Monday, February 25, 2008

Durban's Palms

The Players
HEATHER Africa team member, Paul's partner in crime
PAUL Africa team member, Heather's partner in crime
EZEQUIEL MABOTÉ Local Durban artist, internationally acclaimed
LYNN MCMULLEN Supervisor for the Africa team
SAM SCHRAGER Head professor for the Africa team's class

The Play
Heather and Sam got time to bond while I drove. It was a little awkward having Sam in our cars and sitting with us at restaurants at first, but we'd quickly gotten used to it over the last four days of his stay in the Berg. I had the wheel. Driving on the left side of the road is disconcerting at first, but I got used to shifting gears with my left hand after half an hour of practice.
Lynn was making a noble attempt to hold the maps in the passenger's seat, but she admits she's not good with directions. And she's a lot worse than she'll admit. I was fine driving down the highway, but she got flustered the minute we pulled onto our exit.
We followed Lynn's friend, who was putting her up for the night, into Westville. Lynn has some well-picked friends: this one lived in one of the richest parts of Durban. We sucked up to her a little (because she had donated the truck I was driving) and left to drive Lynn to a meeting in the city.
She threw the maps around, tried to remember landmarks she didn't know. She introduced us to Ezequiel, who makes woodcuts and pastels and is a very chill guy. We turned around at least ten times. I stalled the car twice in busy intersections. We finally dropped her off at her friend's place; we could feel the extra room when we got back in the car.
So cut, instead, to this:

Sam had booked us what he'd described the day before as a "little cottage." We were happy because the college was paying for it. We weren't expecting something so posh. I'm pointing to the front door there.
So yeah, things improved a lot once it was just Sam, Heather and I. We crashed at the cottage and ordered in pizza. The proprietors, Pat and Keith, were extremely hospitable. "They sort of make us part of their family," Sam said late that night. Exhaustd as we were, nothing interesting went down. I shot a photo of my bitchin' shades. (They actually belong to James.) Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night after a day of driving. At least, not bad if your teacher is present.

The next morning!

Oh, and the day before, Ezequiel took us to a cool little café on the waterfront near his workshop. Heather was impressed by all the cranes. We were both impressed by the murals.

So! Sunday morning. Sam swum around, Heather slept in, I read some, started this post and talked to a few other guests. I met a guy from Israel who told me he'd divorced his wife a couple of years ago and lost his job. This led him to start dealing in African diamonds. I was curious what he thought of his own profession, so we chatted for a while about diamonds, men with guns and his kids. He urged me to go back to school and to visit Israel for the beautiful women and the "bubbly" culture.
Since we only had about six hours before we needed to go, we decided to park our car at the big white hangout, the local casino. We got directions and I drove across the city; when we got there, we found out that not only was it a very popular place for the tourist upper-crust, it was hosting the A1 Grand Prix. So there were even more TV cameras and over-wealthy Silicon Valley blondes than usual.
The casino had that celebrity mix of vulgar and classy that I've never experienced before. (Well, I wasn't experiencing it then either — due to a problem with all my clothes being washed as I left, I had only one change of clothes for the trip, and in the humidity and heat they were already smelly.) It's hard to describe exactly what it was like, and I never thought to take pictures. But this is pretty much the whole place encapsulated.
We met a couple of kids trying to get in to see the races, but we didn't have tickets; we mostly stood around and hear engines whine past. So we got through there as quickly as possible and walked from the beach out to the streets of the real city.

We caught a bus to the Indian market. The driver was big on all the zoos and tourist areas and stopped the bus in the road twice to pitch them to us in a loud, jovial Afrikaans accent ("You ever seen a New Zealand duck? A Russian duck? They have all kinds of ducks at Mitchell Park!" "Don't waste your time at the casino. You must go to the Land of a Thousand Mules!")

The Indian market, as it turned out, was closing. The shopkeepers were still willing to sell us stuff; in fact, we were there only targets, so we got hounded half to death by a bunch of lean mustached dudes trying to show us postcards and figurines. We left within ten minutes, found the mall that all the locals went to. I bought a fresh set of clothes like the good capitalist I am, made sure it was nice a light and billowy, and we headed for the Apartheid museum. Got lost. Wound up in an art museum.

To be continued... because this post is way too long. More photos soon!

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