Posted by: whenwe | August 12, 2007

About to enter Moz

I am now sitting nervously close to the border with Mozambique. This is not the first time that I almost can see how greener it is on the other side of the fence. Last week I took a dive in Sodwana Bay, some 80 Kms from the Mozambiquean border, but decided to come all the way through Swaziland to Nelspruit and enter via Ressano Garcia. Call it procrastination, I call it shitting myself.

I knew it was going to be difficult to go back to Moz for the first time after nearly 30 years, but never imagined how deeply affected I would be in terms of physical symptoms. Every morning I wake up around 4:30 am and cannot get back to sleep. May be it is the fisherman in me that knows he is going back to Bazaruto, Inhambane or Ponta do Ouro to throw the nets in the sea.

My return trip to Moz had been planned in a slightly different way and things went somehow pear shaped. My good pal Roddy Buchanan was going to come with me but unfortunately could not find the resources to do it. My cousin Louie from Jo’burg fancied a week in Bilene too, but when I phoned yesterday, to arrange a rendez-vous in Nelspruit, he informed me that some business had came up, and he wouldn’t be able to make it.

This things happen but I am determined to go anyway, even if it means (and it does) that I will jump one of the hectic taxi vans heading up Maputo way. These Toyota Hiace vans are jam-packed with people and goods and are one of the best ways of getting the local flava. All for a mere ZAR 100.

Antonia, an English geography student I have met, is also going to Moz. She has no strict plans other than to go to the beach for 2 weeks and has been told Moz is a beach paradise. Sharp sharp! She was going to get a lift with her pal but again, things did not go according to plan and her mate postponed the trip. We’ve decided that one day of Nelspruit is one day too long and will be traveling together across the border in a couple of hours time. My heart is racing and I hope I do not start crying as I enter home, the cradle of the Sacramento kind. May be I will be disappointed in case the place wont live up to my expectations, and that scares me too. I guess all this questions explain perfectly my emotional state. Whatever happens I can relax and be confident that the situation is about to be resolved.

As a result I may even be able to select a country where I want to live in, and become a boring bastard like my dad that exchanged an exciting job as land surveyor in the African savanna for a comfortable bank clerk’s position sitting all day long behind a desk. I might even get married and start making babies to my mom’s greatest satisfaction (for more info or a wife application pack contact nuno.sacramento@gmail.com). Who knows.

The recent past
After hectic and theatrical Cape Town I jumped in a plane and went up to Jo’burg. I did consider going overland but my liver beg me to leave the Cape a.s.a.p. and so I did. I miss it immensely though…

My next stop was Jo’burg. My Cape Town friends hooked me up with some people but advised me that in Jo’burg one MUST have transport or else one can get stranded all day waiting for friendly lifts after work hours. Traffic is chaotic and the City Center is a shambles. Needless to say I like it. A lot.

My time in Jo’burg was spent behind bars. Every house is some sort of inverted cage. Inverted because in the view of many South Africans it keeps the animals outside. It is a fucked up life style but as anywhere else in the world, people just get on with their lives in the best way they can. Fear is just one of the ingredients of Jo’burg life, hard to grasp for a Swiss or a Norwegian, but present in all aspects of Gauteng culture. It is a spice and a constant adrenaline rush.

With the crazy Cape lifestyle behind, I decided to look for a more wholesome one, as I was approaching the tropical beaches with white sand and turquoise blue waters. In Jo’burg I started eating normal meals again and at normal times. With my cousin we visited several porra (Portuguese) restaurants and I managed to spend a lot of time catching up with the books I had brought. I also realized that my belly was growing again and that something would have to be done about it.

My cousin who I’ve now met for the first time ever, is a Hells Angels type. He deals cars, works as DJ and belongs to an Alberton-based Harley Davidson group called Satan’s Saints. His name is Louie and like me, he was born in Maputo. When I asked him if he wanted to go back he said he couldn’t really, because in Moz he wouldn’t get the same things he gets in SA. I gathered he was talking about Cable TV, fast Internet, good roads and fast food paradise. ‘Moz is nice for a week of sun and fishing but then I’m happy to be back here in SA’ he says. I don’t know If I agree.

South Africa has an American feel to it. Long stretches of road, Cable TV with 100’s of channels, Fast Food every where and a feeling that any idea is a feasible business opportunity. My wee cousin Tania (Louis’ daughter) took me to theme parks and huge shopping centers and even to a Zoo where people get shifted around in golf carts in order to prevent any calorie loss.

For the first four days of my stay I looked at Joburgs Center from afar and got increasingly curious about it. My parents had spent some time in Jo’burg in the 60’s and I felt close to it somehow. After driving through Jo’burgs City Center  I found it a beautiful piece of modern architecture and urbanism and despite the short stop at the City Art Gallery in Joubert Square (to see Africa Remix), I still feel my curiosity is not satisfied.  And it wont be until I enter the Ponte tower…

For everyone planning to come to the World Cup in 2010 I can assure you Jo’burg City Center is NOT going to be ready for it. We’ll wait and see.

