By Trelson L. Mapp
This article is the third in a series that highlights peculiarities of the Vincentian culture. The first, “Tek Yo mouth off Vincy Conductors”, conveys the experience of riding a minivan in SVG under the guardianship of local bus conductors. The second, “The Spirit of Vincy Funerals”, depicts myriad stages of a stereotypical Vincentian funeral. In a more complex undertaking, this article portrays the experience of being in the capital, Kingstown, through conjures of my mind. It targets intellectuals that don’t mind having a giggle at our hilarities. The article may appear uncouth and distasteful in some instances, but nonetheless, is well-intentioned. I trust that readers would be lightened enough to enjoy my foolishness. Without further ado, let us proceed.
Kingstown is known as the city of arches. It would be remiss of us if we don’t add stalls, tables and cart men to its categorisation. Names such as Hillsboro, Egmont, Granby and others that you will struggle to find in the phonebook are clearly demarcated on any map of the capital. We remember them well during our drivers’ tests, too. Who, though, are these people? That is a conundrum for which you may have to wake up one of the historians to unravel.
Consequently, Vincies are genetically hardwired to ignore street names. Vincies mark locations by landmarks, usually buildings. Common land marks include Catholic Church, Old KFC, Market, Jax, Singer, Post Office, Ju-C, Complex, Tokyo and Gibsons. Now and again you would hear older Vincies say something like “next to Traders”. This is not because we didn’t get the name change memo, it’s just that we like to stay within our comfort zone. When you hear a Vincy talk about Traders, Low Budget, Chippy Browne and Mc Connie Yammie, you know you have to show care to these folks. Some have been around since the Rock of Gibraltar was a breastfeeding pebble.
In spite of these tendencies, we easily adapt when we travel. In New York, we know Time Square, Columbus Circle or whatever shape the street comes in; East ninety this and East ninety that. In Toronto we know Jane, Keele, Finch, Mc Cowan, Eglinton and the rest of the posse. We can’t get lost in London either; we know St. Pancreas and all the other saints in the abdomen. We can even tell you about Rue de la Paix in Timbuktu. Notwithstanding, please don’t mention local street names to us. That is when the senior moments kick in. To gain a greater perspective of our wonder city, let us take a journey as we meander these course ways as the rivers of Babylon. Take a deep breath as a plethora of architecture, history and bubbling characters beckons us to a higher level of consciousness.
First, we may need some cash to splash. Let’s go into the bank or a credit union to get some. Financial institutions also play their part in augmenting the “in-town” experience. It is always a pleasure visiting these institutions. I heard a fella say once that he sneezes before he goes into a bank, because they like to charge for everything. As ridiculously farfetched as it sounds, I find myself being mindful of every transaction/transgression. Somehow, these two words seem to equate to the same thing, as financial statements may suggest. Deductions galore. As the song says, “farther along we’ll know all about it”.
The real beauty of the banking experience come with the folks that we encounter in the queue. Vincies love to stand in bank queues. We are fully aware of ATM and online banking services, but often opt for the worthwhile alternative of standing in the line. There, all sorts of characters can be found. On a lucky day, you may find a sailor that came back with a Jamaican accent. How about a person that, in all semblances of clarity, lustily yanks about foreign? A few months later you may realise that the paper they came home to fix up never got sorted. In your kindness, you may want to take them to a nearby stationery and point them to the paper section.
In a contest of projecting relevance, there always seems to be someone in the line conveying their self-perceived status in society. These estimates often appear in stark contrast to the pervading reality. For instance, you may encounter an ideological showpiece, babbling incessantly to himself, as ears are tuned elsewhere. Meanwhile, he or she glibly feigns intellectual excellence and adroitly inflate their national essentiality. Investigations, though, may reveal that their greatest contribution can be likened to disruptive flatulence on a public transport.
Alas! We have retrieved our cash. It’s time to head on the street. The type of characters that you encounter in Kingstown are replicated nowhere else on the planet. We have cartmen that would drive their contraptions along a one-way street, occupying a lane, while moving in the opposite direction. “Elo, tikay yo damage me cart!” or “watch wey y’ah go!” are common warnings to legitimate road users. For the sake of peace, as right-thinking persons, we have all come to accept that cartmen are always right. After all, one would not want to chance a litany of mother this and father that.
