CITY SLICKER

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The Independent Culture
On 31 March, 7,000 UN peacekeepers take over from the "multinational force" - otherwise known as the US Army - that led the invasion of Haiti in September.

Most Ubiquitous Item of Clothing: The blue beret. About half of the 7, 000-member UN Mission will consist of US Army soldiers, who will simply swap their green helmet for the blue beret on the big day. Otherwise, most Haitians seem to be clad in cast-off T-shirts from the United States. There's something surreal about coming across a hungry infant in a Port- au-Prince slum dressed only in a "Save the Duluth Library" T-shirt, or a tiny old woman peeling conch on a Ti Goave beach with Iron Maiden's US tour dates emblazoned across her chest. And how did "I rocked and rolled at Lisa's Bar Mitzvah" end up on a street food seller?

Hottest ticket in town: Would be the football league, had the "immaculate invasion" not postponed the start of the season. Chagrined fans consequently have to make do with re-reading the recently published account of Haiti's foray into the 1974 World Cup Finals in Germany. Otherwise, they look to Europe. One of the brightly coloured tap-taps on the main drag between Petionville and Port-au-Prince proudly bears the name of Ruud Gullit on the spot normally reserved for slogans such as "God is my co-pilot". And English-language football results, sometimes only a week late, are broadcast on local Creole radio, although a recent translation glitch seems to have put Sunderland at the top of the Premier League.

Most ubiquitous graffiti: "Carter K K" - check your French phonetic alphabet if your Creole's a bit rusty ... it was Jimmy Carter, the ex- president turned itinerant peacemaker who opened the door for General Cedras and his accomplices to glide into gilded exile in Panama. When the US troops got hold of one of the graffiti artists, they sprayed him red with his own can. Analysts felt this showed a spirited defence of the Democratic Party in these difficult times, although it wasn't such an instructive example for the trainee Haitian police force, currently being coached by the same branch of the FBI that brought you the forces of order in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Latest fad: Setting up your own political party to run in the June elections.

Hottest restaurant: The morally repugnant lite (MRE) still frequent Petionville's reknowned La Souvenance, where imported champagne, caviar and truffles remained on the menu throughout the embargo. Bleeding hearts have been known to find the elegant four-star atmosphere slightly tarnished by the hordes of hungry children begging outside. The Baptist Mission canteen, high in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, serves US-style cheeseburgers much favoured by the troops serving in "Operation Uphold Democracy" Although, in the run-up to the elections, USAID has been roaming the countryside dishing out thousands of greenbacks to those most likely to form the "loyal opposition", a scheme that has been dubbed "Operation Hold-up Democracy" by the local ingrates.

Shopping: No one was more relieved by the end of the UN-sponsored embargo than the 100-odd UN staff then in Port-au-Prince, who had been forced to queue with everyone else for stocks of black-market petrol to fuel their fleet of Mitsubishi Pajeros. The vehicles, remaindered from the UN's Cambodia mission, are entirely suitable for French-speaking countries, but UN staff are wary of driving too close to the border with the Dominican Republic, where pajero means wanker. The MRE seldom venture out of Petionville, where designer boutiques, French bakeries and upmarket art galleries compete with street stalls selling anything from rusted car parts to lethal doses of home-made Haitian rum. And since the end of the embargo, the local version of Sainsbury's is happily stocking up on imported tins of US luxury foods, although the advent of peace and democracy hasn't led to the dismissal of the doorman and his Kalashnikov. Street markets flourish in the slums of Carrefour and Fort Dimanche, where pickings from the American military dump - army fatigues and old issues of People magazine - are hot sellers.

Favourite hotel: The Olafson, the dilapidated but still stately colonial building where Graham Greene used to drink, and where he set much of his Haiti novel, The Comedians. Still a favourite journo haunt for afternoon rum punches on the veranda. The owner wisely stocks up on booze whenever a new political disaster threatens. A great place to weather a coup.

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