Saturday, February 09, 2008

Barcelona breaks my heart, singing for my supper and the definition of corruption

He is perhaps in his fifties, dressed in what I have come to know is the casual wear of a certain type of English man- the brightly coloured jumper ( or sweater, as I'd have called it back in Naija), the corduroy trousers and the lace-up shoes. He is tall and appears hunched down in the small seat of the tiny two-carriage train running into the Cotswolds. As I look out through the window at the unfolding vast landscape, I hear him speak in a quiet, again almost quintessentially English diffident manner, his words directed to the plump middle aged woman dressed in a ticket collector's uniform making her way through the carriage, checking tickets. I do not hear what he says to her, but I hear her asking him to "give her a moment", I return to the report that I am reading on my laptop and am startled a few minutes later as the conductress plops herself into the seat beside the man. He begins to fire off a series of questions which I cannot hear, but from her answers, it appears he is asking about her work- what hours does she work,how long has she worked for the train company and so on.... As she leaves to continue her work, he thanks her for her time in a soft voice and leaves me wondering what that was all about. Is he a director in the train company, or a novelist doing research for his next book, or is he just exploring a midlife career change?

The first time I travelled on my own outside he UK after I arrived here, was to Barcelona, and I promptly fell in love with the city- its relaxed vibe, the mix of beach and urban sophistication, the Gaudi buildings, the eclecticism of the Ramblas the long pathway filled with market stalls and street artists and impresarios- and I loved the fact that no one seemed to care where you were from. Barcelona was my introduction to Spain, a country I have often returned to, but the photographs last week of racist fans taunting Lewis Hamilton upset me.....

I finish the presentation and step back from the lectern, enjoying the heady adrenaline buzz that accompanies a successful speech or presentation. The audience swarms round and then recedes and I am left with the two organizers who offer to take me to lunch. We head for Covent Garden and end up in a dark room, painted with black walls enlivened by bold splashes of red and green- red roses, red chilli peppers, vegetables. We are in L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and as we take our seats round the bar that surrounds the cooking space, I prepare for a dining experience. In front of us, a large Jabugo ham is painstakingly being cleaned and trimmed by one of the staff, further in, our meal is being cooked. I have a deep fried soft boiled egg on a bed of salad to start and it is amazing to see what looks like a scotch egg served warm, but without the sausagemeat and with the yolk still runny... the venison canneloni is a huge tube of pasta filled with a rich, meaty sauce that reminds me a bit of cowtail pepper soup, without the pepper, and the warm chocolate tart wih vanilla icecream is simply delighful. As I stagger out sated, I can't help but think that I have sung, almost literally for my supper..

It's been a busy time in UK politics with the MP Derek Conway scandal like something lifted straight out of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, then the fuss over whether the government plans to tax the non-domiciled wealthy would lead to an exodus of the rich and talented from the City of London and bring about London's demise as a financial powerhouse. Yet only a few months ago, everyone- pundits and players alike were hailing the idea, first put forward by the Tories as brilliant, and pontificating on how unsustainable the current situation was...sometimes I think I must be living in a parallel universe...

Just finished two books, non-fiction that I would strongly recommend. The first is Ian Burumas Murder in Amsterdam which is a thoughtful exploration of the Netherlands in the context of Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh's murders. It reminded me that I still haven't read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography. Buruma gets it wrong though in one page where he refers to countries like Saudi Arabia and Nigeria where women are stoned to death for adultery. As far as I know, no Nigerian woman has been stoned to death for adultery, or have they?

The second book is Poor Story by Giles Bolton who used to work for the UK Dept. for International Development in Rwanda and is one of the best accounts of the aid industry by someone who has been there, acknowledges the problems but hasn't become completely cynical. I particularly liked his exposition about why it might not be such a good idea to send a goat/cow/sheep to Africa....

