October 30: Ramona is better, and that's a very good thing. I'm also better, having gotten over my major diarrhea and queasy stomach, but I'm not up to going to Church with Doug and Ramona, for a few reasons, the main one being that the service is three hours long, and I just know I'll have an urgent need in the middle of it. The music, they tell me, was beautiful. Three hours sailed by. I have trouble imagining that, but as computer person, I get bored... When Doug and Ramona were done, they came by to fetch me (which was nice of them) with Lanto driving (which was VERY nice of him -- he has a family and it's Sunday, after all). We go to a restaurant which has music, and French food. When I eat, I want to hear the people I'm eating with. I don't know about you, maybe you eat with people you don't want to hear. On one hand, my heart goes out to you, but on another, we'll you're dealing, and that's good. The music was OK, mostly -- no real complaints, there -- but I'm in Madagascar, and I'm having such trouble getting Malagasy food. Either the places are unsanitary, or they're French, with a couple of signature Malagasy dishes on the menu. I'm thinking it's like going to an Italian restaurant, and ordering the burger -- that is, it's cliche Malagasy food, not a real representation of the diversity of the food here, and on the menu for people (like me) who think the French can stuff their cream sauces where the sun doesn't shine. Sorry, France, I hear you have good cheese, I'm just frustrated at both my own ignorance: "Is this ALL the Malagasy eat? Rice with zebu and casaba leaves? Cause that's all I ever see on these fru-fru French restaurant menus." So I overeat. Again. Man, I gotta start walking to SALFA to lose a pound or so. The hills here will help my gut. Hopefully the long drives will be over soon, for me, and I can be more active. We see what's left of the Royal Palace. The queen was here until the French blew up part of it. They fought a British-trained, but badly equipped Malagasy army, and beat them over the course of several battles, culminating in the one here at Antananarivo, where, yep, they targeted the palace, and they had more/better cannon, so the Malagasy capitulated, resulting in the banishment of the queen. Which is not to say the Malagasy had no cannon at all, no, they had British cannon -- leftovers from Waterloo, according to our guide. You see, the island had been in shared custody of France and England earlier, as a waypoint for the spice trade. After England got control of the Suez canal (engineered by the French Fernand de Lesseps), they lost interest in Madagascar and let the French take over. The Malagasy didn't fancy getting taken over so much, hence the battles and banishment and such. The palace had been turned into a museum by the French, and had been one until the present day. Well, it's more of a monument than a museum, now, but they still charge admission, which is certainly right and proper. The palace burned down, with a vast amount of Malagasy history in the form of artifacts and documents inside in the early 1990's. They're using the gate fee to rebuild parts of it, with the aim to rebuild the whole. That job gets more and more daunting as the stone skeleton which remains twists, bends and falls, over time. The cyclones which Madagascar experiences aren't helping. Some of the contents of the palace/museum are in the prime-minister's palace 200 meters away. That's also been turned into a museum and is actually a reconstruction -- it burned earlier, but was reconstructed enough to accept artifacts... well, here's a story. Lanto was at home with his family, and heard on the radio that the palace was on fire. That was about 6:30pm. He, like many Malagasy ran to the site to try to help. They battered down the front door, rushed inside (some, like Lanto, with water soaked clothes to keep cool and flame-resistant) and pulled out ANYTHING that they could. They did that for an hour or so, when it got too hot inside to get anything else. As we walk through the small exhibit of artifacts in the presidential palace museum, Lanto is a little disappointed: "There's nothing on view which I pulled out." he explains. I'm disappointed, too. That would have been helpful for me to imagine the scene. People sobbing as they watched their history -- poorly documented as it is, with not even definitive floor plans for the palace and grounds on record -- burn away. Lanto then takes us to see both his current house, which is small but has a great location for him at work, and to the site of his new house, currently under construction, out in the boonies. He'll have a one hour commute each way to get to work. I'm horrified that he'll have all that car time and so much less family time. But the house (which looks like it'll be very nice) is on land adjacent to his wife's family's land, so several relatives live in close proximity, and it'll be good for the kids and wife. He will see less of them by as much as two hours a day, though. The house is near a graveyard -- or rather a crypt city. Malagasy typically bury their dead, but in recent times, there's been a trend toward crypts. About four feet high by six foot square, these hold a family's bodies. At intervals, they exhume bodies and rewrap them in new shrouds. Anyway, it's shads of poltergeist here, because Lanto's way home can feature a shortcut through the cemetery. We do take that path, and wind our way through the dead on a dirt road, before getting back to pavement, then civilization, then Tana.