Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Last night the hotel was invaded by 22 Hungry Hungarians. I am not trying to be clever; the expected Dutch turned out to be Hungarians, and they were indeed very hungry. We ran into trouble over the Gratin du Poisson Fumé.and the Boulettes Surprises avec Frites. When those that chose Gratin saw the Boulettes they all wanted those instead.
The problem was that we had made half of each, since the Bamako-based Tour operator had asked for a choice of fish and meat.
However, for some inexplicable reason there is no fresh fish available in Djenné at the moment, although the hotel is surrounded by fishermen with nets slowly paddling by in their pirogues. We therefore made our smoked fish pie, which has has a lot of success in the past and which is actually quite delicious.

Mais non! The Hungarians refused. So poor Papa (resplendent above in his new outfit, he wears the hat continuously and probably sleeps in it) had to start cooking omelettes and extra chips super fast, and eventually everyone retired happily, having finished their meal with our banana and date crumble and custard, a tried and tested Djenné Djenno favourite.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Back in Djenné!
The banana trees have become enormous in the six weeks I have been gone; it is like the Day of the Triffids here..Baba (behind me) was very pleased with his Liverpool T-shirt bearing number 8 Gerrard, his great idol..
I arrived back for the second big invation of THE BEAST- (the full hotel.)
The first invasion was last weekend, and it seems that the staff were actually quite capable of doing it without me!
Must now rush back -there are 22 Dutch people who will take over the hotel tonight. Papa and Fatou are busy in the kitchen preparing boulettes surprises (our own version of meatballs with boiled eggs inside, eaten with Papa's great fries) and a choice of main course which will be smoked fish pie- we are calling it Gratin au Poisson Fumé.
Trying to shape up on the culinary front, especially since my great friends Jeremiah and David are coming for Christmas and they are very dedicated foodies...

The water stands much higher than when I left, but it is decending quickly. Nevertheless the vehicles cannot yet pass, and people are picked up by the main road with Dolly, the cart and Ibrahim. Fortunately we removed the generator, because this is all that remains of the generator house: it collapsed a couple of weeks ago!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Welcome to Fawlty Towers-On-The-Niger.

Yesterday I had a Basil Fawlty moment and decided to cancel a long-standing booking. An American tour operator has been giving me indigestion lately. First she was reading this blog and complained about my being in London and not in Djenne (see Oct.2 entry) which frankly is none of her business. As long as the hotel is well run I should theoretically be able to run it from the North Pole should I wish to do so. However, I decided to be nice and wrote her a soothing email, assuring her that I would be there in November to greet her group of tourists who was booked in for one night only.
She has been demanding to be given a free room, insisting that everyone, in every establishment between Boston and Timbuktu always gives her one, and that she also flies for free. For some inexplicable reason I buckled to her demand and agreed to give her one.
The latter of these negotiations has been dealt with by her local Malian tour operator X. It is customary for overseas agents to let local companies deal with hotels and I rarely speak to any overseas agents. X is one of my best clients and has given lots of bookings to the hotel.
There have been several changes concerning this booking, rumbling on for many weeks. Meanwhile there are plenty of other agencies who want to book the hotel on this popular Sunday in the high season.
Therefore, when I received yet another email directly from the American lady the day before yesterday, informing me breezily that I was now to deal with another Malian agent (Y), and that we were now talking about 7 rooms rather than 8, (one of which remained free for her of course) I began to develop a headache, and a severe twitch, especially since I also received emails from both X and Y, seemingly both believing they were working for her. The amount of rooms required were variously reported.
I sat down with a large glass of chilled Chardonnay and wrote a polite email to the American lady, explaining that I had come to be convinced that she would be much happier in another hotel in Djenne, and that I no longer felt able to give her the attention that she required. The booking should therefore be regarded as cancelled.
The American lady wrote back immediately, asking me to reconsider, somewhat inexplicably mentioning the fact that her group included a Hollywood producer, and also that she was a personal friend of Mr. Z. the author of a famous English speaking Travel guide.
So, having poured myself another glass of Chardonnay, I replied that Hollywood producers were of no particular interest to me, and that I am trying to run a hotel, not a casting agency. I also mentioned that I was also in personal contact with Mr. Z, and that I didn’t like blackmail tactics…

And meanwhile at Fawlty-Towers-On –The-Niger we are going to be more or less fully booked this weekend.
I spoke to Keita last night, who cleared his throat and said, diplomatically, ‘We have developed un petit problem. ‘Yes”? I replied with some trepidation.
It turns out that big, calm, kind, stable, unflappable Keita, whom I have seen angry just once or twice in a year and a half, sacked not only Beigna the barman but Ali the chambermaid too an uncharacteristic fit of rage yesterday. Apparently he had turned up after his work at the hospital and found the hotel completely empty about three o’clock in the afternoon. Beigna and Ali had decided to go off to a wedding party!
So Keita took the hotel telephones and the reservation book from Beigna and told him to go walking and take Ali with him.
Readers of this blog may remember that I also attempted to sack Beigna once. Let’s see if Keita is more successful.
I am sad about it- Beigna and Ali are part of the fabric of the hotel, and clearly it will cause problems- we are facing an avalanche of hotel guests, beginning this weekend. Nevertheless I told Keita I trusted his judgment completely. He is finding people to help already.
Above you see Max and the lovely new carriage, which stand waiting for people to take them to the hotel on the other side of the water- the flood situation is not yet resolved, although the water is no longer rising and the emergency alert is over.

