Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Quiet Sunday morning in Dallas

Recognise this building? No? It's the Book Depository in Dallas, from where JFK was shot. The sixth floor window in the middle (ie one down and on the corner) is where it happened. Kennedy was shot from the back after his open top car turned left in front of this building and headed down an underpass. Lee Harvey Oswald, a known Cuban sympathiser and established marksman bought the rifle used in the shooting for $12 mail order. Having finally visited this place after hearing the claims and counter-claims for 25 years, it's pretty simple. From the sixth floor window, you get a great view of the road. And Kennedy suspected it might happen. "All you need to kill the President of the United States," he told an aide only days before he was shot, "is a tall building and a rifle."
This being the reason I was willing to go to Dallas anyway, I satisfied my curiosity and went away convinced Oswald did it. Why Jack Ruby shot him in the police station at the other end of town I didn't get clear in my head. The spot where Kennedy's brain was blown away is marked with a painted 'x' in the road: it's weird to drive over it without anticipating the moment the shot was fired.
There are few other reasons to visit Dallas other than to see the Book Depository: the centre is a deserted wasteland, like most of these 'historic' 1960s US cities (ie the ones you remember from the newsreels of dogs savaging civil rights protestors in Birmingham, Alabama and so on.)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Breakfast at Jenny's

So there I am, having my breakfast on a Saturday morning with my loved one and young son in Jenny's cafe in Porthmadog, a kind of Welsh greasy spoon. I'm looking on the kids' menu for a vegetarian option for my boy Martins and all I can see is mince, lamb, fish and chips etc. I ask the table server if they have a vegetarian option and he looks down the list of meat options, and we agree there isn't anything there, but perhaps he could have a small portion of something off the adult menu.
"There's fish.. vegetarians eat fish," he says. I take a breath, as flashbacks from Barnacles (see earlier post) enter my head.
"No, vegetarians don't eat fish," I say. "Some people who say they're vegetarians might eat fish, but they're not vegetarians.. they're fish-eating vegetarians.
Astonishingly, he comes back with this: "No, you're wrong. It's vegans who don't eat fish. Vegans don't eat fish, vegetarians do."
I'm taken aback. "Vegans don't eat dairy products - eggs, milk, cheese," I tell him, realising the pointlessness of arguing ethics with a guy in a greasy spoon. "Anyway, we'll split the spanish omelette and have the coleslaw and potato salad as a side order to fill it out."
As one of the few places offering breakfast in Porthmadog, Jenny's is a decent option - if you like well-cooked greasy spoon. But I'm thinking twice about stepping into these places at the moment. It seems being a vegetarian in a greasy spoon is just too controversial.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Garden of Gethsemane, birthplace of Christ

Just while we're on the subject of Jerusalem and Jesus Christ, here's a picture of the Garden of Gethsemane with its olive trees, where according to the story Jesus was (allegedly) betrayed by Judas.. who later hanged himself from one of these trees, though which one isn't marked. It's directly opposite the walled Old City and should you wish to get a taxi anywhere, there are groups of cabbies hanging about just on the corner down from here. Very helpful lads. Only the equivalent of £40 for the 30-minute ride to Bethlehem, though I got the bus from Nablus Road bus station in the Arabic part of town where I was staying for £1.20. Just up the hill from here is the Church of the Ascension where Christ (allegedly) ascended into heaven. That cost £1 in. But I guess it was worth it to see it.

To the left you see the spot where Christ was (allegedly) born. Does that statement need to have allegedly in brackets? I guess no one doubts that he lived: after all he is recognised by Muslims as a prophet. Anyway, this is a shrine in the basement of a church in Bethlehem that's now one of the holiest spots in Christendom. Six feet away is a bench where the so-called Three Wise Men unveiled gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It'd be great to have a moment to reflect on this - I mean, I was brought up a Christian, fer Chrissakes - but pressure from tour parties is intense. Just snapping a photo of the spot without half a dozen people in the frame was quite an achievement. But my feelings of well-being towards my fellow humans (which I naturally exhibit frequently and without embarrassment) took a knock on the way back to Jerusalem. As I walked back to the Jerusalem-bound bus stop the bus pulled away but got stopped at lights. I ran after it, and the driver let me on. I paid my £1.20 and settled down to a nice trip back, taking in the Separation Wall that now divides Arab and Israeli communities along the West Bank border. But the bus was pulled into a checkpoint and we were all ordered to get off by Israeli Defence Force guards with menacing machine guns, with me being the only foreigner on board. Unfortunately the papers of one Palestinian woman didn't satisfy the Israeli guards, who turned her back and ordered the driver pull her belongings from the bus. When, moments later, one of the guards inspected my passport and smiled at me, waving me though with a seemingly over-friendly "How are you today?" I got a sense of what life was like for ordinary Palestinians trying to go about their normal business.. and how lucky I was not to have to go through that every day of my life.

Looking for trouble...

