Not The Festival Edition
Welcome to this edition of Homescreen. It’s the 'Not The National Arts Festival' Edition because I started writing it at about Festival time and finished it in early August, because life. This is not some sort of Festival report. You’ll find plenty of those on the interwebs. This is about whatever popped into my head with The Festival as a loose writing prompt. Some of the photos are to do with The Festival and others are more about wintery things like aloe flowers, smoke and pretty sunsets.
But wait, that’s not all! There are quite a few new photos in this edition that I haven’t shared elsewhere. You’ll see them here for the first time.
My favourite things at this year's National Arts Festival were sculptures. These two are by Cecilia Wimot Ballam. The one above is titled 'Africa Dreaming' and the one below 'Fire'.
It’s still ‘The Festival’, have you noticed? There are many more festivals around the country, challengers to the National Arts Festival’s historic throne, but doomsayers aside, the NAF is still The Festival. Let’s just hope that not too many festinos were lost down Makhanda’s extensive network of potholes, or trampled by a stampede of cows spooked by street theatre or an exploding substation. Cows, like donkeys, have hooves, and both are thus ungulates, which are mammals that have hooves. In case you’re wondering, I’m going on about hooves because I like the word ‘ungulate’. It’s like a little dance your tongue might do.
The other bronzes that I loved at the 2023 NAF were these huge animals by Stanley Hlaselo.
Don’t you think this was a particularly cold one, hey? I mean, we always say that, but really. There also weren’t as many posters as there used to be. Time was, donkeys had to be on their toes (or hooves) if they wanted to avoid a winter coat of posters and flyers applied by eager young theatre interns. The posters glued to anything and everything used to add some colour and vibe to the city but they do seem to have dwindled in number. The donkeys are safe, which is good, because who doesn’t like a donkey? If you don’t like donkeys then let your silence speak for you.
2023 was the second post-lockdown edition of The Festival, and the 49th Festival overall. Which means next year is the 50th! I wonder what festive delights we can anticipate? It’s my 50th too, actually. Jaysus. When did that happen? This whole ‘time’ thing is ridiculous, and it only gets worse when you add space, as Douglas Adams knew:
‘One thing,’ Zaphod further added, ‘has suddenly ceased to lead to another’ – in contradiction of which he had another drink and slid gracelessly off his chair.
Whilst he slept it off, Trillian did a little research in the ship’s copy of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It had some advice to offer on drunkeness.
‘Go to it,’ it said, ‘and good luck.’
It was cross-referenced to the entry concerning the size of the Universe and ways of coping with that.
For more insights into space-time you can also read the edition of Homescreen about how a camera allows one to make art with space-time, but I can’t guarantee it’ll ward away enough existential angst to stop you drinking too much.
The Monument on the opening night of the 2023 National Arts Festival. The 1820 Settlers National Monument is at the heart of the National Arts Festival. The opening of the Monument on 13 July 1974 coincided with the inaugural National Arts Festival and it’s been at the centre of Festival action ever since. The ‘Monument’ edition of Homescreen goes into more detail about the building and its relationship to the city. Not too much detail, though, just the right amount.
I realise I’ve only lived in Grahamstown Makhanda for 20 years but I feel like I’m getting to the point where I can claim to be a local. I am therefore qualified to write about ‘Things locals like about The Festival’ and ‘Things locals don’t like about The Festival’. Warning: don’t take this too seriously. Or seriously at all, actually. Amongst my observations will be scattered some recent photographs, which you are welcome to buy as prints should they excite you. You can find details of pricing here.
Things locals like about the Festival
Locals like the fact that there are more people in town during Festival because this means more money for local businesses. They also like the shows, the food, the action and the gluhwein. Though I didn’t see any for sale this year, actually. It’s fine, Tracy makes a mean Gluhwein. That’s the wife Tracy, not Tracy Chapman.
The Makhanda municipality offers a form of theatre all its own around the time of Festival. It portrays what things might be like if it was a functional organ of state and performs ironic street theatre in which it fixes some potholes and repaints some of the road signage that’s worn off. I was kind of hoping that this year the annual two week run might include replacing some of the many, many missing stop signs or even some of the missing road names so that people could find their BnBs and not crash into each other on the way because nobody knew where they were or that they had to stop.
Lake Milner, Milner Street, Makhanda. This installation was part of the local municipality's long term street theatre project, which urges citizens to consider the meaning of local governance. The reflective lake asks viewers to consider how much of their money is embodied in the heaps of earth and broken, discarded pipes.
This year the muni provided water to (some of) the town for the whole Festival, which is nice when you’re used to one day on, two days off at best. Ta da! What I want to know is, if they can magically provide water over Festival then why can’t they perform the same trick throughout the year? Oh, wait, next year is an election year so we can probably look forward to some more actual work from the municipality. Maybe we should hold elections once a year instead of once every four years, or have an arts festival every couple of months. Or a governing party that actually disciplines its members when they steal or waste all the money and hopelessly fail to do their jobs. Although I suppose they can’t do that now because if they did the entire party would be in jail. Can a government operate from jail?
By the way, have you noticed that on Google maps you can actually see the potholes? So they’re literally visible from space.
