Or at least, that’s what I told the Lesotho border control guy when he looked at my face and asked what happened. He responded, “my friend, it looks like the donkey won…” I can’t say I disagree!
Now, I don’t just drive into neighbouring Lesotho to get into fracases with asses. I can do that quite fine here in South Africa thank you very much. Nay, this time I was off for the annual snowboarding pilgrimage so that I could remind myself what snowboarding was like. This time however, I also managed to remind myself why hitting ramps on the first run down without checking it out first is a bad idea. Long story short, I hit it badly, I landed badly (ie with my face) and thus my face turned into hamburger.
But aside from this vital life lesson which I gained, last week turned out just great. Heading into Lesotho with Juliet (of Tokyo Rage against the Machine awesomeness) and 3 of her friends, I was reminded of why these small catches of time in which time seems to be irrelevant are so important. Once entering bokpoort and our austere accommodation very little about the giant stress cloud that is Johannesburg seems to matter. Good company, good wine/beer/hard liquor and the ability to see the milky way in a night sky so clear it’s painful, these are the things I like. Yessir!
There was ironically very little snow during the snowboarding part of it all. But Afriski know this, and make snow by the bucketload, so we were able to hurtle down the slope surrounded by brown mountainsides. The newbies learning to board for the first time all picked up in a matter of hours which was not only impressive, but enabled everyone to actually enjoy themselves rather than worry if everyone’s having fun. Everyone had fun. Even myself after I grated my face on the slope. Fun was indeed had.
Are funny creatures. We tend to rally around the oddest of things. Elections, rugby, our barbecue technique and, after today, our football.
After watching the opening game and ceremony, in which we drew against Mexico 1-1 (a good score, considering how crap our team is!), I have yet to encounter the same amount of collective pride in a national team as I did tonight. When we won the rugby world cup in ‘95, it was largely fat white dudes parading around celebrating, or at least to my memory. When we won it again in 2007 I was in Japan, but I believe the same kind of spirit was in existence for a brief period. After seeing this game, and the excitement in Johannesburg during the week leading up to it… wow, we are a strange nation!
The sheer passion witnessed amongst all kinds of South Africans during this game, the cheering of the simplest tackle or pass, it all makes for an incredibly inspiring show. When our goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune makes an easy save, or simply collects the ball, the entire crowd erupts in a cacophony of vuvuzela trumpeting and screams. I take part, because I feel the same invested passion in the importance of this game.
The opening ceremony was also quite appropriate. Austere, yet symbolic. Graceful, yet inherently primal in the kind of way only Africans understand. It wasn’t the excessive, bombastic display of sheer excess formalised into giant formations of drummers and soldiers like the Chinese olympics, but I would have been disappointed if it was. This is Africa (TIA) after all, and to spend billions on an hour long ceremony would have shown the world only our incredibly irresponsible side. Instead, the ceremony as it was (and to an extent, the game), showed that. yes. this is africa, and we don’t have much in the way of excess, but what we do have is a unique sense of self which Westerners can only contrast with depressingly bleak existentialist representations of society. Tonight was a celebration. I was initially depressed at the thought that this much energy and money was being focused into such a small project compared to South Africa’s more obvious problems, but the resignation that this kind of focus of energy would never have emerged without a soccer world cup prevails.
Johannesburg is the focal point for all this. I didn’t realise it until my brother noted that the myriad flags adorning the cars were not at all normal in his town. I’m sure they are now, but Johannesburg has traditionally been the heart and soul of South Africa. It’s not as pretty in the superficial way that Cape Town is, nor is it as obviously fun as the beach city of Durban is, but everyone comes to Joburg, no matter what! Here in Johannesburg, being South African is at least for this moment in time a fantastic thing to be. It’s patriotism and nationalism rolled up into one big bag. Sport is a matter of waging politics by other means, and it’s awesome for now! At least, that’s how we feel for the tournament.
So, much like the fantastic rugby world cup victory three years ago, I shall enjoy this month. Not because it represents a paradigmatic shift in South Africa’s conscience, because it doesn’t. But I shall enjoy it because it represents yet again what we can be. The ideal manifestation of South Africa society is forced through during this tournament. And it’s nice to be reminded of the superego, the heavenly aspect of ourselves, which we can be, which can strive for. Maybe one day our children or grandchildren will experience this kind of unity and enthusiasm on a daily basis. For us, however, it’s simply a taste of what this fantastic country can be.
Song of the day: – K’naan and Bisbal – Wave your flag (should have been the official theme anthem!)
It doesn’t have snow, and it doesn’t rain for three months, but there are some things that make Johannesburg Joburg. Here are my top three things about it which I love:
1 – Dry Bush Veld
The crunchy sound it makes when you walk over it. The yellow pale bleakness which it paints across the parks, suburbs and grassy areas of the highveld and surrounds is an acquired taste, to be sure, but my gods it’s the epitome of this area!
That's not me, but it could be any Joburg kid in winter
2 – Plovers
Guard your children!
Plovers and I go way back. When we were kids playing in the field next to the Alexandra township, or arriving at the soccer field up the road, there would always be hordes of plovers guarding their nests like bloody-crazed hellbirds from the abyss, flying straight at any child who dared wander too near. I only found out in my adulthood that they charge anyone. Children are just softer targets. Plovers are Joburg’s way of telling you to bleddy well pasop (beware)!
3 – Oak and Itchy-ball trees
Best used in anger, not defense.
The trees in Autumn and winter turn the obligatory orange and yellow, before finally getting naked for the winter months. But in Joburg, the oak and “itchy ball trees” were the most distinguishing plant feature of this season. I say “itchy ball” tree purely because I have absolutely no idea what they’re really called. But I can tell you that, as kids, we used to take great satisfaction in putting these down other peoples’ shirts and rubbing it in good, creating the kind of itchiness normally reserved for flea-bitten prisoners and hobos. Not so much fun when it happens to you, but otherwise hilarious.
And there it is! Johannesburg in winter (and as it gets into the mood for winter) is something not to be missed. I love it, and then hate it, and then miss it when the sweaty-ass of spring rears its ugly head. It’s something I loved as a kid, missed as a teacher in Japan, and relish as a Joburg resident now.
Song of the day: Something I fell in love with many years ago, Laura Veirs – Galaxies
The UNU is located in Shibuya, so we took a bit of a stroll through Harajuku to the Meiji Jingu nearby. I hate instagram photos, but The Scientist loves his cat alter ego, so what’s a girl to do? I love Meiji because it offers such a gorgeous natural respite from the smoggy, pushy city. I almost felt like I was in a different country - Hokkaid […]
Quote of Awesomeness
"I come in peace, I didn't bring artillery. But I am pleading with you with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all."
- Marine Corps General James Mattis, to Iraqi tribal leaders