Thursday, August 30, 2007

Other things of beauty are also happening to cheer me up- Dembele has just finished painting the walls in the Sarakollé- too, too, fabulous....!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The moon is on the wane and things are once more taking on a manageable shape. I just enjoyed watching the last foot-ball game of the season from the distance of my sunset bar. The next day the rising water had already swallowed up the football field. The water is rising rapidly- it could cause problems, but it has not yet reached the high-water mark of last year.

My improved frame of mind has also much to do with the fact that beauty is being created in the little furnaces of Djenné for my new organisation MaliMali ( which is set up to develop and promote art, craft and textiles in Djenné.
Old flip-flops are being recycled to provide the new style of necklaces(see pic from July entry) which I hope will sweep Europe and even the US this coming spring (can you help, Neville?)

Kadija is working hard to fulfil all the orders I have given her, melting down old shoes to provide her beautiful necklaces.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Of African lunacy and salamanders.

Have had an absolutely dreadful day.
Old Africa habituées, toubabs who have lived here most of their lives, tell me that there comes a time when one just have to get outta here, at least for a while, or else one is likely to go stark crazy. I normally smile patiently, thinking that that may well be true for them but it will take some years before I am ready for such a drastic measure. I just changed my mind.
I have been evil incarnate today.
Just imagine a scowling, ranting, miserable old cow and multiply hundred times and you are approaching an approximation of moi aujourd'hui.
Everywhere I looked I saw things that made me angry. The fact that there are no clients here at the moment just provided the fertile seeding ground for the rest of the day's irritations to really flourish. The fact that Keita has gone to Segou for the weekend to fulfil his functions as a good father and husband to his family added further fuel.

It started at breakfast when I watched Igor (Sekou) sweeping up after night's storm ravage. The African way of washing a floor involves throwing several buckets of water on an already rain sodden floor, then swishing the water backwards and forwards and sending it, eventually, onto the saturated surrounding ground which is rapidly turning into a mudbath, despite the hundreds and thousands of Francs CFA that I have spent on atterite- the local, red gravel, used to try and provide a mud-free surface surrounding the hotel.

Then came the reparations of the ceilings in the rooms- there are big cracks in the white surface mud plaster which , when perfect, provides a lovely, sculptural enfolding of the wooden beams which gives the structure to the roof. I found that they had folded back the sheets and the mattresses for the workers, but there was big white blobs all over the bedsteads and all over the floor. The mason's hands were full of white plaster and what does he do? He uses my beautiful brown mud facade to clean his hands, thus making huge white marks all over the mud walls! Ladies and Gentlemen, I kid you not, I felt real murder within me and wanted to kill him there and then!

And Beigna helped me with the cleaning of my brushes in terps this afternoon. When he had finished he threw all the white contaminated terps out straight over the front drive's red pebbles, thus causing a large whiteish gash all across the entrance drive!

And there are at least twenty buckets in this hotel. These buckets are always dotted about the place, and always very visible, and absolutely always where they shouldn't be.

I went with Ali to check the rooms this morning.
'What's that?' I growled, pointing at a load of hair enmeshed in the plastic filter/trap on the bathroom floor in the Dogon, which Ali said he had finished cleaning.
And what does he do? To please me he picks up the filter, gets rid of all the trapped toubab hair, AND PUTS IT STRAIGHT DOWN THE PLUGHOLE DIRECTLY!!!!!!! Again, Ladies and Gentlemen, I felt an urge to throttle him there and then. Instead I howled at the top of my voice:
'Ali! Merde! Do you know there are no plumbers in Djenne! Do you realize what you are doing? Do you have any idea how much it costs to send for a goddam plumber from Mopti????'

Bref, as is probably abundantly clear from the above I need to get outta here. .
Instead I am sitting in my bar all alone, listening to the tape Cressida made for me last time we were in New Orleans: 'I wish I was a Lizard in the Spring...' and the amazing 'John the Revelator', reminding me of arriving into New Orleans having crossed the Louisiana swamps through its scary landscape full of mutilated tree stumps ....
I am suddenly nostalgic for Louisiana, a world which is not even Europe or home, but which is nevertheless so much more my culture than here. The fact of living in a totally alien place has been the fuel which has driven me and inspired me so far- the stranger and the more alien the more I have wanted it. Tonight it just makes me angry!

Following morning breakfast .
The sun is shining and all around me my garden is green and abundant. The banana trees are heavily pregnant and Napoleon just neighed in the field beside.
During the night as I was layng awake, tossing and turning under my mosquito net, still angry in the hot still African night I looked at the window netting and saw a tiny salamander outlined against a bright full moon.
Keita and I went on a salamander hunt the other night- a salamander has the same effect on Keita as a rat on me- it has to go, and now! The salamander is slightly different to the normal house geckoes and lizards. It seems perfectly peaceful to me, and I don't mind it at all. But Africans think it dangerous and even evil, and always chase it. Keita has never told me the reason for this, it seems the salamander has power and can even harbour spirits.
In the beginning of Goethe's Faust, the Doctor includes the word Salamander in the incantations he uses to invoke the Earth Spirit: Salamander muss gluhn...(or something like that, how is it George? Can you post the passage on the blog?)
In any case, it was perhaps the salamander's presence, but above all the sight of the full moon which calmed me suddenly in that it explained a little the reason for my evil behaviour today- the full moon has always sent me semi-lunatic...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

7pm from the sunset bar.

