Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Christmas on the tip

I've long ago learnt to write before eating, which is why I know that any attempts now to blog will be futile: I've had my chicken salad, it got here while I was still stuffing around and because I was starving this is now a half-hearted attempt to put words down. The old adage of a starving writer producing the goods is not only an accurate one, but a reality. A full stomach in my case leads to much of nothing.

Especially on a scorching hot summer's afternoon in late November: clammy-and-wet armpits, sweat trickling down my abdominals, a thankfully cool breeze through Narona pizzeria in Buitenkant street, Gardens. 

My glasses are glued to the damp and sticky bridge of my nose as a skinny-white and decrepit old man with battleship grey hair and pronounced sinews (I don't think there's an iota of fat on his scrawny scarecrow body) sidelines past with one impossibly-heavy Pick 'n Pay shopping packet in his gnarled right hand.

I'm on a perspiring glass of Fairview sauvignon blanc: I sidelined into here for some relief and shade en-route to collect a few groceries.

It's pay day: for someone who's freelanced for the maajority of his existence in a materialistic society, it's still enormously satisfying to receive my salary into my account on the 25th of every month, irrespective. 

That, in the photo, is the terrifyingly tall Christmas tree at the Victoria & Albert Waterfront.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dirty nails

I've been in a muddle, to put it mildy. Since getting back to Cape Town on Friday 14th. Disorientated, resistant to being back, a changed person and stretched mind, yearning for another pond, pressured.

Friday afternoon saw me pass my last 'big stress' milestone for 2014. It's downhill and into the summer holidays on 12 December from here. While I recalibrate after five months of enduring stress, living on adrenalin, I've constant flashbacks from - the - past - twelve - months.

I've drawn up a constitution for myself. Based upon the lessons I've learned on this year's rocky and convulated path.

As the winter rains peter away to summer's nothing I dug my fingers deep into dark and loamy soil yesterday; my friend's garden became my solace yesterday, with two bottles of champagne, it's where I restored myslef, grounded myself, literally.

My words today right now feel awkward and inconsequential; putting them down feels as awkward and useless as peeling a potato with a cheap-plastic fork.

People have crossed my path these last few weeks, some I've allowed in, some I've observed over the half-closed stable door that's been scratched and scarred by over eager mutts, many of them my own.

I'm still squinting in the bright summer light, looking longingly over my shoulder at the retreating winter. As the city and peninsula is topped up to the brim with sun-seeking holiday makers from right across the globe, I've noticed the needle on the increasingly frenetic cyber dating sites move from 'dates' to ''right now': hungry people at the end of a long year; a sense of release is pervading everything (forgive me for projecting).

As for me, well I've slept. Hardly budged into the night. 

I'm leaving Woodstock at the end of January, I'll be giving my two months' notice next week, I'm happy now to go: my reasons are many. I'll be moving into my own place again, living alone again, seeking a resorative garden. Somehow.

A full circle within the much larger full circle.

Another coffee, another chocolate croissant down the hatch.

Writing of hatches, I open up the (other) hatches that have been battened down for too long: I can't see land yet, but I'm expecting The Dove to bring back at least a twig and one green leave, an olive one I hope, before end-year.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hibiscus flowers in life, and death

Today my energy is low, I'm two hours short on sleep, I've just - second ago- heard of a friend's early death from a weak heart and a consequent heart attack. A punch in the solar plexus and an ample going around and around in my head because of the pause button pushed. A moment's silence to Hans and his smile, to the people he's left behind.

Then after useless words to dive back in to the deep pit of assignment marking that needs doing before midnight on Friday. Meanwhile summer has arrived in Cape Town and with it the strange-sounding seasonal migrants from the north, all here to worship the sun and to devour vats full of Cape wine.

The south-easter suddenly stopped in its tracks not even an hour ago, now the oppresive heat beneath a a flat-blue sky.

While gym-going types pass my coffee shop and shorts and white legs, mostly belonging to the northerners, abound my heart is heavy and listless.

Christmas trees and baubles abound. 

