Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 16th 2014 Contents | BUSINESS |
By Roslyn Carrington
Photography by Alva Viarruel
SOMETIMES, Port-of Spain-can
drive you mad. The noise obliter-
ates all rational thought. People
are always moving, moving, mov-
ing, as if they must be some-
where right this minute. Cars are
either attempting to reach Mach speed or stuck in
snaking, glutinous traffic. And you long for a quiet little
oasis where you can sit, regroup, and hear yourself think.
"Sometimes, you just need to relax and take a breath,"
says Ruby Boddie, owner of the Live Art Bistro/Café on
the corner of Dundonald and Albion Streets. "People
come in and say, 'Ah, this place calms me down. It feels
like I'm in another country.'"
The bistro's interior is cooler by several degrees, and dim-
mer by several lumens or candelas or whatever unit you
use to measure the migraine-inducing glare outdoors. A
sensuous male voice croons over the speakers in Haitian
Creole, and with its dark wood stain and Madras fabrics,
the decor has the intimate feel of a French Caribbean
Having migrated to the US in her teens, Boddie studied
psychology at Cornell University. "I liked helping people,"
she explains. "I originally wanted to do social work." Meet-
ing a crossroads in her family life brought her back to
Trinidad with her young daughter, and led to her taking a
position at the Employer's Consultative Association, and
then as a Judge, or Member of the Industrial Court. She
spent her days mediating grievances and disputes ---
again as a nod to her natural desire to care after others.
She established the bistro in response to one of those
life-changing turns of events that can take us by surprise,
and send us in an entirely new direction. "I made a tran-
sition from my employment in 2010, and needed to do
What sets this bistro apart from most is the fact that it
doubles as an art gallery; the walls are hung with original
Haitian and local artwork that are on sale. The stunning
Caribbean mural outside was done by a student of QRC,
Kriston Banfield. To take things even further, the bistro
"triples" as a forum for live jazz, poetry and performance
art. "We have had LeRoy Clarke perform here."
"I had the inspiration to bring beauty into the lives of
young people. Without art, we die." Last year, Boddie
collaborated with musician Sean Thomas of the Jazz
Alliance of Trinidad and Tobago to launch the first T&T
Jazz Week. The main event was hosted by the Central
Bank, and supporting jam sessions took place at the
bistro. Boddie is optimistic that the next edition,
planned for June this year, will be even more popular as
word gets around. Her own love of music is personal:
Boddie herself is a trained dancer, and has performed
in the US with a troupe for many years. Of course, the
main attraction in a bistro is food, and Boddie offers a
menu of simple, light, and elegantly presented fare. "I like
the idea of communal living, and food is the centre of that.
We try to do the healthy thing. We juice, use local veggies,
and try not to fry. It's all tasty."
Her appreciation for food goes back a long way. "Everybody
in the community came to my house to eat," she remem-
bers with a chuckle. "My mom is a wonderful cook. And I've
been lucky to have great cooks work here with me. Right
now, we have a lovely young chef called Karina Urquhart,
who was trained at the T&T Hotel School." The legacy of
Boddie's contributions to industrial relations lingers on.
"Around here you have a lot of male-dominated compa-
nies, and a lot of young women come for counselling. They
know of my previous experience, and come to me to talk
about their difficulties acclimatising to the workplace."
She doesn't feel challenged as a female business owner,
but as a business owner, full stop. "Establishing a small
business is like raising a child. You need a mentor. You need
to be able to pick up the phone and have someone who will
make time for you." In spite of governmental and non-gov-
ernmental organisations that offer small business sup-
port, she would like to see a one-stop-shop, where all the
necessary elements can be available.
Coming up to Carnival, Live Art is bringing something
new to the table, a J'Ouvert band called "Sing J'Ouvert",
a tribute to the Mighty Penguin. "He was a social com-
mentator par excellence. He was a poet. All his themes
continue to be relevant." (Sign-up for the band can be
done at the Bistro.)
Not even the kind of dirty a person can get on the J'Ouvert
streets can diminish their beauty in Ruby Boddie's eyes, nor
the beauty of life and art around us. "We need to encourage
more beauty in the society. We're capable of doing that, if
nothing else. That's why we're here. That's our raison d'être."
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