Cheers to my freakin’ weekend (in fotos)!

I had the craziest weekend in South Africa, so I figured I’d take crappy phone pics and try to retell the happenings…

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Friday afternoon I arrive at my hotel in Jo’burg and they’re shooting a movie next door. You can’t see it but the set is staged to look like a street scene in China.

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Each floor in the hotel imparts some wisdom about a famous South African cultural icon. This floor? Writer, Lionel Abrahams.

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Ground floor? The novelist, Phaswane Mpe, who died at the tender age of 34.

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I try to check out an artsy bookstore near my hotel. It says it is open til 4pm. I get there are 3:15. No, it is (not). But it looks cool from the outside.

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I settle in for a bunnychow at R. Janas. Good decision: http://www.braamfontein.org.za/directory/view/r-janas

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I think maybe I should just stay in and sleep early. I turn on the TV and the artist formerly known as Prince beckons me out.

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FB soon reveals to my surprise that my girl Emme from NYC is in Jozi. We link for drinks, but it quickly turns into a 5am night between the Bannister & the Kitchener in Braamfontein.

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We gnom McDonalds and have the night guard get us wine. I crash at 6am…. trying to act my age, not my shoe size is starting to hurt.

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I wake up… over hung… at 8am for a 9am seminar.

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I invest in a big ass cup of coffee from Motherland Coffee.

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This campus has thought of everything. I feel like I benefited from the caution of drivers… b/c I couldn’t see anything straight. Hangovers hurt.

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As the day progresses, I sober up. My hair stops smelling like an ash tray and I get to enjoy JG Strijdom Tower from afar.

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The seminar ends and I go design store shopping.

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I take in the town before night falls.

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I end up in Melville’s hotspot Lucky Bean for an extended dinner with Jozi based friends and Emme.

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Sunday morning I decide to try to catch the Gautrain to the airport, so I can spare myself the cab fare. But the connections are too far apart and I end up in a cab anyway in a mad dash to NOT miss my flight.         

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I manage to make it to O.R. Tambo airport exactly one hour before my flight only to find that it has been delayed by 30 minutes. I have breakfast at an airport pub and it feels good.

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One whole hour later, I land. My bags arrive safely and I’m excited to see Durbz again.

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Hotel check in and my weekend is officially over.

Resident Outsider

I would not consider myself a Delhi expert. There are people who have lived their whole lives here who would not dare say with a straight face that they ‘know’ Delhi. It is cities upon cities, villages reinvented as towns, farmers come urbanites all compounded on top of themselves. Suffice it to say that Delhi is dense. And quite frankly, it is a category of dense I’ve never experienced in any of my previous travels.

So, it is particularly interesting when I get to host other travelers, and I get to play tour guide to the foreign stars. They want the Taj Mahal and tikka, they must see Lodhi Gardens and Lutyens; and while I do my darnedest to make it happen, what I don’t always have the time to do is give them the gems of my day to day. Perhaps not the most glamorous or adventurous sights and sounds, these are the places I find myself feeling particularly guilty that I didn’t tell them all about. Now, my favorite places aren’t secrets by any means. Locals and expats have discovered them and frequent some with vigor – but they don’t appear in too many guide books that pride themselves on over glamorizing the Indian experience. As a tip, never trust a book that presents Old Delhi as magical (instead of a bustling haven for pickpockets and claustrophobia) and Qawwali as a calming religious experience (instead of a hot, outdoor graveyard packed to the brim with Delhi’s prayerful and pauper population).

I suffer from the great gentrifier’s conundrum – trying to strike the balance between sharing info about what’s new to me, without building a buzz large enough to draw the types of crowds that will destroy all the splendor. Suspending all that, with great reluctance and great enthusiasm, I’ll give you the top 10 Delhi sites that I wish each of my guests got to see (but never told any other tourist about):

1 – The Rose Cafe in Saket – As you approach the Garden of Five Senses, there is a one floor building, painted rose pink on the right side of the road. It’s a very pregnant pink. It makes you think there’s got to be something sweet inside. Oh, how the Rose Cafe doesn’t disappoint with tasty beverages & bites, served amidst pleasant, French country-house style decor. What a sweet respite from the dirt road outside.

2 – The ruins at Hauz Khas Village – I always thought that at the end of the road, there wasn’t much beyond the gates after Yeti. Alas, I couldn’t have been more wrong(er). There are so many little inlets and passageways in the ruins that border the lake. No one can seem to place the complex in a clear historical timeline, but perhaps it was a madrassa campus. Regardless, it’s a cool place to pass the day, except when the weather is hot – of course.

3 – My yard – It ain’t much to look at by normal standards, but in my neighborhood yards are not normal. My little patch of green, furnished with an apricot tree, potted roses, mint vines, and bougainvillea all around, is a sight for sore eyes. The tandori pit doesn’t hurt either.

4 – The pub at the British High Commission – Diplomats comprise a popular percentage of the expats in this city. So, naturally, Embassies hold a particular allure. The Brits’ pub isn’t special as far as pubs go, but Delhi’s bars aren’t known for cigar chairs and Strongbow. Maybe the pub’s endangered status is intentional, but I’m happy that one still lives on.

5 – The reservoir in Nizammudin – Step well, reservoir, swimming pool, same thing. Built by Hazrat Nizammudin 700 years ago, the structure houses a spring that is enclosed on all sides by sacred spaces and residential homes. While the enclave’s residents can now, more than ever before, drink the water (though I still wouldn’t) – they also take baths and make pilgrimages in it too. Through the geometric cut outs in the walls, I prefer to observe boys doing backflips off the steps into the brownish, greenish pool below.

6 – ‘The cave’ in Sarojini Nagar Market – Unlike Khan market or South Ex, Sarojini market is pretty pedestrian. Mixed in between the shoe string lady on the opposite side of the street from the mobile phone recharge booth and the mid-range sari shops is a little inlet known as ‘the cave.’ I’m not even sure that it is a structure, per se, but a clump of clothing vendors who have laid down and pinned up tarps to make a mini market to hawk their goods. Dresses for 400 rupees, shirts for 2? It’s an experience…

7 – Museums in Gurgaon: This one is a cheat. I know Gurgaon isn’t part of Delhi, but once you get here you’ll realize just how much it actually is. There is more to Gurgaon than high rises and multinationals – and no, I don’t mean malls all named DLF.  There are lots of museums and art galleries out there just waiting to be explored. Where else to house these collections except in converted farm land or on sprawling farm house properties? Have your pick: Sanskriti Kendra Museum, Museum of Folk and Tribal Art, The Devi Art Foundation… and more.

8 – Normal people’s houses – It is hard to understand what ‘normal’ really means here in Delhi. But, visiting different people’s houses gives you a sense of the complexities of the term. Whether it’s a one bedroom flat it Mayur Vihar or a 5 house complex in Saket, you will only get to know Delhi-ites by being welcomed into their homes – where they spend time with the people they love.

9 – Lado Sarai – What a quirky little ‘hood this one is. I hope it’s the under-discovered, under-popularized Hauz Khas Village that people don’t ever go to – except maybe you and me. With its high end and niche brands in the Crescent Mall, and it’s design houses and odd shops, I’m cornering this part of town as my new playground.

10 – The India International Centre – I’m often rendered awe-struck by the kinds of programming this place has. Who knew it had an annex? Whether it’s book launches or movies, educational talks or cultural displays, I find myself going to the IIC about once a month to unhinge my inner academic and learn even more about India’s charm.