My last night out in Jo’burg was spent with the Vesparados, a group of Vespa maniacs in leather jackets who are planning to go from Jo’burg to Cape Town on the small Italian bikes stopping in pubs along the way. I asked if I could join them and they said yes. It coincides with my birthday afterall…

After nearly a week of protected life, eating well and sleeping accordingly, I decide to rent a car and go to Pretoria to see the Houses of Parliament and visit an artist called Jacques. Somehow this visit empowered me to move on and I decided that by Sunday I’d of to see Kwazulu-Natal.
I do not really know how to describe my time in Gauteng but I will try to do it in one sentence: Have you ever felt you shoudn’t be at a place at that specific moment in time? And have you ever felt deep inside that you have been in a place, that you haven’t visited before? That was Jo’burg and Pretoria for me.

Road trip
The plane trip from Cape Town to Jo’burg left a sour taste of defeat for I felt I had missed sight-seeing large chunks of the country. To invert this I decided to do a road trip that my dad had done 40 years ago, during the 1960’s, when he was approximately my age. I had two options: 1) to rent a car and do it on my own, going to the exact same spots dad went (poetic but anal!) or 2) to jump the Bas Buz and sit comfortably looking out the window, and having the odd chat with fellow travelers. Being a people’s person, unlike dad, I chose option 2.

This meant I wouldn’t see the same things but fuck it, I would see others. First day I went past the Drakkensberg mountain range. Yes past in a parallel line without ever entering it properly. Living in Scotland and coming all the way to SA to see hills and mountains seemed silly so I headed to Zulu land (something Scotland is deprived of). My first stop was Pietermaritzburg, where decades earlier Gandhi had been thrown out a first class train carriage for being coloured, resulting in the whole movement of peaceful protest.

PMZ is a small and uneventful city. The reason I was there was to see the Art School, described by someone as the most Afro-Cosmopolitan in Africa. I am dying to do something in Africa and a research connection with African academia is something to be cherished.

PMZ was a pleasant surprise. The hostel where I stayed was messy but, without a shadow of a doubt, the best one I have ever stayed in. The owner (Kelvin) was a natural host and brilliant chef. The place had amazing energy and gathered characters ranging from a fisherman and intellectual (Andre) to a very articulate and not at all annoying  messenger of God (Pete). When you throuw into the equation a beautiful Frrrench couple and a Weegigeese looking for his identity, you have a perfect fruit salad.

I decided to stay another day in PMZ cutting my time in Durban shorter. I booked a skydive for 9 am next day and after a night without sleep (butterflies in my stomach) I was informed that the dive was cancelled due to the weather. I went to visit the museum instead, and saw and amazing portrait of the Queen of England side by side with the King of Zululand, same size (I will prepare a lecture about it in due time).

Leaving PMZ in one of the mini bus taxi vans I got to Durban in an hour for the meager amount of ZAR 30 (E 3) the same amount I paid for the taxi from the stop to the hostel in a 5 min journey.

Durban is still unknown to me. However I can say that I’ve tried the local delicatessen, the famous curry in a carved loaf of bread that goes by the name of Mutton Bunnie Chow. I promise I will cook it when I’m back in Scotland. For bookings use the e-mail above.

In the few hours I spent in Durban I managed to meet Carol Brown only to realize that we have a lot in common in terms of curatorial research. I have the hunch that great things can come out of this encounter and there is even the possibility that Art Cup might happen in Durban in 2010.

Heading North from Durbs I headed to Sodwana Bay for a diving course. Andre, the intellectual fisherman had told me how beautiful and addictive it is, and guess what, he was right. After theory and a pool dive we headed down to the beach for a 12mt dive. It was so addictive that I have decided to do it again, and again, and again. Its better than CAT dad, and I will have the chance to see Moz underwater. I am having some ideas for the house in the Algarve, in terms of art and diving (Art Cup style).

Between Sodwana Bay (very near Moz border) and Nelspruit (the present location equally closed to the border) lies the small Kingdom of Swaziland where I spent about a day. The place is beautiful and the hostel situated in the middle of a natural reserve. At night the fire would be lit, and local women would cook local food in local pots over it. The travellers in the Hostel would gather around the fire and chat under the beautiful African Sky. A short walk around the house put me in contact with Zebra, Wilderbeest, Boks etc, all a few meters away. But the height of the experience was the strip club 20 mins away from the hostel by car, where a number of Jo’burgers and me stared at women dancing like snakes.

