Archive for August, 2008

I haven’t forgotten

Saturday, August 30th, 2008 at about 9:02 pm

But I did write elsewhere this summer. Posts from he.artbe.at I’ll try to move over here soon.

And I haven’t forgotten the sea, either. Joanna Newsom on my ears tonight, here at the shore.

Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie

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by j. android

This is Africa

Saturday, August 16th, 2008 at about 12:18 pm

And such was the mantra repeatedly to me by so many people there: when the power went in the middle of the day for hours at a time in the township I was working in my last week there, Henry (my host, the medical clinic’s only real IT staff, who was used to such things) simply said “Yes, I mean, this is Africa” when I asked if this happened regularly. And when the young Afrikaner males explained one or other of the crazier facets of South African culture (get caught drunk driving? Just bribe the cop. Are car-jackings really a big threat? Yes, Hendrik was hijacked not three weeks ago) my incredulity was always met with: “Yes, but the thing you must remember is, this is Africa”. The rigid South African driver’s license exams: “Yes well in America I’m sure it’s fine to have an easy test because everyone is well-educated, but here, this is Africa — you need to test just to make sure someone’s intelligent enough to be on the road.” And even then, when we would see some reckless driver: “Well, this is Africa”. The cheap prices of the drugs the Afrikaner males consumed in quantity: “This is Africa.” The phrase showed up everywhere, in explanations to things, as if some innate quality of the land itself had forced itself on all the continent’s inhabitents and culture. I adopted it, and began to mentally apply it to things I witnessed myself that I’d never expect to see elsewhere: The doubly-electrically-fenced villa homes of the security villages, one of which I was living in, and through whose fences I crossed every day — well, “This is Africa.” The salamander I found in the bathroom the last night I was in Pretoria: “This is Africa.” The constant threat of a smash-and-grab; the cars that narrowly avoided clipping me as I biked to work; the service culture that abundant cheap labor produces (an improbably smiling HIV-positive single mother from Zimbabwe named Marci who made my breakfast every morning — your country is ablaze and yet you smile!); the constant construction, everywhere, tearing up highways and sidewalks, leaving enormous mounds of dirt on the side of the road blocking my way and sending choking clouds of dust into the air; the general lack of sidewalks; the lack of public transportation (beyond the ubiquitous minibus); the ants that crawled across the floor of every bedroom I stayed in; the mounds of trash burning on the outskirts of Mamelodi; the flames of a “controlled” burn on the side of the highway, not a soul in sight and the outline of the blaze licking like tired wild dogs at the dried grass, lighting the night with orange and umbre and smoke: this is Africa, light seeping from where the tissue scars across its enormous beating heart.

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by j. android

Holland

Monday, August 4th, 2008 at about 2:44 pm

Eash. The bike I rented yesterday, a sort of ungainly, beat-up cruiser (I paid extra for gears, but they were minimally useful), was as rough on me as I was on it — I hauled about 60 kilometers on that rusty rented piece of shit today, and the top of my thighs are killing me from where they got pinched by the huge seat. I took a ferry from Centraal Station across the Ij to the far side of the city, then spent the next 7 hours biking along the sea dikes and through small towns. The route was laid out in the book, but with minimal directions, so I ended up relying on the extremely well executed system of signs for specifically the bike route network in this province (amazing!) and, when that failed, bus signs.

At least it’s flat, and the cycling was mostly easy. The wind was killer on the way back, I didn’t realize how much it was helping me on the way out. I made a big loop, but after the halfway point the going got much tougher — I was both tired and now fighting the wind. But overall well worth it for sweet views from the dikes of the sea and the intensely bucolic reclaimed farmland. The little villages were also quite cute at times, and that famous lowlands light lived up to its portayal in the Golden Age paintings I saw yesterday at the Rijksmusem.

I rolled back into town around 3:30 in the afternoon (much earlier than I had thought, I figured it would take all day, and thank god today was the first day we didn’t have any rain). Went to a cafe called Winkel, had a huge piece of apple pie and a glass of orange juice. Spent the rest of the afternoon getting blitzed on amnesia and biking around doing what I’ve come to call the “gracht tango”, hopelessly trying to navigate the dense array of streets and canals (roads on streets next to canals end in “-gracht”) that make up this part of the city. It’s intensely charming, although crawling with tourists, which I’m not used to after South Africa. Walking down the street here I’m as likely to hear someone speaking English or French as Dutch.

I just had some dinner at “Noodle & Go”, a kind of ikea-meets-fastfoodnoodles place nearby that I chose because it would be quick. It’s still light here at 9:40 and will be for half an hour, which is also a huge trip coming from the southern hemisphere where it was getting dark at 5:30. I kind of want to go out, but it now hurts to bike I’m so wiped so I think I’m just going to watch Interview with a Vampire (strange sudden craving, so I quickly downloaded it here at the hostel — thank god for broadband, I felt like I was breathing through a tube on South African Internet connections). Tomorrow maybe another bike tour, depending on how my legs feel. Wednesday going to Texel. The Netherlands are lovely in the summertime.

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by j. android