Stet by Ria Bacon

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Not quite a Jaguar

Listen loud while you read ...

On the road again, to Schiphol to pick up Mr B. from Paris.

After accelerating to 130 km/hr, I noticed that the car didn't slow when I eased off the gas.

I braked slightly and tried again.

It was barely noticeable since I was going flat out, but still, I felt anxious. Then I chided myself for being silly, as if denying it would make the problem go away.

Shortly after, I saw a service station up ahead and pulled off the highway in neutral. As I began to slow, the noise of the engine became more audible. I realized with horror that it was still revving at top speed. I parked quickly and turned off the engine. ... The revs slowed until the engine was hiccuping and shuddering. But it didn't stop! I took the key out completely. It kept going! Aaagh! It's a ghost car! It's possessed!!

I jumped out in case it was going to explode. But it simply shuddered and shook a final time and stalled.


What now? It was 106 km to Schiphol, I had a full tank of petrol, a half-loaded cellphone, it was getting dark and yes, I was wearing sunglasses.

I hit the cellphone. First the Dutch highway help-thing department. Goede middag, mevrouw. What? You have a car with Italian plates? You have to call the Italian highway help.

Buona sera, signora. What? You have Italian insurance? Call them *click*.

Okey-dokey. Got Aldo on the line at the insurance company in Milan.

Ciao! What? You are British, you have a Dutch car with plates converted to Italian ones ... and a French driver's licence?! ... ... It's hokay for me!

Just before my cellphone battery died, we concluded that the insurer's Amsterdam office would send out a tow truck. My car would be towed to a local lockup, then after the weekend, towed to the nearest Nissan garage.

Pfff. What a hassle.

Maybe, I thought, maybe if I keep a steady high speed without changing gear, then I could drive myself back home...

I set off at low speed with a banshee under the bonnet. I flipped on my emergency lights but that only encouraged people to honk their horns.

(What is that about?)

I turned off the flashing lights, doubled back and headed home.

It was very unnerving, driving with no feet on the pedals. The engine accelerated by itself up to its maximum revs, which was fine when there was no one in front of me. Otherwise I had to brake softly in order to rein in the screaming revs.

It was inevitable that the Ketelbrug (lifting bridge) would be up, so that I had to sit in the waiting line of cars, pretending that I was on the starting grid for a Grand Prix and ignoring the stares.

Look back in wonder

An hour later, I cruised into the residential area, sounding like a boy racer looking to burn someone off on a Saturday night road race.

I pulled up in front of the house and switched off the engine. The ba-DAM ba-DAM ba-DAM of the dying engine sounded like hardcore techno and the kids ran out in their pyjamas and started dancing in the headlights.

Yayyy! We've got a dancing car!
they screamed with delight.


When I took the car to the garage the following week, it was fixed in 30 minutes and cost 40 euros.

I swear ... this car has a Teflon cost-resistant coating. We've spent almost nothing on it, almost begging the mechanic to do more checkups. Thirteen years old, 250 000 km on the clock and ready to rumble!

I almost thought about shipping it to Jamaica, but the local mechanic has offered to buy it for 250 euros. Deal!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

You say black I say white

Cycling in Civitella del Tronto

Photo taken in July this year during one of our best day trips in Abruzzo. Civitella del Tronto boasts the narrowest street in Italy, about 60 cm wide, and a spectacular fortress, scene of the final showdown in 1861 between the Bourbon forces and those of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, led by Vittorio Emanuele I. The victory of the southerners led to the formation of contemporary Italy.

Got some more photos from the village, but don't want to spoil you by showing them in one go.

(Read: I don't know where they are and if I do I can't be bothered to wait for my old notebook to grind through Photoshop, taking around 60 seconds per action.)

Friday, September 16, 2005

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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Of all the gym joints (part 2)

While you're reading ...

Shortly after arriving in the Netherlands, I signed up at the local gym, determined to get my ass in shape for this year's Bubbling Championships in Jamaica.

By a double coincidental quirk, the first time I went, I found that my "personal trainer" had the same name as the one in Rome, and, to my horror, they were playing the same song as in Abidjan (read Of all the gym joints [part 1]).

I always take my mp3 player now.

My co-sweaters are very different from previous experiences. I usually go straight after dropping the kids off at school, so perhaps that's why there are no people of working age at the gym. Seniors hobble between the machines leaning on Zimmer frames, the men still wearing their Sunday best clothes - the only concession to sportiness is that they take off their tie. They treat the gym like a social club, gossiping about their children and the state of the world. It's better than hanging around the post office waiting for a chat.

Sometimes I think I must be in the injury hour special, as the gym fills with wheelchairs and crutches. Yesterday there was a guy with both arms amputated just below the elbow and a huge skin graft scar on his leg. He had some trouble shifting the pin in one of the machines, so I leaned over and asked if it was OK.

"Fine!", he replied cheerfully. "It's just a bit unhandy (onhandig)."


Friday, September 02, 2005

Old habits

The day after driving across Europe in 18 hours, I got on my bike for a ride in the woods. I kept glancing up to check the rear view mirror.

A few days later, I felt really pleased with myself when I managed to park my bike in a shady spot - that could be a make-or-break moment in the day when I lived in Rome.

Another Roman hangover came when I gave my mother-in-law a white knuckle moment as I executed a nifty left turn across oncoming traffic to nab a parking place.

"We don't do that in the Netherlands!" she shrieked.

I´m also a little tongue-tied, beginning sentences with allora, and concluding every exchange with, perfetto! err ... perfekt ... err ... Prima!

Now after three weeks in the Netherlands, I'm so used to cycling that I always think about tucking my trouser in my sock before I get in the car.

This post's listening pleasure is brought to you by the Jongo Trio and their 1972 version of Água da Março.

Powered by Castpost

Some might feel the cuica is overdone, but I don't care. I want one for christmas.

Still, I'd settle for the cowbell, or even the triangle in Tito Puente's band.

I once asked my mother why she hadn't married a Brazilian percussionist. She said there weren't many around in Glasgow in the 1950s.

Tech note: My first upload of this track failed because of the non-English characters (accent and cedilla). Can only use standard English characters.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Never mind the royalties

... feel the bandwidth.

Late night browsing brought me to castpost.

Let's see what this does for sharing good music.

Powered by Castpost

Ooh, it works!

Stay tuned for some rare grooves from Brazil ...