I am going now, without proof reading what I wrote. I am not able to upload any photos either but promise will do it at a later date. I just really wanted to put this down to writing before I enter Moz. Lets hope I am not disappointed with what I am about to see.

Cheers.

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Posted by: whenwe | July 31, 2007

Caged

It has been over a week since I last bloggled about this journey but do not think it was because nothing happened. I simply felt that I was writing just for writing about my touristic activities while loosing track of what I am really here to do, which is to go back to the place where I come from, for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Suddenly I felt nervours and embarrassed because my writing style was not up to scratch, and no wonder for during the last month I substituted a clear mind by one dominated by CAT and booze. This stuff might have served Van Gogh and the like but it was doing me no favours.

Although I did not write for a week my life kept moving at fast pace. While still in Hermanus I proposed to a witch. It felt sooooo contemporary to propose by sms. I texted her saying: ‘A man loves his wife, a wife lovers her children, would you like to love my children?’. OK it was 10 o’clock in the morning and I had had a couple of glasses of dry white. The message was coded and I bet she did not understand the extent of it, but for me was clear there and then that this was the thing to do. I was out in the terrace looking at the sea and for the next few minutes had no reply. J was still in bed…

I lost my patience. How dared this witch not to reply to such invite? Positively or negatively she must sms back. But again, may be witches are different. I threw my phone as hard as I could in the direction of the sea, where there were rocks, bushes and the ocean. I heard it crack!!!

All my numbers were in it, my friends, work, possibly other witches too, and seeing my phone airborne made me want it back. The main reason was probably curiosity about this particular witch’s reply which I was in danger of never knowing. I ran towards the water and suddenly realised that the phone could be broken and anywhere between the bushes and the rocks. Suddenly it beeps but I am unable to figure out exactly where it is. J comes down to the beach wondering what is going on and I tell J the whole story. I ask J to phone me so I can trace my handset but J has no airtime left. We resource to emergency calls. In South Africa one can text someone for free asking them to phone back, and after three phone calls I was able to find my phone, as a light beeping deep inside a bush.

I had received a message and was somewhat nervous. With the phone in my hand, I sat next to J on the beaches park bench. It smelled of the sea and the waves were beating hard against the rocks. I opened the message and J started weeping. It read: ‘Then surely the wife will love her husband!’.

It was the perfect finish to this little event but to this day I can’t stop wondering if the witch fully realised the extent of the question. I guess we will have to wait and see.

Days later I was in the Kimberley Hotel Bar and I got a text from M. I had been drinking with Ed and someone else (might have been Ronald Suresh). We went through the usual hoard of brandys and coke (doubles) and half a bottle of Scotch, as they say here. M takes a long time to get there and needless to say I get absolutely rat arsed (steamboats). M stays for a couple of whiskies and by the time we leave its pouring down rain. We decide to go for a swim in the rain, get in the car and drive to Camps Bay. It was pitch black…

We take off our clothes in the car and start running towards the beach (200m). The asphalt is hard, and the huge rain drops feels cold. We take a sharp right and go down some bushes and into the water. It feels cold, but the alcool seems to override this feeling. It is beautiful and extreme.

We run back to the car and wrap round towels. We are shivering and decide to go back to the studio. The rain has not stopped and the run from the sea to the car has rid us of all the salt. As we drive back into town I wonder; if the police stops us are they going to do us for being drunk driving or naked in the street. Fortunately, and at least this time, I will never know.

Next morning we decide to take a drive to Cape Point. We drive through Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, go to a beautiful cemitery by the sea, then Simon’s Town and finally hit Boulders. This is the place where the pinguins seem oblivious to human presence. There is a trajectory designed by a Cape Town architect that takes us through the beach into some bush then back into the pinguin breeding ground. The place is absolutely stunning and the architecture that frames it lives up to the expectation. M is an architect and we talk about the use of forms, materials and surfaces. The sun is shining and adds a layer of shadows to the building.

It is getting late and we drive on. We can no longer go to Cape Point and head to Kommetje where I suddenly feel compelled to buy oranges. For 50 pence (7 ZAR) I buy six huge suculent oranges that promptly remind me of an old question. What am I doing living in Scotland?

We drive around looking at buildings, go to the beach, visit Ms friends house and head back into town where I am meant to hook up with Sue Williamson at her studio. I had met Sue the night before at Marlene Dumas exhibition press launch. I had heard lots about her as the ‘matriarch’ of the Cape Town young arts scene for she seems to be the one that looks after up-and-coming artists.

Sue shows me her work but her day seems to be hectic and I decide to leave her alone. The quick visit denoted some proximity and understanding anyway. I get a lift back into town because one of the viaducts is quite dangerous and even during the day one cannot walk it. I get dropped off in Long and bump into J. I have not seen J for a while and we decide to go to a bookshop for a quick browse, followed by a quick bite to eat at Bruce Gordon’s ever empty restaurant. I enjoy my time with sober J and cancel the appointment for that afternoon so we can cook for the last time. After two openings and lots of good white wine we go back to Js where I cook a Cape Verdean style tuna sauce with pasta.

