rules of life.
1. Nothing ever turns out the way you expect it to.
2. When it doesn't turn out the way you expect it is because something
else was supposed to happen to you ( a great comfort when things go
it weren't for this smooth pebble in the palm of my hand painted with the
colours of the Bagan sea, a deep pale green splashed with amber and
crimson and mauve, pastels brightened by a curved serpent like black wave,
I would find it difficult to believe those three in Barbados.
those three days we lived a tightly compressed lifetime. There was
monotony and heated excitement, and hopelessness, battle and shock,
history, and the resurfacing of adolescent frenzy.
Everything toppled and tossed and overlapped and what washed ashore
was exactly what was supposed to happen. The whole Caribbean was going
around. To Barbados went the Trinis.
went because I looked forward to hearing Luciano Pavarotti for the past
three months. Don't ask me why. I'm not mad about Opera. But I do remember
a night some seven years ago in Sweetlove anchored out at Chaguaramas.
That night Pavarotti’s voice swallowed all the dark and dappling water
and sky around us.
I booked the tickets, wiped my dusty high heels, brought out my crimson,
(OK, OK, red) Claudia Pegus silk dress to fit “a sense of occasion” as
Meiling called it in the immigration queue in Barbados. The red dress
looked garish in the glare at 5.30 pm and I felt odd tottering out while
comfortably sea/sun-tousled tourists eyed me like I was in drag. The
receptionist said incredulously (you must really love Opera to come all
the way from Trinidad for that) - well no, I don't really, but...
posh ticket made it clear that all those not seated by 6.30 would have to
wait till the intermission to take their seats. Our taxi-driver; very
amenable, would not cross the speed limit, so we were going to be late;
laughed at my biting my lips while saying “in Barbados you can get there
four hours later, no problem.”
concert was running late; so we picked our way through the polo-field at
Holders (heels digging in mud) where $30 ticket people lounged in the
sunset with picnic hampers and shorts, to our row separated by a rope from
the picnickers. ($200 US to sit behind a rope!) found our chairs, and
nearly sat in a puddle of water.
our area of the grass people milled, checking out each other’s dresses
and jewels, drinking stuff in fluted glasses and being shocked that the
bartenders “didn't know about drinks” and kept saying, “we don't
have white wine - only Chardonnay.”
with the $1,000 tickets wore branded arm bands with numbers. They were to
dine with Pavarotti. It’s in bad taste to say what that reminds me of.
(I heard Pavarotti dealt up his dainty and exquisite feast and gulped the
vintage in 10 minutes flat, leaving his fans to their adulation sans
him. At least they breathed the same air for a while.)
longed for the grass. The dress felt tight. The show started around 7.00
or later. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra clanged about, then began... it was Strauss's Overture. Fireflies flickered over the
US$1000 seats. It was exquisite, the sound system fabulous, 30 feet up in
the air the lighting yes, Operatic, but we couldn't see Desperadoes.
was being performed. My husband nudged me and said, “that's the pan.”
There were the notes. The pans slid into place. They were there, and once
you separated them from the rest, that tingle went up my spine. The
fireflies became frenzied... Pan. Desperadoes playing with the Royal
Philharmonic Orchestra and there, surely the pans have to stay for good
now. The pans faded.
came back on with the Can Can finally on their own and the crowd went
wild. “Despers! Despers!!” But where was Despers? They were not lit.
They were on a platform below the stage, (the conductor had his back to
them) finally lit, but only as they walked off stage. Ruefully my husband
said, “perhaps they are only lit so they could see their way out.”
Everyone said it was a shame. All in all they must have played for 10
said that if Pat Bishop were there she would have taken them off there and
then. Later, Roses Hezekiah who took
Desperadoes there confirmed it all. Desperadoes was never meant to
accompany Pavarotti but was knocked about by his whims. “The Kidds,”
said Roses, “really wanted to showcase Desperadoes at this classical
forum. But they were told Parvarotti was rehearsing, now he was not
Despers rehearsed at 5.30 the evening of the show, with the RP Concert
Orchestra, (after Pavarotti). The pans were still unpacked, the stage was
too small and had to be widened, Despers was not lit. Roses said they were
tempted to take them off but the players of Despers said, “No, they came
this far and they were doing it. And they did.” They were the sidekick,
but they stole the show. “After the show,” said Roses, “the people
with the $1,000 and $2,000 dinner tickets, millionaires from around the
world, went backstage and raved over Despers.”
next day at Sandy Lane, the most prestigious hotel in Barbados, Despers
played to ovation after ovation for these same people. Pavarotti was
thrilling. His weight keeps him from looking as tall as he is (6ft four)
and his height hides the four foot width. Only he kept popping on and off
the stage, never completing an aria, (while the RP Orchestra filled in
beautifully), giving rise to comments of what he was doing behind stage at
the end of every number. “He's grinning like a Cheshire Cat ,” said a
neighbour, “over all the money he's making tonight.”
standing ovations came finally. Pavarotti became visibly expansive,
performed longer with some of the pop operettas (“but we only heard him
rehearsing his standing ovations,” said an early-comer). Yes, the music
was exquisite, we said, yes, the single flute and the violins and the
Overtures and Mascagni and Offenbach took you out of yourself. But the
lines at the portable toilets (felt like a Veni fete) brought us back to
earth, as did the realisation that we didn't have a taxi home. So we were
walking and wondering how to get back when we met - our friend from
Sweetlove - shots of delight and hugs and exuberance, and so our holiday
changed out of the formal and ate clams as the waves lapped and the smells
of the seaweed and salt and fish and sea came up to us, and drank and
talked about things we rarely talk about ; honestly; life and the nature
of love and living for the moment. To prove it, there was the stripping
down to drawers on the beach (the boys) and the race to the boat, in St
Lawrence Bay, the sweet unadulterated laughter of adolescence, an absence
of pain or anxiety, pure fun.
