Summer 2008, all comes different. Another bridge page.
"In Africa" - they say "all usually comes much different than planned". Hence we have stopped making plans there.
Now is November 2008, Barak Obama elected new President of the USA, this is more than 4 month after I left Bamako. The Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire adventure long passed. I flew to Morocco, we had a plan. Travel overland to Egypt. A family trip.
But everyone has/had his/her own set of plans. - And nothing seems to last forever, apart from ones children.
"Here's a thought for every man who tries to understand what is in his hands. He walks along the open road of love and life surviving if he can." - Cast no shadow, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? Oasis.
So after 4 month mainly in Morocco, France, Austria, also in Spain and Portugal, Italy and Germany our Egypt plan is dead and "I" have a new "new plan": Go back to Bamako, the Land Rover and Africa. Sounds like the old plan.
Maybe we go back to the Egypt family trip plan "plan", next year.
Some diary entries from summer 2008 for colour.
28 June 2008 - Essaouira, Morocco.
Another year in Essaouira (wiki) in June, it's festival time again. Hasna and I take 2 taxis, and hitch a ride for the last 170km. And Essaouira is always good for musical surprises. Ballake Sissoko, Bassékou Kouyaté and Tounami Diabaté 3 from Mali's best are on this years invites list. The fusion thing is what we are looking for between Gnaoua/Gnawa (drum n' bass, castanets and guembri) and African (ngoni and kora), American (guitar, sax, piano) and who/what else from the grand world of jazz is here this year. Festival Gnaoua 2008 Program. Seen Karim Ziad (myspace), a shear mad drummer, with amazing American alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw together with Maalem Abdeslam Alikane yesterday with one great guitarist in one of the smaller venues, a dar (house). What a wild performance, fusion at works.
I am still hunting for the names of the guitarist. The festival is really well organised, just the program pages lack this standard.
The events on larger Moulay Hassan stage aren't less impressive. Blues guitarist Justin Adams (myspace) performed with one string fiddlist griot Juldeh Camara (myspace) (Justin Adams: "thank you Gnawas for all the inspiration your culture has given us"), they just had the BBC best album of the year for culture crossing award. One great trio that rocks. But who was the old white bearded Gnaoua, doing the percussion/drums/djembe? Again the festivals program could tell us more.
And of course we would love to be on many stages at the same time. Making our choices is the hardest thing here.
29 June 2008 - Essaouira, Morocco. Festival de Gnaoua.
Like Mali is not letting me go, Toumani Diabaté (myspace) Kora virtuoso guest starring magic voice Mangala Camara (seen him in Segou this February), then Bassékou Kouyaté (world's best ngoni player) and graceful voice of wife Amy Sacko (both featured Segou this year, myspace). Mali has come to me one last time. Bassékou Kouyaté I enjoyed 4 times during my Malian travels. Mangala Camara twice.
I stay on the Moulay Hassan scene for the Mahmoud Guinea, Bassékou Kouyaté, Jaleel Shaw fusion attempt, well it clicks a bit first, "Africa" shouts Guinea, holding Bassékou's hand, referring to their both black skins. But eventually the Malian walks off stage. Guinea is the big master here, Maalem k'bir, does not leave much space for Bassékou. Jaleel Shaw lasts till the end and fills the space left over. Fusion happens when you give so others can take.
Well obviously I miss out on Ballake Sissoko (Kora from Mali), together with Driss El Maloumi (lute, Maroc), and Rajery (Madagaskar), the group 3 MA, brings together 3 string players from Maghrib to sub-Saharan to southern Africa. All I can do is buy their music. In the end here I am never happy with the choices I have make, always it seems I miss something special as too many special shows occur. Essaouira is a great place to buy all the African music I have been longing for.
Orchestre National de Barbès from Paris closes the festival.
