RADIO / Havana ball

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The Independent Culture
YOU wondered vaguely at first what produced the mismatch between the title of Kershaw in Cuba (Radio 4, Tuesday) and the subject; more than half of last week's programme was spent in Miami, 90 miles north of the proclaimed stamping-ground. But it was soon plain that the mismatch was purely cartographical: for most of the Cubans now living in Florida, doing a pretty passable imitation of the Israelites lamenting by the waters of Babylon, their homeland was a lot closer than that. Andy Kershaw spoke to one real estate dealer who laughed herself silly at the people who kept trying to sell their houses, convinced they would be in Havana next week.

The great attraction of this two-parter is Kershaw himself. Formidably energetic and opinionated, he treats most topics like a dog treats a tennis ball - picking it up, playing with it, worrying it, chasing it, leaving his toothmarks all over it. His approach has some attractive spin-offs (surprisingly hard-edged interviews with right-wing Cuban paramilitaries, the enthusiasm he lavishes on the music) but at times you feel he's allowing himself the kind of navety that only rich tourists can get away with: towards the end of the programme, arriving in Santiago del Cuba, he argued that if capitalism returned, the city's colonial buildings and 'intensity' would be swamped by frozen yoghurt parlours. You imagine the architecture and the atmosphere were even quainter under colonialism; but is that a reason for wanting it back?

There was a similar moment in Part 1 of Vietnam Revisited (Radio 4, Sunday), in which Julian Pettifer returned, 20-odd years after reporting the war, to see how things had changed. In Saigon - which he still couldn't bring himself to call Ho Chi Minh City - he got slapped in the face by a stallholder from whom he'd refused to buy an iced drink. He laughed and called this 'saucy', but you wondered if he would have been so indulgent anywhere in the developed world.

Unlike Kershaw, Pettifer is a dispassionate observer, but there's little chance of missing his concern for the people, or his attachment to the place. Perhaps his more distanced manner is the product of time. As the title hints, there was a mild nostalgic glow over the proceedings: Pettifer was rediscovering his youth. But his memories weren't all soaked in rosewater: he recalled a firefight in the city - the noise of a body being dragged along cobblestones and the red trail it left. And he reminded the listener that the Vietnam war was an occasion for nostalgia for only a few people. He talked to a British charity worker involved in helping the victims of the war to get back on two feet. Then he added: 'If they've got two feet.'

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