Allen’s Big Mis­take!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rick Wayne

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!

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