Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cape Town, Day 3: Meetings and bleatings

Wednesday, 7 July, 2010

Today, on the way to a meeting at the Centre for the Book, a division of the National Library of South Africa, I happened down Dorp Street, happened down Dorp Street, dorp dorp dorp. You must forgive me, but if there were ever a Dr. Seussian street, it must be Dorp Street, happened down Dorp Street, dorp dorp dorp. One day when I’m older and twenty pounds colder I’ll cycle to Berklee down Dorp Street. And when one bikes home in the dusky alone it then naturally turns into Prod Street.

Well, my dreams of Dorp Street (happened down Dorp Street, dorp, dorp, dorp) will have to wait for another day, for this morning I had a meeting with Mrs. Nombulelo Baba, the Project Coordinator of children’s literature programs at the Centre.

But I almost turned away from this charming old building. You see, after climbing the outside stairs, I was confronted with this sign hanging in the door:

How odd, I thought, since the weather seemed quite nice, if a tad chilly. Could these South African winters really be considered so bad as to close buildings? It was unlikely, but the sign seemed clear enough. Still, I had to look inside, just in case. Sitting at two reception desks were two receptionists receptioning receptively (respectively). I walked in and made a little joke about the sign: “I thought you were closed for the weather… so cold! Heh heh.” Receptionist number one replied, “No, only the doors are closed.” Well I’ll be a boer-sausage strudel! If there is one thing Kevin and I learned last year, it was never to take anything for granted when traveling hitherward and thitherdorf!

In our meeting Mrs. Baba and I talked nonsense for quite a while, and I was able to get a better understanding of the children’s book scene in South Africa. Apparently there are still precious few books that record (let alone translate) indigenous oral literature, particularly that of children—nursery rhymes, lullabies, game rhymes, etc.. The Centre tries to encourage those who might not normally publish to do so, but because it is underfunded, this task is challenging. Still, from what I saw, they are doing excellent work so far. Mrs. Baba was kind enough to spread the appeal for nonsense to her colleagues and to the greater group at the Centre. Many thanks for her kindness.

I spent the afternoon at the National Library, continuing to go through whatever literary and native oral literature I could find—and I did make a few interesting discoveries, including one nonsensical mathematical limerick from the 1920s (the nonsensical nature now having been confirmed by my redoubtable numerical neighbor Eric, whose mathematical chops are deeply fried and served with applesauce).

I walked back home to prepare for the big meeting, one I had been anticipating for two years. It just so happens that, in 2007, I thought I would have the opportunity to meet Niki Daly, author of A Wanderer in Og (which he writes under the perplexing pseudonym “Nicholas Daly”) one of the finest nonsense books to come out in recent years in any country. We were not able to meet at that time, and I was lucky to have this second chance. To make things all the better, Niki was able to rope in Philip de Vos, a very fine South African poet (both in his native Afrikaans and in English) and another one of those rarest of birds: a nonsense artist. Interestingly, and as is often the case with nonsense artists, both Niki and Philip have significant experience as musicians. I was positively atwitter. When I walked up to Time-Out Café (which, appropriately, has a wall painted in melting clocks and mincing, nightmarish forks), I saw Philip sitting, and even though our eyes met for a few seconds, it seemed as if I wasn’t at all what he was looking for. It turns out that I wasn’t at all what he was looking for. Apparently, when he had googled me, the first photos to come up were that of my eternal name-nemesis, I. Michael Heyman, the ex-director of the Smithsonian Institution. Ira Michael Heyman is probably around 80 by now, and so, once I introduced myself to Philip and learned of the confusion, I understood perfectly.

[Not me]:

We sat down and began to sink our teeth into the nonsense when Niki came in, and sure enough, he also looked somewhat strangely at me. As I soon learned, he was, in fact, expecting to meet a brightly turbaned, extravagantly mustachioed India man (which admittedly, I almost am sometimes), as this was my profile picture on Facebook.

[Also, not me, but certainly closer historically, spiritually and follically]:

And so, despite the initial disappointments (for my true appearance, especially since I shaved my own extravagant whiskers from last summer, is not nearly as inspiring), we managed to salvage the evening with much merriment and discussion of nonsense, its relation to music, footballies, and operatic sunsets. Philip gave me some of his nonsense books (like gold to me) and a few CDs of his poetry and music efforts, some public and some not (like double gold). Niki gave me a copy of The Herding of the Snail, a brilliant work which I’ll talk about later, and a pile of his A Wanderer in Og, which I can distribute to those who eat all their peas and, rather than being naughty or nice, are particularly ogfull. It was a great pleasure and an honor, and I floated away in a cloud of sudorific sand…