Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Very Merry Christmas, or Something Like That

pius programIt was is if we just were not meant to go.  Each of the four of us had messed things up in some way.  I got the ticket time wrong.  Munchkinhead didn’t communicate Mr. Munchkinhead’s changed plans.   Mr. Munchkinhead came up a day later than originally expected.  And Mommy spent fifteen minutes not parking the car.  It was such a kerfuffle.

But, we did finally get there, only half an hour late, to St. Josephat’s Basilica for Pius XI High School’s Christmas concert.  None of us had been in the Basilica before – as far as we know, though Daddy claims Mommy has been.  It was quite something to be seen.  Large dome, elaborate painting, gold leaf detailing and stained glass.  We sat in the balcony area under a mini dome with four scenes depicting four virtues, only three of which we could decipher from the Latin words below.  The inside of the dome was ringed in large letters spelling out sentences in Polish.

The Pius students performed from the front of the sanctuary and the highest balcony at the back.  The poor Madrigal Choir seemed to have to keep going back and forth between the two.  Choir is definitely the high school’s strong point.  All of the five separate choirs were quite good.  The band, orchestra and dancers performed as well.  We couldn’t really see the dancers where we were sitting.  The music reverberated throughout the sanctuary, filling the dome with sounds of the season.  It was by far the best setting for a choir concert that I’ve ever experienced.

St Josephat's (1) 

Mommy, Munchkinhead, Mr. Munchkinhead and I sat spread out in the middle pews.  Only people in the first two rows of the balcony could see down below, so we had plenty of room to just sit and listen and sing along when th e program directed.  The concert was quite good and I’d like to make a regular thing of going.  However, next year, logistics planning a little more ahead of time might be helpful.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Taking on the Mountain

Table Mountain is one of the key features of Cape Town. It's outline represents the city on signs and banners. Nelson Mandela spoke of viewing Table Mountain from across the water on Robben Island, viewing it as an emblem of hope for the mainland to which he would return to someday. Locals tell tourists, if you only do one thing in Cape Town, go to Table Mountain.

Table Mountain from town. Click on it to view the large size and see where the lower cable station - outlined in red - lies on the mountain.

Table Mountain is a beautiful land mass, but it is also a tourist spot. There is a cable car – made in Switzerland – that will take you from the lower parking lot to the top of the mountain where you can stand and gaze out over all of Cape Town, Table Bay and the Atlantic Ocean or into a milk bottle of fog, depending on the weather. You can also eat at a cafe atop the mountain, buy some souvenirs and then take the large cable car back down the mountain. Or, you can walk.

I wanted to walk. I had seen people coming down on foot when I'd first visited Table Mountain's parking lot last Sunday. It was now a week later and I had my heart set on going up the path.

I walked from one end of the parking lot to the other but I could not find anything that looked like a footpath entrance. Finally, I approached two Table Mountain employees in bright green sweatshirts standing near the ticket booths. They informed me that the path entrance was a 15-minute walk (about a mile) down the paved road and one of them quite adamantly, after giving me quite the evil eye, insisted that I couldn't climb the path in “those shoes.” I informed her that I was quite capable of climbing in my hiking boots and headed down the road. I didn't fully believe them because I had seen people descending a path directly below the cable car and because of the girl's rudeness, but I figured it was worth a try.  Road along Table Mountain.

Sure enough, just under 15 minutes down the road, I found the path entrance, marked with a small restroom building. I topped off my water bottles and began the climb. The path quickly became rocky and when it joined with another path I wondered if I had just climbed off the water run-off instead of a footpath. It's something I've been known to do before.

The walk was beautiful and the beginning was a steady even climb over crushed rock and red soil. Beautiful and delicious smelling flowers lined the path. The day was overcast, warm with a heavy breeze. Perfect weather for walking outside. I was glad to be wearing a dress as its billowing in the breeze kept me pleasantly cool. I met others, people going up at a faster pace than me, people coming down. Everyone was friendly. I had packed water, a can of almonds and a citenge in my shoulder bag (as well as some souvenirs and presents I'd picked up earlier in the day). Every 20 minutes or so, I would stop for water and almonds, laying out my citenge on a rock so as not to get Munchkinhead's dress dirty. Sweat washes out, that African red dirt is resilient.  Starting the climb.

