Francis Raven



The Congo of My Neighborhood:
A Psychogeographical Exploration

Pop-culture epitaph:

Monroe: That region of the Congo's uninhabited.
Dr. Karen Ross: Well, something inhabits it.
Dr. Peter Elliot: What exactly did you see on that tape?
Dr. Karen Ross: A camp destroyed. People dead. A grey gorilla...
Dr. Peter Elliot: There's no such thing as a grey gorilla.
Dr. Karen Ross: Well, I saw one.
Congo, the movie (1995)

1800 New Hampshire Avenue NW:

dilapidated in the midst of all these embassies.

I couldn't understand what the building could possibly be.

The Internet would help, but not abstractly, not generically. No, Google would help.
typing in the address uncovered the fact that it is The Embassy of Zaire.


Was, I guess
as Zaire no longer exists.

Zaire: "the river that swallows all rivers." Kurtz’s river.

Zaire “was the name of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo between October 27th 1971 and May 17th 1997.”

In the mid-90s, a Tutsi coalition led by Laurent-Desire Kabila, known as the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL) set out to oust the ruling party, which was under the rusting thumb of Lieutenant General Mobutu Sese Seko. In 1997, the AFDL performed such a coup on Mobutu’s ass (after multiple failed attempts).

Kabila had the name of the country changed back to the (Democratic Republic of) the Congo.

O, to be able to change the name of a country

even if it is back.

That is power.

Thus, no more Zaire.

Thus, what happens to the embassy of a country that no longer exists?

Well, the thing that happens is the physical building goes to hell and becomes a magnet for crime. Well, maybe not a magnet, but crimes have occurred there:

[Map this crime]
Date: Sun, Dec 14th, 2003
Time: 8:00 pm
Where: 1800 New Hampshire Ave NW, 20009 | RSS | Map
What: Theft (2) | RSS
Temp: 39.0 °F Humid: 60%
Weather: Clear
Report: c1 reports person(s) unknown stoled (sic) various property from a locked desk at the listed location.

[Map this crime] Date: Mon, Mar 24th, 2003
Time: 7:00 am
Where: 1800 New Hampshire Ave NW, 20009 | RSS | Map
What: Burglary (2) | RSS
Temp: °F Humid: %
Report: c1 reports that person(s) unknown entered by prying the front door open and stole various property

I'm getting these reports from a website of crime statistics ( but who wrote 'stoled' the police officer, the person who reported the crime, or the authors of the website? There are so many layers where misspelling could have begun.

Now it’s an epidemic: our confusion over sources is endemic to writing.

But, further, these two crimes ostensibly occurred inside the building (there are other, more common classes of crime, muggings and car thefts, that happened outside the building), which means that someone was inside to report them. But if you saw it you would recognize that no one could live there. The building is boarded up, the paint is peeling, and it appears haunted (at least in 2008). But I imagine some minor Zairian diplomat who managed to avoid getting killed in the coup has found a way to continue living in the embassy. It’s a nice building, after all. It has nice bones.

What should we call this minor diplomat? A combination? Mobila? Kabutu? Mobak? This is probably all blasphemous. These are names of murderers. I sort of feel fondly for Mobila. Yes, our imaginary minor diplomat who survived the name-change back to the Democratic Republic of Congo will be dubbed Mobila. It is his spidery Mercedes (SL 500: Lic. Plate # CE9032) in the driveway; it is his trashcan that is weekly refreshed; it is he who sits at a desk in the musty mansion. He is the fallen diplomat with no official right to that diplomacy.

What could (should?) the US government do about such an embassy?

How would I go about answering that question?

Is there a way of answering it using poetry?

Is there any way in which I might be useful in answering my own questions?

Blogospheric Lamp

According to a Foreign Policy blog entry by Foreign Policy Web Editor Blake Hounshell, an embassy representative reportedly told "local potentates not to worry [about the sad state of the building and its effect on crime and property values in the area], since the building, erected in 1908, would soon be 'one of the best buildings in the area ... or the country.' That's doubtful, since the DRC has left the embassy to fester for four years now. But the real source of frustration in this neighborhood of real estate entrepreneurs may be that the DRC isn't selling. 'It's a beautiful piece of property,' the president of the local Citizens' association told Pearce. 'Everyone wants to buy it.'"

Many sources say other sources say.

Many sources say that other sources say.

These buyers might have dried up since

the real estate river has desiccated values

but the fundamentals are relatively strong in DC. Everything will bounce back.

Everything will float up its own river.

Upward, everything is moving deeper into itself.

The building is known as The Joseph Taylor Arms Mansion; the DC Preservation League has declared it one of the city's top ten Most Endangered Places. They note that the simple baroque building "was designed in 1908 by the prominent architectural firm of Hornblower & Marshall as the residence for John Taylor Arms." Thus, the legacy of local banking tycoon Arms' is liable to crumble in the midst of all these well-kept embassies.
How embarrassing!
Of course,
"During his entire 23-year tenure as Congo's king-sovereign, Leopold never put his feet on Congolese soil."
—Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo: A People’s History

If the owner does not return

if the owner does not visit

if the owner does not touch does the owner own?

As a slumlord delegates

as a slumlord accumulates

leaving the Congolese only enough to reproduce

but not enough to reproduce their culture

foregoing civilization for biology

and ruling through the lowest

for the "ambitions of a Pharaoh."