My expectation was simply to have a good time.
The constituents parts for a good time were rum, sneakers, friends, pan, food, cups and early positioning in the North Stand. The only thing missing from this list is et al. My early disclaimer is that the aforementioned items are not listed in any particular order.
The arrangements agreed upon were that I would make the dumplings, Blair would provide the blue food (i.e. boiled dasheen) and Ossie would prepare the saltfish. Every man would walk with rum, and chaser would be bought from some vendor at the back of the North Stand. Those were the days when galvanize bathtubs holding ice and drinks were still allowed in the North Stand, men hung from the rafters of the 50 feet high ceiling to hang banners and jersey clad crews were still in the Introductory Stage of the Posse Life Cycle.
Ok…this is about Panorama! I have a Panorama Tabanca….I confess!
In retrospect, Aloes was not slated to prepare any dish. Strange? No….Aloes never prepares any food for Panorama. But he is always present. But Aloes serves a unique purpose. Once Aloes is present we never pay to enter. Some might call it “storming” or “crashing”, but we simply describe the process as “gaining access without paying”.
Panorama Semi-finals is a glorious occasion! It is a day when an unknown steelband from Oh-He-Oh-Ho could descend on the Savannah stage and disrupt people’s lives forever….or for a day. It has longed been dubbed the “Savannah Party“. How many of you remember Merrytones from Diego Martin with their arrangement of Nah Do Dat sung by Iwer George? What about Shot Call as played by All Stars where fans called for an encore, something that just does not happen at Panorama? Pan Rising from The Phase? Curry Tabanca by All Stars? Crazy’s Nanny Wine played by Curepe Scherzando? Each of these arrangements was memorable in delivery and in the excitement aroused. So there is anxiety and tremendous anticipation as the day draws near.
None of us was an Event Planner, so we each relied on our instincts and love of pan. Let it now be noted that love of pan has no bearing on synchronization of timings nor scheduling the order of events.
Aloes, Carl and I reached before the Panorama kicked off. That was deliberate as reaching early is essential if one is to “gain access without paying”. Aloes did what he had to do. Full disclosure was not permitted at the time of writing and as such his tactics will remain trade secrets.
So we were now inside.
As I stood atop the North Stand on the first tier, surveying the crowd that had gathered, I heard a voice shouting ecstatically, “Lance…BABASH!!” Way down to the front of the stand was another one of my buddies, Nigel, waving for all to see, a rum bottle which contained a clear liquid resembling that illegal concoction know to all and sundry as babash, or mountain dew (Alabama Scotch to persons in the USA).
That set the tone for the day. Clutching my ice-cream container of twenty-five cornmeal dumplings (the serving size was five dumplings to a man), I made my way down to the front of the stand and graciously accepted a drink of babash. Never one to stand on one foot as would an ostrich, I accepted another swig. Then we made our way to a central spot in the North Stand where we could see the bands and hear the musical pieces of the competing bands. Both Aloes and I normally read the banner of each steelband, check to see the name of the tuner and arranger, make sure that the traffic light is on green for the band to start playing and listen attentively to the rhythm section to get the pulse of each arrangement. Despite the air of revelry, the parade of women in tantalizingly revealing poom-poom shorts and the distraction of readily available liquors and diverse brews, this was serious business.
The national anthem was played and the action began! A whole day faced us and our attendance register recorded only three men. The asset inventory however, read: two bottles of rum, four cups and twenty-five dumplings! I can say now in hindsight, it wasn’t looking good.
The after burn of the Moruga babash called for the quench of cold chaser which was ignored in the initial dispensation of the drink. We didn’t buy any chaser before entry. Now we were chasing chaser. As luck would have it, we were standing next to a section of people who had armed themselves with an array of coolers supported by a seemingly endless supply of soft drinks. During that era there was such a generosity of spirit in the North Stand for Panorama that said a lot about us as a people. Proximity begets generosity and chaser. That being said, chaser was no longer a problem.
Pan playing, man reading banners, public announcer shouting the name of the arranger, flag woman waving, pan racks rolling off the stage, rhythm section playing, pan racks rolling on stage, woman wining, people drinking, Rastaman selling nuts. After two packs of nuts, mankind recognized that his hunger was reaching tsunami proportions. I am still clutching my bowl of dumplings. A bird in hand is worth more than two in the bush, is how the saying goes. The dumpling was the bird as neither dasheen nor saltfish has yet appeared.
