Friday, January 19, 2007

Dispatch from Cape Town

Being in South Africa again is both strange and familiar. I think this is more disorienting than 100 per cent strange would be. Last time, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I would like Sugar Daddy’s family, or sharing space with them. Now, I know I like them, and arrived here with expectations. Coming here and discovering that everything is strange again, with little sniffs of familiarity here and there is hard.

I didn’t know that Grandpa Cape Town’s house had its own smell, but it does and it’s the same as the last time we were here. When we got out of the car at his house, around midnight, some night scented flower welcomed us. I noticed it again the next night. It doesn’t release its perfume until 10 or so, but it’s quite lovely when it makes its presence known.

Being here with Swee’pea is difficult. I think he is suffering jet lag. After the first exhausted night of good sleep, he woke up for hours in the middle of the night, screaming when we made any move to try to get him to sleep. Last night, our third night, he moved the screaming and awake part up a few hours, so that he fell asleep around 11:30 and slept soundly (mostly – just a few minor wakings) until morning. I did not, because of the nasty buzz of mosquitoes around our head. They don’t have screens on the windows here and our room gets way too hot if we close the window. Poor little Swee’pea has little red bites all over him, though he doesn’t appear to be too itchy.

I thought the flight would be the hardest part of travelling with a baby, but now I’m not so sure. I think it might be the worry. The sun is harsh, and I worry about it on his new soft skin, even with sunscreen and an extra-large UV canopy on the stroller. It makes it hard to do and see the things I want to do and see. I worry that he could get malaria from one of mosquito bites even though we are not in a malaria area. Yesterday he got sunscreen in his eye and it got all irritated and red, and I worried he was going to go blind. I can handle him having some discomfort, but permanent effects would cause too much guilt for my shoulders to bear.

I also feel like every question people ask about Swee’pea is just an attempt to gather evidence for a judgment on our parenting. I noticed this feeling around my own family too, and I don’t really think it’s accurate. I think it’s me. Mostly. But I feel our parenting is under scrutiny and not measuring up. We’re too indulgent, too protective, too worried. I am happy with our choices most of the time, it’s only around other people that I feel like it’s not acceptable or accepted somehow.

Anyhow… Cape Town is as beautiful as ever. In fact, even more beautiful than I remember. The mountain surprises me every time it comes into sight when we’re driving. It’s HUGE. And it’s right in the middle of the city. And the architecture is fantastic. I think the construction materials that they can use here make for much more interesting homes and buildings than back home. There are all kinds of styles, and they look wonderful all mixed together and multi-coloured. Lots of art deco, lots of sleek modern homes, as well as more traditional, and Cape Dutch, from what I can see over all the walls. It’s kind of a funny contrast, all the cheerful colours – pink, yellow, turquoise, terracotta -- with the walls topped with unfriendly spikes and razor wire. I am trying to take pictures from the moving car as we are driven around, to document just how wonderful and varied the architecture is. I don’t have high expectations of the photos in themselves, but I hope there will be a few worth sharing. Of course, the photos will have to wait, because Grandpa Cape Town only has dial-up.

Also on the list of both strange and familiar… the rhythm of the lovely South African accents is familiar but the words get tangled up in my ears, and my words elicit blank looks. I feel like I SHOULD understand what everyone’s saying since I’ve been here before, but I don’t. And I should know to ask for the loo or the toilet instead of washrooms, but I keep asking for washrooms. Somehow I just can’t bring myself to ask for the toilet; it’s just too vulgar. (I know, funny coming from me for whom nothing really is too vulgar but somehow asking strangers about the toilet is just not polite.)

This afternoon we went to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens at the base of the mountain. We had a nice walk around, in awe of the huge grumpy-looking mountain. Yesterday afternoon we went to the art gallery, which is in a lovely old building whose dark wooden shutters outdoors seduced my camera against the white stucco walls. They were showing a huge photography exhibit by a man called Santu Mofokeng. It was really great, so I picked up a book of his photos. I'm really glad I did. He made photos through the terrible, warlike 80's and has been all over since then. When I went to the loo, I had to take a picture of the dark wood window frame, open wide with a view of the courtyard, tiled roofs and Signal Hill. Because I have a toilet sense of humour, I had to keep the roll of toilet paper in the corner of the image. The light is fantastic here. They keep saying it’s overcast, because there are clouds in the sky or over the mountain, but it sure looks bright and sunny to eyes that have been stuck in short grey winter days.

