Between Books aka Wallowing in Author Limbo

Latest novel published – sigh of relief.

Holiday in Mexico – brain reduced to mush in the heat.

Back home – routines restored.

Time to think of starting a new book, ie procrastinate.

And procrastination leads to sorting through old photos which leads to this blog.

Much of Whispers Under the Baobab is set in West Africa in 1970, and among my pictures I found a few I had taken back then that will give you a glimpse of what Flo saw and experienced as she fled across the Sahara to safety in Bamako.                                                                      Click here for more information.

Here is the only picture I still have of the 14th century mosque in Tombouctou, destroyed by Islamists in 2012.

From Tombouctou, Flo and Josef traveled by boat – the General Sumaré – down the Niger River. Flo was on the second level and was able to go up on the top deck to view the surroundings. Josef, on the main deck would not have had that luxury.

When the General Sumaré beached on a sand bar, the women and children were taken to shore in these pirogues. They are propelled by pushing poles into the river bed and walking along the side of the boat. Back in 1970, goods were transported hundreds of kilometers from Guinea to Mali in these (heavily loaded) pirogues powered by man.

Nearing Bamako, this is what the terrain looked like with calabashes growing in the fields.

The Tuareg ring that Flo bought on her journey and wore on a leather thong.

 

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Making a pie in Mali for Christmas

Market, Bamako, Mali

Market, Bamako, Mali

So you’ve come to Mali to teach school. You’re thousands of miles away from home, missing family and in a couple of weeks you’ll be celebrating Christmas.

You and your roommate decide to host a dinner for your fellow volunteers, a motley group of singles and one married couple.

Chicken will substitute for the turkey. Plenty of potatoes and veggies to be found in the market. Nothing to simulate cranberry sauce, but dressing and gravy are doable. Your roommate’s copy of Fanny Farmer’s Cookbook is a godsend as good old Fanny’s recipes are basic and you can find most of the ingredients, if not all the spices.

Now for the sweets. No way to make shortbread. Cookies, sure, but are they really festive enough?

Then one day you trot off (ie walk slowly in the heat) to the market near your house to buy some veggies, and there, in a little three-walled shack made of corrugated tin, you spot a barrel of liquid, identity unknown. You speak enough Bambara to ask what it is, but you don’t understand the answer.

“Let’s buy some,” your friend says.

“What for?” you ask.

“She shrugs. Maybe we can figure out what to do with it.”

She’s the cook so you agree and head home for a jar and trudge back to the market where the vendor fills it for you. You take it home and put it in the fridge.

The next day, you see that the clear liquid has solidified to a white paste. You dip in a finger and rub a bit against your thumb.

“Texture of shortening,” your friend says, then gives it a sniff and a lick. “Let’s try making a pie.”

“A pie! What will we use for filling?”

Back to the market, the big one downtown this time and there you find a variety of tinned foods from China fortunately with pictures on the labels. You choose apples, buy a couple of tins, take them home, thicken the juice with flour, and proceed to make the crust.

Because there are no plastic bags (or containers with lids) to be had, you keep the flour in a calabash bowl covered with a cloth. You take off the cloth, tap the sides of the bowl, spin it and tap again. Tiny bugs (flour beetles? flour mites? weevils?) scurry up the sides. You tap and spin until satisfied the flour is bug free and measure out the amount needed. You refuse to worry about germs. Your rationale? The heat of baking will kill them.

And, the pie? Delicious. The pastry the flakiest you’ve ever had. Only later do you learn that the liquid you bought at the market was the very Shea butter now found in skin care products.

P.S. I’m off to Mexico for a month, where I once tried making shortbread for Christmas, but it was so hot the dough melted.

 

The Black/White divide – San Francisco

San Francisco

 

In 1981, they’re finally realizing a long-held dream—a trip to San Francisco. Their hotel is half a block from Union Square, an ideal location to visit and appreciate much of what the city has to offer—Pier 29, Lombard Street, the Exploratorium which delights the adults as much as it does the kids, the cable car museum. Of course, they’ve ridden the cable cars several times.

