The Great Plotnik

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Home is about sleeping in your own bed, on your own pillow, with the suitcases unpacked and the mail unsorted. Home is about going to the cupboard and grabbing a handful of almonds from Trader Joe's, with emails unanswered and phone messages unlistened to. Home is about hearing familiar whistles and clanks from the hot water heater and the furnace, the neighbor's dog barking, the wind in the trees, the sirens on Mission Street. Home is the smell of night blooming jasmine through open windows while familiar birds trill in the avocado tree, with dreams of Africa only dreams this time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

No More Maggie May

The Great Plotnik proposes an African Embargo on 'Do You Think I'm Sexy' by Rod Stewart, all American and English pop songs, and The Gypsy Kings' 'Volare.' There is a treasure trove of African music to listen to here. Music brings people together, not just food.

What do you say, Mr. Mbeke and Mr. Mandela? Please tell Plotnik you don't listen to 'Give Me One Moment In Time' and 'Maggie May' in your houses? Dang, it's hard to leave Africa listening to Rod Stewart.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Good Life

Plotnik's cold was over, he thought, until he and Ducknik flew from Durban to Cape Town. Going up was fine. Coming down was hell. Plotnik's ears froze in pain. A day and a half later they were still closed. That is a pain Plotnik does not wish upon anyone. But it passed. It all seems like a long time ago now.

Today, Plotnik and Ducknik, intrepid wine tasters, sat in a cafe too beautiful for words, in Franschhoek, a very old Huguenot town in Cape Town's wine country, down a lane with towering eucalyptus on both sides and blue, craggy mountains in the background. The sky was the blue of Van Gogh, though Plotnik's ear was feeling better. The wine steward lady set up ten glasses, and a tray of cheese, biscuits, fruit and nuts. Ten glasses. One-oh.

In the first glass Plotnik tasted cloves and vanilla. In the second he got peaches and pepper. By the fifth he was finding the wine DANGED good and by the tenth neither he nor Ducknik were sure which continent they were hanging on to. This lovely tasting came after the one down the lonely dirt road with African women marching slowly on the sides carrying firewood on their heads, which followed the one in the estate built in 1690, and the dinner last night with five courses and five more wines, and the ride to Franschhoek from Stellenbosch over the Hellswooghte Pass. None of these words are pronounced even closely to how they are spelled. Think 'tschhh whoosh tschhh.'

It's easy to see why these Afrikaaners, who devised their demonic language, and still own and run these wineries, have not wanted to give up their good lives. Times have changed in Jo'burg and Cape Town, but the days move through a slower groove out here. Beauty in these quantities defies anger. There is always time for another glass.

Yesterday South Africa played Australia in rugby. Both teams were integrated. Nelson Mandela sat in the audience. Plotnik cried when the entire pub, where he and Duck were watching, sang the national anthem out loud, with tears in everyone's eyes when they saw Mandela. After one goal, when a white South African passed to a black South African for the score, and embraced afterwards, and Mandela cheered, and the pub cheered, Plotnik started thinking once again that this country is going to beat the odds.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Coughing through Durban

Durban is an Indian town on the Indian Ocean on the bottom of Africa. Last night four Plotniks watched the full moon rise off the ocean from deck chairs at their funkiest of backpacker hotels. The sound of the crashing waves was a lullaby all night long for Plotnik and Ducknik, and this morning they sat up in bed to see dolphins swimming with surfers in the green ocean below.

A cough that refuses to die and a throat that isn't sore but isn't not sore either is crimping Plotnik's style a bit. He has tried The Great FiveHead's grandmother's recipe of gargling apple cider vinegar, salt and hot water. He has tried The Great Ducknik's grandmother's antidote of drinking bourbon. He has tried The Great PunkyDunky's idea of filling up a sink with drops of tea tree oil and covering his head with a towel and inhaling it all in. The Indian man at the pharmacy sold him a cough medicine that smells like a gas lawn mower.

