Friday, June 25, 2010

Last night, as I was turning around in bed trying to get to sleep in the twilight of the Scandinavian summer midnight I thought of Djenne.
In less than a week I will be there, Ne Ala Sonna. (God willing, Bambara). What is awaiting me ? What disasters have occurred in my absence ? It is the beginning of the rainy season, an unpleasant time for a hotel keeper with a hotel made of mud…Much hard work will be necessary as usual just to keep the hotel habitable for the first wave of visitors which begin to arrive in July.
‘Are you not lonely?’ asks my visitors sometimes. I always reply rather grandly : ‘The whole world comes to see me here in Djenne’. It is true, I do not normally have time to be lonely, there is too much happening and too many interesting people to talk to.
But today, thinking of my return I feel apprehensive...

I have spent two lovely weeks here by the lake with my mother and MNL ; we have worked out new recipes to use in the Djenne Djenno restaurant ; and I have made 3 new dress styles styles for the Mali Mali shop.

Today was Swedish Midsummers Eve, and my mother and I dressed in our regional costumes to go and see the maypole being raised ; to sing the Swedish national anthem and now we will eat herring and drink Schnapps ; in other words I am revelling in Swedishness. But soon soon I will once more ride Maobi across the dusty Sahel plains and soon I will watch the violent rain storms of July ravage the fragile mud walls of my hotel. On Sunday night my feet will once more touch African soil in Casablanca and before sunrise on Monday Keita will meet me at the airport in Bamako.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

ALA KA FURU N'YE (may God bless their marriage, Bambara)
This was the remaining image of the wedding for me: although a shame the oarsmen are not shown. The royal couple did not sail, as erroneously stated in the article I just read in the Mail on line this morning, they were rowed across the glittering waters, amongst a host of Swedish, Danish (and one British) naval ships with crews saluting...It was fantastically theatrical, and about as regal as it gets- it reminded me of the opening of the film Indochine, or one of the films -can't remember which- about Henry the VIII or was it Elizabeth I ?- going down the Thames...
For the first time in history television cameras were allowed into the palace for the banquet of a royal wedding; the speeches, the cutting of the cake, and even the first walz. There was something moving about seeing this grandiose royal palace used for an event for which it was meant, filled with these kings and queens, many of whom no longer have a kingdom, rather than walking through it as a tourist admiring its artifacts as if in a museum.
There was also a feeling that this wonderful spectacle was one of the last displays of something that is probably coming towards its natural end; that these historic tiaras on these royal heads will probably only be seen in museums in less than a hundred years, because the relevance of a constitutional monarchy to our lives may finally be totally lost.
There is, for one thing, too much contradiction in the fact that people snigger and complain about Victoria's choice of husband as not being suitable, but at the same time noone would dream of suggesting that she married for any other reason than love...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Congratulations to Victoria and Daniel!
The Crown Princess of Sweden just got married a couple of hours ago in a lavish ceremony in Stockholm, in the biggest royal wedding since the wedding of Charles and Diana. She married her personal fitness trainer, which has caused a lots of sniggers and which may explain the fact that the English royal family, although they didn't quite snub the wedding, sent rather minor representatives in the shape of Edward and Sophie. A shame, really, since there can't be all that many occasions for royal families to stand around chatting to each other, drinking champagne and admiring each others tiaras...
And they were all there including plenty of those that have nothing left but their tiaras, such as the King and Queen of Greece, Romania and Bulgaria etc, as well as all the reigning Royal families of course.
I am TVd out, because my mother and I and MNL have watched TV for about 10 hours! It was all extremely beautiful and I can't help admitting to having been being extremely proud to be Swedish when the gilded royal boat,draped with great Swedish flags rowed up to the castle and ....sorry, got to run, they are all going in to dinner now, and they have all changed their ball gowns yet again... must rush... more later..

