Thursday, June 17, 2010

Trini Travel

This is my last night in Port of Spain. I arrived Sunday to spend the week buying books. This year's Title VI budget was allocated for the Caribbean. There aren't many bookfairs in this region so I started planning this trip last fall by determining where library holdings need strengthening and it turned out to be Trinidad and Tobago. I don't mind at all! I was here in 2001 on my TICFIA project working with the UWI Library and it's been gratifying to think about returning. The big difference as well is that in 2001 I stayed in St. Augustine and only got a glimpse of Port of Spain on a car tour that included visiting the zoo.

The drive from Piarco airport to Port of Spain can take about 30 min. on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway. It crosses the Eastern Main Road which is the vicinity of St. Augustine. I saw the Mount St. Benedict monastery high in the hills and remembered the delicious passion fruit yogurt they make. We passed the Valsayn Shopping Center which was very nostalgic. Most evenings in 2001, I would leave campus and go back to my guesthouse, rest, change clothes, and then walk through the neighborhood where I could approach the shopping center from the non-highway side. There were a variety of restaurants where I could dine without it getting boring, a grocery store where I could buy cold drinks and snacks for my room's fridge, and just get out a little in the evening. There's now also a 24 hour pharmacy at the opposite corner of the highway. We also passed a drive-in theatre, now closed. I love going to drive-ins so it's fascinating to see they've also been in the Caribbean (there's still one in operation in Barbados).

As we hit a red light going into POS, I suddenly heard a loud broadcast of East Indian music. I assumed someone driving with their windows open was blasting their radio. The cab driver pointed out it was coming from a procession of cars for a Hindu wedding waiting at the light. Sure enough, there was a car outfitted with outside speakers and a sign announcing its availability for hire. Heading up the line was a white car festooned with red streamers. The light turned green and they headed to their festivities.

I got to Alicia's House in St. Ann's, a POS neighborhood. The room here is not fancy but fits my budget (including breakfast), is clean and comfortable, has free wi-fi access and a fridge. The cable TV selections include 2 Miami channels so I don't have to miss news from home. The desk clerk pointed me to Hi-Lo supermarket before they closed at 4pm so I could get water and snacks. To my delight, I also found Mount St. Benedict yogurt in the dairy section! I bought the big container, found plastic spoons and checked out just at 4pm as the store closed. I also found some prepared sandwiches so my dinner that night was a sandwich and passion fruit yogurt. Yeah!

Alan Moss was good enough to give me ideas for where to go and stay. I haven't gone totally with all of them. I didn't make it to Tunapuna and the bookstore there nor a couple of others he mentioned. I should have made it back downtown one more time to visit the Central Statistical Office but much of their stuff is online. The FIU Libraries receive several Central Bank publications and most of those have now gone online. On the other hand, there's still a lot to find here that isn't strictly UWI publications. The UWI titles we lack can be ordered online and I'll be finishing that up in the next couple of weeks.

I spent Monday visiting a couple of downtown bookstores, writing down titles so I could check them against the online catalog to avoid duplication. The bookstores are well stocked with US publications but generally have a West Indian section. A couple were more inclined to provide school books, test materials and educational supplies so I didn't use them. One might think that there's a law in T&T that all bookstores must bear the surname Khan. Take your pick: RIK (Khan) Trinidad Book World, Keith Khan Books and Gifts, and Nigel Khan Books (who also included an Erotica section). RIK and Nigel Khan have multiple locations; I'm not sure about Keith Khan. Actually, there's also Metropolitan Book Suppliers in the Capital Plaza Mall on Frederick Street, and other stores around Trinidad do have different names. The Metropolitan was very helpful. They agreed to ship my purchases and those I made at one of the other stores. They called this afternoon before I left my room to let me know the 2 boxes will be heading towards Miami as of tomorrow and should arrive the week after next. Perfect!

