Wednesday, November 21, 2007


This is the picture I wanted to add in the last post, flying around a dance floor avoiding stilettos. The person behind me is Theo, just in case he complains he wasn't mentioned, one of the salsa dancers; everyone changes dance partners all through the night, that's the way it's done. I think this was taken in Fiesta tapas bar where people dance on Fridays, but not hundred percent sure; anyway, as you can see from the TV screen in the background, it's sports vs. salsa, you get two types of men here, the 's' for salsa men and the 's' for sports men.


Lots of people have been asking what it is like here, so here are some great pics I got from the capetown tourist sites (google for them) and it really does look like this, I'm somewhere to the left of the big picture, and everywhere you look around Cape Town, there's a mountain. The big mountain, Table Mountain, is the distinctive feature, and the waterfront harbour in the big picture is where I was the other day.


Well, time has flown by and the lack of posting on my blog has a lot to do with the fact that I didn't have email access for a while; and when I did I had to restrict it to mostly academic purposes. Having turned up late in the year, I've had to launch into catching up with everyone else who has been here since February. I'm still hunting for a car but hope to have one soon, and then I'll be FREE!


I'm referring here to the ginormous sharks that lurk the coast and gobble up seals that act as tourist attractions. Well the sharks too are tourist attractions; tourists enjoy being dangled in shark cages, pretending to be bait, as they survey the giant teeth and mouths of the great whites who apparently are not that interested in the tourists. However, if you wear a wetsuit or are on a surfboard then you really do look like bait, resembling a seal, and there have been cases of great whites mistakenly chewing on humans instead of seals. I'm not sure actually why I'm writing about these, except that I did get the chance to go on a friend's (very little) yacht and I decided to fish, dangling a spinner on a line attached to a hoop I hung from my arm. After catching a very large piece of deceptive seaweed, and an equally convincing white plastic bag that slithered through the sea at the end of my spinner as I pulled in my line, I returned catch-less to shore. I then found out that the type of fish that go for spinners are the giant tuna and yellowtail, twice my size, the kind they strap sports fishermen to chairs when they fish for them, and if one had got my spinner I would have been yanked into the sea, no doubt into the welcoming mouth of a great white after my respective yellowtail/tuna. So it's lucky I'm a terrible, if optimistic, fisherman(woman).


[Image: copyright Jade Gibson 2007]

I feel obliged to warn would-be salsa dancers of this extreme health hazard, especially in crowded places. It is a salsa dancer's lot to be repeatedly stabbed in the very painful surface of each foot by stiletto heels or the back of the leg. You can spot a salsa dancer due to the numerous healing bruises on the tops of their feet or the sides of their legs. At the moment the floor at Buena Vista Social Cafe where I dance on Sundays is caving in, the floorboards individually settling at different heights. There is a hole in one of the floorboards however, where ones stilettos tend to go through and get stuck, revenge I reckon from the Almighty for the repeated battering of other dancers.

I am going to post a picture of me dancing, but it seems I must put in a new blog post to upload the picture, so I will do so now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


[being cool in Cape Town, copyright Jade Gibson]

The sun is out today, the harsh dry radiation-filled heat of South Africa, against a clear blue sky. I hear it is sunny in London too. There is an absence of the roar of traffic here; traffic, yes, but interspersed with birdsong and stillness. It is afternoon, and I've just returned from the University, where we discussed the concept of everyday life, an interesting yet troublesome one when one considers apartheid was once part of 'everyday life' in South Africa. Yesterday there was a seminar on the historical obtaining of freedom by a slave 'concubine' in the Western Cape.

My head addled with academia, I took refuge in a new experience; being 'cool' in a Cape Town music venue; semi-contemporary jazz, surrounded by designer dark dreadlocks in suits meandering between blonde six-foot-something men wearing sports gear (Dutch heritage, I'm told), all of them out with that contrived look of cool-ness, thinly masking the fear of not being as cool as everyone else. What does it mean to be 'cool' really, does it mean to be afraid, to ultimately be conventional, to always wear a social mask? That's what it seems, at least.

Cool-ness aside (interestingly, on the salsa floor, one strives to be known as 'hot'), the streets are beginning to look more familiar, and London is a distant smudge of bright lights and salsa floors, crowds and hurried encounters. Here, there is talk of liberation, and struggle in the past; histories of resistance and secret political meetings taking place in dance venues. Tomorrow is woman's day, a struggle in South Africa I feel still has much progress to make. As ever, a place of contradiction.

My dose of coolness over, I return to writing poetry. The wind was howling this morning, and it entered my poems, squoze between the words and infused them with gale-force emotion. When one travels, the wind bears new meaning, suggests places far away, is a means of connection with what you can't see. For the next few weeks, I think I will continue to feel there are parts of myself elsewhere, there are parts of me that others here cannot see, because they have not lived them.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Of mermaids and mountains...

