Because, as noted two weeks ago, it has free wi-fi.
I read some books while in the Congo. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, by Michela Wrong, was good to excellent. Is this the only English biography of Mobutu in print? Anyway, it weaves some pretty good journalism into the story, and -- based on my whole two weeks in the Congo -- she seems to know her stuff. Recommended.
Blood River, by Tim Butcher, was considerably better than I thought it would be. Since he's a reported for the Daily Telegraph, I was expecting a fairly predictable conservative screed about how Africa's problems are the fault of Africa's wicked leaders, corruption, and failure to adhere to good free market principles. Not so. It's actually a pretty good travelogue of travel through some alarming and awful places, along with a fascinating description of what fifty years of negative economic growth and deindustrialization look like. Not very cheerful, but recommended.
The predictable conservative screed turned up in Africa: The Shackled Continent by Robert Guest. Guest was the Economist's Africa correspondent for many years, and the whole book reads like a series of Economist articles. There was a time when I would have grooved on this. Today I find it almost unbearably annoying. I know enough about Africa to know what he's downplaying or leaving out, and how important it is. The fact that there are a few good bits -- the drive with the beer truck through rural Cameroon -- just makes the rest of it that much more annoying. It's the first book in a while that I've just left behind.
I also read a volume of Kipling. But reading Kipling in the Congo deserves a post of its own, if time allows.
Oh, and I reread a book of Dorothy Sayers short stories and a bunch of H.P. Lovecraft. The Lovecraft was a bad idea. I really like Lovecraft -- he's one of those authors whose virtues are so great that they can carry you past his equally great flaws -- but you shouldn't read him when you're depressed, alone in a dark house at night, or staying at the Grand Hotel in Kinshasa.
-- I said Guest's bit about the beer truck was good. That's because it discusses the true godawfulness of Africa's crumbling infrastructure, and its impact on trade and growth. Guest mentions that many visitors to Africa never appreciate just how bad the roads are, because they often only see the road from the airport to the center of the capital, and that road is usually in at least decent condition.
Well, Congo is once again the rule proving exception. (Michela Wrong uses the alarming phrase "negative excellence" to describe the way Congo so consistently seems to be the worst at pretty much everything.) The road to the airport is in bad condition, and -- when we left last night -- blocked with some of the most terrifying traffic I've ever seen. To make a long and miserable story short, there was a bad accident about halfway, and an even worse accident a few miles after that. So a trip of about 25 km (15 miles) took nearly two hours. Being stuck in traffic is never pleasant, but Congolese traffic adds its own twists, like frustrated drivers who start crossing the median and driving in the oncoming lanes.
In three trips outside of a city center, we were twice delayed by very ugly-looking accidents. Makes you think.
Anyway. Got to Paris to find my flight out had been cancelled. Apparently there has been cold weather and snow. In Germany in December? Who the hell would have expected that? Not the Civil Aviation Authority, apparently.
So I got to spend another twelve hours in and around Charles de Gaulle. I will be frank: I immediately bailed to a cheap hotel a short bus ride from the airport. The flight from Kinshasa was an overnighter -- left at 10 pm, arrived at 6 -- and quite entirely full, so no napping. So I crashed for several hours in a small, bare, chilly -- but cheap -- hotel room, then took a hot shower, ate some McVities, and felt much better.
And now I've spent the voucher that Air France gave me (good for un sandwich avec boisson) and am almost ready to board the plane for Frankfurt.
Rarely have I wanted so much to go home.