Stationary and mobile vendors
Similarly, vendors are common place throughout Kingstown, often in contumacious disregard to the silver fox and its kung fu. Sidewalks are crowded with merchants, defying this self-explanatory term, as your stroll can more fittingly be described as a detour through a flea market. Nonetheless, as Granny would always say, “Live and let your brother live.”
Foot vendors can also be found in town. Coming towards us in nicely framed glasses, neat dreadlocks, fitted shorts revealing long slender legs is a brother with bags of tomatoes in his hands. He has the look of a professor from Albion that came to our shores in subterfuge to escape the horrors of marking examination scripts. Perhaps he got bored and decided to sell tomatoes to us plebs. Then again, maybe not.
“Eat dem while dey cheap,” says he, as he cautions consumers of impending inflation in the tomato market. This, however, seems to be a daily beckoning. Nonetheless, just in case tomato prices do escalate, we cannot say that the brother didn’t warn us.
I also admire foot vendors such as Jason who zips through crevices, moving from office to office and cubicle to cubicle with his box, containing, usually, grapes and bananas. With a pleasant grin, a tender voice, a mouth barely moving, similar to a ventriloquist, and in a Trinidadian accent, he mutters, “Potassium… Vitamin C… Seedless”. Vendors such as these add to the vivacity of our central business district.
“Ged your coconud wader,” says another as he lures prospective buyers to his cooling apparatus. Surely, he has to be a candidate for national hero. With more dix that the Dixie Chicks, he overhauls the Queen’s restrictive English, enough to make the grammar policeman pull out his hair and retire, of course, only after draping himself with sackcloth and ashes.
In the public spaces, one can find a confluence of mouthpieces from different political persuasions, each exerting, peacefully, their take on various subject matters. Of the same reality, one side appears to be harbingers of doom, painting gloom expectations, if trends remain the same, while the other prognosticates perpetual bliss, again, all things being equal. Vincentians love their politics and commonly showpiece their tribal loyalties. More often than not, though, opinions are largely influenced by geographical and genealogical factors.
Public spaces also facilitate juicy discourse of the latest happenings. Vincentians do not gossip; we talk comess. Surely, you must know the difference. Gossip is a mere discussion of other people’s affairs. Comess, on the other hand, is a heightened banter of the misfortunes, calamities and folly of others, which defies common sense, to the extent that you have to beat something, stamp the ground and throw back your head in outbursts of laughter. Sometimes we put our hands on our hips bellowing the “woooo,” like a siren. At times, the comess is so sweet that you follow the speakers past your destination. Of course, discretely appearing to be minding your own business.
Then comes the turn over time. It’s times like these that we blame the poor innocent little school children for everything, prefacing the comess with the accusation, “school pickney say”. We then conclude the news item with the statement, “so me buy um, ah so me sell um,” rendering ourselves as merchants.
Somewhere on the anatomy of every Vincentian is a region known as the craw. This area acts as a storage and release point for bothersome things. I have even given it its own scientific name, Cravenus Vicentus, or CV for short. If you are lucky enough, you may encounter “a good piece ah cussing”. As issues reach boiling point, participants rinse each other verbally with incendiary comments, at times, taking care to visit the iniquity of forefathers up to the nth generation. By the time they are finished baptising each other, they are whiter than snow.
From nowhere, people spring like ninjas, some instigating and acting as emotional charging stations for the feuding volcanoes. It is hard to stay discrete especially when the melee gets juicy. It is times like these when we may notice that the bottle cork on the ground needs to be moved two inches to the right, or we start inspecting tyres like traffic police. Basically, anything to keep us lingering around ground zero. Like the complex clock, no one dares to move, sun, rain or snow, no matter how belligerent the situation appears. Everyone puts on their investigative caps and everything else takes a backseat.
