To resume from where I had left off, the place called “Trinidad”, long tied to “Tobago”, has been caused to review, rethink, revisit its connection, once cherished, to Christopher Columbus.
In Monday’s papers, I have been authoritatively counselled against repeating the narrative that Columbus had “discovered” Trinidad.
I concede that the Venetian admiral, committed to a destination beyond the Pacific Ocean, had stumbled upon the island where we now call home, and are moved to amend his historic memory. Does he deserve the heroic recall that that East Port of Spain statue connotes?
Driving past the site identified as Columbus Square, I was distracted by the unusual posting there of police officers, all wearing regulation masks. I strained rear-view vision to notice that the “Murderer” banner shortly before strapped at the statue’s base had been unhung.
Or so I imagined. The T&T capital could not today be celebrating a figure who had earned such 16th century demerit as then justified his return to Spain “in chains”. Lashed in ropes or chains, or cramped in metal shackles, that condition described the on-board accommodation of slaves recognised as sourced at West African ports.
I was too young to understand, or to query, why my primary school, a short walk around the corner, officially titled Nelson Street Boys’ RC, was commonly called “Columbus school”. But a rum shop in the area was also branded after Columbus, and another, two short blocks east, named after Portuguese navigator Vasco Da Gama who had found his way to Asia, around the same time that Columbus had been stalled in what would come to be called the “New World”.
The Vasco Da Gama rum shop would come to be called “first and last”. Along the old St Joseph Road east, the next rum shop address would be a sweated distance away in Laventille. Along the way now called the Eastern Main Road, stands preserved one white-painted station for supplying refreshment water to horses and donkeys among animals drawing carts or carriages taking travellers eastward.
Some enabled authority, if not private benefactor, ensures that the long-time water station along the main road remains painted blessedly white, and that growth of the over growth of the encumbering vegetation around it is regularly enough resisted. So survives an under-celebrated example of celebrated historic artefacts. Columbus, Vasco Da Gama, and the address calypso-hymned as “29 Port of Spain” survive in cherished recollection of livers and limers in, and visitors to, the capital city’s south-eastern end.
Images of original 29 Port of Spain may be found in Express photo archives. The relative high-rises that mark the spot today afford no sentimental flashback to when a calypsonian sang: “Don’t forget the address that I give you: 29 Port of Spain!”
A city that has endured the travails of world wars and, before that, invasive influxes of peoples wanting to live and work within its boundaries, geographical and cultural and economic, is caused today to review its past. Columbus, represented by the statue in his name, is a stand-out example of the character of a Port of Spain looking both forward and backward.
The city into whose arms I came into this world long-time ago, itself remains in the embrace of fewer and fewer residents. I am myself, on entering the Brian Lara Promenade, given to making brisk self-protective strides out of there.
Over decades since first arrival, I have been beckoned to encounter more and more sentimental attachment to places out west. Much of it began with my years of attending Fatima College. At the college hall, I won a raffle enabling my first visit to Chaguaramas, to visit the USS Boxer. As a kind of salute to T&T Independence then being celebrated, the aircraft carrier had anchored off the then US base to take a bow. Students and other presumably raffle-winning visitors were taken aboard by launches and feted with unlimited dessert delights.
Thereafter, better than many Trinis, I have come to learn, among other things, the geographical distinction between Point Cumana (of storied calypso fame) and Carenage. At the latter, last weekend, Prime Minister Keith Rowley and spouse Sharon were sanitiser-blessed to attend St Peter’s Day mass.
Nobody has yet campaigned for removal of the scripted stone plaque at Tembladora that marks where the famed US naval base territory began, and T&T boundary ended.
Relatively ancient history later, and after some 15 months’ shutdown, Macqueripe last week reopened to enable visitors to swim, sea bathe, and countless others to traverse the high-end Tucker Valley Road, utilising its evergreen spaces for jogging, walking, biking, golfing, and assorted outdoor routines. With or without public or private sector memorials to Columbus and Vasco Da Gama, Port of Spain attractions are moving severely west.
Immediately the Covid-19 lockdown was lifted, promotions of the multi-billion-dollar Five Islands Water Park in Chaguaramas commanded major print advertising space. Servicing the Water Park, a brand new bike bath was carved out, marked out, and paved during the lockdown months.
T&T eyes were beckoned away from downtown PoS Columbus statuary to a new-age expression of private sector muscle flexing.