Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We were talking about the Flambuoyant tree.
And here it is, with its first flower!
The last couple of weeks in Djenne are always the same: dusty and unbelievably hot- thirty four degrees in my new bedroom at night. I have not yet installed an air conditioner, but have other luxuries such as a bath, which must surely be one of the only ones in Djenne. I immerse myself in a cold bath at night before going to bed, and then I leave the water in the tub and jump in three or four times during the night.
My mind is whirring busily in tandem with the fans as I am planning my travels: I am already half-way gone, hovering over Morocco which is the first stop, and continuing towards Italy. The latest idea is to spend a week in Italy on a cooking and Italian course! This because I spent half an hour the other night on the sunset terrace with a stray Italian tourist who did not speak a word of any language apart from Italian. I amazed myself by conducting a conversation with him in Italian, since there was no choice! SI! IO PARLATE ITALIANO! VERAMENTE! UNA MEZZA ORA SOLAMENTE ITALIANO! This went to my head to the extent that I thought just a week or so of intensive Italian course might just clinch it. And if there were some cooking too thrown in: BELLIZZIMO!
I bore all my German guests by insisting on speaking to them in German. I quote Goethe to them. Some of them like this, others get angry, like a recent one who didn’t like Goethe at all but wanted me to quote Nietsche instead. I could not comply and told him I didn’t like Nietsche.

I have not had any temptation to speak Dutch yet. There would be plenty of people around to practise on though, such as for instance Yolanda, above, (a former Miss Holland?) who spent lots of money in the boutique. She looks spendid as you can see in her Zebra MaliMali dress and new hat….

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Empty hotel for several days now.
Having early dinner in the garden alone in the light of a petrol lamp.

The moon has just risen, it is full tonight.

I see it clearly through the sparse branches of the flamboyant tree which has shed the leaves that gave such good shade until recently. It needs to expel all superfluous matter to conserve its strength before exploding into its riot of red flowers. There is never anyone here to see it flowering. As soon as everyone is gone it performs, for several months, until July brings the beginning of the rainy season and the first hotel guests return again just when the last flowers have dropped off.

The air is still and warm and there is some twilight chirping from the fire finches in the bougainvillea.

Keita is gone. In one month I will be gone too. We will go to Morocco together for a holiday before I fly back to Europe. It will be a triumphant return for him, revisiting the places which he only knew from a wheelchair.
But before that there are four weeks left here. Weeks redolent with the familiar end of the season nostalgia: like empty deckchairs on a deserted Brighton Pier.

This always brings a mood of semi-darkness and remorse. I lie awake for hours in the hot night with the fan whirring ineffectually above the mosquito net, tossing and turning, plagued by demons whispering to me, reminding me of acts of stupidity and outrageous behaviour of my past life. Why, OH, why, did I have to be so EXAGGERATED? Why couldn’t I just have been patient and cool and taken it easy like everyone else? Why couldn’t I have been I a bit more normal? But then, at the end of a sleepless night I normally arrive at the terminus of this sort of reckoning. There is some comfort in the thought that if I hadn’t been so exaggerated and so violently passionate and unhinged I would not in fact have ended up here. I would not have a mud hotel in Djenne, certainly.
And I do want to be here damn it all…

Saturday, March 12, 2011

God knows Djenne Djenno is not perfect. But the thing is we don't pretend to be a top hotel. We have a certain charm I have been led to believe. But now and then I want to get out of here, to have som non-mud luxury. I enjoy staying in other hotels as a little mini holiday. Keita is here for a week or so. We wanted to celebrate his return by going to a famous hotel in Mopti, the Kanaga. I did this also as a sort of research project- I do need to know what goes on in other hotels.
The Kanaga was a pretty grim experience. I quote below what I wrote to trip advisor this afternoon. This may be a huge mistake- hoteliers should perhaps 'club together' and not say bad things about each other...
I told the front desk when we arrived that we came from Hotel Djenne Djenno. This made no impression- OK we are only a little hotel in the bush, there is no need for a big important hotel like the Kanaga to be aware of our humble existence, of course.
The picture above is some rat droppings in the bathroom from the third room we stayed in during our 15 hour visit.

This is what I wrote:

Run Run Run to La Maison Rouge!
Until a few years ago the Kanaga was the only hotel in Mopti where one could stay if one had any demands of comfort in any way. This is no longer so. There are other alternatives thankfully, and the Kanaga is now hopelessly out-classed by, in particular, the excellent La Mason Rouge, just around the corner. Go there; No; RUN THERE!
I arrived at the Kanaga yesterday about 3pm with my husband for a treat. We were to stay one night and pamper ourselves, eat well, relax. We were shown the room which was a little disappointing and small- nevermind, that was not a problem. The toilet didn’t flush, and that presented more of a set-back. There was no hot water either. Nevermind. We called the reception and they sent a maintenance man. He tinkered about for a while, then told us we would have to move to another room. Ok, we agreed cheerfully, fine. We got dressed, packed our things and moved to the room next door, which was identical in every way. And I mean in every way.
When we had unpacked and got comfortable it became apparent the the loo didn’t work there either, and that there was no hot water. We called reception. Nothing happened for about half an hour, during which time I was running the shower to see if it would become hot. It didn’t. Finally as nothing seemed to be happening, I packed our things up and went to the reception. ‘Please prepare me the bill for the drinks we have had and call us a cab. We are going to La Maison Rouge.

The desk manager pleaded with me to give them a moment to sort something out. My patient and kind hearted husband thought we should give them another chance. We waited in the reception for some time.
This is when we might have been offered a drink perhaps?
The minutes ticked away until I knew it would be too late to turn up un-announced for dinner at La Maison Rouge.
We were told they were preparing the best room for us. This, the third room, presented an improvement in so far as it provided us finally with our long awaited hot shower and an operational loo. However, there were other problems…there was a naked lightbulb with loose wires above the bed. The bottom sheet was too short for the bed, leaving the mattress exposed. The fridge now didn’t work, although that had not been a problem in the other 2 rooms. These problems seemed rather minor however compared to finding a deposit of rat droppings on the bathroom floor.

We had a hugely over priced dinner (although the Captaine carpaccio was very good) the main course was served on tiny plates such as those normally used for first course. The napkins were tiny bad quality paper napkins of the type one finds at MacDonalds.
But even after all of this I said to my husband this morning- let’s see when we pay the bill if they are going to give us any recompense, and if they are going to apologize. If that is the case I will forget about it. There was no reduction however and every little bit, down to the last water bottle was invoiced. There was not a word of apology from the desk manager. So I eventually ventured: don’t you think that perhaps a word of apology would be in order? He didn’t say a word. Then I exploded: Do you realize there were RAT DROPPINGS IN OUR ROOM??? He then said, by means of an explanation(!) Ah, that it possible, there has been no one in the room for four days and it has not been swept since the last guest!

One final word; I don't mind rough African hotels. I know there are difficulties here- this is Africa! But I object to a hotel presenting itself as a high class outfit and charging accordingly, and then not delivering. A word of apology and just a token offer of a drink would have appeased us!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

A picture of my bogolan and weaving studio, and my new house at the back, apropos rien.
I am mystified, thrilled and amused to learn that in the last week there has been an exceptional number of South Koreans reading this blog. Many more than any other nationality. I have never met a South Korean! Why are they reading my ramblings about my obscure life in Mali? If one of my South Koreans wouldn't mind explaining, in a comment perhaps, why they have chosen to follow my blog?
And today there were an unprecedented amount of Saudi Arabians! That may perhaps be explained by the frequent Arabic manuscript references...

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Some horses are born great. (Napoleon and Maobi)
Some horses achieve greatness. (Red Rum etc.)
Some horses have greatness thrust upon them.

Max definitely belongs to the last category. Max is an internationally famous horse, courtesy of The Bradt Guide. Tourists arrive here, asking for Max. He appears no less than twice in the text. Never has a horse been less worthy of such distinction. Don't get me wrong, Max is an OK horse, but he is a rocking horse, gently ambling along, looking forward to getting back to the stable again to munch some millet and take it easy. Pudiogou is not allowed to hit him, so visits to Sirimou and Diabolo are at least three-hour affairs. But tourists don't seem to mind. He is the famous Max after all..

The Swedish lady, Christina Ekman, who came with me to Sirimou the other day is a professional photographer. She just sent me these ravishing pictures which compels me to revisit our outing the other day- these are the little girls who kept me company in the shade of a tree while Christina and her boyfriend went sight seeing in Sirimou.

I am of course far too vain to let the opportunity slip of showing one more picture of me and Maobi riding through Djenné...