An unforeseen benefit of travelling for work is that I am able to expand my knowledge of the wine world – not, I hasten to add, at taxpayers' expense! Who knew that some pretty decent red (particularly Syrah) was grown in the Rift Valley? I didn't: I thought they only did coffee in Ethiopia, which of course they do very well!
It isn't an easy time in the country, with unrest leading to restrictions on travel outside of Addis, as well as countrywide curfews (not thankfully in the city) and a shutdown of much social media and internet services.
This means that Lemn Sissay's fine poem to peace on the Council's wall in the Embassy compound isn't widely shareable with the population at large, at a time when the country desperately needs a peaceful future. The country is almost unique in Africa in that it was never successfully colonised by the European powers – save for a couple of botched and violent attempts by the Italians – so it has retained a much stronger sense of its rich and varied culture than many of its neighbours. The lack of a western colonial power hasn't stopped a large European presence now, with a thriving Goethe Institute, and several good French restaurants and characterful hotels, including ours, modestly called Louvre Hotel, resembling a cross between a caricature Parisian café and a set on 'Allo 'Allo!
The main purpose of my visit was a British Council regional Arts meeting, which was both productive and forward-thinking, with much commitment to build on the successes of the recent South African and Nigerian seasons. We want to give young Africans a voice and a choice, driving systemic development in the arts and creative industries for an increasingly young demographic.
I was fortunate to be in Addis on the day the Creative Futures project was launched – two years of partnership through the EU, the Goethe and the British Council, delivered with an enterprising outfit called ICE ADDIS. It
Even though I was only there three working days, I did manage to fit in a visit to Emperor Menelik's palace and the Ethnographic Museum, formerly Haile Selassie's palace, and still home to his bed and original bathroom!