cool runnings


greetings from Durban, South Africa. where the beach is warm, the winter is warm, and the people are… well… very friendly. Durban is definately the chillest city in the country. i got here on Friday, Aug 13 only intending to stay for a day or two. Two weeks later I am only now leaving.


I am staying in a quintessential hostel, meaning that it triples as a place to sleep, a sense of community, and a travel agent. Guess which one of those three is the most profitable. Since i got here i’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between travel and tourism. I like travelling. I don’t like being a tourist. Most of the people I talk to seem to feel that any difference between the two is just my trying to justify myself while still supporting the tourist industry. One interesting thing is how I don’t feel comfortable taking pictures of local stuff. It’s like there has to be a tacit agreement so that they have to agree: hey i’m being objectified. For this purpose I organized a photo scavanger hunt. The idea is that you get into teams and go around taking digital pictures of the city. There are different catagories (like “sexy” or “out of place” or “oops!”) and you have to get a picture for each one. later you meet up over beers and compare pictures. It’s interesting because during the game because you’re on a mission, not taking pictures for their own sake but in order to win a game, you feel comfortable doing things you would not otherwise, like taking cool pictures.

More on this later.

How have I spent my two weeks? Not especially productively but time well spent. For the first week I finally drank and then urinated Sacramento out of my bloodstream. then I turned to going to the beach every day and learning to flare, which is juggling with a wine bottle and a shaker. it’s a “sport” very popular among the bartenders here. Most of my time I spent with Sally, Helen and Luke (below)

The big tri-nations rugby finals was in durban and while tickets were too expensive for me i was able to see south africa ruthlessly defeat australia. which was fine. that combined with the olympics stirred up a bit of national pride. It was positive pride in all but one person who was overly vocal about hating americans. Later he passed out:

and in the last couple days i got my PADI scuba certificate so now i can dive whenever wherever (well up to 60 feet or so). it’s really an amazing experience. you’re neutrally bouyant the whole way so the way you go up and down is entirely by modifying the breath in your lungs. so the air you breath is not only the fuel for your body but the main form of vertical locomotion. you can’t describe it but it’s a lovely feeling. it’s really better (and a lot different) than i expected. though it’s really scary.


tomorrow i am off to visit a Luke, “a peace corps volunteer” in Lesotho, a small country completely surrounded by south africa. most of the directions involve minitaxis and hitchhiking. sounds like turkey again (directions read: “go into the village and ask for the man they call Ntate Stabo”). mm….

On Trial For Treason

Today I went to the MuseuMAfricA. It’s a kitschy place that every so
often it takes you by surprise. It has the usual native artifacts, San
Bushman rock paintings, and an exhibit on the history of the photograph
but then it has a quality that can only be South African. By this I
mean the exhibit on South African history as told by the victors. The
best exhibit in this vein is “On Trial for Treason” which is a
documentation of the historic Treason Trials of the 1960s where, among
many others, Mandela was tried and sentenced to life in prison (until
his release in the late 80’s).

Among documenting various police faux pas, such as erecting a giant
cage in the middle of the courtroom in which to house the prisoners)
they tried to document the history of each defendant a way that I’ve
only seen in South Africa. They had a photos of the defendants (there
were about a hundred or so) all over the room and under each one they
had a book on which you could write everything YOU knew about what
happened to them. It’s an astonishing idea: people who witnessed events
would make the actual history of the place and that the books were
mostly blank made the exhibit even more powerful. Mostly relatives paid
their respects to those killed by the government or gave places where
more information could be found. But I’ve never seen this idea of
participating in museum exhibits with your comments in use anywhere but
South Africa where it seems to be ubiquitous.

The other part of the exhibit which grabbed me was the display on how
the different newspapers covered the event. They had the various front
pages of every major periodical at the time lined up next to each other
and it was simple to tell the biases in each. Had they stopped there it
would have been interesting but they went further and did something
brilliant. The museum had obtained the actual negatives of the photos
for the Rand Daily Mail that week. They then showed the actual picture
taken by the negatives and alongside the way it was edited and cropped
in the final paper. The museum placards explain it this way:


All of us know how people can choose words to make a special point. It
is also possible to choose and edit photographs to put forward a
particular point of view.

Editing a picture of the placard-holding crowds changed its meaning a bit.

What a photograph means, and what people will think when they look at
it, also depends on the caption that goes with it.

The caption is very important. It explains where, when and why the
picture was taken. At the time of the Treason Trial the caption did not
include the photographer’s name.


The editor may wish to cut out or “crop” parts of a photograph that have
nothing to do with the story or that spoil the design or beauty of the

These two prints are from negative numbers 6 and 7 from the contact sheet.

The top picture shows a white child in amongst the demonstrators.

The photographer probably realised that:
* The child spoiled the story which is about the demonstrators at the trial.
* The child spoiled the repeating pattern of the placards that the women
are holding, and of their skirts.

So he changed his point of view a little bit and took the bottom picture
where the boy is at the left edge of the picture.

