Allen Varney, writer and game designer


African Dispatches

Allen Varney's letters from Africa (4 of 5)

[On June 9, 1998, my lady love Beth Fischi and I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, to begin a seven-and-one-half month journey across sub-Saharan Africa. From Kenya we travelled by bus, train, and occasionally hydrofoil ferry down to Tanzania and Zanzibar, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Namibia, and finally South Africa, flying out from Pretoria in late January 1999.

[Along the way we found that Africa is getting reasonably wired, and we rarely lacked access to e-mail. Before our departure we had created a mailing list of friends, "African Dispatches," and we posted periodic updates to the list throughout our trip. - Allen Varney]

Date: Thu, 19 Nov 1998 (Zimbabwe/Namibia)

AFRICA TRIP DAY 161: Back in the Bubble Again

That Roy Orbison, what a voice. At the time of his death in 1988, I wasn't familiar with the great pop singer's work. But through that modern mausoleum of mummified music, oldies radio, I later heard many of his famous hits: "Oh Pretty Woman," "Only the Lonely," and my favorite, "Crying." I wouldn't call his lyrics deep exactly ("Yes, now you're gone, and from this moment on, I'll be crying, crying, crying, crying, yes crying, crying over you"), but I tell you true that when I heard that song, piped into the Pavilion Restaurant dinner buffet at the five-star Meikles Hotel in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe, I paused raptly before the croissant tray to listen. And, hardened cynic though I am, I felt an honest lump in my throat. Maudlin, mawkish? Of course. Yet when the Big O's resonant tenor voice climbs up to that final "O-o-o-oh, ver YOU-U-U-U-U-U-U-U!" and the strings steamroll into the crescendo of those last spondaic chords, that song "Crying" achieves in under three minutes the kind of effect for which Anton Bruckner needed a tedious quarter-hour.

Of course, I say "three minutes," but in truth that throat lump actually took about four months to build. Beth Fischi and I had crossed a large swathe of Africa since early June, from Kenya down through Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique, and we'd had more hassles on the way than I can easily summarize. The pervasive filth, wretchedly and willfully ignorant populace, remorseless con men, bad food, and indescribably ugly cities -- all of this you can understand. What's hard to convey is the infinite trifling irritants of African travel, each single one utterly trivial, yet cumulating in an effect that ultimately wore us down.

For instance, here's an exchange with a hotel clerk that we have come to accept as typically African. Follow this closely:

ALLEN: Do you have a room with two beds?

CLERK: No, I'm sorry, we have no rooms with two beds. We have only rooms with four beds and with six beds. And we have private rooms with two beds.

It's been like that all the time when we've talked with Africans, that feeling like you're walking downstairs and expected one more step than there is. In itself this is nothing. So is the way everyone cuts in front of you in line. And the way a waiter will show you a menu full of entrees, you'll order one, he'll tell you "Is feeneesh," and repeat until finally you ask, "All right, what is not finished?" and the answer is always chicken and French fries. And, equally minor, when you go into the men's room -- here I apologize for leaving my female friends behind but, guys, you know how you sometimes see one or two waxy, mothball-like disinfectant blocks in a urinal? In Africa they use these religiously, but are unclear on the "one or two" idea. Instead, they dump in a whole box of these things, so that a nauseous fly-killing cloud of this antiseptic perfume rises to choke you, urrrrgh --

Now, I'm definitely not saying that Africa wore me down with urinals. In the great edifice of my grievance with Africa (to strain a metaphor), these urinals are only one minor cracked-porcelain fixture in a corner of the sub-basement, if you see what I mean. But it all adds up, straws on camelback.

Back to Roy Orbison. Beth and I left Blantyre, Malawi in early October on a bus southwest across Mozambique's so-called Tete Corridor to Harare, capital of Zimbabwe. It was an African bus: packed sardine-full and overloaded on top with luggage, livestock, potatoes, charcoal, everything. Guys would scamper up and down the outside ladder with hundred-pound bundles balanced across their shoulders. The ride was a long, bumpy twelve hours, but what wore us down -- again, by itself a minor annoyance -- was the passengers' utterly brainless chaos. No orderly Swiss filing on and off; whenever the bus stopped, they all rose en masse and stampeded over each other like teens at a rock concert. It was not harrowing but very depressing.

