Monday, February 18, 2013

View from the Hammock

Feeling a bit bloggish, but not very.

We are perhaps the only travelers in the history of South Africa to go from The Happy Hippo Hostel in a seedy part of Durban directly to Amakhosi Safari Lodge, an over-the-top luxe boutique hotel -- 9 opulent cottages on the River Mkhuso (or something like that, I can't be bothered to find out the real name) -- in the middle of the Bush Veldt.

Think gourmet high tea and taking a bit of a break during afternoon safari for a glass of wine while the giraffes stand around and ogle, as giraffes tend to do, you know.

The verdict of my Commie companion, who I forced to do this:  "Good choice, comrade!"

This is the first time on this trip that I've really relaxed.  Nothing to do between morning safari (starts at 5 am) and afternoon tea (4:30).

I'm loving doing this blog, but/and it's actual work.  I'm going to take a few days off.  But first, I'll leave you with a sight for the ages.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

THE DAY: February 15, 2013

This was one of those magical days.


Went to the Campbell Museum.  Had to phone for an appointment, so we were the sole visitors.  The Campbell is the former mansion of Scottish sugar barons.  The last of the line was Killy Campbell, a woman who never married, and was devoted to African, specifically Zulu, culture.   She was "married to her books and collections."  Of course, one can't help wondering  if such a woman is actually a lesbian.  She was CERTAINLY a Crackpot Crone.  In her day, very few white women had the Zulu king to dinner on a regular basis.

Her collections are now this museum run by the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.  Yandisa, a young man studying Tourism Services, was our astonishingly knowledgeable guide.   Unfortunately, no photos were allowed.   Two fascinating facts from Yandisa:  

In some tribes, women could only take off their headdresses after asking permission from the gods, by burning incense and praying.  So mostly, they slept with the headdresses on.

Sangomas (aka "witch doctors," who were both women and men) served an apprenticeship where, when they weren't studying, they had to go around without speaking or having eye contact with anyone, slightly bowed down, to imbue them with their mission to serve the people.  Sometimes this lasted six months.

Yandisa also gave us instruction in the different kinds of Xhosa tongue-clicks.  

Killy saw that the very fabulous modes of traditional dress were starting to be debased by modernity, and she commissioned Barbara Tyrrell to paint watercolors to record as many costumes as possible.  

The museum displays over 250 watercolors.  It is an awe-inspiring vision of African dress.  The love of adornment is still a primal passion in Africa, but mostly it's a lot simpler now than the everyday tribal garb of the past. 

Married Woman

Woman Sangoma

It was, I'm sure, just a little peek at a culture that was/is so rich.  For Eric and me, it was intoxicating.


Hlengiwe arranged for us to meet Colette Bodenstaff, event planner, lesbian magazine editor, and trainer of marine mammals at UShaka Marine World.   

If I come back to Durban, she'll organize a performance for me.  She's as warm and interesting as you'd imagine an event planner, lesbian magazine editor and marine mammal trainer to be.  Needless to say, working with dolphins puts a lot more food on the table than working with dykes.  She invited us to see the shows the next day! 

Below is a photo from ALICE, the lesbian magazine that Colette has just assumed control of.


Then it was on to meet  Hlengiwe's good friend, Gnina Mhlophe  (Yandisa's lesson helped me say her name correctly.  Or somewhat correctly.  Or better than before my click-lesson.  People prefer to have their names pronounced correctly, Africans included.)  Gnina is a storyteller, poet, actress, director, playwright, literacy activist… I'm sure I've left out a few of her worldly manifestations.  She's performed all over the world -- won an Obie in New York!  This is a POWERFUL woman.  

Gnina surrounded by books she has collected for literacy campaign

She was so kind to us.  She took us to her beautiful art-filled house overlooking the ocean, where she's created a peace garden.

Even her clothesline is a work of art.

It was an honor to meet this gracious woman.  The drive to her house was very special, just the two of us in her car, with Eric and Hlingiwe following in our car.  Listening to her speak, I could sense such a deep connection with language -- and this is her 3rd language, Engish!  And I felt the intensity of her listening when I told stories in my very different American "Terry Baum" way.  Really, her listening helped me see that I had a way! 