In the final newspaper version, the editor cut the boy right out of the
picture. He did this to make the photograph stronger, both in the story
it tells, and in its design. You can just see the boy’s hand at the
edge of the picture.




Here is the original photograph of a picture that appeared in the Rand
Daily Mail with parts of it cropped or cut out.

Note how important the caption in the newspaper is to explain what is
happening in the picture.

Can you see the 4 photographers in the picture?

Would you have edited this photograph in the same way?

Use the two L-shaped pieces of card to blot out different parts of the

Notice how the story and the design of the picture change as you more
the cards around?

Thirdly there was a scene of a black maid and a white guy watching the
treason trial on TV. On each of them there was a placard which said
“What’s she thinking?” and “What’s he thinking?”

Then later tonight I went to see the Imelda Marcos movie, “Imelda”. It
dragged a little but was mostly an interview with Imelda who appeared
completely self deluded when juxtaposed against the actual events of the
day. I thought the movie was most interesting in answering the “What
the hell was that ruthless dictator thinking?” or “How can they possibly
justify those those atrocities?” types of questions. For example,
Imelda feels that Filipinos felt better because they saw her looking
good. They identified with her so in making herself richer she was
making them feel richer as well and when she looked good, her people
looked good. To this effect she would build opera houses so the
Filipino people could have a world standard to aspire to. Of course
only a very small elite ever went to these huge buildings which cost a
small fortune but this did not deter her from building more art
galleries, more dance halls and extravagant clothes. While the audience
chuckled darkly at her twisted logic Imelda might have more of a point
than we want to give her credit for. After all: she lived it and she
knows what kept her in power. More than anything it reminded me of the
Allure of the Mean Friend episode of This American Life
( Sometimes it’s hard to fathom why people
support those who are cruel to them. Imelda was able to tap into
something very complex, very core to people. What it was it’s hard to
say but after all the terrible things she did to her country, after
being removed by a popular uprising, she returned 10 years later with a
huge amount of popular support and currently both her son and daughter
are in public office.

apartheided out and car me later

yesterday i headed to the apartheid museum which turned out not the be
the apartheid museum at all but rather “the fort”. my experience there
was cut short midway as i apparently did the entire tour backwards,
meaning only at the end did i get to the place that you’re expected to
pay at. it was like walking into sutters fort through the back door.
what got me caught was that i didn’t know that you’re not allowed to go
through independantly. after 5 minutes of explaining to guard that i
was supposed to have paid but didn’t and him trying to understand why i
was there (“are you working with construction?” he would ask me) i was
sent meekly to the front desk, paid, and then waited for the tour to
come round to the parts i wanted to see. not being able to go through
without a guide struck me as odd as did the prohibition on photography.
you could not take any pictures at all. no explanations. there were
also no photos for sale at the gift shop, which stuck to generic things,
nothing about the fort itself: flags, maps, animal guide books, mugs
with animals, flags, or both on them.

the fort was one of the ruthless jails where people were sent off and
not expected to be heard from again. you walk through and are shown the
treatment of prisoners and what they ate and how “blacks” were treated
worse than “coloreds” who were treated worse than “whites”. there were
not just political prisoners but also minor criminals there. mandela was
held there a few times during the 60s. terrible terrible stuff went on.
it is now the site of the constitutional court, which is a really cool
concept. the court was created in a very interesting way, almost
seeming informal. it reminded me a little of the seattle library in
this way. the foyer was made to symbolize a tree. aparently african
tribes traditionally held their courts under trees to symbolize the
openness of the system. also, in the inner chambers of the court, there
is a streak of a one way mirror behind the members of the court through
which one can see the sidewalk and all the people going about their
business. this after thinking how nice it was, i immediately thought
about assasinations, which didn’t seem to occur to the builders, such is
the goodwill of the country.

one of the really interesting things about this museum/monument/site was
that they really seemed to want to know what you thought of it. it was
really really important to them to have feedback, as if the dialogue
MUST go on. i was honestly shocked that, after my tour guide offered to
reshow me the places i’d wandered along alone, we got to the last room
and she wanted or even expected me to write down my thoughts and
emotions in the same book as the survivors of the camp. it’s odd how
you can do that in a monument that’s only a couple years old. it was
also interesting because, since you only go around in groups, what
comments you choose to write on the piece of paper are there for all to
look at immediately (it’s not like a drop box). however, i assume at
the end of the day the comments are collected and placed somewhere else
because there were only one or two there. despite this inability to
appeal to anyone but members in your group, who for me would probably be
my harshest critics, there was a single note on the outside courtyard
where prisoners were stripped and had to do a humiliating dance ending
with showing their anuses to the guards. the theme for the bulletin
board was “do you think people today have *too much *freedom? are there
some important issues that this display leaves out?” the note read:
“yes. discuss the important reasons we need the death penalty today.”

