“I look in the rearview and see a man exactly like me, and the man was weeping for the house, the streets, that fucking island . . . . so I leave it for them and their carnival – I taking a sea-bath, I gone down the road.” ~ Derek Walcott
Since the Nobel Laureate dust has settled, I can see more plainly. I can peep clearly through the open spaces in the facade of the Walcott House opening ceremony. Though, this is not to pick a quarrel with anyone in particular (pa paski bwèt chikann mwen vid); instead it’s simply to think aloud, if thinking aloud is allowed, and to engender conversation.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon all was set for the long-awaited august, inaugural ceremony, with the added pomp of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Band at the ribbon-cutting ritual for the refurbished childhood family home of our Nobel Laureate, the god of letters, now (reduced and) inducted into the ranks of weeping knights.
The newly erected edifice was fabulous and well set in all its splendour and opulence. It was decked with gorgeous vernacular architecture, à la Castries, with a feel of the 1940s. The structure buzzed loudly with fitting colours: white, yellow, grey and green painted on local wooden trellis, awning windows, jalousies, dòmèz, galta, (the kweyol word for attic), cornered by an exquisite petite courtyard with ornate tropical flora. It simply depicts a classy, vintage vernacular architecture at its best.
Indeed, kudos for the entire workmanship, including the imaginative and creative energy behind it all. One could see clearly the satisfaction and pride in the peacock steps of the chief structural designer and his comrades as they paraded the open courtyard.
At last, it was time to partake in the long awaited history-in-the-making event, where Grass Street and Chaussee Road would bind together to honour their favourite and most celebrated sons, the Walcotts, and it would stand to reason that the people of “Lawi Zèb” would be an integral part of the festivity.
More so, it was an ideal opportunity to create a pleasant ‘melée mlange’ of the migrants and resident population, encompassing various artistic genres, seasoned with diverse, culturally distinct flavours.
Alas, what was expected and supposed to have been a celebration of, by and with the local community and invited guests/migrants alike, turned out to be otherwise. A gentry culture in ah Grass Street?
The celebrants were mainly from without, like visiting migrant birds. Thus, the true “insiders” or actual residents of Grass Street and the neighbourhood were left as bystanders to ‘sneak peek’ into the inner circle of the flock of invitees connected with the aesthete, erudite gentry of the society. Imaginably, many of them were the fine-tuned favourite feathered friends from the bourgeoisie, nouveaux riches and partisan elite. Yes indeed, ah gentry’s culture in ah Grass Street!
Perhaps they were terrified that the resident yard fowls would chase the unusual mocking pullets for their hire-purchased plumage. Au contraire, the yardies know very, very well why, “it’s a sin to kill a mocking bird.” More likely, the chipper chatter of the homegrown birdies would have muffled the fluttering jingles of the ceremonially clad Police band playing jubilantly on behalf of the loyal royalites, the very clones of mocking birds.
While the Police band did its best to warm up the lukewarm egosphere, the celebration seemed to lack festive vigour because there was No ‘Toes’, No steel band, No ‘pay bannann’, No black boys, No Rastas drumming, No ‘Tanbou Mélé’, No ‘anba gòj’, No ‘Lawòz’, No ‘La Magrit’, and No ‘and so on’. No!
The life blood of Lawi Zèb ‘manmay lakay’ was barricaded out of the fête in the name of traffic control and security. For me, there was a weird feeling in the air, since the grassroots and taproots were left outside of the party to become standbys and/or invaders/onlookers. I cringed at that sight! It would appear that the ‘ones’ for whom the shrine had been dedicated and erected were left out of the sanctuary, in similar fashion to the legend of the Taj Mahal. The ashes of whom the temple was erected to house were thrown out by the designers themselves. The question arises, for whom was the Walcott House built?
On that day, what should have been a celebration of ‘the people’, interlaced with the works of their own yard folks, Roddy and Derek, in a living street theatre setting went a-begging. Certainly, an ‘ole mas’ with steel pan music, ‘tanbou’ with social commentary (old mas) regarding culture,; portrayal in dance, pageantry, poetry, music and colour would have livened up the bash. Derek would, perchance, have arisen from his wheel chair, forgetting his ‘weeping’ by just prancing to de steel pan beat into de yardies’ carnival. His own carnival!
Si mwen di’ou sa fè mwen la penn
Ou kay di sa vwé
Si mwen di’ou sa pennitwé mwen
Ou pé di sa vwé
Sé manmay Lakou Zèb-la
pa té adan sélébwasyon-an?
The too stiff opening festivity felt more like a Sankey gospel concert or a “go pwèl” get-together. Suffice it to say, the show and subject matter were not as meaningful and flamboyant as the aesthetics of the structure.