With the memory of a somewhat irritating time trying to get food between events, and transportation back to my hotel between and after Bocas events, this time around I enquired online about where to eat and how to get around.
Me: @bocaslitfest What's transportation like for the festival? --from airport to hotel? --from hotel to reading post?
Bocaslitfest: @signifyinwoman Most hotels in POS can arrange a taxi for guests, provide contacts for a taxi driver or explain how to use public transport.
Me: @bocaslitfest: And what about refreshments for the long fun-packed days of the festival? Can visitors expect coffee, tea, finger food? Food for purchase (of course)? Or will the hotel / taxi service provide that info as well?
Bocaslitfest: @signifyinwoman There'll be food and drink for sale 11am-4pm each day at the main festival venue, and many restaurants and cafes nearby.
I don't know how assured you would have felt after that exchange, but I certainly wasn't. I was, after all, traveling alone, staying at a hotel alone (last time I had a roommate), and assumed I would be dining alone for the most part, and somewhere at the back of my mind was the not-so-vague memory of Trinidad's crime related state of emergency situation last year. Nevertheless, I headed to the festival determined to maneuver around the mysteries of food, transport, and personalities and have myself a pleasant mini vacation as well. There I was a 3/4 yankee, hair dyed red-brown (almost orange in some parts--a weird attempt at Caribbean camouflage perhaps? Sun-burnt? Blazing hot? Burnt cinnamon?), one dress size slimmer than last year, clothes hugging closer, heels higher, and thanks to months of divorce stress, more in need of a vacation than hours of listening to people read from their books.
And that's probably why I remember the readings for the wrong reasons.
Imprinted in my mind is the low-cut, v-necked t-shirt worn by the tall storyteller, stubbles of hair visible, voice rising and falling over the descriptions of a man with penis problems. Reading on the same panel with him that day was another storyteller with a too-long, too-straight weave, captivating us with a tale of a young couple straining at middle-class life in Jamaica. Another day, I sat in warm drowsiness stirred briefly by the surprising voice control of a woman whose heaviness suggested she should be breathy or breathless for sure. One night in a crowded cafe, the readings were preceded by brilliant-sounding pan music, for which the crowd was appreciative. And the mood that night was kept enlivened by the sensuality of the pieces read. The sway of a young poet's lean tight body and the swagger of his love lines are particularly memorable from that night. Then there was the man who couldn't stop laughing at the funny moments in the story he was reading--a story one can safely assume he'd read many many times before--and the woman who cried at painful lines in her story, from her second of three books published. They both made me ponder the possibility that a writer can remain in (or get back into) the initial mood that may have inspired something he or she wrote, regardless of how far removed (writing timewise) he or she may be from it.
Another day I was stimulated from sleep by a woman who licked her lips and slapped her thighs as she recited from memory. She was the only writer I heard who recited from memory. (What can I say?) Besides making me a little uncomfortable, it was nice to see a writer who figured out something to do with her hands other than hold her script. Most memorable perhaps, was the slow, measured lifting praise of a female writer (and possibly, simultaneously, a slur at another writer) by one of the Caribbean's literary fathers. He seldom raised his eyes from his script, but you could hear a pin drop as we collectively hung on his every word.
Wrong reasons or not, I found ways to trick my body out of its too-relaxed state, and my eyes from closing shut, and my other senses from developing fierce envy for the people I saw walking by freely outside my enclosures.
I spent much time noticing other aspects of the festival that went well too. You could have picked your focus for the day, or the entire festival for that matter, be it film, beginning writers, poets, women writers, or writers from a particular country--besides Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica was well represented, and I had the immense pleasure of hearing Guyanese writers Fred D'Aguiar and Brendan de Caires read from their work and talk about their lives as writers and more, and though I missed it, I was thrilled that Guyanese filmmaker Clairmont Chung's Walter Rodney documentary was screened during the festival as well.
Also in the what-went-well category were the varying levels of writing celebrated throughout the festival. From adult literacy program participants to budding teen writers and new adult writers to Earl Lovelace and George Lamming, all, it seemed, were included in the spotlight shone on the hard but rewarding task of writing. This year, there were two notable changes from last year that took the non-reading, non-panel discussing rest of us "audience" folk into consideration. One was the stationing of a food court in a central location where one could eat and not be far away from events. It was also a great place to meet writers and other festival participants and audience members between events. And the fare--bake and shark, corn soup, sandwiches, coffee, fruit drinks--was good!
The other notable change was a free shuttle from hotel to Bocas events and back if you wanted. I used it once I discovered its existence (two days into the festival), but you just can't beat talking and arguing with cab drivers about how much you know they gypping you because you look and sound stupidy and foreign. I had one driver pull out a detailed, laminated list of prices and destinations that I swear he only showed to people like me . . . teach she a lesson about what legitimate and what's not, I could hear him thinking, teeth grinding. Other cab drivers filled me in on the crime statistics in Port of Spain and gave me tips on how to stay safe from the biggest scamps in the city: "Careful what prices they charge you," one nice older man warned, "ask them for the official list."
Aside from discovering the free shuttle service two days late, not too much else went badly. I didn't mind the security bag checks once or twice as I entered the library (for Bocas events), but after the 50th time exposing my pantyliners and lipstick to the same security guard, he finally just waved me through. Hey, Bocas folk, how about a visitor's pass next time? Trust me, I won't be traveling to Trinidad to create a ruckus in the library with my feminine hygiene products and a bag of books. I promise.
What I did travel to Trinidad for, I most certainly got:
--After reading and writing on Loretta Collins Klobah's Twelve Foot Neon Woman, I got to hear her fill up a room with a lyrical Puerto Rico that I've only visited once.
--I saw Godfrey Smith beam with pride as he talked about memorializing the life of a man who served Belize for many years, and whose life he made us believe should not be forgotten.
--I saw George Lamming and heard him give regional, cultural, historical value to the work of a woman writer from the Caribbean!
I won't soon forget...
--the hysterical-sounding voices of Vahni Capildeo's female characters
--the pain in Myriam Chancy's children's voices
--Nicolette Bethel's grandmother (from her "Lily" poems), who turned her back on a charming but suspicious offer from a man
--Karen Lord's teasing introduction to her new book
--Kei Miller's genius at delivery
--Andre Bagoo's "How to Put a Cat into a Hypnotic Trance" from his debut collection, Trick Vessels
--The sudden horror of violence and depravity in Sharon Leach's and Sharon Millar's stories
--Stephen Narain's endearing mixed-accented voice of an older Guyanese man
--Fred D'Aguiar's evocative "Hurry the curry"
--And, Earl Lovelace's laughter as he read from the Bocas Lit Prize winner, Is Just a Movie, that last day of the festival (Secret joke or just beside himself with pleasure?)
Of books, of strange and familiar characters, of voices brought to life from still pages, of events that told large and small truths about the Caribbean and its peoples, such was this year's Bocas literary festival. It was a resounding success.
For more on Trinidad and Tobago's Bocas literary festival read here.