Sunday, October 28, 2018

Psychogeography of paths less taken

This is the secret path that I take back from UCT's Upper Campus at the end of every Friday, as day bleeds into the evening. The walk down the mountain slope from campus each week is a treasured time for me.

The path is verdant in its spring beauty. Cloying scents hanging in the heat-heavy air from blooms I don't yet know, the wonderful heady reek from the wild jasmine, orange and yellow nasturtium flowers and in stark contrast their perky and pretty pond-round green leaves.

Orange butterflies, some white-winged ones too.

I love to peer into the gardens and sometimes open windows of these big old houses that belong to another era. They back quietly onto this pathway.

Hardly anyone uses the path. I'm grateful for the peace, the quiet, the solitude after the busy, rowdy campus. And it's good to be wearing shorts.

What's also good is my sense of accomplishment at the end of this particularly productive day; it's a sense that's never guaranteed even if a full day's work lies behind me. The sense of productivity is an erratic one. It's also one I never take for granted.

The path ends in the exclamation mark of the bustle and honking minibus taxis on Main Road, Rondebosch:
Students buying groceries in Pick 'n Pay for the weekend. Also cardboard boxes full of booze for the night.
Strategically placed beggars - at the shopping centre entrance and hovering-like-flies outside McDonalds, Nandos and KFC - are jovial and overflowing with the weekend vibes.
Working folk stamping their feet, wanting to get home to their families.
Countless delivery scooters and bikes parked on the pavements, but revving and ready to drop off takeouts bought via mobile phone apps.
End of day traffic exacerbated by the heat.
Exhaust fumes from aggressively blunt and blundering Golden Arrow buses, exacerbating the heat.


Today, Sunday, as I type these words I'm naked (from the last few days' heat) at my desk. I've not worn any clothes since Friday night. It's a summer sun outside, not a spring one. It has bleached what should have been bright morning sunshine from both the day and from Woodstock.

Summer is here early and is pushing at Spring's envelope, which I resent.

Too hot. Too much sun. Too dry. Too uncomfortable to negotiate if one's mostly on foot as I am. This is not my favourite time of year.

However, on Tuesday night I leave for Hannover, Germany on a lecturer exchange where I look longingly forward to the autumnal dankness of northern Europe.

The complete change in scenery, also the thrill of the psychogeography - the intersection of psychology and geography - excites me. 

I thrive, always, on my psychological experiences of cities, especially ones I don't yet know. It not only illuminates and reveals to me the forgotten, discarded, or marginalised aspects of the urban environment I'm losing myself in, but simultaneously - like a mirror - allows me the not always satisfying opportunity to reflect, to look backwards over my shoulder at the urban environment I've left behind me at home. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

The lines between: notes from a knife's edge

Seven weeks ago, this morning, I was walking on a long sandy and wet beach. Nature's Valley.

The sand dune 'cliffs' in the distance was on a magnificent lagoon fed by the Groot River. It is the border between the Western and Eastern Cape provinces. Borders - transient, blurred - always draw me.

The Otter Hiking Trail more or less ends here. It's where, 43 km later, bedraggled but mostly enlightened hikers emerge after four-and-a-half days: Know thyself.

"The Ancient Greek aphorism 'know thyself" is one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek writer Pausanias. The phrase was later expounded upon by the philosopher Socrates who taught that:'The unexamined life is not worth living.'"


Seven weeks have passed, in a blur. Except for the first two weeks back on campus, it's not been a pleasant blur. Bewilderingly unpleasant.

A swathe of much-needed rain moves, now, across the city bowl. The first drops smatter my window. The gloom deepens.

Against the window, splattered, the still-fresh and bloodied corpses of two flies that had been the size of juicy-plump currants. I killed them earlier. I've still to wipe their bodies and gore off the glass.


Snapshot: Last year today, this week and weekend, I was in Kampala, at the Writivism festival.


I'm not sure if I'm depressed, or if I'm just totally empty from being poured out. In other words, the void and emptiness that (I think, as this is new territory) between having one's worldliness drained from you, before, He fills the void. 

I have less and less ambition, which is intricately linked to ego, but which terrifies me because it has been entwined with my very fibre for my lifetime. A gardening term comes to mind: Potbound? It's the process of being strangled in and by your own life. The void is all that appears to remain.

Naked. Empty. Unsure. But, knowing I cannot go back/wards, 'cos I've seen through all of that (the bling of it all).

