Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lost Blog Entries

I am very upset! I feel as if I have been burgled!
 There are whole sections of my blog that are disappearing! For instance, in July I have lost several entries including the entry  about the Bad Grandmothers of the Island of Mayotte, (which was a personal favourite) I have also lost all the entries about the Prince Claus Foundation and the tree planting, and most of the entries about my bogolan adventures in Diabolo in August! They have simply disappeared from the blog unless one taps in a special search word in the blogsearch, then these entries appear again.
And of course, it is impossible to write to the blog people. I can only vent my ire in a forum! I know it is only a blog, but I feel quite possessive about this- it is mine and it is my creation, just to be a little pretentious about it...but there is nothing to say that it will not be just wiped off tomorrow, just like that!

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Northern Red Bishop (Euplectes Franciscanus)

A few days ago I thought I had something wrong with my eyes. There was an odd  red spot moving around  on my retina everytime I went towards the stable. Something red bobbing up and down  in my field of vision and  then disappearing.  A day later I saw this beautiful bird sitting in the lemon tree by the stable.  When I got too close  he took flight  and I realized this was what I had seen: his flying technique is unusual and a little clumsy: he is quite a solid little thing and very red and he looks as if he is manipulated by an inexperienced puppetmaster sitting in the sky as he sways somewhat unsteadily  across the land .

According to Collins  Birds of Western and Central Africa his habitat is ‘open and bushed tall grass areas’ , which is exactly what our land is now since we have not really started landscape gardening here yet. He often sits in the little lemon tree, then he takes off for a tour around, but when he gets to the perimetre of our land he turns around and comes trundling  back again through the air like an oversized red bumblebee. Another favourite place to sit is on the mud turret of the bogolan studio, where he looks very regal surveying the land. I think he must be a very good example, even prettier than his  illustration in Collins.  I will have to wait for my photographic bird expert Birgit to take some better pictures of the Bish!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Independence Day

 On the 22nd of September  54 years ago Mali gained its independence. This event is always celebrated all over Mali  by the administration, and Djenne is no exception: the Mairie and  The Prefecture  stage  a show in the square in front of the Mairie  and  numerous sections of Djenne civil society file past the stand of the dignitaries while the most comely of the maidens in each group perform a dance and place their gifts in front of the Prefect.   The Bozos lay down their fish, the butchers file past  with a selection of meat... the masons bring a miniature model of a Djenne gate in mud,
the Fulani  beauties with amber and gold in their hair lay down their calebasses of fresh milk.

 The air is filled  with blue clouds of gunpowder from the hunters’ guns, as they file past wearing their pungent bogolan outfits, bedecked with bones, teeth, animal hornes  and mirror shards while the hunters'  griots play  their gonis in  slow incantantory tones.
 Next come the  young boys from the Karate club who performed a Kata, and last but not least there are of course the lengthy speeches of the authorities... I put an appearance in, since I had been invited and it would look bad not to go along, but otherwise we are rather snowed under at the studio...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I see no Ships

A very long time ago I was a model. I worked mainly in Paris, Milan and in London.  I was not a supermodel by any means , but I did fairly well. I worked for prestigous magazines including French and Italian Vogue and Elle but the everyday work was more humdrum-and more lucrative-, and involved week long trips doing shoots for catalogues. And here we have, Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the inescapable poses for catalogue modelling. It is called ‘I see no ships’. There is also another very important  pose called the ‘Teapot’ which is well known to anyone worth their salt in  the catalogue modelling buisness, and that is one which I might use another time, if the spirit moves me.. . the fact is, I had no idea that I remembered ‘I see no ships’!  It came back to me quite naturally as if I were in Marbella or in Djerba again. (Two favourite hang outs for catalogue shoots, at least then, and we are talking early eighties.)
And this shoot was of course the tail end of the Malimali shoot, because there remained the swing coat  Vernissage’ to photograph, and Maman did it yesterday. I called it ‘Vernissage’ quite pretentiously, because it seems to me this is the sort of coat I might  myself wear to a London, Paris of Stockholm opening of something, while sipping a glass of something... perhaps wearing a smarter pair of boots, perhaps high healed...anyway, it is all done. Please see the collection on and on