Two more bottles of dry white and we drive down to the V&A to listen to some Jazz at the Green Dolphin. This is our good bye. Cheers J, it was amazing to have met you!

I leave Cape Town somehow frustrated. My trip to Robben Island was canceled by the 30ft high waves, and I never managed to see the meeting of the oceans in Cape Point, which apparently displays two different colours merging into each other. Auch well, that may be a reason to come back!

My sleeping patterns are still erratic. I wake up everyday at 4.30 a.m. and suspect it has something to do with going back to my birthplace, and all the feelings of loss attached to being forced away from a country while one is still an infant. I have tried to mask these feelings with work, stress, women, booze and drugs. Needless to say it has made it worse and I am now travelling in the opposite direction, trying to get healthy again.

There are two things in the world I particularly despise. One is blogs and the other are self-help books. Having done the first I felt compelled to round it up, and read parts of John DiMartiny’s Breakthrough Experience. It was quite painful to accept I needed help to cope with the lack of sleep and all its screens, but more importantly was the realisation that something had to change. I had put on weight again, from a month of beers and brandys and the purpose of my journey was getting somehow fuzzy as one can see by reading some of the previous posts.

I am now trying to re-focus and it seems to be working. I have stopped boozing and already feel lighter. I have brought some sort of closure to an area or two in my life and things got suddenly much clearer. I am now in a Joburg suburb caged behind high walls and unable to go anywhere. I am staying with a blood cousin I have never met before, eating good food, and preparing the next step of my journey. It will either be some time in Gaberone (Botswana) or a road trip through the Drakkensberg to Durban for a short surf course. Call it spoilt for choice.

Posted by: whenwe | July 24, 2007

Free Carpentry

This text was commissioned by Christian Nerf and Douglas Gimberg for the publication of the project Carpentry 101.

A minha estadia em Cape Town tem como base a residência no estúdio 2666 em Commercial Street. Com nada organizado antes da chegada, aparte de três noites numa hostel em Long Street, recebo o convite informal de Ed Young para vir residir no estúdio. É assim que o meu tempo em Cape Town passa de 3 dias a 3 semanas (talvez 4).

O estúdio está em constante actividade. Pelo menos 5 artistas trabalham aqui regularmente apesar das dificuldades finaceiras a que estão constantemente submetidos. Dois desses artistas são Christian Nerf and Doug Gimberg, que há cerca de 10 dias me convidaram para escrever um texto para a publicação Carpentry 101. Como moeda de troca pela residência, e apesar de não estar em Cape Town em trabalho, decidi dizer que sim.

O tópico interessa-me. When are two bits of wood a cross? Não sei, parece-me ser uma questão de configuração. When is a cross a religious sign? Mais uma vez uma questão de configuração e neste caso de comprimento de braços. Parece-me a mim that Carpentry 101 is a show about wood hence the question leading to the title: Why carpentry and not masonry? I think we should Free Carpentry.

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Decidimos encontrar-nos no telhado do estúdio numa Segunda-Feira de manhã, num spot onde o sol bate com alguma intensidade. Eu, o Christian, Doug e Anon the dog. Durante uma hora falamos sobre religião, arte, política, ecologia, blind beliefs, a igreja católica como empresa de sucesso etc.

But again when is the cross a religious sign? E quando é que a destruição de um pedaço de madeira passa a ser a destruição de uma cruz? A questão parece-me ser girar a volta de um processo de endocrinação através do qual a cruz é associada a religião. Será então possivel dissociar a idea de cruz da idea de religião? Is it possible to dissociate the idea of cross from the idea of religion bringing it back to its basics as two bits of wood? Não creio ser possivel aniquilar o símbolo cruz, e também não será isto que Christian and Doug tentam fazer em Carpentry 101. Antes, parece-me querer questionar a forma como as pessoas assumem de forma irrefutável a ligação da cruz à religião. The prime connection here seems to me to be the relation between the cross and wood (the material) rather than the cross and religion (the faith).

‘O material tem sempre razão’ dizia o carpinteiro. Perguntei ao Doug e ao Christian se existe alguma expressão em inglês que traduza isto e eles dizem-me que não. Os materiais têm características físicas e conceptuais que podem ser usadas de forma retórica. As características físicas não podem ser ignoradas e tentar serrar uma tábua através de um dos nós resulta invariavelmente em desastre. No que diz respeito às características conceptuais dos materiais a questão complica-se, mas parece-me que um dos maiores legados da arte moderna e contemporânea prende-se com estas questões. A trangressão da tinta e do suporte desde o Impressionismo abre as portas para um catálogo de atitudes que olha para a sociedade de forma diferente, trazendo a questão do material (do media) para o centro do discurso. Talvez haja aqui um paralelo entre a questão da cruz, da madeira e da religião. Seria talvez interessante escrever um catálogo sobre as características físicas e conceptuais dos materiais recorrendo a exemplos artísticos. Seria um livro de escultura na forma de catálogo de materiais, destituído de formalismo no sentido estrito.

