Friday, June 27, 2008

Al my mate and my alma mater

Okay, the joke in the title is lost on the woefully ignorant or otherwise unfamiliar with Afrikaans, thanks for pointing that out to me, moving on...

Treat this post as the preface to something much, much more elaborate...

This is my third successive Grahamstown festival and fourth in total, it helps that I studied here and have never had to pay for accommodation. Sadly they all seem to have faded together, the billboards all hang in the same places. Certain artists have consigned themselves to certain venues. Some of the shows are reruns from last year, some are sequels, some just have the same motif. I don't think people are meant to attend so many of these in succession. But here I am.

Wizzle the piano wizz

And in walks Will the pianist, my good friend and temporary housemate. Will's latest buzzword is "basically", and basically what Will says, goes on campus. So, basically, i'm telling you the way people are talking around here is, basically, irksome and yes - base. Basically.

"So what's the sitshuashin bra?? it's been like a week basically." he intones.
"Same old, still no word and doing quite well in other areas." I shrug.
He needs no further information to know which areas of my life I'm referring to, "Cool cool, it's good to have you here but listen," he takes a mockingly serious stance "I'm going to be fuckin' buuuusy this fest bra, so we won't have much time."
"I know how to entertain myself in this town, other people will be around." I say this but my phone is dead and my charger in Johannesburg, so I will have to hunt down familiar faces on foot.
"Ya," he continues. "basically I've these workshops and I'm going to go out there and advertise myself and, basically, I'm going to be practicing."
"Of course, you do what you must." I smile encouragingly.
"Forshizi dog."

Will's larger than life that way and I often wonder, without really being mystified, at how we're so close. He keeps a timetable of his daily movements and post-its litter his flat. This attention to detail juxtaposes with the fact that his living space reflects the much archetyped mire of the artist. Despite his brogue-esque brash mannerisms and the things we talk about - (which I could never repeat here because of the off-chance that decent folk read this blog) - Will listens primarily to classical piano and spends most of his waking hours on the ivories, working in seclusion. On his bed pedastal he keeps a book of poetry by Tupac Shakur - a poet to be sure, but the image of someone reading Tupac while listening to Rachmaninov might be bewildering to some. They say a good writer should show and not tell but I couldn't 'show' you Will any more than I can 'tell' you Will, which means I'm either a bad writer or some experiences have to be lived to be understood.

Being the place it is I'm bound to encounter a few familiar faces. Somewhere between the a stall of imitation Persian rugs and another with imitation firearms I run into Lor. Lor is one of the most beautiful girls I've chanced to encounter in my life, she has long wild tawny hair and, underneath that, radiant green eyes. Hers is the kind of beauty that gives you second thoughts though, that there must be a catch, and I've never allowed myself to like her fully. We walk past one another but both stop after the recognition dawns.
"Hey dude, what up?" I ask
"What are you doing here?" she replies - apparently 'what's up' doesn't count as a question anymore, people ignore it quite frequently.
"Just picking up the festival vibe, you?"
"Ya same, this is my last year so..." - a bit of a non sequitur but i know what she means. I insisted on coming to fest in my last year as well... and the two years following that.
She continues, looking around frantically "I've lost my mother."
"Oh I'm sorry, I didn't realise you were following someone."
We say a quick goodbye and part ways. This is the sum of most of my encounters over the festival, I couldn't possibly recount them all. There's that odd awkwardness between people who recognise one another but aren't friends, that moment where you don't want to be rude and say, 'have a nice life' but you don't want to be forward and say 'let's do lunch sometime' - so I settle for a safe 'see ya round' and make my way to Village Green.