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Sleeping Camel

I have spent nearly a week in Bamako doing useful things, beginning last Thursday morning with my voting for the Swedish Parliamentary elections at the Swedish Embassy.  I then stayed on to photograph the new MaliMali collection and to put it up on the MaliMali website: a task I could not have achieved in Djenne because of the bad internet connection. None of my customary friends and hosts were in Bamako, so I had to cast around for somewhere to stay. I could not quite face the Catholic hostel by the cathedral and its spartan cells so I decided to go up one notch and to stay at a hostel  called The Sleeping Camel, still good value, and well known to the back packer variety of travellers.  A very friendly sort of place where people spread out their Michelin West Africa maps over the tables, drink beer from the bottle and discuss travel plans, mainly in English, since the place is owned by Matt, an Australian and now run by Phil Pauletta, a young American.  It turned out to be a very useful place to stay: I was able to use Djenneba (above)  the chef as one of my models and Hawa the waitress as the other one, and John an English biker on a trip around the world lent us his bike as a prop!



But not only back packers stay at the Sleeping Camel:  many others such as several UN employees who could afford to stay elsewhere chose to stay at the Camel because it is a fun and relaxed place and the food is good too.
I also met these two quite extraordinary people: Matteo, left above,  an Italian architect and Hank, and American engineer and entrepreneur, both here independently putting together projects that they have designed and financed themselves: Matteo is building solar lights from old bicycle frames and thereby illuminating the villages around Cinzana , north of Segou and Hank is building airplanes to help with crop transport 


River Trip

And as if this was not enough excitement, there was also a river cruise yesterday with my friend Karen who had brought along a delightful musician friend of hers from New York called Will Calhoun ( prow of boat)  It turned out that he played in a group called Living Colour (still does)  which I saw  performing in London around 1990, when they played in a combined concert with Mudhoney and Nirvana!

Tomorrow back to Djenne again...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Counting Sheep

I have been suffering from insomnia lately. My mind  mind is whirring around energetically, creating new frocks and fabrics or making extravagant , glorious and impossible plans for future European parties.  If that was the only result it might be quite a useful insomnia. But  after some time  I start to go astray,  visiting far away places and times which it would be better to forget...
Since this is a recurring problem I  have tried all the traditional remedies, and none of them suits me. In particular the counting of sheep has me wide awake and very annoyed within a few minutes. I start counting, but the sheep are never  behaving themselves. There is always a fat one that can’t jump over the fence and needs rescuing. And while I go and help to shove the disgusting overweight  specimen over the fence , breaking into a sweat with the effort,  I see  out of the corner of my eye lots of agile sheep jumping over the gate without waiting for me to count them. So I end up in a tiss  and in the unhappy  knowledge that I have totally failed.

A girlfriend of mine once told me that she  counted  passed lovers instead of sheep, it always did the trick for her and she fell asleep almost immediately.  I assumed that she meant just having them them filing past consequtively rather than making them jump over fences. Well, I have tried, but yet again, this puts me into a terrible mood as I start wondering what on earth possessed me... and what could I possibly have seen in that one... and why, oh, why  did he not love me... and why could I not have loved that one , it would have been perfect really  etc , etc...
I lay awake in the warm rainy season night listening to the toads’ joyous choral practice as a thousand throaty toad voices  raise their  celebration to the rains.  Around midnight and a little later I hear, one by one, the motorcycles skirt by the perimetres of my house, on their way home from their secret midnight  meetings with marabouts or lovers. Many nights I hear the Moezzin’s first call to prayer, drifting across the river from the Grand Mosque, and  some nights I see the first light dawn over Djenné before sleep finally claims me.
(Picture shows Baobab tree with bee-hives)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Chef trouble

