Sunday, 13 March 2011

A month in India, Pakistan, Mauritius and Madagascar

"Buddhists are taught that if there is something you can do about a situation, you must do it immediately. But if there is nothing you can do, you can't worry - that is indulgent."

Dalai Lama

Wednesday 9 December 2009 last weeks of a nameless decade which I did not notice

In the plane. The Brazilian woman who spent half her time in India because it was so real. Isn’t Brazil real? Yes Brazil is also real. The Indian American going to spend a month in his village to protect his title to his land. If you don’t he said some other guy will take it. He was peeved that I asked him if he spoke English. He said I would assume blacks spoke English but not Asians. I thought I should not assume people spoke my language. ‘It is not your language.’ Nice INSEAD graduate beside me going to Delhi. Lots of rude Indians who shoved and pushed in the aisles without apology.

A Mexican Canadian (is everyone hyphenated now?) on my other side. I said we would become good friends or enemies in 7 hours. I only make friends she said and was reading a book about self development. Her name Andrea. She trusted her intuition. Had bought 4 properties and hoped one day to live off the profits and retire. She is taking a month off work. Her business had almost gone bankrupt earlier this year until she laid almost everyone off. She had intuition she should go to India to an ashram.

The airport. A slight Indian smell I thought of spice which pleased me. Did not please Andrea so much. The taxi ride through a long road fringed with strange trees. The taxi driver my age had a daughter at university and a son at home. He assumed I had a lot of fun not being married... until you were married you had no target he said. I said I did not have as much fun as he thought. So you just work and eat? A good summary of my life I suppose. [But I am an intellectual so I think too and read. An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex.]

The YMCA. The drunken receptionist who opened the ledger with exaggerated solemnity like a man trying not to drop a fragile vase of great value. The man in the peaked hat winking in my face conspiratorially. The room without a loo. The lift that did not work..

Went to the nearby smart hotel the Hotel Park for a snack. Met two Indians who had very white skin, perhaps whiter than mine. They looked Persian but paler or central Asian. They spoke with beautiful nineteenth century  English accents. Speaking to them, I found they came from the far North of India.


Slept at 4 woke At 10.10. Andrea had been waiting for me since 8.45 unable in her hotel to sleep. She had decided to stay another night in Delhi.

Delhi. Chaos, traffic. We found her a hotel in a strange higgledy-piggledy run down area which I liked. I bought some coffee from a man selling food in the street but the travel agent told me to throw it away before it made me ill.

The red fort but instead of entering I wanted to walk around the streets what I later realised was the bazaar enchanted. The endless people who wanted to offer help - old half effaced British signs. One sign read MEDIUM ENGLISH SPOKEN. A Protestant church. Wonderful vegetable somozas, very hot.  A sweet mosque and I looked over the fence into the chaos of the street below. I later read it was where some conqueror watched the massacre of the citizens of Delhi in  17-something. More Eastern than Syria. A strange temple. The mosques here represent for me something familiar.

I LOVE India I SMS to my sister.

Andrea had had a great love affair with a man of 47 then split then made it up- he has little experience with women and I told her he sounded he was too close to his mother, scared of commitment. I told her to take the initiative once more with her. This I was I was meant to say to her and perhaps she was meant to say that a niceish looking 35 year old could have a wonderful affair with a 47 year old bachelor who ran away from commitment.  I felt a close communication with her though I see she is less intelligent than I am and much healthier and more grounded.

I told her when you have the map and know what things mean you are the boy who ceases to hear the birdsong when he knows the birds are called starlings.

The Red Fort itself, vast, alien. It could be the architecture of the planet Mars for all I recognise or understand it. Two young guys who wanted Rs 150 talked rubbish to us in broken English and I was about to get rid of them with 50 and then a bad tempered guide in his early sixties came along brandishing a walking stick and chastised them severely like an angry schoolmaster threatening the cane. He was the guide and told his spiel in sometimes comprehensible English. The tourists were almost entirely brown for which I was grateful. I am very proud of the Delhi Durbar of the King-Emperor of George V. This was the apogee of British history, not the Battle of Britain or giving the colonies their independence. To hell with the Guardian and leftish Anglican clergymen and semi-educated left wing intellectuals.