The sun has just set behind the Great Mosque, which is now outlined in jet black against a deep purple and crimson storm sky preserving the last traces of light. Behind me in the Djenne Djenno garden the Charlie Dimmock solar lanterns have started to twinkle. Beigna have just brought me my second Djenne Djenno cocktail: (dark rhum, ice and fresh ginger and lemon juice.)
In two weeks I will once more return to London, for another large commission I can't really refuse. I am looking forward to returning- I want to laugh a bit with English people, can't quite remember when I laughed the last time...smiling, yes, a lot, and talking about terribly ineresting things, yes, and being fascinated, of course, all the time, but laughing? No, not really. I want to see Pia and Andrew and Cressida and others, talk nonsense and giggle childishly without having any particular reason.
(above is the said Andrew, at Djenne Djenno last January)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Malick Sidibé and his Hasselblad t Hotel Djenné Djenno!
Must rush now- internet caf is closing tell more later, below you see me and Malick waiting for his buis back to Bamako this morning

Friday, August 17, 2007

We are preparing for the arrival of Monsieur Malick Sidibé, the Malian superstar photographer who just won a prize at the Venice Biennale- he is arriving tomorrow to take pictures of the hotel! (see June entry.
I wanted to fly him up here, or at least to give him a car and a driver, but he said, modestly, 'oh, no, don't make any trouble for me, we will take the Bani Bus'. This means that the grand old man will travel all day with chickens and goats and babies and finally be dropped off at the cross roads tomorrow afternoon with all his equipment. We will stand there waiting for him of course, with our Mitsibishi to take him the last 40 km to Djenné.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Have been bothered by a particularly fat, ugly and unreasonable petty official recently- an employe of what is called the INPS. It is something to do with social security and pensions for my staff.
I went to his office voluntarily the other day, thinking I'd better put my staff on the official books.
The ugly official glared at me across his desk and snarled:' We have known about your hotel from the very beginning. There is no point of lying. You have been operating illegaly since last December because you have not registered with us. I am the INPS, and I have the power to close you down if you don't co-operate!'
Somewhat shaken by this salvo, but determined not to let myself be intimidated, I responded, truthfully:' But Monsieur, I didn't realize I had to register! I am new here from a foreign country, noone told me about this! You could have come and seen me at any time to explain! I am not interested in lying to you and keeping you in the dark!'
The ugly official mumbled something that sounded unpleasant in Bambara, then he told me to come back the next day when he would have decided how much money I owed him.

The following morning Keita rounded up all our important friends in Djenne and all those with any clout in official government positions. They all passed by the INPS office and filed their complaints at his behaviour, flexing their muscles, including Abdraman, the manager at the Campement Hotel.
When I went for my midday meeting, the ugly official whas somewhat sheepish. I was sweetness itself and said all I wanted was to be a good citizen and pay my dues- which is true. The ugly official said ' You have a lot of friends in Djenne. They are protecting you'. Another meeting was called and I said I wanted to bring my advisors. 'Choose one of them' said the official. 'I don't want my whole office invaded!'

oh, and yes, have changed the name of my new horse yet again (seen above grazing while I am writing this at the CLIC) He is now to be called Napoleon, or Napo for short. He is a very small horse but has very big ideas. He struts and prances about, extremely proud and pleased with himself. He is great fun to ride and last night we went to see Allessandra my Toureg friend at her sand castle by the Bani Crossing. We galopped all the way back - Napo went like the wind!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

More Horse Business.
There is a famous Marabout in Djenne , one of the only remaining great horsemen in town ( the rest have all taken to mopeds.) He likes to ride his horse in full ceremonial regalia on Fridays and the day of Tabaski - the Islamic New Year Celebration. He has had an eye for Xaloc ever since he saw me riding him through town a few months ago.
Since my accident I have decided to use Xaloc for the new carriage we have bought. He and Max will both be used for this purpose, since I don't want to ride Xaloc again- I am still hobbling around from the last time. The Marabout has got wind of this, and today he arrived, dressed in black on his black stallion just before sunset, cutting a dashing figure, to plead with me to let him have Xaloc either in exchange for his mount, or to let him buy him.
He is outraged that I should consider putting my beautiful young Xaloc in front of a carriage. He pointed at Max, grazing quietly and minding his own business on the field in front of the hotel - 'just look at him! He was a great horse, very beautiful too, but his spirit is broken'. I was slightly put out by this. Max is still a beautiful horse in my opinion. He is very calm and does what he is told- not a bad idea when his purpose is to pull a carriage full of tourists!
Ibrahim took the side of the Marabout in his argument and agreed that Max was a broken horse- 'a horse used for a carriage becomes more like a donkey', he said.
What to do? I think I will exchange Xaloc for the Marabout's horse.