My second last lecture tonight.

A gradual but most welcome winding down. Down. Down.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My 1000th post is dedicated to anti-totalitarianism: Viva Ann Frank and the Velvet Revolution!

Last Wednesday morning during a brief spell of sunshine in Prague I unexpectedly came across these two 'memorial tablets' (called stolperstein in German, meaning 'stumbling block') embedded in the pavement; it took me less than a second to work out whom they were a monument to. I got down on my knees for much more than to merely take a photo. (Apparently there are many more of these embedded in the most exquisite pavements of this most exquisite city, not to mention the many thousands across other European cities.)

In my stumbling upon these aptly named stolperstein I was given pause to think deeply, as I believe is exactly their intention, hence this post. What follows is my stream-of-consciousness, or percolating as I like to call it, because of my 'stumbling'.

Firstly, I've been keeping this online notebook since September 2007; it has been a fascinating personal journey thus far. I have learnt so so much. Especially about myself. About the putting down of words.

Secondly, this is my 1000th post on this my Beautiful Mind blog. Which is why I've given much thought to what I will dedicate my 1000th blog post to:

ONE: I dedicate this 1000th blog post to every single one of the Jews who were murdered by the nazis (like aids and apartheid, I refuse to capitalise the word nazi), and especially to Ann Frank, whom I believe without doubt would have been a blogger championing human rights and anti-totalitarianism were she alive on this 17th day November 2014.

TWO: I dedicate my 1000th blog entry to press and intellectual freedom, even though that fat and greedy rats in my country have begun to worryingly nibble away at it. Nevertheless, at this point, not necessarily forever, I live in a part of the world where I can freely blog 1000 posts about almost anything within the wide parameters of what is defined as 'freedom of expression' by South Africa's liberal and hard-won Constitution. I may freely make my opinion heard on just about any subject, including about the sleaze and corruption of our president and his cronies, and about the enormous disappointment many feel about the ANC government's swift 20-year fall from the pinnacle of grace at the end of apartheid in 1994 to being the swill in the sty: It's their turn to gorge, or so they think

THREE: Not less importantly, my 1000th post is dedicated to the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) of Africa who are being marginalised, in some cases murdered, based upon their sexual orientation and gender identity alone.

Amnesty International maintains that "the continued criminilisation of consensual same-sex conduct in 38 African countries is a serious cause for concern... [and] "violates a raft of international and regional human rights norms, and serves to marginalise one group of Africans based on their sexual orientation and gender identity alone (Amnesty: 2013)”.  

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe said - he has repeatedly claimed that Europe is trying to force gay rights on Africa - "What is natural is made unnatural. And what is unnatural they want to say it is natural." 

"Let Europe keep their homosexual nonsense there and not cross over with it here" he said. "Gays and lesbians are worse than pigs and dogs." 

I believe that some shock therapy is urgently required to rectify the utterances of decrepit despots like Mugabe and the steep class, sexuality and gender inequalities that engender state-sanctioned homophobia on the African continent.

FOUR: In line with my Prague theme, today - 17 November 2014 - is the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia, to which I also dedicate this 1000th post. 

“The Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution was a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia. The period of upheaval and transition took place from November 16/17 to December 29, 1989. Popular demonstrations against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia combined students and older dissidents. The final result was the end of 41 years of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, and the subsequent conversion to a parliamentary republic.”

In other words today 25 years ago saw the end of anti-totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia. 

The photo above is of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism at the base of Petřín hill in Prague that I rushed to see last Thursday afternoon before my return flight to SA. The bronze plaque nearby reads: "The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dial 999

A cold spell with tendrils reaching all the way from Antarctica is lashing Cape Town and much to my surprsie I've had to wear a jacket for most of the day. 

After midday I met Douwe for lunch and bubbly at Cafe Paradiso in Kloof Street, which was a blast from the past: I'd worked there as a desperate and hungry, literally, waiter at night while I worked - for free (times were tough, I needed  portfolio of work) - for the Weekend Argus newspaper during the day. This was 1995. The first year of our democracy. The year I returned to SA from London and moved for ten months to Cape Town because of a short-lived love affair with a Jewish Irishman studying illustration in Dublin. I worked though the 1995 rugby world cup that SA won, on home ground, while observing the hullabaloo from a vague distance while confronting my crossroad of insecurity and passion.

