I’ve recently moved to Santander, a port in northern Spain. While leaving a major European capital for a small provincial city was quite a leap, Santander has an international feel to it that I like. Being a port, it gets immigrants from all over the world, mostly China, South America, and West Africa.
The West Africans are especially numerous. They man most of the Cantabrian fishing fleet and work on the docks and in industry as well. Sadly I haven’t found any suya restaurants, but I did get to hear some great African music. Last weekend there was an African jam session at a local bar. The band was made up of guys from Senegal and the Ivory Coast playing drums, a xylophone, and the kora, with a Chilean saxophonist thrown in because. . .why not?
If you’ve never heard a kora player, try to go to a concert. The kora is a stringed instrument from Western Africa. With 21 strings it’s got quite a range and sounds like a cross between a harp and a guitar. Check out this video from kora master Toumani Diabate explaining how it works.
As I downed a generously poured rum and coke while speaking Spanish with a bunch of South Americans and listening to West African music, I got to thinking just how mixed together we’re getting. This mid-sized bar in a mid-sized city after the tourist season had people from at least half a dozen countries and four continents. Everyone drinking, dancing, talking, and listening to music. Nice. Later I stepped out for a smoke (Spain started a smoking ban this year) with a guy from the Ivory Coast and another from Cantabria. We all shivered in the cold rain of autumn and complained about the weather. Well, two of us did. The Cantabrian didn’t grow up in Arizona or West Africa, so he didn’t see what was wrong about the weather.
It was the only disagreement I heard the entire night. I can live with that.
During the civil war earlier in the year, the national museum in Abidjan, capital of the Ivory Coast, was nearly stripped bare by looters, Art Daily reports.
An estimated $8.5 million worth of art and artifacts were taken while the city suffered bitter warfare between political factions. Some of the most severe fighting swirled around the museum itself, which was used as a sniper’s nest.
Once famous among African museums for its fine collection of art, it is now a pale semblance of its former self, with all the most valuable artifacts gone. The Ivory Coast is home to a rich variety of cultures and a long history of ancient civilizations. A wide variety of arts are practiced there, including making masks like the one shown in this photo courtesy Guérin Nicolas. Luckily, this particular mask is in the Museum Rietberg in Zurich where it remains safe.
Civil unrest and cultural looting go hand in hand. In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, criminals have taken advantage of the chaos and lack of law enforcement to steal their own heritage and sell it on the international antiquities market. By doing so, they take away evidence of their common history, thus making it easier for factions to emphasize their differences and renew the cycle of violence.
Selling souvenirs is a big industry; everyone wants to take a little bit of their travels home with them. For most people that means a beer stein from Munich, a triangular hat from Vietnam or a maple leaf flag from Canada. But for others — with lots of money to spend — it can mean a botanical curiosity like a rare tree.
According to the BBC, in the Ivory Coast, scientists are attempting to sell a rare coconut tree for $1 million. The palm tree has a hefty price tag because it has three heads; usually coconut trees only have one. Whoever ends up buying the tree will be free to move it to the location of their choice, and although the tree might end up somewhere fancy and pretentious, the money will be going to a good cause: to continue research at the Marc Delorne research station.
Of course, you probably don’t think of these places as vacation destinations, unless you’re a whacked-out Robert Young Pelton. However, employees of governments, oil and mining industries, and telecom industries are increasingly being dispatched to these locations. If you work for one of those groups, be certain to ask about insurance, hazard pay — and a bodyguard.
Interestingly, the piece argues that the world is NOT getting more dangerous right now. Rather, globalization and the attendant “shrinking” of the planet is largely responsible for making the world APPEAR more dangerous now than before. Whether or not you agree with that assertion, the article is interesting, and the gallery is frightening.
Treichville may be a neighborhood in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, but it is also a restaurant in New York City, both of which I have never explored personally. However, for a sampling of the Ivory Coast and for less than half the cost one may consider swinging in for some fare. This Village Voice piece does a fine job taking us to the real Treichville by describing its bustling open-air markets, transportation terminals and nightclubs complete with French influence, yet the most African part of town. And just as quickly as the writer takes us across the Atlantic he ships us back across to the Treichville located at 339 East 118th Street, NYC where crab legs, mussels, clams, and shrimp can all be found on the menu.
From the sound of the piece it looks worth filling your tummy with a plate full. Again, I’ve never been, but if I were near by, without a question I’d be fueling up too.