The path turned steeper, large boulder-like rocks instead of crushed stone. The climb became more intense and more of an actual climb using hands and arms to pull my body up the next step as the path wound through the gorge. I paused after a long stretch of steep large rocks, near a good sitting place, and went to my bag for my citenge. It wasn't there! I'd forgotten to pick it up after my last stop 15-minutes back down the hill. At first I thought, “oh well, that's gone” and continued on a few more feet. Then I paused. 15 minutes – 30 round trip – was not much in the scheme of this adventure and it was one of my favorite citenges from Zambia, depicting a village scene with men smoking around the fire and women nursing their babies. I also was beginning to wonder if I could climb back down these massive boulders I'd been pulling myself over. So I turned around and headed down.  The path up, and down, and up again.

People on their way up assured me my citenge was where I had left it. One group even apologized for not picking it up. That was sweet of them to even consider it. Going down was much harder than going up. I often had to sit on the rocks and scoot until my foot could reach the next boulder below. A gentleman in bare feet scampered past me, going up at a seemingly unbelievable pace. I reached my previous resting place and found my citenge. This time, going up only took 10 minutes.  Citenge, right where I left it.

The climb became even steeper after that and the views ever more breathtaking. Notes began to appear on the stones, messages left by previous climbers for others following. “Don't give up now.” “You're almost there.” The bare-footed gentleman came scampering back down past me. A good sign; I must be getting close. Another group came past going down, “only 35 more minutes to the top!” Thirty-five minutes later, I was still in the middle of the path, but had caught up to a local couple I'd passed going back for my citenge. We had ascended into the mist that shrouded the top of the mountain. My glasses were fogging up constantly. The fog became thicker and the air colder. I was glad I'd gone back for my citenge as I wrapped around me like a shall. The three of us continued on together.  Showing off the view.

Finally, the ground flattened around us and a large stone pedestal with a map rose up, a beacon in the mist. We checked the map, but it didn't match the paths available. We headed on the path that continued going up. Timber poles with chains connecting them guided us up a steep slate route, providing needed handles. Suddenly, there were other people. People who had come up on the cable car and were gleefully taking pictures on top of Table Mountain. We'd made it. I'd done it!
Top of Table Mountain

I looked around. It looked like Daly City. You couldn't see more than 5 feet in any direction. No spectacular views from here, those had all been had on the mountainside. I didn't care; I'd climbed Table Mountain.

I met a lot of people from many different places at Table Mountain. Many of them said something about my shoes, but only the two Indians flat-out said “you can't.” The lady at the lower cable station and a guy sitting on a boulder on the path, smoking!, who told me I needed to take off my shoes to keep going. Because climbing a mountain in socks would be such a good idea. They'll never know I made it to the top, but I know, and I know my motto remains true, “anything you can do, I can do in heels.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Morning at George's

I thought Id like to go to church on Sunday morning. I already had a two-day bus pas that stopped at a church downtown, so I thought I'd attend there. St. George'sCathedral is not only the oldest cathedral in southern Africa, it is also the seat of the Arch Bishop of Cape Town. I bet you can all name one Arch Bishop of Cape Town, even if you don't realize it. This was Arch Bishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's church.

It's a beautiful old stone building in the classic cross shape with tall stained glass windows. The seating is wooden chairs linked together rather than pews and the kneelers are individual cushions stored under the chairs in front of each row.

This was my first Anglican service, so I didn't quite know what to expect. I soon found my familiarity with Catholic mass quite useful in navigating the service, though there was far less kneeling. The congregation present for service seemed a mix of local members and tourists, people of all shapes, sizes and colors.

