In Basel’s Euroairport the same broadcast security warning in English has been running for many years and over Christmas I heard it again. In so doing I recalled that it has annoyed the hell out of me every one of the hundreds of times I have heard it since its first broadcast over 15 years ago. It is delivered with that unmistakable dead-pan Schwyzertüütsch timbre indicating mild-to-medium irritation that the warning even needs to be made. But what really bugs me is the delivery of the word “suspect” in “suspect baggage will be destroyed”. It is pronounced as a verb instead of an adjective, with the accent on the second syllable instead of the first. As I sat there in tranquility waiting for my bags during the first of my ten appearances in the airport over the holiday period, I recalled, Wordsworth-like, the first time I heard this remarkably irritating sentence (on my way to the job interview at Syngenta in 2004). I had decided to write to the airport authorities to inform them of this cardinal pronunciation error, which action I assumed would be gratefully acknowledged and the recording changed quickly to reflect standard English pronunciation, thus preserving the mental well-being of all true English speakers. I remembered even the proposed first sentence of my letter, email or message, which was to be: “What makes you suspect that baggage will be destroyed at your airport?” Anyway, the relentless broadcast of the same message is, in some ways, part of the jumbled soundtrack to the last 15 years of my life (akin to the Beatles’ Revolution No.9 or perhaps Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music), and witness to the many bright ideas I come up with, as well as a salute to the small minority that have been accomplished. And it reminds me that it is far too late to tell the airport now.
I came back to Abidjan with two suitcases full of things I thought I needed for the next few months, including a large bag of walnuts and a nutcracker, a selection of teas, a Japanese teapot, and a bottle of Glenmorangie. The whisky might remain unopened for some time as, having successfully completed dry January, I intend to stay on the wagon for a while longer. I spent some time on Mohamed’s tourist visa application for France (and Alli spent a lot more with the Mairie in Leymen). If the visa arrives in time he will be travelling to Paris and Brussels shortly to find business connections there to enable him to return later with a work or commercial visa. It’s a better idea than crossing the Mediterranean holding his breath on an exhaling dinghy. Meanwhile I will drive my newly repaired Jeep to and from work and elsewhere. I should have done this long ago, but the car has spent more time in the garage than on the road, and I was spooked by the quality of driving here. Nevertheless, I did drive Galahad for several months around the notorious Grande Raccordo Anulare of Rome in 2015, and the traffic there is similar in chicanery, viscosity, and tumult.
I am annoyed by the free market obsession in regions where there is no equality of opportunity. In much of Africa, a free market simply means that the poor are condemned to pay far more for those consumer services and products for which the rich pay far less or nothing at all, on the simple but unfair basis of the inequality of scale. For example, there are 960 million mobile phone subscriptions across Africa – an 80% penetration rate among the continent’s entire population. Yet almost all African mobile phone subscribers ‘pay as they go’ by purchasing unités, as they cannot afford the contractual alternatives which are far more expensive than in developed countries. I thought the mobile phone industry’s pricing policy in Europe was bad enough but the commercial tactics of Orange, MTN and others in Africa are disgraceful. Abidjanis with mobile phones spend anything up to 30% of their income on the unités. Predictably, there is little difference between the prices of the different companies. This situation will deteriorate as smart-phone sales increase and roaming costs soar. Cable TV, internet coverage and car insurance are also available to the poor in high-price short-term packages. Africans are being swindled because they lack access to simple credit. Small measures and ignorant consumers make for a large tyranny. Note to Maybot: this is also true of countries.
Grande Bassam – Le Temple D’Oua, January 2019
The Harmattan is here, and with it a daily dusting of fine sand. It’s more obvious to the north and east of Abidjan, where the Saharan sand clogs up engines and dims the sunlight. I went to Grande Bassam one Sunday purely to test the Jeep’s new engine, and from there to Assinie by a new unmade up road only negotiable by 4x4s, following close to the coast-line from Bassam. Mohamed was unwilling to take this road, having first firmly denied that it even existed. When I insisted, he took the creviced, pot-holed, corrugated terrain at breakneck speed, revealing only afterwards his concern that the road was used by drug traffickers, murderers and kidnappers. All I saw were somnolent farm workers but perhaps we were lucky that afternoon. I spent the night in Grande Bassam, had a great meal in the town, and revisited the National Costume Museum, with its wealth of information about the regions and traditions of the Cote d’Ivoire. I also talked with the Ivorian owner of the hotel about the huge and near-perfect beachfront location next to it, Le Temple d’Oua, currently semi-occupied during the day by a solitary guardian, artists, sculptors and picnickers (see photo above). The multiple sibling owners cannot agree what to do with it and so have left it to deteriorate a la francaise unless someone buys it lock, stock, and barrel for development – the asking price is just 180,000 euros. I will be very happy to act as a local agent if anyone with some spare change fancies buying it.
Yours in a real estate