Back by auto rickshaw and I took Andrea to the engagement party in a strange place near Connaught Pl full or rooms with woolsacks on which to recline like a party in a squat. The father of the bride with a fruity Anglo-Indian accent. The Major-General uncle who had fought the Pakistanis. Thought over population was the great danger. He told me India has had progressed fifty years in the last ten years and had been 150 years behind. Of course I am full of regrets at hearing this. It will progress 50 years in the next ten years then ten years every five year period after that until in 30 years she catches up. An aunt is taking up the discussion about over population. Instant intellectual conversation between the uncle aunts in clipped British voices, how much more interesting than my family weddings I thought. Suzanne 12 years later. M I did not recognise. The handsome glossy black hair and beard replaced now by white hair and grey eyebrows. Something disappointed in him. I said he reminded me of James Stewart and someone like Paul Schofield. He seemed like an actor. A very interesting man.

Their oldest daughter has started at Edinburgh this term. !! A bachelor goes through life without these landmarks.

M who drinks and now smokes again.  Admits that like most socialists he is a snob. His comely niece is marrying below her class to a vulgar Punjabi Sikh. They are Brahmins. At the engagement ceremony a friend of the groom put a jacket over the two of them so they could kiss. Naughty said an aunt aged 50.

A golden evening. One of the happiest days of my life. Much happier because I was sharing it with Andrea.

Finally a huge amount of excellent food.  Servants brought food all the time.

Heavenly evening.  Many interesting uncle and aunts and brothers all intelligent. One told me to forget the beach in Madagascar and stick to Tana. Sounded tempting.

Andrea when I run myself down and say how little I have achieved say you don’t love yourself much do you? You don’t hear me saying things like that do you?

Friday 11 Dec. 09

Connaught Place. A rapid succession of soft voices in my ear saying confidentially that Connaught Place was closed or what did I want? Suddenly a little man with a bare bottom and ruddy rectum tumbled out of a tree. A monkey. Then dozens. The tree that looked like human limbs entwined.

A Hindu temple. Oddly 60s and reminding me of the 60s cult of Indian mysticism, strange carton gods 60ish and oddly erotic. It also seemed like a municipal baths tiled with notices. And so much in common with Catholicism and all religions the kneeling, praying, statues. So fascinating but I am so glad I do not believe in this idolatry. My God is the True God. Or so I believe.

The engagement party.

At his recommendation I went into the Imperial Hotel just done up Mulu said (2000 actually) an art deco peach of 1930s British self assurance for a community that ceased to exist in 1947. They were building thinking they would be around though. Fascinating and I felt very proud. And see that the loss of empire has made us lose believe in ourselves. Pictures of George V etc. A tourist reproduction for commercial reasons not a relic but still very affecting. And very ritzy.

The famous tailors who charged €300 for a suit and upwards but though he was ok I wasn’t completely sold on his suits which were not Saville Row quality. A good bargain but not good  enough.

An auto-rick to Old Delhi. Decrepit buildings built by the British. Oddly familiar yet utterly exotic. Extraordinary beautiful mosque built of maroon sandstone.  A sweet ten year old girl who befriended me. I looked at a hotel with rooms for 400 across the street and reserved one but could I safely leave my luggage there for days while I went to Pakistan? I don’t quite think so, a bunch of boys hanging round the table in the entrance laughing. Not quite serious.

I love this country and these people and regret that there is much of this culture and way of life in England. But opinions are not important. Some nuns sold needlework made by Indian women “trying to find self reliance and self respect”. What do I do to make the world as better place?

Tired. Slept in the horrible YMCA woke after an hour too tired to go out to wherever Shashank was went round the corner to a restaurant misnamed Kwality recommended by the travel agent in the YMCA and by the DK guide an indifferent meal and got something wrong with me. Cruel headache and then at 5 vomiting. Missed the Sikh wedding


Woke 11.15. headache and sensitive stomach.

Delhi is not a city for walking but I know how to get to the Imperial my spiritual home and in the mid-afternoon ate a club sandwich and drank a cappuccino on the veranda beside the lawn where they should but do not play croquet. Very beautiful place. Like eating and drinking Lutyens.

Finding a cheaper hotel then having to pay because had missed book out time then changed my mind and found somewhere else and negotiated them down from 3500 to 2000 for a place opposite Rivoli in a side street. The usual indecision. Prufock. I have heard the mermaids singing each to each.

But progress. I do not look back which is lack of faith in God and loserism.

Canning Lane by autorick. Everyone from the village I was told whether invited or not will come and therefore the sacks in the roofless house are for them to sleep on. It is a bit cold. M looks wonderful like a Persian statesman from the court of some forgotten shah or like an eighteenth century French courtier his white hair looking like a peruke. I decided not to do a costume because it was too cold and I had no vest or t-shirt and the wedding was outside.