So when we finally arrived downtown Harare, a clean, totally modern urban center with wide streets and attractive skyscrapers, we soothed our morose spirits at the splendid Meikles dinner buffet. Kingfish in cream sauce! String beans sauteed not in the ubiquitous African margarine, but in real butter! Carrot salad with raisins, the first salad we dared eat since London! A dessert bar groaning with chocolate mousse, bread pudding, fresh fruit, and a delectable cinnamon apple pie. On the walls, tasteful framed watercolors of famous landmarks in Paris. Elaborately courteous tux-clad waiters who brought us -- oh, ohh, after four months -- Earl Grey tea! And then to hear that old song over the muzak system... friend, you too might cry.

Ironically, outside the spotless city center and posh white-owned suburbs, Harare has the same sprawling shantytowns we've seen everywhere else. We saw them on the way into town. But the ease which which we ignored them would shame you. We didn't care; we felt at home once more; we were, so to speak, back inside the bubble.

By this I mean the artificial terrarium-style Western civilization that European colonial powers asserted by main force in souther Africa. Outside the bubble: shanties, crowded and dangerous buses, lousy food, ignorance, AIDS. Inside: Pringles Cheez-Ums Potato Chips at the Pick'n'Pay supermarket. I see now that when my previous letters whined about "Africa," I should have written "East Africa" -- Kenya, Tanzania, northern Malawi. From southern Malawi down, we have entered a much different place.

The reason: South Africa. Every African country from Angola and Mozambique southward has fallen within South Africa's powerful sphere of influence. And in the 1880s European "Scramble for Africa," that meant the influence of Cecil John Rhodes, the empire builder who made his fortune in the South African diamond mines and parlayed it into kinglike power. Americans know his name from the Rhodes Scholarship he founded, one of whose beneficiaries is now President.

Rhodes founded Zimbabwe under its former name, Rhodesia. He vowed to "paint the map of Africa red" -- bring the whole continent into the British Empire. Rhodes dreamed of building a continuous railway line from Cape Town, southern Africa's first European settlement, straight up to Cairo through British territory all the way. He got as far north as Zambia, where he was blocked by Germans in Tanganyika and Belgians in the Congo. Even this might not have stopped him, had he not died in 1902 at age 49. Africa might be a more sensible place today if Rhodes had succeeded, but remember that he, like all the colonialists, used the most scurrilous frauds and brutal violence to seize native lands. In Rhodesia he set up a government "of, for, and by" white people, exploiting the native Shona and Ndebele tribes as cheap laborers on the farms (cotton, coffee, tobacco, sugar cane) and in the mines (gold, coal, chromite, nickel, asbestos).

Later events would be repeated more or less identically in other southern African countries: a native rebellion, ruthlessly suppressed (1896-97), followed by an ever more militant white supremacy that spurred blacks into covert political organization (1930s-50s). During the "Scramble Out" in the 1960s, when Europe unceremoniously and blunderingly divested itself of its colonies, Britain called on Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith to guarantee racial equality and a black majority government. In 1964, with unmitigated stubbornness (also typical of southern Africa's history), Smith declared independence unilaterally, incurring UN sanctions and provoking guerrilla war by the black opposition parties, ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People's Union) and a breakaway group creatively named ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union). The rebellion continued until Smith finally called a nonracial election in 1980, which ZAPU and ZANU won in a landslide.

The independent nation took its new name from Great Zimbabwe, the largest complex of stone ruins in sub-Saharan Africa. The city dates from circa 1050-1500, the center of a large empire founded on gold mining. No one knows who built the city or ran the empire; white treasure hunters sponsored by Rhodes destroyed the archaeological record with their feckless digging. Ironically, the name "Zimbabwe" is an accident of European invention. You'll read everywhere that the name means "stone houses" in a local Bantu language, but as L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine Crook de Camp put it in Citadels of Mystery (1964), "'Zimbabwe' is at best pidgin-Bantu. Probably no one will ever know what the original name, spelled by the Portuguese 'Symbaoe' and applied to any large village or chief's kraal, really meant." The term "symbaoe" went through several variants in the fevered accounts of gold-hungry European explorers, who thought the ruins were the legendary Biblical mines of Ophir. In the 1800s the name became "Zimbabwe" in the writings of Frederick Selous, the prototypical "Great White Hunter" who inspired the hero Allan Quatermain in H. Rider Haggard's bestselling 1895 novel set in Zimbabwe, King Solomon's Mines.