so today i went to the real apartheid museum . really interesting, a
little like yad vashem but more of a focus on empowerment though it
definately laid the groundwork for an argument legitimizing the current
government. what was most interesting were the cartoons critical of the
TRC (truth and reconciliation commission). anyways, was very well
thought out use of space. i wanted to buy the desmond tutu doll but it
was $50


more of a highlight in my day is getting in an accident. an insane taxi
pulled out in front of me and i just caught the front corner with mine.
in the US it’d have been his fault for being in the road and cutting
me off but that doesn’t really make sense here. point being there’s now
some paint damage on my cousin’s car, which is sad. i guess he doesn’t
need to worry about it (he’s living in london anyways) but still…
sucks. i hate breaking things. specially expensive things. this one’s
worth about 2000 dollars. it was an interesting cultural experience.
the guy who i hit cared mostly about missing business and being late and
not getting enough people in his taxi. i gave him 170 rand ($25 bucks)
and he headed off quite happily with a front light missing. i think it
may have been his fault but still, i think he needed the money more than
i did and i think you’re supposed to react more quickly here. let’s
just say this wasn’t the first time his car got hit.


States… States… This is Abroad… Come in States…

So like three weeks ago now I set up this blog and I still haven’t done a durned thing with it. IN FACT it’s almost as if I’d been eaten by lions. or something…

actually, it was much worse: i was eaten by my family for a few weeks.

First off I was in Seattle. My brother got married. The wedding was lovely and went without a hitch. Now Dima is my sister in law. It’s strange, like it’s just something by a different name, totally normal. It’s almost like it’s something that’s always been.


Mapping it out roughly like, the first week or so in South Africa was mostly a waiting game. a cold waiting game. it’s winter here! and my aunt and uncle are having their house remodeled so walls and floors are missing. this is obviously a perfect time for someone to rob them. which they did. my cousin and i returned home at 1am to find the alarm going off and the house completely robbed. my aunt and uncle had slept through it all in their bedrooms. we woke them up and called the security people. here you call the armed response team before the police. it’s crazy because in the states we consider an electric fence a pretty secure bet. when i came 10 years ago all the houses were surrounded by razor wire and had attack dogs. now those are considered easy to get past (put a tarp over the razor wire and feed the dogs poisened meat). now everyone has electric fences which apparently don’t work. here is the house opposite my uncles. they have a nice touch with the electric fence concept.

THE HOUSE OPPOSITE MY UNCLE : note the playful razorwire/electric fence combo

In general the week franticly led up to my grandfather’s hundredth birthday party, which went spectacularly. I got to hang out with about 40 of my relatives. Imagine me to the fortieth power. It was extreme, reaching high and pulling it off. A sociologist would have had a field day.


It was awesome to hang out with the cousins. I’ve never hung out with young kids before but I discovered that I love them. Or maybe I just love other people’s kids (less work). Either way, they’re lovely. Cindy tells me I should be a nanny. Maybe… I think I could be a nanny abroad, teaching young kids English. I think I’ve overcome my opposition to teaching English. Before it seemed like signing up to be a tool for globalism but I guess if people are actively hiring you then it’s like they really want to learn… and as long as my country is on top, why not take advantage of everyone wanting to learn the language? whatever way I justify it, it makes economic sense.


Then came level II of the Livni Family Experiment: the Livnis Meet Wild Animals. We (only 25 of us) spent a week at Mabula Private Game Reserve. It’s a five star resert where we spread out and enjoyed the wildlife and the highveldt environment. I went on a few walks by myself and with family but mostly saw animals on jeep and horse rides.


I saw tons of outrageous animals: lions, giraffe, rhinos, tons of buck, different kinds of monkeys, and a ton of others I’m forgetting right now. It was cool cause it wasn’t at all like a zoo. We really got to see the animals up close in a pretty natural state. Lions are just amazing. I think I had this fantasy that you’d be walking along and see a lion and then run. Actually, you’d never see the lion and it’d be unlikely that you got to run more than a couple feet. Those guys charge you at 60kph. We were 20 meters from one and we would never have known. Nutty. Scary. Here is a picture rhinos about 10 feet from the jeep:


Anyways, now that I’m cut loose from all that I should be able to update all y’all more often. I’ve been using my digital camera a ton and now I have a massive amount of photos. Far more pictures than sound. That could mostly be because I’ve been around family and don’t feel good talking to a tape recorder in front of family.


The Travel Plan:


The basic plan is to travel on a tourist bus (BASBUS) that goes around the country. You can hop on and off at various tourist destinations. South Africa is more expensive than I’d like: about $10 (R60) gets you a bed at a hostel. You can eat pretty well for another $7 and then there’s activities and transport. That’s OK but not spectacularly cheap. It all comes from not being able to cook your own food and sleep outside (this country is big on camping). So I’ll do the hostel thing for a few (4?) weeks and then it’s back to Jo’burg to help type up gramps’ autobiography. I will try to communicate when I can but while it’s cheap to call South Africa from the states, to call the states from here it costs about 34 cents a minute. No kidding! On the other hand I don’t have a phone so it’s not like you could call me anyways. So then there’s email. I haven’t been able to update this blog, read email, or anything else connectedish for two weeks or so.


And as the sun sets on the African horizon, I bid you all adieu till next entry. Here I am living high on the hog and, some homesickness aside, soon will be living the carefree life of a tourist.