The reverend conducting the service explained the guest speaker listed on the program could not attend as he had been needed to escort Arch Bishop Emeritus Tutu to Nelson Mandela's burial in Qunu. The two had left Cape Town at 4 that morning for the burial proceedings. I was able to watch a bit of the burial live on tv at lunch after service. Arch Bishop Emeritus Tutu was one of many clergy walking the long road behind Mandela's coffin after the funeral ceremony.

A brass quartet welcomed everyone into the church before the service started. A processional led by someone swinging a ball of incense marked the start of the service, with the choir, the preachers and a whole onslaught of others in long purple robes walking around the sanctuary and up to the front. The church conducts its services in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa. Songs and recitations are printed in all three languages and the congregation is invited to use whichever they choose. Most of the talking-at parts of the service were done in English, although some of the readings were done in other languages. The Old Testament reading was from Isaiah, read in Xhosa.

Much of the service was devoted to remembrance of Nelson Mandela and the sermon talked of both him and John the Baptist – the New Testament reading was about when John is in prison and sends a message to Jesus to ask if Jesus is the messiah. There was a beautiful poem dedicated to Mandela read by the poet. And a special musical offering on a South African instrument that I think was called a Zeze. The instrument itself looks like a bow and it was played by rubbing a stick along the hard, curved part of the bow. The lady held one of the hard, curved part in her mouth but I don't know if that did anything or was just to old it. It had a very unique, eery but pretty sound.

The service was beautiful and it hardly felt like two hours had gone by when it ended. There was a coffee hour afterwards, but I didn't stay. I wandered around a bit to admire the sanctuary and take some photos. And I found something delightful that really made me smile. A Kimberly-Clark paper towel dispenser in the washroom!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Happy Reconciliation Day!

Today is Reconciliation Day, a national holiday in South Africa that celebrates national unity.  Interestingly, the date was chosen because it was the commemorative date of two bloody battles, one celebrated by the Afrikaans and one celebrated by the anti-apartheid movement.

The street near my hostel was barricade off on one side, leading from the stadium into downtown, all the traffic was routed onto the other side. I thought I'd go check things out. The first thing I wandered into was a stage area where four men were singing barbershop quartet and gospel songs. They were followed by a disco group that was not quite as enjoyable.

Then I headed down the walkway next to the road, which had been named the Reconciliation walk for the day. There was a long white banner stretching down the fence for many, many meters. Different stations of the South African national colors were set up along the way with balloon arcs and small stages marking their territories. Each station had matching paint, brushes and stamps that people were using to decorate the banner. Most of the writings on the banner were remembrances to Nelson Mandela.

Each area was playing its own, extremely loud, music. This made for some very interesting sounds on the sidewalks between the stages. The stage nearest to my hostel was blasting old school hip hop. The next one over, salsa. Down a ways, African music of some sort. There were dancers in the street, dance teams and the station workers dancing.

The blocked off part of the street appeared to be for some sort of parade-ish activity. Different groups came down the street, seemingly whenever they felt like it, at whatever pace they wanted. There was an African drum group, a brass marching band, some people on stilts, a pack of security guards in neon green vests, and lots of dead space. No one sat along the curb to watch, but people walking along the sidewalk watched or ran out into the street to join. It was different than a US independence day celebration, but still quite lively and fun.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Saturday morning's first stop was the local Spar. Knowing I would likely spend a good portion of the day out in the sun, I thought I better get myself some suntan lotion. $18.00 for a normal sized bottle. $18! Ouch, that hurt, but not as much as being roasted in the African sun would hurt.

As soon as my last conference session ended, I scampered off for the big red tour bus and a place called Monkey Jungle. How could I pass that up?! Monkey Jungle is actually an area inside of World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary. It was awesome.

There were so many birds! And they were right there next to you, around you, overhead, below your feet. It was awesome, a bit scary, and a bit messy.  I was walking along one route, and there was suddenly an owl in the middle of the path, just sitting there, stretching its legs here and there. On another path, a different owl perched on a branch directly in front of the out gate, guarding the exit. A family of ducks waddled past, Momma duck honking and Papa duck guiding, herding their babies down the red rock path. One nearby mother couldn't resist the moment, saying to her own children, “see how the children are listening to their mother?”

