When Michael rowed his boat into The bookYard!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Earl Bous­quet (A STAR Ex­clu­sive)

Last week I had sev­eral rea­sons to be happy. The main one had me feel­ing hon­oured to be hon­oured. An­other took me on both a nos­tal­gic and fu­tur­is­tic trip: Down Mem­ory Lane and Back to the Fu­ture.

Be­ing in­ducted in Saint Lu­cia’s Hall of Fame has its rules of en­try. So, while on my week-long trip in the com­pany of oth­ers, I couldn’t re­veal my share of the day’s state se­cret: that I was about to be pinned with gold for hav­ing la­bored so long in the vine­yards of my craft. So, when I at­tended Michael Chas­tanet’s book launch on Satur­day 20 Fe­bru­ary at The bookYard in the STAR Pub­lish­ing com­pound, I knew some­thing no­body else knew that I just couldn’t share -- not even with my bet­ter quar­ters.

I’ve known Michael all my life. His­tor­i­cally, our fam­i­lies have been close. His father (Arthur Chas­tanet) and mine (Charles V.E. Bous­quet) were the se­nior sea­far­ers in the two fam­i­lies who cared for their re­spec­tive brothers. Our fates also some­how in­ter­twined, though sep­a­rately: Mike even­tu­ally moved on from his dad’s boat and headed for the seven seas. And so did I . . .

In the late 60s Mike and I met of­ten in the then Prince Al­fred Basin in Cas­tries where we both cared for boats. I’d see him on the Ca­naries – his father’s lo­cal coastal cargo and pas­sen­ger boat. I would be tak­ing care of a huge tug named Lundy Gull, of which my father (then also Saint Lu­cia’s chief marine pi­lot) was Cap­tain. Back then I was all of 10 and 11 years old and, ev­ery time we met, “Mister Chas­tanet” would of­fer sea­far­ing ad­vice that would all come in handy dur­ing my later years trav­el­ing the seven seas.

Our gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ence apart, we spoke like two big men on Sun­day morn­ings. And he would of­ten re­mind me not to for­get when sail­ing on my first ship that “There are no lit­tle boys at sea!” His ad­vice, each time, was that I should “Al­ways think and act big!”

Fast-For­ward a few decades . . .

Af­ter build­ing his first boat at 17 and leav­ing here in 1967, the sea salt in Mike’s veins had taken him across all the oceans through all of the world’s ma­jor ship­ping lanes, spend­ing more than three decades buy­ing and sell­ing ships as fast as each good deal came. By 1984 he’d de­cided it was time to drop an­chor and re­turn home.

Mike has long rowed his boat ashore. He’s low­ered his sails and seen a brighter fu­ture on dry land. He’s now in the real es­tate busi­ness. He told me back in 1987 (when I was the STAR Editor and he was the com­pany’s land­lord): “Where oth­ers see an aban­doned lot or a patch of waste­land, I see what I can build on it.” Hence his trans­for­ma­tion of acres of mos­quito-in­fested swamp­land with leeches and snakes, frogs and Jack Spa­niards, into the busy busi­ness lot that cur­rently stretches from Northwest Ltd to Colony House on the John Comp­ton High­way in Cas­tries, along­side the Vigie Air­port.

By the turn of the cen­tury Mike had turned into ev­ery­thing: from Chair­man of the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (NDC) to Chair­man of Caribbean Me­tals and Chair­man of an emerg­ing su­per­mar­ket chain that would for­ever change that busi­ness in Saint Lu­cia.

By 2014 Mike had long been writ­ing. As art­ful with a pen as he’s been at any ship’s wheel, he’s writ­ten more ar­ti­cles in the lo­cal press than the num­ber of times he’s been quoted. But be­fore he bowed to the pleas to write his life story, I did three hour-long au­dio­vi­sual in­ter­views with him. My plan was to fea­ture him in one of the first edi­tions of my pro­gram earl@large, which was first in­tended for TV be­fore its Talk Ra­dio launch took prece­dence a year ago.

The busi­ness­man in Mike is me­chan­i­cal. He keeps think­ing ahead of time. And he moves from new plan to new plan like clock­work. Where oth­ers pro­cras­ti­nate, he moves at nau­ti­cal pace, full speed ahead. Be­fore I knew it, he’d launched Open Mike – his own weekly TV pro­gram.

By now, my “Brother Mike” had not only rowed his boat ashore, he’d also dropped both his an­chors in my wa­ters. And he’d started his show be­fore I could even script mine. But if I thought that was all, the an­cient mariner def­i­nitely had more salt wa­ter line-up for me. When I got the elec­tron­i­cally mailed in­vi­ta­tion to Mike’s book launch, it con­firmed what I al­ready knew: he’d per­ma­nently tied his boat along­side jetty. I would at­tend his in­duc­tion into the club -- and there came that other source of hap­pi­ness that week: my in­tro­duc­tion to Mae’s New World.

