God placed danger and the abyss in the sea.
But he also made it heaven’s mirror
Twelve months this past summer we returned to Veni Mange. Alas this time, no Nadela. Nonetheless it was another memorable evening. Joe joined us before going to watch cricket at The Oval. Stories about names: Joe’s brother was christened Anacletus, all his sisters were named a variant of Maria (Marie-Terese, etc), the Lake family named their daughter Crystal Clear, and Jan’s grandmother and sisters were named after flowers – Lily, May, Ivy & Violet. On the same day Kanye West had presented his daughter ‘North’!
I had Kalaloo soup for starter and beef curry for entrée. Jan had stuffed butternut squash & Gary had ox tail. And the most exquisite lemon juice freshly squeezed. Rose came round for a photo. Then it was back to our hotel.
The next day we spent the evening at the Steel Pan Carnival on Aripita Street. Several carriages of bands. The Powerstars, a band of young children with the most impressive girl playing the equivalent of the kettle drums. Surrounded by 6 drums she danced, pirouetted on her heels, hit the drums behind her. A veritable showgirl. She smiled for the cameras, for the TV crew, for the crowd with a mature, detached indifference to all going on around her. But yet infused by the spirit and atmosphere of the occasion. Her grandfather was standing next to us and he told us several times “that’s my granddaughter!”. He said “even though she’s only little she can hit as hard any man” and she could too.
The piece de resistance was the Trinidad All Stars. Their cross rhythms were like a net drawn from the sea catching at our emotions, snagging on the nausea and fear but still pulling up the exuberance and light. They had quite a following. Elderly women who should have been in bed, were dressed for Sunday, in frocks from Ava Gardner’s catalogue. The danced vigorously, moving and swaying this way and that, sashaying. Grandfather’s with beards grey and trimmed danced too as if they were 17 years old all over again.
There were men on stilts, a parade of Native American in feathers, headgear, boots, celebrating the grace and tribal elegance of Native Americans. Then women with accentuated breasts and bottoms, inflated I suppose with paper, danced with their bottoms pushed out and swiveled. As in Africa, every move was as sensually provocative as you can manage without undressing. This was eroticism at its most manifest, luscious, extravagant, febrile. And imagine the heat and sweat, the smell of bodies, the fragrance of sex in the air.
The spectacle was conducted along three stations, as of the Cross except that the passion was not burdensome, not weighed down by thorns or suffering. The music was judged. On the street itself we lined the pavements, standing or sitting. The spectrum of skin colour was unbelievable. This was the Caribbean at its most demotic. Cinnamon, marble, chocolate, creamy coffee, toffee, pink, ebony. Mahogany, laterite red, every shade of the commingling of semen and egg drawn from the well pool of lust, rape, love and wickedness.
Next day, Sunday we went to Asa Wright Centre near Arima Valley. The Northern Range of mountains was visible. The forest was dense, green, primeval as forests ought to be. The climb to the centre was precipitous. The valley a sheer drop. The road wound upwards, a thin strip, potholed and clinging to the hillside.
Humming birds, Honey eaters, Manakin, Bell bird and others were on display. Lianas, wild nutmeg, hunter’s tissue paper, termites, black ants, tarantulas, cicadas, all visible or heard. By the end of our trek down and back up we were dripping in sweat.
And now for home in the sunset.
Photos by Jan Oyebode