Jerusalem's an amazing place, you know. Jews, Arabs, Christians, Armenians, Greek Orthodox: all crammed inside the walls of the Old City with tourists coming from left, right and centre to marvel at the holiest of shrines. I thought it was fascinating. The Western Wall so close to the Dome of the Rock;  Arabs flocking to Friday prayers,  Jews heading off to celebrate Shabbat.. the ebbs and flows of peoples' lives and beliefs. So if you were an Israeli, would you start shouting abuse at Arabs as they came away from Friday prayers by the thousand, especially if you were in a car flying an Israeli flag.. stuck in a traffic jam? That's exactly what one guy did, and I walked past just after an Arab mob had smashed the car up and him with it. I crossed over to have a closer look when I saw the ambulances, police cars and photographers at the scene. At first I thought it was a road accident, and that maybe a motorcyclist had hit the car, gone into the windscreen and shattered it. But when I saw the back window out too I started wondering, and asked one of the photographers what was going on. "An Israeli guy," he said as he snapped away. "Shouting abuse." One man from the car was being treated for superficial facial injuries by the paramedics at the scene.. my guess is he was the driver and his mouthy mate was in another ambulance.. and judging by the damage to the car he got off lightly.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Boot Hill

So as I was leaving Tombstone for the two hour drive back to Tucson (see earlier post) I passed Boot Hill graveyard, where the guys who were shot at the OK Corral were buried. A few weeks before I'd been in Jerusalem, walking along the Via Dolorosa and waggling my arm around in the hole where Jesus Christ's cross was fixed up. Whatever you might think about the religion that followed, there's no argument about the fact that he existed, and these are the locations where his final days were played out. So it is with Tombstone. That's where they fell, mortally wounded, just by that piece of sidewalk. That's where they were buried, a few hundred yards outside town.
It's a place of history, so I span the car round and went back for a closer look. What a place to wind up. Overlooking a desert plain, it's a dry, dusty, barren place where a gravedigger is going to have to work up a sweat to get you six feet under. A pile of rocks to keep the coyotes out and a cactus for a headstone. And there's no standing on ceremony: 'Two Chinese' (not even names); 'Teamster - killed by Indians'; a jailbird lynched by a mob from the nearby town of Bisbee, now a ghost town.. four bad 'uns who were legally hanged. And then this grave, of Lester Moore, with a poetry which would appeal to my former colleagues on the country music show...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Vegetarians eat fish, don't they?

I'm very careful about what I eat, because I'm a vegetarian. I have been since I was about 18 - that's thirty years now. I detest meat: there's just something dead about it that I find disgusting. Being vegetarian was never meant to be like a religion, but that's how it's got.  Now it IS my religion... my only religion.
Anyway, I was in Stockton-on-Tees the other Friday, which is a smallish town in the north east of England close to Middlesborough and in the region of Sunderland and Newcastle but obviously with its own separate identity. I mention that simply because people from Stockton won't even GO to Newcastle or Sunderland because they hate those places.
With two mates Rob and Harry I sat down to eat in a chippy off the main drag that was highly recommended, a place called Barnacles, which had won 'Chippy of the Year' in 2000, according to the plaque on the wall. It was about 730pm on a Friday, so it wasn't too busy. My two friends eat meat and fish, so no problems for them but not so easy for me. Nothing on the menu for veggies apart from vegetable lasagne, which I had enough of in the 1980s to last me a lifetime. The waitress offered her thoughts on my dilemma.
"Vegetarians eat fish, don't they?" she said. "We've got plenty of fish."
I muttered under my breath something about fish-eating vegetarians not being proper vegetarians, and asked if they had curry sauce to have with chips. "But we fry our chips in beef dripping," she said, "so maybe that's no good?"
"Thanks for mentioning that," I said. "In fact, I don't think I'll have anything. Oh.. (realising there weren't any other places open and I would go hungry otherwise)... maybe a cheese salad."
Harry and Rob ate their chips and fish and whatever and we noshed away. "If it's any consolation," Rob said afterwards, "the chips were pretty tasteless."
It's a long time since that award, Barnacles: sort it out....

Friday, 17 June 2011

Poznan at the OK Corral

I needed to get a trip to America up and running in May 2011 but at the same time I was planning it, my football team Manchester City were doing well in the English league and in the domestic cup competition, the FA Cup. In fact, they'd reached the FA Cup final, so I booked my flight for the Monday after the match and my friend Dave Ford and I saw The Blues win it. City fans have developed a celebration adapted from a Polish team, FC Poznan, that we met in a European cup competition earlier in the season where the fans turn their back to the pitch and jump up and down. City fans have embraced this wholeheartedly and Dave and I had done the Poznan at Wembley after we scored the winning goal. So the temptation to 'Do the Poznan' at the OK Corral when I was there was irresistible. I managed to talk an elderly German couple into taking this picture, having told them: "So I turn my back, right, and you take the picture then.." They didn't get it, but all that matters is they got the shot. So here's a Poznan at the OK Corral for all you Blues.

Assume the position

I was driving back from Tombstone, Arizona to Tucson - see below for why - when I was directed into a checkpoint by border police. An officer signalled for me to stop the car. "ID please," she said. "Who are you and where are you going?"I told her my name and that I was heading for Tucson."ID please," she said. "How long have you been in America?". "A week," I replied, realising that my passport was in my bag in the boot of the car. "My passport's in the trunk. I'll just get it."
I moved to open the door of the car. Mistake. Her tone changed, with a note of urgency creeping in. "Stay in the car, sir." she ordered, fingering the holster of her gun. I saw other figures in olive green moving at the edge of my vision. I repeated my name, told her where I'd been in America, where I was going and what I was doing, and that my passport was in the trunk because British people don't carry ID. I was suddenly aware of how seriously they were taking this. There were five of them around my car, all with guns.
"Sir, stay in the car," she said. "This is a checkpoint. We need to see ID so we know who you are. Next time you go through one of these have your papers ready." She waved me through.
I'd been warned that the US borderlands with Mexico had changed and were now tense, hostile places. This officer was taking it all very seriously and I hadn't expected that at all on a day trip to a Wild West town. Getting shot by a jumpy border guard 40 miles inside the bloody border isn't in my life plan at all.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

View from the bass

Intermittent postings from the left side of the stage... life on the road, as a reporter, bass player and passer-by. Music, moving around and modern life, with reflections on the fortunes of Manchester City FC, featuring appearances from my friend David Ford and his son Joe.

Four strings and a good life.....