A very Dutch death

The new year had barely begun when I learned of the death of a colleague who worked in the office opposite mine. A very Dutch death, he was out cycling on New Year’s Eve, probably going home to celebrate with his wife and four kids, when he had a heart attack and ended up in the sloot, or water-filled ditch that line many country roads here. His body was later found in the water.

The wind has been very strong these last few days, gusting up to Force 9, so maybe the exertion of cycling was too much for his heart. I don’t remember him as being especially unhealthy, and maybe he wasn’t — he was only 45.

No comment

His death has been on my mind since I heard about it. After all, I have four kids too, and next week … I’m turning 45.

Sure ’nuff ‘n’ yes I do

“Dinner time! All hands on deck! Chop chop! Set the table! Put out that fire … And get off the damn computer!”

6 pm rush hour chez les Bacon.

After my eldest daughter has logged out of her favourite social networking site, the Dutch faceoff of Facebook, Hyves, a graphic appears showing the most discussed topics of the previous 24 hours (I failed to screencapture it because the damn computer ground to halt last night).

So while clearing up after dinner last night, I was surprised to see the name “Captain Beefheart” amid the usual topics of Dutch hiving: last night’s footie and the next megarave.

The only reason Don van Vliet’s most famous pseudonym would appear in the twittersphere would be his death, I figured, and sure ’nuff he had snuffed it.

I can’t say I was a faithful fan; in fact I only ever listened to his first album, Safe as Milk (listening afresh as I type). Diehards claim its follow-up, Trout Mask Replica, as his masterpiece, but I found it gibberish both in lyrics and sounds (imagine Finnegan’s Wake set to psychedelia).

While preparing to write this post, I came across an excellent BBC documentary on Youtube about Don, and gave up trying to write in order to watch it all the way through a flaky wifi connection and severely distorted images. (Tip to those interested: an uncensored version of the documentary is easily findable torrentwise.) Ry Cooder’s impressions of Beefheart are especially funny.

So back to Safe as Milk, it’s one of those albums where every single track is a masterpiece, a unique work of art, certainly borrowing from other influences (Howlin’ Wolf, psychedelic surf, 60s teeniebop) but crafted to become inimitable — Cooder’s opening slide riff on Sure ’nuff, the stomping bass in Zig Zag Wanderer, the growling fuzzbox of Dropout Boogie (a song that inspired my own dropout) or the whining theremin of Electricity

Whatever the song, there is a feeling of authentic emotion and sincerity. Unlike his peer and erstwhile collaborator, Frank Zappa, whose own first album, Freak Out attempted to ridicule and sneer at the bubblegum pop music of the time, Beefheart adapted and subverted it to create his own essential mix of growling blues, psychedelia, teen-romance and avant garde.

Safe as Milk: buy it, blag it, steal it. You won’t regret it.

F#@k! FF frozen, almoist lost this post again. ’nuff sed — Publish and be damned

Family lives 4 years with dead brother

The northern province of Friesland is considered to be on the outer fringes of the Netherlands, with its own language, cows, and … weirdness. Proof of just how weird was the following news story from last night:

In the village of Minnertsga, the body of a man who died four years ago has been found lying on his bed at home. His remains were discovered by his family. His brothers (61 and 67) and two sisters (44 and 71) live in the same house.

They last spoke to their 50-year-old brother at the beginning of 2006, when he told them that he was going to his room and did not want to be disturbed. According to local people, the family is known to be very religious and never joined any social events in the village. “No one managed to make contact with them,” said a local official. “They refused to go to the doctor because they believed that the Lord would heal them.”

This week the local housing authority contacted the family about some maintenance work that was needed in the terraced house. One of the residents then entered the bedroom where the dead body was found. A doctor was called, who in turn alerted the police. The man is presumed to have died of natural causes.

Reactions among the Dutch were surprise (What about the smell?!), amusement (Only in Friesland!) and cynicism (They were just happy to keep getting his dole money).

I wonder how the story will be perceived abroad.