Great wedding. Meat because Sikhs like meat but no alcohol even though Sikhs like that too. I did not want drink and loved the lime sherbets – wonderful milk shakes. Great people. I was with the 20s western educated set friends of the couple. Suzanne wanted me to be closer to her but I preferred my crowd. Funny and I felt I had been with these kind of people a lot at Cambridge and in the late 80s in London but not much in Romania.

M interesting and spends much time with me. From hospitality or because he can talk to me? I assume the latter and because he is shy of other people.

The Indian-American very nice with dreadful birth marks across his face. How much he must feel shy of woman’s love. I looked fine but told myself no woman would love me. Because I did not love myself.

The ceremony and people chatted and here Suzanne had me sit next to her. M did not understand the ceremony, only understood his own wedding because the priest explained it in English to the congregation. Very strange and probably beautiful ceremony involving various people. Someone explained at one point that the priest was telling the bride she had the right to hit her husband with a kitchen implement if he looked at another woman. The priest from the village sitting cross legged. Had that hungry wild look of a fox in a suburban garden. He looks like he lives in a cave I told S and eats grass!

M says he felt odd to leave Serena at university. I feel old too. Her first term just like the first week when I met her mother.

Sunday 13

Did not get to Mass though there is a church not far from the YMCA from which I at last effected my escape. The YMCA with carols tinkling and Christmas lights flashing. Interesting to see Christ in a country where Christian religion is a subversive and alien minority. And I see how lucky I am to be a Christian. Islam is not a benign thing but the creation of a power hungry politician and Hinduism......fascinating of course....but idolatry.

In India I realise how oriental Romanians are.

Took driver and am shown the Tomb of Hunamin - enchanting, a first draft for the Taj Mahal. Extraordinary grace; someone told me at the wedding that these buildings are all Persian and Isfahan is full of them. A chord of frozen music. And also a Sunday afternoon – I am reminded of the grace f the lawn and gothic tracery of St Osyth’s priory oddly enough.

Some strange riot of streets inhabited by Muslims. I saw an old tomb but missed the big thing. Then the Lutyens New Delhi. Sir Herbert Baker his colleague built that church near us in Westcliff and redesigned Chelmsford Cathedral. Here the Indo British style is heaven. Does not feel fascistic at all and in fact 1911 pre-dates fascism but it does remind me or Yerevan. Truly heavenly. In Piccadilly or Aldwych all this is to me recent but here it is a vanished civilisation Nineveh Babylon.

The reception but it was too cold and too far out and I wanted to leave but could not. M says cannot speak to girls of twenty five because they are so vain. I haven’t found this.


No call at 6.30 but at 7 I came down to 2 sleeping boys in the reception. Kim. Waiting for the taxi. A woman on her knees washing clothes in water on the earth path near my  bed and breakfast. The nearby market in the half light of dawn full of activity. The Hindu temple the idols illuminated like waxworks in the show on Southend pier.

Bunty my meek careful soft spoken driver. Nice man.

Breakfast dal and paratha in a vaulted caravanserai built for tourists Taj-bound. Like an illustration to E Nesbit I oddly thought.

Wonderful tomb in Agra. Heavenly grace and symmetry.

The Taj Mahal with the guide whose English was not good enough. Yes really one of the most wonderful sights of my life. As I knew it would be because my soul was elated by the previous tomb and the one yesterday. Absolutely my kind of thing. I am not at all disappointed by the Taj Mahal - the reverse. Even if it does look like the back of a playing card it is the most beautiful thing I ever saw.

I mention Diana and the bench where she was posed is pointed out to me and I see my era was part of history as much as the Delhi Durbar. From George V to Diana ...

Wonderful. The red sandstone of the unused guest house and the mosque. Pure architecture, simply constructed to be looked at. The reflection in the water.

I was reminded at the Taj Mahal of W H Auden's words:

What reverence is rightly paid
To a Deity so odd
He lets the Adam that he made
Perform the acts of God?

The guide’s name is I don’t remember. He told me I should marry because I should think about the future and I told him he was right I should. He is 23 and has found a nice girl he wants to marry.

The fort. My idea of Cambodian architecture. The life in the street interests me as much and the ancient decrepit wooden buildings fronting the road,

But I remember I didn’t want to go beyond Europe Latin America Goa and Macau when I was an adolescent because I thought I would not understand the culture architecture or history of the other places. And I think there is a much to be said for this point. Now I am like a Japanese looking at Winchester cathedral. How much do I understand? Only the beauty. Not the meaning.