Gnina is a powerful, visionary, successful, fulfilled and happy artist.  Wow.  I'd like to be that when I grow up.  Needless to say, she's also very beautiful.

Gnina and Family -- Parents upper left


Then we went to meet a young Communist that Eric had contacted.  Eric is a Communist, and we had come upon a flyer for a meeting that was already over.  But he called one of the numbers on the flyer, and this student was willing to talk with Eric.  So we went to Steven Biko University to connect, but we were late and Eric's contact had already left for a meeting.  But Hlengiwe was able to rustle up two other young Communists, by talking to the people standing around.  So we went out to dinner with these two young men, and debated and discussed South African politics for a long time.  

Hlengiwe held her own very well against the Communists.  I was impressed.  That girl is articulate and strong and has real presence.  I didn't say much.  It was hard to understand people, in the noisy restaurant.  Plus I figured Eric already knows most of my opinions.  


No, the day wasn't over yet.  In fact, the most special part is to come.  

It was too late for Hlingiwe to take the jitney home.  So we drove her 30 K to her home.  She lives with her mother in a house they had built on land her mother owns in what Hlingiwe called a "bantu."  Formerly lands segregated for black people.   Hlingiwe told us her mother would probably be asleep, so we wouldn't meet her.  But when we arrived, she came out in her pajamas with an umbrella in the pouring rain and invited us in!  Hlingiwe's mother was so wonderful and warm and welcoming.  She gave me this bracelet she had made!  

Mrs. Buthelezi talked about her work with the Methodist Church, and  both mother and daughter talked about the project of slowly creating their home, room by room. When they get their guest room built, Eric and I will not be permitted to stay anywhere else when we come to Durban.   

Mrs. Buthelezi showed me her vegetable garden, which is her great passion and way to relax.  There was one thing that really upset her:  That she would not be able to cook us a meal.  I mean, I'm sure she would have, right then, at 10 at night.  But we were full, it was late, and the next day was our last in Durban, and we had lots of plans.  Hlingiwe reported today that her mother cannot get over the fact that she won't be cooking for us.  She's a great cook.

I can't tell you how special it was to meet Hlingiwe's mother.  She called me "sister."  Sorry, no photos.   I didn't want to take notes or pictures.  I just wanted to BE there on the couch in the Buthelezi living room

And then I drove home in the pouring rain in the black night.  Oy vey.  I will be so happy not to drive for a few days.

And that's all that happened on February 15, 2013 to Terry and Eric in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal province, South Africa.  Maybe nobody has read this far, but I'm glad I recorded it all.  When the universe gives you a day like this, you need to capture it. 

Everyone TOLD me Africa was dangerous!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

African Days

Driving driving driving through the beautiful Karoo mountains.


This is a BIG country.  We've had day after day of long drives. 

Passing many groups of small pastel houses, rectangular and round, spread across the hills. 

We'd drive through small towns that seemed all black.  Very poor looking, and spilling over with people and life.  

The first couple of times, we said to each other, "It must be market day"  -- i.e. the one day a week when people come into town and sell on the street.  But after a few towns in a row with "market days," we realized it was just "day," any weekday.  We stopped in one town to get water.   I was worried about taking photos.  After all, we were the ONLY people who weren't African.  This was not an environment we'd been in yet.  And, indeed, some people did NOT want their picture taken.  But lots REALLY did!  It was a lot of fun.  

Three Generations

"Take my picture!  Come on!"

She threw herself on the clothes to make a better picture

No haircuts happening at the moment

I had to take several photos until I got one she liked

Then on to Durban and our hostel, where we met Hlengiwe Buthelezi, who I had contacted through Lesbian Connection, which has a list of Contact Dykes.  

