Saturday, June 25, 2016


What to say? I watched with developing horror and incomprehension the UK making  BREXIT  a reality the other night from bed, while the heart -breakingly beautiful Swedish summer midnight illuminated my lonely pursuit by the Swedish lake. The Wall Street Journal ; the Guardian as well as the BBC were my online guides  as I saw the drama unfold.
Now, what amazed and shames me the most is the utter segregation of British society and the incomprehension and the great gulf  –still – between the educated and the uneducated classes in Britain.  
I do not personally know a single person in Britain who was for BREXIT. The day before the referendum I phoned Jeremiah, my dear friend and purveyor of never ending fun events (with a connection to the EU since he is the Cultural Attaché to the EU in London ) and told him “Hals und Beinbruch!”  (Break a leg!) He was taking it very coolly and told me he was very confident of a vote to Remain so there was not too much to worry about and that he was intending to have a good night’s sleep. Alas he, as well as everyone I know were very wrong. There was every reason to worry.
How could the ruling,  educated,  liberal, privileged,  cosmopolitan British people  - for that is exactly what it boils down to- have been so in the dark about what the poor, uneducated,  marginalized ones think?  It is most definitely a question of education here- just look at the statistics of who and where and what cities and counties voted in or out!  The problem here is that we cannot undo the rules of democracy. The people have spoken. Now the question is: should the people have spoken? Should this question really have been put to a Referendum?  

An email from a friend  sums this whole disaster up admirably:
"I think it's tragic for the UK -  a complete disaster actually -  and pretty bad for all of Europe and the rest of the world too -  we are all diminished by this. 
Overall, it's sad to see a victory for Nigel Farage,  UKIP, and the social and cultural forces they represent.  It's a huge backward step in all the post-war political progress in Europe, in developing a civic polity, and in moving away from the deep rooted fascism of the past. Obviously the tendency to fascism is still there,  but little by little it has been weakened,  until now.
From my standpoint, a very very sad time."

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Too much sorrow

 Death is so much more present in Mali: too many die young. The latest in this line of sorrow is Djennéba's firstborn, Nasra Keita, her daughter who was married with three small children. Djennéba, above and below, is Keita's older sister. She called me just now in Sweden to say that her daughter lost her fight last night at the Hopital Mere et Enfant in Bamako where she had been treated for two weeks. Djennéba would have spent the entire two weeks by her side which is the Malian custom. When Keita lay dying at the Point G Hospital she was there with many other family members who stay around the clock outside the ward where they sleep on mats and eat the food they have prepared while they  await patiently the conclusion of the drama which is more often than not the body's last journey to the morgue.

It is not really possible to ask what the loved one died of: one is likely to receive an unsatisfactory reply: 'Oh, he had a head ache and then he died', or "she had a stomach ache for some time and then it was over". Even Djennéba, who is a trained mid wife does not indulge in any diagnosis or explanations so it is impossible to know the cause of death. I think it is regarded as impolite to inquire, and in any case I don't any more since I know I will not find anything out.
So Nasra  will be buried today - always the very same or the next day.

I am spending time in Sweden before returning to Mali at the beginning of July with some trepidation: what will it be like now without Keita?

I can see the flowering lilacs here and I notice their scent, I am aware  of the beauty of the early summer meadows; I can feel the gentle Swedish  summer sun warm my limbs in the day and I notice that  the nights are cancelled but these things are destined for the enjoyment  of other people  and I am only walking through it all without absorbing it as if I somehow was wearing a protective isolation garment.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Day of the Swedish Flag

The sixth of June is Swedish National Day, or the’ Day of the Swedish Flag’.  The nation- wide  celebrations have just been shown on  TV with coverage of traditional military bands and an appearance of the Swedish Royal Family who were travelling  in a horse drawn carriage through   Stockholm where the sunny streets were  lined with  flag-waving monarchists.  A large proportion of Swedish homes  have flagpoles in the garden and  innumerable yellow and blue flags were fluttering against a cloud less sky today.   It would be inconceivable to have a “Day of the Union Jack” in the UK. Flag waving and unrepentant nationalism has a bad reputation in Britain.
The Swedes are clearly aware of this danger too: therefore the event has been high jacked  into an opportunity to promote, in their somewhat self- righteous way,   the values of democracy, freedom, cultural diversity etc. through numerous interviews with  immigrants who have recently received Swedish citizenship. This is all well and good but my main concern was the appalling quality of the musical performances that accompanied this  display of  Swedish largesse.  The poor king and his family had to sit through some excruciatingly bad rap, bad rock and even badly performed  Swedish summer hymns.

