Thursday, December 08, 2005

Selected Conversations With My Sister

Twice a year my sister and I trek to the Northern Suburbs (read: middle to upper class Afrikaans-speaking people) of Cape Town for our biannual dentist visits. We've had the same dentist for, maybe, 20 years, and we've just followed her around as she's moved from one location to another, each time further away from where we live in the Southern Suburbs (read: middle to upper class English speaking people), because a good dentist is hard to find (apparently: everyone I know has horror stories).

The visit was uneventful, as always, but the car ride never is. My sister and I have our own language, of sorts (we once had an entire conversation that consisted mainly of the word "morning" (as in, "early in the day", not "hello"), which confused the hell out of one of our cousins who was standing nearby and didn't know what we were talking about). We also tend to have heated discussions, which occasionally lead to heated arguments.

We're about 500 metres away from the building, having just left, talking about the appointment.
Tracey: " then, the dentist is using that hook thing, and she blithely yanks upwards and picks off bits of my gum in the process..."
Me: "You used the word 'blithely'. I've never heard anyone use that word!" [I am only familiar with the word because when I was in my final year at high school the play for the year was Blithe Spirit. (I headed the lighting team, in case you were wondering.)]

We're on our way home, but looking frantically for a petrol station, because the last thing someone from the Southern Suburbs wants to be is trapped in the Northern Suburbs. I have taken out my 2005 diary to write, because I realise that the conversation we've been having is blog material. We've been discussing words, of all the odd things to discuss. My sister makes fun of a colleague who uses the word "verbose". I comment that I like the word, although I never use it (and yes, the irony that I am somewhat verbose at times, certainly in terms of writing, is not lost on me. Go away.).
Tracey [with a slight, frantic edge in her voice]: "What are you writing? I don't like it when you take out your notebook like that."

We pull into a petrol station and the car is being filled up. I look across the road and see the "Barloworld Subaru Tygervalley [sic]" car dealership.
Me [absentmindedly looking out the window at the dealership]: "Ah, Subaru. Su-bagh-rhoooo[in a fake, bad French accent].
Tracey [absentmindedly, while making a note of the kilometres on the odometer]: "...Sooo-behroooo..."
Me [absentmindedly]: "...Su-bagh-rhoooo..."
Tracey [absentmindedly]: "...Sooo-behroooo..."
Me [absentmindedly]: "...Su-bagh-rhoooo..."

We're driving out the petrol station.
Tracey [glancing to her right]: "That dude's very familiar. I wonder why?"
Me [trying to see what she's looking at]: "What dude?"
Tracey: "In the thingie."
I look past her and see a guy in an old VW beetle parked off to the side at the petrol station.

We're on the N1 highway [*]. I comment, for the second time, continuing our earlier conversation, that I like the words "obtuse", but I never really use it, and I like the word "abstruse", but I don't think that I've ever used it.
Tracey: "I use 'obtuse' all the time, but I've never heard of 'abstruse'."
Me: "'Abstruse' is a word, I just never use it, but I like 'obtuse'."
Tracey: "I use 'obtuse' all the time..."
Me: "You said that already. I never said that 'obtuse' wasn't a word, I said that I never use it..."
Tracey: "Yes, but I use it all the time..."
We go around like this about three times before we finally give up...

...but it then leads to a heated discussion about the concise Oxford dictionaries that we both received for Christmas in 1988 (the dictionary was fine while we were in school, but when I became a copy editor and would sometimes work at home and would need to look something up, the word would never be in the dictionary. My sister, though not a copy editor, experiences the same thing and notes that "hubris" is not in it either. Well, of course not. Who uses that word? It's like "blithe". She is odd...). We debate whether "abstruse" will be in the dictionary. I don't think it will. Neither does my sister, but that's because she's beginning to think that I've made up the word.
[By the way, it actually was in that particular dictionary. I checked when I got home. I was rather surprised.]

We get stuck in roadworks. Not the same roadworks as the ones from Sunday but, nevertheless, roadworks on the same highway on the same side of the road. A heated discussion ensues about the roadworks, which have been going on for over a year and are both inconvenient and dangerous (because they don't put up proper signage far enough before you hit the sudden traffic jam).

We're off the highway but stuck behind a slow person who drives stupidly. At one point we get a profile view of the person, while at a robot [*]. I'm convinced it's a woman because of the swishy hair and the fine features, but my sister thinks it's a man. We drive along trying to figure it out but, oddly, aren't having a heated discussion about it. There's more an air of anticipation. Eventually we are able to get a better look as we manage to overtake the idiot.
Me: "Oh. It's a man! I thought it was a woman but I didn't want to say anything [read: "start a fight"] because I wasn't sure..."
Tracey: "I thought it was a man but I didn't want to say anything because I wasn't sure..."