However, when one peers more closely, that void is in fact filled with nutritious potting soil, compost. Spring is around the corner and new, exuberant growth is what's promised.

I'm reading HJM Nouwen and Andrew Murray and they are screwing me up big time.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Main Road, Obs

I got to Observatory just before The Night got there; we met on the unusually quiet Main Road. The streets, alleys, were more or less deserted and I knew that I had time enough to get in and out before the usual Friday night crowds ravaged the drag.

I was, other than the owner and his staff, the only patron in the venue. For now at least. Even the music was hardly audible when I walked in. Bliss.

Cafe Ganesh.

It's unique, off-beat and eccentric. A true melting pot that seamlessly blends all colours while ensuring that not a single soul loses its individuality.

Simple, sumptuous Afrocuisine. Fantastic music. Foreigners, and folk from all over the continent.

Took my usual candlelit table next to the tiny alcove that is the bar. It's the best vantage point from which to watch the passing parade; also the light from the bar, with my candle, provides enough light for me to write by. While, simultaneously, keeping me inconspicuous in the shadows.

I overheard a writer talking about another writer. Then he spoke, loudly, about himself: That he'd thrown up his university position because the institution stole his soul and the wasteful hours clashed with his writing time. Even so, it seems that his newfound freedom had come at a cost: I gathered that he was struggling. Of course, which now, he had all the time in the world to do.

This was overheard and gathered while I, myself, seemingly oblivious, was hunched over the page. Especially his haggling over the house wine prices was revealing. A sure giveaway. These additional insights into a man who's writing I deeply admire were indeed grist for another writer's mill.

I am most at home in this unpretentious establishment, drag (Main Road, Obs) and surrounding suburb.


However, what shook me the most last night while walking to Obs from Woodstock, was when I passed the home - where I've spent countless hours and shared as infinite conversations, meals and wine - of a now estranged and formerly best friend.

And his partner, we were all extremely close.

There was a 'sold' sign on the wall.

Seeing it there was like having a nail driven into my heart. I also knew then that there was no coming back from the edge of the abyss that was all that remained of our relationship.

The worst is that I still have no idea what happened to us, which is almost a year ago.


The days are getting longer. Despite the cold, summer is marching southwards, towards us.

Friday, August 03, 2018


Writer James Baldwin would have turned 94 yesterday if he was still alive. 

I've often turned to him for writing advice, he was very good at providing it via the countless interviews with him over the years.

He has taught me to 'use every experience':

"One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. 

"Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.

-from “Autobiographical Notes,” in the Collected Essays from Library of America


I took the photo last night while waiting for my bus in Darling Street, after my extremely good value chicken vindaloo curry at the Eastern Food Bazaar nearby. 

The main focus of my photo is the masterpiece of art deco building on the corner of Darling and Parliament streets: the Old Mutual Building (officially The Mutual Building). 

The building (take a look at these photos) "is often used often for movie shoots and now fully converted into an apartment block, known as Mutual Heights, rather than as corporate offices (it’s like stepping into a little piece of New York)."

The original design of the building, according to Wikipedia, "is attributed to Louw & Louw (Cape Town architects), working with Fred Glennie (best known at the time as a mentor to architectural students) – Mr Glennie is personally credited with most of the detailed work but Ivan Mitford-Barberton was also involved with some internal details as well as with the external granite decorations."

Then, when home, I gratefully crashed into bed and finished the last (increasingly bleak) pages of Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Bloody moon, cold fronts and gluhwein

On Friday afternoon a coldfront arrived, which is still with us. It has, unfortunately, not brought much rain. I'm enjoying the moodiness though, and that I have had to pull my jacket close around me.

Also, as I left the library on Upper Campus at 6pm, I walked smack bang into the surreal spectre of the full moon (soon to be bloody) rising from a long iron-grey shelf of winter cloud.

The cloudbank stretched across the horizon, just above the Hottentot's Holland mountain range in the far distance, just the other side of the university town of Stellenbosch.

Of course, while still trying to get my breath, I fumbled with my phone in the hope of getting a decent picture of the vast Dutch cheese rising. Of course, it was impossible to do so, I already knew that in advance, and I deleted my sorry attempts.

While I walked back down the mountainside from UCT to Main Road I imagined that many hearths were lit and flourishing in Stellenbosch. That, also, red wine and gluhwein were flowing.