YTAH's Weblog


The Eastern Cape, or Why It’s a Bad Idea.

Posted in blogs by YTAH on July 21, 2008
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Eastern Cape - Frontier CountryYou can’t stop here! This is …

Hmmm, okay. So what should I write about then? Any ideas? No? Anybody? Hmmm. Not surprising, really. None of you fuckers can even get the energy up to post a comment on any of my stories, so it’s hardly astonishing that you don’t have any suggestions for what I should write about. Bah. At least I have an excuse. That’s correct, I’ve spent an entire long weekend – from Thursday afternoon to the early hours of Sunday morning – in the Eastern Cape. Not to mention the 10+ hours drive either way, in a car, with Pikes.

Camel ridesWanna go for a ride?
To be honest, I haven’t had much time to catch my breath. Fuck, I haven’t even read Pinvictor’s last post. (Although now that I glance at it, I wonder who he’s referring to with that crack about “ill informed rants”. But then I read his poetry, and decide it’s better not to ask. Or mention it at all, in fact.) But okay, so for future reference: if you ever think of driving to the Eastern Cape from either Cape Town or Johannesburg: don’t. There’s a reason that God invented airplanes, and that reason is “avoiding exasperatingly boring, haemorrhoid-inducing 10-hour car journeys”.

Now why on earth, I imagine you ask yourself, did Yours Truly venture all the way to that godforsaken, uninviting, unexciting, illiterate, backwater province? What could have induced this insanity? Has he finally surrendered all pretence at rational thought? Has the meter on his common sense run out? What (the fuck) gives?

Donkey cartR10 a ticket – Cheap!
I blame Cecil John Rhodes. (“WTF? YTAH, you’re not helping here, man…”) Don’t worry, I’ll explain: Rhodes University is in Grahamstown. Rhodes University was named after, well, Rhodes. But the National Arts Festival is also in Grahamstown, as is the 1820 Settlers Monument. The 1820 Settlers were British. Cecil John Rhodes was British. Ergo, Rhodes is to blame for Grahamstown, and the goddamn festival. Argue with me if you will, but there you are. Now you may not know this, but I grew up in the area. I shall omit the name of the town to protect the innocent (i.e. myself), but suffice to say I wasn’t exactly a fan of the place. And if it doesn’t suffice to say that, well, then the fact that I haven’t visited the place in seven years (even though my parents still live there) should serve as a sufficient measure of my “affection”. The only reason I considered going at all is that Pikes was attending the festival to do stand-up for the first time in years, and he had (perhaps in a burst of insanity) offered me a lift. So partly because no-one alive has ever seen Pikes perform (nobody I know, anyway), and partly because of an ill-advised and badly-timed e-mail to the parentals, and partly out of curiosity (“Hmmm, what exactly does the place look like nowadays?”), I decided to squander three days of leave in enforced sociability, in the coldest, most inhospitable, and ludicrously expensive province ever.

Bead flower sellersYes, all Eastern Cape flora is made from beads.
Only to find out, of course, that it was nothing quite like I remembered. Also, rather than spending each night in the freezing cold of Grahamstown (as Pikes, living in an unheated house with no apparent luxuries, was forced to do), I passed every night (that is, every night we didn’t spend driving back to Cape Town) in the relative warmth and comfort of what used to be home. (For like 10 years, or something similarly absurd.) Okay, so forced conviviality is not really my thing, and I tend to get cranky after a long journey. Still, the town now has a shebeen (go progress!) and a Spar, which, if you’re used to a glorified café with three aisles and the odour of a sheep pen, is actually quite welcoming. (Either that or my standards were temporarily torpedoed. After all, I was drinking decaf Nescafé. Yuck.) Plus the wire-and-bead flowers for sale put those pathetic six-petal doodads hawked on Kloof Street to shame. Unfortunately I forgot the petrol bombs at home, so I couldn’t aid progress by burning down my old school. But who knows, maybe next time.

Cows grazing on sidewalkMmmmm, supper!
Some things, of course, never really change. So it didn’t really surprise me to see the stop sign at the end of my old street that looks like it’s spent the last fifty years decaying in the bowels of the Titanic. Or the potholes that only seem to be getting bigger. (Hey, corruption can’t be the only growth industry, now can it?) Or a few cows grazing alongside the road in Grahamstown. (Nothing says “Eastern Cape” like livestock grazing on the pavement.) But all of this was really just an excuse to see Pikes prove that he could “bring it” live. By the time the main event came on, I’d already spent two hours watching Rob van Vuuren plays (a one-man comedy thing and some weird two-hander inspired by storylines deduced from Tom Waits albums), waiting for Pikes’ turn in the spotlight. So it was fun to watch him do his thing, even if he did have to do it in front of an audience who would much rather see cheap magic tricks than follow a cohesive argument. (This is what happens when Africans readers don’t go to festivals. You fucking bastards.)

Decaying stop signFollow the signs.
The sad thing is that I have nothing more to say about the place. I know there should be something funny about having lived in the Eastern Cape for any length of time, but I can’t think of anything. What gives? Has my sense of humour followed my common sense and hobbled off to the Great Beyond? Or has three days spent “enjoying” Eastern Cape hospitality, sandwiched between a day’s worth of driving, squeezed the last bit of humour from my already dried-up soul? Perhaps the reason I enjoyed the whole experience (relatively speaking; perhaps “tolerated” is a more accurate term) is that I knew, in the back of my mind, that it was only three days. (That’s a whole lot less than three weeks, and much, much less than the fifteen years in total that I spent there, cooped up like a diarrheic penguin.) Or perhaps it’s just that seven years is also a long time. Who knows; maybe next time I’ll even stay longer. But I’ll be taking those petrol bombs just in case.

If infanticide is the murder of an infant, what is countryside?
P.S. If I’d had more energy, or more wherewithal, or whatever, I’d have turned this into a review of a province. Which, in its own limp, vague way it is, I suppose, but in that way it sort of reflects my experience of the festival: the unshakable feeling that you should probably be more stimulated by the whole thing, or more enlightened by the experience than you really are, without quite knowing why. At least I now know who Scott Walker is…

[Originally posted on www.africans.co.za on Tuesday, July 08, 2008.]

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