A Cruise Not Fit for a Queen

But there was that cab-driving, tour-giving, reggae-spinning Belize native.

As David Foster Wallace famously warned Harper's readers in a hilarious, depressing, and heavily annotated essay, spending a week on a cruise ship is not for everybody. Though I tried to put my snarky apprehensions away when I boarded the 1,100-passenger vessel in New Orleans last week, I have to say it's not something I ever want to do again (even if it was entirely paid for by a third party, as this one was). Telling people I traveled to Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico on my vacation seems dishonest, simply because floating from port to port in a luxury liner with an all-you-can-eat buffet and remaining practically and psychologically separated from how people actually live in the countries we are visiting seems nothing like what I consider true traveling. "Culture: Sanitized for Your Protection," if you will.

Given that mind-set, when we docked in Belize City, my boyfriend and I practically ran past the cheap souvenir shops and tourist-friendly daiquiri bars in a desperate effort to have some sort of experience that was not depicted in the glossy tour brochures littering our stateroom. We quickly and naively hit the other end of the spectrum, accidentally stumbling into what we would later find out was the intersection of the rival territories occupied by the local chapters of the Crips and the Bloods. Thankfully, we soon encountered Carl Lindbergh, a local who was not only a cab driver/amateur tour guide for hire, but a DJ who hosted a weekly reggae show on a Belize City radio station. Carl proceeded to give us a freewheeling, colorfully narrated tour of dismal local politics (three local policemen had just been brought up on human trafficking charges, and there had been an alarming rise in women being brutally murdered by their domestic partners) and showed us around his beautiful but troubled homeland.

As we made our way from a stunning wildlife preserve to an off-the-radar restaurant and bar, Carl's rickety dashboard cassette player provided the soundtrack and conversation naturally turned to music, local and otherwise. Before we had to reboard, he took us to Teddy's Music, his favorite record store, and helped me pick out half a dozen selections, including Belize City Boil-Up, an excellent, eclectic compilation of local calypso, dub reggae, funk, and jazz artists that is now in regular rotation on my home stereo. Anyone interested in exploring the history of Belizean music should track down a copy of this comp, or at least start with almost anything by the Lord Rhaburn, the region's definitive frontman in the late '60s and '70s. Anyone interested in exploring Central America via cruise ship, well, don't say I didn't warn you.

Safely back in the States late Sunday night, I made my way out to Neumo's for the Sebadoh reunion show, a well-attended performance with mixed results. Lou Barlow and company were obviously exhausted, having played a private show at the Triple Door earlier that day, and were running on minimal sleep, thanks in part to a holdup at the Canadian border the previous evening. Still, it was an enjoyable, ramshackle excavation of the best of their back catalog, including selections from The Freed Weed, Sebadoh III, Bakesale, Bubble and Scrape, and Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock. Unfazed by the endless stream of requests shouted by the audience, they sounded as willfully chaotic as they did when the Clinton administration was in office, but with a slightly muted enthusiasm that wasn't entirely unsurprising given their tumultuous history and lack of rest.

There are plenty of shows worth resting up for this week, including the sludgy triple-threat at the Crocodile on Thursday, March 9. Combining the deliciously schizoid sonic reductions of Jucifer, the thunderous, metallic hard rock of the Ruby Doe, and the cheeky bombast of local metal mischief-makers the Keeper is damn smart booking and a surefire bet for anyone who never tires of listening to Motorhead's "Ace of Spades." Just beware of the inevitable bangover such an unholy trinity is bound to induce, because you'll need to save your energy for the Saturday Knights EP release party blowout with the Blakes, the Shackletons, and El Perro Del Mar at Neumo's on Friday.


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