It was a hideous time of poverty and, at first, intense loneliness for me. As I freelanced as a writer while scratching my itching flea bites from sleeping on the floor as a desperate digs-mate, first in Mowbray, then in Kings Road Seapoint. And surviving by scraping leftovers from customers' plates into plastic bags that I would take home and devour because I could hardly afford food. My treat was one Amstel lager a week that I nursed until the green glass and beer was piss warm.

This afternoon after lunch I was pleasantly surprised by the the mauve jacaranda blooms on a street in the Republic of Tamboerskloof as we wound downhill to the deep pleasure of an early evening Italian art movie in an uncomfortable-but-who-cares bucket seat at the Labia.

Right now the heady blend of Chilean cabernet sauvignon and my medication seep into my consciousness, to make it un-, while lines / emotions / undotted I-s and uncrossed T-s blur as I gratefully slip away into another world in the deeply nourishing suburban silence of a comfortable apartment in Tamboerskloof. 

This - my 999th blog post at Beautiful Mind - is likely to be riddled with errors, but hey this is a notebook and I'll correct those in the morning.


I struggled to leave Prague. I have struggled to integrate myself back into Cape Town; it's happening, automatically, because that's how life is, but with enormous Resistance.

I got back midday yesterday to my Woodstock apartment, which I immediately began cleaning and putting into place before I could relax (that's how I roll) into being alone with myself and not on the constant go. 

Within hours and to my delight winter-like rain driven by powerful and rumbustious wind was slating the windows and disapearing the city into the dove-grey blanket that was numbing me from it and it from me.

Last night I read in a bath up to my ears while listening to the juicy drops fat-splatting against the frosted glass window that opens northwards to the harbour and Robben Island. For as long as I could keep my eyes open for.

All in all I must crashed for twelve deliciously-deep hours before waking at 10h30 this cold and greyish Saturday morning. 

Cape Town. Not Prague. 

The Charles bridge

Despite the tourists, which I struggle with - the slow-moving, sheep-like oblivious hoardes checking off their bucket-lists (yes, I catch a whiff of the irony) - I revisited the Charles Bridge again on this visit to Prague. And again and again at that. For me it's the emotional centre of the city, the arch of history that binds the new city with the mediaveal. I

 confess to be in awe of this famous historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river, and whose construction began in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and only to be finished in the beginning of the 15th century.

It is wide enough, magnificent enough to fit four carriages alongside each other, also to take my breath away in awe at its haunting beauty. And that such a thing could have been constructed so long ago. Long before there was much happening on the southern tip of Africa where I am from.

Have I mentioned that Prague originated around about the ninth century? You cannot imagine what it's like to travel this ancient albeit relatively small city, which is jam-packed (jam-packed!) with over a thousand years of human endeavour and things to see...

Like the elderly artist on the bridge reading his kindle while waiting for customers to draw.

(I weep with failure when I take my pictures as they cannot even attempt to capture what I'm seeing with my eyes.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In other words, he told the truth

I first discovered the Globe bookstore and café, which started out in 1993 in the Holešovice district in Prague, in 2006 when I was exporing the city on foot with my mother. Apparently five Americans decided to risk opening an English language bookstore and coffeehouse, with this motto, which describes its purpose perfectly: “in libris veritas; in kava vita...” (truth in books, life in coffee...). 

In 2000 the Globe moved to its current location, a beautiful building built in 1895. Even though the owners have changed, the Globe remains a fantastic independent bookstore, "which also hosts literary and musical events, serves as a gallery for the exhibitions of young local artists, but also gives you the possibility to chat over a coffee or a beer and enjoy their food" (http://www.bookstoreguide.org/2007/10/globe-cafe-and-bookstore-prague.html).