After independence, Zimbabwe elected as its first black president a guy named Canaan Banana. Bad start, huh? The next president, Robert Mugabe, remains in power as I write, the last of the old generation of African bozo dictators. Were this East Africa, he would have run the country into the ground, nothing would work, and that would be that. But this is southern Africa, where the colonials never really left. The region was too rich to give up. So whites still own most of the land, control the banks, and, in stark contrast to Kenya and Tanzania, maintain the infrastructure. At independence one observer commented that blacks were now in the driver's seat, but whites still controlled the road maps, decided the route, and owned the gas.

Now 74, Mugabe gets to live in a big house, appoint his 37 closest ZANU-ZAPU buddies as cabinet ministers, and name the longest street in each city after himself. Otherwise, little has changed. Still, Mugabe is doing his best to screw things up. Against universal opposition at home, he's running up a huge budget deficit to fund a Vietnamesque military venture in the Congo, to prop up fellow bozo Laurent Kabila against invading armies from Uganda and Rwanda. Mugabe sees fit to throw 6,000 soldiers into that distant jungle because Kabila has offered him, him personally, lots of lucrative minerals contracts that would be worthless if Kabila fell. Meanwhile, recent IMF commandments have forced Mugabe to double prices on staple commodities. There were riots in Harare last week. I suspect Mugabe won't keep his deathgrip on power much longer.

We left Zimbabwe long before these riots. In Harare we gloried in the gorgeous jacarandas, sinuous spreading trees bedecked in beautiful, delicate violet blossoms. But because Beth was sick of Africa by then, we rushed through Zimbabwe in a week, skipping the Great Zimbabwe ruins, the weird balancing rocks of Matopo National Park, the Chimanimani highlands, and a remote game park called Mana Pools, which intrigued me because the name is an important term in the card game MAGIC: THE GATHERING. We did stop for a day in the nation's second city, quiet Bulawayo. The name means "the killing place" in the Ndebele language, commemorating the bloody excesses of the soft-spoken but genocidal king Mzilikazi. There in Bulawayo we wandered beautiful Centennial Park, enjoying the unprecedented experience of an African locale that stands comparison without qualification to the best of the West. We actually started to think of coming back here on some later visit. (PS: There were riots in Bulawayo, too, week before last. Sigh.)

But we weren't going to leave Zimbabwe without stopping at one of Earth's greatest and most famous natural wonders, the biggest tourist draw in sub-Saharan Africa. It turned out to be rather expensive and an arrant tourist trap, yet still more magnificent than we'd imagined. Victoria Falls -- a tumult of water, even in the dry season, where the Zambezi River throws itself along a majestically long front into a rainbow-clouded gorge twice as deep as Niagara. Beth and I went white-water rafting on the Zambezi below the falls; we have the videotape to prove it. We hurtled through rapids rated Grades 3 to 5, with names like The Washing Machine, Devil's Toilet Bowl, Commercial Suicide, Oblivion, and The Three Ugly Sisters. And we never flipped once, though I did get dunked at the second Ugly Sister.

From Vic Falls we had planned to return to Bulawayo by bus and then catch the Johannesburg Express train down to Pretoria, South Africa. But we saw an ad for a luxury bus to Windhoek, capital of Namibia, and suddenly the elegant logic of this idea altered our whole itinerary. No circuitous route from Jo'burg down to Cape Town up to Namibia and back down and across again to Jo'burg -- no backtracking at all! A comfortable 18-hour trip, first due west into the setting sun across the scrubby Caprivi Strip, then southwest all night through Bushmanland east of the Etosha salt pan, and finally south across barren Ovamboland from Otjiwarongo past Otjihaenamaparero and the former German mission station of Gross Barmen, brought us at dawn on October 12 to the aptly named Windhoek (from the German winterhoek, "windy corner").

Having never really heard of Namibia before this trip, we had no idea what to expect. We certainly never expected what we found.