Today they hop on a bus to another museum, only to arrive and find it closed. Not a big problem. They’ll take the bus back downtown and check out some of the stores.

A few minutes later, they begin to think there may be a problem after all as they don’t recognize the route. Another few blocks and they’re the only whites on the bus. Then the driver stops, gets off and a black driver gets on. The streets they pass are rougher and rougher with each turn of the bus wheels. Much too late to get off now so they stay where they are nodding politely as passengers pass down the aisle.

Within a short time they are the only passengers on the bus. The view out the window is of derelict houses, broken windows, weeds, and little sign of habitation. The driver stops and turns to look at them.

“You’re not from here, are you?”

They shake their heads.

He grins. “This is the end of the line. Cross the street.” He points to another bus stop. “Catch the next bus to get back downtown.”

They thank him and do as they are told. On the way back the black/white driver exchange occurs again. All of it such a foreign experience for this Canadian family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liverpool – not England, but Mexico

Liverpool

 

Liverpool, first called The Cloth Case, was founded in 1847 by Jean Baptiste Ebrard, a Frenchman who sold clothes from cases in downtown Mexico City.

In 1872, he began importing products from Europe. Much of the merchandise was shipped via Liverpool, England, prompting Ebrard to adopt the name Liverpool for his store.

In 1862 he opened a second store and since then it has not stopped growing. Now, Liverpool is a mid-to-high end retailer and the largest chain of department stores in Mexico, operating 17 shopping and 73 stores under the Liverpool name, 22 stores under the Fábricas de Francia name, 6 Duty Free stores, and 27 specialized boutiques.

And inside –

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An American Stands Out in Mali

well

The airport is small and crowded. We’re the only foreigners and are surrounded by Malians as we wait for out flight. The men could almost be in uniform as they are all dressed alike in khaki pants and short sleeved shirts.

We introduce ourselves to one of the men and ask where, in the US, he is from.

“How did you know I’m American?” He gestures to the crowd around us. “I’m dressed exactly the same as everyone else here and I’m black.”

“Well …” How do we put this delicately? “Your walk, your stance, your haircut all scream US.” We hesitate and then say, “You’re black, but your skin tone isn’t at all the same as the Malians.”

“You know,” he says, “I’m dean of the school of architecture at UofX. I came here to study the buildings, to see how they keep them cool in such extreme heat. I’m looking for ways to conserve energy back home, and in an ideal world, to eliminate the need for air-conditioners.” He smiles ruefully. “I thought that if I dressed like everyone here, I could blend in and travel unnoticed, so to speak, but I’ve been spotted as a foreigner every time. Now I know why.”

We nod, not at all surprised. “And what did you find out about the buildings?” we ask.

“Mud brick homes are built with two ceilings about three feet apart. The heat is trapped in between and the homes are surprisingly cool.”

Mud brick buildings in the US? Not likely, but we tell him we hope that he can find a way to create a natural air conditioning effect and wish him well as he heads for his plane.

 

 

Cuernavaca – the menu

“We’re definitely in Mexico now,’ says the Munchkin as our bus makes its way out of Mexico City headed for Cuernavaca. “How do you know?” I ask. “Because there are stands instead of stores, and old buildings, and bumpy roads.” The munchkin is right (although there are stores, of course), but she neglected to mention the food, which is quite different in Cuernavaca than in our little beach town. IMG_20150622_102721572 We arrive in the early afternoon and our Mexican relatives take us to a little market where we indulge in blue-corn gorditas. Mine is filled with beans and cheese. I sample the salsas and choose one that is not too picante. With that, we enjoy a licuado de mamay–a sort of smoothie made from the mamay fruit. Delicious. The next day we are treated to tacos al pastor, the meat cooked on a vertical spit. IMG_20150621_164706585 “Do we like it?” our relatives ask. To which we reply, “Can we come back tomorrow?”And let’s not forget the stuffed chicken breast served with Oaxaca cheese and cactus, and the flan, and the Pinguinos, and the coffee and …   PS:  I broke my rule of not being invasive with my camera to take these two pictures for you.

Raymond takes care of the Canadians

jewelry

I lived in Mali some years ago. My husband and I have been here before for an extended visit and now we’re here again.

