Monday, August 29, 2011


Sure I can just pick this up after a couple years away, right?

Well, in any case...

The new store manager at my job decided that Sunday and Monday should be my days off, and I am very excited about this. Yesterday was my first Sunday off (though it happened last week too, it was split days off) and I slept in until the luxurious hour of 7am. Drank coffee, wasted time on the internets, and then decided to go outside. By then it was about 10:30 and the heat of the day was starting to climb. Brilliantly, I wore black shirts.

I took my banjo with me to the arroyo bridge I frequent (amazing acoustics) and set about really getting into the groove for the first time since I left to visit PDX a couple weeks ago. At one point I focused outwardly for a moment and saw a girl (somewhere in the 11-14 range I think) perched on the slope of the arroyo watching me. I waved, she waved back.

As I continued to play she came down into the trough, took off her flip flops, and started playing in the water (there was a bit flowing through that morning, though I was playing on dry cement). After ten or fifteen minutes of water dancing while I cycled through jams I am refining, she (and the person she was with who sat out of view on the bench the whole time) made to leave, but paused as she climbed out up the nearest slope and turned to me. "You have a talent," she stated, her tone both serious and generous.

Dumbstruck, all I could manage was a heartfelt,"Thank you." With a smile, of course.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In the country

We took a trip out to Stellenbosch, leaving some time around 10 am. After a quick, unintentional detour into downtown we were underway on the N2 and it was a lovely day, with plenty to look at as we went. Circled around central Stellenbosch for a time looking for parking before stopping in a shopping center lot. It was a pay lot which only accepted silver coins or cards, so we ended up with an hour and a half of coins. Walked around and looked at buildings, ambled some more, went for coffee and lunch at the Arizona Spur. It was a bit of a joke for us going in there and more so after arriving. Service was amazingly slow and we eventually got our coffee, but left without eating in order to avoid ticketing. Got back to the car & Mick swore after a few, oddly silent turns of the key. He had left the lights on and the battery had died.
Waited around in the lot while he went off in search of a garage. He returned about ten minutes later, with a story of a garage where the ous hadn't had any jumper cables & professed to know not how to use them in any case. They recommended the cafe across the street, the owner of which apparently looked at Mick as if he was an idiot.
In the end a collage kid in an old VW gave us a jump and we, tired, hungry and a bit on edge, rumbled out of Swellendam in search of a farm stall to eat at. Found a charming one called "Mountain Breeze" just a bit south of town on the way to Somerset West and had a delicious, revitalizing lunch. Headed back into town just in time to hit rush hour and spent about 45 minutes in traffic. Arrived home and realized Kirsten had left her coat in the restaurant.

They went back to get it the next day (it was still there). I opted to stay behind.

Saw a better-than-I-expected comedy show Thursday night, and Friday we left for our stay in Bonnievale, in a cottage on the banks of the Breede River. It was a marvelous change. The place felt much more comfortable and home-like than Cape Town has managed to. Beautiful, red and green farmlands set in broad river valleys, with people a noticeable degree more relaxed than in CT. Not once did I feel the need to look over my shoulder, other than to get a better look as we drove by some point of interest. Spent one day in and around Swellendam, the next day lounging happily at the cottage, reading, bird-watching, painting and napping. Much drinking of beer and Amarula by all, eating of delicious braai and frequent tea times. Regretted leaving the banjo at home.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


We caught a taxi -a metered one like in the states- from downtown CT towards home. It was a stout, friendly man who was to drive us home, happy to have a fare after an otherwise no-work day. Especially a fare out into the suburbs. He was from Zimbabwe it turned out and Mick started talking Zimbabwe with the guy, who was more than happy to talk back. Many disparaging things were said about Mugabe: about how he goes about his robberies, about the complete & total short-sightedness of his efforts to secure more money, about the paying of soldiers before everyone else, about how the whole thing is slowly (?) crumbling as even the soldiers aren't getting paid...

