There are many dogs in Trinidad, mostly stray, plenty guarding homes and lives but few pets. Dog ownership here is very different than in North America and Europe. A dog is not necessarily a companion and what you may do for your pooch is generally less important than what it may do for you. The majority of dogs sleep outside, a dog in the home is to many as strange as putting a tree in your living room ( something that many people in The States actually do.) So the fact that I sleep with my dog is, if not frowned upon, certainly looked upon with a degree of bewilderment. Dogs here tend towards the Rotweiller variety rather than the sweet and fluffy breed.
Many keep their dogs chained and only release them to prowl about at night. They are fed, have a home and are considered the privileged ones compared to the mangey strays. These strays do have an acute sense of street smarts, however. You see many, underfed but over birthed females, teats brushing the ground as they stand, look both ways and then carefully cross the road.
My friend Anthony has two dogs, named Santa and Satan. I have always given him a very hard time about his dogs, asking him if his attentions towards them ever went beyond naming them. I know he feeds them but let’s be frank, these dogs do not sleep on his bed let alone set a paw in the house. Recently I was over at his home and got to observe Satan and Santa up close.
Anthony is a British teacher of English literature married to a beautiful Trini called Amanda. He is also a screen writer, avid tennis player, father to twin girls and tells a good tale. He has a sharp mind, a witty slant on life and big muscles of which he is very proud. This is not a man who would shy away from any challenge be it a renegade house mouse or a fetid dead dog.
The story he had to tell was no shaggy dog tale. Anthony’s neighbour had a motley crew of dogs, so many, in fact, that it is doubtful he knew how many he actually had. A few weeks back, Anthony, drawn by a strange smell, climbed over his fence to explore the origin of said smell. There before him lay a dead dog. When he went to ask the neighbour if it was his he was offered much head shaking, shoulder shrugging and denials. So Anthony took it upon himself to dig a hole and bury the dog. He figured the owners must have just tossed it over the wall. Then the day of our visit Anthony woke up to a horrifying smell. As he described it, it was the very smell of death and it came crawling though the house until it inhabited every room. He realised he must investigate. This time, the dead dog must have been tossed weeks before because, as it was described to me, the animal was “leaking”. Knowing full well that a shovel and a hole would not work this time and aware that the rightful owners had barely acknowledged this poor dog alive, Anthony came up with a bright idea. He would set it alight. Burn it. Hold an impromptu cremation.
Not many people would have considered this option, fewer have gasoline at their disposal. But Anthony is not like other men. He poured gasoline all over the poor beast, threw down a match and POW! Anthony was surrounded by flames. Mesmerized he stood for a moment, that slow moment when the only conscious thought is “wow” , before he came to his senses and stepped back. By the time we arrived, the smell was gone, the dog had been dealt with and thanks to some comprehensive singeing, Anthony no longer had hair on his legs.
Few respect their dogs alive, let alone dead, but Anthony, who may pretend to be callous towards his own dogs, has revealed himself to care more than he believes. I know for certain that if Satan or Santa were to die he would not be tossing either of them over any fence. While they might not be house dogs, he has looked into their eyes and seen something there.
Only in Trinidad.
How do you start drinking beer in a coffee shop?
My friend Robert is a tall, lanky Italian New Yorker with a crinkly smile, twinkling eyes, high forehead and a tanned, friendly face. He likes to talk to every body. Not just his fellow teachers, Americans, students or expats but also the little boy on the beach who sells oranges, the family who sell him his fruit and the girls in the coffee shop. Robert is a man who, during his four years in Trinidad swam gently in Trini culture. He loved the beach and was once caught saying that he reckoned he spent way more time in salt water than regular folk. He would leave school, peddle his bike through the sticky heat to the beach and luxuriate in the water until the sun set or he ran out of beer. He loved this country deeply because he talked to the people and being a guy on a bike it was far easier to chat to the locals than an English teacher in a dress. He could spend hours at the local Rum Shop, or Roti shop listening to the tunes, chatting to the guys. He even started talking like a Trini, dropping all insignificant danglers and instead telling us that the beach was “lookin’ real nice today” or perhaps texting me to inform that he was “walking down de road”.
