I had the great pleasure of traveling to Bujumbura, Burundi for work
last week. I'm embarrassed to admit that when I was told I'd be traveling to Burundi, I had to look it up on a map. Now I know that Burundi is a small East African country bordered to the east by Tanzania and to the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is most closely connected to its northern neighbor, Rwanda, with which it has a shared history of Belgian colonialism and a brutal civil war between Hutus and Tutsis. In Burundi, I expected to find poverty and corruption, which indeed is very present, but what I did not expect to find was a stylish hotel sitting on the lovely coast of Lake Tanganyika. (Watch out for hippos!)
Bujumbura has a very small community of foreigners and while there I met the owner of Hotel Club du Lac
, Alfredo Frojo, at a reception at the home of the American Embassy's Charge D'Affairs. (I may not get invited to important parties in Los Angeles, but I do in Burundi!) Alfredo, a chic Napolitano, told me that he bought the hotel in 1993, a few months before the start of the civil war. The hotel was shut down and did not open again for more than 10 years. I don't know when the hotel was originally built, but there are such fantastic 1960's details that I'll assume it was during that decade. I'm obsessed with the font/graphics and odd architectural elements and would love to know more if anyone can find it. This hotel is a perfect example of my favorite design category, what I like to call Mid-Century Colonial Modern, which the French, Belgians, Spanish, Portuguese and British did a great deal of around the world when they weren't busy exploiting resources and fomenting ethnic conflict.
p.s. Have you seen the 2006 French movie OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies
? It's a French spy spoof made by the same cast and crew as The Artist. It takes place in 1960's Cairo and the set design optimizes
Mid-Century Colonial Modern. (If you have a better name for this, I'm open to suggestions.)