Penguins frolicked in a cold shower. Tortoises glided across the dirt far faster than you'd think possible – except for the two that were busy mating. I guess he didn't read the sign that said “Please do not sit on the tortoises.”  A baboon griped the gate of his cage, reaching through and pulling on areas as if trying to get out. Something in the parrot area kept greeting me as I entered his aviary area, “Hello. Hello. Hello.”   Meerkats stood at attention atop a little hill.

 Chickens of all types, black, fluffy white, brown, squawked across the park.  White peafowl that looked like peacocks dressed for a wedding strolled together around a large compound.   Male turkeys strutted in front of the ladies.  One turkey stood under the cassowary's food dish, stretching it's long neck up, attempting to get scraps thrown its way as the cassowary threw back its fruit salad.

 That cassowary scared the bajeebus out of me! I'm walking along the path, looking at various birds and suddenly I'm face to face with this giant dinosaur-looking thing. And when I say face-to-face, I mean it. The cassowary was as tall as Munchkinhead. Shortly after scaring me, it decided to have lunch, so I didn't get a good picture.

But my absolutely favorite part of the World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary was the part that had lured me there in the first place, Monkey Jungle. I entered a separate park area where squirrel monkeys were scampering everywhere. Two park workers suggested I sit on a bench, but I wanted to see the monkeys, so I declined. I walked around, watching the adorable little monkeys, taking pictures and smiling.

I decided to sit on a nice grassy patch where a father and his young daughter were relaxing. Monkeys ran all around us. One climbed over my boots. Two climbed on the girl's head. Then a park worker came over and threw a handful of seed on me. Monkeys everywhere! One scandalous little monkey lifted my skirt off the grass looking for food underneath. Several scampered onto my lap, including one with a little baby hanging on its back.  It was so much fun!  I wished Munchkinhead could have been there with me.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Other Half of the Day

Has this really all been one day? I'm a lovely shade of tomato. I should know better, but I didn't pack sunscreen because I wanted to carry my bag on – which didn't get to happen anyway, on any of my 3 flights. Oh well, I have to spend the next 5 days inside, anyway.

My plan for the afternoon was to head into downtown, get a ticket for the Rocky Horror Picture Show performance and visit the District 6 museum. Well that didn't quite work out. It took me about 2 hours to walk to the theater. Tickets for tonight's performance were sold out. The museum was closed, it's Sunday. But I still had a great afternoon.  Downtown reminded me a lot of Amsterdam, with its brick-paved, car-less side streets and curvy roads.  I suppose that comparison probably makes sense.

I stumbled upon another Mandela tribute. The Cape Town city hall is the first place Mandela addressed the public after his release from prison. Across from city hall is a large plaza. There were police everywhere. The ends of city hall's street were barricaded off. Railings covered in flowers and signs lined the area in front of city hall. Large screens with massive speakers were set-up on the sides of the plaza. Current images from the front of city hall blazed on their screens. I stopped for a bit. It was hard not to be moved by the outpouring of expressions all around.

I also tried another strange new drink. This time, it was Frankie's Olde Soft Drink Co.'s Dandelion & Burdock soda. I have no idea what burdock is, so I can't tell you if the soda tasted like it. And, I don't eat dandelions, so come to think of it, I can't tell you if the soda tasted like those either. But, it was pretty good. A bit tangy. I'd put it in the cream and sasparilla family, though it's not the same as either of those.

The receptionist at the hostel had advised me to check out an open air market downtown. I hadn't really planned on it but found myself there. It was mostly curios and outfits. All the fun fabrics had already been made into things. I headed through, glancing at things as I went. After moseying through the market, I regained my bearings and followed the “V&A Waterfront” signs back to the waterfront. My feet ached, and my legs hurt. But it's hard to tell yourself you can't go on when you're surrounded by pictures of Nelson Mandela and all you're doing is walking around on a sunny afternoon.