Potholes with Light Trails, corner of Oatlands and Fitzroy Streets, Makhanda. This used to be my route to work but I got tired of fixing punctures, doing the alignment and replacing tyres. The potholes of Makhanda are a trigger for many of us. I offer these light trails in the beautiful sunset light as a 'glimmer'. A glimmer is the opposite of a trigger. It generates feelings of hope, which is what I really want to do with my photography.
I wonder if the town’s pothole network could act as an emergency water storage system. Some of them, like Lake Milner in the photo above, are not far off the size of a half-decent reservoir. Maybe for The Next Festival we could improve the city's aesthetics and pop a decorative swan or two into some of the larger ones. Not real swans, of course, as they’d probably startle the ungulates and make them stampede into the festinos. Those plastic flamingos would be a better bet. Takealot might offer a discount for a bulk order and then each pothole could be marked with a flamingo so that innocent motorists can avoid plummeting into them and having to buy yet another tyre. Although then our streets would pretty much become fields of plastic flamingos, kind of like those fields of crosses in military cemeteries though less regimented and a bit more cheery. The Festival needs a mascot animal, why not the Pothole Phoenicopterus, which is the fancy name for a flamingo? (Why does that remind me of the Holiday Armadillo?) ‘Pothole flamingo’ doesn’t have the alliteration you need for a good mascot name, although it’s not a bad name for a grunge band, if grunge is still a thing. I suspect that the Nirvana t-shirts I see around are worn with little knowledge of Teen Spirit. Pothole Parrot is a good one but parrots just aren’t tall enough. By the time you see it you’ll already be in the pothole, and anyway I think it’ll be a struggle to find enough plastic parrots. So the question is, what creature lives in South Africa, is quite tall, starts with a ‘p’ and is readily available in plastic likeness?
One of the nice things about Festival time is that it’s also aloe bloom season which is very pretty indeed, especially out on the Bedford Road. These little Malachite Sunbirds were having a good time too.
So anyway, things locals like about Festival. Kudu burgers from the Rotary people on the Village Green! They are very good indeed. Also the grated potato pancake things from Kaiser Kartoffel. My favourite topping is the olive tapenade though apparently actual Germans usually eat them with apple sauce or some other sweet thing. Shame.
During The Festival, if you go through an invisible stop sign and crash into a festino, you may actually see a traffic cop. They’re a rare species in Makhanda. Maybe we need some sort of breeding programme so that we could have traffic cops the whole year round, because then maybe they’d do something about the infinite number of muppets that plague the streets of the city. I remain amazed that nobody has been killed at the traffic lights outside the Cathedral. This is a minor miracle that suggests that the church is built on one of those natural wells of spiritual power you hear about, like Stonehenge or Lake Fundudzi. The number of times I’ve seen cars drive straight through red lights and miss by millimetres the groups of slow-moving pedestrians who seem equally unaware that red means stop suggests some kind of divine intercession is at work. It’s sure as hell not down to any kind of human agency.
Cathedral of St Michael and St George, Makhanda.
One of the nice things about Festival time is that the Botanical Gardens are pretty in winter and you can get very good coffee at LA Café in the Provost, which is right next to the gardens.
Things locals don’t like about Festival
Locals don’t like the fact that there are more people in town during The Festival, because there are more people in town. Although there are also less people than there used to be, which makes people worry about the future of The Festival, especially as some of us understand the attraction of the Knysna Oyster Festival which happens at the same time. Kirkwood Wildsfees, which also happens at the same time, not so much. In my experience it’s attended by way too many Old South African Flags.
Makhandans don’t like people who drive the wrong way through the Pepper Grove one-way, or people who panic because of the cows and drive into potholes and get stuck and block the road. Queues at the potholes are frowned upon. Also, all the parking bays in Pepper Grove are taken and when you do finally find a spot, Home Industries just sold the last tray of custard slices to a wine waiter from Worcester or a serial killer from Krugersdorp.
They should have changed the name to Mookhanda.
Makhandans don’t like the Festival cold, although, gluhwein. Posters stuck to anything and everything from business’s windows to slow-moving donkeys are amusing at first but lose their charm once The Festival is over and they start to peel off and create even more litter than that which usually fills the city’s gutters and pavements.
The Festival cold means people have fires which makes for very atmospheric sunrise photos.
During The Festival the “car guards” who have replaced parking meters in what I guess is someone’s idea of job creation multiply from an average population of 2,3 car guards per parking bay (CGPPB) to 5,45 CGPPB. Interestingly, over the same period the average population of fluorescent vests decreases by the same proportion, while that of Christmas hats triples.
Takealot is sold out of plastic flamingos.
The Southwell Road turnoff with Makana’s Kop in the background. What better way to end the Not the Festival Edition of Homescreen than with a photo that has nothing o do with The Festival?
It gets hard to find the advertisements for hair extensions on the Grahamstown Makhanda Facebook page because it’s filled with complaints about potholes and urban farm animals from people whose license plates start with CA (CAA now actually, have you noticed?) or end with GP.
Makhandans don’t like the sudden appearance during The Festival of traffic cops who issue fines for failing to stop at an invisible stop street on the corner of Anyone’sguess Avenue and Whoknows Road.
Ok, cheers, thanks for coming, and I’ll see you at the next edition of Homescreen. It’s probably going to be about momentous, life-changing decisions and how not to make them.