of the population but, sadly, I will never be given such leeway.

It seems I may be announcing for a repeat production in the future and I am looking forward to the chance to hang out with Mervyn again and watching his unorthodox but effective ways.

And speaking of old friends and the theatre ( and I was) I had a rather surreal experience the other night. In my usual insomniac way I was lying in bed watching CNN trying to fall asleep when the Joy Behar show came on. Nothing unusual there but then I realized one of the main guests looked very familiar. When they put his name up on the screen I knew it was someone I was very friendly with for a while in the early 80s in Toronto.  I had met Duncan when I used to hang out at the Poor Alex theatre in Toronto and he and Neil Bartlett had come over from England with in a play called PORNOGRAPHY ( all caps…I swear.) Most odd. I should mention that the topic for Behar’s show was sex addiction but that is a subject for another day.

November 11, 2009

Sheppard 09

Just returned from Peter Sheppard’s 2009 exhibition at the 101 Art Gallery in Port of Spain. Too tired to blog but I think a few pics of the event might be in order. It was obviously well attended and Sheppard managed another excellent collection.The apres-show gathering at Drink! in Woodbrook was fun too.

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Naz, Samuel & Peter during the show

100_7078 Celebrated Cuban artist Jose Fuster and Donny Hadeed of Y Gallery.

November 10, 2009

Oops

I changed the theme of this blog and only just realized that some earlier posts are showing as blank pages. It turns out they were written in white text on the previous dark background. I like the new theme so I am slowly making my way through older entries and changing the font colour. If you want to read one of these seemingly blank posts in the meantime ( and heaven knows why you would want to) just highlight the white area and cut and paste the white text into a new document at which time you can also change the font colour.

Apologies.

November 10, 2009

Jetsam

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It is after midnight and I find myself doing everything except finishing off a short piece on Carnival I pledged to do for my editor.  This blog entry stands as testament to my willingness to do anything but write about Carnival at this moment. I could say it is the result of getting home at 10pm after doing my nighttime chat show or even that I am tired but that would not really excuse my recalcitrance. Though I live in Trinidad right now and it is often pushed in marketing brochures as the land of Carnival ( and steel pan, limbo blah blah) my love for that particular observance/festival is not even skin deep. Given that I shudder at the very thought of modern Carnival it is somewhat North of ironic that I am supposed to express superlatives about it for a guidebook. To be fair to Fodor’s they don’t actually require me to gush effusively about the joys of it . Even so, it would be silly to give the usual “watch your purse” advice if I did not also give some reason that made attending worth the risk. I supposed my hesitation to write may be related to me avoiding the urge to give my usual four word summary of it – loud, inconvenient and pointless.

A few years ago when Minshall had a band I might have been able to muster a few words about the theatre of the streets or a spontaneous expression of freedom and joy. Today I would feel disingenuous stating such a thing. MacFarlane makes a noble effort but he doesn’t quite have the groundbreaking impact of  his predecessor. What I am left with is writing about throngs of people who buy beaded bikinis and board shorts with appliqué  and then make their way through the streets in between music trucks and food carts. I suppose it should now be called what it is – a two day fete ( all-inclusive in many cases). It definitely isn’t an expression of the creativity of the people of this odd land since creativity has been replaced by commerce with the exception of a dwindling few small bands that are essentially run off the road by the bigger bikini bands.

 

A few years ago I might have also written about steelbands roving the streets but for the last few years I have been forced to walk the streets looking for them. Pan has been relegated to an accompaniment to a few traditional sailor bands and even then they are usually drowned out by the passing parade of music trucks blaring soca. On a side note, why does everyone wonder why soca has never “caught on” outside the islands or island communities around the world? There is little universal message in “jump and wave and wave and wave”..it simply doesn’t have the universality of something like reggae.

Maybe inspiration will come to me tomorrow and I will be able to wax rhapsodic on the joys of the self-titled greatest show on earth. Watching the dreary spectacle of the National Performing Arts Centre today has numbed whatever creative sparks I might have had today. I can’t believe I just wrote an entire entry about Carnival when it is only November and my intention was to deal with something else entirely.