15 July 2008 - Hamburg, Germany.
Casablanca M5 (Mohammed V airport) to Bruxelles, the beginning of a next grand voyage. Take off, Casablanca ville below, Medina, Hassan II mosque, all white, against soft blue morning sky and sea. Soon over Spain, later the continent's edge of San Sebastian, the huge dunes de Pyla south of Bassin d'Arcachon, the mouth of La Gironde, then we move away from the ocean, until the Normandy coast closes in again, in the distance England in a hazy veil. Underneath thousands of white puffy clouds, I am humming an old Pink Floyd tune from the Dark side album (wiki). A near miss with a BA aircraft. So near I can make out their colours. This I'd call a near miss.
Before we land I put the Creative Zen on to find the Floyd song that's in my head. It is "Time" I've been humming all morning, full of happiness, to be on the move again. It follows through with "The Great Gig in the Sky" now. hmm. Also it is better to have some music in the ear when you land back in Europe after - a year. So much infrastructure here, and they keep building. This is Brussels, headquarters of the EU. Large African immigrant population, houses architecture a bit English, the beer here one of the best, Leffe brune my favourite.
A train from Brussels to Cologne (Koeln), on Thalys (wiki), tickets are in Flemish language, not so easy to make out car and seat numbers, most travelers are foreign. Behind the bar on the train, Abdel, Tunesian, Mourad, Moroccan from Casa, Both speak some 5 languages. Service is so much quicker then in Africa. Leffe Brune for me again. Just why are the tickets being kept in Flemish only. Aachen Hbf. The weird thing is a train journey in Europe is as exotic to me as a donkey cart ride in the Moroccan countryside or a ride through the Madhina market in Bamako on the back of my friend Issa's motorcycle.
A German guy with glasses and no shoes walks up to the bar, orders a Heineken, why does he go for bad beer? I read the FAZ someone has left behind, financial markets in the US collapse. I have been following that from Morocco. A Japanese guy wants to complain to Deutsche Bahn, they have canceled several trains recently following an accident in Cologne. Good luck.
I take another train to Hamburg (wiki) where I arrive past midnight. On Ebay I have bought a Mercedes van a 209 D. 1987 built, the new vehicle for the next grand voyage. With family? This is what is planned. To Egypt, maybe further on to India. So and such the plan. Hamburg, I have been here nearly four years ago, at the beginning of the journey. Hamburg still rocks. St.Pauli, Schanze, Schulterplatt.
24 July 2008 - Tours, France.
So already 4 years on the Fab Trek, hmmm. It is Hamburg where the (supposedly) new journey starts. Berlin and friends Christian and Christian (I lived and worked here for 3 years, 10 years ago), via Prag to Vienna (hometown) for a day, back into Germany, police problems, always police problems in Germany, they don't like the vehicle, though it's one of the most robust German vehicles ever made, back into Austria, via Switzerland into France, Bourgogne, Dijon, Paris and friend Laure (what a great town, I drive in from the wrong side, drive 10km crossing Paris town centre, 10km of bars and cafes non-stop on both sides), Orleans then following the Loire river to Tours. More friends Birgit and Nico. Nico now works for Compagnie Escale, theatre en movement.
The new baby rolls alright, its first 2,800km without problems, a Mercedes Benz 209 D, 21 years of age, 266,000km on the clock. It'll do again as many. If they let him. The more I think about it the more I worry. Will we be able to register it in France?
I like him, but maybe I remove that bat from hell graffiti. Fuel is expensive in Europe, 1.50 for the litre. All is ridiculously expensive in Europe. What a difference a year makes. Let's see how we get on from here.
4 August 2008 - near Toulouse, France.
After a few days in Tours down south passing Clermont Ferrand and the Massive Central, I meet Julie again in the department de l'Ariège (wiki) or is it Haute Garonne?! Some street theater festival in Ax les Thermes, a short trip to Andorre, another festival (Emmaus) near Pau where I see Tiken Jah Fakoly again. Life is busy. And Africa doesn't let go. Tiken's songs make me think. He is angry. Me too, already 6 weeks since I left Bamako.
I have Hasna fly into Toulouse to join me on this summer - festival - Southern France - Northern Spain tour. We see Philip and Caroline, travel to the Atlantic coast, the dunes of Pyla/Pylat (wiki) that I have seen from my plane and Mimizan plage, it's tourist season in full swing.