So one day after school he was doing a little grocery shopping and decided to stop for a coffee at Rituals on the way home. Rituals is the Caribbean Starbucks, albeit slightly different. For a start there is no dairy industry here so the milk is boxed. This greatly affects the taste of a latte but you get used to it, sort of, if you have no choice. Rituals is also different because the concept of a quick coffee to go has not quite sunk in. I have checked and for the record the longest wait for a cappuccino so far is 12 minutes. Patience is not just a virtue, it is a necessity. No one seems to be complaining so I have trained myself to breathe, just breathe. The girls making the coffee have plenty to talk about so often we need to wait until a particular anecdote is told. Robert was a big fan of Rituals, spending hours nursing a coffee, reading a book, fidgeting with his nails. He got chatting to the girls so that when he would go in they would know immediately what he wanted and he would pass the time with them, saying his hellos.
His groceries always fit in his familiar orange back pack but the 6 pack of Carib beer had to go by hand. When he walked in with his beer and ordered a coffee one of the girls offered to keep his beer cool saying “ I can put that in the chiller for you.” Sure, he thought handing the beer over. He walked over to his usual table and put his backpack down, pulled out his book and unfolded the corner of the page he was on. After a few minutes he looked up to check if his coffee was ready and noticed that the girls were giggling. Finally with his coffee in hand, he always took a real cup, every the conscientious environmentalist, he settled back to his reading with some intermittent people watching. Robert always remarked that Trinidad was the best place in the world for people watching and the beach, closely followed by Rituals was a fine place for the sport.
As his coffee was nearly sipped dry and he was thinking about leaving the girls came over to his table, three coffee cups in hand. “We’re taking a break!” They told him, smiling. Looking into his cup he noticed the familiar amber of Carib beer. He smiled as he took a sip. There he was with three girls sipping beers out of coffee cups! Only in Trinidad, only in Rituals.
You can imagine the process. He’s walking in, beer in hand, their eyes flicking open, their minds quickly working, a lime brewing in their midst.
That’s how you end up drinking beer in a coffee shop.
Women in Trinidad are vain. This is not a criticism, in fact it is a compliment if being vain means making an effort all the time and not pulling on your best tracksuit to dine out as many do in the Canadian Midwest where I had the fortune to live some years back. Many have commented that you can see the most beautiful women in your life here in T&T. It is the cultural mish mash of Black, Indian, Chinese and White that makes these people so gorgeous. They dress up to grocery shop and they dress up to go to the beach, always standing inches taller in their mandatory heels. They know the meaning of the word accessorize and love to select just the right colour earrings to accompany their belt that circles their oh so tiny waists. It might not always be my taste, it doesn’t matter if the gold is real or if the green glow of the bangle will eventually peel off; if it works today it works.
I recently noticed the male take on all this glamour during an afternoon at the beach. People watching is a sport here and like good observers the men carry cameras or at the least camera phones and snap the pretty girls. They don’t mind, it is the ultimate compliment. I cannot imagine this going down too well on a beach in Maine. In fact being photographed is such a desired option here that the best of all worlds is to be snapped up by a pro and put on the popular website Triniscene.com. This website features photos of all the pretty people at all the shows, bars, events and functions.
Back in my hometown of Montreal, Canada women can most often be seen sporting their lycra outfits, climbing into huge SUVs, Starbucks clutched in hand. Men at work look sharp in ties and crisp shirts but the weekends will find them in 20 year old jeans, worn Ts and indescribable sneakers. The men here have creative facial hair, perhaps an earring and certainly a bangle or necklace. They are waiting to be looked at as they sit and watch. So what makes this Caribbean island so style conscious? There have been two Miss Universe that have hailed from T&T, a fact of which they are extremely proud. A main high way running through the city is named after one of those winners. So perhaps it starts with the fact that they are all so attractive to begin with, the goods are already there. Might it also have something to do with the heat, the music, the rum that sends all the beautiful people into a dancing, whining frenzy that most often leads to desire? The girls wear painted on jeans, heels that sparkle and tops that leave little to the imagination. They do not just dress to impress, they dress to seduce. And it is the sexy curvaceous woman who fares best here. Black booty must be a fabulous thing if the posters for the parties are to be believed. “Bootylicious Short Pants Party September 1st!” screams out one poster in vivid pink and green colours. “ Hot Pants Party” shouts out another. And these are not ads aimed at the Hooters crowd, it is the fine appreciation of a good Trini woman that is in order.
