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.”
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.
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.
The title of this post refers to the overcast skies we’ve been having lately in Kingston. For photography, the stark whiteness is something terrible to deal with. No amount of fiddling with contrast or brightness can save the sky because there is simply no data recorded. This means an extra step or two in the darkroom, blending in a sky from a different photo, or from an underexposed version of the image, if you had the foresight to bracket.
See, just four months into digital photography and already I can bore most normal people within seconds!
Onto the pics …
First up, one of many once imposing buildings now gutted and abandoned.
There are many remnants of a former grace and attention to detail, as in this archway.
Finally, to show that not all of downtown commerce is rundown … as New York has the Chrysler Building, as London has the Lloyds Building, so Kingston boasts … the Panadol Building!
In case you might think the street was deserted, I should add that I have taken out the various people and cars that were in the original image.
Downtown Kingston ends at the waterfront and the wide expanse of the seventh largest natural harbour in the world. Morris Cargill, veteran journalist at The Daily Gleaner, described it more equivocally as “the world’s most beautiful sewer”, as tons of garbage are washed down the gullies running through the city, straight into the water; and, given that only 20% of households are connected to the sewage system, this second title is not exaggerated. That statistic was enough to put an end to our trips to Fort Clarence and Hellshire, the nearest beaches to Kingston and which lie right by the “mouth” of the harbour, or should that be waste drain?
Dis a pier
Years ago, the cruise ships that now stop only in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios on the north coast used to dock right on the Kingston waterfront. It’s a surreal image now, sweaty pink and puffing tourists hopping over the broken pier to arrive bewildered in the baking wasteland opposite the craft market.
The main waterfront street is lined with tall white elephants buildings that house impressive-sounding institutes, such as the National Gallery and the Conference Centre. They were part of an earlier attempt to bring life back to downtown Kingston, which has been only a very limited success. Further attempts to coax government ministries to the area are being resisted tooth and claw by civil servants who fear they will be attacked the moment they step out of the office.
There are also plans to further spruce up the waterfront to create a park and leisure area. I actually had a dream, a while back, of strolling along the boardwalk at dusk, coloured lights strung from the trees, kids running to the merry-go-round, and a band playing (softly!) by the pier. It’s not such an outlandish idea. In the early morning, the walk is very pleasant and unthreatening, although I can’t say what it’s like after dark.
I hope that the QuickTime panorama will have loaded by the time you’ve read my blethers. It’s not as successful a panorama as some of my others because of the emptiness in the middle. If I had scaled up the vertical to give more of a sense of the vast landscape, the details of the fishermen would have been lost.
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