The Ladybug and a dream coming true: Gorée Island, Senegal

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If I have been dreaming of Africa for more than 20 years, I have been dreaming of visiting Gorée Island for at least 15 years.

It all started when I read an article on the House of Slaves in Gorée, one of the oldest houses on the island where the African slaves were imprisoned and sent to America by boat. It is now a museum showing the horrors of the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world.

If Gorée is a wonderful island with a lovely beach and beautiful colored houses, with an ancient fort and a lot of artists and tourists, the House of Slaves experience is completely dramatic and sad. I decided to start the tour of the island from there and it was so emotional.

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A part of me was happy of finally being there, another one was ashamed and destroyed about the horrors showed and I started crying on the “infamous door”, the door from which the slaves were put on the boats to travel in cruel conditions to America where they were sold as slaves.

The house is dramatically beautiful and tragic at the same time. It took me a while to start the tour of the island by walk after the visit. Today, when I think of that visit I still feel the same feeling of shame and rage, especially if I wonder what has really changed since then.

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I walked during all the afternoon throughout the island, I stopped to talk to a lot of people, to listen to the djembe players, to visit the fort and to stop by the artists communities all around the island. I enjoyed the breathtaking views, I bathed on the beautiful sea, I took a lot of pictures of the colored houses…I really needed all these things to recover from the visit to the House of Slaves.

The boats from Dakar to Gorée and the way back are very frequent and are also a beautiful way to enjoy the Senegalese life: many people living in Dakar work in Gorée and they travel every day. Opposite to what usually happens in Europe they enjoy a good talk with tourists and I personally enjoyed too. It is a way to know each other, in every possible way.

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The Ladybug and the African (Senegalese) Blues

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It took a while to write this blog post on my trip to Senegal last summer. It is hard for me to write about it because it was a life changing experience and even after 5 months it is still in my head and I feel the African blues every single day of my life. I want to go back and I know that I will but the urge sometimes is unbearable.

It was my first time in Africa: I have been dreaming of it for more than 20 years but I was so scared of my reaction that I postponed this trip forever until I decided that it was something that I had to do, a dream that I wanted to make come true.

I brought with me a notebook because I wanted to write down everything but I was so overwhelmed by all my emotions and feelings that I came back home with a blank notepad. Everything was impacting me beyond words and even now I am unable to express my feelings by words.

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My trip to Dakar in Senegal was a kind of test for my reaction, just for your understanding: I was tempted to stay there for the rest of my life and for the first time in my life I tried to postpone my ticket to go back to Italy. Also when I came back to Italy I suffered a lot: I missed everything from food to people, perfumes and familiar noises, the call for worship, the rhythm of mbalax, the wolof, the laughs, the constant happiness of those days, the kindness of people. I finally understood why they call it the country of “Teranga”, hospitality.

I had the chance to live with a Senegalese family (who is now my second family) in Dakar and I decided to visit the town and its surroundings during my stay. I leave the tour of the country from North to South for my next trip.

Dakar is a town full of life night and day: it is noisy and crowded but irresistible at the same time. It is easy to meet people, to talk to everyone and to enjoy the beaches, the rhythm and the food almost everywhere!  On some days I just wandered in the streets of Dakar without destination using taxis or the famous colored buses: the Medina, the Almadies area, Place de l’Indépendance, the Corniche, the beautiful beach of Yoff, the amazing markets of Sandaga, Kermel, Tilène, the mosques, the Museums and Galleries (my favorite ones were the Galérie Antenna and the IFAN museum).

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I started my tour with a special visit to the African Renaissance monument and the museum where you can also admire a wonderful view of the town, especially if you walk down the hill until the beach.

The surroundings of Dakar are also breathtaking: I will write a dedicated post to Gorée Island, which was for me a very special experience but I took the boat a second time to head to Ngor Island from the amazing Ngor beach. As it was August the island was pretty crowded on the beach side but if you walk to the rocky side of the island you will be surprised by the awesomeness of the views and maybe for the first time you will be completely alone.

I also headed by bus (this was a bit more complicated trip!) to the Pink Lake (Lac Retba) where I toured the lake on a pirogue…but unfortunately that day the lake wasn’t as pink as I imagined. Its salt content is very high which gives it its pink color but only in particular weather conditions.

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So if you are not afraid of the African Blues (believe me, it’s the hardest thing) just book a flight to this amazing country and live it fully, breathe the love and buy all the amazing things that you can buy there (wax fabrics, African handmade jewels, colored baskets). Eat the best plates of the Senegalese cuisine (mafé, thieboudienne), the juicy mangoes or drink the bissap, the ginger and the buoy (the fruit of the baobab tree) and enjoy the incredible nature (you can see the most beautiful baobab trees and animals).

It can be a life changing experience especially if you decide to live it like locals: staying in small B&B instead of fancy hotels, going around by bus or shared taxis, walking, talking to people, basically enjoy the real Senegalese life.

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The Ladybug is a White Hunter: finding Africa in Milan

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A few weeks ago I visited a great exhibit at FM Contemporary Art Center in Milan. I didn’t know about this very interesting space until I saw the flier of this event called “The White Hunter. African memories and representations” and I decided to have a look on a Saturday afternoon.

The exhibit started end of March during the Milan Art Week and it presented more than 150 works of contemporary artists (including my favorite African photographers Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibé) as well as pieces from anonymous traditional artists. The main topic is Africa just seen by different eyes and represented in many different ways. Maybe this is the reason why I couldn’t love it more!

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The black building hosting the exhibit and the calm space outside was perfect also for a short outfit shooting!

It was indeed the perfect occasion to wear my Madame Ilary African wax turban that I added to a very simple outfit: old boyfriend jeans from Topshop, frilled white shirt from Alexa Chung Archive Collection for M&S, simple Benetton black trench coat and Nike 4 & Other Stories white sneakers.

I also wore my new folk clutch bought at Archivio Vintage event a couple of days before!

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The Ladybug Goes Malian in Milan: A Night in Beautiful Africa with Rokia Traoré

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When I think of Rokia Traoré I remember exactly how I first “met” her: I was in Brussels, Belgium, winter 2004. I went to a Media Center and decided to get some CDs of artists that I didn’t know. I picked up her CD “Wanita” and I listened to it that same night. I was captured by her voice and sound and since that day I haven’t stopped following her.

For those of you who don’t know her, Rokia Traoré is a Malian singer, guitarist and songwriter and she is one of the most representative voices of the African continent. But her music goes over the barriers of a continent or a language. As the daughter of a diplomat, she’s traveled around the world. And her life, just as her music, has been influenced from different cultures and sounds.

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You cannot call her an “ethnic” singer: she goes from jazz (her version of Billie Holiday’s “Gloomy Sunday” was to die-for) to blues, from traditional African to rock, mixing tradition with modernity. She sings in English, French (“Zen” is one of my favorite songs by her!), and Bambara, the language of her community.

She arrived in Milan at Carroponte on the 15th of July to present her new album “Beautiful Africa” that will be released at the end of September 2013 and that I can’t wait to put my hands on it! It was my first time seeing her live and I was very excited: I loved her live performance. She managed to mix ballads, with rock and African dance, bass, electric guitar and traditional African instruments in a beautiful, captivating concert where I found myself dancing like a mad woman (recalling my old African dance classes when I studied in France in 2000) and crying for the beautiful words of wisdom that she spoke during the night (“The most beautiful thing in life is diversity”).

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For the occasion I wore a piece of Africa too: I wore this beautiful skirt (originally a dress!) from Lalesso, the ethical brand inspired by beautiful Kenyan fabrics and colors (www.lalesso.com).

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I paired it with an H&M denim shirt and Topshop flat sandals. I am also wearing vintage golden ’80s earrings and my adored Oxfam canvas bag!

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Cheers!