Friday, March 22, 2013

SOUTH AFRICA: Day 12 Cape Town to Jo'burg

March 12th

Bye bye, Cape Town!

this sculpture in downtown Cape Town sort of summed up my view of Cape Town's personality. It's an some kind of traditional figure with Bart Simpson popping out of it all over. That is Cape Town - Africa and the West, traditional and modern, Dark and Light. 

Time to go home.  :-(  And I'm taking the long route....

I love train travel - luxury train travel a la 1920s Orient Express...white glove service, multi-course meals, turned down beds...  When I was backpacking in Kenya a few years ago, I took the night train from Nairobi to Mombasa and it was heavenly!  When I saw that SA had first class trains as well, I knew that was the only option for me to get back to Johannesburg.  I would NOT take a 20 hour bus ride cramped like a sardine and why be stuffed into an uncomfortable airplane seat even for 2 hours when I had 17 hours of plane travel ahead of me to get home anyway (Jo'burg to London, then London to NYC).  So I splurged and got myself a ticket on the Premier Classe train from Cape Town to Johannesburg. It's a 26 hour trip (departs at 9am from Cape Town, arrives in Johannesburg at 11am the next day) through the SA countryside AND the perfect place to shoot certain scenes for the film.  This is the end of this trip and I had to go out in style.  First class to Jo'burg, baby!

I mean it's totally that old fashioned glam of the Orient Express glory days.  Plush carp throughout. Rich wood paneling. Super clean and fresh smelling.

The shot's a little blurry so you can't really see that that's my name on my cabin door!  Private cabins, private service, so your personal waiters and porters addressed you by name!

Tight, but plush cabin. Complimentary everything: slippers, bathrobe, towels, shampoo, lotion, bedding...everything!  

A little welcome note...!

The welcoe note and the meal schedule.  Breakfast, 3 course lunch and 5 course dinner are served in 
the dining room car! Cocktails are served in the bar car! And high tea is served whereever you like!  Um, can I live like this everyday, please!?

Dinner, of course, comes with SA wine...  So cool to sip this while breezing through the vineyard areas of this breathtaking country.

those vineyards....!

you return from dinner and, TADAAAA! your bed cabin has been turned into a bedroom, thanks to the  gracious Premier Class staff.

just what a backpacker needs after budget trekking and camping... 
(oh, and by the way, this train trip was even MUCH nicer than that Nairobi-Mombasa one!)

After this, me and the little red backpack will be headed to the airport to fly back home.  What a trip!

p.s. I also got some great footage on this train and I'm really excited to incorporate this into the film.  "Premier Classe" is now in production! 

p.p.s. If you're interested in train travel, you HAVE to check out my go to site, Seat 61.  They cover every possible detail of every type of passenger train ALL OVER THE WORLD! They're the reason I knew which trains to take in India, Kenya and SA.  I highly recommend!!!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

SOUTH AFRICA: Day 11 Cape Town

March 11th

It's my birthday! Maybe that's why I've been so obsesses with my age lately. I woke up happy today, but somehow it faded fast. I'm not depressed about getting older, it's more about questioning where I am in life now. It's definitely good to be celebrating this birthday here in SA, a place I've wanted to come to for years and now while I'm producing my first actual film project. My life is good. I would say that I'm blessed, but that implies that someone else isn't and I just don't believe in that. I'm definitely lucky, I'll admit to that. I've had opportunities that other might only dream about. Some of them I've capitalized on, others I've squandered. Sometimes, I've learned my lessons, sometimes I haven't...  There are plenty of decisions I would change, if I could, but at the same time, I'm grateful for everything that has gotten me here.

Today's schedule was hectic: Table Mountain, surfing lesson, Cape Point (the Cape of Good Hope), then a party at the pub down the street.  A BIG DAY.

