THE RESTORATION of the President’s/Governor-General’s residence (about US$13.1M, TT$89M) and the Red House (US$16.8M, TT$441M) has, predictably and beneficially sparked a national debate — or at least a flurry of contradictory Facebook posts, which is as deep as Trinidadian debates get — about how such impressive sums of money might have been better spent.
Now I fall squarely into the mould of the Citizens for Conversation — sorry, Conservation. (I can resist anything but the temptation to mock anyone, including myself.) Built heritage is far too important to all of us, whether we understand its importance or not, to be left in the hands of such philistines as our public officials, who would knock down a building that should have been preserved — the Trinidad Turf Club grandstand — and then, a few months later, rebuild almost exactly the same building on the same footprint.
Again, when there was widespread protest (ie, spread wide across the Citizens for Conversation) against the proposed demolition of the George Brown house, the lesson that was taken from the successful protection of what would be, in a civilised place, a listed building, was that, if you buy one of them old house, you have to knock it down overnight, fast-fast, before any of them stoosh jackass could lie down in front of the bulldozers.
People in positions of public trust in Trinidad don’t make decisions affecting built heritage based on sense, but on dollars and cents, and how much of the latter they can funnel to firms/firm co-conspirators who can kickback some of the money to them. If you want to understand the Trinidadian attitude to ecology and the environment, read the chapter in A House for Mr Biswas called, “The Shorthills Adventure”; we doesn’t preserve in Trinidad, we does mash up.
Legitimate arguments deserving of respectful, thoughtful dissection and refutal have been made about spending (what turns out to be) massive sums on just two conservation projects, when there are competing social projects perhaps just as important.
But, as Biswas might have said, me ent business with that.
I would not threaten our historical buildings by risking a decision being made about them by what passes for reasoning and debate in Trinidad.
Rather than seeking to persuade the average Trinidadian about the importance of preserving public spaces and edifices for their own good and the public good that they engender, I propose to simply cut to the chase. (And I note, en passant, that there happens to be, in the same A House for Mr Biswas, a chapter called, “The Chase”.)
Let us not try to tell the Tulsis that swimming pools should not be filled in to keep weddings under bamboo.
Let us remember that, when we, Trinidadians, look at the Nariva Swamp, we don’t see wetlands that form a critical part of our ecological system, but a rice paddy that only needs the rice plants thrown in to add up to plenty money for whoever think of it first.
People who contend that so much money shouldn’t be spent on a set of old, falling down buildings that nobody don’t want or need can actually be easily persuaded to throw plenty more public money behind the restoration of the Red House, the President’s House and Mille Fleurs, too besides.
Objectors should simply be told that, instead of just looking at these nice restored buildings, we will actually use them for what almost every Trinidadian worth his patriotic salt would agree was the national passion.
Throwing massive public Carnival fetes.
Instead of “Feteing with the Saints”, the well known St Mary’s College Old Boys Carnival fundraiser being held in the open air “Down Grounds” and, ergo, subject to the vagaries of the weather, the party could be held at President’s House! (Of course, the established tradition of blanking your spouse and buying a ticket for your deputy would not be honoured, because only married couples would be invited.)
Fete Royal, the rival fundraiser of Queens Royal College Old Boys, could take over the President’s Fete Space the very next week, saving costs on dismantling and then rebuilding the stage for Machel and Kes and them.
And just think of the massive fete you could hold at the Red House! Just imagine how wassy you could get on in the rotunda — ent it rotunda even sound like it make to wine? — under Colm’s defecating dove! You could have wild meat and wild times and commemorate history and thing, same time!
And you could call the party in the newly-renovated palace of the old Governor-General, “Feteing with the Oppressors”!
Of course, you’d have to make sure the roof doesn’t leak too much but, if it did, is just a question of a two-word rebranding, from, “Feteing with Picton and Them Paramin Jab-Jab”.
Is WASA Fete, soca flowing like water, and all the opposition washed away.
BC Pires is a citizen for consternation