Wednesday, December 28, 2016

‘L’Homme propose, Dieu dispose’

L’Homme propose, Dieu dispose’ was one of Keita’s favourite sayings. The last time he used it was when we reviewed our holiday plans in March: we had been discussing whether to go to Guinea or to the Ivory Coast in the old Mercedes, but it was suddenly becoming clear that we would no longer be going anywhere. I just looked it up: ‘The phrase "Man proposes, but God disposes" is a translation of the Latin phrase "Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit" from Book I, chapter 19, of The Imitation of Christ by the German cleric Thomas à Kempis.’ It seems that it would  have been imported by the French and is used often in Mali.                                                                                                                                                     I think it fits in quite well with the way Muslims perceive divine intervention in human affairs.
I had been planning my last Christmas in Djenné: on the 23rd of December was the 10 year anniversary of the opening of the hotel. But perhaps it was better like this: A Christmas in Djenné sans Keita is quite inconceivable.
It seems that whatever plans I have had about my future have been speedily rearranged by a power outside my own control. My plan was to leave Djenné around June, to find a nice big house in Bamako with a swimming pool and a few good rooms with en-suite bathrooms in which I would run a Bed and Breakfast. I would also continue MaliMali on the premises and  have both a studio and a little shop. Then I would travel up to Djenné every month perhaps to see the project out at the library.
This is not going to happen. I have been to my GP here in London and it had been decided that I must come back soon not only to have the heart operation but to address some serious problems with my spine. I am not to ride any more. No more promenades with Petit Bandit towards nightfall by the river.
This is not new.  It has been happening and worsening for years, but has been put in the shadow of Keita’s health problems which were much worse.

But I have nevertheless spent a lovely Christmas in London with Andrew, one of my friends who came to Mali on that first auspicious trip. We hosted Christmas Day dinner for mutual friends including the lovely Pia, our Swedish friend who also travelled with us to Mali: everyone mistook her for our daughter.  Jeremiah and David, also Mali veterans were also invited, and a few others. I made flags for the Christmas tree representing all the different nationalities present: British; Swedish, Hungarian, Austrian, Irish and Jamaican, since Andrew is a white Jamaican, born in Montego Bay, where his arrival  into this world was assisted  by  Dr. Marley, the cousin of Bob Marley’s dad.  (After such a tedious blog post once more, I am glad to have been able to slip that interesting bit of information in for some light relief.) Flying back to Mali on the 4th.

Pia and Andrew having Boxing Day Breakfast.

Monday, December 19, 2016


The telephone rang this morning at 8.30. I saw that it was the Hammersmith Hospital. 'Oh, how considerate of them' I thought as  I lifted the telephone to my ear to reply. It was today that I were to have my Ablation, a small intervention on the heart, to make it beat normally again.
Frequent readers of this journal may remember that the day after Keita's death, on the day of his funeral the 27th of March, I suddenly developed this heart condition which means that the heart beats with a strange irregular rhythm, which has been kept under control with medication for the last months.
But the phone call  wasn't to tell me to get up and to get ready for my 11 o'clock appointment at the hospital. It was to tell me that it had been cancelled. They had had an unusually large number of people coming in during the night with very serious heart conditions so therefore my non-urgent intervention had been postponed because all the beds were taken.
I am only in the UK for this reason.  This operation has already been cancelled and rescheduled a  few weeks ago which made it necessary for me  to cancel all my Christmas plans in Djenné- Birgit was coming out and maybe Andrea from Brazil. We were going to have our last Christmas together with all the usual  Djenné trimmings, only  sans Keita... There was going to be the 100 cataract operations in his memory for Christmas and his family was coming to Djenne from Bamako and Segou. But no: I had to reschedule everything and change my airline ticket at large cost. But of course I realized that it had to be done so I made the arrangements and the ticket was changed to the 4th of January.
And now I was told that this new arrangement also had to be changed! They just told me that I would receive a letter with a new appointment. Of course I cannot stay here indefinitely just waiting for an appointment. I am staying a few days here and a few days there with kind friends. My own flat is let.
I have many people in Djenné who are waiting for me to arrive so they get paid: at the library, at the the studio at the the hotel!
I told the clerk at the Hammersmith Hospital  that the new appointment will have to be in April (when I always go to Europe for a couple of months anyway) because  I have to go back to West Africa to see to my work. I have investigated the situation and I am entitled to treatment on the National Health Service here because I am working on a contract through the British Library. I even have a letter from them to this effect so there is no problem about that side of things.
I understand that they are over-stretched and that the NHS are in a crisis situation, therefore I am loath to really complain about my treatment- I have always received a very fine service from them, not least  last year when my amoebic dysentery crisis was dealt with so well by the Tropical Diseases Unit at UCH.
But this new drama is very unfortunate and I feel totally flattened by it. I will have spent nearly two months in Europe to virtually no avail... But I will try and see the sunny side of this. I have managed to arrange my new British Passport, I have spent some peaceful time with my mother and step father and I have made some new friends and enjoyed the company of old and dear friends... all that is not in vain of course.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Adventures in Northumberland

The idea of not being totally in control and not quite knowing what is around the corner has always held a certain appeal for  me and I suppose I have chosen to conduct my life so that there is a good measure of surprise and chance involved. This applies mainly to my interactions with other people and I think I used to like having  a hotel because there were always interesting unknown people turning up at the hotel in the good old days.