For starters, we saw for the first time those intriguing African peoples the San (Bushmen) and Khoikhoi (Hottentots), collectively known as the Khoisan. As everyone who saw the film "The Gods Must Be Crazy" knows, these races are unlike any other in Africa or the world. They're an unusual yellow-brown with attractive childlike features. Khoisan once ranged across this entire region for twenty millennia and more, leaving an unparalleled legacy of rock paintings and carvings. (In the 1980s an obsessed German anthropologist laboriously copied EACH and EVERY SINGLE painting and carving on the south face of one mountain, the Brandberg. He made copious notes on locations, pigments, and chronology of successive layers of paintings. His tracings were published posthumously in three ENORMOUS thick volumes that you can buy in Windhoek's bookstores if you have a few hundred bucks to spare. The south face of the Brandberg has about 50,000 rock paintings and engravings, and it's just one of some 2,500 rock-art sites in Namibia.)

The Khoisan never developed beyond Stone Age tech, though, which left them easy prey to more advanced Iron Age tribes, to say nothing of European invaders. Today they're a beleaguered, impoverished minority in Namibia, their culture gone, respected only by anthropologists and by linguists, who study their strange click languages. Along with the usual sounds common to other languages, the Khoisan use five different tongue-clicks, which makes their speech sound like comedian Victor Borge's routine on "vocal punctuation." Western orthographers, trying to reproduce these clicks in writing -- the natives have no written language -- resort to Xs, exclamation points (one common desert bush is the !nara), and slashes that make click-language words look like spreadsheet formulae or Internet URLS: Ju/hoansi, N=aqmtjoha, g//oaci, N//oaq!osi.

Beats me why eight African tribes have moved into Namibia territory, as desolate as it is. For most of the last four centuries Namibia supported less than two people per square kilometer. The empty coastal desert, one of five in the world, kept Europeans out until Germany finally annexed it as South-West Africa in the 1890s. After World War I they had to give it up, but the whole country retains an interesting Germanic air, so that lots of German tourists come here. Then South Africa took over the territory under a League of Nations mandate, tightened its grip after World War II, and -- stop me if you've heard this before -- incurred UN sanctions and provoked guerrilla war by the black opposition party SWAPO (South-West Africa People's Organization). But unlike ZAPU in Rhodesia, SWAPO made no headway during the Cold War, because its Marxist leanings made America nerfous. So, as usual, the CIA ended up supporting a pack of odious bastards (South Africa's apartheid regime) against majority rule, for the sake of fighting communism. (Have you noticed how we fought the totalitarian communists of the Soviet Union for dcades, but we're loyal buddies with the totalitarian communists of China? What, he asked innocently, might be the difference?)

In 1990 South Africa finally caved in to unanimous world pressure and, about the same time that it freed Nelson Mandela, gave Namibia independence. SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma became the first president, and he has turned out to be yet another pismire bozo dictator, concerned only with enriching his own Ovambo tribe and naming the longest street in each town after himself. Just now he's busy amending the constitution to permit him a third term in office. And, in this poor desert country with 50% unemployment, desperate water shortages, and little infrastructure -- I've seen an invitation to bid on a government contract "to maintain the helicopter" -- President Sam is sending troops and equipment to help fight the stupid Congo war, just like the big kids did.

But none of that has affected us, here inside the bubble. As in Zimbabwe, whites in Namibia apparently still pull most of the puppet strings. We wandered the streets of Windhoek, eating open-faced sandwiches with herbed cottage cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.

For the traveller, much of Namibia has a strange, arresting quality reminiscent of fantasy novels. This is the world's oldest desert, 85 million years old. Go 50 kilometers from the Atlantic coast into the Namib-Naukluft desert and you find Earth's primeval land, substantially unchanged since Gondwanaland. It's a dramatically eroded desert -- they call it the Moon Landscape -- with broken rock arches, basalt formations like organ pipes, rocks that chime when you hit them, and bizarre endemic (found nowhere else) life-forms. Lithops plants here look like smooth rocks. Toktokki sand beetles collect water by running up to the crest of a sand dune each morning, sticking their abdomens in the air, and drinking the droplets that condense from the fog and run down their bodies. The formula one lizard -- I'm not making this up -- is the world's fastest lizard, a meter per second over the hot sand. When they stop running, some Namibian lizards lift two legs at a time, first right-front and left-back, then left-front and right-back a moment later, to keep cool. Flat stretches of land the size of Rhode Island are covered with lichen, the largest lichen fields in the world; you can still see there the tracks made by German ox-carts 85 years ago. Namibia has the world's only feral desert-dwelling horses, of mysterious origin and now a substantial tourist draw. (I just read that zoologists are now trying to re-establish an extinct herd of wild desert horses in Mongolia.) Earth's largest meteorite is in Namibia (60 tons). Namibia and adjacent Botswana are also the home of the desert elephant, and of meerkats (aka suricates), comical prairie-dog-type mongooses that gather in large groups, stand up, and look in all directions.

