The South China Morning Post has a feature length article about the reopening of the Taitu Hotel in Addis Ababa. This is written by Ian Gill who made a recent visit. His story opens with this:
The ghost of William Boot is back to haunt the resurrected Liberty Hotel. Addis Ababa’s Itegue Taitu Hotel, made famous as the Liberty in Scoop, Evelyn Waugh’s acclaimed 1938 satire about sensation-seeking foreign correspondents, has been restored following severe fire damage in early 2015, more than a century after it was built. “It is a heritage building and has been repaired close to its original form,” acting manager Woineshet “Winy” Teshome says, as I wallow in literary nostalgia over curried chicken in Ethiopia’s oldest hotel.
The story goes on to discuss the journalists described in Waugh’s novel who stayed in the hotel, at the time the best available. According to Gill:
Today, compared with its many-starred rivals, the Taitu is modest in facilities and price; Lonely Planet describes it as offering “a cash-strapped overlander a classy experience for very little coin”. Outside, the bustling, noisy Addis Ababa develops at unceasing pace – largely financed by billions of dollars from China – but the Taitu remains an oasis of quietude and a unique window on more than 100 years of drama.
After a summary of the Addis depicted in Waugh’s novel, the article concludes:
The Taitu Hotel, however, wears its past lightly. The portraits of Menelik II and Taitu Betul hanging from the walls add atmosphere, but are not accompanied by much explanatory text. Missing is any memento of Waugh. His absence could perhaps be explained because Scoop was unflattering to Abyssinia and Waugh, going against the popular outcry against Mussolini’s attack, supported the colonialist adventure, believing it might bring order and civilisation to a barbarous land. Another factor might be that Ethiopia was long denied access to Western writers under a communist regime.
Since the author’s day, the hotel has instituted one important change. Witness this passage from Scoop: “Corker and William [Boot] sat down to luncheon. The menu did not vary at the Liberty; sardines, beef and chicken for luncheon; soup, beef and chicken for dinner; hard, homogeneous cubes of beef, sometimes with Worcester Sauce, sometimes with tomato ketchup; fibrous spindles of chicken with grey-green dented peas.” Today, the menu offers a variety of Ethiopian and Western fare. William Boot would be pleased.
It is perhaps not so surprising that there is no memento of Waugh at the Taitu. In the trip described in Scoop, Waugh himself stayed in a smaller venue called the Deutches Haus. As detailed in an earlier post, Waugh also mentions both hotels in Waugh in Abyssinia where he calls what is now the Taitu, the “Splendide” (pp. 66-78). This may well be the source of the hotel (or at least its name) which provided the setting for many skits and much laughter in the Benny Hill Show; it was there called the “Hotel Sordide”.
The online version of the article is accompanied by several contemporary photos of the interior and exterior of the refurbished hotel. Mr Gill also reported on his visit in a letter to the Evelyn Waugh Studies. This appears along with some of the same photographs in No. 49.1 (Spring 2018).