Ten things I’ve learnt about travel

I hadn’t been overseas since a year before Joshua’s birth (he’s now five) and now I’m doing two overseas trips – Mauritius, Rome – in quick succession. Like having an extended *dry spell* and then having two rapid one-night stands in a row, you suddenly realise there’s fun to be had, if you can just set it up right.

Here are ten things I’ve learnt:

  1. There are many ways to get to the same place. That’s not a deeper psychological point. It’s just that if you miss one bus, you can always take another.
  2. Going to museums is like sifting through rubbish: most of it is junk, but sometimes you’ll stumble across a treasure. One person’s treasure is another person’s trash. At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (mostly fairly dull), I walked into a room that showed photographs of a man ageing alongside a duf-duf-duf soundtrack from a video some distance away. Perhaps it was the strange pairing of these two media, but I had an intense, and utterly memorable, feeling of death anxiety and vertigo. At a sixteenth century rich banker’s house down the road from us, I saw how small his bedroom was and how lush and sumptuous he kept his dining and waiting room.
  3. Wherever you go, someone is taking a selfie. Learn to walk around selfie sticks.
  4. Related point: over time, everywhere becomes a spot for selfies. The Colosseum colosseummight have once been a venue for mass executions and blood-letting (the Romans swept the floor regularly to prevent the slipperiness of the blood impacting negatively on the ‘games’), but now it’s an agreeable selfie-spot, especially for Japanese tourists.
  5. South Africans regard themselves as a friendly, nice lot. But others are just as nice, if not more so.
  6. Be direct. Greg met an ancient academic at a conference who, when he’d heard enough of what Greg had said or didn’t like what he was saying, would calmly say ‘Enough,’ and Greg would then keep quiet. This strategy, if applied more widely, would probably lead to fewer fights, bad feelings and divorces.
  7. There are three stages: recovering from the trip there, feeling you’ve been there a million years, girding oneself for the trip back.
  8. Sometimes the most foreign feature of a place is the colour of the sky. Even a slightly more intense shade of blue lends a surreal tone to experience, made more dreamlike if no one else is remarking on it.
  9. The sense that you must always be having a good time is a throwback to the eighties and best avoided. Similarly, the feeling that trinkets must be purchased for everyone at home.
  10. Tsunamis generated in the Indian Ocean pose a threat to all the countries of the region, including Mauritius. Remember: a tsunami will get you one day, but not yet.


Worrying about worrying

  • “Worries,” somebody explained to me at the gym recently, while I pedalled away on a stationery bike, “don’t go away when you get older. If anything, they get worse.  I used to think they would disappear when the children were older, but they didn’t.”
  • Worries have shapes. Some are circular: the strange noise of the car’s engine, will there be time to get to the garage tomorrow, who will fetch the child, eczema, no milk, the strange noise of the car. Others are straight lines: the strange noise of the car’s engine, the odd pain in your knee, bone cancer, death.
  • The professionals who make the most money from worriers are probably doctors and psychologists. Or perhaps they are insurance salespeople.
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy suggests various strategies for dealing with worries like thought scheduling. When you’re getting obsessive about something, you’re meant to stop the thought and schedule the worry for a specific time, for example, between five and six in the evening. How come scheduling sex supposedly makes the sex more intense (the anticipation?), whereas scheduling worries makes them less feverish?worried-canine-face-closeup-11441538
  • Another way to stop worrying is by focusing on the present, being mindful. It does sort of work. Worrying is about the future.
  • The worst worries of all are the ones that strike between two and four in the morning.
  • The designated worrier in the family is the one with the to-do lists: the family manager. It’s generally the mother.
  • It strange that the word ‘worrier’ and ‘warrior’ are homophones. Might fighting be a solution to worrying?
  • All worries have the same centre. Mary Gaitskill, in an interview in the Believer, poetically describes what I consider to be this centre: “…we’re going to fall apart, kind of dissolve back into this vast soup from whence we came, whatever that is. It’s almost like these beings pop out of this massive sludge and then they get sucked back into it, and that’s a really hard thing to comprehend.”
  • Although a survey reports that our biggest worry is actually about our stomachs – and whether we are overweight.

