We were sitting where the floats came to die.
The Under-the-Sea float lay quiet and dark, the sailors long disembarked and the fish (lit up and attached to bicycles) had cycled away to who-knows-where. The Gay Pride float was fighting the good fight, the men on it singing YMCA while kicking and swaying on their unbelievably beautiful legs in unbelievably high heels – the crowd chanting along (whYYYYYYYYYYYYYY eMMMMMMMMMMM Ceeeeeeeee Ayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!) until their float too died a quiet death; the sexy cross-dressers climbing down and flitting away.
Jerusha and I were sitting on her flat complex’ wall; watching thousands of people jostle push fight bump their way deeper into Long Street, right below our toes. We had a great spot with a fantastic view of the splendour without any of the pressure and madness of the 50 000 strong crowd. The security guard that pushed other people off the wall with his baton had held our step-ladder while we climbed up and awkwardly clambered up in our little black dresses.
All of this was Carnival. The second year of a new annual tradition: bringing Brazil and much, MUCH confetti to Cape Town.
Gum boot dancers trotted by, marchers marched, drummers drummed, Indian dancers swayed, angels flitted – on and on and on, until finally the barricades were pulled down or pried open and the crowd rushed the streets. DJ Fresh started playing music and suddenly Long Street was a club – an enormous club, packed with people: shoulder to shoulder, smile to smile. Jerusha and I hopped down and rushed to join the madness, the exhilarating madness of 50 000 people laughing, dancing, moving, screaming together like primordial amoeba with a taste for dance music.
It was hot; sweat trickling between breasts and down temples and calves as we danced, danced, danced with all of Cape Town. DJ Fresh whipped out his iPhone to capture footage of the insanity, and the crowd went wild: screaming, waving arms, ecstatic to be one of the thousands on his phone.
But. But, but, but. 50 000 people dancing may be awesome, but it’s also disgusting. I have to agree with Liz Lemon from 30 Rock when she said, “We as a group might not smell so good.” In two words: sweat reeks. And heaven forbid you try to leave the mob! When Jerusha and I (two small women) pushed and slid and bumped our way through the crowd to get to a bar (we were thirsty, OK?), it was like trying to wade through (angry) maple syrup. One rather rotund woman I accidentally knocked literally attacked me with her booty in retaliation. Dynamite might come in small packages, but battering rams most certainly do not.
Suddenly the mob mentality makes sense, as do crowd crushings and stampedes. Being part of an epic throng makes me feel like a cell in an organism, a dot in an Impressionist painting or a stitch in a tapestry.
What does ‘person’ matter? ‘Person’ doesn’t matter. People matter. Look at the power of the crowds in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya. It’s people that made Human Right’s Day possible. It’s people that created Apartheid, and it was thousands of dedicated, fearless people that ended Apartheid.
We live in a fantastic country.
I’m glad to be a dot in the painting that makes up South Africa. Nkosi Sikele iAfrica: God bless Africa.