Saturday, September 5, 2015

Thalia Laughs and Melpomene Weeps

My father always used to say I either love or hate—there is no middle ground with me. He might have thought that was an insult but I take it as a compliment. And it’s true; I have the dramatic masks Thalia and Melpomene painted in bright colors on either side of my face. Call me bipolar, call me spirited … for me, like or dislike is the dirty dish water of life—the taste and colors of the meal are there, but not in any form I can enjoy.

But living in the two-faced bright zone is exhausting; anxiety wraps itself around me like a coat of arms, rage builds a nest in my hair, tears bubble like mud boils, laughter uses all three sets of abdominal muscles, and joy howls at the moon. Sometimes I see stars as in a cartoon concussion just from the very act of living out loud.

I realized recently that Cape Town, my mother city, is a lot like me. She is two-faced hate/love: the Cape of Good Hope and the Cape of Storms.

In the Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain—a giant dining table lifted from the ocean as if from Aphrodite’s dining room—invites us to take big bites of her floral kingdom. Her sky is sapphire, her clouds pillow white, her oceans lasciviously lick the salty toes of lovers frolicking within her basin. Should pestilence dare trouble her land, she huffs it away with a healing wind, and when heat withers the earth into an old crone, she offers a gentle mist to soften the summer air into spring fever. She is full heart open flower under a full moon

This is the Cape Town of the tourist and the wealthy: voted the best city in the world to visit. In this city, the chefs are world class, the shops are upmarket, the fruit is plucked sun-ripened and juicy, and the wine flows ripe from the vine. Just when you think it can’t get any better, Cape Town’s diet doctor, Tim Noakes, blesses you and says “You can eat fat!” Pile on the bacon, folks, and don’t spare the cream.

But, beware the Cape of Storms. Unsuspecting visitors who have endured the kerosene-fuming sky journey above land and ocean to the Fairest Cape in all the World, may arrive in winter and at the wrong time of the month. Then, the Mother City’s oceans crash and pull and murder by shark-shaped tooth, her winds moan and bitch and bite at the very bones, and even Aphrodite’s table, the looming grey giant, disappears behind a cloak of mist for weeks at a time as if by a magician’s spiteful hand. At the airport, tourists awaiting their return ordeal scratch their heads and wonder if they’ve been duped. “What mountain? It’s a fraud! They told us Table Mountain was huge but we never even saw it.”

Like the disappearing mountain, the Cape of Storms is the hidden city, where poverty and crime and rape and corruption and ineptitude affects everyone living there—the rich and poor, black and white. Those living in the two cities simultaneously can find themselves in a bipolar existence—rage and delight; fear and comfort. The power outages and noise from generators in rich suburbs are as disruptive as the sounds of partying going on in the squatter camps. The rich run for exercise alongside the working poor rushing to catch their taxis, and as they run, both the rich and poor fear for their lives.

But there is also grace and kindness in both sides of this city I love/hate. The legacy of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu continues in the hope presented by our determined provincial government and South Africa’s fierce and fearless public prosecutor, Thuli Madonsela. Many rich people pay for the schooling of their domestic servants’ children and even hire laundry services so their aging housekeepers whose families depend on their having an income don't have to do the laundry. There are caring churches and organizations working to uplift the poor and suffering. There is a hunger for education among the youth and an abundance of creativity and ingenuity found in both large corporations and in small businesses and those selling their crafts at the traffic lights.

I urge you to visit this beautiful city at the tip of Africa. South African Airlines is offering a special rate. Take a break from winter and go in February or March and bring your American dollars or British pounds. Spend lavishly in the Cape of Good Hope. You will have an unforgettable visit. But before you return home, give a thought to those struggling each day in the Cape of Storms and the winter that will soon arrive, and give to them too. Here’s a good place to start: The Safe House Trust—a safe house for those who have suffered from sexual abuse


  1. Laverne SchwimmbacherDecember 22, 2016 at 12:20 AM

    Beautiful piece Deborah. I love your writing and so urge you to do more

  2. Lovely, thanks for the insight. Really enjoyed it. :)