And I feel I have seen enough Indian sights now. Forever. They are wonderful but I have tasted the flavour of the country and do not want to look at sights every day. I wish I were engaged on a course of meditation or making a spiritual journey not a touristic one

Bunty sees his wife in the village where she looks after his mother father and one year old son only once every six months. Has a diploma electrical but makes more money driving a car. Nice man. His son has no tonsil and needs an operation costing EUR 900. He needs to work to save this money.

He wants to take me at 9 to a restaurant he knows and wait till I come out but I dismiss him with a tip of 500 which makes him beam and spend R2500 on buffet with 2 glasses local wine at Hotel Park and feel guilty slightly.


I managed to make the train. Feel good about that. Should I feel good about being able to get up and to a station on time at my age? Certainly!


I have to apologise for not saying how awful your story is about the coma. I wrote the last mail in an internet cafe near Taj Mahal very pressed for time. I cannot do meditation but I wish I were doing it as I need it and tourism is a shallow pleasure ...a substitute for living although a form of living. I feel I would have learnt a lot from you had we spent more time together. Are you in Mumbai on 3 or 4 December?

I am on facebook with this address - please be friends! Best Paul

Hi Paul, no need to apologize! but thanks anyway. The 'coma' comment was a slight exaggeration on my part (hahaha) but I have been feeling awful!. My cold has gotten worse too. Maybe it's the fresh air in Rishikesh.

I have no desire to go to Mumbai :(. I really want to stay away from the big cities as much as possible.

I like the country side.

I will look for you on facebook.

I will write more when I feel better :)


An old man like Harbottle in Will Hay films takes me by bicycle rickshaw to a hotel that turns out to be cheap and nice and then persuades me to let his son take me by auto rick to the border ceremony. This excites me. Something to do active rather than looking round streets enjoying atmosphere. And it was fun and I thought I had an excellent seat but I missed much. Big party spirit. I did not see another white man. The guard marched menacingly on the border. One day screamed the crowd and I didn’t like this. The green Islamic flag of Pakistan could be seen waved aloft on the other side.


The Golden Temple is a very long walk and I am picked up by some boys going there by auto rick and hurried into it before coffee and without any guide book or source of information. The 40 minute queue on the pier that leads across the pool of water to the golden inner temple connected by a pier to the side of a pool. Is it evolutionary legacy that the sight of water makes us happy? I feel like Sandy Arbuthnot.

Search for coffee which will not make me ill. Not easy to find and this is very good indeed. Not Talinn or Riga or the old town in Bucharest. Well, perhaps little of the old town in Bucharest as it was ten years ago.

A Hindu temple a smaller replica of the golden temple where they sing beautifully and I am presented with a wreath of orange flowers by a priest. A sweet kindly businessman who is fascinated by Stonehenge and who comes several times a day to pray. In mosques I can believe Islam is a mistake but Hinduism makes me question the truth of Catholicism, our rituals and chanting and statues and saints’ days. Man is a creature born to worship undoubtedly but these false religions with their elaboration and spiritual insights...

The auto rickshaw to the border and I am anxious because I always am because I feel I cannot do things ....and then I fail to do them..but this went very smoothly. Tea in the sun on the Indian side with two nice soldiers in the sun. ‘This is Britain too’ one said to me smiling.

The other side which seemed almost like the kingdom of darkness. Customs man smiling widely like a schoolmaster repeating a practised joke: “I have only one question for you. Do you have any alcohol?” “Sorry, no.” “Then you may go.”

I liked Pakistan as soon as I stepped out. Different, barer than India, (even) more home made. Hippy trail.

Ahmed. With his wife not so young as in 2001. Nor am I. But a very fine and charming woman and more assured. Two children. Excellent view of the ceremony.

Dinner at a restaurant. I tried self consciously to be relaxed but I was not. Tried to flatter and ingratiate. Made Sulmein the elder boy love me. Went to the centre of Lahore for shopping but light saving had been introduced, the streets were hardly lit and people kept away for this reason and fear of bombs Ahmed told me. I mentioned politics to his wife and she said ask A about that. Ask me about fashions and clothes. This I thought very charming. But really I should remember not to talk to women about men’s subjects?

Dinner from which I suffered no sequentiae.

The horribly expensive Holiday Inn behind barbed wire. In fact the most likely place for a bomb.

In the steam bath were the sons of the local rich. One who owned part of the hotel thought Britain to blame for Al Qaeda. I disputed this but he is right in fact in that we chose to share the US guilt.


Ahmed very late but I was pleased he came rather than just sending his driver. He had delayed hoping his elder so would wake up. Wonder why he did not wake him.

