Welcome

Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Europe daze

May 9 is Europe Day, because on that day in 1950 the first moves were made to create the European Community (see link). Now, everywhere that the EC has its representatives, they roll out the carpet and "celebrate" this day. Well, in Barbados, I have to say it is a peculiar event. Last night's celebration was held in the lush settings of Graeme Hall Nature Reserve. Resting on the edge of the diplomatic community, though not on the A-list, we get invited to affairs such as this, and can hob-nob with the ... rather than remaining with the hoi-polloi.

As soon as we arrived, we decided to perch ourselves on the top of a slope, regal like, so that we could people watch from the comfort of some tables and chairs conveniently placed under a small covered... Everyone else was having "face time" down by the drinks tent. Like the mosquitoes hovering around us and looking for blood to suck, they buzzed around with blood-coloured drinks in their hands. We saw that food had been prepared in an area near where we sat and wondered how the rest of the guests would manage to walk up the slope with their drinks and then down again with their drinks and bowls of soup or plates of hors d'oeuvres. We knew a good many women there had not realized that there would be a lawn to deal with and had worn high heals, which could act as crampons getting up the hill, but would then help topple them when they tried to get their spikes out of the ground walking down again. We took out the phone camera ready for the right moments. Wicked.

Guests, mainly from Barbados' diplomatic community, sashayed onto the lawn, and were soon serenaded by a band whose choice of music was for the main part reminiscent of the early 20th century and before. Their first tune was the theme song from "Beauty and the Beast". Was that some subtle message? Barbados was surely the beauty, but why would Europe be the beast? Oh, EPA. Few people know what the initials mean but we have all been getting upset that Caribbean countries represented by CARIFORUM (carry for whom?) and the European Union have apparently agreed to something that will probably suck more life blood from this region in the name of free trade. I know that EPA stands for Everything Packaged from Abroad, and that soon all the best consumer goods that France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Spain, etc. can offer, will get to fill the shop shelves in Bim. Good, if they mean the arrival too of lower prices.

Back to the band. They then went into a selection that included "Tennessee Waltz" (penned in 1947), "Midnight Blue" and other tunes designed to put those around into a stupor reminiscent of fairy tales, from which we would need to kiss of a handsome prince to be revived. I looked around and saw only ugly men with fuzzy faces, so I did not get lulled by this, for fear of having some ogre leering at me and saying "Be my bride" and me trying to figure out how I had got myself into some pickle. But it was hard to keep my eyes open. A lady then sang "The first time ever I saw your face" (written in the 1950s). Then a jolt. A Caribbean tune! Then boom. Back again to the dirges. My wife had been muttering all evening about how these events need to get into swing with modern times. I did not have the heart to say that swing--having its hay day in the mid-1930s, and would have certainly been preferable to what Herbie and the Pallbearers were giving us. But she was talking to the stars, but bless her she felt better.

Then we heard a voice muttering through a microphone. Whatever it was saying had the effect of drawing the swarm away from the drinks tent toward another larger tent that offered nothing but space. There they all stood, around the legs of the tent while the MC introduced the European Commission's Ambassador Diaz, and the government's representative, Senator Maxine McLean. Clearly, some unspoken rule said "do not approach" as the crowd gave them the tent to themselves and stayed a respectful distance away. The band swung into new life again with a stiff rendition of "Ode to Joy", which has been taken as the EC's anthem, to the well-known music of Beethoven's 9th symphony (composed 1823), then of course the Barbados national anthem. We then got the speeches. Well, the mutterings. I heard reference to "10th anniversary of the European Monetary Union"--well, we not inthe EU so we'll just let you celebrate that; "importance of the euro"--tell us, we can't afford to go to Europe to witness this ourselves, but nuff Europeans can come here and lord it over us; "EPA"--soon to get it; and so on. No one really listened, which is no particular disrespect, it's just a fact. But the speeches were, thankfully, short

There must have been a reference to food because people started to wheel around and head for the hills, so to speak, and the band played "In the mood". We took just a few steps and loaded up with clam chowder, prime rib, and sauteed shrimps before the soon-to-be-enlarged guests ascended upon us. Having sensed a thoroughly European style to the evening's musical offerings, we loved the sense of local flavour in the drinks. But what about the food? There was a Caribbean section to the food, amongst the desserts, cutely labelled "local selection".It had coconut cake, peanut brittle, and other things which we "locals" knew by name but clearly for Europeans needed only be referred to as a "selection". I guess we could have had "sea food selection" and "meat selection" too. But they were ooh, so colourful and sweet.

By this time, our little breakaway section had risen in number to about 10, mainly from the Caribbean, and we were now seeing much irony and mirth in the whole affair. We realised that in a time when a lot of aid is not coming from Europe you have to take the financial support however you can. So, we noshed even more. But, we all felt a bit strange and when it was time to go, we did so. There was no announcement that the event was over. I lost sight of the dignatories. But the cue came from the fact that the bandstand was now empty. Cleverly, the music was still playing but now it was from a recording. Clever fiends, these Europeans. So, off we went, and had to pass through a special exit so that we could collect our commemorative gift. The box was beautiful, wrapped with a symbolic blue ribbon. I wondered if some of the men were thinking if it would be possible to re-gift it for Mother's Day. What was in the box? Shake, shake. Sounds metallic. Shake, shake. It's kind of weighty. Shake, shake went on all the way home. In the safety of home, my wife ripped off the ribbon like a child does on a Christmas present. Aha. A mug with the EU flag. Original. A ball point pen, with EU logo. Also original. Good mementoes. I was not happy, though. I had hoped for a CD of the band's music.

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