Something about Monday afternoon’s on-the-street TV coverage of carnival conjured up the image of a stage actor flat on her back on a bank of fresh flowers, sheathed stiff arms at her side, every strand of hair lacquered down, her closed eyes, eyebrows, cheeks all expertly highlighted and decorated in a variety of hues.
By all appearances the actor is deceased. But her audience is anything but sad. Awed, maybe. Expectant, even. Too well it knows that waiting in the wings is a prince soon to emerge in all his royal finery to plant his resurrective happy-ending kiss on the en-rouge lips of the comatose beauty destined to be his bride.
Alas, altogether different was the local actor that grabbed my attention on Monday afternoon. Costumed in regular street clobber, her hair pulled back in what looked like a hair-I-buy ponytail, unmade face glistening in the sun . . . her over-all appearance indicative of a gig offered and accepted in mindless desperation mere seconds before curtain call.
Several times she seemed to pounce, like some kind of horror-movie arachnid, out of nowhere to attack out-of-breath stragglers dumb enough to have paused near her lair.
“You havin’ a good time, right?” Somehow her question sounded like a highwayman’s your-money-or-your-life proposition. Her imitation Gail Rigobert smile made her question all the more menacing.
Of course, it would have been altogether pointless to ask in the first place if indeed the revelers looked like they were actually having the time of their time. But what the hell, this was Lent-free blues-chasing bachannal and there was not the slightest chance anyone would say he or she was not feelin’ de feelin’, Shadow-style. By the time they collided with the mic-wielding Ms HIB they were oozing the spirit of Saint Lucia, well and truly anesthetized, feeling absolutely no pain.
As I took in the televised spectacle from home, the prime minister’s stool on the hill came to mind. A widely advertised proud culture vulture, she must presumably have been reveling in the street performances from a Government House sofa carefully stuffed with Excellency behinds in mind.
At any rate, so I imagined while contemplating the imminent public service pay cuts, the fast evaporating private sector, the escalating unemployment-suicide figures, to say nothing of the latest rumor that the BRICS have promised to spare their local puppet the indignity of getting down on his knees before the IMF. I wondered, too, if the Queen’s representative continued to believe Saint Lucians are a breed apart, a particularly resilient people, used to hardship, as just a few months ago she had been directed to remind us from her own carnival throne.
Might the dame also have considered how hard the mostly unemployed cavorters on her TV screen had worked (yeah, worked!) for the money that paid for their costumes? Reportedly they cost $1700 per item, comprising titillating faux peacock feathers, barely there spider panties, ingeniously wired-up boob-boosters and other push and lift appurtences that afforded oglers of all persuasions lingering glimpses of live and undulating pubescent flesh, as well as the over-brown-sugared, over-salinated and over-the-top diabetic and drooping variety!
The previous day I had chosen to take a leisurely drive to Laborie. On arrival in Vieux Fort curiosity got the better of me (hardly an achievement worthy of the Prime Minister’s Innovation Award!). I decided to take a look around, this being yet another festive season and Vieux Fort being, well, what it’s always been. (Some insist that something in the town’s soothing cool breezes had long ago rendered residents too lazy even to party, but of course, dear reader, we know better!)
The recently refurbished Clarke Street was for once near deserted; even the bone-idle clusters of depressed-depressing characters of all ages normally planted on either side of the town’s main drag were on the occasion conspicuously absent at three in the afternoon.
I was about to make a right into Theodore Street, a few yards from what our helplessly hyperbolic politicians and our echoing predictable media refer to as the “town’s fishing complex,” when again I succumbed to another temptation. Suddenly irresistible was my need to photograph the first building on the left side of Theodore.
Half of it seemed on the verge of collapsing onto the narrow street—or on some unsuspecting doped-up daydreamer in its shade; covering the rest of it, from roof to bottom, was a profusion of greener-than-green vegetation that reminded me of a children’s tale. (“Oh, you poor old silly,” said the gentleman looking on, “you should cut the grass and throw it down to the cow.” But the old woman thought it was easier to get the cow up the ladder than to get the grass down, so she coaxed her and got her up and tied a string around her neck and passed it down the chimney, and fastened it to her own wrist . . .)
Having taken several shots of the potentially dangerous oddity that nevertheless was in perfect harmony with the town’s over-all ambience, I redirected my attention to another similarly decrepit structure atop a steep incline left of Clarke Street, within spitting distance of the first, most of it also covered by lush, verdant shrubbery.
It wasn’t so long ago when the second-mentioned building had housed what arguably was among the nation’s favorite restaurants, as much for its precious operator as for the delicious local dishes on her menu. Then there was the décor that reminded of back-in-the-day Saint Lucian living rooms: shiny varnished corner tables with crocheted coverings and vases full of fresh flowers, two or three stained-wood easy chairs, dozens of framed pictures on the walls, some featuring the proprietor with beaming foreign dignitaries, others just regular family portraits. And then there were the ancient copies of Life and Ebony at the disposal of patrons as they awaited their orders. For four years, at least, I had been a Saturday lunchtime regular.
