Friday, May 25, 2007

'Bucolic Idyll'? My foot!
High-tension drama erupts in the sleepy little Hampshire town of Romsey: in the HSBC bank more precisely. Scenes of unprecedented colour and verve when Kevin, the bank manager (Kevin by name and Kevin by nature) fails to understand how to wire 5000 pounds stirling to Mopti, Mali. (For Keita to get the electricity pylons brought in even before I get there- we have lots of booking at the end of June, and speed is of the essence.)
'Where? Malawi?
'I don't think we do Mali'.
'Whatdoyoumean? Mali is a country much larger than France! I've sent money before from HSBC in Portobello Road!'
He eventually manages to find the country but other problems arise:
'FCFA? We don't do that, there is no reference to that currency'.
'Don't be so silly, it is the major currency of former French West Africa, used by hundreds of thousands of people!'
(Oh, dear, and only this morning I made a solemn promise to start being nice, understanding and kind to people...)
Meanwhile I have also been in touch with my Elvis-loving bank manager and friend Monsieur Guindo (see November 23rd entry) who is providing helpful assistance from 'the other side'. Faxes, texts and emails whizz through the ether all day to facilitate what should be a straight forward operation... I miss every train back to Mottisfont and Dunbridge and end up having to take a taxi in order to get at least a couple of hours painting done. Relaxing in the back of the cab, congratulating myself on a difficult situation brought to a happy conclusion, when I get another text: something has gone wrong on 'the other side'. I must cancel the transfer and go back to Kevin tomorrow morning first thing! And this time it was M. Guindo who screwed up- nothing to do with poor Kevin, who mopped his brow this afternoon, looking relieved as I was leaving- he thought he'd seen the last of me as I steamed out of his office at four pm. I seem to have sent off the 5000 pounds to the wrong account...! More to follow on this blog, no doubt, in days to come, should you have the stomach for it...but for now I am going back to the Mill Arms to drink red wine and watch the Bill.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

23 May Mill Arms, Dunbridge.
When it is all over, never let it be said that I lived a hum-drum existance. I was supposed to be back in Mali now, but instead I am nestling in the bosom of a bucolic idyll, deep in the buttercup and cow-parsley strewn fields of Hampshire, over which I walk every morning and evening on my way from the country inn to Mottisfont Abbey and my hay-loft above the stable building where the painting goes on.
Mottisfont Abbey itself, although ancient enough to be mentioned in the Domesday Book, is not the main attraction of this National Trust property. It is the gardens that draws the visitors here. The rose garden is the most complete and famous in the whole of England, established by a famous rosarian whose name escapes me - goodness I didn't even know there were such things!
The gardeners have kindly invited me to share the room in the stable block in which they have their tea breaks. It is strewn, predictably, with secateurs, gardening gloves, grass cuttings, gardening encyclopedias, wellies and bits of earth. The gardeners are a thoroughly delightful lot, clearly hugely proud of their work. There are five full time gardeners, two of whom are women. They actually talk about gardening and roses all the time! One had just been to Chelsea Flower Show- this was not approved of- too gimmicky. And there was a lot of vitriol for the gardening TV programmes, particularly for someone called Monty Don. (I didn't dare mention Charlie Dimmock) Oh, for the times of the likes of someone called Hamilton, seemed to be the concencus. He called a spade a spade and a rose a rose !
The main house has some attractions too- a large twentieth century art collection with paintings by people like Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and Cressida's granny (Vanessa Bell). Each room is guarded by an elderly volunteer, kindly, speaking in hushed tones and hugely reverential towards the heritage of the surroundings, as always in such properties.

How lucky I am to be in this peaceful haven for a few weeks before going back to Mali, alone without anyone needing me or asking me anything, just painting away in my hay-loft,and laying down on the lawn now and then, looking at the sky...

I am trying to imagine walking around here with Ibrahim. What would he say about so much vegetation grown just for the frivolous reason of beauty, and not a sweet potato, or even a water melon, in sight!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The auction ended in a mad flurry of activity last night with about seven bids in less than a minute=-gripping stuff! It sold for £2310 to a Wiltshire pig farmer called Ralph who will pick it up tomorrow. And this morning I found several emails like the following:
'hi, i missed to your landy by a second as i still on dial up {must upgrade} i would have gone to 2,450.00 so if your buyer defaults let us know cheers allan'
But why didn't he start a bit earlier???

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The following is a cautionary tale, illustrating the perils of impetuousness mixed with red wine and laughter.
In October last year, just before leaving for Mali, I had dinner with my old pal Stirling. The wine and conversation flowed,and so did our ideas, as always when I am with him. 'Why are you flying to Mali?' he asked.'Why don't you drive out, through the Sahara?' 'Well, Stirling, for a start I don't actually have a driving licence, and secondly I don't have a car', I replied.'That's no problem' said Stirling. 'We could go out together, I'll drive if you get the car'.
So, the following morning I bought a Landrover on ebay for £3400 before I even had time to wake up properly. Then I called Stirling.... 'Are you MAD?!!!' Well, yes, possibly, but you DID say..., don't you remember?'
To his credit he did agree to come with me after a moment's grumpiness and hesitation, and we were set to go. But since I have never owned a car before I had no idea of all the red tape one has to wade through. I thought we could more or less jump in the thing and head south immediately, but found myself in a most infurianting and frustrating soup involving insurance papers, carnets, export licences- bref-since it looked like it was going to take a month or so minimum to sort out I jumped on a plane, having left the Landrover in the hands of my friend and lawyer Alan, who kindly brought it over to FRANCE since there is scant parking for Landrovers in London and noone was willing or indeed able to look after it for me.
And now I am back again and has to sell the blasted thing. Dear Alan has brought it back from Pas de Calais again, and it is nestled on the Hackney forecourt of my friends Daisy and Francois' place: bless them!
The ebay auction is hotting up: the last bid is at £1420, there are 12 hours 12min and 29 seconds left of the auction. (check Item number: 320112613037)I will lose LOTS of money on it no doubt, but have to get rid of it...will keep you posted..

