borrow from TS Eliot:
dedication is for others to read:
are private words addressed to you in public.”
a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,” (Extract from TS
Eliots' Burnt Norton)
outside a Pizza place in St Augustine on a Saturday afternoon, I looked
around and saw young people, alone and in-groups, eating and drinking.
They were white and red, brown, yellow and black. Their pizzas covered in
ketchup received their full attention and they didn’t seem to have
anything to say to one another.
faces were dull and empty of thought or animation, reminding me of some
lines in a TS Eliot poem/ play “Fragment of an Agon” set on a cannibal
the characters are a man called Sweeney and a woman called Doris.
“Nothing to eat but the fruit as it grows, /Nothing to see but the
palmtrees one way/And the sea the other way, /Nothing to hear but the
sound of the surf. /Nothing at all but three things.
Birth, and copulation and death. That’s all, that’s all, that’s all
that’s all, /Birth and copulation, and death.
I’d be bored.”
was too, until I discovered many treasures on this island. They are buried
beneath the long months of tacky Christmas preparations and ugly ads and
mediocre jingles selling this, selling that. They are way beneath the
Carnival frenzy and the littered streets. I had to rummage underneath the
American accents on the radio, and the cussing on the road. (Not just the
vagrants) I had to see beneath the poverty and illiteracy, and the rage of
wanting, wanting and not getting. I had to look away from the boy throwing
the empty plastic soft drink bottle out of a truck onto an already
littered road, and the school girl, her books forgotten, being chatted up
by the maxi-taxi driver who would surely give her AIDS. I had to look away
from the haughty “society ladies ” who have nothing in their head but
contempt and the cocktail party they were going to attend that night.
had to look away from comfortable business-men who look upon vagrants as
little more than dogs and ignoring the growing gap between the rich and
the poor, quote the GDP to prove things are ‘getting better.’
this debris, the treasure I found came packaged in a few special people. I
write about them today with the hope that you too will, by reading about
them, be brushed by their magic.
you believe in an energy surrounding people – (we’ve sensed it in its
heightened form with very charismatic and high profile people like
Minshall and Rudder) then you’ll know what I mean.
there are others, not so well known, who have around them a ripple of this
and Erika Hawkins are two such treasures. Don is in his eighties, and
dependent on other people for practical help, but as soon as you see him,
he makes you feel as if you are free to say anything and feel anything and
him everyday constraints fall away, and you can be completely yourself –
depressed if you want, happy if you feel that way and either way he’s
with you. He is not afraid of sadness or weakness which makes you want to
face up to your own.
then its impossible not to love this man whose eye-sight is fading but
diligently keeps up with the latest news around the world, literature,
history, art – all available intelligence finds its way into his head.
of books and conversations reside in Don. Most of all you can tell he has
an understanding of the world, which although it is wry, is ultimately
humane and indulgent. When he turns to face you, you can’t help but
light up, such is the quality of his light.
is the loss of this light that I fear for in our new generation where even
the privileged who could if they wanted have access to books and music and
travel, prefer superficial parties, shopping in Miami and penthouses
sad thing is, average young person in Trinidad, inarticulate, (due to the
failure of our education system) filled with nonsense music, sordid sexual
encounters, and disaffection that comes from boredom, will never even know
that people of this sort, this treasure of another time exists here. Even
if they came near it they wouldn’t recognize its value.
world is fading fast. It is difficult to buy because it is made up of
intangibles: of being brought up in homes with books, where curiosity and
intelligent laughter is cultivated; where good manners and courtesy are
symptoms of a larger sense of humanity towards others, where life is
infinitely interesting. It cannot be packaged into a product.
comes from such a world. Around her all of life is heightened.
rainy afternoon in this cool pre Christmas season and she is ecstatic,
feels “ like she is in the midst of a green lush forest”.
has the passion and smile of a vibrant young woman. Nothing is watery,
nothing is half hearted. I keep forgetting she is seventy. “Listen to
this, its wonderful!!” she says, thrusting four talking tapes of Vikram
Seth’s “A suitable boy”. Have you read this, heard of this? She says
proffering, another book, or piece of music, or a brochure on sculpture.
If those young people in the pizza place had a quarter of her curiosity I
would not fear for this country.
Erika’s home the phone never stops ringing. She’ll hang up and say
with a flush of pleasure: “that was so and so”- a lovely person from London or
Washington, Tobago or Hungary where she was born. She has a family of
friends everywhere – her brand of friendship is rare – unconditional,
warm, loyal. People hold on to it desperately.
came here decades ago after marrying Don an Englishman. When I ask her how
she feels about Trinidad, she gets looks as happy as if she’s just
discovered Maracas bay. “ I love it. This country has been very kind to
us. I’ve had wonderful years here.”
I look at this place through her eyes and for a while the boredom fades. I
see the mist on the hills after a heavy rainfall, and the lights in the
sea on the way to Chagaramas, and laugh instead of getting angry over the
every-day frustrations of living in a small cannibal island.
only time I heard Erika say something negative was when we saw yet another
decomposing body on the news. She turned to her aunt (her only surviving
relative – the holocaust destroyed the rest) and said in French how
“gross” it was and told me it devalued human life.
her considerable practical and organizational skills, Erika imparts a wild
sense of freedom and possibility. Nothing is boring, mediocre or dreary.
Nothing, not sadness, not fear, not illness, nothing diminishes her
passion for life.
once said to me: “Never say no to life.” I know what she means: 'Don’t
let pride convention or fear deprive you of any experience, which would
enrich you in some way.'
so this seventy-year-old Hungarian woman is more alive than many of us.
Her energy for life, and love for this country has pervaded Trinidad, and
will always remain part of our treasure, amongst our mountains, part of
our ocean and in our hearts.