Her first name is pronounced something like "Kling-oo-way," with the accent on the first syllable.   She's a very delightful young dyke, 32, energetic and sharp, who is a dedicated runner.  She won SEVEN GOLD MEDALS at the Gay Games in Chicago!!!  As a result of that, she became a story in the press and…. her mother found out she was a lesbian!  Oy vey.  Not only was Hlingiwe no ready to come out to her family, she thought she would NEVER do it.  As a Zulu whose mother was very traditional … Well, this woman has a life story that needs to be told, now that she's been thrown out of the closet.  She did write a lot about her life, but has stopped now.  She's got to get started again, don't you agree?  If so, please send her an email at  and tell her you read about her in my blog and want to hear more about her life.

We dropped Hlengiwe  off at her running workout (she does two a day, sometimes three) and headed for the Durban Botanical Gardens.  Magnificent trees.

A Huge Mangrove or, as the Africans call it, the Walking Tree

We happened upon a fashion shoot.

In this very lovely and traditional park…

We saw monkeys!

And then we saw that they were the notorious "blue ball" monkeys we had heard about.  Now, when our hostess at the last B&B told us about blue ball monkey who had stolen the camera of a previous guest, I thought she meant that their balls would in some way relate to some color that could possibly be referred to as blue.  But in fact, they're a beautiful almost fluorescent sky blue!  Here's just a little flash.  I couldn't get close enough.

And since we're on the subject of genitals, I saw this in the Ostrich Museum in Oudshoorn:

I love 2nd and 3rd rate museums.  I think this one might have been 4th.

To end on a higher note, here's a beautiful neon work of art on the boardwalk in Port Elizabeth, which had colorful, funny neon "paintings" everywhere!  This is a seascape.

Gotta go to bed

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Robben Island

View of Cape Town from Robben Island
Haven't had internet access for a few days.  Today is a bit shaky.  Hope I can complete this day's blog.  I'm in Pietermaritzburg, but want to talk about going to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for so long.  It's just off the coast of Cape Town.  A half-hour boat ride.  

You have to get tickets in advance.  It's always sold out.  So we went over on a boat with 300 others.   First you go around on a bus with a guide.  Then you have a walking tour with another guide.  It's totally organized, with no free time to wander, because they have so many visitors.

The island is a fairly parched flat desolate place.  Before it was a prison, it was where lepers were sent.  They lived segregated by gender and race:  Women of color, white women, men of color, white men.  Each group had a church -- but not much else, like medical treatment.

Leper Cemetery

Perhaps the most powerful place is the limestone quarry, where the political prisoners worked.  They were told that they were digging up rock that would be used for buildings, but they ended up just carrying the rocks back and forth.  They were told that they would work there for six weeks, but they were kept at it for years.  

Limestone Quarry seen from bus
It's an especially desolate place.  The prisoners were given no gear to protect themselves from the limestone dust, and all of them suffered permanent damage from it.  It even damaged their tear ducts, so they can't cry.

BUT but but but.... There is a cave in there.  It's where the prisoners ate their lunch, to get out of the burning sun.  The back of the cave was their toilet, because they weren't allowed to use anywhere else.  Because of the smell, the guards never came in --- so the prisoners could talk freely!  Our tour guide told us that those limestone cave conversations are now referred to as the first democratic parliament in South Africa.  And, in fact, some of the ideas they developed in the stink of that claustrophobic cave were realized in the first democratic constitution of the country!

From this I learned:

1.  No matter how bad you imagine oppression to be -- it's worse.
2.  No matter how resilient you imagine resistance to oppression to be -- it's more amazing.
3.  It's a very bad idea to put all the political prisoners in the same place.  How did they come to be political prisoners?  They have shown tremendous vision and tenacity and energy.  They WILL continue to do their work, if they possibly can.

I'm reading LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, Mandela's biography.  Haven't gotten to the part on Robben Island yet.  So far, the ANC hasn't been outlawed.  I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone interested in political change.  He is so incredibly honest about all the mistakes he and the ANC made.  Also, although I always understood that the struggle to end apartheid was very long and complex, I am still amazed to read the details of it.  The political sophistication, the persistence.  Anyhow, it's exciting to be reading about his life and seeing where he lived it, like Robben Island.

I'm running out of battery, and I want to get this sent.  Next, we went on a walking tour of the actual prison buildings.  This time, our guide was a former political prisoner on Robben Island.  All the walking tour guides are.Vusumzi was imprisoned when he was a student activist.   It was so moving to be in his presence.