Yesterday I walked over to the National Museum and Art Gallery. It sits on one side of the Queen's Savannah, the POS equivalent of Central Park. Next door to the museum is the newly opened (2009) National Academy for Performing Arts. It's large and has staggered shells reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. Unfortunately, no activities are scheduled until this weekend. The museum had some interesting exhibits on T&T history but I was viewing them with 2 school groups which meant I got stared at as much as the exhibits. The main art gallery had recently closed an exhibition and had nothing up in its place. There was a lovely exhibition of the works of Cazabon, a 19th century Trinidadian artist.

It should not come as much of a surprise that World Cup fever has also set in around town. Walking around downtown and going into the various shopping arcades, you can always hear playback of whatever match is in progress. At the museum, 3 staff members had a TV on to watch. Today at the Long Circular Mall in St. James, the flat screen TV hanging from the second floor railings drew many people as the France/Mexico match continued.

I finished up purchases today that will ride in my suitcase and carryon. There's a bookstore/gift shop at the nearby Normandie Hotel called Paper Based. They tend to carry more art books and catalogs but also had some recent publications I didn't see in the other bookstores. I had lunch at the hotel yesterday, then wrote down titles to check against the catalog last night. We had several of the exhibit catalogs already but there were still 5 titles we didn't own so I went back over this morning to buy them. I got them back to the room just before a heavy rainstorm thundered for 20 mins. I hung around checking e-mail until the weather improved and then caught a cab to Long Circular Mall.

Our library doesn't have much in the way of Trini music cds but the downtown stores where I could use my university credit card tended to have more of hip hop and reggae offerings. I was resigned to thinking I'd have to find an online source to buy some once I returned to Miami. I went to LCM today just for a change of scenery but it paid off. Nigel Khan and Kam's Records both had the type of selections I wanted to buy. I'm no expert on calypso but the young lady ringing up my purchases at Nigel Khan thought I made some good choices! In all I bought 15 cds.

I've primarily been having dinner every evening at the guesthouse. Nothing exciting but tonight they offered a special of stewed chicken, vegetables and macaroni pie! The latter is a very Trini concoction, basically macaroni and cheese baked into a firm casserole but will vary from place to place in terms of seasoning, added pigeon peas, etc. I've had my share of dahl and roti all week but hadn't found the right place for macaroni pie. I'm glad I got to have it on my last evening. And desert was my wonderful passion fruit yogurt. You can find all kinds of tropical fruit yogurt in Miami but not passion fruit so far.

Most of my packing's done and in all it's been a productive week.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

And the Wind Kept Snowing down the Plains!

A belated Happy New Year from Miami which jumped from a warm December when I left town to a now rather cold, windy January in place. I've been accused of bringing the weather back from Oklahoma with me.

This has been a singular holiday for me. I'm not accustomed to being trapped on a farm as a result of a record-breaking blizzard but in a nutshell that's what happened. I arrived in Lawton, Oklahoma on Dec. 21. I spent the night at my sister Janet's home and then we went up to Oklahoma City for a couple of days with our mother. The idea was to stay there until Christmas Eve day and then all of us would head back to Janet's to spend the evening with some relatives and visit other family on Christmas day. My mother then had plans to go to Dallas TX and Mobile AL with a friend. Janet and I were planning another Christmas reunion with my father, half-siblings and their families on Saturday at her house.

By the time I arrived, Janet was getting information about changes in the weather. She cautioned me that we might want to return to Caddo County (where she lives) late Wednesday afternoon to avoid the big snow storm being predicted. We had a pleasant evening at her house where I learned that touching the towel bars in the main bathroom other than to take off towels would bring them ripping off the wall and a tiny angle wrench was required to reinstall them. After 2 instances of this and Janet's glare as she reinstalled them, I conditioned myself NOT to hold onto them for any reason and I was successful for the remainder of my trip. It would be so much easier if she just considered installing STURDY towel bars that stay in place. Life is never so easy.

