7/21: Museum Weekend
Between yesterday’s planned group events, and today’s ‘free day’ I packed in four museums and more.
Saturday morning we walked down to the V&A Waterfront, to the Nelson Mandela dock to catch the boat to Robben Island. The gift shop had the Nelson Mandela Day t-shirts I saw on tv, but I didn’t buy one, in part due to not having any cash on me. There was also an exhibit upstairs but it was too crowded with people waiting for the boat (including girls who were in town for a H.S. field hockey and netball tournament).
It took about 30 minutes of choppy waters to reach the island (one really can’t imagine anyone escaping by swimming – though apparently one did, twice, only to be caught on the other side and returned each time. Well, the third time they sent him to Australia.)
There were two parts of the tour, and we were kept all together. The first was a general bus tour of the island. The island has been used as a prison for a long long time, but also used to isolate leprosy patients (or lepers as they were called). The island is quite large – 5 km around, I think they said. It was also a refuge for birds. There is a school there, but with only 7 students it is closing. There is also a Muslim Shrine.
The second part of the tour was in the maximum security section, with these guides being former political prisoners. Both our guides were quite charming, but unfortunately we all had trouble understanding our 2nd one. He was in for 5 years in the 80’s, very thankful for the better conditions they had there, ones that were fought for earlier by Mandela and other leaders.
He also pointed out that the prison was also known as “The University” as they figured out how not only to communicate with each other, but to teach each other. Eventually they also succeeded in pushing for inmates to complete college credit there.
We did see the quarry the prisoners worked at, the court yard where they had to break rocks, the communal cells which held 20 people – or up to 60, and Mandela’s cell — though to me it had the look of a place where the original was torn down, and rebuilt, as there was a museum quality feel to this area.
In the afternoon we bused to the center of town and visited the National Gallery. Besides samples from their permanent exhibit – some of which was quite impressive – they had a special photographic exhibit called, “Umhlaba,” commemorating the 1913 Natives Land Act. As much as we have been aware of Apartheid, the evils started much early, and destructively so. It not only dispossessed people from their homes and land, but it literally broke up families. Black Men could not live with their families in 93% of the country, but they were needed as Laborers, so they were forced to become migrant workers, living in hostels or other temporary lodgings, going home to see their families once or so a year. Even homes Blacks did have were not permanent; if an area was sought by Whites (or colored?) the Blacks were driven off their land, with often their belongings burnt, if they weren’t home at the time of relocation. In today’s newspaper in fact, they interviewed a woman making and selling beads on the street, who told of this happening to her family several times. The cruelties – both the narrative and the photos – again had me reduced to tears several times. (I truly don’t know what has gotten in to me on this trip, but it is deeply genuine.)
While many of the others had time to visit nearby sites – the Slave Lodge, St. George’s Cathedral (home church of Desmond Tutu, etc. – I only had about 15 minutes to walk down the “Company Gardens” and see the Parliament Buildings and such. We were due on the bus at 4:15 to return to the hotel. I walked down to replenish groceries – juice, yogurt, bread, cheese, applies – and then did my daily Sunset run on the Esplanade. The evening was a shower, a meal – such as it was – and much on the computer.
Sunday, today, was a bright and clear day, and marked ‘free’ on our itinerary. M and I walked out at the same time, heading in the same direction, but when he stopped at the first street mall, looking for a diamond for his wife, I decided I had been in enough malls, and continued on. A good decision, as I had realized, once again, that my walking together, I lost all ability, or at least motivation, to orient. It turned out quite easy to, on my own, and I wound my way through fairly deserted Sunday morning streets – quite a few made into pedestrian malls – to St. George Cathedral (were later I discovered “The Crypt” Jazz Restaurant, where I now intend to go at some point this week. Also to the Slave Lodge, another museum, which was closed today.
Where I did go was to the Jewish Museum, and Holocaust Center. It was quite new, not super big, but with some clear and absorbing exhibits. There were 4,000 Jews in SA in the early 1800’s, but the majority coming from the Baltics – mainly Lithuania – late in the century. There was a recreation of a shtetl in the lower level, accessed by this grand marble spiral staircase. There was also a photography exhibit by Paul Weinberg, who also had photos in teh National Gallery exhibit.
Most valuable was talking with Sheila Lawrence, a docent on duty, for about 45 minutes. I can’t recall everything we talked about – from Jews’ emphasis on education, to their views and actions against Apartheid, and her views about Palestine (sensitive and even supporting a two state solution, as long as Israel retains complete control of Jerusalem (“they” would destroy it) so there’s always a catch. I also found out about her children, and grandchildren, and I think, great-grandchildren. While I knew that she had a few years on me, I was more than impressed when she said she’s 88 years old. Oh she also told me about trips to India and the current practice of trying to bring the Untouchables out of their rueful place in society. Fascinating. And she gave me her business card; but she doesn’t do e-mail!
After a break to have a snack in the gardens, I went across the way to the South Africa Museum. This is a natural science museum, with big exhibits on San Rock Art, sea and animal life of the region, past and present, fossils and other archeological matters, and on Darwin. In every exhibit there was a focus on the region, so even ‘old’ stuff was fascinating in that sense. Parts looked dated, but the to scale models of dinosaurs, and sharks and whales – many of these suspended in the air in a central alcove spanning 4 floors – and lions and all were still pretty impressive.
On my way back, I stopped at the Greenmarket Square Craft Market – quite an impressive collection. Steve would have enjoyed the masks, more variety than I’ve seen up to now. They were just starting to pack up, which led me to my one purchase – a colorful ‘Mandela’ shirt (too colorful for his tastes, I imagine) that because I really didn’t intend to buy it, got bargained down from R250 to R120 – but likely only because I said it was great, but too much; great, but I wasn’t going to wear it; great but … until I finally said ok. Well, at R150 I tried in on, so I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to walk away without the seller’s most urgent attempt. “Just for you… only because we’re packing up… you see the infant shirt is selling for R180…” If there’s any bartering at all, I’ve found that truly be willing to walk away works the best.
I returned to the hotel – after another quick stop at Spar, for Juice and broccoli, in time for an hour break before going out for my daily sunset run. Then to the room to cool down, eat a bit, take a shower, go on-line – and it’s about time for bed again.
I haven’t seen much of the others – a few at breakfast; Carol, Kay and Rich after I ran; a few postings on Facebook (four climbed Table Mountain today!); but we’ll all be back tomorrow, then dispersed for the school visits. I have to remember to bring the 30 rucksacks and pencils I brought along, and perhaps the thick notebook I haven’t used yet.