Friday, November 29, 2013

Of oceans and mountains and the land in between

Cape Town rises from the oceans so quickly that just a ring of land is left between the water and the mountain which sits overlooking us all. I see it above me when I look out of the window of my office and I see it now from the balcony of my apartment, the sun setting on another Sunday evening as the weather heats up and the summer activities of the city begin. Kirstenbosch gardens, just a short way down the road from here are hosting the first of the summer concerts which will be happening every Sunday for the next few months, where people take their picnics and go and sit in probably the most celebrated botanical gardens in the world. Today has been steamingly hot so I have spent most of it in the shade of a tree, reading a book and pondering what will come next week.

The last year has seen the happiest times of my life, and some of the hardest, but there are aspects of my life which I have always left off here. I have been in Cape Town now for around five months and, while I still don't feel settled by any stretch, I am discovering enough nooks and crannies in the city that I can feel that my fingers are digging deeper into the sand of this place. Routines are beginning to build up, I have regular haunts, for coffee, for music, for wandering aimlessly, for showing friends when they come to visit.

I taught for most of the first four months here, which was an exceptional experience. Taking me on here was a gamble, not only did the faculty know that while I had lectured a lot on my research, I did not have a proven teaching record, but I also didn't know truly how I was going to be as a teacher. I still have a lot to learn, but having now stood and taught the same class every weekday for 60 lectures I know that not only can I teach, but that I enjoy it even more than I had expected to. Prior to this, I had only had to try and impart some measure of understanding to my audience. If they got the general gist of what I had published a paper on I was generally happy. Now I had the challenge of doing my best to make sure that everybody in the class understood everything of what we had done in the last 45 minutes. I don't claim to have done this by any stretch, but I do know that I got good reactions on the whole from my students and that they did pretty well in the final exams.

I will be teaching the same course again next year along with an honours course in string theory which I'm very much looking forward to but this will start next July. I have put all of my teaching into a single semester, and while I will have a fair number of administrative duties to do in the mean time, I hope to be able to get my head down and do some research for the next seven months.

On top of teaching and research, I've also been discovering the city, truly a beautiful city with the diversity and culture of a big city and very often the feel of a series of interconnected villages. As you hop into one of the white minivans which drive noisily and dangerously from my place to town you pass by the University in Rondebosch, one of the most beautiful campus settings you will ever see, Observatory (where there is a small astronomical installation, lots of bars and quaint restaurants) and Woodstock, home to the Old Biscuit Mill, The Test Kitchen and the Pot Luck Club, among many other interesting eateries, cafes, second hand bookshops and strange outlets selling 50s memorabilia, you pass around the mountain, hurtling along Main Road, passing the ocean, unseen on the right, you witness the strange intersection of gentrification and the homeless, the dispossessed and the well-established, you screech round the corner as you head into the city and the minivan pulls into the taxi station, the hum of a dozen languages, the stench of urine, and the mountain, still dominating, rising above the city as you walk over the footbridge and descend into the square of the city hall.

Over the winter I went most Thursdays to soak myself in the weekly concerts put on by the Cape Town philharmonic at the city hall, a lovely venue where I was lucky enough to see some incredible concerts. The highlight of the season was seeing David Helfgott exude more life than I have perhaps ever seen before, an exuberance and love of music, people and life that couldn't help but bubble and foam over the surface as he played some truly wonderful pieces.

There has been a lot of exploring the city in the last few months and plenty of interesting places to talk about in detail. This post is really just an attempt to get the ball rolling again on my blogging so for now I will leave it there and get on with being in the city...

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