I made a documentary about my hometown recently. In the film I am asking people to tell me about their relationship to their town, Saint-Louis, in the north of Senegal by the Mauritanian border. In its final stages of post production I came to realize that I may have chosen to shoot with mini-DV quite subconsciously: it creates a rather rough but at the same time soft view of the footage.
Truth to be told, this town is dirty.
If you have been to Saint-Louis, a town that still carries the Unesco World Heritage label, you may have wondered how it is possible that the river has become a dumping site for domestic waste. In the old days people used to give food as offerings to the river spirits but these days it is just trash, and more trash that finds its way into the river. Ngagne Dabo Ndiaye, who has traveled extensively in his life and who returned to Saint-Louis, had enough of this and has transformed the river side into a small oasis, right next to the bridge and opposite to Hotel Sunu Keur. Now there are plants, tables and chairs and benches for anyone to have a break. He took the initiative to clean this area and planted trees and set up a place where you can have a coffee and snacks and just sit back and relax.
Ngagne Dabo Ndiaye’s dream is that he will find collaborators with whom he could create more activities for everybody with canoes, paddling boats, games for children and so on. He has been running Chez Relax now for a year without any support and any small gain from selling coffee goes to keeping this place running. If you are in town, please do visit him and stop for a chat and coffee and maybe a sandwich! In case you show up there in the hot hours of the afternoon and he is nowhere to be seen, check under the bridge: he might me having his siesta down there in the cool river bank.
This novel is like a snapshot into the walking life of a man in New York – and briefly Brussels too – and as such falls in a genre that I tend to like: encounters with other city dwellers, observations of this and that neighborhood, moments of introspection, flashbacks from your childhood… All very familiar elements that at times were enjoyable to read and at times I wanted to speed up my reading, especially toward the end by which time there was a slight sense of stagnation in the story. I am not a particular fan of parallels with classical music (perhaps I should listen to it more?) and references to symphonies felt almost clichés, yet there were some very enjoyable, sudden drifting moments that almost left the reader in a delicious suspense.
Reading about someone who is walking in a city has always been very inspiring to me because I am such a walker myself, always curious about people around me, imagining who they are and what their stories might be, and not just imagining but often engaging with them in conversations. When I started this book I felt that if I ever write a novel myself, it might turn out something like this in genre, perhaps with a longer time span in the story though… My last thought just now when I’m finishing this entry: what is stopping me from writing that book? So, I give applause to Mr. Cole because his debut novel is pushing me to such thoughts!
These are my latest new entries in my home library. Once again I have come to realize how beneficial it is to read books and keep a relative distance to the online world. I have selected these titles for reasons that I hope to illuminate in separate posts after having finished each book. Those reasons mirror almost subconsciously – or should I say naturally – these times of global awakenings and protests against systemic racism and also the fact that borders, margins, in-betweens, no-man’s-lands and urban space are something I have grown very accustomed to since very long.
A first milestone in my Afropolis photo project: a work-in-progress exhibition. I framed twelve prints last night to show what I am working on. This small show is combining some sleek-looking photos and rough handmade and “unfinished” frames made out of old windows that are very easy to come by here in Saint-Louis. Doing this show has helped me a lot in both choosing the photos that I want to include in later exhibitions and defining the theme or themes that this project will bring forward. These twelve photos were taken in Addis Ababa and once I will have more material from the other cities – Dakar, Nouakchott and Bamako – these themes will certainly develop more in the process. For now I can say that visually I hope to capture some of the contrasts of neighborhoods that are human in size and “organic” against the modern construction boom with glass and steel buildings reaching up in the skies, and human activity characterized by informality that takes place in between these two dynamics. More of that later with more photos!
Ndar Ndar Music & Café, Saint-Louis: A work-in-progress photo exhibition “Afropolis 2020” with a focus on African urban space: Addis Ababa. The final exhibition material will be made in platinum prints in summer 2020.
In my very first visit to Dakar almost two decades ago I stayed in Plateau in the commercial downtown area, but soon after I got the habit of renting either a room or a studio in Yoff or in Ngor, both located in the northern part of the city, and stayed loyal to these neighbourhoods by the sea ever since as my base. I guess it’s only natural to always return to the same hoods when you visit a city for other than touristic purposes as it makes your life so much easier. When you stick to a place you also become local, even to the point where you feel that you’ve become just a wee bit too local. Anyone who has spent some time in Senegal must know what I mean. So, recently I thought that it would be fun to find a new place to stay for a…