Jan 14, 2012

Shadow, Sorrel and Pigeon Peas

Since returning from my last visit to Trinidad and Tobago in December, I've been inundating my boys with things Trinidadian or rather, Trinbagonian. I play parang, traditional Christmas music sung in Spanish and performed by groups of skilled serenaders logging cuatros, a base and chac chacs (maracas) going to various houses in the middle of the night or early morning.  I remember my family would be startled out our beds after the stealthy group announced themselves just outside the front door (God only knows how they get past dogs that usually raise a ruckus) by suddenly bursting into song, "Sereno Serano Sereno Sera.. Bilar, Bilar.... Aheeeeeeeeeee!" We scrambled to make ourselves decent and be ready to greet them before the first song ended. What lovely music the men with cuatros made while the bass went dumdumdum, dumdumdum. The women and men sang "Alegria, Alegria...Ahi Ahi Ahi, Brrrrrrrr." Those parang sessions afforded the rare opportunity to see my parents dance together. We learned to click spoons back to back and joined in by clapping. After several songs and rewards of black rum cake, slices of ham, lots of rum, ginger beer and eggnog, the musicians shuffle away singing "Sai Sai Sai".

I found an old CD of vintage calypso with songs by Crocro, Brigo and Rio and embarrassed the boys when explaining that the words cocoloux, pum pum, bamsee and tot tots are all local words for penis, vagina, buttocks and breasts. We talked bout the use of metaphors, satire and political and sexual references in the tunes of various calypsonians like Chalkdust's, "Quacks and Invalids", Shadow's "Stop the Boat", the line "Captain the Ship is Sinking" and "Big Word (pronounced 'wood') Man". Julian was introduced to the music of the Mighty Shadow and looked at me with some concern and amusement as I imitated Shadow's dance and movements on stage. We listened to "Christmas Nice" a gazillion times and I love that line from Bassman, "I was planning to forget calypso and go an plant peas in Tobago.."

Julian has had it with my constantly speaking with this not so-easy-to-understand Trini accent, dancing like a jab jab (diab diab) and extemporising instead of speaking to him. I would start singing:
"Listen young man, if yuh doh hear what I say yuh see that bloody iPhone, I go take it away..."
to the tune of Nelson's King Liar.

Without realizing it, the seemingly resistant Julian often finds himself singing or humming along and even dancing a bit. I can't wait till he learns to whistle too.

On Sunday I made a breakfast of pumpkin cooked with tiny bits of salted codfish, lots of garlic and pepper and served it with some left over collard greens and my family's version of fried bake, the very thin ones rolled out with a pin and cut into squares. When heated they create air pockets almost like nan and require little oil for cooking. Orion loved them. Julian did care too much. Last night I cooked salted cod with coconut milk and tomatoes and served it with boiled green bananas, cassava (Manihot esculenta), corn dumpling, whole ochro (Abelmochus esculentus) and hard boiled eggs. While Julian did his homework I tortured him with cooking details, explaining how simple it is to make the "cow tongues", the name my family gave to the elongated, boat-shaped dough that were boiled to make dumplings. The only thing missing was a slice of zaboca (Persea americana) on each plate. The meal was accompanied by our very special Xmas drink, sorrel, made from Hibiscus sabdariffa. As is often the case, dinnertime is when we get a chance to talk and last night the talk was focused on the meal itself. The boys fought over the last egg and traded various pieces of food. Orion wanted seconds of course (how a skinny kid could eat so much is beyond me). Julian really liked the sorrel and asked me to repeat the word "sorrel" a few times.

"Not a chicken in de nest, dey know man love chicken breast....."

Speyside, Tobago

I am very thankful that Shadow continued producing calypsoes instead of turning to a life of agriculture. My life, those of my boys and countless millions more have been made richer by his sense of humor, his soulful, insightful lyrics and tantalizing rhythms. As I sit here, adjusting to the New York winter cold, I contemplate returning home to the countryside where I can create a paradise with jade vines, passion flowers, petrea, orchids and bromeliads. It will also be a place where chickens graze on grass, where I can plant rows of avocado trees, bananas, sorrel, cassava, ochro, pigeon peas (Cajanus cajun) and tomatoes that taste like the sun, in Toco, Rio Claro or on a breezy hillside in Tobago.
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