Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An interesting article from the Cape Argus, reviewing a book of essays by Breyten Breytenbach “Notes From The Middle World” in which in particular he nears despair on Africa. Rob Gaylard in his review writes, “This book is neither for the fainthearted nor the easily depressed”. Mr Breytenbach has written what so often in my own lame way I have tried to express in my Blogs. The language is sometimes extreme, Gaylard writes but if that’s the way the man feels, why pull punches? Going from the universal (particularly global greed) to the local, Breytenbach despises the ‘posturing and protocol that passes for public life where the need to “prance” is simply a “camouflaged expression of impotence” Along with this comes ‘hyperbole, grandstanding, demagoguery, the manipulation of myth, graft, corruption and nepotism. He applies all this to South Africa and has no truck with the usual sorry excuses for this state of affairs; colonialism, racism, the legacy of apartheid etc.
His advice to young South Africans, if they can bear to, is to leave. That in itself is a sorry state of affairs so many have despaired and left already. Canada, Australia, France the UK, yes, and even Greece is full of expat South Africans who have all fled that beautiful country and, make no bones about it, it is beautiful.
Perhaps the reason why I love train travel so much is because trains evoke images of journeys made in South Africa as a schoolboy, in particular from Durban to Port Elizabeth which meant a day, a night, and a second day’s travel, up to Bloemfontein first and then down into the Cape and in my mind’s eye I still see so much of the countryside we passed through with my head out of a window defying the flying cinders and sometimes suffering for it with an inflamed eye; isolated farms surrounded by eucalyptus trees, little country stations, the vast red expanse of Great Karoo and finally pulling into Port Elizabeth station with great excitement.
What is happening to the railways in Africa? Friends who were recently in Kenya say they saw engines lying on their sides, rusting away at the side of the track, and if the railways are lost, I am sure they will never be replaced. I suppose some of the problem is that people prefer to travel by plane now rather than by train. I don’t recollect Durban even having an airport when I was a kid. Air mail came courtesy Sunderland flying boats and what a majestic sight they were coming down to land in the harbour. Can you say land when it’s water? As I said to the young waiter in Los Angeles when he exclaimed in a horrified voice, ‘You’re travelling Amtrak! What’s wrong with flying?’
‘What can you see from thousands of feet up?’ I travelled through 26 states by Amtrak and what a wonderful experience it was. My cousins in Australia I don’t think quite knew what to make of my travelling from Perth to Melbourne by train but, again, a fascinating and enjoyable experience. If ever I get back there which, somehow I very much doubt, I’ll take the train heading north. You can keep your air travel, for me it’s trains every time. It’s a great shame that in the UK train travel has got so expensive. Travelling in Greece and Italy cost peanuts in comparison.

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