[copyright Jade Gibson 2007]

Well, I saw my first mountains again, in the real sense. When they stand stark and solemn against a night sky, with a three quarter moon rising above a swelling sea coated with a sheen of moonlight. A friend drove me down the coast towards Kalk Bay (harbour), Fishhoek (beach) and Boulders beach (where the penguins are) in the evening, after I declared I hadn't seen Cape Town properly yet. The dark streets with firmly shuttered and burglar-barred shops turned into an open stretch of sky with bright stars circling the moon.

'I can breathe again,' I said. After a year in London, I could see far again, across a sea that suggested new horizons, a vast sky unmasked by buildings, neon signs and massive crowds.

I remembered once, seeing over Kalk Bay harbour wall on a dark night, a luminescent seal shooting through the waves. 'Red tide', explained my friend, 'when the algae come in they float in the water, and when they are disturbed they give off fluorescence. The squid come in too, and people fish for squid.' I remembered the seal; a flash of bright phosphorus green, spectral in the water, as it chased food, the squid also luminescent, darting in bright sparks under the waves. The seal swirled in the dark, appearing translucent as it awoke a haze of spinning green light around its body, seeming almost human in its silhouette. I understood then how sailors could easily believe in mermaids, strange spectres that ghostily haunted the waves with fish-like tails.

Earlier, I danced, my own spectral mermaid, amongst a sea of floating colours. Up to now, I have been looking at Cape Town from the outside inside; as a visitor, a spectator. There comes a time when you move from living in a place from the outside, to a time when the place takes over and encloses you, becomes shell-like, protective, and the two of you are in unison. I am not sure if I am there yet, a little torn between two places, but, slowly, I feel I am growing wings here, and soon, like the seal, will be sailing in my own light.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


[Image: copyright Jade Gibson 2007]

A few days later, I've just attended my first return-to-writing-group class in Cape Town. It's an all-women's group, although this is not always exclusively, apparently due to the chauvinist upbringing of many males in South Africa, who are brought up to think they should be in charge of women and, I'm told, try to 'take over' and prove themselves all the time, and possibly the fact that the women themselves restrict their creativity and self-expression in front of men here as well. Sometimes men are allowed in, those who are seen to be 'liberated'. I am not sure as yet if I agree or not with this, and maybe there are other reasons also, but it does mean, as opposed to my London group, there is an absence of thrillers, detective stories and male murderers in the novels. The men in my London group were not at all controlling; all very nice and should definitely be invited over to present an example of non-chauvinism to the groups here, in fact they are more likely to be subject to expressions of self-doubt and insecurity; a trait I find somewhat endearing.

I return to South Africa to hear one artist I knew has died, another was killed in the township, being mugged for money. Hijacking has apparently gone up, and it is, I'm told, unsafe to hike in pairs on the mountain now (before, it was on your own). Second-hand cars are unbelievably expensive, because the cost of new ones is out of pocket (for example, a second hand automatic 1985 Peugot in good condition, was advertised at 16,000-17,000 rand, well above a thousand pounds, whereas I've seen perfectly good second hand cars in London for 200 pounds!).

Banks here are remarkably efficient. I opened a bank account in about half an hour, bringing proof of address (in the person of my friend I'm staying with!), and received my printed bank card about ten minutes later, while I tapped in my pin at the desk. So much for the fact Lloyds in the UK took 3 months to re-open my old account properly and lost my bank card several times (once in the internal post)!

Well, the only similar thing to the UK here is the weather. I read the weather temperature is about the same; it's raining here too. Although this is winter here, and it's summer in the UK... There are floods here, and many people consequently homeless. On the radio, I hear a social worker being interviewed about the high level of child abuse in South Africa, and how there is a desperate need for foster and 'safe' homes to put children in. So, if you want to support charities... you know where to go.

I registered at the University, met the fellow fellows and department, as well as external funders who happened to turn up on more or less my first day. It seems as soon as my feet touch the ground, they are forced to keep moving (and not just on the dance floor!). I'm considering a bit of voluntary work on the side; this place is always open to skills if you have them to share, at the moment it's a question of where.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


We went dancing last Saturday, and my friend L came to pick me up. She spent an hour first having drinks with the friend M I'm staying with for two days. A thunderstorm raged (once again) outside. Well, this weather is good for something, she said, it's the Great Policeman of the Sky...

What do you mean? we asked.

The crime rate drops when it rains, she says. Didn't you know that?

Only in the Monsoon in India, says M. (Not that he's ever been there).

That's because everything is flooded, I say. Anyhow, how do you know something like that?

M shrugs. I just do, he says.

