Skholiast has an interesting riff on my recent post about happiness, and I’d like to riff right back. Skholiast quotes from Alain Finkielkraut‘s La défaite de la pensée – a book I read long ago while backpacking through France, in the hope of beefing up my philosophical French. And Skholiast’s quote from Finkielkraut got me thinking of a much more recent trip, my honeymoon in Zanzibar two months ago.
As well as spectacular beaches, Zanzibar has a tremendously atmospheric old Stone Town, and crumbling palaces built in the nineteenth century by Sultan Said. On a tour of these palace ruins, our guide spoke mournfully about how the government had destroyed and misused these palaces after independence and revolution in 1964. It is surely worth mourning when a beautiful object from the past is lost forever. In addition to this destruction, the revolutionary government built most of Ng’ambo, the “other side” of Zanzibar town – the part that is completely non-atmospheric, full of concrete blocks designed by East German engineers. It is in Ng’ambo that the majority of urban Zanzibaris live. The tourist guidebooks tend to scoff at Ng’ambo if they mention it at all, which they rarely do – and no surprise, since it is utterly charmless to look at, a generic site that could be anywhere.
And yet driving through Ng’ambo, I could also see what motivated the revolutionary government to build it that way; more than that, I was quite pleased to see it. Continue reading