I am in Sweden. I am also in a terrible mood which may account for my critical attitude.
I  left London yesterday where the estate agent who has been in charge of the letting of my flat has managed to xxxx everything up royally. The flat had been let to an Italian documentary film maker who was supposed to move in last Friday. The contracts had been signed and I had moved out last Thursday. The flat has therefore not been shown to anyone else for two weeks because the deal was supposed to be clinched. The film maker had had to fight over it with another prospective tenant and won it through offering a higher rent. Last Friday – the day he was supposed to move in!-we ran into problems  because the estate agents were annoying him with unreasonable demands on his credit ratings- he offered to show his Italian VAT returns but the agents did not accept this as proof of income- meanwhile I was never informed about anything or given any chance to give my opinion on the problem at hand!  The result was that  finally the film maker pulled out of the deal and I am now left stranded without a tenant and have lost  a large amount of  both time and money!

And the other  thing which has made me very sad again is the parcel I brought back from Mali for  Pelle my cousin and his wife Nanni: it was a present arranged by Keita and it was the very  last decision he ever carried out.  He ordered  them embroidered boubous to thank them for their kindness and their sponsorship for the Djenné cataract operations and also for helping with his expensive drugs.  The boubous were ordered and made in Segou, but when they arrived to Bamako Keita was already unconscious at  Point G Hospital- he never saw the boubous and neither did I  until the parcel was opened yesterday by Pelle.

But finally, on  a lighter note:  The hotel staff have started their holidays in  Djenné but Baba keeps an eye on the hotel and my land so he noticed that Petit Bandit was not eating at all and looking sick: he called the vet who treated him with some medication and now he is OK again according to Baba- now this does brighten my spirits a little: it is good to know that Baba is so observant and that he does care...

Monday, May 30, 2016


I was privileged to be present last night in the Barbican for a five star performance of more or less the best the classical music world can offer in the form of violinists and conductors: Nikolaj Znaider  playing Beethoven's violin concerto which was followed by Elgar's second symphony, both conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano.   I was there in the company of David Nice, music critic; great pal and the most frequent commentator on my meanderings  in this journal. 
I would like to give  his review for the Arts Desk  a five star rating too, reading as it does more like a inspired review of an exciting  thriller than a performance of  what some would describe as two old war horses of the classical repertory:
 "The opening lightness of the Rondo, Elgar’s most progressive and fascinating movement, proved deceptive: woodwind shrieked and the ghost from earlier in the symphony, now all hammering juggernaut, came upon us unawares." 
Today I am not really writing myself but would like to give the stage to him. Please look in on his magisterial and  luminous  tribute to these marvellous performers and this glorious concert:

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brazilian days and Memories of Djenné

 Splendid days follow one after another like pearls in a necklace here in Brazil, where Andrea and her well-heeled friends and family are regaling me with champagne lunches and rides on their Arab horses through the  rolling hills of  the ravishing country side surrounding  Sao Paulo and Campinas. I am soaking it all up gratefully but there is another layer in me that cannot forget that Keita has gone and will never return.
I am trying out different combinations in my mind to try and make sense of the incomprehensible fact that he no longer exists and to attempt to find something positive somewhere.   I keep telling myself for instance that  it is quite true that all my prayers were answered: I had asked that if he had to die he would not have to suffer as an invalid for a long time which I believe can be the case with Multiple Myeloma patients who may have to live with terrible complications for years.  Keita’s end was quick when it came. I had also prayed that he would not suffer and I believe he did not. He faded away and lost consciousness and there was not even any need for morphine at the end. So I suppose I have every reason to be grateful... 

Last night Andrea and I spoke of Keita’s last time in Djenné. That was a perfect evening and also something to be grateful for. 

The night before he left, on the 28th of January, we had a celebration dinner for the Cataract Team which had been operating in Djenné for a week, achieving more that 120 operations for the population of Djenné and the surrounding villages.  Keita was very proud of this, as I was, of course.  The team  was  also leaving the following day and we had a really enjoyable night in the hotel garden under a spectacular and starry sky.
Around the table  were some of Keita’s most intimate and oldest  friends including Dra, the manager of the Campement hotel; there was Maza their  handicapped friend   and of course Moussa Koné was there as part of the team- Moussa had lived and worked in Djenné with Keita at the hospital when they were all young men together. 

