THE WALCOTTS’ “TRUSTED HOUSE”

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Travis Weekes

While “The Wal­cott House” would be the most strate­gi­cally fit­ting ti­tle for the re­cently re­stored boy­hood home of Derek and Rod­er­ick Wal­cott, “The Trusted House”, the po­etic ti­tle given by the 1992 No­bel Lau­re­ate for Lit­er­a­ture, may ac­tu­ally be the spir­i­tual name needed to en­sure the sur­vival of the in­sti­tu­tion. Here, I am join­ing Wal­cott to har­ness all of my faith in the magic and in­spi­ra­tion of po­etry.

The open­ing cer­e­mony of “The Wal­cott House” on Sun­day 24th Jan­uary con­jured up nos­tal­gia of that pre-ghetto pe­riod in the com­mu­ni­ties of Grass Street and Chaussee Road. In his speech at the open­ing cer­e­mony Prime Min­is­ter Kenny An­thony iden­ti­fied sev­eral prom­i­nent fam­i­lies who resided in the neigh­bour­hood and high­lighted the suc­cesses of sev­eral sons of the street. The Prime Min­is­ter’s hope, it seems, is to bring back the glory days of promi­nence and suc­cess of peo­ple from that com­mu­nity. To that end, the re­stored house it­self is part of a larger pro­ject, “The Wal­cott Place”, which will in­clude a mu­seum and a theatre.

Thus for the govern­ment, the pro­ject would not only be­come a pivot of her­itage tourism in Cas­tries but would also be cru­cial to the so­cial trans­for­ma­tion of a very trou­bled part of the city. For Derek Wal­cott the house is a place of nos­tal­gia and a sa­cred space in which the mem­ory of his fam­ily is hon­oured. For Saint Lu­cian artists and in­tel­lec­tu­als it is site of un­end­ing in­spi­ra­tion; an ex­am­ple of how suc­cess and ful­fill­ment of tal­ent can emerge out of love and mod­esty.

Speak­ers on the pro­gramme, in­clud­ing the Gov­er­nor Gen­eral, ex­pressed grat­i­tude to those who as­sisted in the re­al­i­sa­tion of the pro­ject and all speak­ers, with­out ex­cep­tion, sin­gled out the res­i­dents of Grass Street.

When the time came, as in­di­cated on the pro­gramme, for Derek Wal­cott, the man of the mo­ment, to read, he didn’t. In fact it seems that he couldn’t. In­stead he wept; but not re­ally. Robert Lee had ac­com­pa­nied him to the stage. Wal­cott spoke, or tried to, ex­press­ing his grat­i­tude and love for Saint Lu­cia and, as he spoke, he ap­peared to be fight­ing against a to­tal col­lapse into tears. He seemed charged with emo­tion and to be strug­gling to con­tain him­self. This strug­gle meant that he couldn’t read the poem that he had writ­ten for such an his­toric oc­ca­sion: the of­fi­cial open­ing of his boy­hood home, re­stored! Fel­low poet Robert Lee, whom Wal­cott re­ferred to as a lovely reader, per­formed the task.

Th­ese mo­ments cer­tainly of­fered a deep in­sight into the char­ac­ter of a man who has al­ways borne a tough ex­te­rior. More sig­nif­i­cantly, how­ever, the mo­ment also lent dra­matic irony to the trans­formed set­ting of this “open­ing scene”; this scene that would pro­vide the prologue for a brand new script for the peo­ple of Grass Street. Here, Wal­cott re­sisted a show of emo­tional frailty in the face of a com­mu­nity eas­ily trig­gered into vul­ner­a­bil­ity by the words or deeds from so­ci­ety’s big guns. Phys­i­cally frail at 86 years old, but still men­tally solid, Wal­cott stead­ied him­self through the ex­pe­ri­ence. With grace and grat­i­tude, he em­braced the warm au­di­ence that shared with him the pro­found sig­nif­i­cance of his mo­ment.

But the few words man­aged by Wal­cott must trig­ger an ab­so­lute fo­cus of how “The Wal­cott Place” can make a dif­fer­ence.

“Arthur Jacobs built this house,” were the very first words he shot at the au­di­ence. Jacobs, or “Jakes” as he is pop­u­larly known, was a star ac­tor of the St. Lu­cia Arts Guild and un­doubt­edly a huge in­spi­ra­tion to Wal­cott who cast him in most of the plays that he di­rected in Saint Lu­cia. Wal­cott has also im­mor­tal­ized “Jakes’ in his most re­cent work “White Egrets”. Wal­cott refers to the ac­tor as “a man with­out no money/de­spite his tremen­dous pres­ence, light as a leaf/and as del­i­cate danc­ing/ coal black and like coal/ packed with in­spir­ing fire . . . a beauty of soul . . . a wit, an in­tel­li­gence.”

In his short but pow­er­ful ut­ter­ance, Wal­cott spoke of his love for his ac­tors, those he worked with in Saint Lu­cia, Trinidad and Bos­ton; a love he sug­gested that de­vel­oped be­cause of how willingly the ac­tor gave to the di­rec­tor; how obe­di­ent he was to the di­rec­tor’s guid­ance.

Grass Street and the youth who fre­quent there have to be re-shaped by skilled di­rec­tors. Grass Street to­day is one of the most trou­bled spots in the city of Cas­tries and the ques­tion is, will the youth give them­selves in trust to the di­rec­tion of the au­thor­i­ties. For many years this place has been one of the ar­eas re­spon­si­ble for spo­radic bursts of gang vi­o­lence in the city. A ca­sual walk through the area re­veals that like the Grave Yard to the other end of the Chaussee, it is a home for pre­dom­i­nantly male youth who find an iden­tity in “bad­ness”. Even dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony, the volatil­ity of the area was clear in the de­meanour of one ‘dread’ who walked near the pro­ceed­ings dis­play­ing his gang­ster style: bare­backed, with drop­ping pants show­ing un­der­wear, as he strolled leisurely and de­lib­er­ately in full view of the gath­er­ing, swing­ing a bot­tle of liquor. An­other walked around at quick pace shout­ing his dis­plea­sure at some­thing or some­one.

Clearly this is a pro­ject ce­mented in faith and trust. It is a huge trust! “The Trusted House”, the ti­tle of the poem writ­ten by Wal­cott for the oc­ca­sion, puns on “The Trust”; that is, The Saint Lu­cia Na­tional Trust which led the ini­tia­tive of the restora­tion. How­ever, “The Wal­cott House” is also “The Trusted House” be­cause it car­ries so much hope for its im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings. It must at­tract skilled and trust­wor­thy di­rec­tors. It’s the “front”, the lead struc­ture of a pro­ject that must trig­ger spin-offs for the peo­ple of the com­mu­nity whether through di­rec­tors who will shape the char­ac­ters of the youth or through the mar­ket that it will pro­vide for the ar­ti­sans and artistes. It is a “Trusted House” for its own vul­ner­a­bil­ity. It is en­trusted to a com­mu­nity who must care for and pro­tect it, so that it may win the trust of so many who need to re­main in touch with the beauty of their souls.

The re­stored Wal­cott home stands proudly on the cor­ner of Grass Street and

Chaussee Road.

Derek Wal­cott and Robert Lee en­gaged in a read­ing

on Sun­day.

“The Wal­cott House” was built with the as­sis­tance of the Tai­wanese govern­ment. Tai­wanese Am­bas­sador

Ray H. W. Mou ad­dressed Sun­day’s open­ing.

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