China’s New Silk Road: Weekly Arts & Culture Round Up – July 24, 2020

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The North Africa Issue

Dark Star Safari – From Cairo To Cape Town 
Dark Star Safari is Paul Theroux’s now classic account of a journey from Cairo to Cape Town. Travelling across bush and desert, down rivers and across lakes, and through country after country, Theroux visits some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, and some of the most dangerous. It is a journey of discovery and of rediscovery — of the unknown and the unexpected, but also of people and places he knew as a young and optimistic teacher forty years before.

Safari in Swahili simply means “journey”, and this is the ultimate safari. It is Theroux in his element — a trip where chance encounter is everything, where departure and arrival times are an irrelevance, and where contentment can be found balancing on the top of a truck in the middle of nowhere. Available on Amazon here

Moroccan Tagine
Covid-19 has had us all locked down for months, and that has meant experimenting with different cuisines. I ordered this book on Amazon and have to say it is packed full of amazing aromas and flavors quite different to anything else. Ingredients can be found in any vaguely Indian store, with Lemon, Mint, Cumin and Coriander seeds being the indispensible parts. Try a Tagine – you won’t regret it and if I could find the technology to allow you to share the aromas while reading this – I would

The English Patient – Love & Death In Colonial North Africa 
Backward into memory, forward into loss and desire, “The English Patient” searches for answers that will answer nothing. This poetic, evocative film version of the famous novel by Sri Lanka’s Michael Ondaatje circles down through layers of mystery until all of the puzzles in the story have been solved, and only the great wound of a doomed love remains. It is the kind of movie you can see twice–first for the questions, the second time for the answers.

The film opens with a pre-war biplane flying above the desert, carrying two passengers in its open cockpits. The film will tell us who these passengers are, why they are in the plane, and what happens next. All of the rest of the story is prologue and epilogue to the reasons for this flight. It is told with the sweep and visual richness of a film by David Lean, with an attention to fragments of memory that evoke feelings even before we understand what they mean.

In the frantic social life of Cairo, where everyone is aware that war is coming, Almasy meets a newly married woman at a dance. She is Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas). Her husband Geoffrey (Colin Firth) is a disappointment to her. Almasy follows her home one night, and she confronts him and says, “Why follow me? Escort me, by all means, but to follow me . . .” It is clear to both of them that they are in love. Eventually they find themselves in the desert, part of an expedition, and when Geoffrey is called away (for reasons which later are revealed as good ones), they draw closer together. In a stunning sequence, their camp is all but buried in a sandstorm, and their relief at surviving leads to a great romantic sequence. All along the characters are essentially foreign – leading to betrayals and loves that would never have occurred had they stayed in their home countries. For this alone, the alienation depicts the tragedy of Silk Road travelling. Available on Amazon Prime here. The English Patient won 9 Academy awards and is regarded as a classic film.

Golden Brown – Heroin Or Heroine? 
The Stranglers were a British punk group who grew up to be one of the more inventive bands of the 80’s. Dave Greenfield, their keyboard player, provided much of the distinctive melodic frills to their meaty bad ass rhythm section without which they’d have been just another bunch of shouty geezers. This, possibly their best song, sweats and rains images of tropical North Africa heat, sex and drugs. It was actually filmed in London’s Leighton House Museum, home to a wonderful collection of North Africa and Middle Eastern art.

Ofra Haza 
Ofra Haza was that rare creature, a Yemeni Jew, who rose to prominence as a singer crossing Jewish, Muslim and Christian cultures. Her album ‘Yemenite Songs’ became an international success, and she followed it up with the LP ‘Shaday’ and the global hit  “Im Nin-‘alu”, which is based upon a Hebrew poem by 17th-century Rabbi Shalom Shabazi. It had the effect of uniting different cultures and religions on the dance floor and was hugely influential, being sampled by artists such as Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, Madonna and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

Chris’s Wines: Algeria’s Red Infuriator 
The Red Infuriator is a Coteaux de Clemcen A.C., Algerian Wine that is distributed, mainly across Europe. Featured in the James Bond film ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, Algerian wines date back to the Phoenicians and continues today with about 70 different wineyards in operation. When France’s vineyards were destroyed by the phylloxera virus, Algerian wines and replanted wines filled the gap, and are still used as blending agents in the Languedoc.  All of Algeria’s vineyards are located in the Hauts Plateau region extending towards the Moroccan border. Bordering the sea, this region has a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and dry, hot summers and is very similar to the southern wine regions of Spain. The main regional grapes are Carignan, Cinsaut and Alicante Bouschet, with Clairette blanche and Ugni blanc also being used along with smaller plantings of grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. They are well worth seeking out or trying if you see on an enlightening menu. As for the ‘Red Infuriator’ brand – its named so due to British sailors drinking large quantities then going out in the hot summer afternoon sun. Don’t do that – but do give Algerian wines a try. Salut!

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Silk Road Briefing is published by Dezan Shira & Associates. Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the practice Chairman. Please contact Chris at or through his Linked In account, or visit the firm at