VG is the centre of the festival, though there are no productions there, most of the advertising, ticket sales, promotions, stalls and beer guzzling takes place there. Grahamstown residents know it as a bowling and sports field. Over festival the grass is littered with wood chips and the field is invisible. I haggled a much needed cellphone charger from a vendor (it is considered rude NOT to haggle) and make my way out. I then bumped into Jen. This is not an encounter worth revisiting. Jen and I had a less-than-amicable break up two years ago (after three years together). I would have said hi except I didn't see her until she'd pretty much stepped past me. Since she stepped past me I assume she did see me and wasn't in the mood for greetings. Three years together and two to get over it... makes you wonder about the longevity of certain grudges.


The dark-haired and wide-eyed lass, who I refer to here as Dutchess, pulls her face into a tight grimace, forms bear arms and groans in an imitation of the Hulk. She relates an amusing story around seeing the film and I immediately like her. If I told you that Dutchess had been involved in one of the greatest natural disasters the planet had seen and once lived with an assortment of legal malcontents, you'd think me daft or a liar... as you like it. Currently she walks where I used to and studies journalism under the same clock tower I did, we talk at length about directions in life and, while she furiously questions me about my line of work, I feel I could learn more from listening to her.

She graciously accompanied me to what was surely the highlight of my festival - a jazz meets opera and dance performance featuring the imminent Sibongile Khumalo as well as Sibongile Ngoma, Mark Fransman, Shannon Mowday and a host of other transcendent talents. As we traverse a theatrical plain littered with goosebumps, humour and innovation Dutchess whistles the living daylights out of the venue and I resist the urge to stand up and dance. By the end of it Sibongile K provided the release. "I've been working all day," she says to the audience.
We laugh sympathetically.
"I've been working all day," she repeats, "and you just sit there?"
Apparently my sentiment was shared by the rest of the crowd, we needed no further instruction and immediately stood up to jive. I think that's the hope of every performer at this festival, if they can get you on your feet by the end of the show, they've done their job.

Pkwamizzle and the game

My resmate from first year, Pikwa, was keen to join me for a beer and the Euro 2008 Final. We met at the venue - a familiar tavern which has gone by a manner of nicknames over the years, Tonight it's called The Bird. The Bird's low wooden ceiling is capped with smoke and there's only enough wiggle room for one's beer to reach one's mouth. Pikwa foolishly supports the Germans while I'm behind the inevitable champions, Spain. The setup makes for fun playful banter though. We are joined by another resmate, Hank, and my one-time classmate, West. We make small talk, watch the game and drink. After Spain's first goal Hank pulls off his top, revealing a Liverpool FC t-shirt and the name Torres across the back. Pikwa finds this amusing " Why you only taking your top off now? Where was the faith?" he teases.
"Don't hate the player P, hate the game." I say jovially, though I don't think he heard me.

I happen to be sitting at the bar and several girl squeeze in next to me throughout the night looking for drink and a barman, I take the opportunity to engage in some mild flirtation and find my own 'game' is as erratic as ever. Some are received well and others not so much. The best conversation I had was with Roberta:

"Excuse me can I come in here?" her voice chimes over my shoulder.
"Of course, of course." I smile. I can't recall her face now but I do remember thinking I was playing way out of my league. A barman walks past without serving her.
"You know what, it's tricky getting their attention. Maybe we should wave our money around and..."
Suddenly she's being served and gives me an impish grin.
"Niiice," I commend her. "though I can't help but notice you didn't manage to make him stay to get my order."
"Oh, it's really easy, you just make your eyes really big like this" She pulls a face. "and you stare them down."
"Do you think that would work with me."
"On you or for you?"
"No like if I had to do it"
"Probably not, I think it helps to have boobs"
"Possibly," I make a mocking sigh "Mine are still coming in."
An encouraging laugh. "Okay I'll get him to come here again."
"Thank you." I smile.
She pulls the ridiculous face again, laughs it off and then jumps up and down for attention.
"Are you here for the game or for the ...mmm... food?" I ask. My own little attempt at a joke, there's no food at The Bird.
"Just for the company, I don't care about the game."
"I guess for that it helps to have a two X chromosomes." (small talk, forgive my sexism)
"Well," she replies, that grin reappearing on her face. "My operation isn't official until..." she fumbles not knowing where the joke is headed and laughs.
"Okay well, what do they call you until it's official?" I come in with the save.
"Oh well for now it's Roberta haha. No seriously, it's Amy."
The barman arrives and I whisper my order to her. After a second she hands my beer to me
"There we go," she smiles tipping her glass "Cheers,"
I tip mine in response. "Cheers 'Roberta' hehe. Enjoy your evening."