And Ali too. Alors, it is proving impossible to sack Beigna, so much is clear. I am secretly rather pleased. Apparently he came back with Ali in tow last night, and pleaded with Keita to forgive them and to take them back. And Keita, being a big softie, took them back of course...

20 October 2007
But all that is only a fraction of what is going on. Lots of developments on the London and the Djenne fronts simultaneously...
This is a MaliMali waist coat which will soon be available in the on-line shop that GLASS is going to run for me from London. GLASS is a trio of friends who have just set up a new marketing and PR company. They have agreed to take on our bogolan fabric and necklaces and anything else that we may produce in Djenne. They will wholesale and distribute as well as do the marketing, so the studio will start with a bang in Djenne when I get back!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Here is that other Napoleon, gracing the stairwell of Apsley House, Hyde Park Corner where my floor canvas will go. It is absolutely enormous: it is possible to distinguish me vaguely , standing beneath the statue's right hand. Napoleon commissioned it from Canova, but when it was delivered he had an uncharacteristic display of modesty. He found it embarrassing and to his credit he noted that his physique was not quite like that... later the Duke of Wellington bought it, presumably getting a kick out of seeing his vanquished enemy every day.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Working frantically trying to tie up all loose ends here before leaving for Africa. Went to Conde Nast Traveller to pick up Malick Sidibe's negatives, and this is how my page in December's Conde Nast Traveller will look... (quite pleased with the pic of me on Napoleon at the gate).
The text is complimentary and, apart from talking about the hotel it talks of www.malimali.org. Oh, dear I have to do something about it before leaving!
So much to do! Honestly, before now life was only a rehearsal...

The farmers of Hampshire have had a word with their wayward cows and must have taken them off the mind-expanding drugs, because as I went across my familiar fields of Hampshire they caused me no trouble this time! (see June entry for a different story altogether) I stayed a night in the Mill Arms again, to check the work I had done for English Heritage at Mottisfont Abbey in June.

And this is what my May and June efforts looked like in situ- I was quite pleased!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I am jumping with joy- the commission I came to do is nearing the end, I had a meeting this morning to finalize everything and that means I can book my flight back to Mali! I will go back on the 23rd of October, well in time for the season's first arrival of The Beast. (The Full Hotel).
What you see above is the exact copy of a carpet pattern which has been painted on canvas, and which will go into Apsley House in London's Hyde Park Corner. It is a very grand building, given to the Duke of Wellington when he trounced Napoleon at Waterloo. The floorcloth will go into the appropriately named Waterloo Room.

But just to keep my feet on the ground and temper my joy, I continued in what seems to be emerging as a tradition: I ruined the coffee pot at Lucy's where I am staying, by forgetting all about the fact that I'd put it on until the handle melted and I had to go and get this new one..(for precedent see entry mid April...)Lucy, by the way, is one of the original Mali people, with whom I went on the holiday in January 2006 which changed my life. Tomorrow night we are having a Mali get-together, and on Thursday I am watching a film at the French Institute by Suleyman Cisse,who is now Minister of Culture in Mali, and who came to visit the hotel a little while ago.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Still in London, still struggling to get away, but not until I have tried to sell Kadija's necklaces and the bogolan cloth, as well as finishing the commission, etc. But thinking of Mali. This is how the Bani crossing looked when I arrived to Djenne in the beginning of April 2006. We waded across the trickle of water which was the Bani- (see second entry July 2006).

Now it looks more like this...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

An American lady tour operator just emailed me and was worried, having seen the pictures of me very much not in Africa and seemingly enjoying a London life style- she has a group of tourists arriving- will I be in London having drinks at book launches or will I be at Hotel Djenne Djenno where I belong when her group of American tourists arrive??? Just to ease her worried mind, and anybody else's who may be looking in- I am going back to Mali as soon as I possibly can, there is nowhere else I'd rather be. Here is a picture of a lovely afternon at Hotel Djenne Djenno just before I left-the two chaps sitting are griots (see entry around end March 07), they are playing my new guitar and singing while Dembele is making some Bogolan cloth, and I have just painted the new sign for Hotel Djenne Djenno (seen on the right by the bar). I am going to encourage more music at the Hotel- I will buy more instruments and who-knows? maybe a little orchestra will rise up?
I am very pleased with my staff at the Hotel! Yesterday they stayed watching all day waiting out for our two reservations to arrive, to prevent the last three weekends scenario being repeated: i.e. everyone went straight past thinking the hotel was closed because the approach road was closed off by the flood water! But this time The staff were standing waiting with a canoe to take the hotel guests across and on the other side there was the horse and carriage waiting! Well, if that isn't the spirit of enterprise...!