Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cape Town Day 9

Emily had to go in to her internship on Thursday morning so I got up early, ran a few errands nearby, and then took the taxi into town. My first stop was the District Six Museum which commemorates a neighborhood of Cape Town that functioned very much like Harlem in New York City, a center of culture and cosmopolitanism, before Apartheid policies kicked everyone out and the entire neighborhood was razed to the ground in the name of urban planning. In some of the historical material leading up to the displacement, I was surprised to discover a reference to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an Anglican monastic order that has a monastery in Cambridge, MA. The plaque in part read thusly,
Lydia was a young woman when, on 1 December 1834, bonfires lit up the slopes o Table Mountain and Signal Hill, announcing Emancipation Day and the end of slavry. The law required slaves to serve a further four years as 'apprentices.' Freedom of movement only came in 1838 and slaves flocked from the countryside into Cape Town. Included in this flight from the rural areas was Lydia, on whose back were the scars left by the sjambok of her master. She was one of the thousands of the city's poor. She was baptised and became a Christian, living in a cottage situated in the vicinity of 2C in Cauvin Road. Years later a school was built on the site of Lydia's cottage. It was known as Lydia's School.
The first monks of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), Fr. Puller and Fr. Sheppard, arrived in the summer of 1864 to start the Mission of St. Philip's. They held their first service in Lydia's cottage. She is remembered standing in her doorway, ringing the bell calling congregants to worship.
I also discovered that the building the museum inhabited used to be a Methodist church that was started for the descendants of former slaves. During the displacements in the 1960s, the church became a focal point of resistance efforts to the displacements and to Apartheid generally. Congregants commuted back to District Six to worship from the sometimes distant places to which they had displaced and the congregation continued until the late 1980s. Throughout this time, the congregation maintained its commitment to working on behalf of the people and so started a children's center and remained a focal point for anti-apartheid meetings and events. When displaced, the congregation placed a plaque on the church building that remains there today:
All who pass by remember with shame the many thousands of people who lived for generations in District Six and other parts of this city and were forced by law to leave their homes because of the color of their skins. Father forgive us...
After the museum I took a walking tour of the city. I stopped for a cup of tea at a cafĂ© to get my bearings on the map and then set out for the Bo Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town which is a historically Muslim quarter. The neighborhood is distinctive for its extraordinarily colorful homes. There is a mosque on virtually every block and they are as colorful as the homes that surround them. Someone had a sense of humor because there is a mosque built right on the corner of Church Street! Walking further there was a driveway area between some of the colorful homes and tin and wood shacks could be seen down the way, just as colorful as the homes that lined the streets but obviously inhabited by the poor. The poor are never far in Cape Town. My next stop was the Lutheran church which has a grand high pulpit and a beautiful organ. The church was originally started when religious practice was severely restricted by law and so the church was initially disguised as a barn. Later, when freedom of religion became established, a German artist was brought in to beautify the space. I found it ironic that they were playing the Misereri Mei by Allegri over the sound system. A Renaissance setting of Psalm 51, the Allegri was for centuries thought to be too beautiful for the populace to hear and so was reserved to the Pope's hearing in the Sistine Chapel. A precocious young Mozart recognized the beauty of the piece when he happened to be in Rome during Lent and so he asked the choirmaster if he could look at the music whereupon it was explained that the music was reserved to the Pope's ears. Indignant, Mozart simply went and wrote the whole thing out from memory! Regardless, the piece is hardly contextual in a late 18th century Lutheran Church in South Africa! I stopped and grabbed a sandwich on my way back to the taxi stand and then made my way back to Rondebosch and home. Interestingly, the taxi let me off at the opposite end of the block from Emily's street and as I stepped out I looked up and saw a sign through the trees, “C.G. Jung Center.” Intrigued, I looked at the sign on the gate and discovered that the library had open hours just then. I walked around the building to the library entrance and was met by the curator who explained that this was the central place for training Jungian analysts in southern Africa. I looked around the library for a bit and found my friend Deirdra Bair's recent biography of Jung on the shelf. The little gems to be found just under our noses! After running a few more errands, Emily and I caught up with Jenn and her friend Steven who was supposed to have arrived a week earlier but got stranded in Cairo after his passport, money and other personal effects were stolen in Israel. Assured that he had arrived safe and sound, albeit exhausted, we headed off to dinner with Elliot at a gourmet burger restaurant called Royale that featured an extensive selection of vegetarian burgers. Elliot took his leave to go study a bit more while Em and I headed to the Green Dolphin, a world famous restaurant and jazz lounge. We hung out there for about an hour and a half and listened to a very good local band. It was a wonderful way to end my time in Cape Town as on Friday I depart for Johannesburg.

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