We discuss our options to get the bus registered and take another decision.
9 August 2008 - Graz, Austria.
4 in the morning, I turn around the MB209 in Saint Christaud, near Toulouse, Hasna still sleeps in the back. I drive east towards dawn and the Mediterranean coast, the night before I have bought another MB van a 307D. We have given in, canceled the efforts to register the 209 in France, too much paperwork.
Even before sunrise, the flies start their buzz banging against the wind screen inside, the last time I experienced that many flies was in Nouakchott 3 years ago, this though is summer 2008 in Southern France. Early afternoon I board a Ryan air flight in Girona, Costa Brava, near Barcelona, mingle with a few hundred Austrian hard core tourists from provincial Graz, people next to me read Gala, Bild der Frau and worse (I can't remember, maybe Frau mit Hertz).
To Graz in Styria, Austria (wiki) I have never been, a UNESCO declared heritage, for the completeness of its old city centre and architecture of different epochs. In Graz la starda is on or was on. This however doesn't make Graz cool or open.
Welcome is frosty, it's hard to connect even to young and obviously leftish people, Graz is chic, thousands of chic dwellers and city tourists crowd the chic city center cafes, restaurants, Schanigaerten. NO music. NO action, morbid.
Late at night I search a hotel, but find an African restaurant. A tall Nigerian with a big smile, its owner, gives me a big welcoming hug, he has had his share of problems with city authorities for some 10 years. Murauer beer is a delight. He invites to some spicy Nigerian beef snack. It seems my fate in Graz has finally changed. At 4 we head for the African night club next door. But I have been up for 24 hours. Sleep in before the bouncers drag me out. This is how I have lost the 40 Euro Nokia phone I only bought on my arrival here. The old Nokia from Guinea really would not do it any longer.
17 August 2008 - near Casablanca, Morocco.
Monday (11th) train Graz to Vienna to register the MB 307, takes less than 15 minutes, I only need to sign. Somehow Austria has facilitated bureaucracy, took me more than a day in Hamburg. Graz Vienna is not far, the OeBB train journey however still takes 2 and half hours, nothing changed in 20 years. Politics and building a tunnel or better not. Back to Graz, Guenther who sold me the 307 and I put the plates on, he invites me for supper, an hour before midnight I am on my way. So the new journey really starts in Graz, I contemplate. Via Italy and France within some 40 hours I catch up with Hasna in Zaragossa. 2,000km of Europe's busiest motorways, so many accidents, this is the season. And the 307 30 years old, it rolls.
Hasna has caught up with Julie and friend Argentinean born journalist Fatima in the meantime, seen Toumani Diabaté with Bjorg and Damon Albarn (Blur). "Maybe the best world music concert this year." Julie. It's Zaragossa and its Expo, which is about water and development, "but really just a big summer tourist farce". Fatima. Though I wish I could have been there instead of Graz. Also they had more luck meeting people. Hasna connected with a group of welcoming Moroccans, giving meals and a room, Mohammed, Hakim, Brahim, Azziz all Berbers from Morocco's Ouarzazate region. This is were I met Hasna more then 3 years ago.
Then it is back down south to Casablanca. Hasna and I cannot wait to see our twin boys Daniel and David. There is nanny Fatima, she is pretty good, but the boys never accepted her. My boys, real boys.
Saturday I start dismantling the interior of the 307, for the next journey to Egypt and maybe further on. Really the next journey starts in Casablanca. [Yes to this point I still believe in this next journey].
So 5 weeks in Europe, 2 Mercedes vans, from Hamburg and Graz, 8 countries, 9,500km come to and end.
[So-far] I just wonder what to do with the MB 209 D (1987) - which Julie drove back to Toulouse. What a summer and MB van confusion?
6 September 2008 - Porto, Portugal.
We are south of Casablanca, 16 days of work on the van for me. 8 in the morning till sometimes midnight. A packet of cigarettes every day. This allows me to think through the difficulties of design and techniques. The 307's interior is all new now, bed, kitchen, cables, wall papers ... Morocco and Hasna's family are in pre Ramadan excitement, all preparations, visits, cleaning the house. It doesn't help us and the kids are around.
