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Between Afong and Globe

By Terry Joseph
November 12, 2004

Among things and events that brought fame to Green Corner, Port of Spain's point of confluence for Tragarete Road and the intersection of St Vincent and Park Streets, is lending its vista to the man-about-town definition of a tight fit, originally created to describe a lucky break in the card game of gin-rummy.

Picture this: A punter "squeezing" a sequential threesome in hearts, along with a disposable "bush-card" and the ten, queen and king of clubs, requiring only the jack in that suit to "sing" rummy. He finds it at next dip and, springing to his legs, trumpets a personal fanfare, tucking the winning card into the neat space. Generally referred to as an "inter-sploosie", city-folk elaborated on that coinage, describing insertions like that of the knave as fitting it "between Afong and Globe".

Although of imprecise date of origin, this colourful colloquialism curiously conjures imagery exactly opposite to the topography that inspired it, presumably back when Park Street was dotted with gambling clubs and every alley along Upper St Vincent a turf for rolling dice. Ironically used as coordinates for this tight-fit metaphor, the space between Afong Café and Globe Cinema was considerably larger than best connotation of nook or cranny.

Fact is, the breadth of St Vincent Street stood between these properties, which shared no greater commonality than being city landmarks on south-side quadrants of Park and St Vincent Streets. The theatre still stands but long gone is the café, which doubled as boyhood home to current National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) chairman Richard Afong. Interestingly, being "caught between Afong and Globe", a personalised variation on the theme, didn't mean one was bereft of wiggle room. Infinitely more liberal than comparable slang of that era, this application of the folk saying allowed unusual elasticity of interpretation. In brief, someone pondering a sensitive decision was confined by conflicting paradigms. Where political correctness suggested a particular scenario, precisely that move might be deemed disrespectful to an equally compelling option.

I was exposed to this profound antithesis from boyhood, given the locations of both my primary schools and college. Little did I think such grounding would become useful this past week when greeting friends of distinctly East Indian ancestry, Muslims or Hindus forming the majority, the rest largely Roman Catholic who, along with brethren of diverse heritage but shared faith, begin observance of Bible Week Sunday.

Finding it improper to maintain a register of other people's religious beliefs and with family names in this country unreliable as clues to spiritual persuasion, I was frequently caught between Afong and Globe. At the speed of sight, it was necessary to decide whether greetings should be mindful of imminent holy observances and if so, which among them was pertinent to what encounter.

Quite apart from having to determine what to do about the odd Dougla and since only advertising gurus seem clear on how long before the actual holiday greetings should start ("Merry Christmas" begins its tour a full month prior to December 25), I didn't wish to risk appearing facetious by floating a "Shubh Divali" or "Eid Mubarak" too far in advance of due dates or, in lieu, devaluing either moment by relying exclusively on generic English language salutations.

At first it did seem convenient to wish everyone "Happy Thanksgiving", since Eid ul-Fitr, the joyous observance of conclusion of the month of Ramadan and Divali celebrating the triumph of light over darkness, are both rooted in the concept of blessings accruing from commemoration of events for which devotees are grateful but with pending remembrance of America's pilgrim fathers already so titled, an observance marking the work of men and not God; that too might have appeared irreverent.

Nobody knows the trouble I see. In a country where ignorance of ritual or procedure in these matters is far too often construed as religious intolerance, details of relevant etiquette are just as frequently left to personal interpretation, quite a challenge to those outside the fold wishing to foster brotherhood. With Bible Week fixed and the albeit moveable feasts of Divali and Eid ul-Fitr maintaining this proximity to it and each other until 2006, those in authority should rush to declare how overlapping is to be handled, lest rumblings about poaching devalue any or all of these holy events.

Already, lament annually increases over Carnival encroaching on Christmas and with all-inclusive parties for the upcoming wining-season starting Boxing Day, it is not unreasonable surmise fete advertising becoming more than a mere "inter-sploosie" even as we deck the halls, bringing new meaning to the question: "What Child is This?" And think again if you feel we'll be out of the woods in 2011, when the national festival recedes into March and Eid ul-Fitr and Divali fall nearer mid-year and some two months apart. According to lunar calculation, come 2009, the deeply religious Shi'ite Muslim commemoration of Hosay will take place twice, circa January 7 (with Carnival on February 23 and 24) and again in December when, moon-gazers predict, Flag Night will be on Christmas Eve; a combination of circumstances which, in the absence of unambiguous guidance, is guaranteed to place us all inextricably between Afong and Globe.

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