Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   cubes of glass
Saturday, April 5 2003

setting: Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

I had a big plan today to just lie around the lodge and let Gretchen go out and do the tourist thing on her own. Being a tourist and having to do things for the good of the vacation gets to be a big bore for me after only a few days. I want to rebel against the yoke of such obligations and do something rash like watch teevee or get thrown out of a bar. When was the last time I got thrown of a bar? When was the last time I had a hangover?
First, though, for some reason I thought I needed a shave. I decided to see what it was like to go shopping for a razor all by myself. I didn't make it far down de Lorentz Street before I saw a pile of fresh glass cubes on the ground - the kind that comes when somebody smashes their way into a car. "Poor sucker," I said, gradually looking up at the victim of one of Cape Town's latest crimes. Then in an instant I realized something unsettling. This was where I'd parked last night! The victim was me! I checked to see if the victimized car also had a cracked passenger-side rearview mirror. Unfortunately, it did. Our car had been broken into. Whoever had done it had known what he was doing. He'd recognized either the Gauteng plates or the Avis sticker and figured it for a rental car. Once inside, he'd rifled the glove compartment and the trunk. The trunk was easy to breach simply by folding the rear seats forward. Fortunately, the only things we'd had in the trunk were the two craft items (including the metal penguin) bought at Boulders yesterday - things we'd been too lazy to bring in. Such sculptures can't be worth much to a car burglar, but that was all there was to take. I wonder if he had ever seen a penguin before.
Suffice it to say, I never got a razor. I returned to the Liberty Lodge and told Gretchen the bad news, and she called the Avis. To get a replacement car we'd have to file a police report in downtown Cape Town. It looked like my plan of spending the day watching teevee had been thwarted.
To get to the police station, we took "the Rikki" - a sort of semi-open-air minibus that can be ordered like a taxi cab. Our driver was a white guy with crazy long hair. The inside of his Rikki was densely plastered with novelties and the signed headshots of dozens of international supermodels - women, the driver said, who had ridden in his Rikki over the years.
In the Cape Town police station, thing happened excruciatingly slowly and at a very low level of technological sophistication. We'd come early and beaten the rush of people in our predicament. As the queue behind us swelled, a female police officer with a very large butt took our statement. I've never made a police statement before, so I guess this is how it is always done. Specific questions were asked, I answered them, they were entered into a form, and then the whole thing was written out in paragraph form, and finally I signed it. I only had to tell the officer the spelling of one word, "sculpture." Meanwhile a guy with a broom swept the floor, even asking us to move so he could get the part under our feet. Cape Town is an extremely tidy place.
After we were done with that, we crossed the street and went into the Castle of Good Hope. It's an authentic castle, complete with a moat willed with murky green water and fish. Inside, a low-grade state of festival seemed to be underway. There were a number of guys dressed in ceremonial military uniforms (some doing the unflinching Beefeater thing), a band was playing an odd medley of seasonal music from around the world and throughout the year, and there was a food stand where one could buy beer, instant coffee, and various forms of food, including roasted ears of maize. Later the band played a number of American disco favorites. It's telling that we could come ten thousand miles across the globe, sit around inside an 18th Century castle, and know every word to the songs being played by the entertainment.
There were plenty of people representing the main racial divisions of South Africa. Nonetheless, festivities seemed to be centered on themes dearest to white people. For example, after the band packed up its instruments and left, they were replaced by a group of Afrikaners in 19th Century dress performing some sort of folk dance.
I was still in need of some sort of charger for my camera, so we walked from the castle over to a shopping area. Around the formal mall-type space, dozens and dozens of people had set up booths and were selling small items - mostly western items of the sort we'd come to buy. I bought a razor and then looked at a number of DC equipment chargers, none of which were sufficiently robust. I wondered where all these vendors had obtained their merchandise. I suspected a good fraction of it came from loading dock theft - perhaps with the complicity of poorly-paid dock workers.
We went into the mall and found our way to Game, the pink-themed Walmart of South Africa. Again, we had no luck finding an appropriate power adapter. Indeed, all the adapters stocked in Game were also available at lower prices out in the booths along the street. We were going to give up when Gretchen got the idea of looking in the computer section.
There were no adapters available here, but there was a USB hub whose power brick had the correct ratings: five volts at 2.1 amps. It's not difficult for white people to shoplift in South Africa. They're wearing the perfect disguise.
At the South Africa National Gallery we looked at some art and somehow stumbled into a somebody's art opening. There was free wine and snacks there, so of course I poured myself a glass.
After buying a slough of stuff in the gift shop (even here it was cheap), we came across some guy in the gardens out front who sold us a string of wire lizards and butterflies that he might have stolen last night from somebody's car.
Lunch consisted of tofu wraps eaten at a restaurant that wouldn't have been out of place in Woodstock, New York. There was a woman there who had no hips and was evidently really into that white girl gangsta thing. The waist of her pants were down around her knees.

