Thursday, April 26, 2007

I have moved out of Jeremy and David's flat and I am now staying with the Tarantulas. I think it is always best to spread oneself out and try not to overstay one's welcome. The nice German estate agent girl is still renting my flat on Ladbroke Grove. (see October 6 entry).
The Tarantulas are amongst my oldest and dearest friends. I stayed with them when I left my husband and several times between flats over the years. Princess Lulie christened them the Tarantulas, which has no bearing on their characters or their behaviour apart from the fact that they love wildlife and their house is crammed full of unusual creatures, both living and dead. The Tarantulas' real names are in fact beautiful and luminous and perfectly suited to their generous and kind nature: Claire Angel and Geoffrey Brightling.
Over the years their edwardian Crouch End townhouse has been the unlikely home not only to tarantulas but also to boa constrictors, ferrets, stick insects, various toads and exotic frogs, not to mention a wide selection of cats covering the whole feline spectrum from the homely ginger pussycat curled up on the chair beside me to an alarming hairless and wrinkly species known as Devon Rex. There are also univited inhabitants, such as the family of slugs who live behind the skirting board in the sitting room, leaving beautiful silvery trails on the Chinese carpet (see entry below). Claire and Geoff make no distinction and welcome all and sundry into their big generous embrace.
Some years ago they had a couple of Australian tree frogs, very beautiful and bright green. They lived in a vivarium on top of the side board in the dining room, just where the cutlery drawers were kept. For some reason they would start mating when they heard the cutlery drawers rattling. Geoff's theory was that the sound made them remember the spring wind through the eucalyptus trees back home in New South Wales. Sometimes of a summer afternoon if I got bored I used to say: 'go on Geoff, let's make them do it!'

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Moustique is a gentle Rasta friend of mine in Djenne. He has a Dutch girlfriend and often travels to Europe. Every time he comes back to Djenne all his friends congregate around him to hear the latest news of outlandish European behaviour seen from an African point of view. Moustique's reports normally sends them into paroxysms of laughter, such as the time he told them about the wedding he went to in Amsterdam where both the bride and the groom wore moustaches... And Europeans go to shops to buy food. specially packaged in tins, for their their cats and dogs! I wonder what Moustique would have to say about this hamster exercise globe, scuttling backwards and forwards across the Chinese carpet in Claire and Geoff's sitting room.
' well, you see, it's a thing they buy to make sure the rat gets enough exercise....'?

Monday, April 23, 2007


The lovely Jeremiah just came back from holiday and cooked me a a great meal-David also arrived, of course, and they were not tooo angry about the kettle, they were much more concerned, and indeed quite horrified, that I had erroneously told you the other day that I was listening to Joan Sutherland singing Stride La Vampa, when of course it is Marilyn Horne, since Joan Sutherland, being a soprano, would never have sung this aria. Of course, silly, silly me. No doubt you all noticed this dreadful clanger too...
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the wonders of English roast lamb and roast potatoes! Must remember to do the garlic like that at Hotel Djenne Djenno..
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My little friend Oiefa enjoying some Djenne Djenno mango jam on her toast.
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Saturday, April 21, 2007

