edge

Trinidad Chose Me

Pictures by Salisha Stanley

My name is Piero Guerrini and, 28 years ago, I came to Trinidad for ten days. I’m still here.

I come from Grande Riviere but I was born in Italy. My father used to be a coal miner in Belgium and he would talk about how wonderful it was for him, as a young man, to go from Italy to a different country. My father used to go 1,000 metres below ground level to literally pickaxe coal out of the rock. He was paid by the amount of coal he was able fetch out of the mine every day. But he always passed me this idea of travelling. Since I’m 18, 19 years old, I’m saying, “Daddy, I’m not going to live in Italy. I want to travel.”

Finally, my father said to me, “Okay, I would like you to be close to me but you go ahead.” Since 20, I’ve been travelling. I became a photographer, because it combined my lifestyle and my desire very well. I travelled so much. Until I reached Trinidad and Trinidad chose me. From the first day, it was love at first sight.

I’m vegetarian. I’m against industrial food.

My life has been divided into three parts. I was a photographer and then I was a hotelier on the beach. Not many people know the first part: I was a professional footballer. I used to play No. 10. Of course. Long hair. Everybody said Piero is going to be a great footballer. I had big promise in Italian football. I tried for Juventus, Bologna. I got a back injury when I was 19 and start to have problem.

My only child, Aurora, 23, started doing a masters degree on a scholarship at Oxford and her professor said, “You can skip the masters and go straight for the PhD.” I’m very proud of her achievement. She is the president of the Conservative Students Association. I don’t know, maybe she rebelled [against me] by becoming a conservative. She tells her friends her dad is a hippie.

I lost my father two years ago and, to be honest, I was losing my way. I was single, frustrated, working all the time. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t sleeping well. I had gained some weight. And then, in two wonderful months with my mother, she told me all the things she hadn’t before. How my parents met, what they did together. When I came back, I start to think, “I need not to be alone anymore.” And then I met Sali. The lockdown gave us the possibility to really get to know one another. She is my “one”.

You have to go back to who you are, the person you really are. You have to not be afraid to [allow] yourself [to come] out. I lost 20 lbs. Now I am the Piero I know I wanted to be. Now I sleep well.

I met [Trinidadian/St Lucian poet] Derek Walcott in Boston during the Nobel Prize tribute celebration as well as [late musician] Andre Tanker, actor Albert Laveau, Glenda Thomas [now Collens see Trini to D Bone 19 April 2021]. Derek said, “You wouldn’t believe the talent that is in Trinidad!” Glenda came in and start to sing. He said, “And she’s unknown in Trinidad!”

Every year, as a photographer, I did a series called, “The World of” [that year’s Nobel Literature Prizewinner] and so I came to Trinidad to photograph Derek. The year before, I’d gone to South Africa, when Nadine Gordimer had won the prize. Back then, the “BeeWee pass” [let you] go in all the BeeWee destinations for US$300. So I went in 14 different islands. But Trinidad was, immediately, immediately, the place I was looking for.

I had a part in Damian Marcano’s short film, Cheese, but I don’t know anything about music or movies after the 90s. When I go to show her a film, Sali always asks, “And how old is this one?”

At Maria Regina Prep School, there was every possible race and class of child. Brian Lara daughter was in class with my daughter. In another country, a person like Brian Lara would have fans [smothering him]. Here, he’s just like a normal person. And there were kids of security guards, working class people, whatever. I always tell Aurora she should be thankful to grow up in such a wonderful environment.

I used to say, Trinidad is my India AND my Africa. You don’t need to travel far away because EVERYTHING is in Trinidad. After arriving, I didn’t go anywhere for four years. I was in the Trini lifestyle.

[During] my trip to Trinidad, the Mt Plaisir Hotel property became available. When the owner saw the white man, she doubled the price but she accepted my counter-offer and we opened up that December. We only had three rooms at first. One of my staff was a Spiritual Baptist and she went on a fast. I asked her to ask if Mt Plaisir would be successful. When she came back, she said it would be so successful you won’t believe it. And it was true. Everything has been beyond my expectations. The success almost trapped me in the business. I don’t think I will continue with the same intensity without Aurora but it has been a fascinating journey.