The evening was full of laughter and reminiscence of good times gone by. One by one the stories kept coming and  they were  often about Moussa who had been something of a ladies’ man.  I remember particularly one extraordinary story which provoked peals of laughter and a certain admiration in me and Andrea for the bravery shown by a particular girlfriend of Moussa’s...
This young girl had been in love with Moussa  and he had been fond of her but had never touched her since he thought she was too young for him and he also knew that he could never marry her because   the Djenné population (the Djennénké ) would never accept him since he was a foreigner and from Bamako.  The girl had also been promised to someone else in marriage. Nevertheless she had always insisted that she did not want to marry the young man in question, although no one had taken any notice of her wishes. The  wedding approached like an unstoppable steam train and all was prepared: her dress, her jewellery, her dowry and the marriage feast was prepared with a slaughtered bull.  On the wedding day the bride, the groom and the large wedding party arrived at the Djenné Mairie where the young bride and bridegroom were conducted to the Maire who proceeded with the ceremony in the presence of dozens of witnesses. “Do you take this man  to be your husband? “ asked the Maire.  And the bride said NO!
 It is interesting  to try and visualize  the effect this reply would have had on the assembled crowd. “Whyever not?” asked the astonished Maire. “Because I love Moussa Kone!” said the heroic girl.
The result of this pronouncement was that  poor Moussa was immediately hauled out of his abode   by the girl's family and  brought before the assembled wedding guests where he had to explain himself. He tried not to be too indelicate to the girl but he had to tell the truth: he had never touched her and he did not want to marry her. And the end of the story was that however paternalistic society may be in Djenné,  a girl cannot be forced to marry someone against her will  so the wedding never went ahead. The girl eventually married someone else, and so did Moussa by the way.
That was a fabulous evening and I remember Keita laughing his hearty laugh that I loved so much: he was never to return again to Djenné but we did not know that then of course...

Maza with his new bike.

Sunday, May 08, 2016


A medley of dinners with friends and other jolly events are streaming by me in a sunny springtime London: last night a gourmet meal at Kathy and Dan’s in Islington where the whole family takes part in the cooking. Then we watched  Mike Leigh’s ‘Abigail’s Party’ because we, the adults, felt that it must be part of a balanced cultural education for their teenage children . I don’t believe it has aged at all and if the cheese and pineapple was exchanged for, say, mini blinis and Demis Roussos was exchanged for Justin Timberlake (?) it would all be just as relevant today.
Before that came an interesting evening here in my flat with the formidable Alice Walpole (centre under lamp) who is arriving in Mali after the end of Ramadan, so towards end July , to take up her post as the new British Ambassador when the delightful football playing Jo Adamson leaves . Jo also came for dinner on her recent visit. I am hoping to engage Alice  in some way in the BL project at the Djenné Manuscript Library.  Jo was so kind to us and gave us the great evening in a smart Bamako hotel  in January 2015 which ended a conference of Malian manuscripts that had been organized by UNESCO. That event raised our status and 'put us on the map' as a force to be reckoned with albeit of course still in the shadow of Timbuktu.
 It is perfect to have my flat back again to entertain this time. It is normally let and I stay with friends.

On Friday there was a vernissage at the European commission and on Monday there is the yearly Europe Concert organized by my pal  Jeremiah-more poignant this year than ever just before the British referendum...
And then on Tuesday I am having open house again: Tuesdays were always the evening when people popped into see me here in Ladbroke Grove- ‘Sophie’s Salon’ as some people called it somewhat pretentiously.
And best of all: next Friday I am leaving for Sao Paulo for a ten days visit to Andrea with some Malimali promotion thrown in.
I gratefully grab hold of all these events  to prevent myself from sitting alone becoming tearful and looking at old pictures of those  happy times with Keita  in Mali which will now never return.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Memories of Malick

Malick Sidibé’s death has passed me by almost unnoticed  in the shadow of Keita’s demise. But today a friend shared with me the TIMES obituary of him, and I remembered with fondness the gentle and modest photographer whom we commissioned to come to Djenné and take pictures of Hotel Djenné Djenno in 2007.  He was of course already a  famous photographer  by then and had just won the life time award to Photography at the Venice Biennale.  Nevertheless, in order to commission him  I had to first go and find him in the crowded popular neighbourhood of Bagadadji in Bamako where he sat outside his unassuming studio shaving with the help of a cracked mirror. ‘Oh yes’, he agreed, he would come to Djenné to take pictures of my hotel. I like Swedish people’ he said. ‘The Swedes gave me a Hasselblad Camera.’  And indeed so they did in 2003, one of the first of many prizes and accolades he accumulated in the last decade  of  his long career.
I offered to fly him up with his son and assistant from Bamako to Mopti- this was in the days of a commercial air plane servicing this part of Mali- but no, that would not be necessary at all he said. ‘We will take the Bani bus’. And so they did. This is Malick boarding  the Bani bus: see blog August 20, 2007.

The couple of days that he stayed with us were punctuated with amusing and  interesting conversations: one I remember was about his four wives, or rather about polygamy. ‘Well’, said Malick with just a hint of mischief in his eye ‘ Wouldn’t it be just a little boring to wake up next to the same woman your whole life?’  I agreed that it might be so but I asked him if he didn’t think that his wives might feel the same about always waking up next to him? This he thought was extremely funny...
He took his pictures with his Hasselblad camera and they came out in Condé Nast Traveller and that was of course quite a scoop for us as a new hotel.

At this time he also did our portrait with Keita in traditional boubou.
 Keita and I popped in to see him in his studio sometimes when we were  passing in Bamako and he also took pictures of me in Malimali clothing.

I am so glad that we knew  him and so happy that  we were able to commission him: RIP Malick Sidibé.