Sunday, March 30, 2008

this 'n that again

Old habits die hard. So although I reluctantly withdrew from SkyWatch Friday a few weeks ago (because with pressure of time and the huge growth of the group, I felt it was unfair to be a member but not be able to reciprocate visits) I still look out for good sky shots wherever I go. Here are a couple of recent ones.

Street Art Update: A while ago I showed you a log that had been turned into a bikini clad woman by a clever artist.

Well, she has a family now! A man, child and dog have joined her on the grass. You can see more on Port Elizabeth Daily Photo.

On Thursday a new guesthouse opened in town. this is not particularly newsworthy, it happens all the time. But what makes this one special is the history behind it. In the early days of PE, parcels of land were granted by the Colonial Government in Capetown, and subdivided, to be sold off so that the funds raised could be used for special projects. One of the earlier land grants of this type was in 1856, and it was in favour of the Grey Institute, to fund the building of boys and girls public schools.

This is a photo of the original handwritten Land Grant, and the accompanying surveyors drawings of the subdivided plots.

The guesthouse is in Ivy Terrace, and is a delightful stone-built cottage with thick walls and beautiful wooden trim and floors. The new owners have a Title Deed showing that the house was bought by a Mr Bilson in 1858. What makes this really special is that the house has stayed in the Bilson family ever since, until it was sold recently, because Miss Bilson was too old to continue living there alone. You can see her at the opening of the guesthouse, with more pictures of the cottage on Port Elizabeth Daily Photo.

The new owners have restored it very sensitively and furnished it with period furniture and wonderful old items, even the garage has a delightful collection of old tools. If you ever want to stay in this fascinating old place, let me know and I'll give you a contact number!

And the ABSOLUTE HIGHLIGHT of my week has been a visit to the PE Opera House yesterday, to see the play Sizwe Banzi is Dead. What an amazing experience!

The play was created 36 years ago by Athol Fugard, along with acclaimed actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona, at the height of Apartheid. It is a protest play, dealing with the alienation of South African blacks, and their loss of individual identity under the Apartheid system. It was naturally banned at the time (freedom of speech was viewed as a Communist plot, and anything remotely anti -Government was outlawed and punishment for breaking those laws was very harsh.) So it played "underground" to black audiences, mostly in church halls in the townships. It has come full circle, and the actors who took such chances to perform the play in those days have returned to give absolutely BRILLIANT performances at the Opera House.

Note the very sparse stage set, this play did not rely on razzle dazzle or music to entertain, but pure brilliance! Also, because it was done at a time when a Police raid could happen at any moment, the props had to be easy to move around, and be seen as everyday objects. (Excuse the horrible photo, cameras were not allowed so I had to sneak a shot with my cellphone before the show started.)

One would wonder how relevant a this play could be 14 years into democracy, and played to mixed audiences. Well, it worked. It was almost a surreal experience, sitting there next to a black man a few years younger than me, both guffawing loudly at the absolute ridiculousness of the laws and human relations and behaviour portrayed on stage.

It was sort of awkward but not..... I am at a loss for words to describe the feeling. There were those of us from the group who perpetrated the injustices (and, lets be just blunt as usual, EVIL treatment) even if we personally were opposed to it. We sat in an anonymous audience, so who was to know who actively supported it and who didn't? It was purely the colour of our skin that could be seen there, "Whites", used in the play with the same derogatory undertones that the term "Blacks" attracted in white circles. So in a way, the sort of generalised loss of identity, and being lumped into a group that is despised or belittled was part of the experience for the whites at the theatre, and it was obviously an eye opener. Because it lasted for an hour, not for years and years, and we walked away unscathed by it, in contrast to those who suffered untold loss in those dark times. There was again the discomfort which I often feel when confronted with what really went on behind the scenes, the regret that I took so much at face value and didn't look beneath the surface to find out what was being censored so vigorously, guilt that I didn't do more to oppose it, the feeling that, by an accident of birth, I live in relative comfort and privilege, while so many around me, no less deserving, live in poverty and trauma, with little chance of ever breaking free from its grip.

But this is where the surreal part of the experience comes in, because you would have thought it would be a real downer to experience all that. But it wasn't. We had deep belly laughs all the way through. I can't speak for how the black people in the audience experienced it, but I can tell you that a real camaraderie developed between me and the stranger sitting next to me. In fact when asides were made in Xhosa, which had half the audience shrieking with laughter while the other half wondered what they had missed, he spontaneously translated for me. I almost got a sense that the feeling was...."now at last we can share the truth with you, see what it was like?" but not in a bitter revengeful way, but in a "wasn't it ridiculous?" way now that we all see each other as individual people and not as nameless members of the Black or White group.

The only words I can apply to the actors and their portrayal of the characters are superlatives, and even the strongest ones I can think of do not do justice to their performance. All I can say is that it was an HONOUR to be in the presence of such brilliance, and I left there awed, humbled, entertained, enlightened, challenged and enriched!


Jenty said...

Those sky photos are incredible! I've just joined the skywatch
And what an interesting play! I want to see it now, I'll have to look out for it in Joburg.

Old Wom Tigley said...

Your enjoyment and feelings apout this play have not lost anything in there writing... It is so good to be moved by something no matter what it is.
Your Sky Watch are 'special' and would be well thought of by all Sky Watches. I understand why you feel you can not join in but the offer is a open one... I put about visiting others now... but I do put that I fully understand not everyone as the time to visit all. Very few do visit all, but it still grows each week. If you feel you would like to come back please do so, maybe just drop by some one you have never visited before and say hello.
Loved the history behind the hotel. and I liked very much the garage collection..

All the best to you and Max..

Anonymous said...

Incredilbe sky watch photos.
They are amazing.

Loved to read all the rest and that sculpture on the garden seemed great to me.

Suzi-k said...

thanks for the invitation, Tom.
Jenty.... I think you may have missed the boat. I think PE was the last place they did the show, which is why President Mbeki flew down here on Thursday to see it, as it was so historic. We saw the second last show, and Saturday 8pm would have been the grand finale.