Slow on the uptake

The TV was on late this evening, muted and ignored, until I noticed a series of clips showing motorbikes, cars and trucks trying to drive at high speed up sand dunes before getting stuck halfway up or on the crest. The bikes’ wheels spun sand jets vertically, while the trucks slid and rolled like beached whales. What was going on?

It’s been so long since I’d seen anyone bother to show images of the Paris-Dakar Rally on TV that I’d forgotten about its absurd existence. I mean, what’s the skill in trying to drive across the desert at top speed. You just go in a straight line and try not to hit anything, which is pretty easy in the desert, ‘cos there’s little there to hit.

An exercise in futility, to my mind.

Others consider it the greatest test of endurance in the world, whereas opponents such as the Collectif Actions pour les Victimes Anonymes du Dakar (CAVAD), hope to end what they see as a dangerous and arrogant act of wealthy northerners and their corporate sponsors breaking all the rules of safety far away from their own countries. With the 56th victim of the rally occuring this week, it would appear that hitting people in the most remote wildernesses is easier than I’d thought.

When we lived in Dakar last year, the rally had been cancelled because of the threat of armed attack in Mauritania (a number of tourists had been killed). So we never got to see the expats thronging at Lac Rose to greet the arrival of the rally. I don’t think most Dakarois cared less about it.

When I saw the extensive coverage of the rally this evening, I was shocked to realize that Le Dakar had changed route. I knew this kind of bending the borders was popular for boosting interest and gaining sponsors, as when the Tour de France bizarrely includes England or the Netherlands. But still … the Paris-Dakar is now a round trip from Buenos Aires and back, crossing South America and looping in Chile. Apparently this is the second year they’ve done it in South America. (That’s why I’m a bit slow on the uptake.)

Is it just me or is this weird? Like … [complete with witty example]

The truckers were the real heroes

Our plan last night was to put up shelves in our wardrobe and further reduce the chaos of our living conditions, which seems to involve shifting boxes from one room to another, until it becomes unmanageable, then redistributing the boxes to other rooms. Every few days we generate enough garbage to fill the bus and go to the dump, but the total amount of stuff in the house seems to be growing.

It’s quite dispiriting.

So much so that we were quickly distracted from shelves and boxes after I started playing Costa-Gavras’ Missing, recorded on our digital TV drive several months ago.

It’s a great movie. Confusing at the beginning only to reflect the chaos at the start of the coup d’├ętat. Jack Lemmon is fan-bloody-tastic as the conservative curmudgeon who, after a painful series of revelations, realizes that he has been more naive than his idealistic son, and that normal rules of behaviour don’t always apply.

The title above is a quote from one of the American military advisors during the Chilean coup. It stuck in my head, reminding me of other events where “heavy” labour was manipulated by conservative forces: mafia-controlled teamsters in the US; Romanian miners leading a counter-attack to the overthrow of Ceaucescu …

… Yeah my mind gets to thinking …

I had a Chilean cousin-in-common-law in France some years ago, an artist who made delicate mobiles hung before the painted canvas, who seemed to spend more time politicking in the ultra-cliques of Parisian ├ęcoles, who was put through the German highschool in Santiago by his hat-maker mother, who decried the Allende years as times of chaos and roadblocks (by those truckers), and who never understood the fuss about Pinochet.

I was very fond of him, nonetheless, for his naivety in life matters and his attention to detail in his art. He had lived uncomfortably in sin with his girlfriend in Paris for 20 years before he learned that his wife had unceremoniously divorced him in Chile almost as soon as he had left the country. All those years he had denied himself the right to marry and have children. At the age of 50, he was more surprised than disappointed.

After the movie finished, I cleared up the debris in the living room before trying a nightcap in the form of a dram of 37-year-old whisky that was mistakenly sent to us in a Christmas hamper (shortcake and champagne). Standing in the demi-gloom of the cupboard under the stairs, I raised the lid off the box, and it looked just like a coffin.

Maybe it was an association with the movie. Dead bodies splayed on the skylight of the morgue.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t enjoy the whisky.