Saturday, September 29, 2018


A famous Cape Town spot for photographers and Instagrammers is Bo-Kaap, a multicultural neighborhood known for its brightly painted houses and cobblestone streets: 

Once known as the Malay Quarter, this is the heart of Cape Town's Muslim population. The first slaves in the Cape Town region were not from South Africa but rather from Malaysia, Indonesia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and other parts of Africa, and they leased homes/apartments in this neighborhood. At that time all the buildings were white.

During the apartheid era, Bo-Kaap was a "Muslims only" area that was the ONLY part of Cape Town where Cape Malay people were allowed to live. Anyone of another ethnicity or culture living in Bo-Kaap was forcibly relocated, mostly to townships on the city's outskirts. Bo-Kaap was one of the rare non-white neighborhoods actually within the city center.

After slaves were liberated in 1834, the houses in this area could be purchased by former slaves, who painted them in a panoply of vivid, almost fluorescent colors because for the first time they COULD choose the colors! The bright colors were an expression of their freedom.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


If you haven't figured it out yet, I am a BIG fan of Nelson Mandela. Making a pilgrimage to Robben Island, the place where he was held behind bars for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned, was a Must-Do for me. 

Of this island where he lived in a maximum security prison from 1964 to 1982 Nelson Mandela wrote, "Robben Island was without question the harshest, most iron-fisted outpost in the South African penal system."

We arrived at the ferry station at the Cape Town waterfront just in time to snap one quick photo with  my hero:

. . . before we got on the boat that slipped away from the dock and the pleasure boats and the Ferris wheel and took us four miles out into Table Bay:

. . .to a small oval island (less than two acres total) that is flat and barely above sea level:

For over 350 years, this desolate, wind-swept dot on the sea was used to isolate political prisoners and to lock up criminals. It has also been used as a leper colony, an animal quarantine site, a World War II defense site, a mental asylum, a Muslim pilgrimage site, and now, a major tourist destination.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


In 1982, a nesting pair of African penguins (also called "jackass" penguins because of the braying-like noise they make) arrived on Boulders Beach, a series of granite-lined inlets located between Cape Town and Cape Point. These days there are over 2,000 penguins sharing the spot.

As we walked down the sidewalk from the parking lot to the beach, we were excited to see our first penguins. This is NOT the setting that I expected:

What look like partially submerged barrels are actually penguin condos:

There were rows of them, and all appeared to be occupied:

Sunday, September 16, 2018


I liked South Africa from the moment we flew into the Cape Town airport, but after a morning on Chapman Peak Drive and a trip to the Cape of Good Hope, I was totally smitten by this magical country. Unending, rugged, stunning vistas like these would steal anyone's heart:

This is a part of the world I have read about since world history in fifth grade, and it was hard to believe I was seeing it with my own eyes. It's not hard to imagine Bartolomeu Dias sailing past this wild shore in 1488:

There are lots of stops along the way for those who love jaw-dropping scenery, and since we had gotten a very early start, we were the ONLY people at the first few places we visited:

Friday, September 14, 2018


Before I continue with more posts about what we SAW in South Africa, I want to post about what I READ about the country. There is an awful lot of reading to do if you are interested in what's been written about South Africa and/or by South Africans.  These books I read in the last few months are just the tip of the iceberg.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

A good place to start reading about South Africa is The Covenant by James Michener.  This historical novel covers 500 years and the lineage of three families whose lives are intertwined: one native African, one Afrikaaner-Dutch, and one British. Michener gives a very good overview of South Africa's complex history. However, that complexity and detail leads to the biggest problem I have with this book, which is the same problem I've had with other Michener books--the brutal length. It's anywhere from 829 to 1200 pages long, depending on which size of type you get. I chose the audible version, which is 58 hours and 10 minutes long. I think that is the LONGEST book I have ever listened to, and I confess--I listened to it a 1.5x speed.    The.    Narrator.    Reads.    It.    So.    Slowly.    Even at that speed, it is like listening to FOUR normal-length books.   
I especially enjoyed the parts that included historical figures I had heard of, including Paul Kruger and Cecil Rhodes. Sadly, there is no mention of Nelson Mandela, who was sitting in prison during the period this book was written and had not yet become world famous. Published in 1980, the book ends while apartheid still had a strangle-hold on the nation. I wonder what Michener would have made of the human rights movements that led to the dismantling of apartheid more than a decade later.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

If Nelson Mandela is your hero, as he is mine, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela is a must. This is also quite a long book--684 pages for the version I read. I took me the better part of our trip, but it was worth it. I especially like this quote from the forward, written by President Bill Clinton:

"Tell me the truth. When you were leaving prison after twenty-seven years and walking down that road to freedom, didn't you hate them all over again?" and he said, "Absolutely I did, because they'd imprisoned me for so long. I was abused. I didn't get to see my children grow up. I lost my marriage and the best years of my life. I was angry. And I was afraid, because I had not been free in so long. But as I got closer to the car that would take me away, I realized that when I went through that gate, if I still hated them, they would still have me. I wanted to be free. And so I let it go."

In a nutshell, that is who Nelson Mandela is. The book tells you how he became that person.