In the late afternoon Gretchen went to Labia, a hip movie theatre on Kloof, and saw Love Liza (for which her friend Jacob served as a creative consultant). Finally I had a chance to spend some hours the way I'd originally intended to spend the day.
A couple hours later I walked down Kloof to meet Gretchen after the movie. I passed a beggar on the way, and, unlike most South Africans in this profession, he was white. We went off to find a vegetarian restaurant down on trendy Long Street.
Long Street was wild with Saturday night activity - both among the mostly white patrons and mostly poor blacks who had come to serve as parkeologists, trinket salesmen, and beggars. Nobody was eating food - at this early hour all people wanted to do was drink. Indeed, all the vegetarian restaurant was serving was cold sandwiches. So instead we went to a Mexican restaurant on a side street. They weren't serving food yet either, but their buffet would be ready soon. As we sat outside drinking wine and margaritas, a group of intoxicated white people at a nearby table demonstrated one of the complexities of the New South Africa - the difficulty of reconciling traditionally entitled white culture with desperately poor blacks. Some black guy came by trying to sell something - a gold bracelet perhaps, but he'd barely had a chance to make his pitch when one of the guys at the table of intoxicants sternly told him to keep on moving, that he should restrict his peddling to Front Street. His demands were so aggressive that he gave the impression he was a restaurant employee. But no, our waiter (who was white) had never seen him before.
Gretchen grew increasingly incensed as this same guy continued to yell at any black person who passed - a guy in a green parkeologist vest, another ad hoc peddler, and a group of begging children. Gretchen could easily empathize with these people, telling me, "You can bet if I was poor and hungry and saw a bunch of rich people stuffing their faces, I'd be begging too."
The children were the most relentless of the beggars, and even their drunken rebuker eventually tired of scolding them. They lingered like hyenas just out of sight of the waiters, coming out of the shadows to briefly resume their begging the moment the coast was clear. Though we pitied them, and though they could break your heart just by catching your eye, we did our best to ignore them. Who knows what sort of trouble we would have opened ourselves up for had we caved? By the end of our meal, our sympathy was obscured by several layers of irritation.
Nevertheless, Gretchen said the actions of these beggars and their adult counterparts were nothing compared to the onslaught she'd experienced when visiting Niger. The blacks there call white people "tubabs," and when they see one, the call goes out, "Tubab! Tubab!" Child beggars follow tubabs for blocks and are nearly impossible to shake. Unlike in South Africa, blacks don't see a lot of tubabs in Niger. The ones they do see are, by comparison to themselves, extremely wealthy. As in America, wealth is read as all sorts of things it doesn't necessarily imply: fame, righteousness, even godlike invincibility. It pleases the children just to reach out and touch someone with such status. It doesn't demonstrate much faith in their own that the blacks of Niger have actually expanded the meaning of the term "tubab" to mean anything progressive or beneficial. A righteous idea, for example, is a "tubab" idea. This reminded me of something my father had once told me, of an African country that was upset in the late 1970s after Jimmy Carter appointed a black ambassador to serve there.
I should say a little something about the Mexican food. South Africa isn't famous for its Mexican food, so I was curious how it would be. I'd say the stuff we had here was about as good as good Mexican food in the United States, although the nacho chips were most peculiar. They were thicker, more uniform in color, and made of much tinier grains of corn meal. It seemed they'd been made from the South African staple mealy meal. Gretchen met the cook, a black woman who claimed she couldn't eat the food she prepared for this restaurant because "it is too spicy."
On the walk back to the Liberty Lodge, I noticed that the parkeologists were all armed with T-shaped police clubs. This led me to wonder if there was an arms race going among parkeologists, with the best-armed getting more cars parking in their territories. If this is true and were to continue, eventually they'd all be armed with fully-automatic rifles. Seriously, though, the fact that parkeologists carry weapons as they patrol their territories must say something about the determination of the thieves that make them a necessity.
When you think about it, the parkeology system provides a many benefits for society. It's grassroots service-economy capitalism at its finest, providing great rewards to both its employees and its clients. People who would otherwise be forced to burglarize cars for a living are gainfully employed supplying peace of mind to consumers. These consumers then provide business to thriving shopping and restaurant districts. Meanwhile, with all these parkeologists patrolling the streets, pedestrians can feel safer on their way home. The presence of pedestrians brings other pedestrians. After a few cycles of such positive feedback, the neighborhood is functionally gentrified.

See some photographs from the South Africa trip.

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