If I write tomorrow I think I shall deal with my gradual  and painless escape from my Apple addiction.

November 8, 2009

hóstiam immaculátam

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There are some months where I don’t even have time to think and it usually coincides with updating Fodor’s Caribbean Guide. This year was a bit different as I didn’t have to take time off work to fly about and do my research. Apparently the upcoming book will be chock  full of colour pictures and all they wanted was for me  to ensure that the information was accurate. It turns out that making interminable long distance calls ( thanks heavens for SkypeOut) and digging through the deepest interstices of the web is actually more tiring than morning to night site inspections. You live and learn I guess.

My copies of the latest Caribbean Guide and Aruba guide arrived from my editor in New York and, as usual, when I read them it feels like they were written by someone else. Like this blog it is a reflection of where my mind was at a particular time. This gives me the strange thrill of reading what seems to be the work of someone totally unconnected to me. I guess I will read the 2011 book and get the same sensation though right now it is still burned into my brain.  My sense of disconnectedness never ceases to amaze me…I am sure somewhere in the world there is a psychotherapist looking for a case like me.

A sudden vacancy in the station’s Monday night lineup has resulted in me now hosting a weekly call-in programme. This is not a new development in my life as I spent much of my early radio career in Trinidad taking calls on the air. The CEO decided that the new show should have the name of one of my earlier programmes as he seems to assume there is some residual nostalgia for the original. Having done it for television for a few weeks now I can safely say that there isn’t much difference except that I can’t slouch as much and eye-rolling is strongly discouraged. Gosh I miss radio.  The calls thus far have cemented my view that the local population, though wont to behave in a brash and vulgar manner in everyday life, seems to have a preternatural tendency to be polite and moderate on the air. I have nothing against moderation, though I seldom practice it myself, but I tend to think that it leads to complacent governments. Nine out of ten revolutions clearly show that a loud and demanding population can get the attention of a government faster than any amount of well mannered suggestions.

The hardest part of the show for me is that I have to sit there dispassionately and generally refrain from pontificating. Anyone who knows me will attest that pontificating is one of the great joys in my life so there is a certain cheerlessness that befalls me as I sit on camera. Were I allowed to call into the show I can assure one and all that moderation would not be a prominent characteristic of my input. Fortunately I have never been the type to call into any show so even if corporeal schizophrenia struck such an eventuality is unlikely at best. My preferred method is to sit sullenly in a corner and stew in my own vitriol like a good confit. That being said, a blog seems like a good place to stew.

How can any population watch a government spend money with such wanton disregard for priorities and stay quiet?  I am still quite certain that were a gorilla given a ton of money and told to shove it into a series of slots with each assigned a certain project , the end result would be a more efficient use of funds than I am currently seeing.  This spending has resulted in a few improvements in such things as a free drug programme ( when it works), free university education ( we shall ignore the quality of graduate this provides for the moment) and an overpass that took 8 years to build. Generally speaking though, the average person in this country is not any better off  in terms of quality of life. I would guess that looking at the whole picture might reveal that in several key areas we are, in fact, worse off.  Traffic congestion is worse, crime is virtually out of control, lots of people still do not have a regular supply of water ( and once a week does not count as “regular”) and we are now lacking that general security that comes with knowing resources are being put aside for the future. Instead the Marie Antoinette mentality has led to a plethora of unnecessary projects that do not contribute in any meaningful way to the gross national happiness. There is a new eyesore of a PM’s residence, a poor cousin of the Sydney Opera House that is meant to be used for theatre but which has no rehearsal space, a stadium that is yet to be finished and for which there is no apparent need,  and lots of government office buildings because POS simply was not congested enough. World class to the government means decorations as opposed to something as prosaic as a modern hospital or fixing the WASA pipelines. Speaking of which we are now looking  forward to the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting being held here later this month. I know…which nation wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Uganda and be the host of an event which even eclipses the Summit of the Americas for sheer uselessness?

Why would anyone stay in this country and witness such things if they didn’t have to? Oh wait…I have a choice..which means that I may be the biggest fool of all.