THE DUKE IN HIS DOMAIN!
Allen’s Big Mistake!
The word is that the ex-PM and ex-SLP leader Kenny Anthony (seated) is hell-bent on marching off several pounds, after which he’ll deliver some bad news to Philip J. Pierre!
The year was 1979 and the time had come for the leader of the recently elected new government to present to parliament his Estimates of Expenditure, replete with impossible promises of milk and honey for all in the land. For most of his presentation the retired judge-turned-freshman politician had patiently put up with table-thumping opposition hecklers, none more persistent than John Compton. Seated directly opposite the new prime minister, his elbow anchored to the table, clenched right fist stuck to his greasy cheek, Compton appeared bored out of his gourd. In his fifteen or so years as head of the island’s government he’d delivered more budget addresses than any other local politician, living or dead—enough to fill a room at the Central Library.
While the unpracticed recently retired jurist did his best to make hyperbole believable, Compton would groan: “Talk, talk, talk!” At first the prime minister pretended not to hear. But not for nothing had Compton in his late 1950s heyday earned his “Jack Spaniard” sobriquet! No ordinary horsefly was he. Over and over he punctuated Louisy’s too-good-to-be-true offerings with “Talk, talk, talk!”—until finally the ex-judge lost it. Tossing sobriety to the winds, he slammed his script down on the table in front of him, the fire in his eyes threatening the plastic frames of his reading glasses. His arm stretched out in Compton’s direction, a now near hysterical Louisy screeched: “Talk-talk-talk? Talk put you where you are today!”
Who cared about his meaning? There would be time enough to speculate about the several possibilities when the House broke for lunch. Just then the packed gallery was too busy roaring deliriously over the ex-judge’s abrupt change of demeanor to care—everyone, that is, save John Compton. Throughout the ensuing din that finally demanded the Speaker’s stern intervention, Compton maintained his waxen composure and posture: inscrutable face, anchored elbow, clenched fist glued to his pleated cheek, eyes absolutely blank.
The revisited House episode came back to me this week as I listened with amusement to several recalled
bon mots that over the years had issued from the mouths of local politicians, proffered by their defenders and detractors. The trigger was a reported Allen Chastanet reference to Vieux Fort as “ghetto”—he may have had in mind Bruceville—until 1998 known as the Manng (pronounced “mangue,” spelling according to a locally produced Kwéyòl-English dictionary that defines the word as “a swamp or mangrove”). To be fair, the prime minister in his exuberance (irrational or otherwise) had jokingly put to his audience at a Vieux Fort rally last week this admittedly questionable teaser: “Where would you prefer to come from? A ghetto or from the pearl of the Caribbean?” Barely hours later there were on several radio stations the most familiar hack voices seeking to defend or to damn the prime minister—as if indeed to be a ghetto dweller were equal to being an AIDS carrier. Actually most English dictionaries define the word
ghetto thus: “A part of a city, especially an area occupied by a minority group or groups.”
The most common etymology traces ghetto to the Italian barghetto, meaning part of a city. In Venice the
barghetto was the foundry or arsenal section to which Jews were confined. A ghetto address, in modern parlance, while it may be suggestive of an individual’s economic status, is by no stretch of the imagination a measure of character, his dignity, talent, education, or skills. More often than not the very existence of a ghetto underscores governmental neglect. Such adjustments as were made to the Vieux Fort area still referred to as “the Manng” despite that it was in the late 1990s renamed for the late Vieux Fort MP Bruce Williams, have never been sufficient to turn it into a magnet for the upwardly mobile and others who can afford rent in less deprived communities.
Ah, but politicians in our neck of the words are nothing if not champion buck passers. They long ago succeeded in convincing the especially poor, uneducated and vulnerable that they are themselves to blame for their sorry predicament. Which explains why we will go to any lengths to appear better off than we really are. We insist on being conspicuous at every jump-up fete, from carnival to jazz at Pigeon Point, regardless of ticket prices; regardless of empty food cupboards at home; regardless of schoolbooks still to be bought. The irony of this particular nightmare is that politicians—insensate as are the majority!—experience no embarrassment whatsoever for the plight of their near indigent constituents on whom their careers depend so heavily in countries like ours. In answer to related complaints, count on them defensively to say: “If they are as poor as you claim, then how is it they can find the money to party all night? How come there were so many of them at Mindoo Phillip last night?”
A couple years or so ago a UK newspaper reporter visited Saint Lucia, perchance to discover details concerning the murder of a fellow Brit at the hands of her local boyfriend. Later he wrote about how the victim had chosen her lover over her concerned parents and other relatives, all of whom had pleaded with her not to come to Saint Lucia. The reporter had also noted in his piece that the young woman had left behind her middle-class circumstances to “live in a small and deprived community where most of the houses had tin roofs!” Before long Saint Lucians who read the story were calling the electronic media to complain to accommodating hosts about “the insult to our country,” altogether oblivious of the fact that the story’s central figure was hardly the first U.K. citizen to be brutally murdered or otherwise abused by lovers they had met either back home or while on vacation in “simply beautiful Saint Lucia.”
Words, words, words. In our country the truth of what is said has always taken a back seat to the words used to tell such truth. That the British reporter had described houses as structures with “tin roofs” was what most concerned callers to the radio stations. Not the unresolved several murders of U.K. citizens that had earned our country the honor of being the most dangerous place for Brits on vacation. After all, as one irate caller put it to Newsspin’s Timothy Poleon: “If the reporter hadn’t meant to insult us, then why couldn’t he have written that our homes were covered with galvanize? Why did he have to lie about tin roofs?”
A more seasoned campaigner than Allen Chastanet might’ve saved himself a whole lot of grief had he promised Bruceville’s sensitive residents 4-lane highways to homes covered with red or yellow galvanize (depending on whom he is addressing) with tiled floors, indoor bathrooms and toilets that actually flush.
Had Chastanet avoided the G-Word, chances are even the rats might’ve forgotten about the snakes and lizards at Maria Island and happily followed the piper to DSH heaven!
Mr. Allan Louisy: The late judge and prime minister had a fine appreciation for words!