By this point, I was considering going back to the lodge, just to sit down somewhere, but I didn't really want to spend the rest of the day waiting for bedtime. Instead, I found one of the City Tours hop-on-hop-off buses and hopped on. It was fun. First, we went back downtown. - I should have started with the bus. - As we wound out of downtown, we went through the area known as District 6. In some ways, it made up for not being able to go to the museum. The bus tour explained the history of the area. It had been Capet Town's most diverse area. When apartheid started, the government forced everyone out – every single person out of an entire neighborhood – and destroyed all the homes. Most of the district is still grass and weeds.

Then, we went up to Table Mountain. I got off the bus there, but I didn't go up the mountain. It wasn't until we were leaving that I realized you could actually climb up and not just take the cable car.  The view was amazing even from the parking lot.

From there, we went around the back of Table Mountain, past the Twelve Apostles and down to the beach. What a beautiful beach! White sands, blue water. There were washed up oyster and sea shells everywhere. I've now touched both sides of the Atlantic. The only other body of water I can say that about is Lake Michigan. The bus tour wound around the coast and dropped us back at the Waterfront. I attempted to head back to the lodge.

Attempted is the key word there. I walked a bit down the road, paused, decided I was probably going the wrong way and turned around. Three steps back and I heard my name. It was my friend who's one of the main organizers for the conference that starts tomorrow! I was very happy to see him. One, because he's awesome, and two, because he was able to point me back towards the direction I was supposed to be going. There happened to be a massive craft shed between me and the road I needed, so I did a little shopping on the way. ;)

Half-a-Day in Cape Town

Nothing beats waking up to a sunrise and birds chirping – somethings are true no matter where you are in the world. I thrust my feet out from under the fluffy duvet to allow the soft breeze to waft over them. Ah, warm air and cool breezes; my favorite. After 30+ hours of traveling I was happy to be lying in bed and it hardly even bothered me that I was awake at 5am.

My first morning in Cape Town! I spent most of it down at the Waterfront, wandering around, exploring, shopping. It reminded me of both Venice and of Pier 39 in San Francisco. Boats, water, tourist shops, a movie being filmed, people, people and more people. People with cameras, people with strollers, people with smiles, and a lot of people in Nelson Mandela commemorative t-shirts of one sort or another.

After perusing a three-floor souvenir shop where I briefly contemplated buying Alfred a four foot tall, six foot long carved rhino statue, and even more briefly considered buying a Zebra skin rug, complete with head, for my and Munchkinhead's Africa room, I wandered over to the Nelson Mandela museum building. The building is the ticket station and launch port for ferries over to Robben Island, where Mandela was held in prison. It seems like the tours work a lot like Alcatrez: buy a ferry ticket, go over to the island, do a tour. At 9:30am, they were sold out for the entire day. Disappointed, but not surprised, I wandered off to explore more of the area.

A giant distance marker stood near the water along a boardwalk. Lots of arrows protruded from the post, proclaiming the distance and direction of major cities around the world. “San Francisco 16690 km,” “Chicago 13662 km.” Those numbers felt huge. I didn't even bother trying to compute them into miles.

There was a giant ferris wheel, which looked pretty fun. I thought I'd give that a try. A nice gentelman, originally from Cape Town but who has lived in Australia for the past 30 years offered to share a ferris wheel cab with me. That was fantastic, because he was able to tell me about what we saw out the windows. And from way up top, we could see a lot. There was Table Mountain behind us and Devil's Peak off to the side. One of the stadiums built for the World Cup 2010. An oil rig brought down from West Africa for repairs. Hotels and shops and docks. It was grand.

