Western Capers and COIN

I’ve been to Cape Town for the first time since I was a wee lad. Mostly back when I was an anklebiter we went to the beach and I was terrorised by my “Cape Town Granny”. My earliest memory of her being the popping of my balloon, literally, because I brought it with me to the dinner table. It haunts me to this day! Now, however, Cape Town and the surrounds were experienced more from the lens of what kind of naval bases exist there and what wine is best to drink.

Cape Town is far more stratified into racial groupings than any other part of SA that I’ve been too. A bit like Minas Tirith in the sense that there are loose concentric areas of socio-economic classes. Close in and around the universities, hospitals and city centre exist the rich white folks, further out are the coloured areas which can best be described as petit-Bourgeoisie, lower-middle class and so on, and then on the outsides, waaaaay the hell out where nobody can see them, you have the black townships, just as the government of old liked it. Only it’s been 15 years and the city is now controlled by what is meant to be a progressive liberal party represent the opposition to the ANC. But enough of this stuff! My brother has a far better reflection on this than I can be arsed to repeat. More importantly, I feel it’s important to mention that riding the train in Cape Town is fucking weird. The first time up to Simonstown saw my brother and I slap bang in the middle of some manner of Christian praise sesson. I was quite hungover and the shrill screeching of preacher man and his congregation hurt me in more than the obvious ways! On the way back, this teenager – a bit simple – literally went through the entire train, every single carriage, hugging everybody who would let him. It was endearing even though smelly, but the endearment faded swiftly after he started nagging me for cigarettes I didn’t have. Still, there are some nice views from the train, if you can ignore the crazies.train

More importantly Cape Town was a refreshing trip into wine country. Given that our wine is on par with the best French vigneron on the market (and substantially cheaper!), it was a pleasure to run around tasting and trying. One particularly great experience was hairing down a dusty dirt road for a goodly distance, whereupon we stumbled onto this tiny vineyard with some particularly awesome wines, for stupidly cheap prices to boot. I suspect running around the wine routes in the Western Cape is very similar to treasure hunts for children; only they’re alcoholic, and you never find money, and there’s no real map. But otherwise they’re precisely the same!

Back in Johannesburg, I just attended (today in fact!) a seminar at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. Ignoring the 3 hours plus I spent navigating the highway to and from (thank you rolling construction projects -.-), the seminar itself was fantastic; providing a fresh and well-voiced policy foundation for Counter-insurgency strategy (“COIN” for short) aimed at middling states. It’s always great to hear experts from military, academia and so on talking with authority on such rad war-things. Any forum where one can say “Indigenous Forces” and not be laughed at or shunned is OK in my books. As a plus, the lunch the ISS offered afterwards was quite nice as well. It made the rage-filled journey back slightly more tolerable. After all, hooting, screaming and fist-shaking at fellow motorists is always done best on a full stomach.

Literature wise John has been reading some Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), which I have to say was extremely fascinating to read. I certainly intend to read more of his stuff. Likewise I’ve started chipping away at Tolstoy’s War and Peace. This time round I’m finding it far easier to read. Perhaps because the last time I tried I was still but a teenager. With some political training in me, combined with a considerably better historical understanding of the context, it’s now far richer reading. I think I need more Hemingway though. The Russians are so awfully depressing sometimes!

In sum then, the past month or so has been flooded with wine, war, whimsy, writing and general activity which can be summed up as “smacktastic”. Excepting the week I spent marking undergrad essays. That part I would gladly forget…

Song of the day (courtesy of my brother and I’s illustrious host, Claire, whose illustriousness is exceeded only by her lack of a blog of her own. Thus no link. Sorry):

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