Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tippett to Ride

There is not only Jeremiah:  for invitations of a different kind there is also my favourite Culture Vulture David (the most frequent commentator in this journal) who takes me along to London concerts that I might not have thought of myself, such as last night’s Piano sonata no 2 and 3 and String Quartet no 5 by Michael Tippett at the Wigmore Hall. ‘Oh my Gawd !’, said Giulietta. ‘Rather you than me !’ And I admit to thinking that I would probably fall asleep and leave in the interval…
Far from it however…
Now, I always say I like string quartets and noone ever believes me. ‘No of course you don’t’, is everyone’s response. ‘They are boring as hell’. But to me there is something infinitely more satisfying about the format of a string quartet than a symphony orchestra. For a start the music that comes from strings seems to me to be the most directly connected to human  emotions, as if it was fed into our souls by  intravenous drip. And when you have a quartet there is always a  fabulous battle going on, as if you are in the crossfire of a human relationship : you are privileged to be invited in  as the four string instruments are battling it out amongst themselves : a string quartet is a wonderful drama, whereas a symphony is too big, remote and  overblown to excite me in the same way. Of course it can’t be any old string quartet, it must be first class- and so it was last night, with the Heath Quartet, which David tells me is famous- the string quartet no 5 was written in 1990-91 when Tippett was 86 years old. Wow, I say- fabulous, fabulous, fabulous…David didn’t even know it, and he was also blown over…

see David'd write-up

Steven Osborne

But the star of the evening was Steven Osborne, today’s most celebrated Tippett piano interpreter,  who played the two piano sonatas. The second (Piano Sonata no 3)  in particular was completely WILD. The half filled, staid-looking  auditorium  erupted and howled their approval, it sounded like La Scala Milan. We emerged in the interval thoroughly shaken and stirred. ‘But that is Rock and Roll !’ I exclaimed excitedly, steadying myself with a glass of chilled white wine. David said he would use that quote in his write up for the Arts desk…and so he did:
 Thanks David!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fortunately there is Jeremiah…

My great London pal Jeremiah always has all the best invitations and can be relied upon to tag me along wherever he is going. He felt sorry for me when I arrived at his doorstep, bedraggled and tearful last week after being thrown out of Algeria. To cheer me up he said, casually: ‘Would you like to come for drinks at Kensington Palace tonight?’
Well, yes, that sounded like a good consolation prize... and here I am attempting, rather unsuccessfully, to do a ‘selfie’ at the drinks party in Kensington Palace for the 300 year anniversary of the Hannoverian succession…ahem.

Easter in Blewbury

And later, for the Easter weekend, I went with my God-mother Giulietta to the ravishing little Oxfordshire village of Blewbury where I have spent much time in the distant past.  So all was well in the end although not exactly how it had been planned… 
Meanwhile a group of Italian tourists spent Easter Sunday at Hotel Djenné Djenno and the hotel was nearly full.  I was of course in constant telephone contact, worrying and checking things.  But  Baba, Papa  and the others managed it all beautifully alone it seems, Alhamdilullah!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I am not supposed to be here!

 I am supposed to be following the Algerian elections today with a privileged front line seat, courtesy of Carin Wall, the Swedish ambassador, who invited me to stay. I was then going to move on to pleasant activities such as the painting of  Easter eggs  and the assisting in the staging of a fun party Easter Day for the diplomatic corps before winging my way to London on Easter Monday.

Alas, things don’t always turn out the way we expect...

My view is over Kensington Olympia, and I am very comfortably installed in my godmother Giulietta’s lovely flat, so I am not complaining. Well, I am, but only about my own stupidity. I am the author of my own misfortune here: I arrived on Tuesday morning at 5 am at Algiers airport and duly presented my passport at the frontier police. “Where is your visa?” inquired the official. “What visa?” I replied. “I am Swedish, surely we don’t need visas here?” “Oh yes you do. And if you don’t have one you will be put straight back on the plane to Bamako again”, came the disconcerting response.  I now realized it was serious and I called Carin, the ambassador. She said she would do what she could, pulling whatever ambassadorial strings that she was able to pull. And she did- but it was too late. By the time the laissez-passer arrived from the central immigration authority I had already been bundled onto the flight to London, since I had an onward ticket with that destination- only not until the 22nd of April!


I had struggled in vain to reason with the Chief of  Police at the airport, but he was not receptive to my persuasive attempts. ‘But I have travelled to North Africa several times and have never needed a visa! I go to Morocco and Tunisia all the time! I never thought I would need a visa here!”, I  lamented. “ Those countries let you in without visa but their citizens have to have visas when they go to your country. We don’t believe in that here. If you insist on visas for us, we will insist on it for you”, the Chief of Police explained, stony faced. I had to agree with him that his argument was faultless and that they were quite right in their decision, but nevertheless...  I shed a tear of disappointment when I saw the lovely city of Algiers disappearing behind me in the morning sun as I winged my way to London.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Last night in Djenné

I am sitting in my Djenné mud house for the last time until the beginning of July. I have just had dinner in the garden under the stars with Andrea from Brazil. The last three days have been the  aftermath of a whirlwind : last night Malian TV ORTM  showed  a  snippet from our conference on traditional inks and conservation, given by the Djenné Manuscript Library. I think it was a success… at least so everyone tells me.
The day ended with the ceremonial planting of three trees on the land by the MaliMali studio, which we intend to make the beginning of a Botanical Garden in Djenné, dedicated to plants used in traditional inks , fabric dyes and medicines. Andrea planted one of the trees  and here we are sporting MaliMali outfits and hats !
I have ridden Petit Bandit for the last time across the dusty plain, but Andrea will now take over- she was once in charge of a stud farm in Brazil ! But now Andrea  is instead  in charge of what I called ‘the mysterious Instituto Rizoma’ one of the sponsors for MaliMali Projects. She will remain here for a month or so, and work with children and teenagers in the Djenné schools in order to begin an exchange with Brazilian school children. I am happy someone is staying at the hotel and giving Petit Bandit some  exercise !

Much has happened : the people who were supposed to congregate from all the corners of the world did all come and our strange meeting did take place here in Djenné : there was José Manuel who made his documentary of my albino assistant Djennéba – but also of me , the library, MaliMali and everything else that happens here. There was Helen who came from Sweden to work on the conservation of the manuscripts in the library and to compile a report to be used to raise funds ; there was Eva from Hamburg, also working in the library. We had a great time - although I now feel as if I have been flattened by a steam roller...
I have a vague idea that there are important things afoot in Mali : The Prime Minister has resigned- and I have not even had time to find out why. Moussa Mara, an  energetic ; apparently  incorruptible  and much admired former Bamako  Maire has been put in his place. More to follow on this…
And I will leave for Bamako tomorrow and Algiers on the fifteenth, just before the Algerian elections and then England… more soon .