A very long time ago before I had a hotel in Djenné I went to a party in London and the conversation turned to motorcycles. The chap on my right said that he had once won a motorcycle whilst playing poker in Ibiza. ‘And where is it now?’ I asked. ‘Well; that is the thing’, he replied. ‘I have never seen it. It is a Moto Guzzi Lemans Mark 11’ he added casually. Now, as everyone who is at all into motorcycles knows, this is a Prince amongst vintage bikes.  ‘It is in Glasgow’ he continued, ‘and I have never got around to picking it up’. I had just passed my motorcycle driving test in London so I said: ‘I tell you what: why don’t you buy me an air ticket to Glasgow and I will pick up your Lemans and drive it to London?’ He agreed and before I knew it I was on my way, clad in leather and clutching my helmet on the commuter plane to Glasgow.
But before I left I spoke to my friend the jewellery designer Neville and he said: ‘If you are in Scotland you must visit my friends ...... and ...... in Edinburgh. They will be delighted to put you up for the night. Here is their telephone number, just tell them you are a friend of Neville’s.’So I decided to go back to London via Edinburgh and I called them up: ‘Hello! My name is Sophie and I am a friend of Neville’s’. ‘Who is Neville?’ came the reply in a pleasant Edinburgh brogue. ‘Well, he is a friend of Duncan’s, you know the one with the red beard, the painter’. ‘Never heard of him' said my potential host. ‘Oh, really?’ I was becoming rather crestfallen and had started giggling. ‘But never mind about Duncan, what is it you want?’ continued the Scot. ‘Well, Neville told me you wouldn’t mind putting me up for the night’.... ‘Oh he did, did he?’ Giggles on both sides of the phone by this stage. Well I can’t see why not. We have a dinner party tonight but we can always make another place at the table. ‘And he gave me the address.
It turned out to be in one of those glorious grey stone Edinburgh Georgian town houses. The dinner was sumptuous and the company was thrilling and fun. I was given a lovely room. The following morning I left on the Lemans, my hosts waving energetically on the doorstep, not knowing who I was and I myself not having any idea where I had been and very happy to keep it that way.

There were often people at the hotel with whom I had brief but deep conversations. They sometimes said to me. If you’re ever visiting Avignon/Vienna/Lyon/Montpellier/Northumberland etc you must pop in and see us.
Sometimes they kept in touch, often via this blog with the occasional comments etc. Because I saw so many people all the time in the heyday of the hotel it was sometimes difficult to remember exactly who the people were who sent me messages. So when I decided to go and visit Monique and Pascal in Lyon I was not quite certain that I wasn’t mixing them up with Brigitte and Jean-Paul from Avignon. But as soon as I got off the train and saw them, I remembered of course and I spent the most wonderful time trabouling and frequenting the Bouchons of Lyon with them. . The same thing happened just now. Mary has been a frequent commentator on this blog since she and her husband John  were at the hotel in 2012, when it was already regarded as out of bounds by the foreign office warning sites. They had been the only ones at the hotel and they had visited with another couple, having dinner but sitting at another table with their friends while Keita and I were apparently dining at a table next to them. This scenario now seems so idyllic to me... We did also manage some Djenne Djenno cocktails on the roof and some conversation it appears.
And now, four years later, I have visited them on their farm in Northumberland!  I am on my way down to London on a faulty train and will alas miss the funeral of my dear friend Sara...
But have had a lovely, muddy time on their 500 Acre farm just south of the Scottish border. John and Mary’s son George, an astonishing six foot seven handsome giant with a large black beard took me around the estate on a sort of muddy mini jeep to see all the wonders, which included Limousin bulls that looked absolutely terrifyingly dangerous, and they were too, as George assured me. I couldn’t help thinking how some people, like MNH Gillis takes on a resemblance of the animals with which they have a close affinity: Gillis looks like the elks he used to hunt and care for all his life. And George? Well...
Mary and John and I went to the island of Lindisfarne in order to count their cows as soon as I arrived. (John above with me at Lindisfarne). During a couple of months a year they keep about ninety cows and the same amount of sheep on the island to graze- it is necessary to keep down the vegetation and prepare the ground for the rare orchids that grow on this island in the spring, where Henry VIII smashed up the ancient Abbey where the Lindisfarne Gospels had been written many centuries ago.
At night we had lovely farmhouse fare thrown together by Mary seemingly effortlessly. I met some of their friends, an accomplished bunch of artists and writers/ organic millers who were active in the area on the side of the angels, i/e campaigning for wind power mills etc.  Then the music-loving John played me Karkar on the Spotify (music was one of the reasons they went to Mali) before we started jumping up and down frenetically to Morrison Hotel...All in all a Very Fun Time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Flooded out in Islington