None of it works. The only remedy in the world is Mummy Plotnik's chicken soup plus a side of brisket and noodles. Only it. Nothing else. Keep your damned lawn mower syrup. Please. Back to Cape Town tomorrow night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bongi makes Samp

Bongi made The Plotniks a great dinner, but the computer ate the description, like a crocodile chewing on a helpless zebra.

So the long description is lost, describing the succulent beef stew, the samp (corn chunks with dried beans) served over the other corn-thing, the cabbage and spinach stews, the root vegetable that looked like a bratwurst and the sweet potato. It was a delicious feast, and you would have enjoyed hearing about it. Too bad.

Plotnik had also written about Zulu baskets, and about the enzyme he clearly lacks to allow him to remain conscious while consuming pint after pint of beer in the pub, like everyone else seems to be able to do. Last night he understood the deep, hidden secret about Africa, but this morning all he remembers is it had something to do with beer.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Two Huge Hippos

The Great Plotnik has caught a cold. So he wouldn't keep everyone awake coughing last night, he walked out of the lodge in St. Lucia, and into the driveway. A young man in a blue windbreaker approached him. It dawned on Plotnik that he was now standing outside in his pajamas at 1AM in Africa and that the man might signify danger. But then he heard the word 'hee-pos.'

There, on the grass across the little street, were two huge hippos, staring in Plotnik's direction while munching on wet grass. The young man was laughing with glee, and Plotnik must admit, hippos do look funny up close. Beady eyes, huge nose, silly ears, fat rolling down their necks. Plotnik couldn't help himself. Now two people, one in a blue windbreaker and sandals, one in blue checked pajamas, stood by the side of the road roaring in laughter at the two huge hippos.

In the night sky were all the constellations one only sees in the Southern Hemisphere. Monkeys and frogs howled and snorted in the trees. The coals were still red in the braai from dinner. Plotnik forgot to cough.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Raining Prawns

The road into Swaziland from the West is paved and painted. The road out of Swaziland to the South is paved and painted. Inside Swaziland, the present King has 17 wives. Each year he picks the choicest virgin in the country. Before he chooses, the sangoma throws bones to determine if she will have a boy. If so -- she's in. Meanwhile, Swaziland has one of the highest HIV rates in the world.

The people are very sweet. In the marketplace you see a few emaciated ladies lying on their blankets, but in general Swazis appear hearty and happy. Swazi art is beautiful, especially fabrics. When people see Staci they begin speaking to her in Swazi, though how people know which of all the tribal languages to speak to another person, is a mystery to Plotnik.

Out of Swaziland and into Kwazulu Natal, and down to the Indian Ocean. St. Lucia is like Manhattan Beach, with crocs and hippos. It's going to rain prawns in a few minutes.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Statue of Limitations on Happy Days

The inevitable has happened. The statute of limitations on too many perfect, wonderfully blissful days in a row ran out. This afternoon at Jo'burg airport, the guide who was supposed to meet all four Plotniks to then drive them through the outer reaches of Swaziland for the next four days, never showed up. Johannesburg is a city where, when you ask someone if you should go to a certain neighborhood, or certain hotel, or certain restaurant, always answers: THERE? GOD NO! NOT IF YOU VALUE YOUR LIFE! THEY'LL SLIT YOUR THROAT AND EAT YOUR LIVERS!

Fortunately The Great PunkyDunky can manage driving a huge rented boat of a car on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately all four are seasoned travelers. Fortunately dollars go a long way in the land of curry and bobootie. Fortunately the three days at Victoria Falls will leave plenty of sweet, sweet memories, enough to eclipse a temporary glitch. All the stone and wooden carvings, earrings and bracelets are packed away. More happy days are ahead, Plotnik insists, starting

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Many Beautiful Things

The Great Plotnik has seen many beautiful things in many beautiful places, but never has he seen anything to match Victoria Falls, on the Zambia side of the Zambezi River, at sunset, with a 270 degree double rainbow shining all the way to the bottom of the gorge, mist falling, river roaring, canyon towering, monkeys skittering in trees, zebra over here, impala over there. The only thing missing is The Great BeezyWeezy. But if you have to miss somebody, this is a really nice place to do it.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The lion is hungry