I recall, when I was first researching SA in anticipation of coming, running across a few investigative reports on Zimbabwe, made mostly by South African journalists. What struck me most was how 'developed' looking the areas looked: malls, gas stations, box stores, asphalt & streetlights, cars. But none of the cars were moving. None of the stations had petrol anymore. The shelves in the box stores were all empty. A wheelbarrow full of cash couldn't buy a meal.

After some time, during a lag in the conversation, I ventured to ask how difficult it had been to cross the border. I don't think I would have asked a latino in the states this, nor even if they are legal or not - but for some reason I felt it was okay in this situation. He went on at length about the difficulties of crossing. He himself had been a tour guide for foreigners before things went worse and so he had a passport, but his family had to be smuggled across. We all agreed that it was good that at least they are here with him.

A few months before we came there were a series of attacks on foreign refugees, mostly Zimbabweans & Somalis, though a few of the darker skinned locals were caught up in it by mistake. So many are the poor here and so thorough the poverty that somehow it happened - the rage about jobs taken, or perceived to have been taken, by foreign refugees exploding into mob beatings. The taximan was saddened by this. "Even our black brothers!" he lamented, referring to the fact that most of the attacks had been done by local blacks - themselves previously displaced from their traditional homelands in the Eastern Cape and City Bowl. He himself hadn't been caught up in it, living as he does in an actual house in the city.

He had unexpected, for me, views on the inhumanness of Chinese people. The Chinese are almost the only ones dealing with Zimbabwe at this point and over all what he said about them reminded me remarkably of what people used to say (sometimes still do) about blacks here and back in the states. "They're animals. Not human. You can't leave a baby with them!"

All in all he was a friendly enough taximan - certainly the most talkative & informative thus far.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

We're the Phone Company

We don't care. We don't have to.

So I called up the other day, using the spiffy Skype phone, to get my t-mobile account deactivated. I kept it on so that we could co-ordinate with folks in Vancouver, and then forgot to get my service disconnected. And then a month or so passed in a blur of new-place exposure. I eventually got through the phone tree to a scripted person and managed to cut through the inevitable, drawn out pitch to keep me with the company by stating that i was on another continent and the service was useless to me now. I was foiled, however, by the assertion that I must pay the ninety-something dollars worth of over due fees before they would end my account. What. The. Fuck!?

In the immortal words of Cartmen: "I hate you guys."

Parts of me want to just not pay them (fuck the phone ransom!). The other parts remember that I live in a "globalized", computer-interconnected reality controlled mostly by corporate plutocrats. Nameless, faceless bureaucracies which would quite willingly make my every effort to live difficult if they could make another dime doing it. Which they do quite well - my account continues to accrue various fees for non-usage even as I type.

"I hate you guys so much..."

Monday, June 29, 2009

The fall of apartheid & the new south africa

Wonderfully relaxed morning. Woke up in good cheer (which has been most mornings lately) but not with so much spunk as to get out the door with Mick as he set off to confront DOT bureaucracy, so he set off alone. Ended up reading out loud to Kirsten from a book I found in a Vancouver used-book store: "South of the Limpopo." It's a travel account of an Irish woman, quite elderly at the time, who took it upon herself to bike south into SA from Zimbabwe in 1993, just after apartheid was officially ended, but before the first elections installed Mandela as president - and from there to pedal her way across the length & breadth of the country. She has a perspective in many ways in line with those of my mother & I, and soon the occasional quote became me reading the text continuously.

It was quite fun. I really enjoy reading aloud, and the glimpse of SA afforded by a like-minded foreigner, especially at such a pivotal point in the nation's history, is very interesting. Drank tea, ate rusks, read until my voice could read no more at sometime around three p.m. Kicked around the house a bit at that point before deciding to go to the beach with the banjo.

Sat out in the beach scrub, on a rise overlooking the liminal zone of crashing waves. Played and played, working through new rhythms and patterns, learning where the harmonious & dissonant sounds reside, rebruising my already abused fingertips. I'll be glad when the pain gives way to callous.