There were a lot of setbacks for Mt Plaisir. The beach was almost completely washed away, and the hotel. Two qualities, patience & resilience, were missing in my personality. I’m very happy Trinidad taught me patience. I used to be very stubborn. [Trinidad has turned] that stubbornness into resilience.

The people of Grande Riviere, they adopt me, they accept me, they help me, they support me. They still do. It’s amazing. They say home is where you feel loved and protected and that for me is Grande Riviere. I sleep with door and window open, even in these days. I talk to all the so-called bad boys., all the boys I used to give one day of work on Saturday morning, to collect the leaves on the beach. All these years, I haven’t changed my relationship with them.

My story with turtle: I arrived in Grande Riviere in August and there were no turtle and I thought people telling me about these huge turtle coming to the beach were exaggerating about their size and number. The first time I saw a turtle was on my birthday, 27 February 1994, with my father, and I was astonished by the size! I lay down on the sand to compare my size and she was bigger than me.

When I came, the beach had 2-4K turtle per season. I encouraged the people of the village to protect the turtles and they really got organised on the right track. After 27 years, Grande Riviere, with 30-40K nesting per year, is now considered the leading place in the world to watch leatherback.

I had so much expectation of the new post-Covid world. I thought our government would see some new light but, no, they are blind and continue to go down the same road. I made a proposal to [government advisory] committee. They said thank you. A UNESCO Heritage Site [status] for the beach would bring more exposure and financing. But, unfortunately, the government is focussed on different things.

My big [personal] change came when I was 27. A psychologist friend in Italy and I, we used to go walking around and talking in the night and, one night, he decide to go deep on me and really put me through some psychoanalysis tests. He made me cry because I discovered certain things but, from that day, I took control of my life. I decide to become a photographer. I became much more stubborn

Life always is full of surprises.

I love Carnival and my desire is to photograph it in a way that hasn’t been done before. I was getting into Carnival when Peter [Minshall] was active. He was the only one who captured my desire to free myself. I did M2K and Lost Tribe. I don’t take part any more. It doesn’t grab my gut. The soul of Carnival has been lost somehow. [Younger people today] don’t know what we used to have in Carnival.

Before Covid, I would walk in Port of Spain, just to look at the people. You see this beautiful face, this incredible combination of every possible race. Chinese/black, Indian/white, any kind of whatever. I still love it. Even though everybody’s masked up now.

That beautiful energy of the country is still there. Now you have to be attentive, if someone is following you for some reason. Maybe this paranoia about crime, all these things have their consequences on our psyche. [After] Covid, I see people being very unkind. Not the Trinidad that I know.

In 2001, when he won the Nobel Literature Prize, VS Naipaul wanted photographs for new editions of his books. He spent two days with me in Grande Riviere and he was amazing! Absolutely wonderful! I’m probably one of the few people in the world who have this sweet idea of VS Naipaul. He was so curious about my life, asked me so many questions, I thought he might have been doing research for some book or something. He used to hold my hand to go and see turtle. I did the cover of Guerrillas, A House for Mr Biswas and The Night Watchman’s Occurrence Book. He invite me to his house to photograph him.

Instead of me going to look for people, people started coming to my little universe, artists, interesting people coming to stay. Sir David Attenborough has been several times. Peter Doig became famous through the work he did in Grande Riviere. Chris Ofili. Margaret Atwood, a birdwatcher, came for the birds. Grande Riviere still remains that source of inspiration for so many people.

I turned the clock 25 years back. I have that same energy. Even the guy working with me [building a house by hand from foundation up], he is 35, 40, and he gets tired right away. I dig my foundation, there are stones in the ground and you have to dig and dig and dig.

I’m very happy I still have this romantic idea about Trinidad. All the barbarian attitude of the society has not affected me yet.

[Late poet & newspaper writer] Wayne Brown described the Trinidadian as “the people who laugh.” My friend from Miami asked, “Why people laugh so much here?” I say, “That’s how they are.” And, in Conde Nast Traveller magazine, a writer said, in Trinidad, you see people in the morning, happy to be listening to the birds. [For me, then] a Trini is a person who laughs and is happy just to be alive.

In the ten years before I came to Trinidad I went to, I think, 65 countries. In Hong Kong, in Kenya, other places I was considering to stay a long time. To me, Trinidad & Tobago was the one place that I felt at home for the first time. Trinidad is home.