My worst encounter over the festival was with the girl I affectionately know as Cutefish. Granted, I can never flirt when it's someone I think I might like. Cutefish and I made eye contact while watching Aldo Brincat. Bless this the cutest of roundest faces with one white and one pink streak in her hair! After the show we compared balloons given to us by Brincat:
"I see you got a puppy there." she remarks lightly.
"Yeah, he's called Snoopy apparently." I reply, suddenly awkward. "What do you have there, is it a flower?"
"Yeah, i guess it is... It's kind of fitting I guess, the girl gets the flower and the boy get the puppy."
"Yeah, though I think a balloon puppy proabably should go to a younger boy." I say by way of teasing my little balloon toy.
"I guess" she replies. (To my credit, she seemed just as awkward as me)
Then something strange happened, I walked away. I'm not sure why, my head had lost all sense the second she started talking to me and now my body was betraying me. I trudged to the exit and watched her leave.
Warren, you Schmuck, I said to myself.
I bumped into Cutefish again while out that night. She saw me, smiled and said hey but walked right by.
Warren, you Schmuck.

This post tangent horribly at this point and I don't want to break the ethos of what I wanted to say here initially. So here goes, there's something I wrote in my diary in 2006 which brings it to a close, I just need you to bear in mind that I'm posting this two years later but from the same place:

I'm sitting on top of the Monument, it's bitingly cold but for all I know this is the last time I absorb this view. I can't believe I'm leaving and at the same time I know I must. That real world is waiting. I just needed to get up here and look at this place, the light that belongs to her digs, the res that is home and even this wall I'm sitting on. My word, I have two very significant memories attached to this one lonely wall, how many more are out there in those lights? I never want to forget the ways in which Rhodes has shaped me, I came in one way and left something so much more

Revisiting Rhodes now has been a significant re-return and helped me make a very important decision in my life today. Stay tuned for the rest of the festival story... and yes, the decision in question.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Much to crow about.

So much has happened since I last posted. Most of my writing has been on the xenophobic attacks. Not the kind of subject matter I’d imagined for this blog so I’ve kept it separate. I will say this much though. I am heartbroken, and jaded, and disappointed, and angry. I can’t believe we’ve done this.

That line from Fight Club

Meet Carol and Hannah. I believe I did for a brief spell. Hannah describes herself as the queen of England and there’s a certain regal charm to her which befits the title. Carol is more of a tiny explosive with a thick Southern accent. What did we speak about? Not much. Hannah and I did take some very odd photographs together. Carol and I argued about just how much I realistically resembled Enrique Iglesias. But I had fun with Carol and Hannah, and then they were gone.

Meet Hugh. Hugh who caught everyone’s attention by wearing nothing but a bed sheet to Flor’s party (the theme was Greece not surprisingly). Hugh was cold but he put on a brave face and drunk enough to warm his cockles I suspect. The two of us wound up in a skirmish with a plastic and foam sword respectively. I’m not sure that I faired very well but it was good fun, and then he was gone.

Meet Todd. Todd stands solemly in the corner and makes conversation with some more strangers. I join them in the heat of the fire and they’re talking about the violence, which has been on my mind a lot lately, so I join in. Eventually Todd and I discuss the situation in Zimbabwe, what are the crucial factors in the upcoming run off. I live - and occasionally love – current affairs, so I’m drawn into this conversation quite naturally. It was enjoyable and engaging, but then Todd was gone.

