Destination West Africa: Travel Plans for 2016

These are the soporific, lazy days between Christmas and New Year when the leftovers seem never-ending; piles of chocolates and mince pies still adorn every surface; and everyone is in a slightly boozy state of relaxation. It seems like a good time to start thinking about the year ahead, as 2015 ambles to an unseasonably warm close. For me, it’s all about destination West Africa, as I prepare for two months based in Dakar, Senegal. Africa is a continent which has been calling me for a long time. I’ve worked as a film reviewer of African cinema, I’ve hosted an African series on this blog, I’ve completed a Masters in African film, and I’ve lived vicariously through friends’ experiences. But I’ve yet to really get to know any of the cultures or places first-hand. 2016 will change all of that, as I head to Dakar for a while. I’m planning to continue with education and research there, with classes in Wolof (the main language in Senegal besides French), meetings at the university, and lots of time watching films and researching cinema. But of course, plenty of travel will be involved as well. I’ll navigate the journey to Guinea-Bissau, one of the world’s least visited countries, perhaps via the Gambia, and I’ll spend some time in the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’m leaving on the last day of February, arriving in Dakar on the first day of March, with everything, except flights, to sort out before then. But I have always been a last minute sort of a traveller. As with all my big adventures,...

Where to Eat in Lisbon

Now, this is no definitive guide to the best Lisbon restaurants. I’m nowhere near hipster enough or in-the-know enough to even attempt that. No, this is more a tale of my own wanderings and feastings around the Portuguese capital, with a few ideas of where to eat in Lisbon. The thing I love about return trips (and to Lisbon I have returned many a time in the last couple of years) is that you have the luxury of shifting perspective, from the big sights and tourist must-sees to hidden museums and snapshots of everyday life, to – finally and deliciously – the food. And boy, did we eat Lisbon up. It’s not that we planned this Lisbon trip around food exactly, but I went with my friend Fiona, and when we’re together, eating and drinking becomes our central activity. We just seem to sniff out the best wine, partake in petiscos, and test out flavours. She’s an incredible home chef and makes her own wine, so she knows a thing or two about those. We were staying in an airbnb rental in Alfama, the old, Moorish part of the city which is a warren of cobbled becos and travessas, and gorgeous, slightly crumbling buildings, many of which house tiny restaurants. The first night, we decided not to venture far, so we wandered along the Rua dos Remedios, where Fado club marketeers waved leaflets, and cozily-lit restaurants tempted with wafting aromas and blackboard menus. We chose Alfama Cellar, enticed by the wall of wine we could see from the window. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a tiny place, with just a...

A Return to Blogging

The last year has been absolutely amazing. In many ways, the best of my life so far. I now know what it is I want to do when I ‘grow up’ – and funnily enough, it means not really ‘growing up’. I haven’t travelled very much, but I’ve journeyed far and wide through film and literature – I’ve got so much to write about! But first, I just needed to write a post to say hello, sorry for being away, and what the next step in this Starry-Eyed blogging adventure is. In the last year, I’ve written. And written. And then written some more. I’ve done a research masters, which, officially, involved writing about 60,000 words, on a wide selection of topics. Unofficially, in notes and drafts, in grappling with deliberately obscure and brain-breaking philosophical theorists, you can probably double that figure, at least. To support myself through that masters, and you know, pay the bills, I’ve been working as a freelance writer, specialising (unsurprisingly) in travel. Yep, more writing – about 800-1000 words per day. So now you might begin to understand why I haven’t published anything on Starry-Eyed Travels for a very long time. Whenever I wasn’t writing, I was in need of a break from the computer and some fresh air, so I walked, and I thought, and most of the time, it was my academic work consuming my brain, in the best way possible. I’ve been living and breathing African cinema – it’s become my passion, my niche in the world of academia, and something I want to champion. I’ve lost count of how many...

Hollywood’s Latin American Fiesta

FLying Down to Rio (1933) and Down Argentine Way (1940) In the 1930s and 40s, the USA in general, and Hollywood in particular, went gaga for all things south of the border. In 1933, Roosevelt launched the ‘Good Neighbor’ policy, in which he sought to improve the image of the US among Latin American countries. Since it proved somewhat difficult to reassure Latin American governments of his non-interventionist direction, having suffered repeated, heavy-handed military interventions from the US in the past, Roosevelt’s Inter-American Office persuaded Hollywood’s major production companies to demonstrate this new-found love for everything Latin American through cinema. So, over the next decade or so, a flurry of films was produced, using the power of song, dance, and Betty Grable’s legs, to demonstrate friendship towards countries like Brazil and Argentina, and to show US audiences the positive side to Latin America. Looking at these films nowadays, it can be slightly cringe-inducing to see Carmen Miranda pop up as the token ‘Latina’, complete with fruit-basket headdress, because, Latin America is ‘exotic’ you know, or to listen to a Hollywood star mangling the Spanish language, because obviously, darling, we can’t have some unknown from Argentina taking on a leading role. It doesn’t seem to concern anyone exactly which bit of Latin America the film is about; hence Mexican Dolores Del Rio assumes a Brazilian role, while Brazilian Carmen Miranda is the showpiece of ‘Argentine’ culture. Still, there is a clear attempt to minimise the differences between Americans, US and Latin, at least within the upper echelons of society, and boy, are these film fun. Both Flying Down to Rio...
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