The mosque. Astonishingly beautiful – red sandstone – tiles of great beauty. The fort whose state of disrepair A apologised for but I loved it very much. The mirror room. The Catholic Spanish wife of one Mughul emperor whose room was painted with saints. I felt like a traveller in Samarkand. Samarkand appeals to me more than British India because more obscure.

I could have attended the singing in one mosque and watched the dervishes in the evening but Ahmed did not invite me to dinner with them and if I had stayed another night he probably would have done but not wanted to and anyway I had done the two big sights.  A glimpse of the old town which at my request we drove through. I have only been here 5 times in my life said A.

The border fun with porters who exchanged my laptop and plastic bag at the border. I felt happy. The train which I missed in the end being sent from one part of the station to another to fill in incomprehensible forms.


Writing this on the train which is an hour and a half slower theoretically from the express of two days ago. I sit for €19 instead of the price of two days ago of €12 in the solitary splendour of first class which means a carriage to myself and facing the engine. The latter matters.

The landscape as I know is flat but suddenly I feel happy. Happy to be here. My mistake I realised talking to a Dutchman who spent three days happily exploring the old city in Amritsar is not to spend more time in the old cities. The newer bits I do not love.  And the little towns and their utter poverty also make me happy. Rubbish strewn tracks, donkeys, sacred cows, scenes from a nineteenth century book. Everything looks to my young fogey mind like a lithograph. But then I see lithographs everywhere.

But the lithographs in the Royal Picture Gallery the history book printed in 1895 that I memorised at age last I am in the land of the Black Hole of Calcutta.

I am happy. Especially about chilling out in Mauritius which will be perfect. Recently the experience of taking part in other people’s lives as at the wedding was exhilarating but suddenly I feel I do not have one of my own and am a little too old to play this part of looker on.

Dalai Lama: "Buddhists are taught that if there is something you can do about a situation, you must do it immediately. But if there is nothing you can do, you can't worry - that is indulgent."

Rich man who shares my carriage (he owns a tape measure factory that exports widely founded by his father fleeing partition) thinks Jinnah and Nehru both wanted power and this is why partition happened. Like everyone he is glad now that Pakistan exists. Jinnah is greatly to blame. Nehru should have asked Britain to stay another five years. But Britain wanted to scuttle and our bluff had been called our prestige destroyed. He says his parents and he think most of the good things in India were done by the British. Their politicians merely stole.

Just like in Romania.

Batty Jane, Dowager Lady Birdwood, whose obituary I just reread on the train searching for the word India, was right that Indians are corrupt and are they infecting English politics and business? The stranger agrees that immigration is dangerous. Nowhere feels like home any more I say. And so no one trusts each other. Partition illustrates the violence that multiracism gives rise to. Jinnah and Nehru were too intent on power we agree to share it. He also does not rate Gandhi but because he persuaded India to forgive Pakistani debt. Hmm. He mentions disparagingly ‘negroes’ and maybe everyone who hears my fears regarding immigration will expect me to share their prejudices whereas I don’t think I have any. If I did I suppose I would be more discreet.

Hotel. They have broken my never used €200 wheeler and when I want them to waive the bill they all lie in chorus that it was broken before and no-one ever made this claim before that they broke anything. (Writing this the next day I see how very Indian this scene is and I am sorry for my poor country. Of course like Romanians and many races Indians are prone to lying and for some reason this is considered unsayable. And I would once have considered it a repellent thing to say too for some reason. I would like to write A Short History of White Guilt.)

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Relaxed happy maybe lonely maybe felt old. Buffet lunch the Imperial. One should live entirely for pleasure. As Mgr Gilbey did. And Mother Teresa no doubt.

National Museum. At last I meet Hinduism (ugly 20th century temples and shrines don’t count). Very vital and erotic statues which should interest me but the only thing that does is a charming 18th century Muslim miniature of the nativity. So off I go to see the Catholic Cathedral by mistake (some of my co-religionists getting married, a ceremony at the door to the Cathedral which I imagined perhaps wrongly was built for Irish squaddies) the prim Protestant Cathedral reminiscent but anterior to Guildford built by a man called Medd who only died in 1977 and finally the Lori park which I LOVED – two villages demolished at the whim of a 1920s Vicereine to leave two wonderful 15th century Muslim tombs standing in the gloaming.

