No Toes set foot in door at Wal­cott Open House

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Lau­rent Jean Pierre (Jomo)

“I look in the rearview and see a man ex­actly like me, and the man was weep­ing for the house, the streets, that fuck­ing is­land . . . . so I leave it for them and their car­ni­val – I tak­ing a seabath, I gone down the road.”

~ Derek Wal­cott

Since the No­bel Lau­re­ate dust has set­tled, I can see more plainly. I can peep clearly through the open spa­ces in the fa­cade of the Wal­cott House open­ing cer­e­mony. Though, this is not to pick a quar­rel with any­one in par­tic­u­lar (pa paski bwèt chikann mwen vid); in­stead it’s sim­ply to think aloud, if think­ing aloud is al­lowed, and to en­gen­der con­ver­sa­tion.

On a sunny Sun­day af­ter­noon all was set for the long-awaited au­gust, in­au­gu­ral cer­e­mony, with the added pomp of the Royal Saint Lu­cia Po­lice Band at the rib­bon-cut­ting rit­ual for the re­fur­bished child­hood fam­ily home of our No­bel Lau­re­ate, the god of let­ters, now (re­duced and) in­ducted into the ranks of weep­ing knights.

The newly erected ed­i­fice was fab­u­lous and well set in all its splen­dour and opu­lence. It was decked with gor­geous ver­nac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture, à la Cas­tries, with a feel of the 1940s. The struc­ture buzzed loudly with fit­ting colours: white, yel­low, grey and green painted on lo­cal wooden trel­lis, awning win­dows, jalousies, dòmèz, galta, (the kweyol word for at­tic), cor­nered by an ex­quis­ite pe­tite court­yard with or­nate trop­i­cal flora. It sim­ply depicts a classy, vin­tage ver­nac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture at its best.

In­deed, ku­dos for the en­tire work­man­ship, in­clud­ing the imag­i­na­tive and cre­ative en­ergy be­hind it all. One could see clearly the sat­is­fac­tion and pride in the pea­cock steps of the chief struc­tural de­signer and his com­rades as they pa­raded the open court­yard.

At last, it was time to par­take in the long awaited his­tory-in-the-mak­ing event, where Grass Street and Chaussee Road would bind to­gether to hon­our their favourite and most cel­e­brated sons, the Wal­cotts, and it would stand to rea­son that the peo­ple of “Lawi Zèb” would be an in­te­gral part of the fes­tiv­ity.

More so, it was an ideal op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a pleas­ant ‘melée mlange’ of the mi­grants and res­i­dent pop­u­la­tion, en­com­pass­ing var­i­ous artis­tic gen­res, sea­soned with di­verse, cul­tur­ally dis­tinct flavours.

Alas, what was ex­pected and sup­posed to have been a cel­e­bra­tion of, by and with the lo­cal com­mu­nity and in­vited guests/mi­grants alike, turned out to be oth­er­wise. A gen­try cul­ture in ah Grass Street? The cel­e­brants were mainly from without, like vis­it­ing mi­grant birds. Thus, the true “in­sid­ers” or ac­tual res­i­dents of Grass Street and the neigh­bour­hood were left as by­standers to ‘sneak peek’ into the in­ner cir­cle of the flock of in­vi­tees con­nected with the aes­thete, eru­dite gen­try of the so­ci­ety. Imag­in­ably, many of them were the fine-tuned favourite feath­ered friends from the bour­geoisie, nou­veaux riches and par­ti­san elite. Yes in­deed, ah gen­try’s cul­ture in ah Grass Street!

Per­haps they were ter­ri­fied that the res­i­dent yard fowls would chase the un­usual mock­ing pul­lets for their hire-pur­chased plumage. Au con­traire, the yardies know very, very well why, “it’s a sin to kill a mock­ing bird.” More likely, the chip­per chat­ter of the homegrown birdies would have muf­fled the flut­ter­ing jin­gles of the cer­e­mo­ni­ally clad Po­lice band play­ing ju­bi­lantly on be­half of the loyal roy­alites, the very clones of mock­ing birds.

While the Po­lice band did its best to warm up the luke­warm ego­sphere, the cel­e­bra­tion seemed to lack fes­tive vigour be­cause there was No ‘Toes’, No steel band, No ‘pay ban­nann’, No black boys, No Ras­tas drum­ming, No ‘Tan­bou Mélé’, No ‘anba gòj’, No ‘Lawòz’, No ‘La Magrit’, and No ‘and so on’. No!

The life blood of Lawi Zèb ‘man­may lakay’ was bar­ri­caded out of the fête in the name of traf­fic con­trol and se­cu­rity. For me, there was a weird feel­ing in the air, since the grass­roots and tap­roots were left out­side of the party to be­come stand­bys and/ or in­vaders/on­look­ers. I cringed at that sight!

It would ap­pear that the ‘ones’ for whom the shrine had been ded­i­cated and erected were left out of the sanc­tu­ary, in sim­i­lar fash­ion to the leg­end of the Taj Ma­hal. The ashes of whom the tem­ple was erected to house were thrown out by the de­sign­ers them­selves. The ques­tion arises, for whom was the Wal­cott House built?

On that day, what should have been a cel­e­bra­tion of ‘the peo­ple’, in­ter­laced with the works of their own yard folks, Roddy and Derek, in a liv­ing street the­atre set­ting went a-beg­ging. Cer­tainly, an ‘ole mas’ with steel pan mu­sic, ‘tan­bou’ with so­cial com­men­tary (old mas) re­gard­ing cul­ture,; por­trayal in dance, pageantry, po­etry, mu­sic and colour would have livened up the bash. Derek would, per­chance, have arisen from his wheel chair, for­get­ting his ‘weep­ing’ by just pranc­ing to de steel pan beat into de yardies’ car­ni­val. His own car­ni­val!

Si mwen di’ou sa fè mwen la penn Ou kay di sa vwé Si mwen di’ou sa pen­nitwé mwen Ou pé di sa vwé Sé man­may Lakou Zèb-la pa té adan séléb­wasyon-an?

The too stiff open­ing fes­tiv­ity felt more like a Sankey gospel con­cert or a “go pwèl” get-to­gether. Suf­fice it to say, the show and sub­ject mat­ter were not as mean­ing­ful and flam­boy­ant as the aes­thet­ics of the struc­ture.

The re­cently opened Wal­cott’s place in Grass Street Cas­tries.

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