Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Questing Miss Hayworth

Well, I found it. (the house, that is: first read Part I of the saga here).
So, I'm sitting at the restaurant this morning, by the Zanzibar ferry.  I've split from the rest of the team, to make my way early back to Dar, in search of Rita Hayworth's old house, the one my parents lived in for three years in the early seventies.  Walking to the ferry by the back streets of Stone Town, through narrow winding alleys, one could almost be in an old Italian village -- if that village had no coffee, no cafes, no panetterie, no macellerie, no cheese shops and if its residents wore veils and Islamic skull caps.  Apart from that, exactly the same.....

It's 12:15, I'm at the Forodhani Restaurant by the terminal, the ferry's nowhere in sight and I realise that I'll get nothing on the two-hour ferry ride but cashews and dates, so I ask for the menu, which I get, and get told, at the same time, that it's too early to order off it.
Glancing at it, I find on its inside cover the startling news that Freddie Mercury (he of Queen), was born right here!  Right on this beach that I'm gazing at.  Let me quote from the menu:
"Once upon a time on a little dot on the map next to Tanzania coast called Zanzibar, on a warm September day of 1946, a baby with a very peculiar voice was born. Bonni and Jer gave their baby the name Farook Bulsara, but a few years later the world will cheer him as Freddie Mercury.
"He crawled on the white sand beaches and gave [sic] his first steps in the Forodhani Gardens..." [hey, that's where I am!!]
Well, Freddie found his way to London, via England and the rest is history.
But there's another curious coincidence (let's call it "C1"), in all this. Alert readers will recall that it was in London that I met the lovely Sally Croker-Poole, the then wife of the Aga Khan IV, whose father had married Rita Hayworth, and that they had a house in Dar es Salaam, in which my parents lived in the early seventies.  "Spooky, darlings!' breathes the glamorous Dame Edna.
So, no food and two hours later, I'm back in Dar, following my Mum's directions to find the place.  On the way I meet a fellow suggesting the use of his taxi, kind man.  I try out "do you know Rita Hayworth's old house?" on him, to no avail, but he's of an age and sophistication to remember her.  "There's the Aga Khan's hospital", he suggests, and for want of better directions, I agree we can go there.  I can ask them where the Aga Khan's old house is.
On the way, I review Mum's direction that it was next to the Chinese embassy ("C2"?  I've lived and worked in China, and now live in Hong Kong), but had put it out of contention, as it did not seem to be on the waterfront, and had presumably moved.  But I asked the driver, Marcus (C3 - the name of our Weimaraner), if he knew the Chinese embassy.  Yes he did.  And has it been in the same place for a long time?  Yes, it has. OK, let's go there then, says I.
On the way, I chat with Marcus and, get this -- his birthday is the same as mine, same day, same year, so we're twins.... (C4).  So he well knows about the Embassy.
We get to the Embassy area, which is in a place I'll call "Oyster Bay"; it was something like that, but spelling and clear pronunciation is not Marcus' strong suit (nor is it for our Marcus').
We get to the Chinese embassy at around 4.45, and it's closed.  I ask the guy at the gate if there's anyone who speaks Chinese.  No, he says, they're off duty.
Just then a car draws up at the steel gates, a young lady in a spiffy new car.  "She's Chinese", shouts the guard.
She winds down the window, to encounter a bedraggled foreigner in dirty white vest and tatty shorts, who proceeds to speak to her in Chinese, initially to her bemusement.  I tell her my name and that I used to work in the Australian Embassy in Peking.  Is she from Peking? I ask. Yes, she is (C5 - Jing's from Beijing and I worked there).  And her name: Ms Bai.  The name of my first Chinese teacher! says I. (C6).
We're now getting along famously, and I explain the purpose of my visit: to find the long-lost house of Rita Hayworth (earlier explorers in Africa looked for long-lost missionaries, or the source of the Nile; today one takes one's Quest where one can).
Ms Bai confirms that the Embassy has been there for a long time, the seventies, at least, she seems to think, but suggests I come back in the morning, when I'll be invited in by the Ambassador, and can have a longer chat.  Unfortunately, we're off to Cairo at sparrow's, I say (the Chinese version of "sparrow's"...)
The house next door, which is certainly the one, Ms Bai tells me has been torn down and replaced with a new building, the Iranian Embassy.
I wanted a photo of Ms Bai, but "sensitivity" she said would not allow.  I only just managed to let her let me take a photo of the Embassy from outside its doors, and she was even a touch leery at that.
We parted on good terms, with her repeating the invitation to return in the morn, me apologising that I couldn't, but feeling "Quest completed", at least as much as it could. No photos of the Iranian Embassy, sad to say, as it's all wall now.
All together now, to the tune of Queen's anthem: "We will, we will... Find You!"
Veils now almost ubiquitous; ten years ago only half wore them

Ron replaces fule pump, and waves me off on my Quest

Chinese Embassy in Dar es Salaam; all that the slightly nervous Ms Bai
would let me photograph

On the way back from "the Quest", meet some South Africans and their labs
near "Oyster Bay"

Oyster beach with the unknown visitor, yellow and chocolate Labs and Marcus on my left

Driver Marcus.  Quest completed: Rita's house the little dot above
the other fellow's head.  See it?  Marcus: 0757-269 272