Sorry, didn't turn this photo around.  This is a blog on the fly, with iffy internet and waning battery power.

Prisoners Breaking Up Rocks Day After Day

I stood in the prison yard above.  It is so important to go to the places where events actually took place.  As Eric said, our visit here is a pilgrimage.  There is something about being in the actual place that helps me understand deeply, yes, these things actually happened.  Human beings did these things -- both horrible and wonderful.  Certainly, being in the presence of a former political prisoner was another layer of helping me open myself to the reality of the incredible struggle and political events in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela's Cell
It is difficult to express in a photo how tiny this cell is -- and yet how homey it was with Mandela's shelf of books (not in photo).



Of course, coming to South Africa, I knew I would visit Robben Island.  But I didn't know I would visit the Jewish Museum in Cape Town and find within it a replica of an Eastern European shtetel (spelling?), a little Jewish village.  Three of my grandparents grew up in a place like this.  I've seen pictures, but it was really something to sit in front of an actual building.   It was some kind of return to my roots.

That's all.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Just Another World Premiere in a Dyke Bar in Cape Town

Today, Eric and I were wandering around Stellenbosch, a small deluxe wine country town which is highly reminiscent of the Northern California wine region, except the mountains are far more dramatic.  I really didn't want to be there -- I mean, did I schlep all this way to feel like I'm in Napa Valley? -- until we stumbled upon a small circus.  

We got to the circus late, and the woman at the box office said it was sold out.  So we went to peek into the tent through a slit.  But a young man immediately came out to stand in front of the slit and tell us we had to buy tickets.  We explained that we couldn't buy tickets because the box office said it was sold out.  He explained that there was a possibility that HE could supply us with tickets.  The sum we offered for two tickets was acceptable, so we ended up getting in for half price.  

I'm a circus nut, especially small circuses.  I know, I know, the animals and all.  I can't help it.  I love circuses.  Actually, it was hard to feel that these animals had been beaten into submission (a goat, 2 camels, 3 horses, 3 dogs), because they did hardly anything at ALL!  And the circus just flat out LIED about there being lions and tigers, because there WEREN'T ANY.  But the ACROBATS and JUGGLERS and EVERYTHING ELSE (except the clowns) were wonderful.  I think maybe they lied about the lions and tigers to get an audience.  And then the show is so great, nobody minds.

I think the circus might have been a very South African experience.

We were walking home from the circus, and I said to Eric, "Wow!  We've only been in South Africa four days and we've seen three live performances!"  

Eric replied:  "Four!"  

Me: "Four?!?  What was the fourth?"

Eric:  "You!"

Me:  "Me!  Oh me.  Well, I didn't see myself, did I?"

It's been a busy week.

The night before my show, I was so excited, I couldn't sleep.  This was the very first time I was doing LESBO SOLO!  And without rehearsal or direction or anything!  A little bit like performing without a net, which some of the circus people did.  I mean that circus was almost as nerve-wracking as Eric or me driving on a curvy, steep  left-hand road!  

But back to MY performance.  It took place at Beaulah's, the lesbian bar in Cape Town.  A very nice place.   

It was too dark for photos.  I did try to get a photo of the beautiful pink neon sign out front after I left the bar, but I almost got killed crossing the street to get it because I looked the wrong way for traffic, so I decided to forget it.

I did the beginning of ONE FOOL, where I fall in love with people in the audience, a section of IMMEDIATE FAMILY that focused on Virginia's…. wait a minute!  This blog is too long!  People are already saying it's too long!  At least a couple of people.  

Anyhow, I did three scenes, including the 2 above and "Crashing the Castro," about running for Mayor of San Francisco, and I talked in between about the plays and my experiences.  I told the story about dropping acid at the first women's music festival in 1974, wanting to kill the motorcycle club guys who tried to break in to the festival, and then realizing that I was destined to start a women's theater to do a play about women's rage against men, which I've still never done.  People liked that story.  It's got legs.