The people sitting in the street around fires because tonight is cold. Pure eighteenth century London. I am reminded of The Quincunx. And you Paul what are you going to do to help? At least the vile Blair and Brown care about this. The man in the train yesterday who told me all then he corrected himself most of the good things were done by the British. The Indian politicians just stole. How much happier Romania would be and so would agree most Romanians if she could be ruled by England. I am coming round reluctantly to thinking India would be better off and we should be if we still ruled here. Or was our rule just a form of pillage despite our probity as individuals?

Hard to understand how Indians threw off our rule but Nehru and Jinnah and Mountbatten have the blood of half a million on their hands.

I had no idea what nouveau riche meant till I came to India - are Indians and Romanians by any chance related?

India is wonderful and terribly tiring. Unlike the Arab world which is just wonderful full stop. But the Imperial Hotel New Delhi makes me so proud to be British and to read the Daily Telegraph.

Sunday 20 December

They broke my wheeler and I did not have the courage to refuse to pay the bill. Pooter diary this. De minimis. There was a young lawyer called Rex/ Who had very small organs of sex... Plane delayed six hours but I went to the airport anyway to be sure. Place not your faith in Air Mauritius.

Macaulay’s Essay on Hastings three quarters of my lifetime after being head over heels in love with it in 1974. How wide my reading was and how undisciplined.

How politically incorrect he is and I think accurate about the effeminacy,  obsequiousness and dishonesty of the Indians. None of this struck me in 1974. And he calls Hinduism superstition which nowadays would not be thought polite. Clearly Hastings was a great man in the way Frederick the Great or Napoleon were great. Clearly the Indians preferred cruel oppressive and self indulgent rulers of their own kin to foreigners and infidels. Clearly we ‘we’ were sucked in by a vacuum. Clearly we were no different morally than the other actors and I rejoice India did not become French. For our sake but also for that of India secondarily.  The whole thing an object lesson in the ruthlessness and savagery of great power politics in the eighteenth century in Europe, Asia everywhere. And how was Hitler different? He wasn’t.

Finally late the long drive down a dull road to Suzanne who lives in an old fashioned colonial house with a veranda like a tea plantation in 30s Malaya in a Ben Travers farce I once as a child saw revived in the 70s.

Travel is only fun if it means visiting the past which is why I wish I had taken the Trans Siberian express. Why I am glad about Lahore which was expensive.

Spiritual journey. An ashram in Mauritius?

Midnight mass? Confession in English? Rodrigues?

Monday 21

NOVOPHILIA - if people don't love literature they don't know tradition, just an increasingly globalised deracinated present

The laptop is lost. The laptop is found. I left it on the floor by the carousel where you pick up the luggage. This is how the house was bought. This is very dangerous

Port Louis with Serena lovely dreamy Italianate virgin, quite unlike her pale, lanky mother at her age, who calls me Mr Wood. And the man in the market refers to her naturally as my daughter which hurts a little. The mosque utterly serene but locked. Nice colonial buildings. Chinese general stores with wooden chests of drawers. The Parliament built in 1740. The charming supreme court. Lots of horrible 70s modernist buildings like in Southend and everywhere.  A tall brutish looking English tourist his limbs as white as paper festooned with tattoos. The working classes can afford to come here and really we should be pleased. I tell myself. But I am not sure. The rich man in his castle....but I am the poor man at his gate.

Tuesday  22 December

The laptop. The beach. By the main road but silver powdery sand warm water. Did I swim in an ocean before? No but I saw the Atlantic at Land’s End in 1976 or whenever.

Wednesday 23

I did not write my diary till now waiting for another delayed AM flight on 3 January. I told Serena when I came I intended to write every day. At the table. With this laptop. And I did not even think of it again.

The day spent at QB then the wonderful seaside villa. Each day passed without any distinction. Reading on the sofa a swim or walk when the sun ceased to be dangerous at 5. Meals. The waves eternally crashing noisily against an unseen coral reef beneath the surface of the sea.

Thursday 24

Idyllic. Happiness writes white. How surprised I am that the children seem to like me. I expect adolescent girls to look down their noses at me.

Serena enchanting virgin full of love and I suspect has fallen for an American. This is what sex should be a God given means of giving indescribable pleasure to one whom one loves. And vice versa. So obvious. 

Friday 25

Diana Blinda on face book:

Christmas with sms copied and pasted from others, with Italian panetone instead of home cooked cozonac, with the sausages bought in Piata Dorobanti, and with the shopping for presents done on December 24th in malls.... with the tree decorated 2 weeks before... This type of Christmas is not for me. I want my old Christmas back !

9no sms, no tv, live carols, my granmothers'home cooking...)

Wonderful road along the coast. The general stores. The ramshackle town that I liked very much. Mass half way through. A couple of white families. The priest looked like a shaman. Joyous singing, very creole.

