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Official Publication of the St Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association

THE LONG SLEEVES AND THE GENS TI-KAYE

rumshopIt is not a nightclub. It is not a restaurant. It is not a disco, and it most certainly is not a grocery store.

So what is it then - if you can spend the whole evening until all hours of the morning, grab a bite to eat, whine and grind and get down low, and send your child to buy a bar of blue soap, a tin of tuna fish, a box of matches or a pack of candles?

It is an institution. It is classic. It's what you find in every nook and cranny of St. Lucia, in every ghetto, and in the middle of the business district of Castries. It is the heart, soul and - not least of all - the spirit of St Lucia. It is the rumshop.

Strong rum, white rum, dark rum, French rum, spiced rum, or straight up-and-down Bounty: distilled molasses comes in many shades and guises. As does the businesshouse where it is most commonly bought and consumed and to which it has lent its name. Your archetypal rumshop is a wooden shack with a small outside verandah, perched precariously on a couple of large boulders. Once upon a time, it was painted. But unless tomorrow a wholesaler of popular alcoholic beverages offers to plaster advertisements all over the shack, it will not receive a fresh coat anytime soon.

There are signs advertising drinks and brands of cigarettes that you will only remember your father consuming, thirty or forty years aback. There is at least one current calendar showing a scantily clad goddess pressing a burning-cold bottle of dark liquid against her sun-soaked skin. Greasy bar stools are nailed to the floor to prevent them from being turned into heavy artillery when things get hot. There are at least half a dozen home-made benches. Each little bench wobbles either from left to right, or from back to front. A 'beer' is a Heineken. A Piton is a Piton and 'yon bouteille nwe' is a Guinness. Cigarettes are sold singly and 'loose Diamonds' used to be de rigueur before the factory went out of business.

The complex differences of class, cultural and political orientation that run through society like geological strata through an archaeological dig, are also reflected in the rum shops. Some rumshops serve 'fancy' drinks like whiskey and brandy and you might even dare to ask for a cup (no such thing as a glass) of red wine or a vodka-and-orange juice. This is where the long-sleeves patronise after work. This is the white collar rumshop. Hey, there might even be a bathroom on the premises! The talk is of politics and gossip, dressed up as national concern.

At the other end of the scale, we find the rumshop that gets its first rush of customers as early as 5 am. Fishermen stumbling in to buy a packet of crackers and a tin of sausages to take to sea. Sinewy men of indefinable age who silently, almost meditatively, throw back a shot of wom blanc to warm their stiff bones and clear their heads. There is always a plastic bottle with water and an enamel cup at hand to douse the interior fire, rinse the mouth, help you spit. The white rum is kept in a large barrel and expertly diluted with just the right amount of water to make the poisonously strong brew palatable to man. A shot is a dollar fifty, and you can get two or three of those for the price of one beer, so why bother with the fancy stuff? This is where the elderly gens ti-kaye prefer to congregate, carefully stretching the loose coins in their pocket to make them last an evening of drinks, or else cashing in on old favours - real or perceived. Friday and Saturday evenings are the times for slowly getting drunk whilst listening to melancholic Country & Western, singing La Rose or La Marguerite songs, cursing the world in patois, talking sexual innuendo, slamming dominoes on a piece of cardboard and eating souse, mannish water or chicken wings grilled by the rumshop owner's niece, served with a napkin torn in half and a dollop of hot peppersauce and ketchup.

At the end of the day, what more can you say than that, really and truly, rumshops are like people. It takes all kinds to make the world.
 


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