 I arrived back from a pleasant week in Sweden with my mother and MNH (Mother's New Husband, or Gillis, my lovely step father) to spend a few days with my old friends Cressida and Paul at Angel Islington.  They had arranged for an adventurous time for me, knowing how easily bored I am. After a chatty and jolly but  relatively conventional evening on Sunday, the fun started at 6am the following morning with excessive  banging on front doors in the street below and loud shouting which we took to be the boisterous  arrival of some neighbour who had been over-indulging at a pre-Christmas party.
But then we heard something that sounded like a waterfall and at closer inspection it turned out that Charlton Place (one of the streets off this main road above) had turned into a rapidly
 flowing  knee deep river and it was the Police and the fire brigade that were banging on people's doors to evacuate everyone. A mains water pipe had burst on Upper Street and some time earlier than the above picture was taken a geyser higher than the buildings had been gushing forth.
We were all helped to ford the rapids, held by the hand by police officers and escorted to a local pub, the Steam Passage, where the kind land lord had opened up his doors and was busy serving tea to all the evacuees. Here are  Paul and I drying our feet. At the next table sat Cressida's neighbour, Karen Armstrong the well known writer on religious affairs.

We were offered alternative accommodation at the local Hilton Hotel courtesy of Thames Water, who were regarded as the villains in this catastrophy: they did not arrive on the scene until about 10 in the morning when the gushing water was  finally stopped  and the damage could begin to be assessed. By that stage millions of pounds worth of of damage had been caused in the basement floors of the expensive houses in this well heeled neighbourhood.
But it was interesting to see something like this unfold in London and to try to imagine what would happen in Mali in a similar sort of disaster situation- it  happens all too frequently of course. One had to admire the efficiency of the emergency services and the comfort of a highly developed Western society: there were loss adjusters arriving  on site from  the early morning and every one who had been involved will of course be able to claim insurance. How different it would have looked in Mali where insurance hardly exists and where everyone would have taken the blow with the knowledge that it was the will of Allah ...

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A new Trip Advisor Review!

We used to have Trip Advisor reports  every other week but now we are lucky if we have a couple of visitors a month to the hotel, so this five star review was a nice surprise! And particularly since the staff managed this all on their own.
“A wonderful place”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed yesterday NEW via mobile
We visited Djenne and stayed at Djenne Djenno. The place is by far the best in town. The rooms are very nice, with a mixture of traditional decoration and modern comfort.
The food was very good and the staff very welcoming.
Stayed November 2016, travelled with friends 


 And that was not all today! There was also a nice Tweet from a happy Australian MaliMali customer:

PM Newton

Nov 23
Gorgeous cool cotton for summer + bag. All the way from @MaliMaliSophie in Djenné to me. (Cats not included)
Thank you!

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Musical Medley

London showed me its  most disagreeable face as I landed at Heathrow on Friday:  grey skies, drizzle and temperatures which appeared  sub-zero to me.
Nevermind. There were lots of consolations, mainly of a musical kind because I am staying with  David and Jeremiah and that  always turns into a musical Odyssey. This time it started with my watching a  DVD of Don Giovanni from Glyndebourne at night alone since my hosts were out somewhere. But this inspired us and  the following  morning  we dug into David's inexhaustible library of DVDs and played all the greatest performances from Don Giovanni: the best Donna Elviras and the best Donna Annas of all time etc and what David called the 'Duel of the Basses': the final of Don Giovanni with the Commendadore, Leporello and Don Giovanni himself.
 I  dragged myself away from this aural feast  reluctantly only to plunge directly into another one of a very different kind: Saturday afternoon live Bebop at the Elgin in Ladbroke Grove.  I met up with my old friends Pia, Andrew and Yonatani at this this legendary Ladbroke Grove watering hole which is just across the road from my flat, now let. We saw the Steve Fishwick/Alex Garnett Quartet. Pia is an expert at finding interesting performances at fun venues. We have all seen the trumpet playing Steve Fishwick before, that time it was in another venue that Pia found many years ago...