Titillation, flirtation and the conscious awareness of the power they hold over men is always in mind. While not every hot dance leads to sex the vague promise is always there and the scent of desire hangs in the air. In the end that is a big part of Carnival. While in the past the parade of costumes harked back to characters of myth and history, today the tiny sparkly bikinis, bedecked in feathers is another reason to celebrate the body beautiful.
Perhaps it is the beauty all around them that inspires the dresses, the fashion, the effort. Colour is imperative here. Black is simply not an option. Instead, as I flicked through a rack at a local clothes store I realized my choices lay in the colour of gems. Brilliant blue, canary yellow, hibiscus pink, ruby red, diamond silver and plenty of gold. Fabrics that shimmer and drape, clothes that stretch and reveal. The Western concept of the perfect body goes out the window; who needs to be tiny? Tiny is good but any body that is shown off and celebrated is better. Shy white men on the beach look around in adolescent glee as women don’t hide or fret over their bodies but rather strut and flaunt, often with short sarongs dotted with gilt that seem to shimmer and sing as the girls twitch their booty and walk the beach, ever aware of watchful eyes.
Going to see an International football match in Trinidad is an experience. Normally a game scheduled for 5.30 would open doors and welcome in spectators one hour before. Not here. The gates opened at 12.00pm and there was no allocated seating so people were encouraged to come early. The game was an International between England and Trinidad and headlined the slogan “A Score to Settle.” Two years previously during the World Cup in Germany, England had eliminated Trinidad and their dreams of reaching the quarter final. Now it was time for revenge.
I should mention what happened when Trinidad even qualified for the World Cup. This was an event of such magnitude that on the Monday following the victory all schools in Trinidad were declared closed for reasons of celebration. This is the little country that could and they are seriously proud of their team, the Soca Warriors. A day of revelry and dancing in the street to celebrate being part of the World Cup is once again a symptom of how much these people love to party.
Nobody seemed inconvenienced about the 5 hours required sitting time before the game started. Unlike my own thoughts that went in the direction of afternoons wasted and time ill spent, the Trinis saw this as a big lime! Bring in the coolers filled with rum and spend the afternoon in the stadium. Basically it was that or the beach.
We arrived at 3.30, having seats fortunately saved for us while we were at another sports function featuring 11 year old girls. I can’t imagine many places allowing large coolers to be brought into a stadium but it took us at least an hour just to enter the stadium between the bags, the umbrellas and all the people lined up to get in. As we climbed the stairs we were drawn by the scent of Doubles and Cow Heel soup simmering in food stalls that both cooked and served fresh food. There was no fast food, not a burger to be found. We finally found our group and spend the next 2 hours eating, drinking rum, watching the players warm up, talking and laughing. The atmosphere was of a huge party. The crowd was so thrilled that England was coming to take them on and were dressed in the home team’s colour, a sea of white.
The Adonis Beckam did his victory lap after playing one half and each time a Trini player touched the ball with his toe the crowd went wild. Being English I was supposed to cheer on the St George flag but somehow I just couldn’t. We were sitting behind a group we knew of young English supporters decked out in flags, face make up and appropriate t-shirts and each time England scored they glared at me, looking for my patriotic spirit. But I just couldn’t summon it up. I wanted Trinidad to win, or at least score once! They deserved it so much more than the English who hadn’t even made it to the Euro. And the English who couldn’t beat anyone could just come over here and beat the one easy team, get an ego boost and trample some Trini spirit in one fail swoop?
No, I wanted the little island to score and I was getting hoarse with the effort.
The final score was 3-0 to England and while they may have puffed out their chests with pride there was no Trini spirit trampled that day. They left that stadium filled with rum, song and the memory of a great lime.