Signs of Christmas in Cape Town

After the overbearing religiosity of America’s (undeniably charming at times) celebration of Christmas, even a trip to Southern Suburbs’ anglo-saxon shrine, Cavendish Square Shopping Centre, is an exercise in tolerance and shared values. Well okay, calculated moneymaking. But if, as one of my most argumentative and favorite commentators on this blog claims, South Africa is almost as Christian as the US, then this is even more significant as an act of accommodation at least *.

LOVE , JOY, REINDEER... Christmas for me has always been a weird combo of images of the North Pole experienced in mid-summer heat and roaring South-Easters. Christmas, to me, smells like sea salt and chlorine.

The fact that they don't take it for granted is nice, although Christmas is very much a shared holiday, since it's a public holiday. They have the same sort of notice up around Ramadahn and Eid and Rosh Hashanah and Divali though - in many stores and malls. After all, all the festivals have the same pagan sources, and all the shops have the same post-pagan motivation: profit.

Frightening, is all I'll say. Look out, PeopleofWallmart.com: The competition has arrived, and its name is "holidaymakers in Cape Town".

Free Range Chicken - the real thing - about $3-$5 each. The best deal I can get in the USA is $14 at Trader Joe's, and I swear, even their free range chicken is deformed. The best thing is that I took this photo in the Spar, and saw the same thing in Pick 'n Pay.

Table Mountain... well a bit of it. I'll get you the rest soon.

South Africa is beautiful because it’s less developed, and the food is cheaper because most people are staggeringly poor. But I’m not. I’m middle class. I’m one of the lucky ones. And I know it. I do know it. And I’m loving the clean air, the fresh tasting tap water, the unspoiled sea and even the summer winds. I’m loving living like a king for less than I do as a student in the USA. I sort of feel bad. I am having trouble with my happy holiday. I sometimes feel awkwardly grateful and faintly white-guilty. Sometimes I feel completely revolted, like when the dude selling “Funny Money”, a photocopied zine packed with dumb racist jokes, acted all “dumb af” in an attempt to sell it to me. I’m not sure if I was angry because this act works on other white people, or because he thought I was one of them. Both, I suppose.

La Boheme in Sea Point. R90 (about $13) buys you a 3 course meal - a great, bistro-style, three course feast.

I also miss California, which has become home, the urgency of the movie making buzz there. It feels like I’ve fallen into a delicious lull here… a sun-soaked inertia. I’m happy to wait an hour in a restaurant for my food to arrive. I can stand in a supermarket queue while the guy in front of me pays in 5c pieces and not even bother to switch to a new line.

The only place South Africans appear to be in any hurry right now, is on the roads. I’ll try post something about that before one of them runs me over.

* Sharon, I’d disagree that this is the case. Our politicians aren’t required to prove they’re Christian to qualify for the race. Our (admittedly, crazy) president recently accused Christians of creating orphanages and stuff and said that African religions never allowed them to exist. This may be true, although i think it’s bullshit, but imagine an American president saying that? They’d get more than a 500 word article on page 3 of a daily paper in return.

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8 Responses to “Signs of Christmas in Cape Town”

  1. Shannon Says:

    Oh, that photo of the woman in the queue makes me so happy. A friend of mine returned from the UK the same week I got back from SA, and when I ran into her she said, what’s been the biggest shock about being back? I said: portion sizes. She said: fat people, they are everywhere. You don’t realize it till you’re gone and come back.

    Also: wow, we are really into the American flag. I don’t remember seeing so many before. Maybe I just wasn’t alert to it, but I’m pretty sure than when I was a kid lo these many years ago, people only brought it out on July 4 and maybe Memorial Day. Now people have flags incorporated into their Christmas decorations. Super weird. And kind of uncomfortable, because I am religious (please forgive me that character flaw) and Jesus was not American, which I think escapes a lot of my compatriots.

    I miss CT in summer. I always leave at the worst imaginable time. 😦

    Have a lovely holiday and enjoy your family! Mine has about worn me out after two weeks. Also, gratified to be a favorite if argumentative commentator, and glad those things are not mutually exclusive for you.

  2. jeanbarker Says:

    Ha ha! I think 911 created a whole crazy generation. I don’t consider Christianity a character flaw – automatically. In the (admittedly rare) cases that a believer in any religion doesn’t judge and can simply accept me, I consider it an enhancement of their life. We all have our ways of thinking, our ways of believing. True Christianity is a gift and a nice thing to be around. It’s just SO rare. Happy Christmas to you too. My Mom’s going nuts, anticipating me being away for another three years after this, forgetting she’ll visit me and go nuts in the USA instead.

  3. jeanbarker Says:

    PS. I don’t think the woman in the queue is fat – nor would I care. But she’s wearing the weirdest clothes in the weirdest way. She reminds me of an ostrich.

  4. Shannon Says:

    That’s a perfect way of putting it. And she’s not fat, but her clothes are creating fat where there shouldn’t be any. She needs one of those makeover shows to ambush her.

    My dad said today I was never allowed to be away for Christmas ever and that wherever I was in the world, he would fly me home. So I’ll put our crazy up against your mom’s any day.

  5. Shannon Says:

    And I absolutely get what you are saying about pace of life. My first couple of months in Cape Town, I’d go nuts at how slowly people moved. I’d be bobbing and weaving my way through people peacefully ambling along, thinking “Don’t you people have anywhere you need to be? NO ONE NEEDS TO BE ANYWHERE? COME ON!” Then I kind of fell in love with it. Now I’m home going “why are we in such a hurry? Why is the guy at Starbucks irritated that it’s taking more than 14 seconds to get his drink? Can’t we all just chill a little?” No, no we can’t.

  6. Jean Barker (@JeanBarker) Says:

    Ha ha. Ya. So are you back for good?

  7. Shannon Says:

    Well, “for good” is a relative term. The fellowship’s up, so I am back for a while with no concrete plans to return. If I could find work in SA I’d be pretty happy to live there, but I’d be pretty happy to live here too–neither place is perfect but both feel a bit like home, although certainly my social web is much stronger in the US. I think friends are the family you choose, especially if you haven’t gone the whole create-your-own-biological-family route, so it’s hard to be away from them–I know you know how that feels. But I think I could be very happy living in SA. I’m casting a very wide net for the job search, so we’ll see.

  8. Jean Barker (@JeanBarker) Says:

    Glad to hear you’ve warmed to South Africa that much. I am also happy that you’re flexible and happy to be home. Good luck finding your next place.

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