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My old pal Neville came over from New York and we went to Brighton and had lots of fun on the pier eating candy floss on a rainy English summer's day a couple of weeks ago...
The Holiday Merry-Go-Round has now taken me to my final destination, to Sweden and my mother and MNL, where I am spending two weeks by the lake. But Mali is beckoning and I am studying Bambara again, just like two years ago. This is the only time I ever seem to get to do any proper Bambara studies, and I am of course deeply ashamed that I don’t speak the Mali Lingua Franca after over four years in Djenne...
I will also be making new styles for the MaliMali shop, and I am receiving lots of bookings for the new season which is shaping up well. Keita is on the phone every other day from Mali, excited about the World Cup and supporting Ghana.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The town of Djenne has many ties with Holland.
At Hotel Djenne Djenno, it is the Dutch that is the most represented nationality after the French. And foremost amongst those we find our very own Birgit of course, my dear friend who comes to stay every year and without whose help things would have been very difficult…
I am spending a few days in this lovely city of Amsterdam with Birgit, doing Amsterdam things like going to the Van Gogh Museum, strolling along the canals and narrowly escaping being mowed down by the hoards of cyclists that terrorize the otherwise peaceful, narrow and post card pretty streets.

Last night we had a Djenne get together in Birgit’s flat with Ton van der Lee and Pierre Maas. Both of them are venerable Djenne characters, the former the Dutchman who built the large beautiful Djenne style house on the Bani which one sees from the Bani crossing at Sanouna. He wrote the book ‘Het Zandkasteel’, which Dutch people are all invariably including as their holiday reading material, about his time in Djenne. Pierre Maas is an architect with many years experience of working on the Unesco restoration scheme of the old Djenne houses, which the Dutch have led.
It was a nice evening, which started with my attempt at Djenne Djenno cocktails. I do not know whether it was the lack of the Djenne sunset, but there was certainly something missing, and although the ingredients were faithfully reproduced, they were nothing like what is served in the sunset bar…

I asked them what they thought about my latest idea about the Djenne manuscripts.
It is something I have been mulling over for a week or so, ever since talking with Cathy Collins at the British Library. I am going to have to put together a proposal for the funding of the Major Project, which will include the digitization of some of the manuscripts. But we can’t just take pictures willy-nilly of all the manuscript that have been found, there must be some rationale behind the choice. How do we make a choice of what to include?
Our Malian expert, Abdel Kader Haidara refuses to make any value judgments about what is important and says that everything is important. We are supposed to present what there is, and the scholars who will later use the library or the digitized archive will be the ones who decide what is valuable. One will decide one thing and another will use the archive for something else. That is all well and good, but not very helpful to me. A choice must be made.

So the idea is this: The only significant difference that has been noted between the Timbuctu manuscripts and those discovered so far in Djenne is that there are many more dealing with the subject of magic or ‘maraboutage’, as it is called in Djenne. Of the several thousand manuscripts found, almost half are about magic.

They are often quite ‘pretty’, like this one (which I believe I have shown once before), from the early eighteenth century, containing incantations to use for getting on in one’s professional life.
Djenne is famous for its ‘maraboutage’. People come from far and wide to avail themselves of this ancient ‘wisdom’. Although this sort of thing exists in Islam elsewhere, in Djenne it seems to be mixed in with the ancient knowledge of West Africa, that which is called the ‘nyama’, the vital force.
Before starting the pilot project, I was wondering if there were going to be any differences between the Timbuktu manuscripts and those of Djenne, and now we have found that this is the difference : so this is perhaps what we ought to be presenting ?
In the absence of any other unifying idea, why not suggest that we digitize the manuscripts we have found on the subject of magic ? This surely would be of interest to anthropologists and religious historians etc ?

This lead to some lighthearted banter on what a great subject it would be for a B-movie in the style of ‘the curse of the mummy’ : lone white woman, only toubab for hundreds of miles, gets involved with magic manuscripts in ancient African town and then disappears.... Handsome Indiana Jones type stranger arrives to look for her. ( I said I would insist that it was Daniel Day Lewis) using the manuscripts as clues....