Saturday, June 18, 2011

Shopping for Lemur Lamps

"What do you mean there's someone in my room?" I'd been aghast. I'd only been gone...oh, a week? I wasn't sure.

"We have other rooms," said the hotel receptionist, hopefully.
I hadn't booked ahead. Tana-Jacaranda Guesthouse had been almost empty the other times I'd been here. It hadn't occurred to me that it might fill up.

The receptionist showed me other rooms but they were nowhere near as nice as the one I'd had before.

"Wait, I will call the boss."

A lovely woman runs the hotel, and she was clearly distressed when I didn't like any of the other rooms. She offered me a room with a small balcony at the same price as my old room, but it was in a different section not near the communal table and both the toilet and shower were actually outside on the balcony. I didn't fancy putting on all my clothes just to visit the toilet, though I suppose no one is actually looking up to see if a tourist is wandering around in her pajamas.

"I'll see if I can't find a room somewhere else. I'm sorry. I realize this is my fault for not booking ahead."

I walked around town but returned with my tail between my legs after looking at a few other places, which weren't all that great except for more expensive hotels. Sakamanga—the top budget hotel—was completely full, which was a shame as they have a little coffee shop that was a great place to sit and work, as well as having one of the best restaurants in town. One problem with Tana is that darkness falls early and it's unsafe to walk alone at night. A restaurant adjoining a hotel is a plus.

I'd wandered into Tana-Jacaranda in late afternoon after winding along mountain roads on a taxi brousse from Ambositra. Aside from eating more Roberts Chocolate and doing some work on my Kuwaiti comic books, I had only one mission in Antananarivo. To find a lemur lamp. My friend Peter Moore had casually asked me if they still had lemur lamps in Madagascar, and he'd posted this photo he'd taken in Tana many years ago.

And now I wanted one. A lemur lamp.

Just one problem. I hadn't seen any lemur lamps anywhere in Madagascar.

I looked in souvenir shops and took a taxi to the artisan's workshops. I pulled up the lemur-lamp photo on my phone and walked around showing it to the artisans at each stall.

"Do you know where I can get one of these?"

I got a lot of astonished looks and more than a few laughs. Apparently lemur lamps aren't all that common and are considered absurd. Did these things even exist?

Downtown Antananarvio has no lemurs.

I gave up and headed back to the main part of town. I stopped in the railway terminal to find out more about the little Micheline train that I hadn't been able to take to Andasibe, and then I walked back up the main drag to the bottom of the hill that leads back to my part of town.

I glanced at the road, where some men were selling newspapers.

And there it was. The elusive lemur lamp.

On a massive fake tree.

I didn't have my camera so I took a shot with my lousy phone camera. The seller offered to sell me the lemur lamp for fifty bucks, but shipping would have been a nightmare and the thing was surely a fire hazard. It didn't even have a plug, just two live wires hanging off the end, and it was certainly the wrong voltage for home.

I went back in the morning with my Lumix, hurrying down to get a short of the lemur lamp before I got on the plane to Johannesburg, where I'd stay one night in Terrylin's airport backpackers before connecting through to Bangkok.

The lemur lamp was nowhere to be found.

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