A barbecue. Lamb. Oysters.

SKYPE call to family.

Saturday 26 December

Suzanne is a brick and a nice person very.   She and M are very hospitable in a totally relaxed laisser faire way. We laugh and joke. I gorge myself am appallingly gluttonous. Motherhood has done her much good and marriage too. She said just now she wished she were joining me for 4 days in Madagascar and I said why not come but she said she was not really psyched up for a trip at such short notice.

Am happy,  watching the waves pound the coral reef, coffee, a croissant, then a morning swim, then 'Treasure Island' which is getting exciting

I have  discovered my inner philistine – I prefer the seaside seen from a verandah in Mauritius to Mughal architecture in India and Pakistan

In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And, like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.

Sunday 27

Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar . Tana. Tired. Last night I couldn’t sleep. I sleep. Then wearily go to do my tourist thing wondering why. Alone the experience lacks colour. Then Sunday afternoon in a place which looks like a British town in the 70s, not third world at all. Neo-gothic churches everywhere just like provincial England. Go into church but it turns out not to be a Mass but a series of songs. Buffet for EUR 8 at the Colbert hte best hotel in the country. Then go home in the dark not far – I was later told this was dangerous.

Monday 28

Woke at 5 found taxi brousse a maxi taxi full to bursting which rattled to me to Maramanga which means many mangoes. A delightful town. Cuban. Malagasy women with such dignity in chic clothes. Colonial buildings falling gracefully down. A busy market. Lovely people. Coffee and croissant and passion fruit juice at an upmarket hotel which could have been a three star hotel in provincial Romania.

Another taxi with a better seat to Andasibe. So interesting. Little hamlets where people and cargo were unloaded. Smiles in an isolated house when a parcel arrived.

The Andasibe Park. I am too late for lemurs. Must come back tomorrow at dawn. But my nice guide who spent three hours with me found a number. My telephone had no battery so no pictures.

Relieved to have done my tourist duty. Met Italian called Lorenzo and I decided to stay in the cheapest hotel which is actually in the village itself. Wonderful decision. The village wooden buildings. Saunders of the River stuff. Anglo-Saxon England. Or 18th century England.

Lorenzo follows me into the church which is having a children’s Mass. Suddenly the children turn round and start dancing beautifully. The Latin Mass would be a European irrelevance here I suddenly thought.

I am not interested in lemurs or canoeing or beaches but this village is the most interesting place I have visited in my life

Ioana Ardelean sent me a message.

Where are you and what are you doing? For how long have you been travelling? How dare you have so much fun?

Merry Christmas!


Dawn and the sound of lemurs calling to each other woke me but I fell asleep again.

I know the simple secret of foreign travel: always use public transport. Especially in Madagascar in a maxi-taxi made for 14, filled by 26 plus sacks, stopping at one 18th century hamlet after another..

I  hate snobbery because it is so vulgar

So glad I didn't accept offer to paddle down a disused no doubt malaria infested canal." How sad an evidence it is of the paucity of human pleasures that hunting is accounted one of them" - Johnson: The same goes for canoing: He also said rightly that the giants causeway "was worth seeing but not worth going to see". same holds for the avenue of baobabs: Saw a rain forest yesterday and wish I had had battery in my telephone for lemur family but these do not interest me: What interests me is the life of this village, wooden houses, barefoot people smiling faces grinning picanninnies etc .At last I have escaped from globalisation: Children*s Mass yesterday in the village where all the children suddenly started dancing. I finally see why the Latin Mass was abolished; Sad to see the cheap toys the children play with but they seem very happy- happier than spoilt western children? easy to glamorise poverty as in Romanian countryside:  using a french keyboard is like speaking without vowels: best Paul

The village. Taxi brousse back.

Guy Shepherd. Nice modest man a bit like Simon Borwell. I live very well he says and no doubt he does. Excellent zebu really excellent  in the new in place in town the Cafe de la Gare in an annex to the disused Eiffel station. The lines stretched away empty like the opening credits to a film.

He got a 20 000 payoff from Nabisco and came here to start a company because he had spent two weeks here and loved it. Lucky man. The previous President a good egg. The government has lost control of the streets and therefore the open air street market which the guidebook deplores is back. The superiority of the long haired people is never spoken about but they run things silently.

20 000 Frogs live here he said.

Wednesday 30

The palace of Ranavaluna. Still a sacred place. The mirror given by Queen Victoria. Did it reflect unspeakable orgies?

Judy Dench in the Times:

Why do you think people love Cranford so much?