next day was discovery time. It was not just the houses painted in
contrasting pinks and blues and greens and lemon of the Caribbean, (why
can’t we do that?) nor the Bougainvilleas hanging everywhere, (we have
them, not like that) nor the shapes of clear light green in the absurd
blue of the sea, “sediment.” someone said, “white sand,” another,
or the lacy whipped cream waves, (our beaches aren’t so bad either) or
the kites of all shapes and colours in the air, (we do it, but not
enthusiastically), nor areas like St Lawrence Bay which really catered so
much to the tourist you could be in the Riviera. Really (that we’ll do
in 100 years). It was also not the astonishing genuine warmth of everyone
we saw and met which smashed every law of probabilities. (We can never do
discovery and joyride was the route taxis. Don't take offence if a male
passenger squashes and nestles to you the way you’ve never been
squashed. Forget the words sexual harassment. It’s a plain old squeeze,
no hard feelings. The conductor has his rear outside one window and his
head out the other soliciting more people, and the drivers driving like a
madman and the dub puts you in a trance. They are built for 14, but pack
in 20 going on 25. They never refuse a ride for $1.50. So what if the
driver bounced the man in front - and then cursed him for being slow, and
drove madly again. Its the joy ride and we will never rent a car in
was the night of tickets. Our waitress gave away her cricket tickets.
“West Indies had lost,” she said, (afterwards she said she was sure
her sacrifice saved the day) and we got free dinner tickets for the
following night if we promised to have a breakfast at this five star
hotel. The morning the Holiday Nation cried COLLAPSE (cricket ) we got
picked up at the hotel, taken for breakfast at this five-star place (talk
to you about time sharing!) and were given two T-shirts, a bottle of rum,
dinner for two and the softest hard-sell ever.
the end of the time with the rep your only answer can be whether you have
it or not. “Yes, I’ll give you 30,000 US.” Of course its silly not
to. But, only thing, we didn’t have the money. The rep said the only
drawback of his job was talking to dumb tourists. We hope he didn’t mean
us but the man could sell.
came the first incredulous rumbles of cricket. Relative newcomer Rose had
taken three wickets, and the Indians were toppling. First we thought it
was all over for the West Indies, and before lunch all over for India Then, I who don’t watch cricket, having had a surfeit in
India, where thousands, millions even, walk about with a radio pressed to
their ears during test matches and
get on very bad at matches, decided I wanted to see the cricket.
we arrived, at the end of lunch, everybody, the Indians and West Indians
were open-mouthed. Thanks to Reggie Armour I got a useful lesson in
cricket. “See that arm on that batsmen? They wear it to prevent injury.
Real men don't wear that.” The Indians needed about 50 runs to win
(meaning lose). And we were in the midst of West Indian Babel Tower. A
Guyanese says to Dominican says to Trinidadian says to Jamaican says to an
Antiguan. “Everybody has a PHD,” said Reggie. They talked over Lara's
first captaincy, and Bishop’s bowling, gesticulated wildly over
Chanderpaul’s batting, and about the pitch. They just couldn't believe
their luck. I phoned my ex-pat Indian Dad collect: Don't worry Dad, we'll
do it inch by inch. He couldn't speak.
each time a ball went down (inevitably, it seemed) we looked out for, Ent?
performed by the West Indian players.
Pointed out by commentator Reginald Armour who also said, “This
is about the way we feel about one another, about our people.”
and CLR James knew it. Police kept sending back the spectators who ran
onto the pitch, the ones who just couldn't contain it. The last ball went
down. There was no stopping the crowd now. Everybody ran out. I phoned my
Dad collect. He did not speak, only made sounds, so overcome was he with
grief. I quoted the Gita to him, reminded him to remain calm, to no avail.
Then, finding myself alone, I ran onto the field too.
man holding an Indian flag high had tears running down his cheeks, and
next to him a woman with short shorts wined with a Triniidadian flag next
to his. The flags brushed together. A Guyanese Indian passed a Trini and
slapped his hand for victory! (I will never see that man again, but we in
elated, shocked commentator continued, “This is history. The Indians
should have been chilling their champagne last night, but look at this
team effort.” Lara's hands-on captaincy, his calculated risks to send
newcomer Rose out to bowl, and how Chanderpaul was walked through his
century by veteran cricketer Ambrose, the tall player bending over the
short offering support.
commentator stopped. An Indian-Guyanese stopped. He said “victory.”
Palms met. Reginald continued, “I met him briefly last night and will
never see him again. But this is how we feel.” Finally, “A lawyer lost
for words,” ribbed someone.
bought my father a small Indian flag for comfort and chipped down the road
with my Trinidadian friends and husband, confused over loyalties, yet
somehow feeling both India and Trinidad are mine now. Bold. Ent?
ended with the fish festival in Oistins. Hot sun, raw and cooked fish, dub
and American country music, rambling and dawdling, Trini Jokes. “When I
was young my mother fed me Sada roti, a little later she gave me Parata
roti and here we have Pavarotti.” A greasy pole spectacle. People,
Bajans, Trinis and foreigners, a goodbye on a rock near the jetty to a
friend. Back in Trinidad a headline reads: “MIRACLE.”
went dressed to the nines for Pavarotti and the Caribbean stole the show.
And that's what I mean about things never being the way you expect them to