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]

Sidi Mansour vs Ma Baker

Life in Kingston, Jamaica was sometimes like living in a war zone: occasional bursts of excitement — driving after dark through a ghetto zone, boarding up the windows as a hurricane approached — interspersed with long periods of boredom, for the city does not offer much in the way of amusement for a young family of unbelievers. By midday Saturday, we were already kicking our heels, wondering where to go. In fact the only option for non-church goers was eating out, which was fine, given the surprising variety of good restaurants: Japanese, Lebanese, Chinese, Swiss-French. I can firmly state that I have eaten the best samosas in my life (with plum sauce!) at the Indian restaurant in Marketplace, a great recent development by Mafoud senior.

Right next door to the Indian restaurant was another regular destination during our weekend outings, the Habibi Latino. As its name suggests, it offered a mix of South American and Arabic cuisine — I guess there was a mixed marriage involved. While we tucked into the hommos, fatoush, tabouleh and kibbeh, shivering slightly from the hyperactive air-co, the kids could crawl around the empty benches and dance to the CD of Arabic golden oldies. One of the songs reminded Mr B of his Baghdad days; for me, it brought back rainy summer days in a caravan on the Isle of Arran, listening to Boney M’s Ma Baker. We asked one of the Jamaican waitresses dressed in a black chador if we could copy the song, but this seemed to cause her great confusion and came to nothing.

We found the song again recently on a mix CD in my in-laws’ car, and since then … I have found myself forced into having to convince each family-in-law member, one person-in-law at a time, that Sidi Mansour is the inspiration behind Boney M’s 1977 hit. Maybe I didn’t need to go further than humming the relevant bits, but, well, I’m something of an obsessive musical listener — I may not remember the lyrics, but I reckon I have something of a photographic ear (you know what I mean). Result? Three hours on Acid (Pro) mashing up Saber El Robaey’s version of Sidi Mansour with Ma Baker.

[audio:Sidi Baker – remix.mp3]

The first reaction I got was typically Dutch in its laconic understatement: “Okay, you convinced me just a bit. nice.”

What do YOU think?

Shaking Up Orange Street

Part II of my downtown tour should be loading below. It took a little longer to finish than I’d hoped, partly because I wanted to make it look better than my previous clip, and partly because uploading it to YouTube is very very slow.

As I’ve recommended previously, if your bandwidth is as bad as mine, I would click “play”, then the little “pause” button, and go and boil the kettle. That will give the clip some time to download and give you smoother playback.

Driver! Don’t stop at all

Drawing to the end of my series of images of downtown Kingston, I post below the first part of a drive I took last week with my good friend, Barry White.

I know, it’s the voice.

If all goes according to plan, Part II will include a drive round the main square, Sir William Grant Park (during which you will be grateful that the Internet cannot transmit the overpowering stench of urine and human feces), before heading up one of the most famous streets in music history: Orange Street. We’ll end up at Studio One and see the plan to develop a museum dedicated to the myriad stars who cut their teeth and their first records there.

Part III will begin with a cold one at the original Tastee patty restaurant, site of the Tastee Talent Competition, which most famously gave us Yellowman many moons yore, then scoot quickly through the garrisons of West Kingston: Arnette Gardens, Trench Town, Rema, Tivoli Gardens and Greenwich Town.

On with the show!

Direction: Downtown

After last week’s panoramic introduction to downtown Kingston, let’s continue the journey down the major thoroughfare leading south … King Street.

Watch out for the bucket!

Direction: downtown

This part of the drive always gets me down — I expected all of the downtown neighbourhoods to be bustling hives of criminal activity, but the reality is sadder perhaps, because of the almost total abandonment of the area by both the good and the wicked. All that’s left are empty streets, derelict buildings, piles of rubbish and rubble on the pavements, and the rare pedestrian here seems to be hurrying to pass through this no-man’s land to a place less lifeless.

Fortunately, not all of downtown is so sad and deserted, as you will soon see.