I think it’s because it’s classic English novel [by Elizabeth Gaskell] that people aren’t so familiar with, so there’s an element of surprise. It’s also the whole business of a community that looks out for each other and interfered with each other, and who resisted new things. We just don’t have that now. The last time I can remember was when I was a very little girl at the end of the war when there was a feeling of people looking out for each other. I shy away from all that [now] — I’m delighted the sat-nav can’t find my house!

Afternoon in the market.

Lorenzo and the wonderful restaurant he had read about. The chef said to be one of the five best in the world according to some competition. Great atmosphere and ate a sublime duck breast in one of the best restaurants in the world in one of the world’s poorest countries. La Varangue, Antananarivo. My Italian companion refused to tip on principle. I am not sure what principle. Lorenzo when asked whether he had enjoyed his meal said it was so so but the recollected that the duck was good. I tried to be charitable towards him but he revolts me. Four weeks cheapening prices alone at Christmas rather than going home to Italy. He travels from boredom and out of curiosity. He does not like people. He asked me in Maramanga where was the colonial architecture I had mentioned. I pointed it out to him all around us. He does not take an interest in the people of the country but says he like chameleons.

I ask him if he will ever marry. He is 35 and has Japanese fuck buddy in her early 40s who occasionally visits him. He doesn’t know. Good not to be alone at 70 I say. Oh no – he says – that when you wrap everything up. Interesting thought. I wish I had asked him to expand.

 I  admire the great elegance of Malagasies, these S E Asians for some reason living here off the coast of Africa. Coups and rumour of coups.

Carlyle said that in our happiest moments there is always something that stops us from being completely happy and that something is nothing other than the shadow of ourselves

If sex is the mysticism of materialism, perhaps foreign travel is too.

Why do so many misanthropes love travelling?

Thursday, December 31 2009

Sounds of shouting as I lay in bed. A coup? No such luck.

Went for long walk –open air market which has taken back the streets.

Taxi from the airport to Suzanne. The man takes the coastal route without being asked and it is one of the most beautiful journeys of my life. Especially since the rain had recently stopped.

Tired. Slight stomach upset.

Slept a lot. Very lazy. Is this good or bad? It turns out I go back on Sunday not Saturday and I am delighted.

Sunday 3

Do I like Indians? Yes a lot, especially the educated ones and the lovely women but there is something in many Indian faces that repels me unlike the Creoles.

Monday 4 January 2010


Awful hotel I was conned into by information desk man at the airport. Bombay at dawn. The long 5 km new bridge. It turned to be far from VT

Short sleep.

Walking. VT magnificent. Far better than St Pancras. Many fine late 19th century buildings. A Church of Scotland Church from the Regency. The Fort. The Taj Mahal Palace. The food not as good as at the Imperial.  The terrorists of last year are now history. They also attacked the Cafe Leopold where I drank in the evening. The waterside. The Gateway to India built in the year our house in Valkyrie Rd was built. A Mediterranean air to the place. Wide tree lined streets. A sea breeze. Englishness everywhere. Elysium Mansion. Ascot Hotel. Elphinstone College. Same era as Leigh-on-sea. Indian Merchants’ Chamber that looked like the Estuary Club. The Oval Maidan with youths playing cricket. Wished I were leaving tonight. Do not like travelling alone very much.

I have decided tourism is mostly escapism and 'travelling' is pretentious escapism.

The only places I really want to visit are Communist countries in the 80s and Portuguese colonies in the 60s.

Tuesday 5 January

Last day and enjoyable because time goes so fast. The Prince of Wales Museum with much that is beautiful but I liked best the building itself. All this stuff so recent like the Raj, so un-exotic.

Reading glasses. Books.

A fish market busy late at night. Women in saris on the floor gutting fish.

From the taxi scores of men sitting cross legged on the floor in restaurants on the edge of town waiting for free food donated by people.

My feet massaged by a blind reflexologist in a place in the airport. Are all the reflexologists blind? About 90%. My man has a beautiful shyness and the usual Indian deference. I tipped him a euro.

Wednesday 6

I  enjoyed the last day of his holiday the most: snow falling on the Louvre; Claude and Poussin; crucifixions and nativities. Breathtakingly beautiful Roman sculpture . Charles de Gaulle airport full of black parachutists brandishing machine guns, naturally.

Paris is heaven. The Louvre heaven and I hardly know either. Used it like a club – when tired recruited my strength with coffee and a good lunch with disappointingly small portions. No more travel beyond Europe and nearby except for Iran and Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other Stans.