A  week has passed which can be described as eventful  or totally void of interest, depending on which tint of glasses I use to look at it. There was certainly plenty going on: for a start  I sacked Papa, then I took him back again. He had been given two nights leave but didn’t turn up until the fifth day, and did not call me. Meanwhile there were actually a couple of guests here, and they wanted to eat something. We had to send Kassim the night watchman off  to town to get some of Taytjina’s delicious stew from the market , since I was in the throes of a streaming cold and was certainly not going to venture into the kitchen.  I was very cross and  when Papa finally turned up I warned him: ‘You know, this sort of offence if repeated  might result in your being dismissed’. ‘OK, that is fine by me,’ said the unrepentent Papa .  I have other things to do, and people are always asking me to come and work for them’. That is of course an outright  lie, since there are absolutely no restaurants north of Segou that are doing any trade. ‘Well if that is how you are feeling, then I think you should go and work for them. Don’t  let us stop you!’ I replied icily. And he got up and  left!

Now, Papa’s departure would be sad, since he has been with us from the beginning, and he is an OK cook: I say only OK, because he has not really any love for cooking but sees it as a just a job. Almost all that he knows I have taught him. But nevertheless...  his departure sent shockwaves through the rest of the personnel. The  big-hearted Ace appointed himself as mediator and came to see me, asking me to reconsider.  Then he went off to Papa where he presumably  asked the same. The result was that Papa came back the following day and offered  something that vaguely resembled an apology. I knew that apologizing is not a customary Malian form of behaviour , so I didn’t press him for any  further grovelling and took him back.
(And just by the bye: the Donkey Girl without name is pregnant again. Birgit will be pleased: there may be a new little donkey foal by Christmas for her to brush? Boubakar is now quite a grown up!)


Trouble at the library

"How to be loved"  is the matter dealt  with in these manuscripts dealing with magic . Maybe I need to consult them?
There is not only trouble at the hotel, but the contagion has spread to the manuscript library... The staff is back from their holiday and work has resumed this week. I have been finishing off an article about the Djenné Manuscript  Library’s collection and the digitization project for a jubilee publication for  the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme. I needed certain  informations from Garba, one of the archivists.  I asked  him to  work with Mohammed, the young man who translates from Arabic into English to gather this data for me.  And Garba  refused!  My request  once more concerned  that  old bone of contention:  manuscripts written in a local African language but using Arabic script. I  have had habitual run-ins about this subject over the last few years: I want it entered into the database  what language is used, but Garba and Yelpha have been trained in Timbuktu where they were told to write just ‘local language’. After many fights I finally had my way and these manuscripts are now listed as witten in ‘Fulfulde’ Songhai’ ‘Bozo ‘ or ‘Bambara’ etc.

I had instructed Mohammed to give me a list of all such manuscripts not written in the Arabic language and he gave me a database of about 70 manuscripts including one in Hebrew!  That was of course quite an extraordinary discovery if it was true, and added to this there was apparently a version of the erotic Pre- Islamic poet Imroul Kiss, (known to readers of this journal) in Fulfulde! I swooned at such a discovery, certain that it would send  the entire world of manuscript scholarship into  raptures. But when I saw two manuscripts written  in Songhai on the theme of ‘Grammar’, I started having doubts: Now, hold on here: the grammar of which language ?Arabic or Songhai? So I decided to delve a little futher into this before claiming any major discoveries.. and it turned out, to my disappointment, that it is a question of explanations in the margin normally, and it is perhaps never a whole manuscript written in the local language.  But I wanted to know: did we have any manuscripts at all written entirely in a local language?  I wanted each manuscript to be properly described:  i.e. ‘a section of Bamabara in the beginning’ or ‘some clarifications in Songhai  in the margins’ etc. And this is where Garba refused to help! He said he had already done his job and he had other things to do. And in any case I didn’t understand! He had been taught in Timbuktu that he only needed to write ‘local language’..... and here he started again on our old battlegorund. ‘Garba’ I said, slowly , calmly and icily ( I was so pleased with myself.  I did not shout even once.) ‘You are going to do what I ask you to do. You are going to work with Mohammed and you will give me the information I need so that I can write my article!’ But the stubborn Garba got up and said he was no longer working for the project. He would work for the library but no longer  for me or the project. Then he stormed off.
This is of course very silly . He is paid by the project and he will of course have to do what I ask him to do.  But it is very tiring nevertheless, and I am now late with the article!