I think we'd be very entertaining if we co-hosted a radio show, although that's assuming that we could do it successfully more than once without ending up in a heated argument...


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Where Does One Meet People In Cape Town?

I recently started playing an online, browser-based game called Popomundo, which is basically a web reinvention of The Sims style of gaming but with a "build a musical career" theme, as research for an article I have been asked to write (sometimes being a tech journalist can be great fun). An aspect of the game requires you to form, manage, and maintain relationships with other characters, so I decided to leave my character in Central Park overnight, as the park is always well populated and this would enable other players to interact with my character as a change from me always trying to interact with other characters as, to maintain a relationship, you really need both players to make an attempt and I was getting sick of all the one-sidedness.

My experiment worked, as a few people interacted with my character while she was in the park (and she also fell victim to a mugger who stole a book she was carrying - who knew such a thing would happen?), but it got me thinking about Cape Town and how lacking it is in places to meet people. In New York you have, for example, Central Park, and London has, for example, Hyde Park and St James's Park, but Cape Town doesn't really have anything equivalent to that - well, certainly not on the same grand scale. Here, we have many beaches, but each has an unwritten identity and I've never found most of those near to the city to be that friendly to "outsiders", although, to be fair, I haven't ventured to the beaches for a few years so perhaps I should do some research during the upcoming holidays.

Other than that you have clubs, which each have their own very particular identity, of course, and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which is a wonderful place to wander around in or visit on a Sunday afternoon during summer to attend for one of its Summer Sunset Concerts (highly recommended!). There's also the mountain and surrounds, but it's not very safe there at the moment, so where do you go? I have no idea.

I think living here, in some ways, makes it harder because many of us become bogged down in our jobs and lives and end up commuting back and forth between office, home, and the malls (*ack!*) without really interacting with people in any meaningful way. There isn't really a culture of "communal commuting" here, except for the truly unlucky who have to rely on public transport, which is not safe anymore and therefore not recommended for those who can afford not to use it (or, well, technically, anyone..). And not that "communal commuting" necessarily equates "meaningful commuting" [quick shoutout to London ::wave::], but at least you have an opportunity that you can choose to take advantage of, should you wish.

As for the rest of us in Cape Town - what's the answer? I don't know. Between the hecticness of life and general Capetonian apathy, it's very hard to meet people, even in a city of over three million individuals.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

4x4s Are Not For Everyone

We're on the N1 highway [*] heading back to Cape Town, right at the point at which the R300 (another freeway that's not as much of a freeway as the N1) joins the N1 freeway [*], all the bridges crisscross overhead, and the Kuils River flows under the road network. The traffic has come to a standstill and is backed up for kilometres because they are still working on the highway re-taring it (this has been going on for over a year) further ahead, so the middle lane has been closed and the traffic is being directed past on either side.

Because of the weird way that the roads all join, avoiding the river, there is a triangular-shaped patch of open ground between the highway and where the R300 joins. The traffic is flowing a little more freely from the R300 onto the freeway than along the freeway itself before heading into the section with the closed middle lane, which is up next. Some dumbass in a Land Rover [*] on the highway decides that the traffic is just not moving fast enough for him and, hey, he's in a Land Rover, so he is automatically superior, so he decides to drive off the highway across the open ground to join the R300 to get further ahead as the R300 joins the highway.

So he starts bundu bashing in his Land Rover across the open semi-sandy, semi-grassy land and gets stuck halfway. I sit watching him,sending him mental dumbass rays. The land Rover's back-right tyre spins madly and spews sand high into the air. The Land Rover rocks. The guy climbs out the vehicle and has a look at the tyre and the ditch into which he has dug himself. He climbs back into the Land Rover. More sand spews into the air. The Land Rover rocks some more and then slowly moves forward. The vehicle is almost out of the bundu when it gets to the embankment that leads up to the R300. The embankment is at at least a 45-degree angle. The guy can't get his Land Rover up the embankment. By now I am laughing my ass off, as are a few people in the lane to my right.

The guy tries again, but rolls backwards. A few people who are on the side of the R300 changing a tyre on a car climb down to try and give him directions and advice. The guy tries again. And again, and finally makes it. He drives off down the R300 in semi embarrasment to join the freeway further down, where there is no one who has seen his escapades. I curse 4x4/Land Rover/Jeep/SUV drivers, for about the 5th time that day.



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