From the verandah of the Cloud’s Nest (for that was the name of the restaurant-guest house), I had photographed some awesome views of Vieux Fort that had illustrated a variety of articles published in the earliest issues of this newspaper.
As I recall, politics were never a topic at the Cloud’s Nest, despite that the diminutive gentleman of Indian descent who occupied the plush home at the corner of Clarke and Theodore was not only a brother of the restaurateur, Gildette Williams, but also a well-regarded politician destined to be the parliamentary representative for Vieux Fort South, a position now held by Kenny Anthony, who renamed a filled-in swamp Bruceville, in honor of the long departed “Daddy Bruce.” (What does it say that once upon a not-so-distant time local politicians were “Daddy” to their supporters, as opposed to today’s male MPs who evidently prefer to be addressed as “Bossman?”)
Before returning to Castries via Vieux Fort, I dropped in on Laborie. What can I say about my boyhood home before and after the advent of Allan Louisy the politician? Actually, quite a bit. But that must wait, as they say, for another show. Suffice it to say at this time that as I headed up still-deserted Clarke Street, en-route to Alva’s Republic, I couldn’t help thinking about how much the walled-in anachronism along the way reminded me of a well-kept though garishly-painted graveyard. I refer to the recently dedicated, calculatedly unnamed park that some say represents Kenny Anthony’s vain attempt at outdoing Richard Frederick’s ideally located Serenity Park on the Sans Soucis side of the Castries harbor. From this particular judge’s vantage, the people’s money might’ve been more usefully spent on rehabilitating some of the prime minister’s more notorious constituents.
What a shock awaited my nervous system on my return home. I had barely settled down when I received word that the former governor general and brother of both Gildette and Daddy Bruce had passed at age 88. What a lesson for all of us that the shocking news did not rate the headline status regularly accorded our dead gangsters. The announcement that Boswell Williams had expired was delivered like afterthought. To be fair to the ever-apologetic DBS, Don Nicholas (I suspect he was reading from a press bulletin prepared by a family member) did recall Williams had occupied Government House at possibly the most tumultuous period in recent Saint Lucian history.
Having evicted Sir Allen Lewis, father of Vaughan, on 21 February 1980, the Allan Louisy Labour government (inclusive of Kenny Anthony!) had appointed Williams for no other reason than they believed he would “deglize” the office of governor-general—at any rate that was George Odlum’s after-the-fact excuse.
The radical Odlum faction of Louisy’s government had often denounced the office of governor general as an unwelcome reminder of colonial times—as is the Privy Council for some in this time—therefore should be expunged from the Constitution as quickly as possible. And what better way to begin the process than by demeaning the office in the eyes of ordinary Saint Lucians with the installation of the notoriously hot-tempered Boswell Williams—who was ever ready to settle arguments with his fists, and not necessarily according to Marquess of Queensberry rules!
At least twice monthly, usually on Sunday mornings, Bozzie would call to offer encouragement of my work, or take me down a peg or two, or to wish me continuing good health, never mind he was himself far from well; he had undergone several surgical procedures he believed had done him more harm than good.
He greatly regretted what the Labour Party had become since the early 80s, although he usually spoke well of such as Tom Walcott and Julian Hunte, neither of whom has issued a statement of condolence, at any rate at time of writing.
Bozzie had always been suspicious of the ex-judge Allan Louisy, destined to become prime minister. He referred to Louisy as a “Compton stooge,” regardless of my own expressed contrary sentiments. When finally the now departed Louisy voluntarily revealed during a panel discussion at the time of Compton’s death in 2007 that much of what he’d done during the SLP’s unforgettable “leadership struggle” period had been on Compton’s advice, Bozzie could hardly wait to rub my nose in it.
“Did you hear him?” he hissed. “How many times did I tell you Louisy and George were Compton plants programmed to destroy the Labour Party from within?”
But hey, why dwell on such depressing remembrances when all our nation wants right now is to jump, jump, jump. The popular attitude brings to mind a General Kneah song that quite possibly defines us, you know, “as a people used to hardship”: Do it me ah gon dead/Nah do it me ah gon dead! Which may explain why over the weekend so many near-naked ladies small and gargantuan were seen and heard begging all and sundry to “hurt it, y-a-y-i-i hurt it!”
Hurt what? Say you were a strapping young Mouse whose relatives had for generations been devoured by some insatiable super cat. What would you most want to hurt? Ah, but confirmed cat lover that you are, dear reader, I know a purring pussy is just about the last thing you’d want to “y-a-y-i-i hurt it!”