Saturday, March 09, 2002

Circular No 17

Newsletter for past alumni of The Abbey School, Mt. St. Benedict, Trinidad and Tobago, W.I.
Caracas, 9 March 2002. Circular No.17
Dear Friends,
In this circular I am going to enumerate the names in the photo of class 1960., so it can be included in our web page. The whereabouts of Egan Baichoo are not known.
1. Louis Lacour
2. Manuel Prada

3. Richard Galt

4. Michael Herrera

5. David Pampellone

6. Ladislao Kertesz

7. Michael Howard

8. Randal Galt

9. James Seheult

10. Michael King

11. Wayne Vincent Brown

12. Egan Baichoo

13. Matias von Fedak

14. David de Verteuil

15. Christopher Webster

16. Roger Henderson

17. Giuseppe Braggio

18. Nigel Boos

19. Geoffrey Golding

20. Anthony Johnson

21. Daniel de Verteuil

22. Christopher Knowles

23. Maurice de Verteuil
24. Fr. Paul
We are in contact with the rest and some of those that were with us for at least a year. These include:
Graham Gonsalves Form I to From II.
Richard Gransaull until From IV.
Basanta dayboy from Tunapuna

The photo:
A rocket that was built during my last year at the Mount.
The story: The igniter consisted of a small canister flame holder, old JETEX motor, which was pulled with a thread from a safe distance so that it moved underneath of the rocket motor, the fuel was prepared behind the sports house using Potassium Chlorate and sugar mixed in a cup over an open flame fire. During the mixing on two occasions the mixture caught fire and the hot vapours did slight damage to our hands!!!. No one wanted to go to the infirmary as it was Saturday night. Did it fly??, we set the rocket on the hill on the North side of the football field on the edge of the cliff, well it is difficult to say as it started up with a lot of smoke and suddenly Fr. Bernard appeared from no where at the road on the first bent out of the sports field very close to where we were and asked if we were lighting fire. I took the rocket and threw it from the mountain side to the football field where it sputtered. Next I ran up to Fr. Bernard to tell him something which finally satisfied him and continued up the monastery road. We ran down to rescue the rocket, the smoke subsided and all that was left was a melted aluminium cylinder. The conclusion was that there was no enough pressure in the propulsion chamber. If there would have been one!!! Who knows the results.

Here I am continuing the who’s who, thanks to Roger Henderson:
7. David Bratt is a leading paediatrician in Trinidad.

