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Grand stand ghosts
I’m walking along a dusty concrete floor, so fresh that the grit is still grinding loose under my shoes, along a path that approximates the weathered promenade space beneath the Grand stand that used to be on this spot. On my left, a TSTT truck is busy welding something to one of the steel beams that’s holding this massive structure up. A little further on is a huge, empty space, painted funeral black, which announces, rather appropriately when you think about it, that it’s a Carnival Museum. Presumably it will be filled at some point with some costumes and photographs or, in harmony with the unintentional irony that’s the hallmark of so much of this effort to bring Carnival back to the Savannah, it just might remain empty, a reminder of our inability to gather the collective fruit of our creativity into any form that our descendants might learn from.
Lessons from the past seems entirely absent in this structure, which really isn’t the Grand stand, but sitting on the same spot, seems destined to inherit the title. Much of the, let’s call it design, mimics the shape and overall feel of the structure that was finally flattened in 2007 to make way for the grand performance space that Carnival deserves, or to describe it from a political perspective, nothing.
That building, originally constructed in 1854, had been expanded, renovated and refurbished so often that it’s become, for many generations, part of the park itself. It’s existence was reluctantly tolerated under the Queen’s Park Savannah ordinance because of its focus on recreation, specifically the upper class sport of horseracing.
When demolition began on the asbestos riddled Grand stand in 2006, there was some idle political talk about the construction of a new, purpose built structure, but the will to do that was redirected to NAPA’s concert halls and Carnival was relocated with some pomp and circumstance, to de road. It was a reversal of political will that led to the resurrection of the Grand stand structure, but that determination ended at cloning the original structure. The hastily constructed building needlessly mimics both the original design of a building built for viewing the finish line of a horse race and the continuously rebuilt North Stand, making this structure less a Grandstand than a South Stand. Horseracing is best viewed from an almost flat perspective, so the incline of the original Grand stand was a long, gentle slope.
Any Carnival stakeholder consulted on this reconstruction would have pointed out that bringing the audience closer to the onstage performance with a steeper gradient would have made more sense.
Since horses won’t be running through this space ever again, why weren’t the North and South stands curved gently inward to create a more theatrical experience? As someone who will, at some point today, find himself eating dust drummed off the stage here by prancing feet, I really have to ask why the people tasked with covering this event are still, with no horses whisking their tails and no smell of sawdust and dung in the air, put in the position formally reserved for the least of the punters? It’s weird standing here, looking at it. It looks like something that’s gone away forever, but not quite, not really. It’s a ghost wrought in concrete and steel beams.
It’s more frightening to think that after 150 years, we may have lost our ability to innovate in the midst of our boldest celebration of creativity. Like the decontextualised bats and bookmen aimlessly shuffling around on the periphery of Carnival, this building seems more homage than invention, a terrifying testament to the simple fact that you can’t look backward and forward at the same time.
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