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Cipriani Statues

By Terry Joseph
May 27, 2005

With appropriate consternation, I observed a hullabaloo raised by the usual suspects-concerned residents-over a plan hatched by Howard Chin Lee, in which his Tourism Ministry set out to use Cipriani Boulevard as staging area for last weekend's culinary exposition.

Titled "Taste TnT-A Festival of Flavours", the event required closing of the short thoroughfare from late afternoon to midnight last Saturday and Sunday, using that time for preparation of the space, on-site cooking, then sampling by visitors, with tasteful entertainment as a bonus. Putting the cart well ahead of the horse, Mr Chin Lee, after deciding on critical issues elsewhere, offered the relatively few affected residents a number of palliatives to assuage predictable difficulties.

Faced with vigorous objection and resultant negative image, Mr Chin Lee folded his tents, packed up his cooking pots and moved the festival to the Hasely Crawford Stadium, hardly the most suitable ambience for such a presentation which, as its primary motive, sought to coax locals back to the habit of fine dining and, by example, induce confidence in tourists.

What, in essence, was merely the corralling of similar but small-scale satellite events staged annually in rural communities nationwide, the inaugural Taste TnT Festival ranks among the more astute initiatives coming out of the Tourism Ministry, which made me wonder if the residents' objection, marketed as collective thought, had any more merit than that of a desperate trial lawyer, which is to say, it remained unclear whether they were trying to win the larger case or put Mr Chin Lee in his place on the smaller issue of impoliteness.

Mr Chin Lee's failure to consult with all stakeholders' representatives in advance of declaring open season on Cipriani Boulevard remains inexcusable but residents acted as though his plan would unduly disturb a cherished peace, import hoodlums to the hamlet and traumatise an otherwise tranquil existence which, given their particular set of circumstances, is a transparent exaggeration.

The area cannot, in good conscience, still think itself an upscale suburb, having surrendered that description some considerable time ago to a conspiracy of business establishments and commuter and leisure traffic, leaving few homes flanking the street, for the most part cute little George Brown houses, albeit dwarfed in the latter day by multi-storied commercial enterprises.

Maybe objecting residents remain untouched by the passage of time or social and developmental evolution, as does the statue of Captain Cipriani, standing at the centre of Port of Spain, motionless and without such considerations. But to act as if street festivals are new to Trinidad and Tobago or outlawed in civilised countries, was a truly strange response from people who, contrarily, embrace opportunities presented by Carnival, which commandeers the Boulevard for fully two days each year.

We are a people of street parades. Our national festival may be the largest but this country's roadways host a number of other processions, whether for religious, social, protest or fun reasons. Hosay, Corpus Christi, Emancipation, Labour Day, Phagwa, Shouter Baptists, Independence Day, workers threatening strike action, vigils for world peace or walks to heighten awareness of an assortment of problems; all take to the streets to make their point and do so with varying degrees of festivity.

Residents of Cipriani Boulevard are certainly not exempt from such activities, already unwilling hosts to several entertainment hotspots, patrons of which cannot be depended upon to observe approved social and moral codes. Indiscretions include parking in front of entrances to homes, urinating on fences and all manner of improper behaviour in between. Late last year there was a murder and reports of late-night banditry are hardly rare.

Real-estate experts agree that the value of remaining homes on Cipriani Boulevard is calculated on the basis of whether those properties can easily be adapted to commercial outlets, rather than if they could be sold or rented for domestic purpose. The street's most prestigious home, the stately Boos residence, built in 1883 of evidently sturdy materials, has long been turned into what is today the Boulevard's busiest restaurant.

What was a golden opportunity for entrepreneurs, whether as sole-traders or a cooperative, to capitalise on a festival that attracted some 8,000 persons, was lost to peevish arguments, that outcome rendered even more unfortunate given Mr Chin Lee's protocol lapse, which put Boulevard residents in the driving seat, according them the negotiating advantage, a window through which they could have demanded optimally favourable concessions for participating, including secure parking (which is more than they can currently boast).

It may be that we have cultivated a culture of protest as the initial option in every circumstance but it seemed to me Cipriani Boulevard residents were properly poised to score tangible gains by hosting the food festival, as distinct from having to live with ongoing woes created by patrons and proprietors of neighbouring business places, whose revenues they have no chance of ever sharing.

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