I painted wet blobs of colour in my journal as one might stoke a small fire in a brazier, trying to get warm.
The moment it first really hit me that I was going to be in Africa, was 7 hours after leaving Singapore, at dawn. As the first blush of rosy light crept up from behind the horizon, we were soaring over the huge, seemingly endless island of Madagascar. What a rush! I wanted to squeal like a pig at the sight, but the oh-so-cool, very handsome 16-year-old boy beside me prevented me from behaving like a silly old goose.
At the airport I was preceded by a distinguished looking gentleman in a silk suit, and his retinue of plump, corporate-styled women. As we emerged into the vast arrivals hallway, a brass band like a small army struck up some rousing music, and a hundred people in bright clothes, beaded jewelry, and head cloths, surged forward to greet the man. I was stuck, smiling politely, behind this mob for about 20 minutes before I found a way, in the opposite direction, around them and out of the airport. My taxi driver, Albert, told me the dude was some homecoming preacher. Welcome to Africa!
These next photos are taken from around the lodge I have been staying at. You can’t really tell I’m on the continent of Africa, by these pictures…The Suburbian Guest Lodge is, as the name promises, tucked away in a respectable (read “white”) neighborhood of manicured gardens, gorgeous flower beds, high walls topped by razor or electric wire, and remote-controlled gates festooned with notices of the various armed response security agencies employed by paranoid owners within.
I never expected the air to be so chilly. I set off on foot for the nearest shopping centre, on a mission to buy a universal adapter for my various gadgets and gizmos, and also a South African sim card for my brick phone. My hostess—who seems a nice lady, otherwise, and very helpful—gave me a street map with highlighted areas that she said were “black areas”, and told me to avoid them. She also told me not to carry my camera openly on the streets because of “the blacks”. How do you use a camera when it’s in a backpack? I set off, and noticed right away that I was the only “non-black” walking.
But everyone I came across said hello, and when I stopped to ask for directions people were gently friendly and helpful, and whole gangs of construction workers or ditch diggers called out “Good morning!” I never felt threatened or unsafe.
The air was so dry and cool, it was a pleasure to walk the 4.8 km. to Eastgate, except that half the walk consisted of a very long, very steep hill going UP, and the other half was a very long, very steep hill going DOWN, and my knees and feet were killing me! I stopped to rest often at many beautifully maintained parks and promenades along the way…the Agapanthus lily was EVERYWHERE.
At some point, I came upon Joburg’s Chinatown. I love Chinatown…it’s not a place, really, it’s a state of cultural being. No matter where one goes in the world, it seems, the Chinatown is essentially the same, and therefore a comforting, familiar place to be.
At the shopping center I found my adapter, but no luck with the sim card because I hadn’t thought to carry my passport with me, and you can’t buy a sim card without ID here.
I had a big breakfast and excellent coffee at a place called Nino’s. It was 8 in the morning and most of the shops in the mall were not even open yet, but the smoking area at Nino’s—a little glassed in room to one side—was packed with fat old Italian men. They were set out in twos and threes, at different tables ranged around the room, but were all engaged in the same conversation. I really had no choice but to eavesdrop, since they were shouting across the room at each other. The topic of conversation was one that fat old Italian men probably started in the 1600s, and have carried on with until the present: “Things just aren’t the way they used to be…back then, life was really good. Today’s world is shit, and nobody is doing anything about it. Italy, of course, is still the best country in the world…” I think someone should make a recording of this timeless, monotonous conversation, so that cafe’s everywhere in the world can play the track continuously, and save the fat old dons the trouble of opening their mouths.
I could not resist a few pieces of Zulu beadwork, for sale at the Bruma Lake flea market, and these were my only concession to the world of souvenir shopping.
Back to the lodge by 1pm, to shower, change, and share my lunch—a box of nectarines, some freshly baked loaves of dark bread, some nuts and dried fruit, a tin of sardines in olive oil—with this fine-looking fella here. He liked the sardines, of course, but also the roasted almonds. Lupo di delicatessen.
After lunch, I drag a chair out into the courtyard, to sip a coffee and smoke underneath a small fig tree growing behind a garden gate that leads to the staff members’ quarters.
That brisk walk up and down a mountain (that’s how it felt to me!) has tired me out and I will happily fall into my huge, soft, clean, fluffy white bed, to sleep through the nightly torrential downpour and mighty thunderstorms that rake across Joburg at this time of year.