...and then back to work on this film.  It's the first project that I'll be producing solely and it's purely to prove to myself that I can do this and to make one of my dreams come true.  That's the best birthday gift I can think of for myself and being in Cape Town to kick it off is the best way I can think of to begin my 38th year.  Happy birthday to me.

SOUTH AFRICA: Day 10 Stellenbosch

March 10th

Stellenbosch - Wine Country

There was a huge bicycle race today that completely shut down the Capetown and all areas south for most of the day, so I decided to head out to wine country.

But before I talk about that, I want to talk about something disturbing that happened last night. I experienced some pretty awful comments about Blacks from Afrikaaners... I won't get into details, but, ugh.  I almost cried.  I overheard some Afrikaaners talking and they said horrible things like "Blacks aren't another race, they're another species".  So vicious and ignorant.  Of course, those were rabid racist fools, but words still hurt.  It was particularly insidious to experience that after having stood in front of Nelson Mandela's cell and heard all the happy talk about about the new Rainbow Nation and forgiveness and new beginnings.  Guess it's easier to change laws than minds...  And while there are racists everywhere and they come in all sizes and colors, there IS something different about White society in SA.  I've been feeling it the whole time I've been in this country.  It seems as though, in general, for Whites here it's a given that they'll get their way, so to speak.  Little things keep happening (to me)...  Walking down the sidewalk, rather than both people giving way to pass, they seem stay straight as though it's a given that I will step aside. They get customer service before me in bars, shops, cafes, etc.  I've shared food with Afrikaaner travelers and in the normal backpacker world, that would be reciprocated, but that hasn't happened.  They've just taken as though it's a given that Black help them out. And I've stopped counting the times that they've assumed I was "the help".  Shitty, yes.  Very disappointing.  But I have to also adamantly say that many Afrikaaners that I have met on this journey have been incredibly friendly!  Really super accepting and very nice.  I think some of these little irritations I've had are less from any sense of venomous racism on their part, but rather just old habits left over from centuries of privilege.  This really has been an interesting anthropological trip.

But was about wine country (plus a little beach time and script writing time, if I could squeeze it in).  So off I went to Stellenbosch, one of the biggest wine towns in the vineyard covered outskirts of Cape Town.

Since a tour of vineyards would take hours and I wasn't feeling the herd mentality of a tour group, I decided to just hop the train there and enjoy local wine at a cozy restaurant in the cute downtown area.  Perfect. My mind was still on the nastiness of last night so I wasn't too in the mood to stay long in Afrikaaner country.  I enjoyed the wine, but I missed the cosmopolitan feel of Cape Town so I headed back right after lunch and returned to my favorite place: Muizenberg Beach!  I needed to work on this script (which still isn't written!) and maybe sea, sand, sun would be a good environment for productivity.   ???

And it worked!  I got most of the skeleton of the script done!  It's a twin story and it will take place on a train, so that's going to complicate filming immensely, so thank goodness this is a short.  The bad news is that I won't be able to shoot everything in SA, but the good news is that I'll get some great one-of-a-kind shots this week on the Premier Classe train and those will be the meat of the story.  

I can't believe it - I'M MAKING A MOVIE.  FOR REAL!!!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SOUTH AFRICA: Day 9 Cape Town

March 9th

Robben Island - Mandela's Prison

This was a must.  I couldn't come to Cape Town and not visit the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 19 years (of his 27 years behind bars).  Like going to Soweto, this was kind of a pilgrimage.  Robben Island,  is a half hour from Cape Town and only accessible by ferry.  The tour of the maximum security prison is given by former inmates (!) so you hear first-hand what life was like behind those bars.

our guide was Zozo who was incarcerated at Robben Island for 19 years for inciting a work strike.

this is the hall where Mandela's cell is.  his was cell # 7.

This was his cell. 2.5m x 1.5m. The cages for the prison guard dogs were bigger (3m x 2.5m). All he had was a palate on the ground for a bed, the small table to eat and write on, and the red bucket for a toilet.  For 19 years!

