Dakar’s stunning railroad station

IMG_7681

On Saturday when I took a walk downtown, I got a closer look at the renovated railroad station, which I had peeped from the car a few weekends ago. Here are some better pictures than the ones I posted then.

The station was inaugurated in 1914 and went out of service about 100 years later after both the Dakar-Bamako and Dakar-St.Louis passenger trains stopped running. (I believe the suburban commuter line moved to a station a little further north but I’m not entirely sure.)

IMG_7747
For a few years, there were plans to demolish the station and build a park there instead, but thankfully that would-be travesty never came to pass. Instead, the government decided to renovate the station and make it the southern terminus of the new express commuter line that runs through the suburbs and ends at the just-finished airport an hour outside of town.

IMG_7753

I’ve also heard about plans to rehabilitate and relaunch the Dakar-Bamako line, which would delight me should it ever actually happen. I have seen footage of the 40+ hour journey and it looks like the stuff of dreams (punctuated by extreme boredom, fatigue, and discomfort). For now, I’m overjoyed to see my favorite building in town being resuscitated and returned to its former splendor.

P.S. Chemins de fer (literal translation: path of iron) is such a beautiful way to say railroad, don’t you think?

A new museum – side by side with an old, beautiful station

IMG_6838When I flew into Dakar three years ago, the city held so much mystique. I had spent almost 25 years imagining what the sights and sounds and feeling of Dakar might be without having any clue how close my ideas were to reality.

Then I spent a year living here and exploring the city’s ins and outs. One of the things I love most about Dakar is its scale – in just over thirteen months I was able to visit practically every neighborhood and knock off almost every item on my list of interesting places to see and things to do.

When I flew back into the city at the beginning of this year, aside from the fact that there was a whole new airport (!), everything felt very familiar. All of my old favorite places were still there, standing the test of time. Another thing I love about Dakar is its creeping pace of change in comparison to New York. There is sprawl and gentrification and crazy over-construction for sure, and it brings upheaval, displacement, and inequality with it. But – again, only as compared to New York, where every time you blink another community institution disappears – it feels much slower and more manageable.

And… some of the development is very welcome.

IMG_6810

Case in point: the new Museum of Black Civilizations, which opened in January. I visited last week and it has some stunning art and artifacts inside.

IMG_6813

IMG_6816

IMG_6821

IMG_6828

IMG_6842

Smithsonian Magazine writes:

A little over half a century ago, Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of post-independence Senegal, announced his plans to build a major museum of African culture in the country’s capital of Dakar. Senghor, who died in 2001, did not live to see his dream fulfilled. Now, at long last, his vision is coming to fruition… Senegal has opened a sprawling museum that celebrates black civilizations from across the globe—and experts are hailing the institution as an important step forward in the effort to reclaim African artifacts plundered during the colonial period.

It both saddens and infuriates me to know that I have had better access in New York (and London, and Paris) to West African artwork and cultural objects than most West Africans do in their home countries. So, it was heartening to visit the new museum last week and to see the beautiful exhibits of ancient and contemporary work – as well as all of the as-of-yet unoccupied space that can be used for, among other things, items returned from abroad. (Restitution efforts were kicked up a notch in November with publication of a French-commissioned report recommending full repatriation of looted cultural heritage to any African nation that requests it.)

It was also the most amazing surprise to pass my favorite place in town – the old colonial railroad station just next door to the museum – and see that rather than being torn down and reconstructed over the past two years, it has instead been given new life in the form of a cleaning, a paint job, and some new glass.IMG_6808

It is now even more stunning than it used to be. I took these photos from the car as we drove past, and I’ll try to get down there to check out the space on foot soon.

IMG_6809The station serves as the terminus of the just-finished rail line between the new airport and Dakar. I haven’t really kept up on those developments so I have no idea if the line is considered a good thing, a bad thing, or a little of both. But the rehabilitation of a gorgeous decaying train station seems 100% wonderful.

 

Vietnam, part 1: Hanoi

IMG_7080

In March I spent a few days in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi on either side of a shoot in northern Vietnam for an NGO that works throughout the region. It was my first time in the country and I was so lucky to see it from many different angles: urban, rural, natural wonders, hyper-local color.

I’ll share more photos over the next few weeks, but for now here are highlights from Hanoi:  Continue reading

beautiful buildings of Dakar

I am a big fan of midcentury design in general and a huge fan of midcentury African architecture in particular. There seems to be a huge range of styles, each drawing from different regions, periods, and influences. I’ve been calling it all Midcentury African for now and promising myself to look for actual terminology and history later, whenever I find the time to go down that rabbit hole.

For months I’ve been taking pictures of my favorite of these buildings in Dakar and it’s high time I shared them… Continue reading

lo que hice en mis vacaciones de invierno

post_officeConsidering that my command of both French and Spanish is at a grade-school level, it seems appropriate to report on my vacations to French and Spanish-speaking countries with elementary school-style essays. Today I bring you the second installment: DF and Elsewhere edition.

Please note that I did not consult Google Translate or a living, breathing Spanish speaker for this. So what follows is not pretty, but it’s an accurate representation of where I’m at when I have only my brain and Spanish spell-check to rely upon:

DF_from_the_air.jpg

He llegado por la tarde en Cuidad de México (DF) y he ido a mi hotel en el barrio Condesa. La primera noche, he conocido a mi amiga de la universidad que vive ahora en DF. En el restaurante ella me dijo que puedo beber el agua además comer los vegetales frescos, si es un bueno restaurante, porque ellos anudan ‘iodine’ a su agua y limpian todo con este agua. Aunque el más importante reglo que he escuchado para México estaba de no beber el agua, decidí de crear en mi amiga y esperar por lo mejor. O sea que la primera cosa que he comido en México estaba la más prohibida: unos hojas de una verdura con agua no-de-la-botella (no-botellado?). Continue reading