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.