Five Things I Find Rude

  1. Women who ignore you at a dinner party, because they only want to talk to men. Men who ignore you at a dinner party, because they only want to talk to the prettiest woman.
  2. The way it’s fine to insult the penis, but not the vagina. Calling penises silly or ugly or gross is way more acceptable than levelling insults at the vagina. “It’s not easy to make men’s bits sound sexy,” says this Guardian article about the descriptions of Christian Grey’s manly bits in the latest EL James book. Maybe that just applies to EL James’ writing ability. Yet, there was a huge backlash online after somebody published this strange and rather insulting piece about vaginas. But penises: who is standing up for them? tongue
  3. Strangers who make personal remarks about one’s facial expression. I don’t want to be told to smile. I can’t help it if my natural resting state indicates profound sadness to other people.
  4. Drivers who speed up after you have indicated you want to move into their lane. Okay, why don’t I just continue to Hermanus, if you’re not going to let me get into the right lane to get to my house? It wasn’t my original intention, but, well, there’s a nice – actually, what is nice in Hermanus? – besides making up rude possessive cases with the name of the place: Herm’s you-know-what.
  5. People who refuse to speak loudly enough or have interesting conversations when you are clearly eavesdropping on them. Come on, it’s a public duty to offer some entertainment to eavesdroppers.

What do you find rude?

Here are five things I understand.

Five Things I Understand

I’m getting to that age where I start conversations with the phrase, ‘Let me tell you something…’. This is usually accompanied by a raised index finger.

Here are five things I’ve come to understand in life.

Beryl Cook - I don't know the name of the painting. Please help.

Beryl Cook – I don’t know the name of the painting. Please help.

  1. Parties get better if you stay until the end. People loosen up, get drunker, get tired: they fray around the edges. Their defences crumble; their vulnerabilities increase. They may look worse, they may even behave worse, but the party will become more interesting. If you can, come late to parties and stay late at them. You’ll have more fun than if you do the reverse.
  2. From laughter comes crying, says an old Yiddish saying. Parents know this rule well. A shrieking, giggling child will soon fall off a step, bump its head or be mortally insulted by something – and then start weeping. Adults are no different.
  3. The rate at which you drink almost always exceeds your conscious awareness of your sobriety.
  4. It’s monstrously easy to boast on Facebook, but, despite their claims otherwise, people don’t like it. There is a solution to this problem. Form a secret FB syndicate. You each boast about someone else’s success. It’s perfectly acceptable, even highly praised, to compliment someone else. The same information will be entering the world, but you will not be despised for it.
  5. Everybody is a little bit kinky. They may not have done it. But they’ve thought, fantasised, heard, seen or read something that is weird and titillating to them. If you stay late at parties, you may find out what that is.

In addition, here are five things I don’t understand and another five things I don’t understand.

Five (more) things I don’t understand

1. In Cape Town, why do plays always receive a standing ovation? This often happens with musical tributes as well. For example, there’s no way a Cape Town audience won’t stand up and endlessly clap after a show that featured music of the 80s or Elton John.

2. If you’re at a restaurant with someone, it’s fine, almost cute, for both of you to be engrossed in books, but not to be on your phones. Why? Are some alternate realities better than others?

3. Why do chain toy shops employ the most bored-looking employees and play the loudest and worst in-store music?

4. Why is it so terrible to pirate a book, but admirable to go to a library? Presumably, in both cases, one copy of the book has been legitimately purchased.  date night

5. Date night. Why must you go on a date with someone who lives in your house? Like a real date, if it’s going badly, can you get your best friend to fake call you with an ’emergency’? Can you then leave your ‘date’ stranded, or is he destined to follow you home for sex?

Here are five previous things I never understood.

On Ambivalence

  1. I’ve always struggled with ambivalence. I’m constantly saying things like: ‘Yes, but…’, ‘On the other hand…’.
  2. The world rewards clear thinkers: people who know what they want and how to get there. Ambivalent people tend to be fairly passive, because they are indecisive and so they may feel it is better not to make a decision at all.
  3. In the past, I hardly ever broke up with people. I think ambivalent people struggle to end relationships, although I had less trouble beginning them.
  4. I’m feeling ambivalent about this book I’m reading. I’m loathe to continue with it, but I can’t put it aside either. Currently, I’m mostly using it to kill mosquitoes at night. There are corpses – small black blobs with spidery legs – on the back cover of the book.
  5. I think I’m ambivalent because the serious problems, like death and suffering, can’t be solved. If you can’t solve the big problems, does it make any sense to solve the smaller ones?