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.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Joys Of Urban Life And Art For Art's Sake

To say that I am not a standard Caribbean person is I think an understatement, but I would not wish to be regarded as 'standard' anybody. I said to my little daughter last week, "Being ordinary is really easy. You must learn how to be special." I think that Caribbean people have many wonderful gifts, which they willingly hide or obscure. I am trying to make sure that some of the next generation don't go down that path.

My daughter's school was closed yesterday so I decided to let her have a play date with a class mate, who is a regular visitor to our home. I had plans to take them to the city to see an art exhibition at the Grande Salle (adjacent to Frank Collymore Hall), featuring one of my blogging friends and also artiste.

Well, the day did not just flow like that, of course. I had my usual early start and found myself writing animatedly about CLICO and why sticky fingers must not touch it. I then went to clear my head with some tennis, and naturally during Barbados' dry season there had been heavy rain so I had to do some manual labour and dry off the court. I played for about an hour then headed home, in the rush hour traffic, but thankfully my route is short and I was not much delayed. I got another chance to see road craziness as vehicles negotiated the major cross roads at Pine Road and Collymore Rock, where the lights were flashing red and drivers were just flashing past. One lady driver was so shocked as she tried to squeeze across as the third vehicle in a row when I inserted my car, gave her 'the look' and yelled "One car at a time"; her hair went straight up and her huddled pose at the wheel turned into a real hunchback crouch. Why cannot the police--and yes there was a motorcycle policeman amongst the crossing vehicles--give clear guidance or even supervise these hazards. Four way crossing? First come, first served. Stop. Look. Proceed. Not, "Hi-ho, it's off to work we go" regardless of three other sets of vehicles.

That piece of madness over, I then had to deal with an anxious five year old. "Is Matthew here yet?", "When will his daddy bring him over?", "Can you call Matthew's daddy?", "What does anxious mean?". These questions pursued me. Then a little after 11am 'he' arrived. And on cue, I got a call from Starcom to comment about...CLICO. Well, I dragged myself into work mode again and gave Mr. Ellis a good quarter hour of my views on why concerns are legitimate and how governance can be extended beyond financial companies and onto other private enterprises. The children loved pestering me as I was on the phone and trying to make me giggle so that they might hear me laugh over the radio. That done, I thought that sanity needed to be reoriented and I hastily got ready to meet what passes for the outside world in the City of Bridgetown.

First, I had to deal with a language issue. I speak standard English but live amongst people who often do not. So, there I am in Spry Street, trying to park by the shops adjacent to the central bank. My car is tiny, like the island. I rolled down my window and tried to get the attention of a vendor in one of those glitzy NY caps.

Pundit: "Excuse me. Is this space free?"
Vendor: "Yes, this is Spry Street."
Pundit: "No, I asked is this space free?"
Vendor: "I told you. This is Spry Street."

I rolled up the window, parked and walked back toward the vendor as I headed to the bridge, hoping that being closer to him would solve our communication problems.

Pundit: "I think we are not understanding each other. I asked if this space is free?"
Vendor: "I told you twice, this is Spry Street."

Undaunted, I dived into what passes for Jamaican patois:

Pundit: "Whe' me kyan park me kyar?"
Vendor: "Oh. Right here."

Oh, roll on CSME. We are now one.

The children were doubled up in laughter, especially our little Bajan friend: "Hee-hee. This is Spry Street. Hee-hee." I asked him if he had understood the man. He looked sheepish as he said, "No. I don't understand Bajan." You have time, child, I thought.

So, to the art show. I was greeted by a blast of icy cold air as I entered the building. Forever wanting to responsibilize, I asked the young lady at the entrance to the display, "Who pays the electricity bill?" She understood immediately: "Oh you mean the AC and how it blasting out? Not me." She then proceeded to show me her 'animated thought' display,which had images of her going through a day and all the people she passes have their inner feelings on display--well, they are written inside their bodies--inner thoughts--and you can see the words. It was very interesting, not least because our feelings are often very obvious but people pass each other unconcerned.

We then went to look at a display by my friend, which had some very spooky pictures, and the children were very scared even to stand next to the one that had a pair of eyes looking out from a star-studded costume.

An interesting 'study' was 'Homeland Insecurity', which had a dining room display where the plates and other items had signs of family troubles painted on them. Very deep food for thought.

After all of that social concern, we were, of course, hungry and headed to lunch at Waterfront. I have eaten there before and like the ambiance of seeing the city across the water. It's a favourite with the visiting tourists from Europe. The kids' impatience rose again as we waited for the food, but unusually the owner/manager came across to see if we were alright and went to the kitchen to push along our order. Now, there's good service. Then, we ate and had our fill of social etiquette, as the children addressed their own fears of a uniformed man and we played a game that proved he was a sailor not a policeman. We declined dessert, but not before the children had another chance to learn Bajan as they repeated, "You want apple poyi?"

We were pretty tired by now; it was mid afternoon. I had a couple of stops to make at LIAT and LIME, really to see friends who worked there at Carlyle House, so we did a brisk walk along the board walk. As we entered LIME, I got a call from a friend: "The dog just ate my BlackBerry!" Well, my laughter woke everyone in the store as I heard my friend trying to make herself understood on a device that one could hear falling apart. I told her I would see what I could arrange as I was in the store; nice serendipity.

That was enough for one day, and we had not even got to a play ground or seen a movie. We all walked back toward Spry Street and then headed home. The kids were pooped. Art is tiring. As they got back home, they found the sofa and a blanket and went undercover.

Many extraordinary things come from just trying to get through a day. Artists try to make the extraordinary appear for us in words and images. We are all artists in a sense, I guess, and so are all capable of being quite extraordinary.

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