After some more window shopping, I headed back towards my hostel. I was getting very thirsty and knew I'd need lunch soon. I had hoped to find a grocery store, but while I found Pick and Pay signs, I could not locate the Pick and Pay. Then, as I neared the street leading to my hostel, I saw a familiar green tree down the street. Spar! Spar was one of the higher end grocery stores in Zambia. I figured it probably wasn't higher end here, comparatively, and headed over. My find of the day: cream soda flavored milk. That sounded so strange, how could I not try it?! And, it was bright green! It was ok. It didn't really taste like cream soda or milk. I don't know what it tasted like. Green stuff, I guess.

After a refreshing lunch of rolls, cheese and guava juice, I'm set for another adventure in a different direction.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Les Mis is anything but Miserable

Les mis cover Last night, Munchkinhead and I went to see Les Misérables at the Skylight Theater in the Third Ward.  We’ve both seen Les Mis live before – I saw it in London and the touring Broadway production in Milwaukee – and we saw the film together when it was in theaters.  This production blew all of that out of the water.  I was thoroughly impressed with everything from the theater to the performances to the sets and costuming. 

We had mid-level price tickets as all the cheap seats were sold out; high in the balcony in actual chairs perched behind a padded balcony.  We could see everything as long as we were willing to lean forwards every once in awhile.  I loved how embellished the stage floor was, such that you almost couldn’t see all the little tape L’s marking prop placements.  The theater provided the usual Footlights program as well as an Audience Guide with an extensive history of Victor Hugo, his works and the Les Mis musical.

The costuming of the production not only helped place the show in the property historical period, it also helped tell the story.  The ensemble in any given seen was dressed in dirty beige while the main characters wore colored garments.  The wigs were occasionally a little distracting – Munchkinhead and I were both surprised to see Fantine pictured as blonde in her headshot because she looked so awkward in that blonde wig – but it’s theater, everything’s supposed to be a bit over-the-top.

The set design was elaborately simple.  Props felt minimal and many, many pieces were reused in many, many ways.  The wagon cart that falls on the man Val Jean rescues was also Fantine’s death bed, part of the courtroom, part of the barricade and a table at the Thénardiers’ inn.  Trap doors in the stage were well utilized, as were rotating set pieces.  This is only one area where Skylight’s production far outshone the traveling Broadway show I’d seen back in ‘02.  The Broadway production tried too hard with it’s sets.  This production was well-balanced.  The sewer scene was very neat, though the running water sounds near the end of a 3-hour production are a little cruel.  And Javert’s suicide scene was exquisitely done.

The show was exceedingly well cast.  When Fantine, played by Susan Spencer, walked onto the stage, she looked like a tiny little thing compared to the other cast members.  I expected a squeaky little voice like Bernadette in Big Bang Theory.  Then she opened her mouth to sing and had the most wonderful, thick voice that filled the auditorium and wrapped the audience in a wool cloak.  I melted into my chair.

My favorite character, Enjrolas – because he his is the only part I can actually sing-a-long with somewhat decently – was played by Tommy Hahn and did not disappoint.  His swagger and bombastic manners were perfect.  Little Cossette, played by Harper Navin for the night we saw, warbled a bit during “Castle on a Cloud,” but it seemed fitting for a scared, cold young girl.  I wondered why Gavroche, Luke Brotherhood, pointed out to the audience so much, but his singing was very good.

Val Jean, Luke Grooms, and Javert, Andrew Varela, played well off each other, almost as good as Chris Barrie and Craig Charles in the 8th season of Red Dwarf.   The costuming and hair did a good job of making it easy for the audience to tell the two similarly built men apart.  Their duet was fantastic, especially since they did my favorite verse combo, unlike the film version.  And of course, the Thénardiers, Eric Mahlum and Rhonda Rae Busch, kept everyone laughing with their silly antics, expressions and physical clowning around.

Munchkinhead and I both absolutely loved the show and were very glad we came.  As splendid as it was, I could only think while watching, “the book is so much better.”


Les Misérables plays at the Skylight Music Theater on Broadway Ave until December 29th. Tickets here
If you’re in Milwaukee, I suggest checking it out. 
If you like the Les Mis musical, I suggest reading the novel.