The zebra lies half-gutted under a stand of acacia trees. Two black-tipped brown points peek from the dry grass -- if she hadn't twitched her ears we'd never have known the mama lion was close by, lounging after having gorged herself on the entire inside of the zebra, plus the eyeballs. Twenty people crowd to one side of the bus, silent, cameras clicking -- and now, here come the cubs from the bush. Four four-month-old babies emerge with another female adult, walking slowly, passing Big Mama, who has rolled onto her back like a huge, sleepy pussycat.

The second female sits down astride the zebra and begins ripping into what's left of its insides -- and the hind leg. A hipbone emerges. She licks her lips with a twelve inch tongue. The largest cub has the gumption to join her while the other cubs do not, though they stand watching, drooling, wishing they could join the feast too but unwilling to take one step closer until told to do so.

Plotnik didn't know zebras have stripes on the inside too. He thinks, not for the first time, that he's happy his own pussycats back home weren't any larger than they were.

The lions are kings of the kingdom, but the giraffes are the cutest. An hour later the group is staring at a stand of elephants fifteen feet away, feeding on the leaves of a thornbush. A giraffe pokes its head up above the canopy. Crocs, hippos, rhinos, millions of antelope, two leopards stalking impalas -- this is the real stuff here.

The next day, on the bus back to Jo'burg, a student gets a text message from her boyfriend in London, telling her about suicide attacks. This is the real stuff too. No one on the bus says much. The Great Plotnik thinks: "At least the lion kills because it's hungry."

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Train to Jo'berg

The train arrives very slowly into Jo'burg. Much of the 27 hour journey from Cape Town is through desert and scrub country, ostriches running alongside the train. The dining room serves custardy babootie and rich malvo pudding.

There's not a lot to look at outside. Arriving in the great city is a thirty minute pass through more garbage/litter along the train tracks than Plotnik has ever seen anywhere. A white South African school teacher talks about how the city has deteriorated since '94, but he punctuates it with his index finger touching his opposite wrist. After seeing him do this a few times, Plotnik realizes it is a signal about race -- the city has deteriorated, but not because of the speaker, and not because of Plotnik, but because of those whose wrists are a different color. Get it? There is so much that is convoluted here.

it's only two days since traveling to the Cape of Good Hope. Plotnik and Ducknik stood on the point where the oceans meet -- the warm Indian Ocean Current flows into the cold Atlantic Ocean current. Huge, rocky cliffs, blue-green water, baboons lurking across the road, great seabirds scooping fish from the sea. If there are more beautiful spots in the world, Plotnik is unable to say where.

Tomorrow it's on to see the African Big Five -- hopefully -- lion, leopard, water buffalo, rhino and elephant. Woo hoo hoo.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Braai

The Great Plotnik stares at his overloaded plate. Friends who the Plotniks do not know have nonetheless invited all the Plotniks to their home for a braai. The way a braai works is: You drink copious amounts of delicious, laughingly inexpensive South African wine, and then you eat much much much meat, then more wine, then more more more meat.

The hostess apologizes for not serving more meats, but all she has to offer is lamb, beef, chicken, ostrich, tuna, lamb sausage, chicken sausage and ostrich sausage, to go with the egpplant stuffed with blue cheese, roasted peppers, roasted vegetables, and many additional bottles of wine.

Nobody uses napkins in this country. Once again, Plotnik realizes how addicted Americans are to paper products. No napkins, no paper towels, no tissues. Only v-e-r-y- thin toilet paper. At the braai Plotnik's hands are grubby with ostrich, lamb, beef, chicken and sausage, and he must keep excusing himself to go to the bathroom where he can rip off pieces of toilet paper to wipe his greasy mitts. The hostess asks if Plotnik is feeling all right? Oh yes, he says, hiding his hands but helping himself to more ostrich.