Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Periphery for the Book

In order for this blog to be useful or informative (...or self-reflexively analytical...) I guess it has to include more than lyrical descriptions of sub-Saharan fauna and cryptic references to trendy neighbourhoods in foreign cities. It has to include some context. Some of the emails I've received about the blog indicate that some of you are puzzled about what lions and zebras have to do with me. So here I am, sitting at a 10-rand-per-hour keyboard, in Three Anchor Bay, at 10 pm, drinking a can of Schin Guarana, to give you some context.

Call me Corey. I was born in a hospital - one that is soon to be torn down, I'm told - in a town on the sunny side of a little island in the North Atlantic. It's now more than three decades later, and I find myself on a distant peninsula that juts into the South Atlantic. How did this happen? What has become of me? It seems I have developed into a) a traveller, b) a writer, c) an eater of squid, and most recently and most unexpectedly, d) a blogger. Tomorrow, I'm going to jump off a cliff attached to a parachute, and if all goes well, I'll become e) airborne, and I'll fly above Sir Lowrie's Pass and over False Bay towards the Cape of Good Hope.

It's because of the first two attributes that I'm here really, although there is also a lot of good squid here. Basically, I decided to take a leave of absence from my doctoral studies at the City University of New York so that I could do some readings and meet other writers and performers in South Africa, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand; do research for my dissertation on spoken word scenes in different cities; visit some cities and countries and continents I've never seen before; promote my new book, The Worthwhile Flux (Coming soon to an independent bookstore near you); take a breather from New York for a while; forestall growing old and try to evade those crises of identity and purpose that are always lurking within both successes and disappointments. Etc.  

My strategy for the pursuit of those ends looks like this. I packed all my belongings into a 5X6 storage space in Brooklyn, and whatever didn't fit I left on the street or foisted off on friends. (My poor old car Smokey had to be ignominiously towed away to an uncertain end, with a proud new red target on his hood thanks to his adoptive caretaker Alison. I wasn't there to see him go but I did say goodbye first.) I spent June in Lennoxville, New York, Montreal, and P.E.I., teaching and arranging and finishing my book, and then after a week or so of ridiculously hectic and ultimately incomplete preparation I took a train to Toronto and the next day I flew to London with Alison, who is travelling with me as far as right here, Cape Town. We stayed in London only a few hours, with a brief shopping excursion at Picadilly Circus for malaria pills, and then a mere 15 hours later we were in Johannesburg. Africa greeted us with a jungle-feverish temperature of exactly zero degrees Celsius. It did warm up a bit later in the day.

We spent some days at Kruger, we flew to Port Elizabeth, rubbed shoulders with the pachyderms and so on - things that I may tell you about later - and got to Cape Town last Friday. Here there are lots of things to do. Tonight I went to a reading/discussion with a local writer of children's books about growing up in a Muslim fishing community in Calk Bay, SA, in the 1960's. It was at a beautiful place called The Center for the Book. Tomorrow I will try to fly.

On Monday I'm leaving CT and will go hiking or pony-trekking in Lesotho for several days before returning to Johannesburg. On the 10th of August I fly to London. Several days after that, to Edinburgh for the festival there. On the 18th, Australia. In October, New Zealand. After that, perhaps Cambodia and Vietnam, before returning to North America around the 1st of December. I'll stay in Montreal a bit then, and go back to NYC in January.

To be continued.

Monday, July 26, 2004


Performing tonight in Observatory, at a place called OBZ Cafe. Staying in town until next Sunday to see Linton Kwesi Johnson, who's in town for a Spoken Word Festival at the Baxter Theatre at the University.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Abnormal Load

The sun was rising over the lowveld savannah. We walked in single file, silently, and the jackals called to one another on either side, announcing our presence. The zebras were barking and we heard the roar of a lion on the horizon. Our guide, Jumbo, told us that if a lion charged us - and we were lead to believe that this was a relatively common occurence - the only thing to do was to stare it down. And hopefully the cocking of Jumbo's rifle would be enough to scare it off. If you lost your nerve and started running, he said, the lion would take you for prey and you wouldn't stand a chance. This didn't help my nervousness about being hopelessly outmatched as a species in the African wilderness, but the sunrise alone was enough to make me happy to be there.

As it turned out no lions charged us, nor did any rhinos or elephants. Jumbo, a hulking, scarred Afrikaner with a mustache and leather knee-boots and a Winchester - exactly what you'd expect of a safari guide - was quite nonchalant about the possible or even likely interventions of those animals, but what really got him excited was when we saw an otter in a small stream. It was splashing around behind the reeds and Jumbo motioned with a tracker's gesture for us to stay still and be quiet as he crept up on it, possibly thinking it was a lone crazed hippo or a croc or buffalo or worse. When he saw that it was an otter he exclaimed its name so joyfully that I didn't understand what he had said, until I saw it for myself. He said they were extremely shy and rare, but I don't know whether that's true or whether he was just trying to console us for not being charged by any fierce beasts. In any case, had we been charged by a lion, I would have followed Alison's father's advice. I wouldn't have argued with him, I would have paid what he asked.

That was in Kruger National Park, where Alison, my travelling friend, and I spent three nights. We did see some lions in the end, two, as well as elephants, giraffes, lots of hippos, zebras, warthogs, wildebeest, jackals, hyenas, colourful birds, and enough impalas to last a good long while, both the lively variety in the wild and the slow-grilled variety in the restaurant at Skukuza. Since then we have returned to Jo'burg, flown to Port Elizabeth on the south coast, walked on one of the most magnificent beaches I've ever seen, been pushed around by elephants as we tried to feed them apples and carrots, and driven through rainstorms in the desert to get to Cape Town, definitely a candidate for the most naturally beautiful city in my experience. We're staying with Alison's family in a lovely tree-lined and well-fortified neighbourhood (locks and alarms on everything) called Constantia, but right now we're in a cool area called Observatory that reminds me a bit of an African Mile-End or Fort Greene. So far, despite all the warnings and pervasive paranoia, absolutely nothing bad has happened to me in this country except dead batteries and a small incident involving a traffic violation and a little bribery which I'm sure will make for a good story.

On the (left side of the) road in our rented wheels, we keep passing signs saying "High Accident Zone" (seems to be the whole country) and trucks hauling equipment labelled "Abnormal Load". Feeling a little abnormal ourselves in some respects, we have adopted the phrase as a motto, in the hope that the "High Accident Zone" slogan will not become the more appropriate one.

This is a short entry, because it's so hard to catch up on email and because I have to go - we're seeing Alison's Dad in a production of Antigone tonight - but I'll be back and I'll keep you updated at this site on my activities during this period of worldwide flux.