And then I left, and thought about the strangers I’d met. And what their stories were. There’s that line in fight club “Tyler, you are by far the most interesting single-serving friend I've ever met... see I have this thing: everything on a plane is single-serving...”

Okay it’s not that direct but the idea is this: Every so often we go out, we see people, interesting people, people we might like to be friends with in another lifetime. But they’re not lifetime friends, not this time. You meet them once, you get them in a single-serving. You don’t pick up their details at the door, probably because you don’t want to intrude in their lives, and you don’t even really bother to say goodbye.

I often wonder, is there a point? If every act should be performed with purpose, what does one serving give you? How do you know you’ve made the most of it?

The Crows and the Kugels

I’ve never believed in the phenomenon known as the Sandton Kugel (cool girl) until this Friday past. I'd heard horror stories from some of the Joburgers on campus but had never seen one. It was sometime after Flat Stanley had completed their set and we awaited the entrance of the Counting Crows with bated breath. I heard them before I saw them “Sorry we have friends up here…sorry,…sorry.”
They didn’t - the company I was keeping held all the space in front of them and they didn’t know us. I squared my shoulders and shuffled slightly to the right, obstructing the young imposters. The blonde queen bee groaned at that point but I was unperturbed. This is as far as you’re getting young lady, I thought.
She turned to her posse “I have to get to he front,” she pouted. “Adam Duritz needs to see me and he needs to go home with me.”
“I know,” agrees her brunette friend in the skull and crossbones overall.
Blondie desperately surveys the crowd.
“It think there’s a small space over there, I’ll go in and you just join me later.”
“They won’t let us through.”
“What are they going to do? Nobody’s going to push us out.”
“But,” the brunette objects and my ears go red, “this guy just did.”
“He’s a dick.”
He was here before you, I thought, but couldn’t be bothered to explain to these young banshees (if you’ve heard the Kugel speak you’d know why I say banshee) that they were not the centre of the Universe.
Skulltop seems more sensible “Why don’t we just stay here? We’re close to the front and we’re not supposed to be in golden circle anyway.”
Blondie would have none of it “Okay…mmm… okay,” she looks slyly at a guy standing just to my 1 o’clock, “I’m going to flirt with this guy.”
Guy groans loudly and visibly rolls his eyes skyward.
Blondie stops her hand, which was en route to his shoulder, and draws her brunette friend in closer, whispering conspiratorially “All of these guys are dicks!”
“Okay…. Okay,” she refrains, “I’m just going for that spot. You guys join me later.”
And with that she was off.
Skulltop actually seems relieved, she didn’t join Blondie but enjoyed the concert from her position just behind me. The Crows had arrived. All was right with the world.

I don’t care much for the Crows new album. It’s good but not by contrast to its predecessors but live performances always mitigate mediocre album attempts. I have a newfound appreciation for Cowboys (the track) and Hanging Tree. The rest was phenomenal. The first time I’d seen them live, Anna Begins had brought me to tears and this time it nearly did again. What a song. The album version is not much to speak of but anyone who’s heard a live version of this song will know. It is the highlight of any Crows performance. Unless you don’t really know the band, then it would be Mr. Jones. Which is always fun I suppose. I got my money’s worth when They performed Round Here (which they didn’t at the last concert) with the Have You Seen Me Lately and Murder of One interludes. People who are not into the Counting Crows are bored by now but I just wanted to come full circle..

While Duritz was on stage he said that South Africa was a beautiful nation, and that he’d noticed what we accomplished in our transition all those years ago. Then he became more sombre. “I know you’re having some trouble now…. but you will beat this.” He mentioned that troubles with immigrants were prevalent in his own United States and urged us to be understanding.

Sadly he was talking to the wrong people, The Kugels don’t care about the immigrants or the people attacking the immigrants for that matter. But hearing someone who is something of a hero to me bring this up made me truly sad. I didn’t cry during Anna Begins but at that moment I cried, for the dead, the displaced and burnt and the children forever scarred…