Vincy has some of the best investigators that you can find. What better place to find them than in Kingstown? When a story breaks, Vincies develop a mild form of omniscience. Yep, we know everything: Who is the “real pickney pupa”; what window he climbs through; and, what vehicle he drives. Give us some time and we would even give you the chassis number. A Vincy can also discuss an on-going story from another locality with such intricate detail that you dare not doubt their omnipresence.
Kingstown is well laid out, based on functionality. The banks are generally concentrated in one area, wholesalers in others, customs brokers in another, schools in a couple, the traditional churches in one and the Lebanese stores occupying their own stretch. Along the reclamation site is what I call the Asian district. Don’t expect to find any Asians there. I termed it so because one part comprises China Town, while Tokyo (Windward and Leeward) occupies the other portion.
Nesting in the crevices of China Town one can find congregant minds challenging themselves to rounds of dominoes or draughts (checkers). A series of shops and their contents add to the vitality of this real estate. Besides food and beverages, a few cobblers, such as my pals, Fitzroy and Dutchie, ply their trade mending footwear. Tokyo, on the other hand, serves as an interchange for the public transport system, more so, private minivans. In addition to being a bus terminal, it is a favoured waterhole for many a thirsty soul, particularly, those that are tired of drinking juice or water. Sadly, although amusing at the same time, Tokyo has become the final resting place for many a paycheque. This is a poignant reminder of the struggles of a woman.
Tokyo has transitioned into a multipurpose facility. During the day, it is buzzing with omnibuses, passengers and vendors. At nights, it becomes a parking lot for vendors’ benches, stalls, trays, iceboxes and goods, covered and strapped with strongman ropes on small trailers and carts. Strangely, everything is intact for the next business day. The sea walls that guard the Asian district also has multiple purposes. During the nights it can be a tranquil getaway for adventurous lovers that wish to gaze on the ebbs and flows of the moon-lit pristine.
The frontier also affords ample cover to societal bigwigs and their bubbling concupiscence, concealing their lowly-esteemed “catch of the day”. Ye wives, this fishing ground may be an appropriate place to locate your spouse, prior to issuing amber alerts. During the daylight, though, the seawall provides conduits to nature-washed comfort stations, a welcome to heavy-laden bladders. It can also be an open galley for culinary arts, such as roasting breadfruit. I must attest that it takes great vision to see the multiple potentials of these public spaces.
On the issue of vision, Vincentians have 40/20 vision. One journey in and around Kingstown would confirm this. For instance, we see pedestrian crossings where they don’t exist. The untrained eye would not notice the one leading from the market towards Jax on Hillsboro Streets, or the one from the Financial Complex towards Courts or even the one connecting Geest Shed bus stop to Heritage Square. Luckily for pedestrians, the drivers seem to see them too. In the goodness of their hearts they may stop at these points to let you across. You would, however, be doing so on your own accord. As I said before, these road-crossings do not exist.
Another thing you will be doing on your own is believing everything that you hear. If legend is correct, somewhere around Bentick Square, we have our very own Bermuda Triangle. It is alleged that things have a way of disappearing there; bed sheets, medications, fingers, surgical instruments and the likes. This may be a good area to do a treasure hunt. Keep your torchlights and metal detectors handy, for you never know what might turn up. Then again, don’t believe everything that you hear.
History and architecture
SVG has had three capitals during post-Columbian times. The first, Princess Town, today called Barrouallie or Bagga V, was established by the French in 1719. Georgetown became the second capital as the sugar industry gained prominence. That was short lived, as the Atlantic waves posed a challenge to shipping. The third, Kingstown became our longstanding capital. Together with its extensions of Campden Park and Arnos Vale, it is likely to remain that way. On a serious note now, let us take a look at some of our historical sites and architecture.
Many buildings in Kingstown were built with arches, affording underpasses to pedestrians. These underpasses provide welcome refuge from the blazing sun or teeming rains. The abundance of arch-supported architecture has caused the city to be characterized as the city of arches. Legend has it that planning restrictions were applied to the north side of Grenville Street, preventing them from having arches, thereby allowing the masses an unimpeded view of the carriage of Her Majesty the Queen’s Governor as he journeyed from Government House to the Parliament. For unknown reasons, too, Middle Street deviates from the conventions of arches. Notwithstanding, it has its own allure, as sections are arrayed with comely cobblestones.