Today it’s quite windy, so walking at the botanical gardens was pleasant and cool. When we got home, we noticed the smell of woodsmoke on the wind, so there must be a fire on the mountain. Grateful Dead’s song keeps going through my head. There are fires on the mountain every summer, fanned by the strong southerly winds over the dry dry terrain. Sometimes they get out of control and burn people’s homes, and I keep catching occasional glimpses of black charcoal stumps of old trees. It provides another stark contrast: black stumps against lush green giant aloes and birds of paradise, proteas and palm trees.

The house stays fairly cool with many bright airy windows and walls the colour pale sand. Sugar Daddy’s stepmom has great taste in d├ęcor (she was also a great advisor when we went clothes shopping the other day) and it’s amazing that the house feels so tranquil when there are five dogs living here. Granted, they’re fairly small King Charles Spaniels that stepmom breeds but still, that’s a lot of dogs! They’re very friendly and great with Swee’pea, endlessly curious about him and always trying to lick his hands and face.

Hopefully this weekend will be spent visiting various family members around the city. I also really want to walk around the Bo Kaap, the original Cape Muslim neighbourhood at the base of Signal Hill. It’s very colourful, from what I saw of it from the gallery, and I’ve seen other photographers make some beautiful images there. Also at the top of my list is a tour of a township. Last time we went on a tour of Soweto near Joburg, but we only saw the townships and informal settlements of Cape Town from the highway.

The other day I got out to take some pictures of a colourful Indian shop boasting things like “Glory Henna” and “Superb Pitted Dates,” and a man who was missing his front teeth came up and asked me to take a picture of him. So I did. He asked why I was taking a picture of the Curry Pot and I said because I liked all the signs and colour. He said, “you’re not from here are you?” and when I told him I’m Canadian he said he was born and raised in Cape Town and not working now. I told him I didn’t have any money and he asked me to take another photo and walked away. Seems strange to me to ask someone to take your photo and not make arrangements to get a copy. Perhaps it’s a way of leaving your mark on the world, a way of being remembered when you’re gone?

Anyhow… I’m moody as hell. Not sure what else to report, so I’ll sign off now.

Cinnamon Gurl from Cape Town


NotSoSage said...

This is awesome! I'm going to eat these posts up. I loved Kirstenbosch...went around trying to take all of these close-ups of the amazing flowers and got home to realise that they were all out of focus (I'm not much of a photographer).

I think it's always difficult going home with a new baby because you will face questions and criticism, but you'll also sometimes get your back up a little too much when some of the questions are purely out of interest. Good luck navigating all of that.

Could you pick up a hanging mosquito net for your bed? They're not perfect, but they'll keep some of the bugs out...poor Swee'pea.

Mad Hatter said...

Travelling is hard, period. Doing it with a baby to a destination on the other side of the world to visit inlaws is textbook hard. You will ease into.

Capetown sounds beautiful.

Mimi said...

Thank you for the travelogues: I almost feel like I'm there too, because your descriptions are so personal and so off-the-cuff (I'm meaning this to be complimentary). I can hardly wait to see the photos.

Good luck with Swee'pea and the time change: that really f*ed up Miss Baby's sleep life too when we went out west.

Keep us posted!

nomotherearth said...

It feels like I'm right there with you, and seeing all that you see - so cool! Sigh. I would really like to travel and am envious. (I could do without the messed up baby sleep, however, hee!hee!)

Beck said...

Gorgeous post! I HATE travelling with children - this realization that you suddenly represent all of home, all of security and all of comfort to your child can be very overwhelming. BUt I love reading about travelling - you can do my share!

Heather said...

I am positively pea green with envy, but not to the point that I'm not hoping the rest of your time is fantastic there.

Oh, The Joys said...

Gosh. Cape Town is so beautiful. I loved it there.

I SO wish you could bring us back boxes and boxes of those chocolate cookies that we LOVED - Choc Kits - or whatever the were called. YUM.

Aliki2006 said...

I love your travel narratives...

Both our kids got chewed up at time while we were in Greece this summer--it seems unavoidable. I, too, worried about all kids of things--terrorism, the Asian flu, terrible drivers, etc. I do think the worry is the worst part. I could handle the sleep deprivation because we were in a new place with so much to see.

Enjoy! Write more!