Underthecurrent


African Winters, Bastille Day, Patti Smith, Collage
June 28, 2011, 10:24 am
Filed under: popconsumption, runaway

Winter here is like perpetual Spring. The warm days are balmy t-shirt inducing intervals, the cold days are chilly. This Winter is one of the colder in the multi year cycles, with a lot of rain and regular freezing inland. I wear things like a light parka and leather booties and a lot of scarves. Businesses seem mostly heated, homes mostly not. I write this from under a multi-season duvet (we’re too cheap and transient for a proper Winter one), a wool blanket and a comforter. I am wearing a scarf, hat, sweatshirt, parka, jeans, leggings and socks. I have with me a secret weapon.

One of the most romantic things I have been given is a hot water bottle, which I typically keep at my feet and sometimes cuddle in my lap. The hot water bottles of my childhood seemed old school and I would not have purchased one of my own volition but I am now a re-convert.

We celebrated Bastille Day about a week ago in my new favorite neighbourhood. It has the kind of food\bars\people that appeal to the impractical part of me that wants to eat muffins in little shops with fake distressed tables and wear sundresses all day every day. For all of my dismissing of Cape Town last week, suddenly the cosy global movement had me at salut.

I love this interview with Patti Smith for so many reasons and not just because she is nostalgic in it for a kind of city that maybe doesn’t exist anymore.

“When I started playing I couldn’t sing very well and I couldn’t play any instrument. I didn’t know anything about technology. I’d never been in front of a microphone. I didn’t know shit, but I did know rock ‘n’ roll and I did believe that it was mine and I was one of the people and it was my art and I felt it was my right to get up and embrace it and to express my feelings through it and adding poetry or political energy or whatever.”

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A List About Liking Living Here and What I Will Do On Going Home
June 23, 2011, 9:25 am
Filed under: voyageur

1) Monkeys. Big and small, usually together, running by the roads, communicating with each other, staring at whoever looks at them.

2) The politics. Scary or not, every week is riveting, issues are weighty, it is hard to come up with definitive answers, the brain spins. Brain spin is a good thing.

3) Multilingualism. Understanding basic conversation in a third language (speaking… eh… on its way). Not going a single day ever hearing just one language.

4) The Soap Operas. I learned a lot of language #3 a traditional immigrant way: watching soapies. Not quite like home, soapies here are watched by dudes too (shh). They have helped me learn lexical structure, community values, and general cultural nuances.

5) The Medication. It’s strong. It’s over the counter. It’s very inexpensive.

6) The Ethos of Self Sufficiency. People from my boyfriend’s cultural background typically have a weird and wonderful variety of skills resulting from a social expectation of self sufficiency. Last weekend he rewired a bunch of our light sockets to alter some kind of voltage thing like he was making a sandwich.

7) Cooking stuff over a fire. As a social activity. What you do to mark special occaisions, or every Saturday, or whenever a friend comes by with beer or wine, or when you visit your parents…

Last… The food. Centuries of fusion. Indian curries plus English style condiments plus farm pantry staples plus African stews and a little twist of French pastry with Dutch style fried breads and gouda cheese and German meat curing. Portugese chicken and hot sauce for all!

Going home for a period I reflect on what I miss a bit, making a list of what to do in North America. It’s a pretty short list. I will probably: find a soy latte, eat a lot of tortilla chips and bottled salsa, try to locate the last season of Gossip Girl, order pizza with everything that can possibly be delivered with pizza (wings, bread sticks, marinara sauce), order pizza again, use the quick download speed to fix up my music collection, and eat at some kind of chinese buffet. LG is looking forward to North American breakfast cereals and cake mix, wings, and flavoured lattes. Crass list, maybe so, I’ll see you at the Pizza Hut buffet.



Twitter Does Not Matter (To Me)
June 20, 2011, 8:19 am
Filed under: popconsumption | Tags: ,

I was one of the first twenty people within my college network on facebook. I remember when blogging meant Diaryland or html coding and when Blogger was born. I was there at the Apple revival, when people would come up to my laptop in coffee shops and marvel at how weird it looked. Early adopter, probably not. The list of zeitgeisty stuff I missed or never got behind is just as long. There are other things I thought were interesting that never made it. But I’m nobody’s tech phobic grandmama, for the record.

