Soweto / Harlem

Sorry not to have written before now, it’s a long story but before I tell it, I just wanted to say i miss you, but I know you’re having a really incredible time. Soweto sounds like just the kind of place every person in the western world needs to see, at least once. How incredibly poor those people must be, and after all the discrimination and racism, it’s just amazing that they continue to live with any kind of dignity.

It’s very weird here too, the whole gap between rich and poor thing. I am in Harlem right now, in M.’s apartment, on Malcolm X Boulevard. It is much poorer here than midtown and Chelsea where I was staying last week, but we just went for a walk around and it is absolutely amazing. I guess I had the same stereotyped expectations of any whitey going to Harlem – poor people, and black people equals people out to get you. The reality is so different. It’s kind of arrogant for me to assume that any of these people are even remotely interested in me or the contents of my pockets. As a result, I have seen some amazing things – an African American synagogue, across the street from a mosque, heard singing in a church, walked past the Apollo (the most famous jazz venue in the world).

We went and had some soul food in a corner diner – macaroni cheese, fries and gravy, fried chicken wings, that sort of thing. Very much “comfort” food. M. is a very nice guy, an Aussie in fact, he reminds me of D. He says it’s okay for me to stay here, which is just so generous, and very kind. I feel very safe here. It’s only a few blocks to Central Park, which I hope to go to tomorrow. There are so many brownstones and stoops around here, it’s like Sesame Street. Most of the people you see are African American, the occasional Japanese tourist, there is a subway station right outside the door, all sorts of music blasting out of car doors, street side stereos and delis. It is very very different from downtown. Meanwhile, I am writing this on M’s wireless laptop and watching the new Alias series on cable. Just thought I’d slip that in.

The phone cut out the other night because I ran out of money on my phone card. It appears there are two of you in the hotel, which caused a considerable delay in getting through to you. Now I know your room number though it will be much faster. We are six hours behind you, so if it is 9am here, it is 3pm in SA. I think. Maybe you could try and call me on Tuesday – I will be here in the morning (you probably won’t get this message before Monday but if you do, call me at 9am our time – I will be out for most of the day and night, so morning is the best chance to catch me).

Anyway, where was I when I last spoke to you? Oh yes, I was in Buffalo. It seems a world away now. On Saturday I went to Niagara Falls, and despite it being the biggest tourist trap this side of Disneyland it was okay. I rode on the Maid of the Mist boat tour, which went right under the falls, and basically bummed around for the rest of the day. It takes about an hour to get there from Buffalo, and the best views are from on the Canadian side, which is also far more beautiful and even more touristy (if that’s possible) than the US side. So i now have a Canadian stamp in my passport. How aboot that. By 6pm I had fall fatigue and had to get the hell out of there.

I got back to Buffalo, walked to a pharmacy and bought an alarm clock, but on the way home I thought this guy was following me, so I freaked out and walked into this sportsman’s bar. I couldn’t work out if it was a gay bar or a blokey ice hockey bar or both. Everyone had these fawn pants on, and they all just turned around and stared at me, but I thought I was being followed so I just tried to play cool, had a few beers, listened to the NEW Wave soundtrack on the PA – Joy Division et al. After that the guy had gone, so i continued walking back to the hostel. I found another bar where there were live bands, very punky and loud. I went in and had a few beers, saw this awesome band called the Bloody Hollys (dressed up in glasses, white shirts and ties after Buddy himself) doing a weird take on Pixies vs John Spencer Blues Explosion punk rock. Very quintessentially cool. I talked to a guy in the audience who said i had been taking my chances walking around at that time of night and that I had probably done the right thing in ducking into the bar when I thought the guy was following me. That made me feel better, but as a consequence I was very drunk, instead of back in my bed at the hostel. Man, i hate those places.

Anyway, I made it back safely and this morning caught the train at 8.30, getting in to Penn station at about 4.30. So I am very tired now. Tomorrow is Columbus Day, hip hooray. The local politics here are very interesting – NY State is in the middle of a gubernatorial election, and Congress seems to be in full election mode too. Can you believe the Congress voted for a war? And Hillary Clinton was one of them?

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