Kingstown also showpieces our quest for learning and development. The Carnegie building was built in 1909 for the purpose of being a public library. This was one of the more than 1,600 public libraries built by the wealthy Scottish-born American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. The Police Barracks, completed in 1876 is another beautiful piece of historical architecture.
Following a change over from French to British rule in 1798, the British assembly on the island resolved to replace the buildings that housed the legislative assembly and law court. Accordingly, a single building, the afore-mentioned Court House on Grenville Street, was erected in the early 1800s and still stands today. Beside the law court, the building houses the parliament of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It has been a significant backdrop for many occasions, including the 1935 uprisings.
Along North River Road lies the Cathedral of the Assumption, an immaculate combination of five distinct architectural styles. Construction on this magnificent edifice is believed to have begun in the 1820s, midway through SVGs 17 years of slavery or so. Not even the famed Notre Dame in its heyday can rival the splendour of this citadel.
On the hills above Edinboro sits Fort Charlotte, established around 1806, with an unparalleled view of the city, a panacea for the heavyhearted. Resting along its walls are the inward turned cannons, relics of the Carib wars. You can also visit the Botanical Gardens, established in 1765 and thought to be the oldest in the Western Hemisphere.
‘Hot pree here!’
Oh my, how time flies! We have been touring for most of the day. It is now time to get something to eat. For the edacious ones, such as myself, there are numerous restaurants and food outlets around Kingstown. A few are located around South River Road, more commonly called Heritage Square. One can enjoy a Venetian experience along the waterway without fears of the floods of Venice. You can also take your meals over to the seating areas behind the Old Public Library (Carnegie building), where you can enjoy a safari experience with a few birds and the likes of Mickey, Minnie, Jerry and Speedy. “¡Arriba Arriba! ¡Ándale Ándale!”
Today, though, I feel for something “rootsie”. Maybe I will try some ital from Tarya or some pie and peas and a glass of mauby from Ras Ital or Kai. Maybe I may pass by Delano and get some dumplings and salt fish. I’ll be sure to say something good about FC Barcelona, maybe that might gain me an extra dumpling. I can also have a nice coconut slice and a potato pudding by my family there, Lady J. So much to choose from.
“Hot Pree here!” “Roti involve!”
Where is that sound coming from? It’s music to my ears. Excuse me for a moment while I track it down. Ah found him! There is nothing like a nice warm dahl pouri. Truly worth the visit to the capital. Now that I have eaten, it’s time to head home.
Somewhere around the stroke of three, one can see noisy bands of school children of rug rats stampeding towards their destinations. Wave by wave they journey through the streets of Kingstown. These joyous rapscallions add redemptive throbs to our hearts’ rhythm. Our future is quite bright. A careful listen to their aspirations signals enormous potential for our nation. Notwithstanding, these young minds are impressionable and vulnerable to the onslaughts of older miscreants. As such, be ready to bequeath positive values to these youngsters, challenge them to higher calling and nurture their talents while also making the environment more conducive to their development. It still takes a village to raise a child. That will never change. We ought not to abdicate our responsibility as guardians of the society.
In Homer’s classic, The Iliad, a character, Helen of Sparta or Helen of Troy, is depicted as having ethereal beauty that warranted a war between the two nations, Sparta and Troy. With a fleet of a thousand ships, King Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus launched an attack on Troy for the retrieval of Helen, the wife of the latter. She became known as the face that launched a thousand ships. Similarly, Kingstown, the commercial centre of our nation commands such respect. Its architecture, its jollities, and more so, its Hellenistic beauty reflects the beauty of Vincentian heartbeats over centuries. We must continue to take care that the aesthetics are maintained. With this I leave with you the words of famed British poet, John Keats:
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; …”
(John Keats, Endymion 1818)
I trust that readers experienced this same joy on today’s voyage. I also trust that readers would see past the humour and ruminate on the foods for thought. May we be propelled to sustain the good parts of our culture, while eliminating contaminants that erode our name, nature and reputation. Until we meet again, may peace reign from shop to store.
Peace and Love