But strangest of all is welwitschia mirabilis. This weird, wretched-looking plant dominates the gravel plains of the northern Namibian desert. H. P. Lovecraft could have invented the welwitschia, a low-slung, fascinatingly ugly thing with a corklike central stem and just two long, leathery, strap-like leaves. The plan survives on fog alone; its leaves have 200 million moisture-absorbent pores per square centimeter, which coincidentally is also the number of years the species has been around. To look at the leaves, always dishevelled and tattered by wind, you'd think the slovenly welwitchia is perpetually on the brink of death. It lives for 2,000 years.

At our hotel in Windhoek we met a Boston University grad student who was just finishing a five-month field trip to study the welwitschia. The project investigated a curious fact -- wherever welwitschias grow, no other plant ever grows nearby. One morning he told us the study's final results, so that we in remote Namibia learned the news faster than any Usenet addict or Science News reader: The welwitschia's seeds exude a chemical that inhibits the growth of other plants. For a species so old to display such a sophisticated defense mechanism is, the student said, very interesting.

This whole country is very interesting. Frankly, we didn't see much of it, having got stuck in Windhoek for reasons I'll explain later. We missed out on the Skeleton Coast, a rocky, fogbound shore littered with the hulls of crashed ships -- and Fish River Canyon, allegedly the second-largest on Earth (but, at 160 kilometers long and 550 meters deep, a very poor runner-up to the Grand Canyon) -- and the eerie ghost town of Kolmanskop, where sand dunes creep into the fine German dining rooms of what was once a diamond mining company town. Namibia is the world's premier source of gem diamonds. In large tracts of the coastal desert you can find them just lying in open sand, and these tracts are marked on the map as "Restricted Areas." If you enter these areas as an employee of the company, you're fluoroscoped when you leave, to determine whether you're smuggling gems (a graver crime in Namibia than murder or rape); if you enter on your own, you're shot. If you drive a vehicle into a Restricted Area, it can never leave. Ever.

(On the other hand, they're only starting to mine the diamonds found on the sea floor just off the coast. As I understand it, you can get a government permit to take a boat out there and dive for them. Good luck!)

We didn't see any of this. Maybe we'll come back someday. But we did get out to the leading Namibian attraction, one of its absolutely magical places: Sossusvlei. Far to the south, at the border with South Africa, the hard-working Orange River has spent millions of years patiently carving off bits of South Africa and dumping them in the Atlantic. There the northerly Benguela Current moves them up the coast, where the east wind, which blows like a hurricane for about nine days each winter, carries the detritus inland. There in central Namibia, on the edge of the largest Restricted Area, the wind of 85 million years has piled up thousands of monumental sand dunes seven hundred feet high.

Orange, red, black, gray -- they take their colors from manganese, iron, and calcium impurities in the basic quartz grains. We climbed the dunes, walked the salt pans, and communed with the desert silence. We loved it.

But for the most part of THREE WEEKS we got stuck in Windhoek. We were waiting on a transfer of funds from the US that, as it turned out after extensive searching, had gotten hung up in New York through a computer foul-up. Certainly there are much worse places to get stuck than Windhoek, an oddly Germanic city of spotlessly clean, brightly painted buildings. From the surrounding hills, the whole place looks like a loose collection of boxes folded together from a paper cut-out kit. President Nujoma renamed a few of the longest streets after himself and his buddies, but left the rest alone, so they retain their German colonial names. We stayed in a lovely Windhoek West neighborhood with streets named for composers: Bachstrasse, Wagnerstrasse, Verdistrasse and, most delightful, Straussstrasse. In an elegant B&B on Beethovenstrasse called Rivendell, named for "the last homely house before the wilds" in The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (who was born in South Africa, by the way), we felt entirely comfortable. It was very quiet, except for the barking of the guard dogs. High stucco walls around each home were unfailingly well painted and surmounted by huge bougainvillea bushes, laden with five colors of blossoms that artfully concealed the spikes and razorwire. We admired the intricate designs of the homes' wrought-iron burglar bars, an architectural aesthetic little explored (as yet) in America. It was all quite pleasant, as we moved ever deeper into the bubble.