God Bless
Listado: C17.xls
Photo: msb rocket
Article: Msb p2 6404 mount inside
Column: wvb 020303 cuba
Cuba jottings – By Wayne Brown
Sunday, March 24, 2002
LIKE most Caribbean capitals, Havana was built on the coast; only, unlike them, for at least half the year it's a windward coast. The deep fjord-like bay at the eastern edge of the city, like a river mouth, where the sea is calm, is a fine, natural ships' harbour, and doubtless explains why Havana sprung up where it did in the first place. But for most of its length the city fronts the open sea; and in the winter months, when the wind is in the north, the waves break over the low seawall and set the promenade and the foreshore road abutting it awash. In fact, on windy days you can be soaked by sea spray while walking on the landward pavement of the road.
It feels like a metaphor for the socioeconomic dousings -- both exhilarating and alarming at once -- of Havana by US dollars from a superpower just out of sight below the horizon. From that same north whence the sea spray comes has come a 'new' Cuban economy, and it stands in as destabilising a relation to the old economy as that which would obtain in Jamaica if, say, the trade in cocaine were legalised here without any loss of profit. Tourism, or in general the hospitality industry, is the golden calf of post-Soviet Union Cuba, and any Cuban who can access even the edge of it suddenly finds him or herself on the financial fast track.
Some numbers:
In the old Cuba, a professional like a doctor earned (and earns) the pesos equivalent of US$20 a month. This is supported by (a) free housing; (b) books, food ration, which in the good old days used to be sufficient for food for the month, but which today only feed a man or woman, modestly, for about 14 days; (c) electricity which costs almost nothing, maybe US$1 a month; and (d) free public transport - when you can get it.
As is apparent from this, the old Cuba really isn't a money economy; and the Western visitor often notices with amusement or irritation the bewilderment of ordinary Cubans trying to operate in the novelty of one. For example: a number of little restaurants, mainly takeaways, have sprung up recently in private homes, with state tolerance; and my daughter Mariel, having arrived from Trinidad to take over vigil at her father's post-surgery bed from her younger sister, announced she had found one where the cooking was 'not bad'. (Cuba is memorable for many things, but its cooking is horr-a-ble!, Spartan in the extreme: a peculiarly jarring absence of Caribbean creolisation in an area where you'd least expect it.)
Part of the problem is availability: eggs, eg, were almost impossible to find while I was in Havana (which is presumably why an egg sandwich at a tourist restaurant cost US$6 -- meaning that a top-ranked Cuban professional could, if he were so disposed, spend his month's salary availing himself of three egg sandwiches and two soft drinks.) The premise is that the state was directing a disproportionate number of eggs to hatcheries. Yet, the average Cuban -- reports a recent issue of National Geographic -- can aspire to chicken no more than two to four times a year. (When in the weeks after my surgery I routinely left untouched my plate of baked-without-seasoning chicken and steamed-without-salt vegetables, I often noticed how circumspectly the female orderly surveyed the terrain outside my room before choosing the right moment to spirit it away.)
Likewise, a large and quite impressive 'upmarket' restaurant has no problem serving you a smoked pork sandwich when you order a hamburger (no ground beef today), or black coffee whether you like it or not (no milk today).
When, on our last night in Cuba, therefore, my daughter proposed we order takeaway for six (to include a couple Cuban and Jamaican friends) from the place she'd 'discovered', it meant that the little home operation, from its menu prices, would gross something like US$80 -- a real windfall in the context of Cuba. The operators, however, had no experience of advance orders (we were calling in the morning and wished to collect it in the evening); they were suspicious and unhelpful; and in the end we gave up and ordered Chinese instead.
The great Havana tourist bazaar is the (craft) market, where a painting can sell for as much as US$50. Cuban 'street paintings' are of an astonishingly high standard, and rather show up what passes -- often with much ballyhoo from those who should know better -- for folk art in the English-speaking islands (and I don't just mean those preapusian Fern Gully sculptures of masturbating dreads). Even so, it's easy to understand the doctor who moonlights helping his wife make earrings and necklaces for sale there.
The restraint of the artist-entrepeneurs was impressive. Evidently (like hair-braiding women on the beach in The Bahamas) they were not permitted to speak to a prospective customer unless (s)he talked to him/her first. And so they sat, looking expectantly at you, but biting their lip -- a welcome change from the urgent hustle you'd experience here.
At the market, too, were scores of prostitutes (too many for comfort, really); and while I regret to report that I omitted to play the social anthropologist and grill them on their fees and practices, they were manifestly younger, more attractive, more seductively (as opposed to vulgarly) dressed, and clearly of a much higher 'class' than their Jamaican street-counterparts -- though that last comment is anachronistic in more ways than one. People are poor in Cuba today, and the desperation sometimes shows.
But all this is tourist talk, and it misses the essential niceness of the Cuban people. It was one of the first things that struck me, coming from Jamaica; the absence of latent belligerence, of attitude. People in Havana said what they meant, dealt with you without inflection, and were generally animated and helpful. The charm of Cubans is a certain old-fashioned simplicity, a 'small-island' quality which I remember dimly from my childhood in Trinidad in the 50s. In Old Havana, in the upstairs hotel room with the little balcony where Hemingway stayed when he first visited Cuba in the 20s -- and where he allegedly wrote The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber -- the tour guide (who came on duty just for us) spoke of him (in good English) without hype, yet with knowledge, friendliness and respect.
Still -- the Cuba I saw (much too briefly and preoccupiedly to do it justice here) cannot last: the relationship between the peso and the US dollar is just too skewed. Cuba is a real nation, one that has fought to defend itself against a malignant giant neighbour, unlike the feckless and quarrelsome mini-nations of the English-speaking Caribbean, dumped into a mendicant 'independence' by a war-impoverished Britain. But Cuba is also an anachronism -- a place from the past, weirdly illuminated by such things as TV dishes and the 'Net (both available only to tourists and the diplomatic missions); and its charm, I fear, may well be by comparison with our own decayed and dangerous societies, and feel much more like frustration to the Cubans themselves. So few have been out of Cuba; so few have seen the inside of a dollar store -- or indeed, of one of the growing number of tourist hotels, from which Cuban women, apart from the staff themselves, have been banned.
When I told the head of the cardiology hospital where I'd been a patient that after I was discharged I might go for a brief convalescence to the Sandals-managed Beaches Resort at Varadero, his response sounded odd to my ears.
"Congratulations," he said; and I looked and saw -- and this was the odd thing -- that he meant it.

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