Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Raising sail to Saint Louis

There's something about setting out on the open road that's liberating -- the starting anew, the getting out, the leaving well what's left behind. Though lately I've been more in the mindset of frequenting my old haunts, sticking with the familiar, and above all not stepping foot out of Dakar -- my dominion, mon fief. But this weekend we took to the road for Saint Louis for the annual (inshallah -- when god wills it) jazz fest. I've spoken of Saint Louis before, at the northern tip of Senegal where river meets ocean and the Mauritanian border lurks over the next bend. It was the capital of West Africa before Dakar, so the old colonial architecture still stands, making a beautiful and appropriate backdrop for listening to good music and being with friends.

Saint Louis has a bit of a complicated geography as the center of the city is an island divided by a fork in the river. As you cross over the first bridge onto the island you find the centre ville and all its UNESCO-protected colonial architecture. Once you leave and cross over the bridge on the other side you'll end up on the "tongue" or the Langue de Berberie and this is where you drive through the fishing areas, the women drying and dicing fish, the pirogues (boats) in various forms of construction lining the road running alongside the river. So basically one side of the Langue is river and the other is ocean, so once at the tongue's end the two merge in a heep of sand erosion and beached jelly fish and other sea fish which can't survive the fresh water.

The side of the Langue with the ocean is an incredible stretch of sandy beach and waves that just keep coming and folding and unfolding. Some of my favorite visits to Saint Louis have been to this beach and just walking with no end in sight.

We rented out the top of the Harmattan, a hotel run by an old spinster French woman named Rene
. She could pass for an Elizabeth Taylor in her appearance. Her walls are crowded with photos of her on horses and sensual sketches of her in her younger days, and she had pets in varying degrees of disguise -- cats, parrots, dogs, horses, birds. She let half her apartment since all the hotel rooms we're already occupied by the time we got in. It was our luck since it's a beautiful apartment comfortably decorated leaving plenty of nooks to read and write plus it gave us the freedom to spread out our own meals and come and go as if it were our weekend home.

We passed the evenings staying out late going in and out of various bars and clubs listening to a few moments of music and dancing a few songs just to leave and do the same at the next place. I got to reconnect with my Mauritanian friends (peace corps!) almost getting stepped on by a skinny Senegalese man on stilts kicking my chair to move so he could dance the mbalax. But at least getting the chance to share a beer with those who appreciate Gazelle far too much and especially staring into a Desperado trying to work through questions of happiness with Caleb.

And especially the short, stolen moments with Samba trying to figure out how this person so cleverly and quickly came into my life. Sitting by the river, taking pictures of the bridge, listening to good acoustic music, feeling safe and charmed and right. Taking a just before sunset walk on that long stretch of beach I love throwing stories and explanations into the windy waves and jumping over bits of jelly fish. And our final day, the surprise bike ride around the island -- when did I bike last...? Maybe last summer. But it's true about never forgetting how.


At 8/6/06 06:17, Blogger Diane C said...

Ah, nothing like hitting the road and finding music at the end.

Photo's are very inviting, esp...the water.


At 16/6/06 23:17, Blogger runtim said...

"Not" I say. NOT enticed by your youthful, dreamy stories of carefree leisure and the taste of beach sand and warm domestic beer. NOT lost with starry-eyes looking too far into the photo of the Atlantic Ocean, here, in max-zoom. NOT recounting the first stroll out across a stone dyke leaving the Novotel on Dec 18th, and NOT remembering odd feeling of sun striking white skin and smell of the sea-salted air. NOT. I am not going to look at all the pictures of ‘vacation’. No Sister. I am too busy chasing a dollar, too busy being .... you have no idea just how very American I am.


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