Às vezes ponho-me a pensar na relação entre os materias (e os processos que tranformam materiais em objectos) e a idea de linguagem. Será possível transportar alguns destes processos (como tornear, furar, serrar, colar) para a linguagem verbal escrita, resultando em algo semelhante a poesia concreta? Digo isto não através de desenhos mas através do uso da palavra. Como e que se serra um significante, e se torneia um parágrafo?

Carpentry 101 parece-me ter a ver com materiais, e com uma distancia conceptual entre a cruz e a religião, que se manifesta aparentemente impossível. No espaço da exposição o visitante encontrará um workbench e um serrote e se assim quiser poderá serrar os braços de uma estrutura de madeira semelhante a uma cruz. This symbolic act manifests a distancing from the cross in relation to religion and a drift towards the cross as wood and material. It is about questioning the relation between this ancient ‘logo’ and the idea of power, blind faith and authority. This is art at its best, because it does not emphasize something that you merely look at. It forces one to think and to question through the articulation of visual props that can be seen as art because they are contextualised in a gallery. However it is the thinking, questioning, problematising that matters. As for the mere art for looking at, it is starting to rot away in the vaults of the traditional museums.

When I asked Christian and Doug what materials were their idols made of they said: ‘No idols’ and ‘flesh and bone’ respectively. What materials are your idols made of? Lets see if you have the chutzpah, grab a saw and do whatever you have to do.

Shadow Curator

Posted by: whenwe | July 23, 2007

Winchester Mansions Hotel Brunch

Julie has been talking about it for 2 weeks. Clearly the Sunday brunch at the Winchester Mansions Hotel in Sea point is quite remarkable. Huge mussels, prawns with sweet chilli sauce, French cheese, English breakfast, carvery, croissants, pistachio ice cream and a lot of Champagne.

We book it for Sunday 22nd of July and Julie drives round picking everyone up. Andrew, Ronald, Ed and me are later joined by Bruce Gordon and Isabel. We arrive at 11:15 and eat and drink slow (portuguese way). I am tired and quiet for the first couple of hours but with the food, coffee and Champagne the mood starts to lift. By now the situation is inverted as the problem is when will I shut up?

The minister for arts and culture arrives and sits next to us in this colonial hotel. I hear he hates contemporary art in favour of music, film and theater. He joins in a photograph of Ronald, Andrew and Ed without knowing.

The waitress whispers on Andrews ear that the Champagne is by the glass. After Andrew tells us the news we look at each other and decide to go for it. Everyone seems to be on the same wavelength and we eat and drink slowly for four hours. After everyone has left apart from a rich old boy in the company of a relatively younger lassie, we decide to make a move into the bar, sitting outside facing the sea for the next couple of hours till the cold prompted by the sunset forces us to leave.

On the taxi back to Long a pure moment of surrealism happens. Ronald asks where the expression ‘howzit?’ comes from and Ed replies: ‘Its a cricket term!’. Andrew, who allegedly is a certified cricket umpire says in a quite voice: ‘In cricket we say Howzat not howzit’. Ed’s come back re-instates that Howzit is a cricket expression and again Andrew calmy tries to put the situation right. ‘In cricket is howzat’ he says. Third time around and Ed repeats that the origin of howzit is found in Cricket, but by then Andrew has lost his cool. After all why challenge a South African theoretician in terms of Cricket knowledge. How dare you Ed young!

By this time Ronald and I are in stitches. We cannot stop laughing at the Cricket and Linguistics argument and I can see the taxi driver is puzzled, just by the wrinkles on the back of his head. We jump out of the taxi outside the jo’burg bar and the argument spills for a while longer. By now, and probably as the only means of survival, we believe that howzit is nothing to do with Cricket and is merely short for how is it. Ronald states hes had his first belly laugh as his rib cage is getting sore.

That’s brunch at the Winchester by the way, and the result of 50 glasses of bubbly, double gins and two little carafes.

Posted by: whenwe | July 23, 2007

Cut ties and daft sentences at Firemans Arms Bar

During a tour of Cape Town with Andrew Lamprecht we stopped for a pint at the Firemans Arms Bar. This English looking pub with huge character (and the Cricket on) had a fine display of cut ties framed behind glass. Apparently in the old days these ties were too long to be worn in this pub and were chopped at entry. Another feature of the pub were the many sentences pasted into walls and furniture. Two examples read:

‘Having a non-smoking section in a pub is like having a non-pissing section in a swiming pool’

‘Beer, helping ugly people have sex since 1862’

It is raining outside and everyone is moaning about the cold. It is the third time in three weeks that rains and compared to Scotland, the cold is virtually inexistent. This is also the first time in my life that I do not enjoy the ‘summer’. After the European winter I moved to the African one and at the end of September, I will be back just in time for the first Scottish rain and drizzle.