I tried it- it is very well trained, but in a style I don't know. It is perhaps like the American cowboy style- one holds the reins high in one hand and swings them in the direction one wants to go. The confusing thing is how to make the horse stop- the means used to accomplish this act seems to be more or less indentical to the means by which one makes it do some intricate circus tricks such as prancing about on the spot and rearing up ...! Until I have learned the difference rding this new horse may well prove just as perilous as riding my Xaloc...The marabout is coming back tomorrow when we will discuss the deal. I think I must let Xaloc go, if only for his own good. It would be a happier future for him after all than pulling a cart full of tourists. - I think the Marabout would look after him well.


Saturday night-
The Exchange was done just before sunset. The marabout came riding on his black stallion, this time in a snow white boubou. He certainly has quite an understanding of cinematographic .drama..
I was sad to see Xaloc go, but I can go and visit him any time I like. The Marabout says he will come and give me a few lessons in African riding style. We will ride to Sanossa together- him on Xaloc and I on my new horse. Hmmm....we'll see....
The name of my new black stallion is KOWAL, meaning champion in Saurai. I might change it since he doesn't seem to know that it is his name, and I could think of better ones. Perhaps I'll call him Tristan after our lovely French painter from last winter..? Will keep you informed of further horse business.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.' Revelation:8: 1-5

News travels slowly to Djenne, Mali. I found out only two days ago that Ingmar Bergman, my countryman , had died.
That night there was a storm of monumental strength. The skies flashed and raged with the fire from the angel's censer. This was not a normal storm- it was a spectacle offered as a salute; it appeard to me as the sounding of the last trumpet for the greatest of all film directors.

Two and a half years ago the National Film Theatre in London gave a season of Bergman films. I went with my friend Sanjay - we met cheerfully for a drink in the foyer, then saw that evening's film and emerged, shattered and emotionally destroyed, unable to speak, only just to mumble 'see you tomorrow'. And the next day the same thing again...The Seventh Seal, The Hour of the Wolf, Winter Light and many more. Why did we want to go through all that pain? Perhaps Bergman's films are the most successful contemporary example of Aristole's idea of what constitutes tragedy: catharsis or the purging of the emotions of fear and pity?

In any case the pain incurred by a great piece of art is a life-giving thing.

As a matter of fact, Bergman was also capable of comedy of course, although he is best-known for the dark pieces. One of his most delightful but little known films is 'The Devil's Eye'- a light, elegant fantasy involving the return from hell to earth of Don Juan to try and seduce a parson's daughter. But, like all Bergman's films even The Devil's Eye contains more than its share of profound wisdom and human understanding.

Bergman was constantly questioning the existance of God and our possible relationship with Him. He never gave any answers. I remember watching the Seventh Seal with an American friend who was extremely irritated by the film: 'OK, so that may all be kinda interesting', he said, 'but what is his message?' Bergman was not a dealer in answers but in questions.
Anyway, now finally he must know the answers...?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I am very fed up with my foot, which just doesn't seem to heal. Every time I think it's OK and start walking without crutches it swells up again and is very painful.
All my staff and everyone else have been telling me I have to see my neighbour, an old Dogon Marabout with healing powers. I have resisted so far, always very sceptical about alternative healing. But finally I succumbed to the pressure, when even Keita joined the chorus insisting on bringing in the old Dogon. I told Ibrahim to go get him, with the proviso that I was not about to offer any sacrifices..So here he is , working his Maraboutage on my foot. He felt it first, then told me the bones had not set properly. I insisted that the ex-rays showed a perfectly normal foot, only a small crack in the bone, which is what is giving me all this pain. The Cuban orthopedic surgeon in Mopti had told me just to rest and not put any pressure on the foot.
The old Dogon ignored this information and set to work attacking the poor foot, digging in his fingers with considerable force to reset the joint. It didn't last long, fortunately , and the treatment ended by the rubbing in of a black substance he kept in a shell. Then he told me I should start walking and that I wouldn't need the crutches any more. The treatment will continue for four days, but no more bone manipulation, only the black stuff. It feels quite sore at the moment but we will see...

Keita went to Sikasso for a conference a few days ago, and while he was there he decided to order himself a new suit, which he was sporting proudly upon his return: Knee-length trousers and shirt with a peacock pattern.
West African fashion is a mixture of the super chic and stylish- there can be nothing smarter than a freshly washed and ironed 'bazin boubou' , and the -to European eyes- very silly, such as Keita's new suit. However, for some reason it works here, and Keita does not look silly in the least. In fact, it is hard to imagine anyone with more dignity and grace than Keita...