Tomorrow I am heading, very early in the morning, back to the O.R.Tambo airport, for the last day of my journey toward Kris: a flight to Capetown, and then a taxi to the Saldhana Bay Yacht Club.
Had such an inspiring meet-up with the brilliant street photographer behind WordPress blog Malate, Elmer Valenzuela, last night. In a bar overlooking an urban crossroads, filled with young people in ridiculous hipster getup, throbbing with live music and strobed with laser lights, we sat over a dozen beers and a sizzling plate of that classic Filipino drinking snack known as sisig (it’s minced pig’s face, now doesn’t that sound lovely? Perfect foil for lots of booze.)
It was so great to finally meet Elmer Valenzuela in person, and to find him every bit as genuine, artistic, and nice as he seems on his blog. He’s incredibly modest, insisting that anybody could do what he does…the sign of real passion. “No, not everyone,” I assure him…my reluctance to pull a camera out of my bag, not to say point it at someone on the street, borders on neurosis. I carry my DSLR in a backpack everywhere…the streets of Singapore, the streets of Manila…but it’s pretty usual to come home having taken not a single shot. Terrified of street photography.
Back to Elmer’s blog, where he disses would-be street photographers who shoot from the safety of their cars (Eeep, that’s ME!) and worry about something happening to their cameras (Again, a raw nerve, goddamit). In his post Shadow Selfie: Overture to Street Photography, these words from Robert Frank sit, emphasized, centered, and pointing an accusing finger at me:
If an artist doesn’t take risks, then it’s not worth it.
We parted ways, but not before we aimed our cameras across the table at each other. I don’t know how his shots went, but mine were absolute crap in the low, low light, and I deleted them in disgust. I sped home through empty streets at 2 in the morning, stopping at a 7-Eleven to pick up a cheap pack of smokes and a couple of balut (fertilised and partially developed duck eggs) from an old lady out the front. Local wisdom says that balut gives you, er, staying power, stamina, or spunk. I’m running out of time in Manila, but if there’s one thing I would love to do before I go, it’s take Elmer up on his invitation to go for a street photography walk around Intramuros, the oldest district and historic core of the City of Manila. Maybe those duck eggs will work their magic, and I’ll master my fear of the fascinating, inscrutable street.
And here is journal number two, Shanghai Chai.
In the grand old tradition of Western-made chinoiserie, it’s a little bit of a hodge-podge of Oriental stereotypes, rather than anything correctly Shanghainese. Awkward cultural appropriations, I’m sorry…the journal has more in common with this Manhattan Transfer song (but then, that’s Singapore…what a dog’s breakfast I am making of this!) than real places.
These babies are ready to go to Finland.
Here’s the completed made-to-order journal, incorporating those painted dishes I showed in the last blog post.
Such a headache coming up with a background color that suited! Painted several canvas backgrounds…all much too dark and detailed. This one, though perhaps still busy, is lighter and softer. Pink is never the color I try out first…it just doesn’t occur to me. (How unlike the feminine and fun work of Hanna Anderson, where pink is the foundation for nearly everything!) But I’m happy to give it the stage if it does the job, and it has saved the day, here.
My Finnish patroness wanted two journals: number two will be out from under the book press tomorrow. Then I CAN FINALLY PACK AWAY MY PAINTS AND BOOKBINDING GEAR! These are pretty much the bindery’s last books before the trip.
Looked up flights to Manila from Darwin last night (I am stopping by to see my Dad before I head to S. Africa) and they’ve gone up $150 since last week. Pushed by the steadily rising prices of the Christmas season, I bought a seat on the last flight that was under $500: November 23rd, Sunday. After that, prices shoot up another $200.
My Darwin days are numbered. I sure hope immigration issues my passport before the flight date! *nervous, about-to-be-sick laugh*
I spent all last night trying to make a storyboard, for the first time ever, and learn to use some simple video-editing programs, because I’d like videos to be a part of the trip’s creative output. Trying to sync the movie to music was the biggest struggle, but I think I’ve got it figured out now, though that’s only in theory. I don’t know how all you Vimeo Pro Account denizens do it, but I use a stopwatch. LOL Learning a new thing is always exciting, and I’ve recently taken on two new obsessions: watercolours and a GoPro. That’ll keep me busy (and too distracted to be seasick, I hope!) for a long time.