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Reading with the NGC Bocas Lit Fest: San Fernando

by Barbara Jenkins

San Fernando came next, billed as Carnegie, not San Fernando Library. I really, really love it when an original name is retained after relocation or transformation of a building or a function. Something to be applauded, admired even. We don’t do much of that here. The Old Fire Station at NALIS Port of Spain is one that comes to mind now. And, oh yes, Alice Yard, a vibrant cultural space in Sean Leonard’s late grandma’s former backyard in Woodbrook. For me, keeping the original name adds background, texture, continuity, heritage and a whole lot more to a building and its function.

How come we allowed The Breakfast Shed, a name that speaks of Audrey Jeffers, of The Coterie of Social Workers, of men able to labour in hot sun on the docks for hour after back-breaking hour, after a fortifying and nutritious breakfast from the nearby Breakfast Shed, of schoolchildren getting a satisfying lunch for pennies, of the selfless charity of individuals and groups, of big women with bigger hearts, of social commitment to fellow citizens, how come we allowed that name to be lost? Why is all of that thrown away for the pretentious and irrelevant moniker, Femmes Du Chalet?

So, thank you San Fernando for Carnegie. And thank you to the policepersons (both male & female) who showed Marielle, our model of driving expertise and calm under pressure, where to park across the road outside a school that spilled continuous streams of tiny mites who, not looking where they they’re going, run and chase one another along the pavement fringing that reckless road.

Upstairs, our group awaits. A couple of readers look at the author’s photo at the back of the book, then at me, then back to the book cover, and with a slight hesitation confirm, you’re the author? We effect introductions, erect the Bocas banner, set out refreshments and begin. They tell us about the Hosay commemoration the nights before in Cedros, the contribution of the villages to the tadjas and moons, the annual return of foreign-based villagers just for Hosay. We put in our two cents about St. James and are forced to admit that Cedros, with its dramatic abandonment of the structures to the slowly ebbing tide of the gulf at a sunset glowing like the spilt blood of the slain brothers, probably takes win.

Moving on, what would you like me to read? I ask. Two requests – “Curtains” and “Monty and Marilyn”. I read the first, leaving the second until after the discussion. What would they like to say about the collection? They like the following: description in the stories that brought the reader into the stories; settings evocative of times past; relevance of issues to the present day; human emotion and behaviour that’s universal and timeless. They talked about people they knew, situations they’d encountered, experiences they’d had, that the stories brought into their consciousness.

They ask: how long I’ve been writing?
How did I get started? What are my influences? What am I doing now?
Why are some in first person narration? The man in “To-may-to / To-mah-to”, is he a real person?
The couple dealing with Alzheimer’s in “Across the Gulf”, I really felt for how much she loves him still even though he’s a trial to live with.
And the woman in the traffic jam in “It’s Not Where You Go, It’s How You Get There”, she made me realise I walk around the place and I notice nothing. After reading that story, I now find myself looking at everything, closely, as if I’m seeing it for the first time.

Let me tell you something, Carnegie, after a discussion like this, I feel as if I’m seeing and reading my stories for the first time. Thank you for the insights.

All photos by Marielle Forbes.