I'm telling you, the crime rate drops everywhere, says L.

After drinks, we went outside to her car to drive to the salsa venue. Oh, f*** f*** f*** f***! she screamed, they've done it again, they've got into my car and the stereo is gone. Even the speakers!

It seemed the thunderstorm had kindly masked the car alarm going off. First night going out in Cape Town, my friend's car stereo is stolen in one hour of being parked outside the house. It's the norm here. You can buy the removable fronts, so people still steal the inner sections.

I'll report it tomorrow, she says. Let's get to salsa. So we did. Nothing's changed here, even the Great Policeman in the Sky is corrupt. But the dance goes on...

Monday, July 30, 2007


[image from Wikipaedia, London page]

Leaving London; the plane rose, the houses shrank, red buses moved like beetles along the streets, slowly shrinking too, the streets became smaller and smaller. What was I doing there? I thought. As if the jaws of a steel cage had suddenly released. It was a beautiful day as the coast receded and became blue sea. I arrived 6am in Cape Town, dark and in a thunderstorm. But, out in the dark, there was mountains and space. And, at the airport, was my sister, wondering why the plane was two hours late.

I explained that as we were about to take off from Frankfurt, and approached the main runway, the pilot explained there had been an urgent telex from airport control and he was waiting for it. After a while he explained they had found landing parts of an airbus of the type we were in on the runway, and needed to send an engineer to check it was not our plane. After another very long wait, we were told our plane was safe, the parts had not fallen from it. As we turned into the main runway, and gathered speed, one of the passengers shouted out, 'We are now in God's hands...'

Well, whoever's hands it was, we got to Cape Town, although the luggage of my co-passenger, a young Scottish woman headed to work on a game park, didn't. So she headed off without any kit to her next destination as I entered Cape Town. I had over-optimistically expected to see the mountains as we came in, but all was dark as the sun was out and the wind and rain were howling (haven't you heard rain howl before?). They had been working on the airport car park so we entered a building site as we came out of the airport.

Despite expecting major cultural shock, as I had always had coming back to London, I didn't have any going back to Cape Town. Nothing much has changed, only salsa venues, and the weather maybe, which is apparently more wet than normal. No jokes about bringing the British weather with me, please. On the salsa floor, people were much the same, in fact, most of them looked better than before. It may have been my jet lag affecting me though, as I was a bit tired after packing and working non-stop before leaving the UK.

So, I'm off to explore culture and look at the theory of how creativity and practice crosses nations; hence my own translocation as my own guinea pig. And, as they say on the dance floor, one step at a time, before the spinning begins....


What comes before this post are the copies of earlier things I wrote on London, after my arrival there last year, just as an interesting comparison to life in Cape Town (and who knows where else?) this year.

Any interesting places to visit suggested welcomed.


It is cold in January, and it is dark. Darkness consumes everything; the sky never opening up, and the sound of waves and the heat of sun so far away it is as if they never existed. People walk around sniffing with sore throats and colds. The sky is so dark it is sleeping.

I am looking forwards to leaving this country again. However much I try, despite the good people and the good times, I do not feel alive without the sun. It is like being buried underground in a constant underground party; but, still, it is not sunlight.



Ah yes, I guess you thought I got swallowed up byLondon, and indeed it did feel a bit like that;something similar to Jonah and the Whale; I wasswallowed by the big underbelly of London for a whileand South Africa seemed like a tiny desperate pinprick on the other side of the Universe which I closedfrom my mind as it seemed so difficult to reach...

But then one bounces back and finds your way out ofLondon, up through its gullet and somehow back in thewaves - rocky and unpredictable, yet with some form ofhorizon and sense of journey in sight. I spent some oftoday looking at sites on arts events, research andevents in South Africa and feel a sense of comfort andwarmth again, as well as finding the research and workitself exciting. Perhaps local dispute and contentioncan appear frustrating and difficult; but from theother side it also shows a society that is dynamic andcontroversial; whereas here it feels bureaucratic andeverything is organised through call centres on theother side of the earth and it's always 'thegovernments fault' and never ones own personalresponsibility.

I have tried very hard to imagine the grey andbrown-brick buildings and more contemporary building'smetallic surfaces are high-walled mountains and rockycrags but seem to have failed to. And undergroundrailway lines cannot resemble wild tufts of grass andprotea, and, despite the fact there are (unbelievably)seagulls here that peer over the Thames on grey murkydays, the only thing resembling the sea is the heavingmass of bodies that throng through Oxford Street atthe end of the day.

There is hope, it seems. The distant pin-prick hasbecome a promising ray of sun and I realise things arenever so far away that they are untouchable, in yourmind at least.


