Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Africa, Day 4

Cape Town

The Rhodes Memorial

Cecil Rhodes, a British developer of Cape Town who had a thing for lions built, among other things, a monument to himself. It was designed by Herbert Baker.

Upon visiting the site, I wrote these notes in my sketchbook:

-Woah. Megalomania.

-Did Rhodes see himself as a lion [i.e. at the top of the natural food chain]? Or a conqueror of lions [i.e. even beyond the top]?

-When it was built, one could stand at the monument and look out over “wild” Africa; now, the same vantage point gives one a view of Capetonian Suburbs. What would Rhodes think of that?

Greatmore Studios

In the afternoon we went to Woodstock to meet with Kate from Greatmore Studios and talk to her about our project. Greatmore is an organization that makes subsidized studio space available to local artists, runs workshops and outreach programs, and sponsors residencies for visiting artists.

As is my typical reaction to being in these types of spaces, I had a hard time following the conversation because I was busy daydreaming about what it would be like to have a place to work, surrounded by other artists, with the understanding that I could spend all day every day making art.

After Greatmore, we spent some time on downtown and took a walk on Muizenberg Beach, before heading back to Kalk Bay.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Africa, Day 3

Cape Town, Sunday

The Penguins at Boulders Beach, a confused story of environmental protection.
To read the story i wrote for my JustMeans blog click here.

Drive to Cape Point
A very beautiful drive around the Cape Peninsula, through Table Mountain National Park, and back again to the city via Camps Bay, the Beverly Hills of South Africa. Our tour also include a too-close encounter with a King Cobra.

We arrived back at the guest house to find that someone had broken into our room.

Things taken: Christian’s passport and credit cards, my digital camera, 1 memory card reader, aspirin, a plastic bag, some dvd’s, and 1 stick of deodorant [nope that’s not a joke.]

Things not taken: our laptops, our borrowed [super-]nice camera, my passport. In other words, while it definitely sucked, it could have been much worse. I know these things can happen anywhere, but it is difficult not to let this color my view of South Africa. A fact duly noted by the police, when they arrived. One of the officers seems quite concerned that these events would inspire me to tell everyone back home what happened, cementing their [presumably already] negative view of Africa. I told him not to worry, that I thought Cape Town was very beautiful, but I suppose he did have a valid point. Afterall…I just posted this on my blog.

Side note: while an employee from Mountain Men private security was at our guest house immediately, the police took a bit longer. When Judy, the lady who runs the guest house called them to inquire as to why it was taking so long, she was told “well, you know, there is a lot of crime and we only have one car.”


Intent on deriving some sort of larger cultural insight from the events of the day, Christian and I wondered about our own sometimes-justified, sometimes-not travel-oriented [or Africa-related] paranoia.

I’ll admit that my attitude still bears some resemblance to what it was when my brother first left for the Peace Core; at that time I told him [in an effort to explain our mother’s nervousness about his moving to Mozambique] that “there are scary things everywhere…but Africa has…well…more.”

I’m a bit surprised by my own Africa-induced paranoia, given that I just spent a considerable about of time in the Middle East and pretty much never felt scared for my safety. But, what can I do? It is, apparently, not without some cause.

Africa, Day 2

[Cape Town, Saturday]


Prestwich Street
[The Rockwell building, Sean, and the Memorial]

Africa, Day 1

[Cape Town, Friday]

We got up early to meet Nick Shepherd [professor in Archaeology at the Center for African Studies] at the Olympia Café in Kalk Bay, the part-beach-town-part-Capetonian-suburb where we’re staying for the week.

We told Nick about the project we came here to investigate – a series of pod casts about sites in Cape Town that would be a sort of alternative audio tour guide to the city, intended for tourists coming to Cape Town for the World Cup.

Here is an excerpt from our initial project proposal:

Cape Town is in the midst of fundamental cultural transformation. As is the case in any city, new urban development projects both obscure and make visible remnants of the city’s heritage and history. In light of the upcoming 2010 World Soccer Championship, we would like to design a series of image-supported pod cast tours through Cape Town’s past and present, in an effort to expose this post-apartheid city’s complex past, and to re-present it for the new audience of tourists who will be traveling to the city to take part in the World Cup.

In August of 2005, the Gallery of the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town hosted an exhibition titled The Model Man: The Hero of His Own Drama. This show consisted of a series of illustrations and texts by Johan Schönfeldt and Ivan Vladislavic, and presented a coherent story line to connect the iconographic images. By writing the narrative after the images were produced, Schönfeldt references African oral societies, whose history, he argues, is constructed from objects. He asks the audience, “in speech, when does a speaker revert to visuals?” Cape Town Pod Casts takes as its starting point a notion articulated in the exhibition brochure; namely, that objects are an “augmentation to speech.”