I’ve known Mae Wayne from way back, when she was Mae Sab­bagh. I know when and how her name changed. Where ev­ery­one else en­tirely cred­ited her hus­band Rick for what The STAR news­pa­per was, those who knew well, knew the pa­per would have been noth­ing and nowhere with­out Mae.

Mae’s al­ways been the brain be­hind Rick’s brawn in their shared busi­nesses. She started off here by turn­ing one of Mike’s high­way ware­houses (re­ferred to ear­lier) into the thriv­ing STAR Pub­lish­ing Com­pany. It quickly swal­lowed-up the lo­cal ad­ver­tis­ing mar­ket be­cause of Mae’s in­sis­tence on pro­duc­ing ads and other pa­per prod­ucts of the best lo­cal qual­ity pos­si­ble. Same with Body Inc, the phys­i­cal fit­ness busi­ness that she and Rick ran along­side The STAR at an­other of Mike’s build­ings, this time at his Gable­woods Mall at Choc. And in all of that, Mae also wrote. I worked with her on launch­ing the Trop­i­cal Trav­eller and She mag­a­zines.

Mae al­ways stood be­hind Rick, but not be­cause she saw that as her eter­nal place. Her fin­gers are al­ways in more pies than the naked eye will see. So, I wasn’t sur­prised when I read or heard some­where that she’d launched a new busi­ness at The STAR in Mas­sade. An in­for­mant also told me it was called “The Yard” and “You can get plenty of lo­cal things there too.” But she was most im­pressed by the fact that “The Yard sits be­tween a set of con­tain­ers Mae turned into stores.”

As it turned out, my in­for­mant had un­der­stated the facts. First, the place’s real and full name is The bookYard – and apart from “plenty of lo­cal things”, it’s also a book­shop push­ing the works of lo­cal writ­ers and po­ets, artists and artistes. And Michael’s was the first book launch there.

As I lis­tened to Mae in­tro­duce the place and the man of the mo­ment, I looked across at An­dre Chas­tanet, the for­mer CEO of Con­sol­i­dated Foods Lim­ited (CFL). Be­fore their de­par­ture from the helm at CFL, he had been to Mike ex­actly what Mae still is to The STAR Pub­lish­ing Com­pany: the in­vis­i­ble hand pump­ing the iron and beat­ing it while it’s hot.

That Satur­day evening I had a good time. I’d so de­cided be­fore leav­ing home. Very early, the booz­ing land­lub­ber in me sev­eral times noted the ab­sence of a “Rum Shop” in The bookYard. His laugh aside, Rick sounded to me like he had -- very re­luc­tantly -- agreed. But the busi­ness­woman in Mae had seen what her hus­band had also aptly noted long time ago – though re­gret­tably -that there just had to be that other es­sen­tial lu­bri­cant for in­tel­lec­tual discourse. In­deed, when I men­tioned it to her, Mae pointed to ex­actly where the in­tended literati’s wa­ter­ing hole will be – and im­me­di­ately as­sured me that “Rosie will soon take care of that!”

Mike bared his soul that night. He told of his 33 years at sea and 28 years in the su­per­mar­ket busi­ness, but hardly hinted how much of a writer he’s been from as far back as 1987, when he started pen­ning ar­ti­cles reg­u­larly for the STAR – and very, very long be­fore tak­ing to his open mike on his own weekly pub­lic plat­form.

Derek Wal­cott was present, he and Rick shar­ing an up­front, on-stage ta­ble. Peter Josie pub­licly re­turned Mike’s un­used pho­tos in the form of a card­board dis­play. The pa­tri­archs and ma­tri­archs of the lo­cal aris­toc­racy, busi­ness mag­nates and other do­ers and shak­ers be­hind much that hap­pens here sat with di­plo­mats and min­gled with scribes and fel­low hew­ers of wood and wa­ter, all to pay trib­ute to Mike. And, of course, Mae in­vited ev­ery­one to “Buy a book tonight and let Michael sign it – even if you al­ready bought one!”

Some who would have liked to share in Mike’s mo­ment of glory just were not there, for rea­sons they would have pre­ferred did not ex­ist. Pol­i­tics both makes and breaks bed­fel­lows. But blood is al­ways thicker than wa­ter – and that’s crys­tal clear.

As it turned out, that night I couldn’t leave The bookYard with­out some­thing from the place with “plenty of things”. I scanned the rows of wide ranges of lo­cal good­ies and even­tu­ally so­licited help from some­one who knows my wife to ful­fill her wish that I “bring some­thing back”. I didn’t bother to feel that was both her way of tak­ing back the “vex money” she learned to give me when we lived back in Guyana 20 years ago. Nor did I think it was her way of cer­ti­fy­ing I’d been where I said.

But af­ter se­cur­ing the lady’s “thing” I def­i­nitely wouldn’t have left with­out mine. I scouted a cir­cled set of dozens and set­tled for a small pil­low that would look good on the large chair be­hind my Home Of­fice desk. The crowded desk oc­cu­pies more of the draw­ing room space than my wife would wish, but she’ll be the first to con­fess there’s a method

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