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I spent my last evening in Sweden with my cousin Lasse and his family. Another cousin, Nisse arrived too with one of his off-spring, and we had a delicious dinner and a great evening . Lasse married Cissi, a Stockholm heiress (and physician). These two are the most unpretentious and modest people I know. They seem totally devoid of interest in worldly goods. They could, if they could only be bothered, live in some style on the top floor of a large nineteenth century house with breathtaking views over the bay but instead they have built a modest house at the bottom of the garden. They never go shopping for any furniture or house hold goods, they just go to the large house and rummage about until they find whatever they need in the apparently unchartered supplies.

Lots of wine was drunk and I didn't wake up until 12.30 the following day- Lasse had to rescue me and drive me off to the airport with lightning speed! (Thank you Lasse, what is your email?)

And now to the BIG NEWS: Fortune, Allah or Divine Providence (maybe the same thing?) is smiling on me and Hotel Djenne Djenno: the money needed to bring the electricity in is being provided by a big commission I have just landed with the National Trust at Mottisfont Abbey in deepest rural Hampshire- I am to paint a floorcloth (or a painted carpet see I have changed my flight back to Mali and will stay a month longer , lodging in a comfy country inn. I long to be in Mali again, but this is too good to turn down!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I wonder what the slender elegant Xaloc would make of this distant cousin? He always gets very excited when he meets other horses, but would he recognize this Shetlands pony as a horse?
I do miss my lovely Xaloc...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sweden, like France, has recently had a change of government and a turn to the right. A new spirit of capitalist fervour is sweeping the nation, and the youth has taken to the streets, as demonstrated by these young Swedes in Leksand, a small town in middle Sweden, who are selling coffee, lemon squash and home made cakes to passers-by. (I was their first customer).

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spending a week in Sweden with my mother and my mother's new lover.
'Does she have yet another new lover?' ask my friends with a mixture of incredulity, approval and feigned shock.
But in fact she doesn't. It is the same lover she has had for the last twelve years or so, it is just that I love saying 'my mother's new lover', it sounds so deliciously scandalous, especially since my mother has celebrated her 75th birthday some time ago and in any case she has always been virtue incarnate in this respect. But at the age of 63 she decided to leave her philandering husband (my stepfather), in the face of all received wisdom which told her that all that all she could expect at that advanced age would be a lonely and love-less future.
Nevertheless, within 2 weeks she met Gillis, who you see above preparing an elk steak for our dinner. He shot the elk himself. Not only a great hunter, he was also until very recently the pilot of a small Fokker Friendship plane in which he and my my mother flew around Scandinavia on frequent visits to their many friends. I am very jealous of my mother- why did I never find anyone like that? He is kind and generous and good and treats me like his daughter. And in fact he was a college friend of my father's, they both studied forestry together.
My mother's new lover has the somewhat dubious distinction of being directly descended from Jacob Johan Anckarstrom, the Swedish nobleman who, on the 16th of March 1792 fired the shot that killed King Gustavus III at a maked ball at the Stockholm Opera, thus eventually inspiring Verdi to write Un Ballo in Maschera.
It is a great joy to spend some time with them and to see my mother happy and enjoying life more than she ever has perhaps. They will visit Mali this autumn and stay at Hotel Djenne Djenno.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Once upon a time there were two little Swedish girls who went to Milan to try and become models. And they did, after a fashion, both of them, as well as go to too many parties and have much too much fun with too many boys and too many drugs and too much rock and roll...

more than thirty years later these two wild girls met up again- one of them has become the very respectable wife of an eminent Stockholm ear nose and throat specialist, has four grown up children and works part time as a physiotherapist. The other has become a hoteliere in Mali... we toasted our reunion with champagne, at the same time we celebrated the fact that I seem to have persuaded the Swedish travel agent Aventyrsresor (see below)to include Mali in their catalogue next year, and they will become the first Swedish tour operator to take on Mali!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I am in Sweden and have just spent some time with my cousin Greger and his wife Eva. Greger is a successful advertising mogul in Stockholm. He is calm, kind, wise and patient and we spoke about how to keep cool and not get angry with one's staff. I really want to be kind and generous and good, but I find myself angry a lot of the time, and my relationship with the Djenne Djenno staff is the most difficult part of my new life as a hoteliere...
Apart from being endowed with all those good qualities, Greger has a perfect home where everything works, and where all the surfaces are smooth and white and photogenic enough to feature on the front cover of Swedish Elle Interor a couple of months ago. I walked around stroking everything and turning taps on and off just for the pleasure of the sheer quality of it all.

just left Notting Hill, which was turned out in its spring best- I had forgotten how colourful and indeed garish English spring is, totally clashing with the traditional English virtues of reserve, restraint and good taste. And how far removed from the brown monochrome of the mud city I have made my home, where nothing is grown which can not be eaten.

I think I will try and make some hanging chairs like this for the bar at Hotel Djenne Djenno- found it on Portobello Road, it should be possible to make it by working with the Bozo basket makers who make the fishing baskets... (see entry March 14)