Not a Sunday in my parents' house can pass without the smell of my mother's curried chicken wafting up into my bedroom to blend with the din of her calypso music.
Coming downstairs to the kitchen on a morning such as this is almost like walking into a "Trini" Island paradise.
This feeling is even more acute around Caribana time. When I was a kid, this magic week was as important to me as Christmas. Warm and exotic aromas filled the house. My parents were in a remarkably upbeat mood. When you looked at them, you could really tell that they were elsewhere in their heads.
We would get up early on the Saturday of the parade. Music blaring, we'd dress and eat a quick breakfast -- fried bake and saltfish. (For a picky eater child like me, it was a small price to pay for the bacchanalian freedom we were allowed on this day.)
We'd find a prime spot on University Avenue where we could see the costumes and hear the bands. Our parents would bump into old friends not seen since school days.
"Cokes, how you goin', man?" we would hear from someone behind us. (Cokes is the name by which my father is known in Trinidad.)
"Bishop! Dey let you in de country?" my father would banter back. My little sister and I would be awestruck at this kind of repartee coming from our father, who was normally an austere man of few words.
In spite of the fact that Caribana still resonates deep in me, it's been years since I've been. I am a sad representative of my Trini roots.
For my parents there is a direct relationship between Caribana and feelings of home. I am forced to appreciate it from a second degree of separation at best.
My parents can translate this time into a memory of Carnival back home, Jouvert morning, when the partying would start at 5 am on Carnival Monday (before Mardi Gras). I, on the other hand, feel like a tourist.
During the Caribana launch at Nathan Phillips Square, I am surrounded by Caribbean people who all left work on their lunch hour to celebrate the opening of the festival that brings "Back Home" here to Toronto.
There's curried chicken and roti for sale, beef patties, doubles -- all of the foods that signify party time at my house.
The distance that I feel here is strange, as if I have no real right to let the calypso music overtake me and no reason to order up some exotic plate of food.
At a certain level, I feel like Gauguin in Tahiti.
That's why normally I hightail it out of the city on Caribana weekend for my annual Toronto Exodus to a campground somewhere.
This year, considering that I haven't gotten my act together, I may just have to "jump up and wine" with the best of them.