The group with whom we had now merged offered us some food. It was akin to a joint venture however our only bargaining chip was our bowl of dumplings. Always the negotiator, Carl brokered the deal saving the dumplings for a later investment. It was the same Carl while devouring a square of cheesy macaroni pie kicked my bowl of dumplings. I had momentarily relinquished my hold on the bowl, distracted by the offer of a near compete meal in a disposable sweet plate and had placed the bowl on one of the coolers. With that unintentional kick, my bowl went downhill into the crowd, the cover sent flying and dumplings hitting the turf like stones thrown against the surface of a calm lake.
It was surreal. It was as if all of our expectations kneaded in those dumplings were now cast out. Aloes watched the dumplings and then watched me. I watched the dumplings and in a desperate effort, scrambled to retrieve the bowl hoping that against all odds there would be a dumpling or three left. Alas, it was not to be. Not a dumpling survived. Lost in the forest of humankind in the North Stand, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Carl was still dancing on top of a cooler. He had macaroni pie in his hand.
Forlorn and hungry we regrouped. The morsel from our Parent Posse was tasty but nary enough. We were grateful for that manna, not from above but from next door. But in the midst of the teeming excitement and action, there was a moment of silence for the fallen dumplings.
But we jamming still! Next band!
Even though we in Trinidad and Tobago think that the world stands still for Carnival and moreso Panorama, it does not. The sun was beginning to get into position for its sunset when we encountered Blair. In keeping with the Pre-Panorama Plan, he had his bowl of dasheen and was hunting for us among that 7,000 odd crowd with little success. That meeting was a happy occasion for us, our ranks now down to two as Carl had departed, as had the Parent Posse and all of their coolers. While Aloes and I ravaged the dasheen, Blair asked about the saltfish. Aloes and I stopped in mid-chew, looked at each other, shook our heads and continued eating.
For the uninitiated, Panorama goes on and on. With darkness upon us and patrons starting to leave for home, who do we meet but Ossie.
We found out that Ossie was in the North Stand since early afternoon. So why did we not meet him before? Our encounter with our babash-bearing friend on arrival should be a hint. The North Stand on the occasion of Panorama is a confluence of old friendships and new rum which delays any other activity. So getting the saltfish to its destination of a hungry cast of friends is labelled as “not a priority”.
So both Aloes and I cast our eyes on the rectangular red KFC container in which that stewed saltfish laden with tomatoes and pimento seasoning and other goodness lay. While we were fashioning out a plan to devour the saltfish, Ossie asked about the dumplings. Aloes and I looked at each other, shook our heads and continued planning how we would attack the saltfish.
Sunday had now consumed most of its hours and Monday beckoned. The national anthem was sung at about 11.00 a.m. A full day’s work if you were a security guard at a quarry in the Northern Range.
Blair left. Then Ossie departed almost as suddenly as he had appeared. Then it was Aloes, me and a container of saltfish.
I was fighting sleep, as rum, the passage of time and the constant foot patrol all over the North Stand had a deleterious effect on my stamina. I remember that we really wanted to listen to Renegades. But from our calculations Renegades would not appear on stage before 2.00 a.m.The North Stand was sparse save for persons who had gained entry when the gates were opened. Nut vendors were aplenty. But bands were still lined up on the Drag.
We had to eat that saltfish if we were to sustain ourselves through this nether region beyond enjoyment.
We left the North Stand and approached a vendor in a booth adjacent to the Drag just before the eastern entrance to the stage. We bought a pack of hamburger loaves. Six loaves to be exact.
We then sat in one of the bleachers overlooking the Drag. Meticulously, Aloes removed the cover of the red KFC container balancing it on his knee. He asked me, “How many yuh want?” I replied, “Three“.
With a disposable fork we loaded up our hamburger loaves fashioning a stewed saltfish hamburger under the glare of street lights and to the sounds of Renegades players striking up as the band got into position to play. I watched Aloes and Aloes watched me. His thoughts were my thoughts. This saltfish wasn’t getting away.
With climaxing hunger clinching us and almost simultaneously, we took our first bites.
We both recoiled as the salt from the saltfish hit us. It was like swallowing sea water. It was the saltiest saltfish that we had ever tasted! It looked so good but the salt overwhelmed our sensibilities, jarring us awake.
That was it. Jamming done. No more saltfish.
We left the Savannah and made for the taxi stand. I never expected to be eating salty saltfish at 2.00 a.m. I didn’t sleep for the remainder of those wee hours as the salt made me uneasy.
But then again, what did we really expect? This was Panorama!