Trinidad and Tobago


Fear of flying?

October 3, 2001

MIAMI Carnival is on this weekend and I'll be there from tomorrow, "God willing", which might appear absolutely inappropriate as a condition of carriage, to those who hold the view that one should never fly in His face.

And against the backdrop of events that took place in the US on September 9, staging of the 17th edition of Miami Carnival has, quite predictably, evoked strong emotions on both sides of the festival divide.

But to narrow the debate, can we agree it is yet another version of the perennial question: "To be, or not to be?" Whether 'twas nobler to postpone the carnival as a mark of respect to disaster victims and those bereaved, or proceed with the festival as a form of grief-alleviation and a way of fulfilling the presidential order to go on living, was, to my mind, a less definitive issue.

With the official period of mourning over, the intellectual crux now has more to do with how we perceive this aspect of our culture, than whether it should be paraded on the streets of Miami, or if people there should go to fetes and put their hands in the air.

To "be" is to feel secure about our kaleidoscopic cultural inheritance and in this context, the aspect that moves some of us to jumping and waving in celebration of life. Interestingly, on behalf of the very country latter-day carnival detractors are currently advocating abstinence, pom-pom girls returned to public glare at first opportunity and the Miss USA Pageant proceeded undisturbed; for such is their culture.

But for those who historically turned up their noses at Trinidad Carnival, concluding out of sheer ignorance that its net value never exceeds that of the most despicable form of vulgarity, playing mas in Miami might appear even more heartless.

Mark you, organisers of this weekend's carnival last Sunday held a prayer service for the departed and from the time of the tragedy posted condolences to the bereaved and saluted rescue workers on all festival related websites. What more should they have done? Wear sackcloth and ashes and publicly practise self-flagellation? Surely there comes a time when life goes on at no sacrifice to respect for the dead or grieving?

For West Indians in Miami, life includes the annual carnival on the Columbus Day holiday weekend.

Trinis in Miami were actually planning to stage not just one, but two parallel carnivals. The Opa-locka version survived, while its competitor collapsed. Quite unfortunately, the reason given for scuttling the downtown festival exacerbated the argument by citing "respect and sympathy" for the dead, missing and bereaved as its prime consideration.

What the original media release about its demise did not betray, however, was the level of disarray in which the organising committee found itself. Indeed, several members of its executive and chairman, Trinidad-born Gregory Antoni, later quit the board, the latter with a three-page letter detailing the turbulence and eventual mutiny that drove him to resign.

But that was not all. Several people looked upon flying at this time as sheer provocation of supernatural powers and principalities. Some even invoked a 1971 episode in which I disregarded all negative portents to attend Toronto's Caribana, a decision that earned me a crushed right leg, with a bonus of 365 days in a Canadian hospital. God, they said, was sending me another warning.

Frankly, I think if God is trying to guide me to safety right this minute, it would be away from Trinidad and Tobago. Isn't it here that crime statistics are now set to graduate past Murder 101? Didn't we create history by sacking our Attorney General? Isn't our political scenario so outrageous it makes you want to put in a tender (oops!) for movie rights? Weren't there musketeers? And mosquitoes? Didn't thugs slash and attempt to rape a kindergarten teacher right in front of her young charges?

And that's only the first half of this week.
Erica Jong's 1973 bestseller (from which this column respectfully lifts its headline), albeit a beautiful piece of writing, confined itself to the saga of a woman searching for the right to enjoy life's games on a level playing field.

The author had no idea about the wider purpose to which her title would today be put because, for all her brilliance, neither she nor even the most dependable visionaries among us could ever have envisaged that we would come to this.

So, like the heroine in Jong's book, don't even try to confuse me by tampering with Nostradamus' quatrains or coercing computers into forging foreboding graphics at the first hint of global catastrophe. Leave mih leh mih wine. That is how some of us relieve stress and we have enough of that to jettison these days.

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