There were huge storms last week, and the previously clear beach has been covered with broken bit of kelp and sponge, dead sea cucumbers, little red worm things, plastic bottles, doll heads, lost shoes, & all the other things the ocean relinquished for a time. A large group of ladies where combing through the debris and playing in the waves, looking to be having a great time. Moved by their example, I zipped up the banjo & walking along the beach for a time.

I didn't get far before I sat down to play again, just behind the kelp line. After a while, the drifting group of combers drifted close to me, intent to explore the banjo-picking white boy, I suspect. Thrumming heart and shaky hands - performance anxiety! So rather than continue flubbing my sounds I turned to them and ventured an,"ugumnxhosa?"

They laughed and said,"no, no, we're not xhosa - except for you," only then remembering that one of their friends was, in fact, xhosa. She hung around for a little bit & I tried to talk to her, resorting mostly to english. Turns out they were a group of agricultural students from the interior on field trip to local farms. And to the beach. Some of them had never seen the ocean before. The one xhosa girl, whose name escaped me, had already found one matched pair of shoes and was looking for more - and pretty stones. After a bit of awkward conversation she resumed her search & I my banjo picking & people watching.

The other girls were having a great time pulling one another into the breakers, falling down, shrieking, smiling. Inspired by the playfulness I zipped up the banjo and commenced with the cartwheeling. I had discovered, on a previous walk with Mick, how fun cartwheels, handstands and flips are on the beach. Hell of a good workout if you keep at it continuously. By the time I leave here my wrists will be stronger & I will be able to do a controlled roll-over. Eventually I wound down & the xhosa girl came back & we talked a bit more. She was avoiding the revelry in the breakers, sensibly enough - I bet the wet ones had a cold ride back in the bus. Once again awkward language situations prevailed - it reminded me very much of the interaction I had in pdx with a guatemalan woman I'd met who was interested enough, but something just couldn't quite click. Oh well. She wandered off again & I went down to the very edge of the water to play cartwheels some more, all along the foamy sea edge.

Some of the girls in the breakers ventured that I should join them in complete soakage, but I smiled & shook my head,"Nooo." I was quite content to continue cartwheeling while (mostly) dry. A bunch of the boys came down after a while, screaming at the chill on their feet, but eventually stripping down to their underwear and jumping in. Much fun was had by all, me cartwheeling in the center of their fun - like some strange mascot or party trick. Eventually one of the boys cartwheeled over to me and we started talking. He was a shiney fellow by the name of Yeshwa or Themba, depending.
"Jeshua?" I asked.
"Yes! Do you know hebrew?"
"No," I smiled, going on to explain that I too had two sets of names.
He & I talked for quite a long time, it being a much more enthusiastic, congenial interaction. He had no idea where pdx was, but he does have kin in atlanta. Asked about their school, if he had heard of permaculture (no), mentioned that I too want to be a farmer, to which he seemed both surprised & delighted. I got the impression that their agricultural education is heavily leaned towards the industrial variety.

He asked about my guitar, & when it was clear that he'd never heard of a banjo I decided it would be easier to show than to explain. "Does it come from (i forget where)?"
"No," I smiled back over my shoulder,"from africa!" That surprised him.
I showed him the banjo and then sat down to play - *that* got all the boys over & many photos were had by all. One of them reminded me all the world of a oaxacan friend of mine (si estas leyendo este kobe: me espera tu energia amigo!) & i consented to give him my thumb pick later in large part because of that resemblance. Good thing i bought two ^_^
Themba asked at one point why i played. "For my heart," i replied, tapping my chest,"because it makes me happy." This answer seemed to meet with approval.

Much fun was had, many more tunes were played, many bodily inversions performed, & then it was time for them to leave. Many goodbyes were said, two of the boys told me we'd meet again, & I learned three new local ways of touching hands in friendship. All in all a very heart-warming. It would be nice to run into them again.

