Sonny, you should have been Jewish, you'd have had more sense

David Aaronovitch en piste with the schmucks

Related Topics
The sad death on the ski slopes of Nevada of Sonny Bono on Monday brings the score so far this week to Trees 2, American Politicians 0. Like Democrat Michael Kennedy on New Year's Eve, the former pop singer, husband of Cher and current Republican congressman went into a tree at speed. It is rare indeed that our leafed friends get to revenge themselves directly on human beings. Twice in six days, however, must be a record.

While Kennedy died playing American football on skis near Aspen, Colorado, Bono met his maker alone, not far from a chairlift at the Heavenly Ski Resort, 55 miles south-west of Reno. Now, of course, he parts the powder in the real celestial thing. But on the mortal Web site of the earthly Heavenly Resort, I discovered yesterday, one may still find the warning legend - posted before Sonny's death -"on most mountains, if nature stops you this abruptly, you've had a rendezvous with a tree".

It is not, of course, that much of a surprise that both men were killed on the piste. Skiing consists of sliding down mountains at the greatest possible velocity, while attempting to dodge the various impediments that nature and man have so thoughtlessly strewn in the skier's path. These may be as varied as children, ibexes, yaks, snowploughs, pylons, abysses, crevasses and - for the short-sighted - villages. And trees, which - with their soft leaves and hard trunks - still infest large patches of prime skiing slope.

I only attempted downhill skiing once, when I was just into my teens. I went with a party of French schoolchildren and can recall only three things. The first was how manly my profile was in blue tights. The second was the impossibility of mastering those elastic ski lift things that one had to catch hold of and then shove between one's legs. And the third, naturally, was hurtling downhill, out of control, while someone yelled "chasse neige!" at me, at the top of his supercilious Gallic voice. Eventually, as I neared an ibex (or perhaps it was a village), I solved the problem by simply sitting down and using my buttocks as a brake. Inelegant and painful, but effective.

Since then I have never been tempted in the slightest to take up the sport once more. My idea of risky pleasure begins and ends with the Twilight Tower of Terror at Mandelsonland (once Walt Disney World) in Florida, in which you are given the impression of being in an elevator falling 20 floors - while actually incurring slightly less risk of injury than you would had you stayed on the ground with a hot coffee and a bag of popcorn. Considerably less, depending on how hot the coffee was.

Yet every New Year one returns to work to find a colleague or two with limbs in plaster, or swathed in bandages, because of what happened to them pendant-ski. Occasionally they never come back at all. Nice, sensible, intelligent comrades who cross the road with exaggerated care, who always maintain a proper distance between themselves and the pedestrian in front (lest someone stop suddenly), but whose instinct for avoiding danger is annulled by the prospect of competing against a group of sybaritic montagnards for the title of "the conqueror of la piste des mortes". Up they go - and (whooosh!) down they come.

Of course, for some of them, this simple business of careering down a glacier without any method of stopping, soon feels tame. They are, after all, still alive and it is time to try something more radical. If you consult the magazines catering for those who engage in "extreme sports", you will discover heli-skiing, mountain boarding (this is without snow), and para-skiing. New sports include tree-diving (yet more opportunities for arboreal vengeance), zorbing - in which you are loaded into a 10ft- high clear plastic ball and then rolled down a steep hill - and bladerunning, involving jumping out of helicopter on top of a mountain, and then skiing down at incredible speed.

So why are some people so attracted to this kind of thing, and others - like me - so completely averse to it? Could religion or culture be playing a part here? It is very noticeable that those of us of Jewish origin are particularly uninterested in endangering ourselves for fun. It is a contemporary Jewish joke that one of the shortest volumes to be found in any library is The Book of Jewish Adventurers. Or, as Jackie Mason put it, "Jews do not want to be in the Rodeo. Gentiles love it. They love to sit on a horse that's gonna throw them off. They land up on the floor. They can't walk. You gotta be a putz to do it, but they love it. That's their culture, stupid as it is. Ever see a Jew in a cowboy hat looking at a horse? I never saw that. When a Jew wants to sit down, he knows a chair is perfect. He wants to take a chance, he chooses a rocking-chair."

You don't buy it? Well, consider this. Sonny Bono's real first name was Salvatore, and he came from a Sicilian American background, ie he was a Catholic. The Kennedys too are a famous Catholic family. As are the ill-fated Guinnesses. Catholics have a steady belief in their entitlement - given some properly observed formalities - to the afterlife. There again, unlike the experience of the Jews, there is little history of mass anti- Catholic pogroms (as apart from unpleasant bits and pieces of discrimination), so Catholics might be said to have few natural predators.

Think about it. One of the most famous Jewish athletes of all time was the American Mark Spitz, who won a dozen gold medals at one Olympics for swimming. It is a very, very long time since a competitor in a swimming competition was drowned. Swimming we like. Dying we can do without. Sonny Birnbaum would still be alive.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Queen spoke of respect for all cultures and faiths in her Christmas message  

Decoding the Queen's speech: Was Her Majesty taking a swipe at Ukip?

Jane Merrick
Iraqi soldiers trained by the US were routed by IS’s smaller force  

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

Patrick Cockburn
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015