Nelson Mandela's bed for 19 years.

Zozo shows us the chart of food, clothing and communication privileges for prisoners. In order to foster animosity between the Coloureds and the Blacks, the guards gave the Coloured prisoners warmer clothing for the winter, more privileges to communicate with their families and better food. Blacks were given the least and the worst of everything.  But the prisoners would not let this divide them. They stood strong together. In fact, the prisoners banded together and even created an organized academic system in which educated prisoners would secretly teach the others at all levels from elementary literacy to masters level college work.  They called it it Robben Island University.  Sometimes, they even had to hold the lessons in a cave that they used as a latrine while working in the quarry - because that cave was the only area the White guards wouldn't enter (because of the smell - so imagine what it took to hold lessons there in all types of weather....could you ever?).

This trip rocked me to my core.  I'm still thinking about everything I saw and learned on that island.  Above all the strength of the human spirit.  I asked myself if I could survive that, for so long....

One of the most heartbreaking stories was that of Robert Sobukwe, early leader of the equality movement and founder of the Pan Africanist Congress political party. He was a brilliant man, a leader, a professor, a linguist.  He was imprisoned in solitary confinement for so long that he lost ability to speak, literally, his vocal chords were irrevocably damaged and he could no longer speak.  A linguist!  Unbelievable.

Monday, March 18, 2013

SOUTH AFRICA: Day 8 Cape Town

THE GATSBY!  (or the best hangover cure ever)

March 8th

It rained ALL DAY - the hard, unrelenting, driving kind of downpour that makes you stay inside. So we, dwellers of Penthouse on Long, hung out in the lounge for most of the day chatting, playing games and watching films.  Then Werner, a Boer staying in my dorm, came in with a giant sandwich and I remembered that one of the Capetonians who'd been stuck in that day long layover in London with me had insisted that I try a Gatsby when I got to Cape Town.  Considering that it looked liked I'd be tucked inside all day, it seemed like the perfect time to try one of those bad boys.  So I ran out to a place called Frydays (basically a chain fish and chips shop) and got myself a Gatsby!

Oh, man......  This thing must've been invented by someone with a massive hangover.  It's got everything you need: bread, meat, salad and fries. I got one with chicken, but you can get them with sausage, ham and something else that I forget... but not fish (at least, I don't think).  It's about 2 feet long, weights about 5lbs and is about 6 inches wide.  Seriously, you have to hold the entire thing with both hands.  They slice it into quarters. I figured, it's Friday and this thing will feed me for the weekend. Best part: it only costs 40 Rand which is about $5.

an entire loaf of bread...

a little lettuce

some tomatoes

sauteed chicken

and the biggest heap of fries ever

wrapped and quartered

the lovely lady who made my Gatsby

here's one quarter of my Gatsby - still massive for a sandwich! had to eat with a fork and knife
(it's doused with ketchup and/or vinegar, but i think the next version should be with gravy!)

Later that night, a bunch of us went out to catch a musician's set at a bar down the street...

(that's Werner, the one who reminded me about the Gatsby, in the green shirt)

SOUTH AFRICA: Day 7 Cape Town


March 7th

Today's highlight was definitely the African Penguin colony at Boulders beach.  What is it about these birds? I could watch them for hours...  And the fuzzy little babies.....  Awwwwwwwwwww!

I also have to share the cute food ads that Food Lovers (think Whole Foods combined with Le Pain Quotidien) has on the outsides of all its cafes.  (nevermind that "dark as the devil" comment...)

On another note, I'm kind of concerned that you (all three of you, my dear readers) might be thinking that I'm in my 40s because of something I wrote earlier....  I might, actually, even go back and change that line to "Where are all the fun, smart, worldly, adventurous 30-somethings?!", instead.  While it's very cool to be 40-something, I ain't there yet!  I'll be a year older come March 11th, but I'll still be neatly tucked into my 30s.  I'd like to hold on to that, thank you.  ;-)

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