Thursday, January 30, 2014

Message from Carmen

 Hello, first of all. In 2007,  I was in Mali, in a really wonderful trip, one of the most incredible in my life. I was in Djenne, of course, then like a 12 hours trip in an amazing bus. I remember phoned to my djenne's hotel, talking to Sally, and explained  her that our bus was deleted, and arriving to Djennes like I don't know the delete and with two more people and she was waiting for us, in the midlle of the night with a smile and the dinner for us, It was a miracle. 
Dear Sally, I hope this mail is for you, but I am not sure. Anyway, I've been thinking about you hundred of times, and I am really worried when I heard the situation in Mali is really bad. I hope you are right. I remember drinking wine with you in the roof of your hotel watching the sunset.... It is one of the beautiful memories of my life. This mail is only to know you are right, I hope so, please.... If you are not Sally, please send this mail to her if you know her. And if you are Sally, I hope you are Ok, and I send you all my energy and love............Thanks a lot for your time and love, and I hope you are right in Mali. 
Carmen Serrano

Dear Carmen, I THINK I am Sally, but I am not sure...?  My name is Sophie, and I have a roof top Sunset bar, certainly.
The situation is OK now, although we have had a couple of scary years...
Hope you can come back again!

All the best Sally/Sophie.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Ton Appel Mali!

Anna comes from a small town in central Sweden- Ostersund. She travelled to Djenné all alone on the local bus. She speaks only English, thus  cannot really communicate with anyone here- that is she ought not to be able to communicate- but she does ! She is the most intrepid of travellers and has seemingly no problems communicating with anyone at all.  She turned up here a couple of days ago and last night she made herself very popular with the patriotic Levy  (left ) and Keita when she produced her recorder and started playing the Malian National Anthem !

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

More Maouloud

Maoloud continues here. To my delight I was invited to another event: most probably since I am involved with the Djenné Manuscript Library, and I have therefore tapped in to the very core of ancient Djenné.   I have just returned from another session of Fatia: readings of large sections of the Koran, presumably referring to the birth of the Prophet, but I am not certain...and I suspect the majority of the audience/participants  are not that clear about it either, since the communal reading/chanting is in Arabic and only understood by a handful of aficionados- the Grands Marabouts de Djenné; the Masters of the Koran Schools etc.
But really, I don’t mind not understanding. In fact I prefer it.

And I don’t mind the nearly two hours of monotonous albeit melodious chanting.  I can hardly think of anything I like better- the Maoloud chanting reminds me of my two months spent here in the searing heat of April and May 2006, when I was lulled to sleep under my  mosquito net by the Fatia at Maoloud from a neighbouring Koran School, trying to decide whether to begin a new life in Djenné... The Islamic Year is shorter than the Gregorian Calender and Maoloud has now shifted from April to January in the 8 intervening years.


I am quite keen on monotony altogether: Give me a slow journey down the Nile from Juba towards Khartoum through neverending papyrus reeds; our pirogue trip between Djenné and Mopti over New Year in 2005-6; the crossing of the Nullabor plane in 1979; spending a month crossing the rain forests of the north eastern corner of the then Zaire (in 1974). I have a yearning to do the Transibirian Railway too... Yes, I know these are journeys, not Koran readings, but it is all a question of sublime monotony.  

Monotony becomes a sort of meditation: or rather an inspiration. With sublime monotony in some form- landscape or lengthy incomprehensible readings of sacred texts the mind can just wander off and become replenished. New and interesting ideas have the time to spring up. Lovely new frocks come to mind. The meaning of life become clearer in just one such monotonous Koran reading session. Because what is the meaning of life? Isn’t it just that however alien this Fatia may be, I understand perfectly why we are all here in this wonderful city of Djenné,  we are all human beings that want to reach for the divine in whatever way we may be able to understand it...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Maouloud in Yobokaina

Officially the celebrations surrounding the birth of the Prophet Mohammed finished yesterday with the Circumcision, a public holiday. But in Djenné the Koran Readings continue, and I was once more invited to the family Toumagnon of the neighbourhood Yobokaina which is situated to the west of the Mosque. Last year such meeting were prohibited due to the state of emergency, but I was invited in 2012.



All the Djenné Notables turn out in their Grand Boubous. I can watch from the top of the building or else join the women in the kitchen:

The women are cooking delicious rice cakes out the back

and even the goats are taking part....         

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bamako and Back

Have just spent three fabulous days in Bamako  in the lap of luxury with Eva Emneus, the charming new Swedish Ambassador in her lovely residence, drinking lots of wine in glasses like this,  talking lots and watching funny Swedish movies- but also doing plenty  of work : brought a large proportion of the new MaliMali collection which was photographed and entered on the website – much more to add though !
Also had time go to a Music festival in Bamako sponsored by the Danish Embassy . Now back in Djenné again with Keita who joined me on the Bani bus as it passed Segou.

And finally and importantly : I am happy to announce that the calligraphy competition has received sponsorship: This time fromBrazil ! More about this later….

