The Spice Necklace Blog

Ann's Blog

Late dispatch from Trinidad:
January 26, 2013:
The Velcro effect

When cruisers can’t seem to tear themselves away from a place, we blame it on the Velcro holding our boat to the bottom. For us, the Velcro is always super-strong in Trinidad, but this year it was worse than ever. It was January 21 before we finally sailed off – much to the astonishment of our Trini friends. “You’re leaving before Carnival,” they scolded, as if perhaps we didn’t realize the annual bacchanal was a mere four weeks away. In fact, the very day after the calendar flipped over to 2013, the island had shifted into Carnival gear – as even the quickest glance at any of the three daily papers made abundantly clear.

News about the upcoming music competitions – groovy soca monarch, international soca monarch, chutney soca monarch, kaiso and, of course, Panorama, the annual battle of the steel orchestras. Photos from pre-Carnival fetes. Carnival-themed ads. (The Hi-Lo supermarket chain, for instance, introduced a “3-week meal plan” to help bikini-wearing masqueraders get “ready for the road.”)

Queen Denyse: No filming allowed during the
Queen's Hall performance. Steve took this shot of
Denyse Plummer a couple of years ago.
But my favourite newspaper item was a full-page piece in the Trinidad Express entitled “Fete Etiquette 101” by Nicole Farrell. Item #5 offered the following piece of advice: “If you are a young, fit woman and you’re with a much older gentleman who may not be that flexible – or capable – do not attempt to ‘wine down low’ with him and cause him to fall on his rear….” Duly noted. So, too, a tip that gave new meaning to the “three-second rule,” which I previously thought applied merely to the length of time during which one could pick up and consume a morsel of food dropped on the floor. Not so in Trinidad: In the event that a stranger comes up behind and wines you, and it’s someone “you do not care to be so close to,” Farrell writes, “allow a complimentary three seconds and move off.” Wining, for the uninitiated, is a super-sexy dance move that involves “winding” one’s waist while making contact between female tush and male….okay, you get the picture.

"Granny wine," from The Trinidad
; Dion Roach photo
The best wine I saw before we left Trinidad pre-Carnival was at “Vintage Fuh So,” a knockout night of entertainment at Queen’s Hall, in Port of Spain, sponsored by the Past Students Association of the Holy Name Convent. It was a bill of vintage calypso by the likes of the legendary David Rudder, who – much to my surprise – chose his irreverent anthem “High Mas” to close his set, singing straight at the spotlit nuns in the first row (and had them dancing); and Denyse Plummer, a past Holy Name student herself, who had the audience singing along to “Nah Leavin’”, her love song to Trinidad. But the best wine came from the oldest calypsonian on the bill: Lord Nelson, 81, resplendent in yellow from head to feet. (He shed his lemon-hued suit jacket midway through his performance to reveal a sleeveless, zip-front lemon jumpsuit underneath.) And when he closed his set with his well-loved classic, “Mih Lover,” he took a wine with the emcee, “Granny” – played by comedian Nikki Crosby. Check out the photo, right, from The Trinidad Guardian.

If anything could have made the Velcro even harder to release, it was a night at the Silver Stars panyard, listening to the steel orchestra its tune for Panorama. Imagine a North American orchestra opening its doors every night for weeks on end to allow the public in – free of charge – to listen to the musicians practice a piece for a major competition. A piece that will contest for a $TT million prize. Then imagine the audience not merely sitting there, hands folded in laps, studiously listening, but chatting, laughing, drinking, eating, dancing. In other words, engaged in an activity the Trinis have raised to high art: liming.

Big up meh country: Silver Stars Steel Orchestra
is sponsored by Canadian company PCS Nitrogen.
Canada posse!
For us, it was as mesmerizing to watch the crowd as it was to listen as Silver Stars played a section of their nine-minute piece over and over. Even our foreign ears could hear it getting tighter, cleaner, faster, stronger with each repetition … till the hairs on my arms stood up at the sound. And then the Silver Stars’ conductor, Donell Thomas – known as Bravo, for obvious reasons – ran them through the entire piece, and the panyard was electrified.

Yes, we needed bolt-cutters to set us free from the Velcro. Lots more reasons, too, but I’ll tell you about just one other: Debbie Otway, a.k.a. “the swimsuit lady.” Cruising women love her – especially ones like me who think shopping for bathing suits is an exercise in extreme frustration. Debbie makes custom-fit swimwear. Here’s how it works: First, you take a trip to one of the fab fabric stores in downtown Port of Spain (my favourite is Jimmy Aboud) and pick out your Spandex from the hundreds of colours and patterns available. (Debbie supplies the rest: bra cups, clasps, etc.)

Debbie's swimwear: No, I'm not modelling.
Then, once a week in season, Debbie comes to the Chaguaramas area (where the foreign boats gather). If you have an old favourite swimsuit, she’ll pattern your new one on that. Or tell her what you’re after and she’ll draw it up for you. A week later, she returns with your suit(s). You try them on and, if necessary, she makes adjustments. What could be more pleasant than that?

The price. This year, Debbie made me a one-piece suit with matching wrap, and a two-piece suit with both a bikini top and a tankini top, plus a matching wrap. The total cost for all six pieces? Around $84 US. (If you’re cruising to Trinidad, you can reach Debbie at:; 868-684-5576.)

Shopping for fabric beforehand at Jimmy Aboud's is part of the fun.
The salespeople help you choose a Spandex that works well for swimwear,
and know how much various suits require.

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