I have an old friend, one of the most memorable and noteworthy people I have ever known. If the Ottoman Empire had still existed, then Princess Lulie would have been if not the Empress then perhaps the Princess Margaret of the Topkapi court. But that circumstance is not really the reason for her distinction, although it lends a certain glamour to her, of course.
Since the Ottoman Empire had ceased to exist long before her birth, she instead spent most of her life in Chelsea.
Lulie always had lots of interesting people passing through her house, and there were endless and stimulating conversations to be had- often of a philosophical nature. Lulie used to say that she was an Aristotelian, and also that she was a disciple of David Hume- with this I believe she meant she was rational, as opposed to emotional or romantic in her approach to life. As she grew old, slowly her appetite for philosophical argument begun to dwindle, and her mind began to take on a sort of circularity. She would return, with increasing frequency, to the same favourite subjects, although she was still able to sparkle now and then. One of the ideas which she always somehow managed to introduce into the conversation, whatever subject was being discussed, was David Hume’s teaching that nothing can ever the proved. ‘Although it is likely that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, it is impossible to prove that it will’.
I remember a long time ago a young friend of Lulies’s, a Serb called Slaven, becoming very hot under the collar at a dinner where, to try and help Lulie demonstrate Hume’s point, and to tease the pragmatic Slaven,I picked up an orange and said: ‘It is likely that this orange will fall if I drop it, but it is not absolutely certain, and it can’t be proved’. ‘Don’t be so silly, he growled angrily.’Of course it will drop!’
It has been a long time since Lulie has returned to this argument, sadly. The subjects are different, and now it seems that people she knows have acquired labels, or watchwords: for instance I am associated with Timbuktu. ‘Oh, yes, Sophie,’she says, peering at me with her lively brown squirrel eyes, pulling me into focus and into her consciousness. ‘You emigrated to Timbuktoo, didn’t you?’ It does’t matter how many times I explain that Timbuktu is not the same thing as Djenne and that it is hundreds of miles away, as far as she is concerned I have emigrated to Tmbuktoo.
And then there is Keita. ‘Do you have a boyfriend in Timbuktoo?’ she asks for the hundredth time, with an air of happy expectation, knowing very well the answer. ‘Yes, Lulie, I have a boyfriend’, I answer patiently, by now familiar with what is coming. ‘ And is he black? asks Lulie.
‘Yes, Lulie’ I reply, ‘he is black. And Lulie giggles, she thinks this is very naughty.
‘You are the most eccentric person I know,’ she tells me, and I am not sure if she says this in a disapproving way- anyway, it is a bit rich coming from her- if ever there was an Eccentric worthy of the name it would be her Imperial Highness Princess Lulie of Turkey.
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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Helped my friend Howard to mow his lawn and plant some geraniums in his very English Wimbledon garden this afternoon, and as a treat he gave me homemade tapenard, lovely crusty bread to dip in delicious olive oil, opened a really good bottle of merlot and played Shubert's Winterreise while we were giggling and talking about our favourite Woody Allen films. All of this European behaviour is very enjoyable of course, but I wonder how my Xaloc is getting on, is Ibrahim remembering to give him salt and to take him for a ride each day?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Cressi-Pooh, aka Cressida Bell, at her birthday bash last night with the lovely NHS Consultant Aids specialist David. She will kill me when she finds this picture. It was the best one, however, but pictures deceive because she did look splendid in fact. And just check those nails!
It was a most jolly evening, ending about 3am. at Charlton Place. I had lots of fun, practising being a European once more, and laughing a lot.
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Friday, April 13, 2007

'Tomorrow I will start facing the irksome tasks'.
Yesterdays prediction was grossly inaccurate and premature. I am doing nothing. It is two thirty pm. I am sitting alone in David and Jeremy's flat, being European.
I am sipping a bottle of delicious chilled Chardonnay, listening to Joan Sutherland singing Stride la Vampa from Il Trovatore, laughing until my stomach hurts at Jessica Mitford's Hons &Rebels; all these accoutrements of Europeanness courtesy of the well-stocked shelves and fridges of my absent hosts.
On the floor next to me sits, untouched, the explosive box of letters and bills and bad news of the last six months which I picked up from Cressida's last night.
All I have accomplished today is to ruin David and Jeremy's very expensive kettle. And yesterday I was so pleased with myself that I had mastered their sophisticated gaz cooker which lights without matches.
So this morning I nonchalantly picked up their shining, beautiful, expensive kettle, put it on the cooker which I lit (without matches).
A smell of burning rubber and poisonous clouds of thick smoke soon averted me to the fact that their lovely kettle was not meant to go on the stove; and closer inspection revealed a a sort of round mat with an electrical attachment directly joined to the wall, the intended position of the kettle
Let the above be a warning: do not let natives loose in your expensive flat unsupervised. In this case a native means anyone who has spent more than six months in the Interior of Africa.
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Thursday, April 12, 2007

