Avoiding powder

March 1, 2000
By Terry Joseph

The historical view that: "You cannot play mas and 'fraid powder" is being quietly dismantled.

Taken literally, the tenet suggests that if you wish to be part of Carnival, your decision cannot be selective. It must guarantee willingness to experience the event in its fullness.

The standard package includes being daubed against your will with mud or grease paint on Jouvert morning, shrugging off the slew of anxieties spawned by unruly crowds, giving in carte blanche to itinerant winers and being patently tolerant with the variety of unpleasantness often generated by drunkards. Indeed, to conscript another saying of similar vintage, it means: "Any number can play."

Quite naturally, not everyone is given to such limitless adventure. In fact, the already large constituency of adults who are evidently uncomfortable with the way in which the gym-boots crowd enjoys itself at Carnival time, seems to be growing and moving further and further away from the powder zone. This year, the numbers took a quantum leap.

The all-inclusive-fete concept, a sleight of hand applied to both language and economics, worked for a while, by making the price of participation at such events appear unaffordable to the common man. But soon enough, somebody sat down and worked out the sums and the rowdies invaded the very fetes that planned to exclude them, severely affecting the ambience.

Determined to get full value for their hard-earned money, the rowdies soon turned such events into a kind of gold-rush. Amazing scenes were witnessed, with otherwise decent-looking people scooping up all the food they could tote when the music stopped and at every sequence, drinking liquor as though it were officially the last night for alcohol.

No palatable principle could keep out anyone who coughs up the $325 for the UWI Fete. Other staples like Friends of the Blood Bank, Amoco and Mt Hope continue to do well. Nestle last Sunday enjoyed its second edition as an all-inclusive and new kids fetes on the block: Trinity College, Hilton Trinidad and Jenny's On The Boulevard, all scored major successes in their inaugural year.

Clearly, there is a huge market in providing Carnival services for those who find the massive fetes forebidding. Brassy soca bands, playing at excruciating volume, robust men removing their tops and waving flags so huge that they blot out a view of the very performers other paying patrons wish to see, are not incentives either. Littered floors, perilous positioning of the female toilets and bar-service that just isn't, are predictable components of these jams.

Even a visit to a downtown calypso tent induces fear into the less-than-brave who, as Carnival promotional material suggests, have every right to equal enjoyment of the festival. But the mere idea of having to park their prized vehicles some distance from the arena (with resulting harassment by touts) and potential hazards of the walk to and from the venue is a turn-off. The prospect of sitting on steel chairs for shows that can last up to six hours, is equally uninviting.

Entrepreneurs, recognising what is more than a mere niche nowadays, have been quietly providing comfort to those who wish to avoid the powder, while playing their mas all the same. Hotel Normandie's Carnival Under the Trees entered its eighth season this year and continues to experience audience growth.

The calming ambience offers shows that bring the very mountains to Mohammed, in a setting that guarantees security for person and property and a patronage not likely to remove its shirt, splash beverages or throw missiles in the event of a misunderstanding.

This year, the wholesale importation of downtown calypso activity to uptown venues went one step further, with a full calypso tent uprooting its stakes and pitching for the exclusive Trinidad Country Club. When interviewed about his bringing of Calypso Spektakula to the Champs Elysees club, proprietor Joseph Fernandes said that a lot of his members were afraid to go downtown even in the daylight, far more at night, when the tents are open.

Jouvert, the real free-up time, has also become a bit of a bother to more than a few who wish to participate, but not under the blanket consideration of "anything goes". One band is this year taking its masqueraders down to Chaguaramas which, going west, is as far as you can get from what is being offered in the crush of downtown, Port of Spain. The band Poison has, for years, offered its clientele a choice of playing the regular route or concentrating its energies on the streets of highbrow St Clair.

Sections of Tuesday mas bands are now offering all-inclusive packages that provide, lunch, liquor and even exclusive music. At the Queen's Park Savannah Panorama preliminaries, the skin-tone of the north and grand stands are identifiably different.

For reasons quite unlike those that obtained around 1900, the Carnival is again flowing into the dawn of a new century as two separate streams.

Or didn't you notice?

Terry-J at I-Level

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