Since the end of apartheid, those involved in the design of South Africa’s built environment are faced with an impossible task. Under pressure to undo the injustices of the past, they must attempt to create new, more inclusive, urban spaces for housing and leisure, while in some way paying tribute to the traumatic memories that characterize the city’s heritage. Artists, architects, and designers of the built environment contribute to the narration of a city’s history through the production of monuments, city blocks, apartment buildings, heritage trails, and graveyards – objects that augment stories told about the city. It is our intention to begin to collect some of these narratives – stories of, for, and about Cape Town, several of which are being overwritten by recent urban development.

The Zoo
After an initial [encouraging] meeting with Nick, we joined him and two of his kids for a visit to [what used to be] the Cape Town Zoo, one of the sites we are interested in documenting. Nick led the four of us through the ruined, overgrown site, pointing out where the lions used to live and how the design of the park reinforced a colonialist narrative. The language of Nick’s story – a tale of cultural domination, garden design, and the organicist dimension of colonial history – had the familiar echo of one of Arindam Dutta’s seminars. At once, I missed being in school but was also glad that Nick’s two kids [ages 3 and 6] were in tow, as it necessitated an ongoing rephrasing of complex commentary in overly-simplistic terms.

It was funny to begin my trip to Africa at a place that is basically no more than a reminder of something that was once there. Not your typical tourist introduction, but then, I supposed that is kindof our point.

After the zoo we got a mini-tour of the Center for African Studies at Cape Town University before heading to Long Street, in downtown Cape Town.

Long Street is home to [among many other things] The Pan African Market and the offices of

Chimurenga, where we met with Ntone and Stacie for some more feedback on the idea of Cape Town Pod Casts. The ensuing conversation with Ntone inspired some serious reflection on the proposed project, the occasional moment of self-doubt, and a seemingly-irreconcilable debate about whether it was possible for us to present stories about a series of sites in Cape Town without giving our audience the impression that we claimed to have any sort of comprehensive or essentialist view of the city.

Getting to Africa

Day i [Tuesday]

Fly: Boston direct to Amsterdam

This overnight flight doesn’t even seem like a big deal to me anymore. I usually sleep the whole way, but this time I met some guys in a band who were starting their European Tour. Opting for interesting conversation over sleep made for a sleepy next day in Amsterdam.


Day ii [Wednesday]


Napping, a few errands, and ironically, making non-Africa-related travel plans [to visit my mom in Milwaukee after returning]. Also a long walk and a nice dinner.


Day iii [Thursday]

Fly: Amsterdam to Cape Town

11 hours is a long time to be in a plane, but this flight actually went surprisingly fast. The process of renting a car and getting to the hotel in Kalk Bay was also pretty uneventful, save for driving on the left side of the road.

After 6 minutes in Cape Town, it’s already obvious how much new development there is in anticipation of the World Cup this summer.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A little bit of public art

In February, I painted this mural at Central Rock Gym in Worcester, Mass.


Indoor Bouldering Nationals in Alexandria, VA

The 'second order' fun of Ice Climbing

coming soon...

Moving [again]

In January, I moved into a new apartment in Somerville, near Union square. It's nice and I have cool roommates and a sweet custom-built loft bed. I don't see myself living there forever, but somehow, I'm starting to feel like I need to stop moving.


photos coming soon...

Road Trip Israel

coming soon...

Climbing Insha'Allah

coming soon...

Abdul Aziz Abu Fayed

coming soon...

To post or not to post

When I first returned from the Middle East, several people asked me if I intended to keep posting on my blog, now that I was back in the U.S.

For a while I wasn’t really sure…I didn’t know if my blog was a travel blog, or something more general. I liked the idea that it would continue, but then, shockingly, my day-to-day life in Cambridge didn’t seem to offer the same sort of material as, say, traveling in the West Bank.

Additionally, somewhere in there I actually got a job writing for someone else’s blog. I’ve been writing an editorial column about sustainable design/green building for So I suppose my blogging efforts have been directed, primarily, towards that.

But now, I’m in South Africa, doing research for a project and once again, it seems blogging might be a good way to keep track of notes and thoughts and such. Maybe as it turns out, Cliff Notes is a travel blog. J

I feel some sort of need to recap the months of November, December, January, and February…not really because there were so many interesting things to write about, but rather, because somehow it seems important that I didn’t go straight from Israel to South Africa; there was something in between.

So I think I’ll leave some space for a few posts; hopefully I’ll fill them in, but even if I don’t, there will be some sort of buffer between Africa and the Middle East.