With an obvious focus on Czech writers, like Milan Kundera, and especially those from Prague such as Franz Kakfa, there's a focus on Central European literature and history. However, I loved their extensive selection of books by off-the-wall writers like Charles 'Hank' Bukowski, whos works I struggle to find in SA; they're neither in the bookstores nor public libraries. 

In my two coffee visits to the Globe, I got my hands on a few books, including a biography of Bukowski ('A laureate of American low life') and Kakfa Diaries (1910 - 1923), published by Schocken Books (New York). I chuckled at, "writers speak a stench," which Kakfa noted in 1910.

Then, in the Bukowski biography by Barry Miles, I loved his description of his work:

"In rereading Hank's books for this biography I found that his work was still fresh, it had not dated, it goes straight to the point. He gave a vice to the disenfranchised , the marginalised, the mad and the dysfunctional, the factory hand, the working people, the drunk and the disorderly. He made a point of always trying to write clearly so that people knew what he was saying. He did not use a dictionary. He avoided long words and tried to use the easiet, simplest words possible, He told Jean-Francois Duval: 'I like it raw, easy and simple. That way, I don't lie to myself.' In other words, he told the truth.

Sherlock and friend

It was sunny and pleasant, very, today in Prague. Not that I care much about sunshine; nevertheless the city was transformed. The photo is of the riverside where I have been regularly taking my meals, mostly alone, with either dry white wine or good, dark beer on tap. 

I discovered Vinny restaurant Orlik on the Masarykovo nabrezi (nabrezi = rivderside) by chance on my first night here. There are NO tourists thank God (except for me of course!), very friendly and kind owners, and cheap, good Czech food. And did I say anything about the good, dark beer haha?

Tonight is my last night in Prague, for now. I will sleep when I'm dead.

I have met, online, a fascinating journalist with a large daily newspaper here whose name is Lukas and whose dog is Sherlock. I am going to meet him for the first time shortly, for coffee.

This, below,is the other side of the river from where I eat. It's also where my hotel is, in Andel and, ironically, across the street from Lukas's newspaper.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A whisper of gossamer on the Charles Bridge

gos·sa·mer [gos-uh-mer] 


a fine, filmy cobweb seen on grass or bushes or floating in the air in calm weather, especially in autumn.
a thread or a web of this substance.
an extremely delicate variety of gauze, used especially for veils.
any thin, light fabric.
something extremely light, flimsy, or delicate.
a thin, waterproof outer garment, especially for women.

Origin: 1275–1325; Middle English gosesomer (see goose, summer1); possibly first used as name for late, mild autumn, a time when goose was a favorite dish (compare German Gänsemonat November), then transferred to the cobwebs frequent at that time of year


Mine is a world of words. I live in and through and around them.

Gossamer. My word of the day.

I took the photo yesterday on the Charles Bridge... the bridge of all bridges.

"The dew rose and turned to golden mist, thin as a dream, enveloping them until they seemed gossamer relics of the late night, infinitely transient and already fading." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Offshore Pirate," Flappers and Philosophers, 1920 

Monday, November 10, 2014

A life of almost unbearable intensity

I walk and I walk and I walk. Then I stop to piss and have coffee. To connect to WiFi and to write down my thoughts.

Then I walk and I walk and I walk. Then I stop to piss and have coffee or maybe a beer. To eat. To connect to WiFi and to write down my thoughts.

About it getting dark so early that it confounds me but turns my mind cozy. And thoughts about Kundera's Tomas and Tereza in his Prague. 

And thoughts about Kafka who lived, and who lived here for so short, but fully occupied this city before dying in his lover Dora's care on June 3, 1924 after a life of almost unbearable intensity.

I visit the city's only English bookstore, The Globe, where I stalk around quietly on the creaking floorboards beneath vaulted ceilings in a builidng that's about 120 years old and seems to have aconstant  stream of young American students through it.