I loved learning about Mandela's Xhosa childhood and the steps he took to become a lawyer in Johannesburg. He covers at length his entry into politics and the anti-apartheid movement. He throws out a lot of names that are unknown to me and hard to keep track of, and that gets a little tedious, but those people are an important part of the story. The narrative covering his 27 years in prison is fascinating, particularly as he works through the emotional and psychological aspects of being behind bars that long. I am struck by how he befriended other prisoners and many of the guards. And of course, the last sections about his release and the building of a new government are very interesting.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


Here is a problem: What does a city do with complex of ugly, abandoned grain silos strategically positioned near the fancy waterfront area, the classiest tourist area in the country?

Just down the street from that eyesore is a wonderful combination of new glass-fronted shops and an 1882 clock tower built in honor of Queen Victoria's second son, who was the first member of the Royal Family to visit South Africa.

My first thought was "Tear the old things down, of course," but obviously I don't have the vision of German gazillionaire Jochen Zeitz, who saw the abandoned silos as a perfect opportunity to create the world's largest museum dedicated to contemporary African art. Architects left the basic structure of the silos in place, but filled the top half with open spaces and bulging triangulated glass windows that look like dozens of insect eyes:

Parts of the original silos remain in place to testify of the museum's origin:

When we visited in late May, 2018, the Zeitz Museum, all 70,000 square feet of it, had only been open eight months. The opening ceremony was attended by retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who pretended to take a heavenly phone call from his good friend Nelson Mandela. "Yes!" Mandela supposedly told the Archbishop. "This is what we were fighting for!"

The entry/lobby has a soaring ceiling and walls with deep, irregularly round holes that make the room appear to be a cross between a hive and a cathedral, but are also reminiscent of both the grain silos the museum has co-opted and grains of corn:

A giant insect-like dragon made of rubber inner tubing is suspended in the center like a crucifix:
Iimpundulu zonke ziyandilandela (trans. "All the lightning bugs are after me") 
Created in 2011 by Nicholas Hlobo for the 54th Venice Biennale
See an article about it here.

As we progressed from floor to floor, our view of the "cathedral hive" and the creature kept changing:

Ribbons drip like blood from its body:

This creature could give young children horrible nightmares:

 The tail goes on forever:

There was a elevator, but the stairs were a work of art themselves and begged to be climbed, and not just for the views of the dragon from the landings.  Here is a view from below looking up:

And this giant eye is the view from the top looking down:

We didn't have a lot of time to spend looking closely at each exhibit, but we did make our way through most of the museum.  I'm posting some of my favorite pieces.

I'm intrigued by this raucous montage of multi-national imagery, including Fortune and Time magazine logos, the Statue of Liberty, and the American flag:
Here to Stay (2015) by Jody Paulsen

 This reclining plant man is interesting . . .
Proposed Model for Simon Tseko Nikoli by Athi-Patra Ruga

It reminded me a lot of this piece in the Broad Museum in Los Angeles: 
Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988) by Jeff Koons

See the resemblance?

Perhaps my favorite work in the museum is this one, made of copper and aluminum:
Dissolving Continents (2017) by El Anatsui, an artist from Ghana
who is one of the most important living African artists

Roger Ballen, an American artist who moved to South Africa has donated a large collection of his work to the Zeitz Museum. It is some of the most bizarre stuff I've ever seen. These are The Rooms of the Ballenesque. A placard in the museum notes, ". . . the artist's interest lies in the concept of the house as a refuge from external forces that often harbours repressed emotions and experiences. He regards the house as a metaphor for the mind. . . . Ballen accompanies you into the depths of the subconscious. Set to evoke hidden memories, this space potentially serves as a gateway to the past. The stale odour and muffled whispers tap into the human psyche, enhancing discomfort. Are you prepared to be immersed and confront that which lurks beneath the surface of your own subconscious mind?"

I couldn't decide if this was an M. Knight Shyamalan movie, a very bad dream, or The Twilight Zone:

Whew. Outta there. Let's move on to happier scenes, such as these women in combat gear riding stick horses and one real horse past vicious red dogs and vultures:
In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity (2017) by South African artist Mary Sibande

 What does it mean? I have no idea.

Okay, a little less abstract, please.

I think I can understand this powerful ink and acrylic depiction of slavery:
La Jetee [The jetty] (2010) by Julien Sinzogan of Benin

And I can understand this pile of knitted snakes, although why someone would want to knit a snake is beyond my understanding.
Ophiophillia (2014) by Frances Goodman, a South African artist

Wait. They aren't made of yarn after all, but of acrylic nails. I DON'T get it after all.

 A curtain/waterfall of beer bottles hangs from ropes:
Qokobe (2016) by Lungiswa Gqunta, a South African artist

According to the museum website, this artist's work "provides commentary on the tools of segregation and oppression, using familiar and domestic objects which, when combined, become weapons. Bedsheets, beer bottles and matches recreate petrol bombs, pointing to the mobilisation of modes of resistance and agency." 

I couldn't have said it better myself.

This marble and brass sculpture is one of my favorite things in the museum:
And So Be It (2014) by Daniella Mooney,
a South African artist

Before we left we took the elevator to the rooftop sculpture garden:

Bob bought a Schweppe's Bitter Lemon in the swanky restaurant, probably the only thing on the menu we could afford:

On our way out, we stopped to appreciate the wisdom scrawled on the window. I especially like "Yes, South Africa is a country."

I loved this museum and it's contemporary vibe, but I must admit that finding a world that is a little more familiar outside was a relief: