Cape Town, South Africa - Feburary 26 - March 4, 2008
26.02.2008 - 04.03.2008 84 °F
The next couple of days were innocuously good. My dad and I slept in and then made our way back to the port because it was the easiest place to be – great people watching due to all the shops and variety of restaurants. During the week we would eat some pretty tasty Chinese, Indian, Belgian, and Cape Malay food. The weather was fantastic, each day sunnier and warmer than the preceding one. Last time I was in Cape Town – almost exactly two years ago and hence the same time of year – the weather was SF winter-like, i.e. foggy, a bit chilly, with some light drizzle. My dad took Sip and I to Table Mountain last year but it was too fogged in to really see the view.
This time I left Dad to sleep in one morning, and I climbed Table Mountain with N., C., and T. Now I had been there before, so I knew it to be a rocky mountain. I had also heard people use the word “climbing,” in reference to it, but in my mind, I was thinking about the road that wraps around Twin Peaks or Bernal Hill in SF. Uhh, not quite. Again, perhaps this was a function of the profuse drinking from the night before, but Table Mountain is a mountain, and climbing it was intense – probably one of the most intense things I’ve ever done. It wasn’t climbing as in pick axes, harnesses, etc. Instead was more like clambering up and over gigantic step like stones of varying shapes and sizes, as if we’d been miniaturized and left to stumble up a steep slope. Apparently it takes the average person about 2 to 2 and a half hours to complete the ascent, which I would describe as treacherous. C. had done it in an hour and a half before, and I wanted to get back to my dad, so we purposely hauled ass. N and T. lagged behind us, though not by much – maybe 15 to 20 minutes. It was really freakin’ intense but cool, and I felt like a bad ass because after the first third, C. and I began passing people whom we hadn’t seen at the beginning, meaning that they’d started before us. We had been warned to be on the lookout for muggers, but since we were unofficially paired off, we felt safe, plus I really believed that one we passed a certain distance that it was unlikely that somebody would be so desperate to commit crime that they’d put themselves through what we were doing. My two big fears were that I would hit a point where I just couldn’t finish, and I’d be stuck or that we’d see a cobra, since some fellows coming down the mountain warned us about one “just around the bend.” Fortunately we never came across it, and even better, C. and I managed to hit our mark – one and one half hours. I was psyched although my feet were in agony.
Later in the week, Dad and I went to see the Gauteng Choristers, crowed as the nation's best during competition in 2006. Earlier this year, they toured Europe performing "Porgy ‘n Bess," making them the first South African choir to perform an opera in Europe. For the show we attended, they played at a beautiful outdoor venue located on the lawns of the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The show itself was a bit disappointing because the 60-member (30 women, 30 men), all Black choir only sang one song unaccompanied. The rest of the show was a showcase for several other regional artists from pop singers to jazz artists. In other words, the headliners became back up singers, which was disappointing, especially because the mix of artists was too far flung. Overall, I'd give the show a B-. I think my dad gave it something lower. The real entertainment came from a durnk White woman who approached me and my father after we'd been bickering for a few moments. We were seated on a bench in the rear of the venue. Because we'd had a little squabble, we were sitting far apart on the bench, each facing slightly to the opposite direction. The woman made a beeline for my dad and was bold enough to put her hands on his knees as she told him: "You have such a serious look on your face that one could easily believe that you're not enjoying yourself, and yet I know that you are." Both of us were so taken aback that we shifted in our seats, mirroring astonishment to one another. My dad quickly deflected by asking if she was enjoying herself, and she surprised us further by confessing that she was not enjoying the show: "In fact, I'm leaving. I'm leaving because it's clear that there's no place for White people in this country any more. We're not wanted. I'm going to New Zealand where there are more sheep than people." After that announcement she turned on her heel and walked away, weaving a little bit and telling us to enjoy the evening.
My father and I didn't talk about it right away. At least five minutes passed before I said to him, "Why do you attract that kind of thing? You're a magnet for weirdos," and he retorted, "It's not me, it's you." We both chuckled a little bit at ourselves and fell silent again, lost in our thoughts and avoiding the music. Just as I realized I really wasn't listening to the music at all, the interloper made another beeline straight to my dad. This time he asked her why she had said what she'd said. She told him that things are taking an ugly turn in the country, and she's sick of fighting. That South Africa is getting dangerously close to a downward spiral echoes my dad's own thoughts and beliefs. But he asked her why she doesn't stay and fight. She explained that she had fought her whole life and her mother before her had fought and that now she's 48 and she's tired. She ended up coming and going a few more times, even bringing a friend with her - an Indian woman a few years younger than myself who owns a South African wine bar in New York called Xiu Xiu and who was home for a visit. The White woman told my dad that he has a great face and that she could stare at it all day. This was deja vu for me because the hostess at the hotel restaurant, a Cape Malay woman, also appeared smitten whenever David and I went down for dinner. What can I say except that it runs in the family.
The other adventure I had away from Dad was my first visit to Robbin Island, where Nelson Mandela and scores of others had been imprisoned during the Apartheid years. L., a Human Rights attorney who is teaching International Relations onboard the ship, had invited me so we took a 45-minute ferry ride and joined a tour that was led by a former prisoner. The island itself is rather non-descript – a bit eerie now that it’s home only to penguins and jackrabbits and an empty prison. We saw Mandela’s actual cell and learned about daily life in the prison. The part I found most interesting was that in the early days, the prisoners were given daily rations based on race. The whites and coloureds received more and better food than the “bantu” or black Africans, but all of the prisoners were political ones, who where there because of their efforts to change the racist, segregationist policies of their society. The prisoners actually banded together – via hunger strikes and other means – to get the prison authorities to standardize their meals, regardless of race.
Afterward we met my Dad at Den Anker, a Belgian restaurant, where he and L. ate Kingklip, which is a type of fish, and I at springbok, which is a type of gazelle. We had some fine Belgian beer and then drank a champagne toast to Doris – the fourth anniversary of her passing. When it was time to go, all three of us seemed of like happy mind, though that was our last night together. Dad went back to the hotel, but I stayed at the ship since he had to catch a train early the next morning.
I fully intended to go straight to bed, but I was too wound up, so I ended up going out again with a group of people from the ship. I was hungry again, so I ate a burger at some fast food joint that we don’t have in the United States and then we went to a pub called Mitchell’s. When last call came, some of us took a cab to the Mercury Bar, which reminded me a bit of Kimos in San Francisco or maybe the old Eight Ball in Ann Arbor. I was quickly befriended by a few different people there – two white women and one guy who looked Italian perhaps. They were not together, but all of them wanted to buy me drinks. I did not partake of too many, but I enjoyed the attention. We didn’t stay long and then it was back to ship one last time.