Whether we are monarchists or not, it is right and fitting that we pay homage to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who this weekend is marking her platinum jubilee – 70 years as the monarch, on the throne since 1952, the first British royal to achieve such a milestone.
It is a remarkable landmark of dedication, resilience and staying power for anyone. Like our President, the queen has no real power, yet she commands great authority, and we would be mistaken to believe that their roles are not without subtle political influence. The trick is ensuring that they are never seen as being political or that their actions or words, in any way, cross the acceptable line.
Not many politicians could hope to pull off what QEII has managed to, not sustainedly over seven decades, especially during the difficult 1990s and the periods of active anti-monarchy sentiment and all the seedy and news-grabbing family scandals and intrigues that continue and change in nature, most recently the quickening tempo of holding the royal family to account for its connection to slavery.
Increasingly, the effects of the pernicious system that endured for centuries are being acknowledged as still deep-seated in psyches in Britain and in former colonies, along with the long-lasting economic impact. Let’s see where that goes once the younger royals get into the hot seat.
In an interview I conducted for the BBC with former king of Spain Juan Carlos, he insisted that a monarchy is only as viable as the person on the throne. He did not keep his own counsel, but the Spanish monarchy, with Juan Carlos’s reigning son trying to clean up the mess his father made, seems to be just about weathering the storm.
Difficult days lie ahead for the Windsors too.
One of the arguments for the existence of Britain’s royal family is the fact that its members and the institution itself, with its palaces, art collection and memorabilia, constitutes a great tourist attraction and provide enormous revenue for the state coffers. They are the source of all the old-fashioned pomp and circumstance that draw thousands, if not millions, of international visitors annually.
The current British Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries, remarked in a BBC jubilee interview that the mass celebrations are what Britain does best, which is only partly true. She is also the person who totally misguidedly wants to dismantle the BBC, another great British creation and institution, established in 1922 and 30 years older than the jubilee; but let’s be guided by her on the mass culture issue. She made me wonder about what it is that we do best as a tourism destination in Trinidad and also Tobago.
We seem pleased that the eco-unfriendly cruise liners are returning to the Port of Spain harbour this year, but what exactly will passengers rush to experience in our once-charming capital city? Pray, close your eyes and imagine you have stepped off a ship onto this well-endowed land where the verdant mountains hold promise but, sadly, you are only here for a few hours.
What would you like to see as a curious tourist? What is our unique selling point (USP) that might encourage you one day to return?
There are a few kiosks at the port with inauthentic trinkets that do not compete well with what’s on offer in the other islands, and when you venture out, the few tourist shops bordering the Brian Lara Promenade are hardly better.
Some of our grand historical buildings have been restored, and the bustle of downtown Port of Spain says something about how we live, but it would be a challenge to sample some local food in a pleasing atmosphere; and apart from the islands-wide welcoming tune from itinerant panmen on the dock, there is no evidence of the great music for which TT might be famed internationally.
Our national museum and art gallery compares poorly to Jamaica’s, and even to Barbados's, whose institutions are newer. Our botanical gardens are in a very sorry state – very little replanting is happening, the orchid garden is neglected, fallen dilapidated roofs remain unrepaired.
With more time you could explore our stunning nature, but where are the marked trails and services and would you even dare to explore when your government advises that TT is an international murder capital? Asa Wright, with the stunning view down the valley now marred by the illegal quarrying, is still closed, the would-be Brechin Castle Museum is a ghost, the Capildeo house is derelict, the captivating Caroni Swamp ride offers ugly, naked proof of environmental damage from our energy sector – and the list goes on, without even mentioning Tobago, so admired for its unspoilt nature, which it would do well to try to preserve.
A visitor currently living here asked, “Where can I find your culture?”
True, covid shut down a lot, and we cannot live for our visitors, but we do not tell a good story about ourselves.
There is a mistaken focus on Carnival numbers. Culture is much more than that, and our tourism experts still do not see it.