Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Kinda Carnival Day

I had plans for a day in Cape Town this Saturday, and I was determined to get there. The taxi trip was more challenging than usual—I got into a town-bound taxi at Bellville Station no problem, but it was moving at a snail’s pace. It pulled over to the side of the road on every block and waited for every seat to fill up. It was a hot, bright day and my seat was burning from the sun. Any part of the window that was black was hot to the touch as well.

An hour after boarding, the taxi was still in Goodwood—only three train stops away. There was a hawker selling kites along the side of the road, and he was ahead of us on foot.

People on the taxi started complaining, so we picked up the pace… only to get a flat tire in Maitland. It made a loud, hissing noise, and everyone had to pile out and get onto another van.

Finally, finally got to town with a half hour to spare, so I went to an Internet café and Laundromat to spend some time on Gumtree, South Africa’s Craigslist, to look for apartment listings.

Went to the Company’s Garden to meet up with my friend from class, and lo and behold, there was a music festival going on! Found a shady spot and listened to a pair of opera singers perform “Nessun Dorma.”

An aria in the park.
Met up with my friend and we were melting in the sun, so we went to the National Gallery, a contemporary art museum, to bask in the air conditioning and soak up some culture.

The Company's Garden
I hadn’t been inside the gallery in four years, and I loved the collections! First we wandered through an exhibition on bodily adornments, from indigenous craft and clothing to modern South African fashion designers, and anything in between. There were some very interesting pieces about contact with European artists, and their perceptions or misinterpretations of indigenous garb.

Our favourite gallery housed the photography of Roger Ballen. Ballen is an American who began his career as a geologist, and took some time off in the 1970s to travel the world. He spent time in South Africa and took poignant portraits of Black miners and poor whites in rural areas. This gained him some early fame.

Once Ballen declared himself an artist, he moved away from realism and began staging and shooting surreal, absurdist stills. He stuck with his former format of large, square, black-and-white photos, but the shots he produced seem like they were captured in dreams. Images were often grotesque but played around with light and shadow, and lots and lots of barbed wire and disembodied hands and feet.

Ballen was an interesting contrast with the photo exhibit on Ernest Cole, a photojournalist who took painfully realist photographs of life under apartheid, specifically life during forced removals and settlement camps outside Johannesburg.

One imagine of Cole’s I will never forget was of a segregated train station—at the front of the platform stood four or five white men, who could expect to have an entire train car to themselves. Just behind them, a crippling mass of black passengers waited for their own cars. The mob snaked around the terminal, and promised to be a crush once on the train.

There were also heart-wrenching images of black students in township houses with no electricity, studying for school by candlelight. The viewer may have hope that this determination will pay off, but knowing the reality of the Bantu Education system makes the image more tragic.

After that stint in the museum, my friend and I needed some lunch. Went to one of the outdoor cafes in Greenmarket Square for a meal filled with fresh veggies.

Then we walked along Long Street, watching the setup for the carnival that would happen that night. I was sorely tempted to stick around, but I knew I had to get on a taxi to Bellville before sunset.

EVERYONE dresses up for the carnival.


These puppets look awesome! Would have loved to see them in action.

Do you want to hear something nice? Hours after I left the Internet café I realized I’d left my USB drive in the computer. I considered it lost forever, but we went back to check, just in case. I was pleasantly surprised that the café was still open after 5 p.m. (Cape Town is surprisingly old-fashioned—bars and clubs may stay open until the wee hours of the morning, but everything else closes up shop at 5, it would seem.)

Anyway, café was still open, and the women who ran the place had saved my USB drive for me. I got it back!

It was a very nice note to leave for home on. Due to some phone/communication issues, I got myself from Cape Town taxi rank to PJ’s front door completely on my own—a first! I definitely know the route by now.

I will close with these pictures of children playing in a fountain, because I think they're cute:

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