Well it’s been an up-and-down week. The cold and the rain was a downer and the upper came in the form of a quite surprising date which I don’t want to jinx by talking about here! I will say that dating is a terrifying (and also great) experience. The joy of a returned email (with promising signs of more dates), the anxiety of further dates and the despair of long delays. I think Emily is right when she says men are a romantic lot. I’m sure the object of all this emotional turmoil is happily going about her day and not sighing dreamily and wondering what she’s going to say at the wedding 😉
On the writing front, things are progressing slowly (distractions aside). One article down this week, one to go (and then a few next week). In line with Charlotte’s goals, I want to exercise more, which I’m convinced will give me the energy to write more as well. (We’ll see.)
On the reading front, Phillips got bumped out of the way by the latest edition of the London Review of Books. To my horror and fascination, an author who I quite admire had some quite scathing things to say about Cape Town. You can read Jenny Diski’s article on her “awful, really awful” trip here.
My reaction was mixed. On first read I thought “she’s right” and asked myself if I really shouldn’t be making plans to live in a better country. But then I talked to my mom and dad about the article and thought about it some more. I’m still not sure if Diski dislikes all white South Africans or if she just had a bad holiday or if she thinks South Africans generally are just awful.
But in true South African fashion, I think I was pleased that someone (a prize-winning author) bothered to write about us at all. And I respect the fact that she was being honest about what she experienced. Cape Town is a city of contrasts and the legacy of apartheid — economic disparities, discrimination (now going the other way in terms of affirmative action), racial tension, fear of crime, poor leadership, a culture of entitlement, poor standards of education (at the lower levels) and so on does not make for a lot of good-feeling when you think about it.
But equally depressing (perhaps from a UK perspective) was the fact that the main (apparently racist) white person she spoke to had retired here from the UK eight years before. I think part of the awfulness of her trip, as she acknowledges, had to do with the fact that she came here with high expectations. This was the country where Nelson Mandela walked free from prison, a “place where minds had been changed”.
I find myself becoming defensive when reading articles like this. I think that it’s quite easy to fit one’s experiences into a pre-existing, Afro-pessimist framework. And, yes, she could have spoken to more people and had a different experience. But perhaps South Africans should also be doing more to tell a varied and nuanced story to each other and to the world. I think we focus too much on the natural beauty and not enough on what it’s like to actually live here. A destination is only as good as the stories it generates. What different stories are we managing to tell?
Incidentally, I see Jenny Diski has a blog (not updated) here. And I’d be interested to read her travel-writing in On Trying to Keep Still. Her website has this to say:
Jenny Diski’s two most recent works of nonfiction, Skating to Antartica and Stranger on a Train, described what were as much inner as outer journeys, journeys of the mind. In these books, she confessed that she is never so happy as when she is at home, and that her urge to travel is a contrary one, something she is not sure that she herself understands. In On Trying to Keep Still, she explores her own contrariness in new and challenging ways. Inspired by Michel de Montaigne, who retired to a tower in southern France in middle life and hardly ever left it, writing timeless essays which have since become famous, Jenny sets out to record her own state of mind in places as varied as New Zealand, deepest Somerset and inside the Arctic Circle.