Friday, August 7, 2009


It was her accent that transported me back quite a few years. I was in K-Mart, Bridgehampton. Not a place one would normally associate with memory and nostalgia, but today it became a time portal to 1994. For she, checking out my simple purchases, was from Trinidad, and that is an accent I will never forget, for I spent five happy days there in that long-forgotten year, and reveled in the timbre and vocabulary of the gracious people that welcomed me. The occasion was an official visit by HMS AMAZON as part of our training mission to several Caribbean coastal defense forces who were anxious to learn more about drug interdiction operations. (I have to say that this was in conjunction with the US Coast Guard who on this occasion were tagging along, and I spent two days and nights at sea in one of their cutters named, appropriately, PADRE!)

When not on patrol and shooting up Columbian/Venezuelan/Brazilian fast boats, or any suspected vessel from South America for that matter, officers from AMAZON were personally hosted on the island of Trinidad. My host was Marie, who was the daughter of the government finance minister, and who dutifully enough took me on a personal tour of desperately dull official buildings and memorial parks and monuments. Three hours into this itinerary I asked her what was planned for the rest of the day and the evening. With a painful expression she told me that there was a buffet dinner at the Governor's house, but if there was anything else I wanted to see... I said, "Yes!" I wanted to go down into the centre of Port of Spain and eat there. And that is exactly what we did. Except we didn't end up at a restaurant.

At about nine o'clock that evening, having met up with many of Marie's friends, and then by chance finding Nigel, AMAZON'S Captain, ("God! That buffet was so boring! Tim, thank God I found you!") drinking Carib lager (big mistake!) with the Naval Attache in a bar, we decided to eat. On that street. Out of metal garbage bins! Yes - for that is how street roti is cooked and served in Port of Spain. The method is so easy.

Take one of those metal bins. Pile charcoal into the bin and get it really hot. Now scrub clean the lid and invert it on the bin. Instant skillet! Pile in tons of beef or chicken or lamb, add tons of curry spices and stock, and cook, cook, cook. Spoon onto flatbread. Now that's food!

And after much more of that food, much dancing in a street where there was not a single white tourist to be seen (well, they wouldn't in that neighborhood), and even Carib lager (although I did find a bottle of merlot) we all slept well, and in the ship, woke late the following day.

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