Having enjoyed the good Cape Town weather through the window of the Kimberley Hotel Bar, I decided to leave the pub and do the tourist thing. While looking at the map of Cape town I became aware of an interesting connection between Scotland, Portugal and South Africa. When in Aberdeen, and during the research for Six Cities, I came to realise that a famous Aberdeen clipper called Thermopylae had been sunk in the 19th Century by the Portuguese navy and I now realise it all happened off the coast of Cape Town.

The natural starting point for ‘the tourist thing’ in CT is to go up Table Mountain with the cable car. After reading a book about Table Mountain (Hoerikwaggo) which had a small description of the Giant Adamastôr by Luis Vaz de Camões (writer of The Lusíadas), I set to look for the physical resemblances between the mountain and the literary figure as described by Camões. Needless to say I found nothing whatsoever. Andrew tells me that at the time the mountain had trees and I imagine they might have contributed to the sight of a huge bearded giant.

Around 10am J and me decide to get the cable car to the top of the mountain. The alternative could be to climb on foot, and had I still been part of the Dix family, or with my work colleague Claudia Z, that would have probably been my fate.

This time around we jumped a high tech 360 degree-rotating swiss-made funicular and before we knew we were on top of the world. The place is much bigger that what I thought, certainly when compared to its Brazilian counterparts Pão de Açúcar and Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro. Table Mountain, as the name indicates is a flat platform on top of a mountain extending for hundreds of square meters and allowing unhampered views over the whole state; the beach, the mountains, the Townships, the City Center etc. Like Mount Etna there is no much to do up there apart from eating overpriced fast food or buying souvenirs. As a result I did just what I am best at; laid down on a rock and chilled while chatting to J about the ‘state of heart’ (image on the heading of the blog). After a couple of hours we headed back down drove to Camps Bay for a couple of glasses of dry white, followed by a swim at the lush beach Clifton 1.

Next day destination Stellenbosch. J had organised for us to go an see a wine farm that belongs to the father of one of her friends named Tamo. Personnaly I was as keen to see Stellenbosch as about the wine farms. I had been told that Stellenbosch was one of the strongholds of Afrikaans culture in the region. It did look Dutch no doubt. Apparently Afrikaaners are also called Voortrekkers because they were driven upcountry by the English during the Boer Wars. In the case of Stellenbosch this seems inacurate because the Boers went nowhere and managed to hold on to their land.

We are meant to meet Tamo and Co in Franschhoek, a small town on the hills which was established by French Huguenots. We head to the French connection restaurant where a bottle of bubbly and a few others of wine wait impatiently for us. We eat beautiful food and slowly get pissed before heading uphill to the Cabrière wine estate. After a quick visit we walk through the vineyards to Tamos house. The settling is strikingly beautiful and the house very genuine. I am not sure this is an adjective that one can use in relation to a house but it struck me that these people were surrounded by the objects that they really liked despite how old or broken these were. The well to do owner of the estate, famous for opening bottles of Champagne with a sabre, showed me his old bed and said: ‘Its all old and derelict but I love it. I put all my clothes on that peg at the bottom of it. It functions beautifully’. Next to the bed there is a naked portrait he painted of his wife as a young woman. The man transpires romance!

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After trying the vintage wines of 2006 and 2007 and watching the sun going down between two mountains we depart back to Stellenbosch to stay at Js parents house. And this is the last I remember from that day…

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Two days later we decide to go to Hermanus where J has a house on the beach. We drive through False Bays scenic route and some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever crossed. We are forced to stop the car by a family of baboons and as soon as we get to Hermanus we spot two whales at the bay.

The fridge at Js house is full of dry white wines and I cook shrimps on a bed of spinach. We get pissed again, chat and listen to opera for hours. The three days in Hermanus are spent with a book in one hand and a glass of dry white on the other. On the way back we go past Js parents for a braai of ostrich, chicken and beef. And again this is the last I remember from that day.

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I am now back at the studio sitting next to Ed who is also typing. We drink beer and listen to bad music as we prepare to go out and once again get in trouble. Its Saturday night after all.