Trinidad Chose Me

Pictures by Salisha Stanley

My name is Piero Guerrini and, 28 years ago, I came to Trinidad for ten days. I’m still here.

I come from Grande Riviere but I was born in Italy. My father used to be a coal miner in Belgium and he would talk about how wonderful it was for him, as a young man, to go from Italy to a different country. My father used to go 1,000 metres below ground level to literally pickaxe coal out of the rock. He was paid by the amount of coal he was able fetch out of the mine every day. But he always passed me this idea of travelling. Since I’m 18, 19 years old, I’m saying, “Daddy, I’m not going to live in Italy. I want to travel.”

Finally, my father said to me, “Okay, I would like you to be close to me but you go ahead.” Since 20, I’ve been travelling. I became a photographer, because it combined my lifestyle and my desire very well. I travelled so much. Until I reached Trinidad and Trinidad chose me. From the first day, it was love at first sight.

I’m vegetarian. I’m against industrial food.

My life has been divided into three parts. I was a photographer and then I was a hotelier on the beach. Not many people know the first part: I was a professional footballer. I used to play No. 10. Of course. Long hair. Everybody said Piero is going to be a great footballer. I had big promise in Italian football. I tried for Juventus, Bologna. I got a back injury when I was 19 and start to have problem.

My only child, Aurora, 23, started doing a masters degree on a scholarship at Oxford and her professor said, “You can skip the masters and go straight for the PhD.” I’m very proud of her achievement. She is the president of the Conservative Students Association. I don’t know, maybe she rebelled [against me] by becoming a conservative. She tells her friends her dad is a hippie.

I lost my father two years ago and, to be honest, I was losing my way. I was single, frustrated, working all the time. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t sleeping well. I had gained some weight. And then, in two wonderful months with my mother, she told me all the things she hadn’t before. How my parents met, what they did together. When I came back, I start to think, “I need not to be alone anymore.” And then I met Sali. The lockdown gave us the possibility to really get to know one another. She is my “one”.

You have to go back to who you are, the person you really are. You have to not be afraid to [allow] yourself [to come] out. I lost 20 lbs. Now I am the Piero I know I wanted to be. Now I sleep well.

I met [Trinidadian/St Lucian poet] Derek Walcott in Boston during the Nobel Prize tribute celebration as well as [late musician] Andre Tanker, actor Albert Laveau, Glenda Thomas [now Collens see Trini to D Bone 19 April 2021]. Derek said, “You wouldn’t believe the talent that is in Trinidad!” Glenda came in and start to sing. He said, “And she’s unknown in Trinidad!”

Every year, as a photographer, I did a series called, “The World of” [that year’s Nobel Literature Prizewinner] and so I came to Trinidad to photograph Derek. The year before, I’d gone to South Africa, when Nadine Gordimer had won the prize. Back then, the “BeeWee pass” [let you] go in all the BeeWee destinations for US$300. So I went in 14 different islands. But Trinidad was, immediately, immediately, the place I was looking for.

I had a part in Damian Marcano’s short film, Cheese, but I don’t know anything about music or movies after the 90s. When I go to show her a film, Sali always asks, “And how old is this one?”

At Maria Regina Prep School, there was every possible race and class of child. Brian Lara daughter was in class with my daughter. In another country, a person like Brian Lara would have fans [smothering him]. Here, he’s just like a normal person. And there were kids of security guards, working class people, whatever. I always tell Aurora she should be thankful to grow up in such a wonderful environment.

I used to say, Trinidad is my India AND my Africa. You don’t need to travel far away because EVERYTHING is in Trinidad. After arriving, I didn’t go anywhere for four years. I was in the Trini lifestyle.

[During] my trip to Trinidad, the Mt Plaisir Hotel property became available. When the owner saw the white man, she doubled the price but she accepted my counter-offer and we opened up that December. We only had three rooms at first. One of my staff was a Spiritual Baptist and she went on a fast. I asked her to ask if Mt Plaisir would be successful. When she came back, she said it would be so successful you won’t believe it. And it was true. Everything has been beyond my expectations. The success almost trapped me in the business. I don’t think I will continue with the same intensity without Aurora but it has been a fascinating journey.

