Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Cape of Good Hope, Cape of Storms

Good stuff:

Night In The Woods
The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky
Dogrel / It's Real
I Heard A Cry / Cup Of Destiny
The So So Glos w / Bodega @ Mercury Lounge, May 25th

What I did:

I knocked doors all over western Queens for Tiffany Cabán. Some people I knocked were DSA members. Some people didn't speak English but could understand my lousy Spanish. I knocked on the door of a friend from college who showed up on my walk list; she wasn't home, she was voting; I ran into her leaving the polling place, met her wife and new baby. A man told me Tiffany wanted to take Queens back to the bad old days when "everyone was urinating everywhere." A groveling worm of a man in Jackson Heights begged me to ferry a message to AOC, to tell her to slow down and compromise, as if I could or would tell her that. Most people were nice. We drank beer at Jackson Heights pool halls and in gay bars on Roosevelt Ave. where drag queens performed in home-made suits of PVC mech armor. We drank Tito's in Dan Lynch's apartment. Rushing late to a Parquet Courts set at Summerstage after an afternoon canvass, I took a head-over-heels tumble down a grassy hill and maybe broke my hand and got dirt all over my face. We stayed up (almost) all night at the Working Families Party offices sorting lit for GOTV. It was a cozy fever dream of an early summer, coming to a head on a broiling Tuesday that started in Willets Point at 6 AM then took me back to Jackson Heights to dispatch canvassers from a sweltering shed next to the United Sherpa Association. I lost count of how many times I went back to the supermarket for pallets of water to stuff into the wheezing fridge. Finally, the sun went down and Chi showed up with momos and we took a cab together to La Boom, where we booed all the grasping electeds and party hacks who were elbowing their way onto the stage.

Everyone knows what happened next.

In August, Nina's job took her to Cape Town, South Africa, so I went along. We flew out a week early, leaving on the hottest day of the year and passing through Charles De Gaulle before boarding a ten hour direct flight to Cape Town. (The international airline routes are a map of colonialism, as Nina pointed out.) Everything you read about Cape Town warns you that it's dangerous. The Lonely Planet guide told us never to go out at night, never to visit the outlying suburbs (the "townships") without an experienced guide lest you be murdered. It warned us that Teens would set us up to get robbed at the airport by asking to check out our sneakers. None of that happened to us. But Nina's job subscribes her to a sort of alert system for NGO workers, and it was frequently buzzing to let her know that a tourist had been killed a rest stop in Hout Bay a few hours before our guide parked us there on the way down the peninsula; a pair of hikers was murdered in the foothills of Table Mountain National Park, just above the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the day before we visited to admire the collection of unearthly wildflowers known as "fynbos."

So we did try to follow the rules, and that meant that we spent our evenings at the hotel for the most part. We were staying in a great big complex on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, within view of the enormous ferris wheel and the famous clock tower, as well as the working port, with its shipping container infrastructure, and the gateway to Robben Island. It being winter in the southern hemisphere, it was chilly at times, and in the mornings, fog would roll down from the top of Table Mountain, which girds the waterfront to the south. We watched quite a bit of South African TV. We watched live footage of the ongoing state capture investigation, presided over by Raymond Zondo - him patiently interviewing swollen and red-faced Afrikaaners, and at one point dismissing a translator who fucked up one too many times. The video for this song - it's a banger - was number one on MTV South Africa. Can't find a version that streams in the US, but I must've seen it a dozen times.

It's hard to shake the physical sensation of standing at the top of Cape Point, surrounded by tiny, pale fynbos flowers almost a thousand feet above sea level, and looking south towards the edge of the world. We stood among the orange boulders on the rocky shore of the Cape of Good Hope, the waves tumbling enormous dark cables of seaweed, each plant as thick as my torso. (I peeked between the rocks to discover a family of giant gray isopods huddling in the darkness.) But we also visited the penguins at Two Oceans Aquarium, heard how the keepers distinguish each one by their individual markings and feed and handle them accordingly. (Visited more penguins on Boulders Beach on the eastern side of the peninsula.) Saw the SACP flag flying at the District Six Museum. Watched a family of baboons hop a fence and break into a cookie factory while we were stopped at a traffic light on the way to Simon's Town. We ate chakalaka and bobotie, which were very good. I had a cheeky Nando's. Skeptically, we went on a guided "street art" tour through Woodstock, Cape Town's equivalent of Bushwick, and found that not unlike in New York, the practice is thoroughly professionalized (internationalized, even!) and well disconnected from the actual streets. But our guide invited us into his home - huge, by our standards, partially destroyed by a fire, but with beautiful old porcelain fixtures - as the sun was going down and served us sweet tea while we talked about gentrification and the burgeoning tourism industry.

Nina stayed in Cape Town for her conference, and I flew back to Atlanta for DSA's national convention, a wonderful surreal experience in its own right, although the nineteen hours of flight back up through Africa (with a brief stop-over in the Netherlands) was one of the more physically grueling experiences I can remember. (I'm tall and have had a comfortable life, you see.) I'd never been to Georgia before. It was warm and rainy when I got in. My fellow delegates were mostly staying in the Westin Peachtree, whose column central spiraled seventy-three stories into the sky over downtown Atlanta. The warm air and the long, summer sunlight hours made it feel so much like... summer camp that Chi and Evan and I thought it would be a good idea to go buy some pints of whiskey to brown bag on the debate floor on the first day of the convention. I got helplessly, stinking drunk and promptly misplaced my wallet, including my room key. I got a replacement key from the front desk after pitifully dialing DSA's emergency number because I didn't know what else to do, and found my wallet, humiliatingly, on the dresser in my room where we'd shared out the booze.

On the evening of the second day, Aaron and I went to a taping of Street Fight at The Drunken Unicorn. A room full of DSA members chanting "Kill Jeff Bezos." We went to a Cook Out (my first) and got quesadillas at 1 AM. Amelia, a native ATLien, took me to Daddy D'z twice, just so I could order their vegetarian sides. Everything was really good.

Strange little insects that looked eerily like bed bugs (except that they could fly) crawled up the _outside_ of the windows of our rooms on the fiftieth-plus floors. I examined them with some alarm, the headquarters of CNN below me in the distance. A single, real bed bug crawled over Jasmin's foot on the floor of the great hall on the third and final day. She squished it and I collected it in a paper towel before handing it over to a national staff member.

A year of wonder shot through with streaks of menace.

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