Posted March 18, 2011
One of the best, most memorable vacations my mother ever had was in 1977 when she went to Trinidad for Carnival. Her boss at the time had been to Trinidad a few years earlier to recruit employees for an oil refinery on St. Croix. One of the people he hired was a man named Vernon, a native Trinidadian. They remained friends, and Vernon was kind enough to arrange the details of mother’s visit. She stayed with his sister Vera and her family in the capital city of Port-of-Spain, which has celebrated Carnival since the late 1700s.
With Vera and Vernon as her self-appointed guides, Mom experienced Carnival, not as a visitor from the States,” but as Islanders do.
There were daily visits to family and friends where the mood was festive and the reception gracious. “Eat, drink,” the urged mom, as they passed around platters of food and served up rum and coconut milk punch in hollowed-out coconut shells. They took her to dinner at the famous “Up-Side-Down Hotel”; sat on bleachers watching parades by day, eating picnic lunches they brought from home; and by night they joined revelers following the parading masquerades through the streets and cheering their favorite bands.
Early in the visit, Vera and her family took mom to an open-air market to buy meat from the local butcher Pierre. Mom is a friendly, outgoing sort, so when she was introduced to the butcher, she reached out to shake his brawny hand — which he quickly wiped before grasping hers. Somehow that simple gesture meant something to her hosts. And wherever they went, whenever they introduced Mom to a new group of friends, they made note of the fact that “Margaret shook hands with Pierre.”
A few years ago, I came across a vintage hand-made noisemaker, the kind that’s seen in Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations around the world. This one (pictured here) is European and could be from Spain or Portugal or even Trinidad or Brazil, given their cultural cross-pollination.
As I was adding the noisemaker to the Curious Objects Gallery, I thought of mom’s Carnival adventure: the island city, the food, the calypso music, the steel bands, the pageantry, and most of all, the hospitality that so completely surrounded her she was, for a time, Trinidadian.
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