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...


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