Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Going solo

A person is a person through other persons.  –Desmond Tutu

Traveling alone is sort of a love-hate thing for me. 

For example, today I loved taking my time making decisions and going up to Table Mountain when I was ready.  I loved not having to make conversation with anyone on the drive there or discuss whether we were going to wait in the 60-minute gondola line to ride to the top or not. 

But I hated not having anyone next to me I could poke and say, “Hey!  The floor of the cable car is rotating!” or “Look!  You can see Cape Point from here!” or of course, “Take a picture of me pretending to fall off the edge of the cliff!”

Instead, I asked a couple of strangers to take a few pictures and then perched myself on top of a large rock looking out over the mountain dropping into the ocean.  I had just settled in to eat my dark chocolate seed bar (it was amazing) when two guys clambered up next to me and actually asked me in  to move so they could take have their picture taken where I was sitting.  Dude, seriously?  There are approximately one million rocks all together right here with almost exactly the same view, and you want my rock?  Can’t you see I’m sitting here far away from other people eating my lunch and having a moment?

Later, as I walked in the Company’s Gardens, a gangly man with one eye and a limp (and alcohol on his breath) pointed out the South African white house and a couple other sites to me.  I tried to shake him, but he kept walking with me and to be fair, he actually showed me some interesting things, like old apartheid benches with “non-whites only” still painted on them and the way into Desmond Tutu’s church.  But I was relieved when I finally gave him a handful of change and we said goodbye.
I spent the day warily keeping people outside my bubble, enjoying the sights but also enjoying being inside my own head.  But by the time I sat down to dinner at a restaurant called Fork, I felt a little lonely.  In Shall We Dance, one of the characters says in effect, “We have relationships in order to have someone to witness our lives.”  And when I travel alone, I acutely feel the lack of a witness.  If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear the sound, did it make a sound at all?  If I eat a fantastic asparagus and parmesan stick and no one is there to witness it, did I really eat it?  I thought of trying to replicate the meal later in my own kitchen just so that I could share with someone else how tasty it was. 

I glanced over at a window and noticed my own reflection, looking like a ghost sitting at an empty table.  And I felt like a ghost, like someone who breezed through this city today without leaving a mark, someone who was almost here – but with no one to witness it, was I really here at all?

Halfway through the meal, a new server started waiting on me.  She laughed when I told her that I almost licked the plate clean and her eyes got round as she described which desserts were “to die for.”  She brought me the strawberry and lemon curd pavlova along with tea made from fresh mint leaves.  It was divine.  I told her if I lived in Cape Town I would eat there every single day, and she laughed with real delight and said, “Yes!  I know what you mean!”  And for a moment someone witnessed my life.  I realized I didn’t want to be in a bubble, I didn’t want to be a ghost, I wanted to witness life, to participate in it, to leave a mark.

I left an overly generous tip with a note: “Thanks for the great service, and for your smile and laugh.  Best wishes.” 


Gilly said...

So you are in cape town now? Wow. I loved your post and love witnessing your life even if it is only through your blog. I was thinking just the other day that it would be nice to have a little more balance. As a mom, I rarely have anytime to myself. I am ALWAYS with someone. I love to look for solitude. But in a few years, my little one will be in school all day, then I'll have long stretches of time for myself, and it might get to be too much ( but propably not).Anyway - your pictures were beautiful and the meal made my mouth water.

Ben and Molly said...

Wait, you're in Cape Town now?? I can't keep up with you, Pondy! I loved what you said about us needing other people to witness our lives.


Allison said...

You know, if I'm honest, that's one of the reasons I blog. Asking someone to witness my life. It's really not that different from a kid putting a pan on his head just so he can say, "Mom, look at me! Mom, look what I can do! Mom, look, look!"

I guess what I'm saying is, thanks for humoring me :)

I was in Cape Town for 3 weeks for work. What a beautiful city. But I have to say, it's really, really good to be back home.