But I can never forget, at least for long, that in Namibia as in South Africa the bubble once had a name: apartheid.

The insane white-supremacist government that ruled South Africa for almost 50 years left a highly mixed legacy. On the one hand, race-based class distinctions fostered hostility, paranoia, reality denial, and a police state founded on aggression and torture. On the other, the apartheid government created Africa's biggest economy, best infrastructure, and most attractive cities. Even the black townships, where oppressed black South Africans live their tedious existences, look better than the shantytowns where free Kenyans and Tanzanians live lives of hopeless squalor.

For me the contrast doesn't provoke a moral quandary, exactly -- "live in squalid freedom rather than comfortable slavery" is a no-brainer for any freelancer. Let the Africans run their country as they see fit, I say, even though so far they have always run it into chaos.

But I do reflect on how many of humanity's greatest societies were founded on fundamental injustices. And if you think that doesn't apply to America, drive down to the Texas border and visit a Mexican maquiladora where they sew the clothing you wear. Or head north to the nearest Indian reservation and ask around.

Americans live in the world's biggest and most durable bubble. When did you last venture into your city's ghetto? When you brew a cup of good Sumatran coffee, does the package tell you about the primary rainforest cut down to plant the coffee bushes? Get in the car and head to the mall -- greenhouse warming, what's that? Blah blah blah -- we hear this scolding all the time, and effortlessly we tune it out.

In these last few bubbly weeks I've thought often of Zimbabwe's most famous writer, Doris Lessing. Raised in Rhodesia, Lessing saw the colonial government's abuses first-hand. She has said that the lesson of the twentieth century, taught over and over though we refuse to heed it, is that pleasant, well-mannered, ordinary people -- the government, police, the military, your neighbors, you, me -- are capable of the most horrible atrocities. The whites here in southern Africa deny that lesson even more fervently than we do, possibly because their atrocities are more recent and public.

That said, everyone in Namibia treated us with perfect courtesy, even the bank employees that we harried for two weeks about our funds transfer. A flurry of e-mails to Austin sorted things out at last, and in early November we took a luxury bus from Windhoek south across the Tropic of Capricorn, that latitude from which the sun, when its path across the sky reaches its most southerly reach at the winter solstice, appears directly overhead. In just over 18 hours we reached Cape Town, South Africa.

Cape Town is the oldest and most beautiful city south of the Sahara. It's spectacularly situated at the base of Table Mountain, a beautiful flat-topped mountain that dominates the Cape of Good Hope. Beth and I fell in love with Cape Town instantly. With feelings of profound relief we have visited its museums, libraries, and a range of great restaurants. We never actually discussed whether to rent an apartment; we just set out looking. And the Fates were very, very kind.

Three floors, sumptuously furnished in exquisite cherrywood, two bedrooms, two baths, fully equipped kitchen, big TV, spiral staircase up to balcony office, dining room, bar, and open patio with a magnificent view of Table Mountain -- speaking personally, I cannot imagine a better view -- located in the quiet, prosperous college district of Rondebosch. We're directly across from the University of Cape Town, Africa's finest university (for what that's worth). Around the building grow jacarandas, currently in superb bloom. For this lavish space we're paying US$550 a month, just what we paid for our nothing little Austin domicile.

We have library cards here, a simple pleasure that we found unexpectedly intense. We buy Pringles Cheez-Um Potato Chips at the Pick'n'Pay supermarket and books at several nearby bookstores. We watch American movies at the cinema and on cable, and tonight we cross the street to Baxter Performance Hall to hear the Cape Town Sinfonietta perform Tchaikovsky, Barber, and Grieg. Our travails in East Africa, in daily direct contact with the impoverished four-fifths of the world's population, seem distant, alien, beyond some invisible wall as delicate as a dream.

I've gone on way too long. I have much more to say about Cape Town, but there's plenty of time for that -- we'll be here two months! In mid-January we'll head up South Africa's coastal Garden Route to Johannesburg, where we fly back to London via Dubai. Madagascar and Morocco are off the itinerary, for this trip. After visiting friends in England, we spend two weeks in Paris with my mother at a vacation flat she has rented. We should be back in the States by late February. We're sorry we'll miss the holiday season with friends and family, and we miss you all -- so come and visit!

Happy Holidays, Allen Varney