Tuesday morning started at 3:45 am when Janet's dog Elke woke me up. Her lack of panting seemed to indicate that she didn't need to go out in the yard for relief but simply thought that I would enjoy some playtime with her after such a long time apart. I managed to get back to sleep until we got up and drove up to Oklahoma City. We decided it might be a good idea to exchange presents that afternoon at my mother's. Shortly after that my cousin Karen and her daughter Hunter dropped by. Hunter is 8, still full of enthusiasm for Christmas, and was happy to open her presents from us. When they left, she also demonstrated the sun roof of her mother's new car by poking her head out of it! Obviously the weather was still decent at that point.

Wednesday morning we took Mother to a morning feature of "Up in the Air." Mother was disappointed that its course of events didn't lead to a happy ending but I enjoyed the film. After a few more errands, Janet and I loaded up her car, even Elke, and headed back down to Caddo County. Mother decided to wait in OKC because of her other travel plans. The weather was still decent though getting colder. However, the storm followed us by a few hours. Howling winds woke me up around 5am to announce the arrive of snow and ice.

Christmas Eve day was completely overcast outside and the sun never appeared. Throughout the day we received phone calls from my father, aunt and uncle and assorted cousins who'd all lost power. Janet doesn't have a great deal of trees on her property which may have accounted for not losing power since there were no trees falling down that toppled nearby power poles. Luckily we had more than enough food, in addition to electricity, satellite TV kept running, the Internet was active or we might have lost it! I also had plenty to read. Meanwhile, Elke came in and out since she loves cold and snow, and Janet made several visits to check on her horse Chief. By afternoon, she reported that his ears were coated in ice and his horse blanket was soaked through from the blowing snow. While she didn't cover his ears, she cleared them of snow, and put his horse blanket in the drier so he'd be more comfortable.

Janet brought out one of the frozen meatloafs she'd prepared for one of the family get togethers that the weather cancelled. We spent the evening dining and watching TV. Despite the lack of real activity, I fell into a torpor. I had little appetite, and was happy to head to bed much earlier than usual.

Christmas Day was much of the same with a few differences. The wind had died down, the sun came out and we could see the surrounding snow in all its glory. Janet's driveway down to the main road was packed high with snow drifts and she wondered how soon we'd be able to get out of it. In the late afternoon cabin fever began to take hold and I was eager to take some photos of the snow plus take my first look at Chief.

The cold weather gear I'd packed was mainly sufficient to go outside but Janet deemed I should wear some of her outdoor shoes to survive. I'm glad I did. I was wrapped head to toe but my hands remained cold since my gloves were thin which was great for taking photos but lousy for keeping warm. I helped feed Chief a variety of chopped up fruits and vegetables plus hay though kept my distance. Chief is about 25 years old which means he can get cranky, especially with strangers.

Christmas Day also brought its share of phone calls with holiday greetings and updates. Most of the family had its power back except for one of my cousins. My father called to update us on possible plans with my half-brother James and his daughter Jaden. They'd had to go to visit his other siblings in McAllister and Tulsa to collect a van he was getting. Janet and I were hoping to host the Williams' clan on Saturday. James and Jaden were determined to get back down south since they had to return to Austin on Sunday. My half-sister Bobbie and her family would have normally driven down but given that they would be driving from Broken Arrow (Tulsa) and the weather in Oklahoma City was still bad, it was common sense for them to stay home so unfortunately we didn't get to see Bobbie, her husband Mike and my nephews Bryce and Jake.

Saturday was another bright, cold, sunny day with snow piled high. A couple of neighbors came by with tractors and could clear off some of her back pasture but the drifts down the main drive proved too much to clear. Janet got the name of her county commissioner and gave him a call. He put her in touch with his road crew who let her know they probably wouldn't be able to arrive on Saturday to clear the drive since they were clearing snow everywhere. He was committed to getting to us on Sunday to dig us out!

