The International Writers Magazine: Hacktreks
Just Back : An African 'Ozymandius'
The 'Oscar' of the African Coast
John M. Edwards haggles recklessly over a uniquely carved wooden statue of the cowlicked comic-book hero Tintin at The Ivory Coast Arts Coop, perfect for smuggling diamonds or heroin. . . .
On the sandy shores of Grand Bassam, a sultry colonial village on the coast of Cote d’Ivoire, Africa, I looked out to sea: as infinite as a wobbly 33rpm record spinning the never-ending Beatles song “I Am the Walrus.”
Which was as powerful, in its own way, as Percy Byshe Shelly’s poem “Ozymandius.”
“I am Ozymandius/king of kings, look upon my works ye mighty/and despair. . .”
I had earlier given one of my travel companions a thrashing on the beach. Despite his obvious mercenary training, Erik D’Amato was completely bested by an evil wrestling move called a patouchi. Our dispute involved a carved Tintin statue we had both haggled for at the Ivory Coast Arts Cooperative.
I took the approach of the “steal” (no: buy) like a clued-in cognoscenti or art mongerer who sneered for a living, holding my chin like Rodin’s Le Penseur.
While I had haggled a little too much, pretending to again and again lose interest until the price dropped considerably, being a little tight with my dwindling supply of pretty polly, instead Erik had come sliding in on his knees like the lead singer of Whitesnake or hipcat Bob Welsh wailing on “Ebony Eyes.”
Erik scooped up the impressively carved comic-book deity for a mere song. Resembling “Oscar,” the erect Tintin statue, with its fey expression and semi-omniscient smile, could possibly have either diamonds or heroin hidden in it—a conjectural assessment that I intentionally neglected to tell my new rival and foe.
Also, I was probably the first man in history to carry the banned book The Africans, by David Lamb, around in my rucksack, which was filled with classified information on one of the world’s most mysterious continents.
Back at the hotel, our gang of four, Erik D’Amato, Todd France, Dan Hood, and I--all of us vacationing from a job with Emerging Markets covering the annual meeting of the ADB (African Development Bank)—were ready to discover a novel way back to Abidjan by bush taxi, but not quite yet.
We still had to experience the stillness of the night, with a light wind keening with slave-trade ghosts and absolutely no elephants at all.
Here, the Tuareg Nomad security guards, illegal immigrants from the Sahel, shined their flashlights on sandcrabs scurrying sideways across the ground like yesteryear burlesque performers. Or, Red Skeltons.
The manager, a well-preserved Frenchwoman wearing a tight sweater and secretive smile, warned us not to go past the fence near the saltwater swimming pool because of banditry and black magic, and she also agreed to get us a taxi on the morrow.
That night we fell asleep feeling like bush meat, to the far-off beat of voodoo drums.
So the next day, I told the taxi man, “Aeroportay!”
Since I was the only one who spoke a little bit of high-school and college French, my coworkers somehow blamed me when we arrived at the airport, instead of at our luxury hotel in the center of Abidjan. Erik vociferously threatened the clearly frightened black man, until he slammed his foot down on the gas.
And before you knew anything, we were circling the streets of the capital like greedy crocs.
Finally we found our hotel, anxious to grab our gear and stage our getaway.
Luckily, the plane we had specially ordered from the Air France office did actually arrive late, giving us time to grab our luggage filled with “souvies” (towels, soap, shampoo) and not pay our hotel bill (supposedly comped by the Co). We flagged down a courtesy van to our flight.
In the nick of time, the four of us boarded the plane feeling a little bit aggro about being savaged by golf-ball-sized bugs, plus a strange form of anopheles mosquito five times larger than the norm: verily, the “Gangsta Rappa” of bugs!
Like awakening from a long dream wherein we wonder if we can ever leave, we found ourselves back in New York City, at our HQ in the historic Cable Building in Manhattan (reputedly the architectural front for various spy organizations).
Bobbing and swaying like a jack-in-the-box from a famous Twilight Zone (involving actor “Billy Mummy” wishing people away into the cornfields), Erik plopped down the latest installment of the “AIG Newsletter with Sir Alan Walters, Former Economic Advisor to Margaret Thatcher,” and told me with a priggish reptilian Oscar Wilde smile on his face, “Aaah, Dan totally came down with malaria!”
“That isn’t funny,” I commented.
Erik’s face fell flat. I could tell that he had already sold his soul to the devil for nothing.
Since I had made a big stink about when Senior Editor Dean Temple (originally from “The Ukraine”) told me we did not have time to use “em dashes”; and I had been caught making a dangerous joke about Senior Editor Jen Sachs (“Jen Sex Fifth Avenue”); and I had also refused to stop smoking in the lavatory between edits, I was abruptly let go (no: “sacked”) by the Managing Editor (Erik, alas), this time sporting a triumphant smile.
“Sorry buddy, better luck next time.”
Obviously, Erik hadn’t yet forgiven me for twisting and mangling him into a pretzel on the beach in what soon became a tabloid-worthy Profumo-like scandal simply known in equatorial Africa as the “TINTIN AFFAIR.”
We were almost certain that the odious scandal of my row with Mr. D’Amato (nicknamed “Stinko”) had spread through the gossip of an African delegate née Max Maxwell, who had introduced himself in a sly Geoffrey Holder intonation, “I am Max Maxwell, from Benin!” Max Maxwell from Benin had also taken a liking to staffer Martha Hood (prophylactic-resistant-strain-malaria-victim Dan Hood’s sister): “Martha, you have not yet told me how much you like my jacket? Ahahahah!”
I eventually got my very own African-carved Tintin statue as a gift from my Sistah Sah, who had found this exquisitely carved comic adventurer with the cowlick holding his dog Snowy at a curiosity shop in Brooklyn, New York, once America's fourth largest city and now just a borough of dumb guys. (I had also absconded with a copy of “Tintin Au Congo,” banned in the USA because of racist stereotypes—much worse than Al Jolson in blackface singing “My Little Mammy” or Little Black Sambo turning tigers into ghee--but not in Africa where “Tintin in the Congo” is still wildly popular, and which I had nicked from a French friend with the unfortunate name of "Annick Fouqueray.")
The way coolio statue is staring me in the face right now. As I reach the rushed denouement of this essay, an indie 3D motion-capture movie tie-in with the Spielberg/Jackson spectacle, my own new movie called “Hershey’s Adventures of Tintin,” will definitely eventually compete with a clueless crowd who mistake Tintin with Rin Tin Tin.
In my derivative spoof of Hergé’s oeuvre, in “Hershey’s Adventures of Tintin,” the comic-book snitch battles nefarious underworld criminals from the TV gameshow “The Hollywood Squares,” including Paul Lind, Rip Torn, and Charles Nelson O’Reilly.
Plus, Nipsy Russell.
And as arguably the world’s foremost authority on Tintin, I would speculate wildly, but dare I say it?
“TINTIN IS A GOD TO ME!”
BIO: John M. Edwards is a freelance photojournalist, writer, editor, and poet who has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam, to getting caught in a military coup in Fiji, to bussing Vietnam with a Larium buzz. He has received five NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Awards, two TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Awards, a Road Junky Hell Trips Award, a Literal Latté Travel Writing Award, a (trips) New Millennium Poetry Award, a Bradt Independent on Sunday Award, and three Solas Awards (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). His fantastical novella, “Tom James, Zagat Reviewer,” is almost available in American samizdat. His scriptnovel, “MOVE: History of the Royl World,” might have recently just been “optioned” (whatever that means) by maybe his college friend “Tarantula” (Quentin Tarantino).
© John M. Edwards
Feb 10th 2012