But Twitter is something I can’t really get behind. I can understand why it appeals to certain demographics and what use it has in society, it’s just not something I need to participate in. Ever.

1) I Don’t Need to Know Right When A Story Breaks. The most recent twitter victory was being first to the Osama story. The thing is, stuff like the Osama story does not profoundly affect me in such a way that finding out about it three hours or even three days later is a major problem. If something does affect me directly, say some weather disaster, I will probably be busy dealing with it in real time. There have been claims about how the revolution will be tweeted but there is little analysis substantiating this.

2) I Don’t Need More To Read. People laud twitter for passing around viral articles and inspiring postings. Fair enough, but I am currently sitting in bed with the Sunday paper, even though it’s Monday. It easily tops 60 pages. My bookshelf and inbox are perpetually full. The stuff I have seen that has been made ‘famous’ via twitter has never changed my life the way other writing has. It well might someday but,

3) I am Lazy. I am too lazy to follow what’s going on and prefer that others do the dirty work of making topics trend and things famous and sifting through RTs, self adulation, mutual congratulations and new hashtags. Then, important things can find their way into a condensed mainstream source for my lazy self to review. I like journalism that gathers and analyzes for me, this is why I do not attend – say – city council meetings although I am happy to read about them in a few hundred words later.

4) I Do Not Care What Ordinary People or even Celebrities Are Doing During Mundane Moments. Or even, really, interesting moments. I, like many, enjoyed that brief period when the internet opened up to the common man and stay at home moms took to status updates in a frenzy. Then I, like many, realized that people overall are interesting en masse but boring in specific incidence and that I only really care what one person in the world has for breakfast and I can just ask him when he brings me tea in bed. Internet voyeurism is just like any other hobby.

There is a place for something that brings me exactly what I want without effort but the most difficult part is that exactly what I want is so fickle. Some days I feel like investigating the finer points of cooking various kinds of rice, other days I want hard news, the next day I want the (dilettanti) content of pop culture fashion and music blogs. This may be what makes twitter ultimately so useless for me: my everyday interests are too diffuse for the purposes of following.



About Not Being Sick (anymore)
June 15, 2011, 1:58 pm
Filed under: hypochondria

I don’t know if it’s not being sick all the time anymore, or leaving work, or being with LG, or leaving certain aspects of North American society, or even taking vitamins; there are too many variables. But my thought process has changed, my brain is different now, I like it better. This isn’t an allusion to depression, it’s just a difficult-to explain-insight.

Being sick all the time. Looking back, my immune system is a complicated thing that I did my best to ignore until things started to go seriously off the wall. This may make me sound like a loon but I’m pretty sure I can’t handle most shared central heating and cooling systems. I first figured this out in a house where the heating ducts were disgusting and I began to get unexplained skin problems and constant respiratory illnesses. They allergy tested me and could find nothing compelling, but I moved out and things improved (enough).

For brevity’s sake, fast forward to 2009. I don’t think I wanted to acknowledge the decline. I also didn’t want to see doctors because after having lived with more than one and socializing with many I didn’t have an extensive amount of trust in what I would be given, but moreso I was really afraid something was wrong and if there was bad news I didn’t want it.

My immune system went insane. I started having hyper reactions to things I was previously allergic to, ‘can’t breathe’ reactions that would knock me out for hours. I had tightness in my chest and secretly wondered if my heart was under stress. My skin developed weird patches and once after a fever I got a massive blotchy fever rash I had never had before. I was constantly fighting off sinus infections and chronic infections in my gums. My joints began to hurt and pop. When I got sick, I would get crazy bed ridden knocked-on-my-ass sick. Most disturbingly, a massive patch of hair on one side of my head completely fell out, with light general loss all over. I changed the way I wore my hair, didn’t tell anyone, and read about it incessantly. I figured my immune system was being overstimulated and attacking everything.

And then I moved. No more office buildings, no more air conditioning or heating, no more forced air circulation. My hair has grown back in the same pattern it fell out, just much quicker. My joints no longer hurt or pop, my sinuses no longer swell every couple of months, my skin has no real disturbances.