I walk and I walk and I walk seeing countless faces of incredible and unsual beauty in this melting pot at Europe's heart. Features and faces and noses and skins and hair that I've never known nor seen before. Incredible and unusual features and also, sporadically, the colour blue of eyes that I can only describe as Siberian-Blue because I've only ever seen that striking colour in huskies by the same name.

I try not to have thoughts of home. Because back there I'll be soon enough.

And there's many thoughts about intimacy and sex, and about the sexualness of my travel and interaction with others in places of strangeness to me, where for me the ultimate and most intimate connection with a place is via a combination of mind and body with a person from that place-space.

And then because I'm human it's time to piss again. And the entire cycle begins all over, and shall contunue until I die. No problem with that: Piss. Shit. Cum. Blood. Ash. Dust. 

After that I'm in the WiFi. 

Lopsided-lump-of-dough moon (& a strike of lightning)

The incredible lightness of being: that's how I experience the people living in Prague. They are light and happy and friendly.

That is in comparison to the heavy sense of trauma that I believe South Africans constantly live under: the trauma of extreme inequalities on every level; the trauma of our past, not even to mention our present; the trauma of being constantly confronted by violent crime. Then, for me specifically, the trauma of the digust and rage I feel for the corruption, sleaze and greed of our rulers whom have so quickly - within a mere 20 years - fallen from a pinnacle of grace into a pit of sleaze and shame. 

Right now, from a distance, I am ashamed of many aspects of my country. It is also clear to me at last that neoliberalism has failed globally, and that neoliberal economic polices are set to sink my country and its people even deeper into gloom followed by inky darkness...as the poor will get only poorer there, that the gaping chasm between the haves and have-nots will crack even wider there. I need to think about how I am to negotiate this personally.

I will never be the same after this journey. Something happened as I delivered the penultimate paper of the empathy conference at 16h00 yesterday; my words, my writing changed me, they also changed, deeply impacted the forty people in the room. I did not know that would happen, that I would recieve an ovation. I happen to 'own' a power (in humility and without ego) that is not really mine; it's not unlike living with a tumour in one's brain and mouth that has a life, but for good, of its own. Something changed last night, the world is a different place.  

I am not the same. I'm a politcal being now, the gradual transformation has happened, late yesterday afternoon the first but crucial phase of the process was completed... now, knowing that even where I choose to lay my head at night, particularly at night in South Africa, is a political decision.


In the early hours of this morning I walked out of my hotel in Prague 5 for a breath of fresh chill air; the foyer lights and music were dimmed, it was empty and sedate and cozy-warm; at the door I turned right into Radlicka street surprised that it was merely cold, not chill.

I walked 100 metres down the deserted steet and then turned right into Lidicka. I walked past the 24-hour and well-lit flower shop where a short woman in baggy clothing whose face I could not make out rearranged stalks and blooms. At 2am. 

With deliberation I walked past the dregs of the Sunday night folk, mostly youngsters and one or two homeless, who huddled at the numerous tram stops on Andel square.

After the square I kept going straight down the long road towards the river tripping now and then on the smooth and ancient cobbles.

I crossed, very slowly, the Palackeho bridge savouring my aloneness beneath a northern hemisphere sky in the centre of the river and of the city and of Europe; it was comforting and powerful.

When I got to the other side, close to the Czech restaurant - that's along Masarykovo nabr, between Fred & Ginger (Tancici dum) and the National Theatre - that I've taken to frequenting I turned around and retraced my steps.

Back in the soundproofed coccoon of 303 I opened my iPad and keyboard to begin this post. I didn't get far because I could not keep my eyes open for a second longer.

It is why I am typing these words in an extraordinarily comfortable Starbucks with free wifi on Vaclavske nam in the city centre, probably not even 50 metres away from where I stayed with my mother, here, almost 8 astonishing years ago. 

My mother. Whom I feel is drifting away... .

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Looking back (and forward)

I never finished this blog post on Wednesday, 5th November: Guy Fawkes day:

I took this photo of the twelve apostles on the winter day I arrived to live in Cape Town last year. It was the 3rd of July, the day before Independence Day, which has always been, symbolically, an important day for me over the years. It was also on 4 July 1995 that I threw up a job at a media house run by a dictator to go freelance as a journalist, a space I've more or less occupied up until now.