I mostly stick to my work on the truck, am dead tired every night. There is no electric screw driver, driller, or saw. The Chinese device that I buy stops working on the first day of using it. It's an all hands on job. Most used tool is my Victorinox SwissTool.
We leave Tuesday 2nd September, 1st day Ramadan. Skies are glistering, too white, heat is rising in the early morning, faces and eyes of Moroccans are stone dry. No cigarettes, no food, no water from the brink of dawn to sunset. Ramadan in summer is particularly harsh due to long daylight hours. I put my sun glasses on.
Ramadan (wiki), a month in which Muslims are encouraged to put worldly affairs behind, seek nearness to god through fastening and more intense and longer prayers, also think of the poor. Reality however is most people buy the best and most distinguished food for after sunset feasts - and hope the tele keeps working. As for me I quit smoking for the second time this year. "Ramadan is when the men become women, it is men that shop every day and buy anything they find."
Rabat Marjane, Tanger the ferry, Tarifa some sleep, Cadiz we pass, Sevilla we pass, Huelva we pass, Albufeira firmly in English hands, leisure industry has struck a long time ago, so full of Brits, an unfriendly Chinese Alibaba, Lagos, nice breakfast, the beach south of Aljezur, fine beach, the kids love it. Lisbon (wiki) I cannot find my way round, since I found it so cool in 1994 somehow it has lost, became like all other cities, just another stupid tourist destination.
In Porto (wiki) we meet Angela and Chris, the Portuguese and French couple I met in May in Monrovia. In Porto the Red Bull Air Race is on. We watch at the banks of the Douro river (together with some 300000 who came) the race in which pilots navigate a near to ground aerial race track of air-filled pylons at lightening fast speed in lightweight propeller aircrafts. I always wanted to see this. So lucky we have come on the right weekend.
14 September 2008 - near Toulouse, France.
She reveals it when we descend on Santiago di Compostella (wiki), it's been naggig at her for the last few weeks. Later it's Fisterra, most western point in Spain and the north west Spanish coast. Galicia (wiki), wild coast, Ireland-like beautiful, been here 15 years ago, always wanted back. This is one week into our (new) journey, that was meant to carry us to Egypt. Hasna declares she'd rather not live in a van/on the road, rather go back to Morocco or Vienna and settle. A house and a tele. Children and a dog.
I buy a packet of cigarettes. Nothing seems to last forever. We reach Toulouse and I write on the web "On way to Austria". Live on the road, was it ever our both plans?
At the same time some banks in NY go under. I have known banks from the inside. This is not funny. Bad, bad times.
20 September 2008 - Cassis, France.
From Toulouse to Sauve, near Montpelier and Nimes. In Sauve we meet Nico again. Nico works as technician with his circus tent for a film directed by Chaques Rivette (wiki), starring Jane Birkin (wiki). Rivette, known as one of the most experimental of the French directors, is in his 80s, white, slow, nothing on the set though seems overly experimental. Jane Birkin is still attractive - at 60!, her homepage is worth a visit, in a song she supports Aung San Suu Kyi (wiki) imprisoned Prime Minister elect (1990), Peace Nobel Price winner (1991) of Burma (wiki).
While another one (bank) bites the dust, we're on further to Cassis (wiki), near Marseille, my favourite in Southern France, my 25th! time here or so, the first time I was 7. Hasna and I get our heads round the new situation, maybe even better, chacun sa vie. She's a good mother. I can concentrate on photography and writing.
Egypt is dead - for the moment. I can go back to Africa, back to the Land Rover (in Bamako). May go to Nigeria, a new plan arises. - Will I become a writer now? Started reading Deena Metzger, Writing for your life, again, I bought it so many years ago.
The kids are alright. A day on the beach. Maybe we'll do Egypt in another year.
28 September 2008 - Vienna, Austria.
Banks are tumbling under the weight of bad assets, their inability to refinance, credit/money markets have virtually dried up, sending stock prices into free fall. The excess of debt in many sectors, the very problem we have been talking about for years, seems to suddenly catch up. What will be left once this is over?