I had to get a chest xray for residency purposes and both the doctor and the specialist commented on a strange large shadow in my lungs – typical to someone who had severe childhood pneumonia or who suffers from moderate asthma. That shadow was not there four years ago, I have never had asthma and I was a healthy kid. Both agreed whatever it was, it is okay now.

I didn’t write much about it at the time because I didn’t want to confront it for what it might be. I didn’t even really tell people, including LG, until I arrived here. No one wants to be sick. It took a few months on arriving here for things to start to calm down, and the last six months feel normal. I realize in retrospect that avoiding all Doctors and basic screens was probably a bad choice, that I could have at least been given the advice and chosen to disregard it.

The other factors have resolved themselves in a similar way. Leaving work has slowly allowed me to adopt more open thought patterns, to avoid being constantly future oriented, and to socialize with normal people who behave in normal ways. I don’t really like writing about my relationship with LG because I am oddly superstitious, but it’s good and I did not foresee it being this way until it basically fell on top of me and refused to get off until I gave the mercy signal. I still love most aspects of being away from North American society, which is not some kind of secret self hating assertion, nor a judgment on people who like it there. Maybe the change is a mystery stew, maybe it’s just growing up, but I will take it.



One Weekend in Kaapstad
June 14, 2011, 11:49 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

(LG had to write an exam proving he is adept at English. The problem is he is an artist and prone to sudden tangents and unconventional speaking patterns and there was both an essay portion and a speaking section and it is unclear if he will conform to the marking model and be deemed sufficiently bilingual even though he graduated from an exclusive English private school, holds University degrees where instruction was completely in English, and spends most of his day around English people including his boss and me.)

On the drive there we went past Monkeytown, a primate sanctuary with the tag line “where people are caged an monkeys run free!” I found a flyer mentioning wedding facilities and proposed that we get married there, with a monkey bridal party. So far, response has not been enthusiastic.

I will say that Cape Town is beautiful, the way the roads wind up into the mountains and suddenly below there are orderly homes and sparkingly ocean panoramas. I do not love it, but it is beautiful.

He studied, I wandered. Through the hippie luxe stores in the Cape Quarter where I bought things like giant macaroons and wild game pate. Up and down Long Street with its cheap lunches and African art. Past the anarchist bookstores in Obs and up the steep slopes of UCT.

Killed time over nice coffee in shops with artsy magazine piles, had beer in the afternoon with Mexican food that tasted like Mexican food*. Dressed like I was living in a city and not in leggings and a hooded sweatshirt in a seaside cottage a long ways away. Spent a morning in the enclave of Camps Bay and a night in Gardens.

I don’t really love Cape Town the way I have loved Johannesburg or Durban, no matter how many times I visit, and I can never really explain why (but will try). Maybe it’s because Durban, to me, has always felt like Havana, a faded holiday playground post-revolution. Charming grit. Joburg, on the other hand, has shown me things I have never seen anywhere else in the world. A megalopolis on the precipice of gentrification, and one dealing with a fairly intense level of organized crime, when I lived there things had not yet become twee. Cape Town, sometimes, with its eco friendly developments and shabby chic wealth feels like it could be Vancouver, or several parts of Toronto. It is a microbrewery and organic farmers market sort of place, a little too succeptible to the whims and trends of globalization. Soft.

What I am seeking in a city is not a city that fulfills my every demand, especially those planted by excessive consumption of newspapers and magazines, but one that orders for me and tells me what I will be having. I don’t really want to sit in cafes designed to feel vaguely like New York or Paris, and I have a distinct disinterest in most tapas (or claims thereof) outside of Spain. It is not a selling feature, to me, if the club DJ has played in London and has brought back the latest tracks.

I think Cape Town is a great tourist town. It caters to the comforts people miss when abroad while having just enough character and beauty to make nice pictures. It is the perfect stop on a multi-leg trip when a person cannot handle another serving of starch plus meat and would kill for a 200-count sleep and the ability to communicate in Western standard English. The people are well groomed and there are a charming variety of accents. There is wine for all and moderate night life and a comfortable amount of well-labeled history.

It’s just not my town.

*Point one: there are a strange variety of Mexican restaurants in Africa that serve things that frankly have nothing to do with Mexico or mostly food at all. Point two: to be female and drinking beer is so weird in some places a guy actually looked at my cafe table as he walked by, leaned in, leaned out, and muttered “drinking beer!”