Posted by: whenwe | July 19, 2007

Existing around Cape Town

Two days into my stay in Cape Town and I was lucky enough to come across a fabulous architecture thinker, who drove me around the city explaining me its history in both social and architectural terms. This was the first time I had left Long Street and its pubs since my arrival. We grabbed a coffee at Lola’s and headed down to V & A Waterfront. We parked on the East Pier and as I came out of the car I saw it: Hoerikwaggo! The mountain that pushes this city into the sea. Table Mountain, Tafel Berg, the very place where the portuguese navigators saw the mighty face of Adamastôr, the untamed giant who guarded the Cabo das Tormentas.

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The mountain is fascinating. It looks beautiful and prevents one from getting lost when wandering around town. A good metaphor for a wife one would think. But the parallels don’ stop here. The other day I was sitting on Rhodes Memorial and staring at the mountains Stellenboschs way. It felt wrong to be in Cape Town looking at any mountain other than Table M. It felt like cheating in exactly the same way as being with a woman while knowing for a fact that one should be with someone else.

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I can say that after 3 weeks I have a good (somewhat tenuous) understanding of the City. I have been in Rikkis but also the crazy taxi vans, drank wine in Camps Bay, swam in Clifton, bought books in Long, went to openings in Bo Kaap and probably spent 80% of my time in the Kimberley Hotel bar, in the corner of Buitenkant and Roeland. From the 3 nights booked in Carnival Court backpackers only 2 were spent there. I fell right into the groove of studio 2666 and thanks to Ed, Christian, Doug, Chad and Dan was converted from tourist to ‘another one of the lads’ in only two (rather intense) days.

I am often asked what place from all places in the world I would consider home? I say: somewhere with Portuguese food and sunny weather, Dutch infrastructure and Scottish people. Of all places I have been to, Cape Town seems to be the closest to this description. With my time in Cape Town about to come to an end I am starting to miss the place, the food, the streets and its people.

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Posted by: whenwe | July 11, 2007

Chapmans Peak Video Game

We took a drive in Eds cool Mercedes down the coast towards Cape Point. We set out to see the new upgrades to the road on the scenic route made after a bolder fell on an English tourist killing him instantly. They have now installed these huge metal nets to catch the stones, and I wonder, who is coming round to clear them out.

How Switzerland-like is this?

Posted by: whenwe | July 11, 2007

Critical Experience

Last week sometime, and during an evening of ‘off our nuts!’ full on Cape Town experience, Andrew Lambrecht (a local art critic and theoretician) asked me one of the weirdest questions I have been asked in a long time. Out of the blue he says: ‘Would you like to come to a crit tomorrow at 9am at the Association for Visual Arts (AVA)?’ I say yes, but am not sure about the very notion of crit nor the time when it will take place. It will probably allow me only a couple of hours sleep, and as we know, during holiday time sleep is one of Mans most prized possessions.

Next day at 9am, after two hours sleep, I am at CVA. I see Andrew walking in just before me, with a zombie-like body language not dissimilar to mine. He introduces me to the curator of CVA, a young lady from Kwazulu-Natal, and we are offered cups of tea. We then have a quick look at the exhibition we’re about to crit and I ask myself once again whether this is a good idea.

Minutes later the artist arrives followed by a collector and an academic from Stellenbosch University. We move back to the gallery space, and after a short introduction by the curator, the collector of Lindiles work takes over. He talks beautifully and articulately about his love of art, excusing himself for not possessing the theoretical knowledge. He’s there in the capacity of collector, as someone who supports artists by buying their artwork. After having purchased a couple of works from Lindiles previous show, and despite voicing high expectations concerning the artists new work, he seems now somehow disappointed in relation to it. His words are measured, somewhat harsh but permeated with honesty. In my view he sets the crit in the right direction and my feelings start to shift from ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ to ‘Thanks for inviting me to a 9am crit, Andrew’.

His artworks are hectic. Far too many layers of narrative juxtaposed, trying to bring art and real life together. Found objects, collected after the fires in the Townships, serve as support for colourful depictions of local scenes. What is Lindile trying to say with this assemblage of real life (burnt objects) and art (rather old fashioned painting)? Why not stick to only one of these two directions rather than formating real life into little specimens of portable speculation?

I have not seen Lindiles previous work but gather from the words of the collector that it somehow lost its freshness. During the next hour there is no positive word about the work. The critic, the academic, the collector and the on-holiday european curator slate the exhibition mercilessly. The artist listens carefully and agrees with most of the criticism. Although he is proud of his work he recognizes the importance of a self-critical approach. He assures us he finds this crit very helpful. His eyes seem to become rather shiny and I bet he is holding the tears. Despite the negative nature of the comments everyone in the room seem rather positive. We all believe we are in front a good artist, and that rather than petting him on the back, it is our responsability to be critical, if a wee bit harsh.