There were 65 people there, which everyone considered a huge crowd.  Capetonians are supposed to be very apathetic.  The bar was really packed.  It seemed it was a crowd of regulars and people who had come especially for LESBO SOLO.  Only one black woman.  I got such a great turn-out because of Tracey Saunders, an amazing lesbian theater-lover and activist who interviewed me by phone before I got here, so I had a story in the Capetown Times -- read here!  She also did a lot of social networking stuff.  My first email from Tracey said that she would burst a blood vessel from excitement if she didn't find out right away when and where I was performing.  I find that a very attractive quality in a woman.  Me and Tracey:

Here's me onstage before the audience arrived:

As you can see, I was red then blue then green then gold.  I thought they'd said they were going to change the lighting for me, but this was it.  It must have been very distracting for the audience.  They were SO attentive.  Wonderful to be in such a distracting environment -- there were folks at the bar talking in the background softly, the lights were changing -- and feel that the audience is so WITH you!  I would say I was good, not great, because I'm just starting to figure out what LESBO SOLO is about.  People were very appreciative, but unfortunately, I couldn't stay at Beaulah's long to talk to them, because the music was too damn loud.  

So I went out with Eric, Tracey, her partner (shit!) Karen, and two other amazing activists whose names I didn't write down.  We sat and had pizza and wine in a lovely outdoor cafe and had an incredible conversation about South Africa's overwhelming problems.  These women were so knowledgeable, experienced, powerful --- and frustrated.

Yesterday, Tracey took Eric and me to breakfast and a driving tour of Cape Town.  Here's us on Table Mountain.

I have soo much more to say, but I'm going to get this out right now.  Below are a couple more photos -- not of Tracey.

Dutch Cape Style -- Dutch gables with lacy wrought iron below -- very nice

Mandela is Everywhere

'Nuf Said

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Misty Tablecloths, Desperate Drivers and Faithless Faith

First actual day in South Africa.  Why South Africa, you might well ask?  Actually, it was a total whim.  My friend Eric Gordon, from LA, and I had talked about traveling together.

He told me that the gay synagogue in Los Angeles, was having an online auction to benefit themselves.  Apparently someone had donated 2 round-trip tix to South Africa.  He asked if I was interested in bidding on them.  I said, "Why not?" which is of course a very good reason to do something.  So we ended up getting 2 plane tickets for $1300, which is a very good deal.  So THEN we had to go to South Africa!  So that's how we got here.

Cape Town surroundings are astonishingly beautiful.  Here is the view looking one direction:

And here's the view when I turned around:

That's Table Mountain, with the heavy mist that often clings to it, which is called the Tablecloth.  That meant there was no point in taking the tram for the view from the top, unless a view of 3 inches was what we were after.

Today we rented a car, which was an absolutely terrifying experience.  We're driving on the left side of the road, with the driver sitting on the right --- and it's a stick shift!  We're home now, but I'm really shocked that we made it through the day without a scratch.  Eric kept on drifting to the left because of course it just felt so weird to be driving from the right side.  But somebody behind us kept honking, and when he pulled up to yell at us, we saw what he was carrying:

Can you read that?  It says "Poisonous snakes transported."  Wow, you really don't want to piss off this guy.  Eric explained we were left-side virgins, and he was very forgiving.  In fact, everyone is incredibly nice and friendly.  There's a great energy about this place.  We went down to the harbor.  There was a really good steel band playing.

Saw an amazing "only in Africa" chess set:

The real treat was at night when we went to a restaurant/bar/theater to hear a young lesbian performer sing.  Her show was titled "Faith, Why You Always Running?"  She was 20, butch, had a great presence, very deadpan, relaxed, funny.  Her songs were totally cynical, disaffected.  In other words, Faith didn't seem to have any faith.  Some excellent lyrics.  Good rhythm guitar.  Not a lot of melody.  Her first song was titled "Reciprocate."  Here's my favorite lyric:

"I've got better things to do with my life than pretend to reciprocate."  This girl is harsh!

My favorite song was her softest song:  "I'm sorry -- again."

Here's Faithless Faith:

Faithless Faith with Two Happy Yankees
She's coming to my performance tomorrow.  I'm pretty excited about this show, since I've never done it before!  So much for South Africa Day One.