Taking the mycitibus between Camps Bay and Hout Bay and back on Sunday afternoon reminded me of this photo, also of the jaw-dropping and inspirational beauty of that stretch of coastline.

I leave for Prague this evening. Already, even though snowed under, I'm in a retrospective frame of mind. More than anything about this trip I'm looking forward to some perspective, from another continent, on my city and country, as well as a lens to look back at how I have lived, how I've occupied my 'new' life and work over the last sixteen months.

For one thing I know that I've burnt myself out, badly, also that I have seeped into a quagmire of listlessness and low-level depression; that I've taken too much on in the last four months and the result is that, again, I've (temporarily) lost my joie de vivre, that currently I'm a husk of myself.

Nevertheless I have to pack my and I've a flight to catch.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Dear Jack...

From my window on the world, where I sit in silence and staring every day in awe at The Mountain, I've learned so much. About myself. About the world. Thus I strive even more towards a simpler, more streamlined and minimalist existence.

Yesterday, while it bucketed down and The Mountain and most of the city remained hidden from view, I sat in a simple but favourite coffee joint in Mostert Street re-fashioning my personal vision and constitution, so to speak. It's a work in progress so I won't delve deeper into it now, other than to say that anti-Beat Jack Kerouac features prominently in it; Kerouac and Ginsberg have influenced me enormously.

Interesting (from Doglas Brinkley's 'Jack Kerouac: Windblown World' (Viking: 2004)):

"With a ferocious intensity, Kerouac began keeping journals in 1936, as a fourteen-year-old boy in Lowell. His obsessive habit continued for the rest of his life. Long, detailed passages, usually produced daily, are ornamented with poems, drawings, doodles, riddles, psalms, and prayers. "I resort to these diary-logs in order to keep track of lags, and digressions, and moods," Kerouac noted as he began writing On the Road. Kerouac's modus oprandi in these handwritten journals is one of voluntary simplicity and freedom, of achieving sainthood by being lonseome and poor, with empathy for every sentient creature. Early on, Kerouac wanted no part of the postwar scramble for monetary success: "It is beneath my dignity to participate in life." To Kerouac, the "most ringing sound of all human time" was Jesus' refrain "My kingdom is not of this world."

Tomorrrow evening I leave for Prague.

A cherry-flavoured Beacon fizz-pop tastes like my childhood.  

Monday, November 03, 2014

The grey, the moist, and the moody

Today I'm grateful for greyness and moisture and moodiness. Also for Italian blend coffee and chocolate croissants. And for muted thoughts about Munich and then Prague where I will spend just over a week; first an out-of-my-comfort-zone conference and the presentation of my first academic paper, then my uninhibited exploration of and and immersion into a magnificent city and an Eastern European autumn with a freind-and-colleague. 

Yesterday there was sun in abundance and I came close to overdosing on vitamin D. I was grateful for bright golden light, a holiday-blue sky, the glorious reek of factor 50 sunblock, palm trees, palm fronds, icy seawater and then a frosted beer.

Today Woodstock, The Mountain, the city bowl are all disapeared into the deep, wet grey. Where I will shortly be disapearing into too. Happily.

To the other side

Yesterday we took the mycitibus to Hout Bay. The ride, which must be one of the most beautiful, was good for perspective and because it's a long one, I had time to think and reflect. This while being therapeutically rolled-and-swayed by the vehicle's motion on the winding, coastal road, along, the, Atlantic. 

Once there we walked the beach in peace and picked up a shell; and for once I contemplated swimming the cold water. But didn't. I grounded myself via my barefeet in the water and on the seasand and then later on thick green grass beneath a splendid and verdant oak tree.

Then a beer gratefully in the shade at one of the many places along the road just before the start of the Chapman's Peak road.

Then back in to Cape Town via Camps Bay, Clifton, Sea Point, Green Point and the city - all in darkness because of the rolling electricity blackout that snuffed the city and suburbs last night.