Stepping back and revisiting the situation I realise that I was invited to a crit of work by a black young artist from the Township of Langa, carried out by a white collector, two white academics, and myself. We are in Cape Town, South Africa, and whether we want it or not history lurks over our backs. By blogging about this I know I am entering some dangerous territory. I have recently arrived from Europe in search of my African roots and can choose to approach the situation from two angles. First as a European I can condemn ‘apartheid’ and all the evils perpetrated on blacks and coloureds. Secondly and as descendent of white settlers in Africa I have to assume that my own blood has taken over someones land through money or force. This paradox obfuscates any attempt for objective reasoning and I simply have to hold back from having an opinion.
I notice throughout the crit that there is no tension whatsoever. It is not about money, nor about race or gender. It is about art and an attempt to improve the work and methodology of this young artist. It so happens that the people who are ‘commenting’ are white. Historically priviledged, they had the chance to travel to Europe, America and Asia, study at art schools, buy books and periodicals, participate in discussions and conferences. Historically Lindile and his peers have not had the same luck, but I can see all that is about to change. Why? Because after realising Lindiles talent and hard work, we did not simply look at the somehow unresolved artworks and said: ‘Thats good, boy. Beautifully painted resulting in a nice exhibition of African Art’. On the contrary, I saw five grown up men looking each other in the eye and talking about art. An art which is deeply connected to our condition in the contemporary world, not only to the discourse of African Art in Europe and vice versa.

This was one of the strongest and most beautiful art experiences I have ever had in my life. May be because this time art was nothing more than an excuse to talk about issues that permeate society nowadays. Tired of being European I felt African again. The positive outlook of this encounter shows me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that people in this little European enclave in Africa (Cape Town) are still able to look for solutions, not only in government think-tanks but in the tiniest details of everyday life.

As we were about to leave the meeting the collector and the academic from Stellenbosch were discussing ways to allow Lindele to go and study for a year with a full time grant at the Art School in Kwazulu-Natal.

Curious about his studio and house I asked Lindele if I could come visit him in the Township. We jumped a twelve people taxi and went to Langa. I did not take my camera but the images are etched into my mind. I do not really feel like talking about it, for the same reason I do not talk about people having cocktails on the beach in Camps Bay. There is one thing about it though that I can say for a fact: the recently killed chicken with rice me and Lindile had for lunch was absolutely exquisite.

Posted by: whenwe | July 6, 2007

Home is where the sleeping bag is…

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I arrived in Cape Town on a Saturday morning. A pregnant coloured woman was waiting for me at the airport with a handwitten sign with my name on it. As i approached her she started speaking in italian to me. ‘Come stai’ she said. ‘Molto bene’ I replied ‘I’m good I’m good but my italian is rusty but my portuguese is ok’.

She took me to the backpackers on top of Long Street, accross from Jo’burg bar. After dropping the stuff I went for a wander. It was pissing down Glasgow way, and cold too, and I started thinking whether coming to rainy cold Cape Town was a wise decision.

I knew no one here. A friend in Lisbon had given me some contacts but I was not sure I would get along as blind dates are not my thing. I phoned anyway and at 6pm I met a steaming Ed Young at Jo’burg bar. After a wee while I knew it I was garanteed a good time. He introduced me to Bruce, the owner of Jo’burg bar, Julie, who owns a bookshop next door, Andrew who teaches at Art School and Dan, the artist from Harare who told me about the Rhodesian When Wes.

After a short drinking session we headed to the ‘best burger joint in town’. It is called Royale and strangely enough, is the same place where I had had lunch (Mozambiquean Prego and Laurentina beer). As we walk in I get introduced to the owner to talk about our Mozambique connection. Ed is sure that it will improve the service. Her name is Dina, from Maputo, and after a chat I realise she was best friends with one of my aunts (Teresa, or possibly Hortensia). Actually she grew up in gran fathers house near the Hospital in Maputo. She’s mulata (coloured) and reminds me of my mom. ‘A spicy burger is what you should eat’ she says. ‘OK mom, I will’ I say.

Food, intertwined with Tequillas, and a waitress from Stellenbosch seating next to me. ‘Dina is always trying to get me pissed’ she says. I cannot remember the rest of the night… But know there is no waitressing involved.

Next morning I meet Ed again this time at Lola’s for liquid breakfast (beer). He invites me to a ‘braai’ (Barbecue) in his studio and mentions they run a residency and they would be happy for me to stay there. I ask whether I have to produce any work and he says I don’t. I take it!

In the afternoon ‘braai’ I meet all the others; Doug, Jake and Chad with his girlfriend who popped in for a beer. Dan and Ed where there too. I got along with them just fine.

Back to the residency room. It’s a dusty place with dirty carpets which used to be the managers office in this New York type loft that some artists have rented as studio. We start doing it up. It takes a few hours and the room is ready. Sort of. I am promised a TV and a Playstation but am not bothered about it. I have been sleeping here since Tuesday and going round to Eds for a shower every morning. It is all very generous and so much more than I could possibly expect!

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