Several times in the past few months I sat down to write about the political disaster that has engulfed my country, and every time I stopped halfway through because everything has been said and my own fear and despair is echoed by countless others who are more educated and better at writing than I am. But in a nutshell, lest there be any doubt:
-45 is an American tragedy;
-I am so deeply proud of New York (and Philly and LA and really all our cities) for fighting the good fight;
-I'm still a humanist and will remain so;
-Call yer damn senators and representatives! It takes five minutes and is especially important now as battle fatigue starts to set in. Resistbot is a good place to start if you are, like me, both lazy and shy.
But life goes on and I am of too cheerful a nature to maintain the level of gloom and anxiety that is probably rational. I moved my company out of my apartment into a great shared space where my desk is noticeably the only industrial designer's.
....because it's covered in prototypes. They're all NDA'd though so here is a penguin.
With my usual name-related travel anxiety heightened by heavy national embarrassment I went to Cape Town for the Design Indaba Festival and watched carefully for the moment the little plane on the monitor crossed the equator but the equator wasn't marked on the map. How was I supposed to know when to dump a bucket of water over my head?*
Cape Town is so like Los Angeles visually that in my sleep deprived state I almost thought I had fetched up in the wrong city-- if it hadn't been for the giant flat topped mountain in the middle of it. I couldn't get used to seeing nice deco architecture in one direction and LA-like palm trees in another and the inevitable mountain in the other two. No matter where you were, there was the big but not huge rock looming over you without so much as a foothill. I climbed it later and it only took three-ish hours at my out-of-shape pace.
In the afternoon a cloud generally comes over the top. The first time I noticed, from a taxi, I said 'YOUR MOUNTAIN IS ON FIRE!' The driver stopped laughing eventually.
Almost as odd as the LA look (the architecture, the car centric streets, the palm trees, the ocean, the visible income inequality) was the wildlife. One moment I would be frantically photographing a hadada ibis, and the next I would be shooing away a grey squirrel or a sparrow or a pigeon or a rat. Even the familiar beasts had a level of fearlessness and swagger that was instantly endearing. I bought street food I didn't want just so I could share it with the red winged starlings (they would have taken it anyway).
This patriotic ibis is eating a South African flag.
Design Indaba has a reputation for treating its speakers well, and it does. I got chauffeured round town even when walking would have been faster and taken on a helicopter tour and generally made to feel very important indeed. I've never been in a helicopter before and I think when** I am really fancy bastard with time to spare I will learn how to fly one for the hell of it. The view was something else.
I was hopping up and down in my seat thinking 'Holy smokes! Holy smokes!'
In addition to fancy cars and helicopters and excellent wine and long, sociable dinners Design Indaba is a really good conference. It's saying something that I spent a substantial part of three days sitting in a dark, warm, comfortable hall listening to people talk and didn't fall asleep once. A thread that ran throughout nearly all the presentations was a fierce opposition to nationalism and close mindedness. I am used to the design world skirting nervously around politics, but no one held back this time. It was so heartening to hear speakers from every corner of the world condemning Trump et al by name to a rapturously supportive hall. Design is a relatively small and fractious community but damned if its collective heart isn't in the right place.
The program was really varied-- there were artists both performance and otherwise, graphic designers, architects, industrial designers, a freestyle improv hip-hop group and some other sorts who defied description. Some I really liked-- Olafur Eliasson, who debuted tiny solar powered suns, Lernert and Sander, who recorded and sent a choral apology to everyone who had ever ripped off their ideas, Kaki King who made a data-based piece of music sound passionate.
Olafur Eliasson debuting his Little Sun lights. (Photo courtesy Design Indaba)
Every evening everyone sat round and talked shop late into the night and as at Dubai and other conferences I was struck by the generosity and open mindedness of designers. Back in the hotel I would google stalk people I’d just had epic complaining-about-clients sessions with, only to discover that they had massive wikipedia pages they hadn’t written themselves. I’m a very new designer and an even newer studio owner and I was honored to be treated as an equal and taken seriously. I suppose it was only a year ago that I was a harassed thesis student who no one took seriously at all.
That's me giving looking tiny while giving a presentation. I've never addressed 2500 people before! (Photo courtesy Grace Jun)
It was disconcerting how familiar everything was— the clever, shiny overeducated people, the American style food, the variety of accents, even the fashion***— it all could have existed in any other other slightly indolent coastal city. But then I would catch a glimpse of the mountain looking at me, or see a man sleeping in a rubber tree, and I would suddenly realize how very far from home I was.
The last speaker on the last day unveiled a lovely prototype for a Peace Arch and ushered in a choir which in turn ushered in Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu himself. He gave a short speech and it was genuinely really emotional. Several people around me were in tears and even my grumpy atheist heart felt something. The giant vikingesque man next to me kept snuffling and saying ‘great man, great man’ in a thick Afrikaans accent.
The Arch and an arch.
Then they set off a bunch of glitter cannons with a bang and every American in the hall jumped out of their skin.
The next day they drove all the speakers out to a vineyard for a farewell luncheon and we basked in the sun (the Londoners quickly turning purple) and wandered up and down the old world grapevines in the far older world landscape. But I was impatient, because my gentleman friend was arriving and the proper adventure was just starting.
Grapes and mountains.
Which will have to be part two.
*I had a vague notion that you're supposed to do that when you cross the equator-- but for once the real traditions are weirder than my imagination.
***Which I called completely wrong- I thought that in sunny Africa I should wear my bright colored clothing so I brought both pieces— but no, everyone was wearing designer black and I felt a bit gauche.