My father is nearly 80 but didn't see the snow as an impediment. He was confident he'd be able to take the main road and then go through the back pasture into the yard and Janet's garage and parking area. We were a little wary but the idea of seeing other faces was also entertaining. Janet and I are close but the whole point of returning to my home state for the holidays is to see relatives beyond my mother and sister. Late in the afternoon, Daddy called to say they were on the way so she'd be ready to open the gate. Sure enough, there they were (as I looked from the kitchen door), still slipping and sliding but coming to a safe stop. When Jaden hopped out of the van, she spotted the huge drifts at the curb of the drive and immediately jumped onto them. She sank in slightly and since she's all of 5'1', I warned her we wouldn't pull her out if she sank into the snow! She came in and on hugging me, noticed that my hair had been cut since our last meeting in December. She was thrilled to see all the snow. When I saw her in Austin in December, she'd asked if there'd be a white Christmas in Oklahoma. I'd laughed and noted in my many years, Christmas in Oklahoma had been cold, had been warm, but rarely ever accompanied by snow. That night at Janet's, I told her I was glad she got her wish!

We had a great evening with Daddy, James, Jaden, Janet and me. Of course, Elke and Chief were in the vicinity as well! We had dinner (more meatloaf plus my green chile corn casserole). Pre-blizzard, there'd been plans to attend the weekly horse auction in nearby Mountain View but the weather cancelled that event. We opened presents and Jaden was appreciative of what Janet and I put together for her. My niece is truly adorable, a tiny beauty with glowing skin and perfect hair. She wasn't too bored as the adults discussed family and other events since she sometimes texted on her phone and enjoyed getting on the floor to play with Elke. Elke was very content with the attention.

At long last, it was time for them to brave the cold, dark night and see if they could return to Daddy's house in Mountain View. Janet was outside assisting and I stood again at the backdoor watching the van manuveur with more difficulty on the more frozen road. I was doing a mental inventory of sleeping arrangements for 3 more people that night when the van maintained an even keel and disappeared over the rise and back around the pasture down to the main road. They reported their progress along the way via cellphone and noted that the county grader was down at the entrance to Janet's drive. We felt encouraged at that news, did the dishes, and went to bed.

Sure enough, Sunday morning the county grader did its work and piled the snow off into the ditches. Mother and friend Roger managed to arrive on their way to Dallas for lunch. It wasn't easy. The driveway wasn't perfect and Janet still had to help direct Roger's car and dig them out a couple of times. To add insult to injury, later Roger inadvertently opened the gate to the front yard and there was Elke streaking out into the property and ignoring Janet's frantic attempts to get her back! At one point Elke came around to the back and I thought she might be persuaded to return into the house with me there. No such luck! The little fugitive again whipped around in a different direction with Janet in pursuit. Bear in mind though that Elke is about 10 years old. Despite her love of snow and cold, when she tired, she was all too happy to come back in for a long snooze!

Canine crisis averted, Janet and I adventurously set out in her car to make a few visits. There was still a bit of slip and slide down the drive but we were somewhat astonished at the roads as we drove along. It appeared that Janet had gotten loads more snow than we saw as we drove along. We figured the wind driving the snow up along the contours of her property just built it up more there than on average elsewhere. We stopped briefly to see my Aunt Sue and her family (my dad's side of the family) as they were wrapping up a delayed Christmas reunion. That's part of the family tree I haven't seen much of in the last few years so it made up for the other relatives I didn't see at all.

From there we headed to the Block farm where my Uncle Johnny and Aunt Paula live. This is the house where my mother and her 2 little brothers grew up. Janet and I are the only grandchildren to have stayed there when Grandma and Grandpa Block still lived there. By the time my maternal cousins made their way into the world, my grandparents bought a house in Hobart, the county seat of Kiowa County. Johnny and Paula moved there not long after and have made changes over the years. The world's tiniest bathroom (swear!) is long gone for a much larger and more comfortable version. One side of the house has been expanded for a nice master suite for the adults. However, I can close my eyes and still remember the house from when I was 6 or 7.

Johnny and Paula have 3 grandsons who have all undergone amazing growth spurts since I saw them last Christmas. My cousin Darrell is very tall but his youngest, Braden, appears to be overtaking his old man. Big brother Conner is also getting tall but not quite as tall. My cousin Pam's son Chance is even taller than I would have expected! Who knows what Christmas 2010 will bring!