Monday, May 30, 2016


I was privileged to be present last night in the Barbican for a five star performance of more or less the best the classical music world can offer in the form of violinists and conductors: Nikolaj Znaider  playing Beethoven's violin concerto which was followed by Elgar's second symphony, both conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano.   I was there in the company of David Nice, music critic; great pal and the most frequent commentator on my meanderings  in this journal. 
I would like to give  his review for the Arts Desk  a five star rating too, reading as it does more like a inspired review of an exciting  thriller than a performance of  what some would describe as two old war horses of the classical repertory:
 "The opening lightness of the Rondo, Elgar’s most progressive and fascinating movement, proved deceptive: woodwind shrieked and the ghost from earlier in the symphony, now all hammering juggernaut, came upon us unawares." 
Today I am not really writing myself but would like to give the stage to him. Please look in on his magisterial and  luminous  tribute to these marvellous performers and this glorious concert:

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brazilian days and Memories of Djenné

 Splendid days follow one after another like pearls in a necklace here in Brazil, where Andrea and her well-heeled friends and family are regaling me with champagne lunches and rides on their Arab horses through the  rolling hills of  the ravishing country side surrounding  Sao Paulo and Campinas. I am soaking it all up gratefully but there is another layer in me that cannot forget that Keita has gone and will never return.
I am trying out different combinations in my mind to try and make sense of the incomprehensible fact that he no longer exists and to attempt to find something positive somewhere.   I keep telling myself for instance that  it is quite true that all my prayers were answered: I had asked that if he had to die he would not have to suffer as an invalid for a long time which I believe can be the case with Multiple Myeloma patients who may have to live with terrible complications for years.  Keita’s end was quick when it came. I had also prayed that he would not suffer and I believe he did not. He faded away and lost consciousness and there was not even any need for morphine at the end. So I suppose I have every reason to be grateful... 

Last night Andrea and I spoke of Keita’s last time in Djenné. That was a perfect evening and also something to be grateful for. 

The night before he left, on the 28th of January, we had a celebration dinner for the Cataract Team which had been operating in Djenné for a week, achieving more that 120 operations for the population of Djenné and the surrounding villages.  Keita was very proud of this, as I was, of course.  The team  was  also leaving the following day and we had a really enjoyable night in the hotel garden under a spectacular and starry sky.
Around the table  were some of Keita’s most intimate and oldest  friends including Dra, the manager of the Campement hotel; there was Maza their  handicapped friend   and of course Moussa Koné was there as part of the team- Moussa had lived and worked in Djenné with Keita at the hospital when they were all young men together. 

The evening was full of laughter and reminiscence of good times gone by. One by one the stories kept coming and  they were  often about Moussa who had been something of a ladies’ man.  I remember particularly one extraordinary story which provoked peals of laughter and a certain admiration in me and Andrea for the bravery shown by a particular girlfriend of Moussa’s...
This young girl had been in love with Moussa  and he had been fond of her but had never touched her since he thought she was too young for him and he also knew that he could never marry her because   the Djenné population (the Djennénké ) would never accept him since he was a foreigner and from Bamako.  The girl had also been promised to someone else in marriage. Nevertheless she had always insisted that she did not want to marry the young man in question, although no one had taken any notice of her wishes. The  wedding approached like an unstoppable steam train and all was prepared: her dress, her jewellery, her dowry and the marriage feast was prepared with a slaughtered bull.  On the wedding day the bride, the groom and the large wedding party arrived at the Djenné Mairie where the young bride and bridegroom were conducted to the Maire who proceeded with the ceremony in the presence of dozens of witnesses. “Do you take this man  to be your husband? “ asked the Maire.  And the bride said NO!
 It is interesting  to try and visualize  the effect this reply would have had on the assembled crowd. “Whyever not?” asked the astonished Maire. “Because I love Moussa Kone!” said the heroic girl.
The result of this pronouncement was that  poor Moussa was immediately hauled out of his abode   by the girl's family and  brought before the assembled wedding guests where he had to explain himself. He tried not to be too indelicate to the girl but he had to tell the truth: he had never touched her and he did not want to marry her. And the end of the story was that however paternalistic society may be in Djenné,  a girl cannot be forced to marry someone against her will  so the wedding never went ahead. The girl eventually married someone else, and so did Moussa by the way.
That was a fabulous evening and I remember Keita laughing his hearty laugh that I loved so much: he was never to return again to Djenné but we did not know that then of course...

Maza with his new bike.

Sunday, May 08, 2016


A medley of dinners with friends and other jolly events are streaming by me in a sunny springtime London: last night a gourmet meal at Kathy and Dan’s in Islington where the whole family takes part in the cooking. Then we watched  Mike Leigh’s ‘Abigail’s Party’ because we, the adults, felt that it must be part of a balanced cultural education for their teenage children . I don’t believe it has aged at all and if the cheese and pineapple was exchanged for, say, mini blinis and Demis Roussos was exchanged for Justin Timberlake (?) it would all be just as relevant today.
Before that came an interesting evening here in my flat with the formidable Alice Walpole (centre under lamp) who is arriving in Mali after the end of Ramadan, so towards end July , to take up her post as the new British Ambassador when the delightful football playing Jo Adamson leaves . Jo also came for dinner on her recent visit. I am hoping to engage Alice  in some way in the BL project at the Djenné Manuscript Library.  Jo was so kind to us and gave us the great evening in a smart Bamako hotel  in January 2015 which ended a conference of Malian manuscripts that had been organized by UNESCO. That event raised our status and 'put us on the map' as a force to be reckoned with albeit of course still in the shadow of Timbuktu.
 It is perfect to have my flat back again to entertain this time. It is normally let and I stay with friends.

On Friday there was a vernissage at the European commission and on Monday there is the yearly Europe Concert organized by my pal  Jeremiah-more poignant this year than ever just before the British referendum...
And then on Tuesday I am having open house again: Tuesdays were always the evening when people popped into see me here in Ladbroke Grove- ‘Sophie’s Salon’ as some people called it somewhat pretentiously.
And best of all: next Friday I am leaving for Sao Paulo for a ten days visit to Andrea with some Malimali promotion thrown in.
I gratefully grab hold of all these events  to prevent myself from sitting alone becoming tearful and looking at old pictures of those  happy times with Keita  in Mali which will now never return.