 I  have a store of special places in my memory: places  far out of the ordinary; places which are so unusual that only a fabulous reality could possibly make them up-one's imagination would never be inspired enough. I call them  my seven wonders of the world. One such place was called  BB's.
We would all meet up once a week at Liverpool Street station then get on a train which took us to Forest Gate, far  away in East London suburbia. We would walk down an unassuming street like many others lined with small terraced houses in this somewhat down at heel neighbourhood until we reached a house which had a sign above its entrance advertising  "The East London Dancing Club". We had arrived. Inside  the host greeted us, BB, a Jamaican devoté of Jazz, Blues and just about any other music which could be performed in his house- the whole place  was turned into a club where we saw New York Tap Dancers as well as Bebop with Steve above; fabulous blues singers from Croydon and  jazz pianists from Chicago. I do not think the performers were paid, but nevertheless everyone wanted to perform there. Half way through the evening BB would serve up a generous buffet of good Jamaican fare, Jerk Chicken and the like. One paid whatever one wanted to contribute- I remember once I had forgotten to bring cash but BB just told me to 'dig in' anyway.
 BB has now left this world alas (Pia and Andrew went to his well frequented funeral) but he and his wonderful East London Dancing Club certainly lives in our memories for ever.

The music did not stop at the Elgin on Saturday. I had to rush on to the ENO where I was meeting David an Jeremiah once more at 6pm and we saw a performance of 'Lulu', an opera by Alban Berg based on the 'sex tragedy' plays of Wedekind. All dissonance and German Expressionism- fabulous sets by William Kentridge. Musically not quite as impossible as I had imagined, in fact I liked it although I felt it could have benefited from some editing... too long. David wrote this review:

And that was not all by any means on the Musical front.  The following morning I met Andrew and Clare at sung Mass at Our Lady of Victories, Kensington which featured organ Prelude by Bach, Exultate Deo by Palestrina, Our Father by Rimsky -Korsakov, Agnus Dei by Mozart and Toccata by Egil Havland.
Then we all went back 'home' to Jeremiah and Davids for lovely Sunday lunch (pork with crackling!)  where more music flowed: A friendly argument had erupted: who is the greatest? Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan? All the four others at the lunch ganged up on me and had the bad taste of believing Leonard Cohen should have been the one to receive  the Nobel Price instead of Dylan. (Now, I do like Leonard Cohen too of course but even he himself realized he was in the shadow of Dylan...) Anyway, we staged a 'duel' between the two greats. Two numbers were to be played by each. The Leonard Cohen Camp chose one called 'Joan of Arc' and one 'Anthem'.   I chose 'Hard Rain' to represent Dylan as well as 'Lay down your Weary Tune'.   The outcome was unclear since we all stuck to our convictions...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Some corner of a Foreign Field/That is forever England

For the first time I have spent Remembrance Sunday in Bamako, where I  took part in a moving ceremony at the Christian cemetery given by  Alice Walpole, the new British Ambassador (with Lt Col E Coward above). Wreaths were laid a  at the grave of a British soldier who served and died in the second world war. His  body was repatriated to Mali since his parents lived in Bamako.
The ceremony was followed by a reception at the British Embassy Residence.

Evelyne Decamps the new French Ambassador was very chatty and friendly and  said she was worried about my being in Djenné alone and in her view very much a kidnapping target. ( I am surprised and flattered that she even remembered who I am!) Yes, perhaps I am a target, but I must have been that for many years now...

I have spent a couple of lonely weeks in Djenné when much has happened on the world stage: a new American president was elected for one thing. This turned out to be  a very different occasion to the last time I stayed up all night to watch an American election at Hotel Djenné Djenno... that was eight years ago and the hotel was full of tourists. There were different nationalities watching in different rooms- I was with the American Peace Corps in the  Kassonge Room and we watched CNN. The bar was for the French and the Peul Suite was were the Italians were watching: A joyous occasion. At four o clock in the morning when it was clear that Obama had won an Italian woman experienced a surfeit of joy and ran into the garden and grabbed the night watchman and kissed him on the mouth. Everybody's choice of president was elected;  Keita was still well and life was sweet .. Now I am tired of  of being horrified about the result so we shall just pass over it.

What else? We had a lecture  for the manuscript owners who have entrusted their manuscripts to the Djenné Manuscript Library by Saadou Traoré our new manuscript expert who was explaining what he has found of particular interest in the manuscripts: there is plenty. I was particularly excited by a manuscript from November 1755 which talks about the shaking of the earth: this was the Lisbon Earth quake which was felt as far as Djenné! More about this shortly on the Library Facebook page.

 I am on my way to London in a few days time where I will have my small heart operation.
I also need to say a big  thank you to those kind and generous readers of this journal who have come to the rescue of Malimali Projects!  Because of  recent donations we are now able to continue with our monthly support to the adult literacy class, the English class; Madame Koita's orphans  etc. at least for a few more months.  We are also able to sponsor one more calligraphy competition at the Djenné Manuscript Library! Hurrah and thanks!