Sunday, November 19, 2006

Arlington, VA: Mullets, mullets, mullets...
It seems like only yesterday that the five pretty boys from Duran Duran sliced through the seas of the South of France on their Bond-worthy yacht, fruity umbrella drinks poised in one hand, cans of paint ready to drizzle over their scantily-clad boating companions.

Yet the mini-masterpiece of "Rio" debuted to public view in 1982. 25 years ago. My God. Far too long to go between viewings of Asia's 16-screen, painfully literal video interpretation of "Heat of the Moment" or the summer-stock-quality Renn Faire romp of the Safety Dance. (Although Montgomery County's juror education video certainly pays homage - e.g. "Our legal system has evolved since dunking peasants, and, thanks to your tax dollars, we're going to dress up in corsets and tights to show you why." Maryland's key, PC difference: the people in jester gear are not little people.)

All this big-screen nostalgia at The State Theater Saturday was just warm-up for 80s cover band The Legwarmers - a sold-out (no, really) show. (We had to negotiate tickets from a scalper.) About 8-10 singers, guitar-players, percussionists, doo-wop men and a keyboardist (all hail the golden age of Yamaha) took to the stage to sing everything from Madonna to Prince to Poison. It was a tough act to pull off - particularly to an audience of young pups who'd been conceived in the decade being celebrated. But they pulled it off, admirably - and they're coming back for a repeat performance December 15.

The 1980s...Yep, that's when music had a melody. When a man could wear a Members Only jacket and pleated pants with insouciance, and a woman's bangs could proudly soar from her forehead. When music videos delighted our senses and either affirmed or challenged our own mental imagery from what we heard on the radio.

Please, MTV, get that Laguna Beach gar-bahge off the air and bring back the music.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

South Africa: View from Robben Island
The tour guide here knew the place first-hand - he'd been a political prisoner there for six and a half years, living in a roughly 6 foot by 4 foot cell with the exception of the times he was let out for eight hours a day to toil in the lime quarry. He'd become an activist at age 15, training in exile for several years before his return and inevitable arrest at age 26.

When I picked up the photos from Ritz Camera, I reflected on what I'd done that day to benefit the world: Did pilates, bought a new coffee press.

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Stellenbosch: A Mini-Rainforest, A Monument, A Struggle Between Tact and Curiosity

This little bioecosystem, which might have looked more at home in Central America, was in fact right at the foot of the Afrikaans Monument, a tubular concrete totem that would have looked at home in an aquarium surrounded by sea monkeys.

My disposable camera couldn't quite capture the towering structure itself. And given my limited knowledge of the country's past, I felt a little weird being there in the first place. Was such a monument a good idea?

I recalled hearing that vacation time brought many of township residents to the previously all-white public beaches. No worries about such a crowd flocking here, I guessed.

As the tour guide continued, I tried to follow along and keep an open mind. This represented the language of the residents I'd previously mistaken for German tourists, most of whom had just gone about their business and lived their lives, about as involved in political decisions as I am with the daily policy workings of my government.

But surely the monument had caused some controversy. I was curious. I wanted to ask. But, like with many of my visits to foreign countries, I tempered this with a desire not to be rude. There was probably much under the surface a tourist couldn't grasp, and would look like a moron or oaf asking, particularly given that "moron" and "oaf" are common stereotypes of the US passport-holder.

"*Meh*," I eventually thought and wandered off to look at the foliage.

The guide saw me sneak off and deftly corraled the tour and his well-informed exposition in that direction. Botany, indeed safer ground.

Nelson Mandela wants you to click here.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Wine Country: Why not do something a little different, like be the only blogger in Washington not to dissect/celebrate/lament the elections? Although the critter in the tower does look a little donkey-like. And much about November 7 gives reason to raise a glass...

A trip to Africa just isn't complete without a goat photo. This one, unlike in Senegal, isn't wandering the street or munching trash. He is the mascot of Fairview Wines in the Paarl wine country by Cape Town - one of over a hundred vineyards in the country. The wines include Goats Do Roam, Bored Doe and the Goatfather, featuring Italian varietals. Two bottles of these took a cross-hemispheric trip in my duffel bag but were not to survive. Fortunately there are many distributors in the U.S.

Nelson Mandela wants you to click here.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Downtown Cape Town: The Freedom to Take a Long Walk Around
Walking around downtown DC and my neighborhood in the days since I've been back, I realized one of many things I appreciate and love about my current home is its relative safety. Even after midnight, even dressed up, I can usually stroll a few blocks from Metro to home without fear, just a common-sense level of caution.

Not everywhere in the world can one do this. The photo above is of a flower market in Cape Town a few blocks from my downtown hotel. Like all my city photos, it's taken in the daytime. The flower market packs up at dusk, as do most pedestrians.

Before I left, I was corresponding with some locals and a DC friend who'd traveled in South Africa about my plans to take the Cape Town City Metro train, rather than an organized day tour, to Simon's Town to see the penguins. Lonely Planet had said it was safe.

"You CANNOT take the train."

WHAT? I thought. It's a metro train. The penguins are going to mug me?

My local friends expounded: On the train, commuters are often held up by random and robbed. Occasionally one is thrown from the train. Even the walk to and from the station can be sketchy - the city recently announced a program in which one can be escorted these few blocks.

I thought the crime rumors might be overstated. International visitors often think the U.S. is dangerous because we're all allowed to carry guns, and the news always goes nuts during the freak occasions when we shoot each other up. "No, really - this DOESN'T happen every day" I'd assure them.

But crime was definitely an every day issue in South Africa. Every house and business was distinguished by a big ADT sign and barbed wire atop a tall fence. Sometimes you could peep through the iron bars and wire to see a ferocious wolf-dog guarding the driveway. And every tour guide who drove by the metro station and its tourist-tempting flea market gave a stern warning: "Don't go there!"

"Arghhhh," I eloquently reflected one night at the hotel bar. I thought of the great neighborhoods with art galleries and cafes our minivan passed earlier. If this were the U.S. or Europe, I'd be on foot, enjoying the great weather, taking a stroll around this beautiful city, dropping into a coffee house or jazz club.

But I figured out the taxi system and adapted. In the end, I remained safe and merely inconvenienced for several days, unlike the folks who live there and deal with an issue every day that makes it difficult to run a business, make a living, protect their homes and families and go about life as usual.

Here's a horrific crime story that was all over the news the night I arrived in the country.

Nelson Mandela wants you to click here.

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