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If, two months ago, you’d told me I had a future president in my past, I’d probably have laughed but, come Monday, when his appointment takes effect, my friend from university days, Justice Anthony Carmona, will become the fifth President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the best thing this Parliament, perhaps this Government, has done to date. It is almost certainly to be as close as the country will ever get to having, in its highest office, a man of the people.
And, for surety, as they say in Fyz-oh-bad, Tony Carmona is a man of our people, and his family a proper representation of all that is good about us. In blind imitation of whatever is done in America, our media will doubtlessly call the Carmonas our “first family” but I prefer to think of them as our ideal family; in photographs, they look like the Trinidad and Tobago we all love, no matter what we might look like ourselves, as individuals: Justice Carmona is a tall, good-looking red man, a Catholic from Trinidad’s Deep South who had made his way sufficiently in the world to have been headed, immediately before his appointment as President, to the highest levels of international criminal jurisprudence at The Hague—but who is also grassroots enough to have sung calypso professionally, and shared a Woodford Square stage with Sparrow and Shadow.
His wife Reema Harrysingh-Carmona is a drop-dead gorgeous woman who happens to be Indian and Hindu (they were married at La Divina Pastora church, where Trini Hindus and Catholics worship happily side-by-side), and they have the boy-and-girl set of perfect children, Christian and Anura. Between them, the Carmonas cover almost every heritage from which Trinidad and Tobago, the place, draws strength. Poke around farther up the family tree and you’re likely to shake out a pan-playing Muslim grandfather, a Chinese and/or Arab shopkeeping uncle and several garlic-pork-making, Spanish-speaking grandmothers.
At Cave Hill in Barbados, Tony Carmona made a name for himself singing Trinidad calypso under the unusual kaiso-name of the Prophet of Sisyphus. (In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned to eternally push a boulder uphill, only to see it roll back down to the bottom again.) During Carnival, in our second year LLB, he flew from Cave Hill to Piarco every Thursday to sing kaiso at the City Council Tent, and flew back to Barbados every Monday morning to hand in assignments and attend lectures and tutorials. In his earlier degree, taken at the Mona campus of UWI, our next President sang with a little backing band called Third World (and another called Inner Circle), and bounced up a pre-success, pre-BMW Bob Marley while he was still driving the old VW minibus.
Over the years, and the several university degrees, the boy from Fyzabad gained sufficient polish to have been offered a judge gig at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, where he had worked for some years as a prosecuting counsel. (If you google ICC judge pay rates, you might be surprised to discover he took a pay cut to take the president-work.)
Never a man to put on airs, Tony Carmona, at Cave Hill, shared a simple house, Casa Alicia, with his brother, now Dr Keith Carmona, and others from the region. Casa Alicia became the centre of academic and social life. (Several women in high office now were laid low in Casa Alicia back then.) Steve Crease, the Casa Alicia rebel poet, is now, I want to believe, the PS of the Ministry of Local Government; another poet attached to Casa Alicia is on the Supreme Court bench this morning. At least three other Casa Alicia alumni are now senior counsel, like Tony Carmona himself, one in St Kitts and one in Dominica.
And then there’s me and Dave. I am perhaps the least of the Casa Alicia Section of Cave Hill, Class of 1981, but I am certainly the best-placed to make a suggestion that neither Tony nor President Carmona would make, the man because he is genuinely humble (with a lot to be proud about) and the office-holder precisely because he is worthy of holding the office.
Three years ago, in this space, I all but begged Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to move out of the palace in St Ann’s that symbolised everything that was wrong with Mr Manning’s PNM government. You cannot, I warned, play sailor mas and ’fraid powder, and you cannot install someone in a palace and ’fraid emperor. In 2010, though, Mrs P-B might have felt her hands were tied. Then-president Max Richards was adamant that he would not move into the palace. It may have been the best decision of both his terms in office because, for him, at that time, it would not have looked right.
Today, though, we have a golden opportunity to correct that mistake. It seems possible, now, that Mrs P-B genuinely wanted to keep her election promise not to live in the palace. She can do that, now, by handing it over to the only person I can think of who might not be deluded by its trappings or those of office. With Tony Carmona in occupation, Mr Manning’s folly in St Ann’s might yet become a symbol of all that is good and wise about us. Give our ceremonial head of state the nicest public digs we have. And trust Tony Carmona to turn the palace into a place the ordinary man will feel comfortable: Casa Carmona.
BC Pires is a real fourth-estate agent. E-mail your studio flats and stiletto heels to him at [email protected]
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