Our final leg takes us from Cassis via Toulon, along Côte d'Azur (French Riviera) (wiki), past Nice into Liguria (wiki) and Genova. Once in Italy down then Land inwards, Bologna, Ravenna, Chioggia and Udine, we eat a pizza every other day, but the quality we find seems to be a function of the restaurants we are being admitted to with Daniel and David. Half a pizza, half a dozen crisinis, half the penne pomodoro, a broken cup and so much more under the table, we try stay outside on the terrace, in a corner, a separate room when we can. This is life and it is good.
We reenter Austria on the 25th of September, in time for Rene and Betty's wedding in Spital/Drau. We are back in Vienna on 28th, the day I give up smoking for the 3rd time this year, also the day of parliamentary elections in Austria. I vote Green. Van der Bellen (wiki) seems the most intelligent on the block. Some of the others plain stupid.
Did I really think me voting makes a difference. The outcome is one slide to the (jingo) right, a debacle. [One of them Joerg Haider (NY times), Austria's best known politician abroad, would die just a few weeks after in a car accident]. I still have hard to believe Austria has become outright fascist. Rather this is angry votes, against arrogant, stupid no-concept leaders of the ruling parties who say they occupy the political center. For intelligence alone has never gotten someone far in politics my favourite Van der Bellen resignes a day after voting. Anyway, I'd be out of here soon.
Here in Vienna, I watch a lot of TV, US presidential elections, plus the financial/world economic drama unfolding.
What next? I have a van (the 307) here in Vienna, for the Egypt/India journey, with family or alone (who knows), next year or later, one day for sure. I have another van (the 209) in Toulouse. For now, soon it's back down south again, how many times have a said that, back down south the Atlantic route to Bamako, Mali where the Landy is parked. So I gotta to get to Toulouse. So the new journey really starts in Toulouse or started in Hamburg where I bought the MB209 earlier this summer.
The boys are alright.
16 October 2008 - Vienna, Austria.
Commentators at CNBC or CNN have their words stuck in their throat when the Dow sheds again and again some 700 points in a day. Scare is written all over their faces. I am just happy I have left it then, 4 years ago. "It's like war reporting - ONLY SCARIER!!!!" Silvia Wadhwa sums it up.
We wonder where the lights will go out first. And what's next? Recession or Depression? Inflationary or deflationary? What are the real consequences for real people? It is never going to reach US tells me my mother. Well Jim Rogers, he went around the world several times, and I have respect for him for his views on the world puts it this way. "The world is unfolding. The American government keeps making mistake after mistake ... Unfortunately this is going to be a mess".
Should I stay or should I go now? If I go there will be trouble An' if I stay it will be double" The Clash.
Go where? To Africa? Nigeria? The beach in Ghana? Really Gabon feels like my destination, like Morocco and Mali years ago. Further on Kongo and others, all are returning fairly quickly to the old African mess of tribal and resources wars. Americans, French and Chinese, all in there for the grab, supporting rivalling fractions. Would I ever cross the continent? Where? On way to where?
For the near I have a plan. And who knows what comes my way in Africa, don't plan ahaed.
04 November 2008 - Toulouse, France. Obama elected 44th president of the United States.
31 Oct 2008, I leave Vienna, take the trains, to Venice, then Nice and finally Toulouse. Again I have left my family behind. But it's been driving me out and away, my head full of ideas.
4 Nov (or better the 5th 5 o'clock in the morning in France) breaking News on CNN, Barak Obama is projected to be the 44th president of the Unided States. This is incredible he's really made it.
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," Obama tells his crowd in Chicago. Many have tears all over their faces. This is history in the making. Obama, the rare politician, who dares show his intelligence. And still wins.
Maybe after all America is the greatest country in the world. Obama song from Dakar recorded in my friend Ivor's studio.
Mean while the FabTrek page swithches back its logo (as it is a one man show).
We can always switch back, can't we? in case we go to Egypt together next year.
I am on the road. See you from Africa.