Monday 5 August 2013

Maputo diary


What to do on a Sunday night in Maputo? I am advised not to walk around after dark, not for fear of criminals but of the police. They stop foreigners looking for bribes.

Maputo has the old British provincial Sunday feeling and that introverted Portuguese quality but I think I like it. 

I had a very fine buffet lunch at the famous Hotel Polana, including a wonderful fish which
was simply called ' fish' and an equally wonderful soup which was called 'Mozambiquan soup'. The Polana was where, in the old days, prosperous South Africans, I mean white South Africans of course, stayed when they came to Lourenço Marques for prawns and, possibly, prostitutes. Lourenço Marques  was to the U.S.a. what Havana was to the U.S.A. Yet with a stretch of the imagination I can almost imagine the Polana on the Esplanade in my home town, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, next door to Southend. 

The worst thing about apartheid South Africa was not apartheid but white South Africans' lack of style. South Africa was and is suburban (all those shopping centres and barbecues) but even though my home town is suburban this does not seem to be true of Maputo, despite or because of the very fine art deco villas and mansions built by the Portuguese. 
Who built them exactly I wish I knew. Prosperous businessmen I imagine. Now they are occupied mostly by embassies and the broad avenues lined by lovely trees and broken by potholes are named after Allende, Lenin, Mao, Kim Il Sung.

Maputo Cathedral, built in the Salazar era

I think of Dr Salazar a lot today and wonder if the people of Portuguese South East Africa would be better off without independence. The answer is yes, of course they would. They would all be EU citizens and many would be living in Lisbon or Porto, others in London, Paris or Brussels.

There is something shameful about tourism. I mean about the kind I do, trying to stick ones fingers into a country's soul and into ones own soul at the same time. The kind that involves lying by a pool is not shameful, simply a commercial transaction of a normal, respectable kind. Worst of all is the knowingness, being reminded of other places, other poor towns in Africa or elsewhere.

Last night I was taken to Nucleo de Arte, a pleasant place which had been recommended, where there was live music with a slight Cuban lilt and where I drank lager from the bottle, something until recently I thought only Romanians did but have discovered is universal. I enjoyed myself but I was doing what I had done since I was about 19, pretending to like modern music with too much rhythm and no melody and pretending to be cool knowing I was not capable of it and after a time I left. The clientele was half white (many UNOcrats) and half black. I wondered what the cafes were like in Dr Salazar's day and whether I would have felt more at home in them then. 

Today a good restaurant called Miramar on the sea, also full of aid people ('My maid makes the most wonderful curry in the world') and locals. Yes Maputo is pleasant. It is, I am sure, a very nice place to live, if you are on a white man's salary, and a very enjoyable place to visit if you have friends there. It definitely has a vibe, but it is not Havana, to which it is compared. It is too quiet and restrained. Bucharest used to be more like Havana and, in places, in summer, still is.

I left my mobile telephone in Bucharest by mistake and I feel astonishingly unguarded, vulnerable, a bit like Scott of the Antarctic, but also am having a Martin Luther King moment -  "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty we are free at last."

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