not forgetting Keita's motorcycle, the Paris RER and, finally a London black cab
(Keita, to the right, at the Bani crossing Tuesday morning)
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My trip started in Djenne 8am on Tuesday and finally came to an end in Baron's Court, West London last night at 8pm, thirty six hours later.
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The journey took in three capital cities: Keita accompanied me to Bamako from which I flew to Paris where I had time to enjoy the spring sun in a cafe with a beer and a Camembert baguette before boarding the Eurostar to London.
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I am staying with the lovely Jeremy and David, who left me their flat as they went on holiday this morning.
I will return to Mali at the end of May. The hotel is officially closed, although the bar remains open . My major tasks in Europe have to do with the hotel: I must raise the money somehow to bring electricity to Hotel Djenne Djenno- we can no longer operate with the Chinese generator, it is too difficult. I will of course also go and see travel agents in England and in Sweden, and I will take my Bogolans to the World of Interiors, as they have requested. But today I will just sleep and rest in this lovely West London flat where everything works. I walk around in awe and marvel at the loveliness of it all. How amazingly smoothly the doors open and close! there are no drips from the taps; the gaz cooker starts by pressing a button, and here I was, running around looking for matches! The loo seat is a wonder of smoothness and made of delicious heavy wood, the loo brush is soooo pretty, in a stainless steel container- goodness, you can't even find a loo brush in the entire Malian nation!
And they have a fridge full of lovely things like Camambert and Italian Millefiori honey (as well as a new jar of Djenne Djenno Sesame and Date paste). But it is cool of course. Spoke to Keita on the phone last night. 'Is it very cold?' he asked. 'no, it is nice' I replied. "It is 18 degrees, that is what we set the airconditioner to'.
Tomorrow I will start facing all the irksom tasks, but today I will just revel in all this European perfection .
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Saturday, April 07, 2007

I promised I would show some more pictures from the crepissage de la Grande Mosquée- which must rank, with the Goroka show in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and the J'ouvert on the streets of Port of Spain, Trinidad at the beginning of Carnival as among the most eye-popping spectacles I have ever witnessed... here is a lone moezzin, in front of the first mud delivered, enjoying the last calm before the storm. Posted by Picasa
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By about 7 am the whole facade of the mosque was covered with people, who resembled great birds of prey as they 'roosted'on their perches while the baskets of mud were passed from hand to hand, and the mud was slapped on with lightnening speed. Posted by Picasa
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Friday, April 06, 2007

Only the men and the boys are doing the mud plastering and large amounts of mud is transported across town by every neighbourhood, mostly carried on the head Posted by Picasa
The role of the women is to bring water from the river to mix with the mud. So I went to join the women, but found that in fact they were all young girls of about sixteen- the young maidens of Djenne. Since this was my only chance of entering the mosque I decided to take a chance and tried to melt in with a group of giggling young girls and together we carried our buckets to the north entrance of the mosque. Posted by Picasa
This ruse, however unlikely, gave me access to the inner court yard of the mosque with the girls to deliver our water Posted by Picasa
At ten am it was all over and the mosque lay freshly plastered, still wet behind the ears and all deserted while the whole town, exhausted after all that exertion, went off swimming at the Bani Crossing. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Hot off the press: The crepissage of the Great Mosque is done!
It started at about 5 am and it was over at 9am- more pictures to follow tomorrow... Posted by Picasa
and who was there? Ibrahim and Ali with Dolly and the Dolly Express, supplying fresh mud compliments of Hotel Djenné Djenno. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tomorrow morning is the annual Crepissage de la Mosqué, (the mud-plastering of the Mosque) a spectaclar event by all accounts. The whole of town takes part, and it starts at three am. This is the only chance for me, as an infidel woman, to see the inside of the mosque. I will be bringing water with the other women and we will be climbing the interior staircase to the roof of the great mud structure where teams of men are mixing the mud to slap onto the surface- so keep an eye out for hopefully good pictures tomorrow.
There is already a carnival athmosphere on the streets of Djenné, and the boys from the little nightclub 'Rasta Boys' have mounted a loudspeaker on their roof from which the lovely Rock-Steady and Ska of early Bob Marley is drifting across the dusty streets... Posted by Picasa
no doubt the boys from the rival night club Super Cool ( a three sq.m. room with a boom box playing reggae most nights) will also mount a street show tomorrow morning. Posted by Picasa