Thursday, January 09, 2014

If you build it, they will come…

Or at least that is how it worked in one of my old favourite Hollywood movies : Field of Dreams.
But perhaps it only works when it comes to Baseball ? I am hoping it will work for Calligraphy too…

It’s like this : True to my reckless nature I have gone and promised the Djenné  Manuscript Library that MaliMali will sponsor the second Djenné Calligraphy competition for this year’s Maoloud , the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed which goes on for three weeks with melodious chanting from all the Djenné Koran schools every night (one of my favourite times of the Djenné year) . The competition has been announced on Djenné radio in four languages and it is open to everyone. MaliMali will finance this to the tune of 300 000FCFA- around 430 E. But we don’t have the money ! Yes, I know I am irresponsible, but I am certain we will find it somehow- it is not the first time I have launched an appeal here, after all !
( By the way, the appeal to fund the Trachoma operations once more yielded more than enough from kind readers of this journal, and we have not yet finished – there are about 30 more operations to be done. The second phase will start at the beginning of February when Keita is here ; more pictures then !)

So here is the idea :
Ever since I went to Gomitogo the other day ( and saw the fabulous chest with the beautiful Koran I have been thinking that if the calligraphy of Djenné could once more reach such perfection there is no reason why the right people would not pay literally millions (CFA) for something like that.
It would be a gift for princes.
I could see IBK offering one such to the Sultan of Brunei on a state visit for example.
The thing that  now needs to be done is to instill the idea of the value of traditional calligraphy  to a people who have forgotten,  since although Arabic writing still goes on here in the Koran schools, nobody commissions great works any longer. For the last fifty years people are just photocopying . Calligraphy is seen as something superceded. It needs to be revived as an exquisite luxury article and an artform. This could actually become  a commercial proposition eventually- but for the moment we need some dosh just for the competition !

The rules of our competition say that only traditional inks are to be used- anything else will be dis- qualified. The judging date is set for the 25th of this month and the price-giving ceremony at the Library for the 26th.
If anyone is interested, please send what you can afford ! look up  and go to ‘projects’ page.

Finally,I have asked that the Surat no 93 be used- people can chose to write it all, or just a portion. It reminds me of our 23rd Psalm :

Surah 93 : Ad-Dunah: The Glorious Morning Light

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

1.       By the Glorious Morning Light,

2.       And by the Night when it is still-

3.       Thy Guardian-Lord hath not forsaken thee, nor is He displeased.

4.       And verily, the hereafter will be better for thee than the present.

5.       And soon will thy Guardian-Lord give thee that wherewith thou shalt be well-pleased.

6.       Did He not find thee, and orphan, and give thee shelter and care ?

7.       And he found thee wandering , and He gave thee guidance.

8.       And He found thee in need, and made thee independent.

9.       Therefore , treat not the orphan with harshness,

10.   Nor repulse the petitioner unheard ;

11.   But the Bounty of the Lord- rehearse and proclaim !





Friday, January 03, 2014


Once a long time ago my friend Biggles and I organized a weekend’s film making with super 8 cameras (it was possible to video things but we wanted to do super 8 just for the fun of it).

The film making took place on a glorious summer weekend at a friend’s farm in Hertfordshire. The idea was to do remakes of great classics: Biggles directed a remake of Gold finger, while I directed and starred in Casablanca.  The weekend was a roaring success: everyone I knew more or less took part. There were at least four James Bonds, and as many Pussy Galores (one of them me). The only way one would be able to  recognize Bond or Pussy was because of the bow-tie and smoking jacket and the sequinned gown which was handed from one actor to the next. 

People were told to arrive with props and costumes and when they arrived they were directed to the wardrobe department and then the prop department that were situated on the lawn in front of the main house to deposit their stuff, then they were given parts to play, according to what was going on at the time. There was not only these two great classics being filmed: we did commercials too.  For some reason we decided the rather unassuming London suburb of Penge would feature, and we did a commercial for the fictitious ‘Penge Tandoori,’ complete with romantic candlelit dinner and an Indian waiter in turban. There was an ad for the Penge Health Club which included people lazing around by the swimming pool smoking and drinking and eating cream cakes.   People  were also told to bring props for whatever scene in whatever film they wanted to star in, and then we shot it: these small snippets became the ‘trailers’ later when we edited the films (this was done on an antiquated cutting machine and needed cellotape!)

One girl arrived with several pillows, a motorcycle crash helmet and a hoover pipe as well as several meters of aluminium foil into which she had herself wrapped up.  She said she wanted to do the moon landing. So we filmed her as she descended the barn ladder in slow motion.

Our host, for some unfathomable reason, wanted to do a very obscure scene from ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ which involved filming him in the kitchen cooking at the AGA, then turning around to a young ‘starlet’ and uttering the following sentence: ‘Do you like Haddock?’ (but pronounced ‘hiddock’, like in the original).

And I wanted to do my favourite scene of any film: the scene from ‘The African Queen’ when  Rosie and Charlie  have been fished out of  Lake Victoria  and are being cross examined by the German Captain of the’ Louisa’: ‘How did you get here?’  Rosie replies that they came down the Ulanga  river in the ‘African Queen’. The Captain replies: ‘but that is impossible!’ and   Rosie  tosses her lovely head and flashes her eyes and utters her immortal and inspirational : ‘Nevertheless!’

I cannot claim to have ridden down the rapids of the Ulanga but we have been through a Coup d’Etat; an Islamist occupation of the north and a war.  In my little way here in Djenné I sit at the beginning of a new year that promises to be if not quite as difficult as the last two, at least no doddle... But, we are here still: the people are working in the MaliMali studio; sometimes there are people in the hotel; the library is continuing with the new project; we are here! Nevertheless....