Despite our experiences in Mali, our host Raymond seems to feel a need to be “poule mère” or mother hen.

First it’s at the airport in Bamako and in the crowds his help is much appreciated. We whizz through customs as he seems to know all of the officers. Makes sense since he’s probably the one who taught them their self-defense courses.

Visiting the doctor, we once again appreciate his presence as he helps translate for us. Mind you, I could have done that myself. But the best part is his and the doctor’s glee in meeting a real “Bill Jones.” It seems that a certain Bill Jones figured largely in their English language lessons.

Then it’s off to the market to buy souvenirs and gifts for the folks back home. Raymond takes us to his preferred vendors and shakes a finger warningly as he admonishes them to not over charge us. He leaves us then to meander.

I’ve not forgotten how to bargain, and though it’s been many years since I lived in Mali, I know that 12,000 francs is way too much for the item in question. We bargain back and forth until we’re coming close to an agreement at 3,000 francs. Just then, Raymond walks up. The vendor takes one look at him and says, “1.000 francs, Madame.”

I stifle a giggle and hand the man a wad of francs that he will later discover to be 1,500 for I’ve tried, seemingly in vain, to explain to Raymond that a couple of dollars isn’t a big deal to us, but could be  and likely is a big deal to the vendor and his or her family.

Note: Currently the Internet tells me that 10 Malian francs (CFA) equal about 10 cents.

Soldiers, rifles, and ice cream

soldier

The year is 1972. We’ve spent a week in Morocco and now we’re in Mali to visit our friends. Their house is too small to accommodate us, but we’ve been offered the apartment belonging to a young couple from France who are away for a few weeks in Europe.

We also have a mobylette to scoot around town, so we’re set for the trip of a lifetime. We visit the zoo, swim in the Olympic sized pool built by the Russians, drive up to the hospital to see our friend and her brand new baby.

We also stop off to see the doctor and feel terribly embarrassed when we are escorted to the front of the long line. People have been waiting for hours, but we’re first—a courtesy to the guests. In answer to our protests, the doctor says, “You have left the comfort and safety of your home to visit a Malian friend. You do us the honor.”

“I think I’ll go get an ice cream,” my husband says one afternoon. “Want to come?”

“No thanks.”

The ice cream shop is just a couple of blocks away. He can manage on his own even though he doesn’t speak French. He leaves and a few seconds later I hear him calling my name. I step out and look over the balcony.

My husband is facing a soldier who has a very large gun pointed at his chest. Our apartment is opposite the court house which has been heavily guarded for several days as there is a trial on for the men who attempted coup a few months back.

I call out an explanation. It doesn’t get me very far as the soldier apparently has no concept of what ice cream is. I try again with a more general message that le monsieur is going to the store. The soldier nods and waves his gun indicating my husband can leave.

Later I look over the balcony again to see my husband handing a cone to the soldier and then demonstrating with his own how to eat it. They both look mighty pleased with themselves and I breathe a sigh of relief.

 

 

 

Chinese New Year Celebration in Victoria, BC

Always something interesting to see and do in Victoria. Of course we went to Chinatown for the Chinese New Year Celebration.

 

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Chinatown in Victoria, is the oldest in Canada and, in North America, second in age only to San Francisco’s, with its beginnings in the 1858 influx of miners from California to what is now British Columbia.

Initially a collection of crude wooden huts,

oldtown-

Victoria’s Chinatown rapidly evolved into a dense neighborhood of businesses, theaters, schools, churches, temples and a hospital. It did gain a dark, seedy reputation however, because of opium factories, gambling dens and brothels. Chinatown grew steadily over the years until its peak in 1911, at which time it occupied an area of about six city blocks.

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Victoria’s revitalized Chinatown is a popular area for tourists as well as for the artistic community. The focus is the 500-600 block of Fisgard Street, including famously narrow Fan Tan Alley. The area includes many shops, one with historic displays, the old Chinese School and a small selection of historic buildings and Chinese businesses. The district was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1995.

Chinatown-gate

The Gate of Harmonious Interest, which was built in Suzhou, one of Victoria’s sister cities.