Late night reading

Late at night, when everybody else is asleep, I reach under the bed and get out my favourite porn reading: The Rough Guide to Jamaica. Check out this extract:

A mile or so past Chukka Cove, a tiny paved road cuts inland towards Cranbrook Flower Forest, an exquisitely landscaped, 130-acre nature park with several grassy lawns, a fishing pond, a family of resident peacocks and a swift-running river with plenty of marvellous swimming spots. Run by a friendly Jamaican family who wanted to create a space where visitors and local people could retreat from the urban clamour, Cranbrook is an overwhelmingly peaceful spot (ooh). You can bring your own food and drink, or buy it from the tuck shop, housed in a pretty cut-stone building that was originally an outbuilding of the sugar estate which flourished here. To the right of the tuck shop is the fishing pond, a flower-wreathed man-made pool that’s well stocked with tilapia (aaah). Caught with the aid of a customized bamboo pole, it costs US$5 to have your fish scaled, seasoned, roasted and served with roast yam or rice and peas, etc. (oh yeah). The stretch of river next to the pond has several shallow pools ideal for splashing children. Beyond the pond is the largest of the lawns, and, to the left, a series of mesh-covered walkways sheltering a staggering variety of orchids and anthuriums (don’t stop!). Strategically-placed steps lead down to deeper pools, where the river gushes up from the rocks. Overhung with lush greenery, the deep turquoise water is cool, refreshing and absolutely clean, having been freshly filtered through the limestone (yes! yes! yeeeeesssss!!).


Other reading, from the Jamaica Observer, is less enchanting:

Four people were shot dead by gunmen in Kingston, yesterday.

One of the dead men has been identified as Roy Burgher, 68, who the police said was shot inside a bar he operated at 63 Mountain View Avenue, the community where one man was killed during Tuesday’s protests by the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party.

According to the police, a group of gunmen assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns, invaded 63 Mountain View Avenue, an impoverished community, and shot Burgher while he ate lunch at about 11.30 am yesterday.

Burgher’s daughter, wife and neighbours were all shocked by the brutal nature in which the elderly man was killed.
“What a set a brute them wicked,” one woman said as tears streaked down her cheeks.

A large pool of blood marked the spot where Burgher fell. He was shot in the head and the abdomen and died on the spot. A piece of food he had been chewing at the time, was still affixed between his lips when workers from the Maddens Funeral Home removed his body. Blood soaked his whitened hair.

“See the food all still inna him mouth, them boy deh wicked and no have no soul,” another onlooker said.


Bye-bye I’m back

In many languages, the same word can be used to say hello and goodbye (aloha, salut, shalom or dag, for example). In Italian, ciao has a similar double-ended function. Curiously, the word originates from Venetian and used to form part of the longer expression, “I am your slave”. These days, it is the easiest word that everyone knows, and every phone call seems to end the same way:

Ciao-ciao ciao
Si mamma ciao
Si ciao

After his recent drubbing at the polls, Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, resigned yesterday … and immediately began the horse-trading negotiations with his coalition partners to form a new government. Confused? Don’t worry, it’s normal. By national law, the government must fall before any reshuffle can take place. This is one of the reasons why there have been 59 governments since the Second World War and why this Mr B’s coalition is the longest in power since Mussolini.

Continuing the theme of repetition, I have a funny anecdote for you.

My parents lost 150 Euros to a pair of confidence tricksters two days ago in the park behind the Colosseum. One little old guy came up to them with a big map and mumbled a question about getting to Castel Sant’Angelo. Immediately after, a second, burlier man approached and flashed his “police badge”.

“Don’t listen to this man,” the policeman warned my parents, “He’s a crook”.

The “policeman” demanded the first man’s ID and checked his wallet before shooing him away. He then asked for my parents’ ID and wallet (?), checked them briefly and handed them back. It only took a second and my father swore he was watching him carefully, but after they went on their way, they double-checked their money and saw 150 Euros had gone.

So far, not funny at all.

The following day, my parents were waiting for me near our house when lo and behold the same little old man approached them with his big map. As the accomplice approached, my father shouted, “Oi!! I want my 150 Euros back!” The con men suddenly remembered (“Merda!!!“) and ran off.

We imagined other ways it could have ended, but this was perhaps the simplest and the funniest.

Italy’s finest

Carabinieri are regularly voted to be the sexiest professionals in Italy, which compensates for their traditional image of being the stupidest professionals in the country. I’ve dealt with them only twice in two years, the first when I had to make a declaration saying I’d lost my building pass for work (turned up in my bag a few days later). The carabiniere on duty could type very well with two fingers and the foreign passport didn’t faze him. He rubbed the pages, wiggled the hologram under the desklamp, photocopied the relevant pages, input the data, wrote it all out again by hand, all so smoothly that I was in and out in little over an hour.

The second encounter was when I was driving back from the school run, 200 metres from home, in a borrowed car for which I had no papers and without my driver’s licence. I had a premonition that they would pull me over for a spot check. It was destiny. The tallest officer saluted me and asked for my papers. I started jabbering (Io … inglese … molto stupido) in such an obviously and genuinely pathetic way that he let me off. Woo-hoo!

It’s actually quite rare to see carabinieri doing roadside checks; that’s mainly done by the infamous tax brigade. I have only heard stories of their awesome powers, how they can rip your car apart, empty all the contents on the street and demand to see receipts for every item. In our car there are two sets of armbands still inflated from summer, a spiderman ball, a grubby cloth for wiping the windows, sweetie wrappers, A-to-Zeds for Rome and Amsterdam, and and 3,000 E’s in the bodywork. (Well, I had to make it a bit interesting.) No receipts for any of it. Obviously we’re undermining confidence in the rigour and probity of the Italian tax system (*stifled snigger*) by not being able to prove we paid VAT on the grubby cloth. Maybe I’ll never get pulled over by them, not until I really have the E-shipment of course.

This post was triggered by a series of sirens that seemed to be close enough to drive through the kitchen. It made me think of how a carabiniere starts the day. Step into the car, adjust the mirrors so you can check your hair and three-quarter profile at any moment. Place your hat on the mini hat rack, bizarrely called a handbrake. Put on the siren and the flashing lights and off you speed to the tabacchi for coffee and doughnuts! Ciao Mario!

Let's do it to them before myummm yum does no one want that doughnut? Mmmm ...
As part of a recent efficiency initiative, our local boys in blue now skip going to the police station and head straight for the cafe for their morning briefing. Mouse-over the photo to eavesdrop …

Papa Wemba found guilty

The King of Rumba, Papa Wemba, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison, with 26 of them suspended. He was accused of helping illegal immigrants enter France under the cover of his large musical entourage. Belgian police finally twigged when 200 “band members” disappeared while on tour. Papa Wemba won’t in fact spend any more time in prison since he’s already been inside for almost four months. I saw an excellent Belgian documentary about him and his band of sapeurs years ago. I see that the BBC has made another documentary more recently.

When I was looking for more to say about Papa Wemba I quickly found that there was very little I could add, given the already excellent articles available on the Web. It’s quite daunting to realize how much is out there, and therefore how much my own notes are a drop in the the ocean. (Research proposal: Freezing weather brings on feelings of insignificance. I can barely feel my toes and the heater over the door is blasting over my head at 27 degrees C.)

More on Papa Wemba:

Rumba in the jungle (The Economist: consistently high-quality arts pages; too bad the rest is so dull)
New York concert (from AfricaSounds: excellent expert reviews)
Enter the SAPE (with Papa Wemba on stream)

Papa Wemba’s official site is inactive