There were a lot of setbacks for Mt Plaisir. The beach was almost completely washed away, and the hotel. Two qualities, patience & resilience, were missing in my personality. I’m very happy Trinidad taught me patience. I used to be very stubborn. [Trinidad has turned] that stubbornness into resilience.

The people of Grande Riviere, they adopt me, they accept me, they help me, they support me. They still do. It’s amazing. They say home is where you feel loved and protected and that for me is Grande Riviere. I sleep with door and window open, even in these days. I talk to all the so-called bad boys., all the boys I used to give one day of work on Saturday morning, to collect the leaves on the beach. All these years, I haven’t changed my relationship with them.

My story with turtle: I arrived in Grande Riviere in August and there were no turtle and I thought people telling me about these huge turtle coming to the beach were exaggerating about their size and number. The first time I saw a turtle was on my birthday, 27 February 1994, with my father, and I was astonished by the size! I lay down on the sand to compare my size and she was bigger than me.

When I came, the beach had 2-4K turtle per season. I encouraged the people of the village to protect the turtles and they really got organised on the right track. After 27 years, Grande Riviere, with 30-40K nesting per year, is now considered the leading place in the world to watch leatherback.

I had so much expectation of the new post-Covid world. I thought our government would see some new light but, no, they are blind and continue to go down the same road. I made a proposal to [government advisory] committee. They said thank you. A UNESCO Heritage Site [status] for the beach would bring more exposure and financing. But, unfortunately, the government is focussed on different things.

My big [personal] change came when I was 27. A psychologist friend in Italy and I, we used to go walking around and talking in the night and, one night, he decide to go deep on me and really put me through some psychoanalysis tests. He made me cry because I discovered certain things but, from that day, I took control of my life. I decide to become a photographer. I became much more stubborn

Life always is full of surprises.

I love Carnival and my desire is to photograph it in a way that hasn’t been done before. I was getting into Carnival when Peter [Minshall] was active. He was the only one who captured my desire to free myself. I did M2K and Lost Tribe. I don’t take part any more. It doesn’t grab my gut. The soul of Carnival has been lost somehow. [Younger people today] don’t know what we used to have in Carnival.

Before Covid, I would walk in Port of Spain, just to look at the people. You see this beautiful face, this incredible combination of every possible race. Chinese/black, Indian/white, any kind of whatever. I still love it. Even though everybody’s masked up now.

That beautiful energy of the country is still there. Now you have to be attentive, if someone is following you for some reason. Maybe this paranoia about crime, all these things have their consequences on our psyche. [After] Covid, I see people being very unkind. Not the Trinidad that I know.

In 2001, when he won the Nobel Literature Prize, VS Naipaul wanted photographs for new editions of his books. He spent two days with me in Grande Riviere and he was amazing! Absolutely wonderful! I’m probably one of the few people in the world who have this sweet idea of VS Naipaul. He was so curious about my life, asked me so many questions, I thought he might have been doing research for some book or something. He used to hold my hand to go and see turtle. I did the cover of Guerrillas, A House for Mr Biswas and The Night Watchman’s Occurrence Book. He invite me to his house to photograph him.

Instead of me going to look for people, people started coming to my little universe, artists, interesting people coming to stay. Sir David Attenborough has been several times. Peter Doig became famous through the work he did in Grande Riviere. Chris Ofili. Margaret Atwood, a birdwatcher, came for the birds. Grande Riviere still remains that source of inspiration for so many people.

I turned the clock 25 years back. I have that same energy. Even the guy working with me [building a house by hand from foundation up], he is 35, 40, and he gets tired right away. I dig my foundation, there are stones in the ground and you have to dig and dig and dig.

I’m very happy I still have this romantic idea about Trinidad. All the barbarian attitude of the society has not affected me yet.

[Late poet & newspaper writer] Wayne Brown described the Trinidadian as “the people who laugh.” My friend from Miami asked, “Why people laugh so much here?” I say, “That’s how they are.” And, in Conde Nast Traveller magazine, a writer said, in Trinidad, you see people in the morning, happy to be listening to the birds. [For me, then] a Trini is a person who laughs and is happy just to be alive.

In the ten years before I came to Trinidad I went to, I think, 65 countries. In Hong Kong, in Kenya, other places I was considering to stay a long time. To me, Trinidad & Tobago was the one place that I felt at home for the first time. Trinidad is home.