So, what has created this sudden burst of optimism andconnection with South Africa again? Partly I can nowfind my way around London again without feelingtotally lost, and secondly because I'm looking intoresearch opportunities one the net through university topossibly be able to link with South Africa, and seeing pictures of similar places and faces. At the momentit is just talk and ideas and looming grant proposals,but I am considering two main ideas - one concerningissues around diversity and perceived culturaldifferences, and how museum and art artefacts and/ordisplays relate to this, and thus may be challengedand changed (comparing London and Cape Town, ofcourse) - and the second a bit more cognitive - alongthe same lines - or maybe even linking in - which Ihave not quite resolved as yet as I need to talk withpeople and read a bit more. There is apparently a lotof work here on how people 'read' and 'interpret'objects.


Enough of that. Those who are not interested inresearch will be yawning by now, so I move to thesalsa and dance scene here. I am proud to say I wentto my first Eastern European Balkan (I think) eventwith an additional polish gypsy band. The band camedown and danced with the crowd after and by the end ofthe evening I could dance to Balkan music (actuallyit's not that hard but it's a lot of jumping - veryenergetic). Salsa however is still full of guys who think it is'Strictly Ballroom' and discuss dance moves like theywould cars and stereos, and when I dance with them Ifeel like a clockwork doll. Occasionally I come acrosssomeone who dances with the feel of the music and ampleasantly reminded of Cape Town jazz (now turned salsa, methinks) dancers who have real rhythm. Is thisnostalgia setting in, I wonder? An altruistic androsy-pink view of life in Cape Town? But there is ahuge difference between a society where music anddance permeates the environment and social events andone where music is absent. A South American friend once told me this true storyof his first time at an English party. He went in andpeople were standing around drinking and talking andnibbling little snacks. He waited, and they keptnibbling and talking. He waited more, and still the same. Finally, he went up to the host and asked him,'excuse me, when is the party going to start?' The host looked puzzled and said, ''but this IS theparty!' I meander. Time to move on to the next subject....


Well, I helped edit a forthcoming book on Thupelo workshops for a while for Gasworks (Triangle Network),and they graciously included a tiny excerpt from mydoctorate on the workshops I attended (mostly attendeeartists quotes), but hey, I'm not complaining. It wasfun, and I learnt a lot about the Triangle network. For those who don't know about it, you can alwaysgoogle. I went to the Tate Modern for the first time the otherday and saw the Kandinsky show and realised there wasquite a lot variety to his work than one usually sees.One of my favourite paintings was very dark and madeone feel slightly nauseous when looking at it. Andthere was another very lovely very figurative painting on glass, although to be truthful, the postcardversion was better. So it got me thinking I should take up paint andpaintbrush again and deprive myself no longer. Build asketchbook.And now for another topic...


I formed my own writing group! At present it consistsof three regular writers and three totally unreliableones. But the important thing is the other tworegulars have published already and the group is verysupportive. I have my three chapters ready and a roughdraft for a cover letter and an agent contact, but thetruth is my job hunting has taken priority as I needto get work soon to pay the bills and get a place onmy own as I'm in a very temporary space. I think alsothe cultural shock, missing SA and the pressure ofneeding to find work took over my book and made it hard to edit. I think that things are easier now, and going better.

London is surprisingly devoid of enthusiasm for serious writers groups. I went to a large writer's meeting and was a bit shocked to turn up to a meeting where I can truly say two of the 'writers' (and possibly a few more) shouldhave been certified insane. One member argued that, aseveryone was an 'intellectual', that the next sessionshould start with a general knowledge questionnairelike 'who wants to be a millionaire', and he thenstarted firing general knowledge questions at everyoneand didn't stop. The other asked if anyone couldrecommend a book no longer than 80 pages as he couldnever read a book longer than that, and then added that people who have read the film AND the book amaze him, as he usually has done neither. He also tookcopious notes on the first man's general knowledge questions and answers. Not quite like the Touch of Madness Group in Obs - but maybe the two groups should change names...?

Enough of that. Back to...


Today is 9/11 and British TV is full of programmes onterrorism and even feature films on it. The situationblurs reality and fantasy; when the British thirst forthrillers and suspense on TV is replaced by 'truestories' of conspiracy and secret 'cells' in the UK breeding terrorists in numbers. There is an amazingparanoia about anyone who is muslim and, it seems,resentment for the large numbers of Eastern Europeans flocking to London. People are often tense about crimein SA, but I see a different form of tension here onthe underground, a nervousness. Or maybe it is mynervousness. The converse thing is it's safe to walkaround the centre of London on my own, but feels lesssafe to be on public transport. At first, it was very hard to take the British newsseriously compared with South African news - it seemedvery 'tame' and a bit of a joke. News like do British children eat too much sugar, etc. The last week or so it's been much more serious.