Is it just me, or does Nigerian politics seem to have slipped into a bit of a lull at the moment? I had looked forward to getting a list of the 419 fraudsters posing as distinguished senators after Nuhu Aliyu, a former police boss who is now a Senator threatened to reveal their names. He however soon withdrew his claim and apologized, obviously after having had his ear bent by his colleagues. The pulling together to cover u and protect each other is sadly reminiscent of the way UK MPs have pulled together to defend their right to employ family members as their staff. In Africa, that is corruption and nepotism, in Westminster, its a long and noble tradition that fosters family ties....

11 comments:

tiwalade said...

yeah, some nigerian women in the north where they practise sharia face the threat of being stoned for adultery. I'm not sure if they have actually done it to anyone but I remember the case of a woman fleeing to England to escape being stoned to death.

Firsttimefather said...

Deplorable stuff. That said, for a slightly alternative viewpoint, see

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7229551.stm


Two things worth thinking about. The first is that such insidious behaviour is as much a fact of life in Britain as elsewhere. Possibly not so openly displayed, but it is present. You should go to a football match some Saturday to see what I mean. I rather suspect the British press jumped on this because it makes the Spanish look bad, and the British lily-white (pun not intended) in comparison.

The second, as I always say, is that it's not worth getting mad about it - get even. Living well is the best revenge (sorry about the cliches - hope you get my point)

UndaCovaSista said...

I'm still incandescent with rage about the Lewis Hamilton situation. I mean i dont even know what to say apart from - DISGUSTING!

Jaycee said...

Its funny how the British described corruption in another language or phrase, just to suit their own purpose I guess.

U're such an excellent writer. In the description of the dinner that was served to you and ur friends, u had me all gushing abt the fact that I want to be at "L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon" eating deep fried eggs placed on top of salad with the yolk still runny...lol (that description is kinda stuck in my brain now, thanks to u)...

Hey, yeah in the Northern parts of Nigeria, the Sharia law is (or was) being practiced. A sample case is the "Amina case." And I'm not sure if you heard abt the ms. world beauty contest that was taken away from Nigeria because of such stringent issues in the North.

This was an excellent post. Must be the first time on ur blog!

Talatu-Carmen said...

tiwalade and jaycee,

no, no women have been stoned to death in northern nigeria. Yes, there was the brouhaha that you mention, but, no actual stonings took place. I believe the women were released by the shari'a courts on technicalities. The international media blew it up into a huge story, but Ayesha Imam, one of the Baobab (women's rights organization) activists has said this international attention has actually been harmful in some cases. The people on the street are not happy about abuses of shari'a law, but they grow defensive when people from Western countries speak about shari'a, as if it is a barbaric law with no nuance in judgment.

For more information on this, see this interview with Ayesha Imam:
http://allafrica.com/stories/200311131020.html

t-c

Atutupoyoyo said...

The Spanish are light years behind when it comes to race relations. Remember the incident with Luis Aragones the Spanish football coach? He publicly referred to Thierry Henry as a black shit and yet the Spanish FA refused to openly remonstrate. Even more remarkable, he was allowed to keep his job. Imagine the uproar if that had been in Britain?

AlooFar said...

Is there ever going to be an end to this savagery? I second your opinion, Atutupoyoyo.

Brian said...

The most amazing thing about all this is not that there are racist idiots in Spain. It's that Spanish society is so complacent with regard to these idiots.

There are certainly racists here in North America. But anyone in black face or with signs like that would be denied entry into any sporting event or ejected once they did crap like this.

That Spanish (and Italian and others) society is so tolerant of this garbage is a black mark against their pretensions of being a highly evolved nation.

Spook E said...

Don't those fools know we grow afros?

Sheesh!

Jaja said...

Yesterday, I was watching on NTA as the National house were still atlking back and forth about the Nigerian who was murdered by the Spanish security on the guise of deporting him to Nigeria., ( gagged and bound hands and foot, put in a sack).. I ddnt know it was that bad till I head the Rep from his constituency say it...

Ms. Catwalq said...

I can't believe you ate that....