WHAT WOULD WALCOTT DO?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Clau­dia Elei­box

While stand­ing out­side the Cathe­dral with my mother and a dear friend (a past stu­dent of Derek Walcott), wait­ing pa­tiently for our ride, a man ap­proached us. He had on se­ri­ously thread­bare jeans and one worn-out shoe. From about four feet away, he asked my mother if my friend and I were her daugh­ters. Then he turned his at­ten­tion to my friend and me. My mother had al­ways taught us not to judge peo­ple by their clothes. We ex­changed pleas­antries. It was when we in­formed him that we had just at­tended Sir Derek Walcott’s state fu­neral that the pre­sumed gen­tle­man un­der­went a shock­ing per­son­al­ity sea change right be­fore our star­tled eyes.

An­nounce­ment of the sad oc­ca­sion seemed mag­i­cally to turn him into a hor­ror movie zom­bie. Sud­denly it was as if a dam had busted in­side him, un­leash­ing a tsunami of Kwéyòl ex­ple­tives, more than a few touch­ing on fe­male body­parts. Yes, right out­side God’s house.

“If wasn’t for Walcott we wouldn’t have no Pi­tons,” he said. “You know that, my lady? Walcott had to tell Comp­ton to haul his back­side when they try to give him an award. Walcott say they have to leave his Pi­tons alone!” Barely paus­ing to catch his breath, he ranted away while his body shook with anger. “Sir Arthur Lewis have a school,” he fumed. Point­ing to his right, he asked: “What they give Walcott? That ole square? If it wasn’t for him Saint Lu­cia wouldn’t even have tourism be­cause we wouldn’t have Pi­tons to show off!”

He con­tin­ued to scream about the per­ceived dis­ser­vice to Derek Walcott, ev­ery other word punc­tu­ated with un­speak­able Kwéyòl ob­scen­i­ties. As I watched him hop-and-drop his way up Mi­coud Street, I of­fered a silent prayer of thanks. Mean­while I was think­ing: “Mate must be mad!” Why else would he have cho­sen this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment of un­bear­able sad­ness, when the na­tion was say­ing its fi­nal good-byes to the last of its two No­bel win­ners, to spew such poi­son into the at­mos­phere?"

It was only while pe­rus­ing some archived edi­tions of this news­pa­per I re­al­ized that while the man I had en­coun­tered out­side the Cas­tries cathe­dral may have been crazy, the greater truth is that he was ac­tu­ally “crazy like a fox”. In other words, he may have sounded off his rocker but this par­tic­u­lar crazy man knew pre­cisely what he was talk­ing about, ex­ple­tive-rid­den ex­ag­ger­a­tions not­with­stand­ing.

Con­sider this STAR head­line of May 26, 1990: Walcott to Comp­ton: Keep Your Awards… Lay Off the Pi­tons! The story by Rick Wayne cen­tred on in­for­ma­tion not yet of­fi­cially val­i­dated, that a for­eign de­vel­oper had re­ceived from the day’s gov­ern­ment ap­proval in prin­ci­ple in re­la­tion to a project that in­cluded blow­ing off the top of Gros Pi­ton. That pos­si­bil­ity was enough to cause wide­spread neg­a­tive re­ac­tion, enough to at­tract the at­ten­tion of Los An­ge­les-based Derek Walcott, then two years away from re­ceiv­ing the No­bel award for Omeros and other con­tri­bu­tions to lit­er­a­ture. In ar­ti­cles exclusive to the STAR, Walcott let it be known that the planned des­e­cra­tion of Saint Lu­cia’s Pi­tons (now a her­itage site) would ma­te­ri­al­ize only over his dead body. The day’s prime min­is­ter fi­nally was forced to ad­dress the prob­lem. In ef­fect he said he wished his “friend Derek”, in­stead of protest­ing pub­licly, had called him to dis­cuss his con­cerns pri­vately. Comp­ton de­clared the pub­lished story in­valid (never mind that the writer had pub­lished ev­i­dence to the con­trary). Walcott was unim­pressed. He pub­licly chas­tised the prime min­is­ter for re­act­ing only af­ter plans re­lat­ing to the Pi­ton de­cap­i­ta­tion had been made pub­lic, with telling ef­fect.

The Pi­ton story of 26 May 1990 brought home to me the fact that there’s noth­ing new un­der the Saint Lu­cia sun. Only this time around the fo­cus is on Pi­geon Point, the pro­posed site of a dol­phin park.

Last Thurs­day the cur­rent prime min­is­ter was the fea­tured guest on Rick Wayne’s

TALK. The night’s topic cen­tred on the con­tro­ver­sial Desert Star Hold­ings project. The pre­vi­ous evening the prime min­is­ter, mem­bers of his Cab­i­net and lead­ing res­i­dents in the is­land’s south took to a makeshift stage to in­form a cheer­ing crowd about the gov­ern­ment’s plan to rid Vieux Fort of its ghetto im­age and turn the south into “the pearl of the Caribbean”.

Mean­while things are far from cor­dial be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the Na­tional Trust, the main rea­son be­ing their dif­fer­ences over es­tab­lish­ing a dol­phi­nar­ium in the vicin­ity of Pi­geon Point.

As the writer of the Pi­ton story likes to say: “The more things change, the more they re­main the same.” Soon enough we shall see how ap­pro­pri­ate to the cur­rent cir­cum­stances is the quoted line by Ge­orge San­tayana!

Would Walcott have smiled along­side the PM, or would he have protested like in 1990?

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