When I got home Kirsten had made delicious dinner and I went to sleep soon after, quite exhausted by the revelry. And then up again @ midnight, wide awake, writing a blog. :-p

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Earth, Wind & Water

The earth here is red, orange and black. I didn't see it at the time, but the hanging I found for my door is the same. Originally I'd been looking for something to cover the window: the venetian blinds don't quite close all the way, and in addition the rising sun and the street light both shine down in. I've become a fan of nice designs on doors since my last home. I foresee that I will have great fun making murals on every surface if I ever own a home.

I'm quite happy about the one I did use to cover the blindsl. It was a bit of a trick though - all the walls and doors are covered with some sort of super-drywall that blunts thumb tacks rather than admitting them (only on the top-most edge of the door was i able to pin the other hanging). I didn't even notice that it was an eight pointed design until I got it home! It does a great deal to make sleep easier. The light coming in through the window completely obscures the image though.

There were a few days of amazing storm around the winter solstice, with thick, dark clouds, fat raindrops & wind that was hard to walk through. It was quite impressive & invigorating. Except for when the sand got picked up off the beach and thrown at you - that stung. There were even two kite surfers out the night before last, playing with the fierce wind & breakers.

The waves themselves were amazing: heaving hills of brownish-green water that rushed & carved at the shore, leaving intricate web-like patterns of jiggling foam behind on the beach.

The weather here seems very much in the pdx fashion of "if you don't like it, wait five minutes." Even amongst the torrents I've described there were beautiful moments like the picture above. Especially on towards sunset.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Day The Rain Returned

I spent the morning inside, drinking tea and wandering through computer land while the sea reflected the grey clouds which have been hiding the sun all day. There was a family brai(bbq) last night and i ate so much that i felt no hunger until around 1:30pm, at which point I had some cheese, salad greens & avocado.

After that I decided to get out into the fresh air. I walked over to the beach & did standing meditation at the surf-line for a good long while. The sea is an amazingly large thing, yeah? After settling down I did some circle walking & palm changes. It's interesting doing it on the sand - a lot easier to see how the balance & force of my steps touches the earth. After I was done practicing I retraced my steps, reading the tracks of my movement like a book. Turns out I walk in spirals, not circles proper...

I walked south along the beach, watching how the winds blew strong enough to change the angle that the waves came in at, and singing. I found the top of a crab, broken off from the rest of it's skeleton & placed it in a breast pocket. A little ways on I picked up three feathers. Then, after singing a number of songs, I came across an almost complete crab exoskeleton!

I'd never been able to hold a crab before, i think. Spent a while playing with the way it's remaining limbs could move, admiring the pattern on it's back, and, finally, with a edge of trepidation, as if it might come alive in my hands from the intrusion, i began gently, layer by layer, opening up it's mouth complex. How strangely intimate the moment felt.

Then the rain came back. Soft and first, then in torrents. It was not rain like winters in pdx - those over-heavy clouds that settle onto you - but rather fat, numerous drops that had soaked through my pants on the windward side long before I returned home.

All dried off now, cup of tea once again nearby. Warm.

== == ==

The day before yesterday we went into downtown again with a mind to get out to Robin Island, where the prison Mandela (& many others) were kept in. Also there are penguins there. Or so I'm told, we never found the bus to the water front & ended up going to what was, back in the days of the Dutch East India Co., the large building where the slave where kept, called the Slave Lodge by the locals. Saw a lot of info about the slave trade & the keeping of slaves in the lodge. A lot about about rebellions, deaths, injustices and (partial) emancipations. There was, upstairs, an exhibit about some german fellow who was traveling in the interior, taking face molds of the local khoi (once & sometimes still called hottentots) in effort to expand the burgeoning theory of phrenology. It was interesting in part because the team also recorded many dialogues & monologues of the locals along with their faces & those where partially represented too. Very much a peak into different worldviews, both historical german and khoi both.

There was an amazing exhibit about the life, work & political murder of Steven Biko. Very informative, very powerful. At the end there was a number of quotes by various famous people, local folks & students too. Of all of them the one from Nelson Mandela resonated most strongly with me: