I have ventured out very little in Addis. During the week I am involved with rehearsals from morning till mid-afternoon, and that leaves little time for exploring. And though I have tried to organise trips to other parts of the city (and beyond) at the weekends this has had mixed success. So apologies if this is very much a partial view, and I am leaving out some spectacular works of public art.
For the most part, art seems to be largely confined to large statues or structures in the middle of roundabouts. Arat Kilo’s has a large obelisk in the centre; another I have seen has the usual sort of statue, some ruler or other on horseback (though this is the only evidence I have seen of horses in Ethiopia.)
Other than that, I have visited one of the larger, older museums, as part of an organised tour, during my reccy trip here in September. Its prize exhibit some bones from the skeleton of Lucy, proclaimed as mankind’s oldest ancestor (though I am sure the Cradle of Mankind in South Africa says much the same thing.) I prefer my history to be rather more modern, closer to something I can relate to, so I was not overly impressed. The rest of the exhibits were sparse and a little random, and the whole place was old-fashioned and a bit shabby. It has now faded from my memory; a few pots, some depictions of rulers, some paintings, and Haile Selasse’s open top automobile.
That same toyur took me to one of Addis’s many parks, high up on a hill overlooking the city, but actually it was not much more than a viewpoint, and as it was an overcast day… But the park did include the much photographed 3D construction of the word E HIOPIA, with the T deliberately omitted, so that it can be completed by a person with their arms outstretched. Ethiopia is not complete without its people, you see.
At one time, Val and I did think that it might be possible to walk down through the city, using its parks as green “stepping-stones”, and on one of my first days here, I did make my way to the nearest, Friendship Park (it seemed quite the adventure at the time, though I now know it to be just down the road.) I soon discovered the drawbacks to this plan: first of all, it costs 100 birre to get in; secondly, each park only has one gate, the rest of the perimeter guarded by a high fence.
Despite the fact that the only gate said vehicles only, it was the only way in, so I marched through, only immediately to be surrounded by three security men. They were smartly dressed in suit and tie, so I hoped this indicated some level of education, in particular some English. No, none. But they searched my bag and discovered my small, compact camera, and it was firmly indicated that these were not allowed, or at least incurred a hefty charge. What about my phone? Phone OK. I did attempt to point out the absurdity of this rule, since most phones are also cameras, but it seemed rules were rules. It appeared that the park was a popular venue for graduation and wedding photos, with professional photographers bearing large cameras and larger lenses, and that my little camera automatically fell into the same category. In the end, I had to submit, and left my camera in their care.
The park was impressive in many ways, with attractive walkways and gardens, and a really impressive children’s playground. But apart from a lively game of football on the all-weather pitch (available for hire), the place was almost deserted. There were installations which came to life as you passed, playing recorded music, a maze of aromatic herbs and grasses, a café, and all of it immaculately tended (in contrast to the mess and mayhem outside… but I was one of the very few to appreciate it.
The two huge peacocks pictured, guarding the entrance to some or other government building, were my favourite pieces of art, and are but a short walk away from where I live. On my trip around the city with Biruk, we came upon an almost companion pair of birds, two enormous doves, complete with olive branches in their beaks. But Biruk unformed me firmly that it was forbidden to photograph these, as they marked the entrance of the Ministry of Defence.