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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tea in the Sahara/The Police

Tea In The Sahara, from Synchronicity, released by The Police in 1983, is based on a story-within-the-story from Paul Bowles's 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky. Traveling in North Africa, one of the novel's main characters is told a story about three sisters named Outka, Mimouna, and Aïcha. They dance in cafés to earn money so that they can realize their eccentric dream of drinking tea in the Sahara. One day a handsome visitor tells them of the desert in the south, where he lives. They dance for him and he gives each of them a piece of silver, then departs the next day. The sisters grow increasingly unhappy, finally deciding that if they don't pursue their dream now, they never will. They pool their money, including the three silver pieces, to buy a teapot, a tray, and three glasses. They head south to find the desert the handsome stranger described, eventually joining a caravan into the Sahara. When they reach the great dunes of sand, they leave the caravan looking for the dune that is high enough to allow them to see all of the Sahara as they sip their tea. They finally find a suitable dune around midday, set out their tea things, then lie down to rest. Many days later, another caravan finds the bodies of the three sisters where they lay. "And all three glasses," the narrator of the story says, "were full of sand. That was how they had their tea in the Sahara." The lyrics faithfully describe this scenario, and include the phrase Beneath the sheltering sky. (The album title Synchronicity contains a literary reference: It alludes to a theory of psychiatrist Carl Jung's, which Sting found in a book called The Roots of Coincidence, by Arthur Koestler. An earlier Police album was named after another book by Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine.)

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