*AFK/FAMILY WEDDINGS


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I’m going to be AFK, en route to another Family Wedding. A juicy topic for blogging.

Who gets invited?  Distant family  members who only appear at Weddings and Funerals, and are mortally offended  if they’re not invited.   Then there’s the gossip about those who were/were not invited, the whispers about long-standing feuds – excursion into tribal history. Most of it unedifying, all of it fascinating.  Families!

And then the vexed question of What to Wear?   As the matriarch of my small family, I cannot lurk in the back pew in a comfy pair of trousers and my Skechers .  So I’ve been combing the shops for something – anything ! – that doesn’t cost the earth, and which I will be able to wear on other occasions. My clothes have to march bravely on for years and years.

Additionally, I don’t lead a life filled with dressy occasions, so I don’t have anything in the cupboard to fall back on.  Apart from my beautiful simple white jacket, made for me by my dear Mother at least 17 years ago. It gets hauled out for infrequent grand events. Because its a polyester linen it washes like a dream – thanks Mum – I wish I’d asked you to make me a black one, and a navy one, and perhaps a yellow one too. Alas: too late now.

So:  the cat-sitter is organised, the suitcase is semi-packed. I’m scurrying around like a demented meerkat tying up loose ends, crossing off lists, adding diary notes –  aaarrgggh … I’m my own worst enemy – too many projects, despite my 2016 resolution not to be so busy.  Note to self:  After Easter – say ‘NO’, and relax on the couch with your tapestry.  Okay. Will do.

Meanwhile, dear readers  Chocolat is holding the fort, terrifying the house-sitter while I gad around the Republic.  Toodle-ooo!

 

*afk –  Absent from keyboard

 

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 MILNERTON FLEA MARKET


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The ferocious wind blasts straight off Table Bay, over the tangled grey concrete dolosse , doesn’t even pause at the barrier, roars into the market ground, driving a stinging curtain of sand, that patters on impact and abrades exposed human skin. No wonder the vendors are dressed in long sleeved shirts and windcheaters, despite the blue skies and sunshine.

The wind tears at vendors’ hats, but they’re  secured by elastic under the chin, regardless of appearance or fashion. So the wind swirls papers and plastic bags up, up and away; it thrums through  guy-ropes on gazebos,  and whistles keenly around the corner of bakkies. It whisks playfully around the blue flames on the gas braais, but doesn’t quite succeed in extinguishing the flames. The mounds of onions are browning in the frying pans,  teaming up with the aroma of sizzling boerewors on the braai grids. Oom Chris ‘s khaki fishing hat is jammed low over his ears, his red face a study in concentration as he guards his wors against over-cooking. Tannie Marie is flitting between the onion frying, and scraping minimal marg onto hotdog rolls. The smell is intoxicating.

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Down the line the Muslim ladies are setting up their stall.  No spicy daaltjies today, worse luck. Only  sweet, sticky, pink coconut-coated koeksusters. Next to the foodstalls there’s a display of shiny silver pressure cookers, obviously new, laid out in a neat row on a tarp spread on the ground. Did they fall (conveniently) off the back of a lorry, into enterprising hands?

Another suspicious display is an entire stall of branded cleaning products – no wonder those red, white and blue labels look so familiar, they’re well known products that are standard supermarket merchandise.  Hmmmm. How did they arrive at the market … perhaps best not to enquire.

Many of the vendors have rickety trestle tables piled with bric-a-brac, rusted cake tins, baking tins, tarnished egg beaters, odds and sods: in a word – junk. There’s mechanical junk laid on tarps at ground level:assortments of nuts, bolts, washers, rods, rusty tools, lengths of piping, angle-iron off-cuts, bits of this and that. Most of these items are beyond second-hand, and only fit for the scrap heap. Maybe that’s where they came from!

A man picks up a battered pick-axe, and bounces it experimentally up and down on the ground, over and over. Donk-donk-donk. What’s he testing? The strength of the handle? Or to see if the metal head is cracked? At the rate he’s going, it soon will be! His actions are driving a nearby Jack Russell absolutely nuts. The little dog is straining desperately against his collar and the rope that’s attached to his owner’s bakkie wing-mirror. The dog is dying to race over to the man and do something – anything – about that bouncing pick-axe, but even his manic terrier strength cannot break a nylon rope.  But the wing mirror strut may well break before the rope does!

Striding through the market is a lady in full purdah get-up, with only a narrow slit for her eyes, and they’re hidden behind dark glasses.  She’s even wearing black gloves but  surprisingly, white ankle socks and cream coloured shoes.  Tall, black and mysterious,  she’s a complete contrast to the shopping couples – the men in shorts, tees and shades; the women in strappy tops, cute short skirts, flip-flops displaying varnished toenails  – summer holiday gear for the shoppers,  but not for the traders who have to withstand the buffeting wind all day.

The Parking Attendants are all senior citizens – weather beaten and tanned to an inch of their lives, puffing gamely on their cigarettes, despite the gale force wind. Two sunburnt, wrinkly women are sheltering behind a big double-cab 4×4 having a smoke, and engaged in a  dramatic recital of a complicated family saga that is punctuated with So I said, Charmayne, you can’t do that! And she said … but the wind blows away the tale of woe, along with streamers of cigarette smoke.

Two young guys roar away on their motor-bikes, spinning up loose gravel as they plunge onto the R27.  The noon gun booms from Lions Head.  Seagulls are squabbling over a discarded boerie roll. Time to get out of the wind, go home for lunch and come bargain-hunting again next week!

 

http://www.milnertonfleamarket.co.za/

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PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov


 

Book Review

I hunted for this book for years. In the end I gave in and bought the Penguin Classic on-line. I’m so glad I did.  I wanted to get beyond the wretched “Lolita” which I’d never managed to read, despite several attempts, finding it heavy going.  I felt sure there must be more to Nabokov, other than his notoriety after Lolita, and I was correct.

The book was not a particularly easy read but every page offered  dazzling prose, magnificent language – and this from a native Russian speaker. The language is extraordinary . I found I had to read with my notebook and pencil at hand, to record the words I didn’t recognize or understand.  I later hauled out my huge Shorter Oxford Dictionary and even that august tome let me down a couple of times.

The scope of the novel is super-ambitious. Nabokov wrote  a detailed foreword, followed by a poem of 999 lines in 4 Cantos, followed by a Commentary on the poem of 173 pages, which is the narrative of the story, as well as  supplying a genuine commentary on the poem! He finished off with an index of nine pages : A – Z of infinite detail – a huge amount of work!

Furthermore, the actual story has two parallel threads: the story of Charles Xavier, King Charles the Beloved of Zembla (a fictitious Balkan country) who flees to exile in the USA. The second thread is the account by, Professor Charles Kinbote, neighbour and friend of John Shade, the poet.  Kinbote lands up  becoming the editor and custodian of Shade’s monumental poem. Are the two threads connected, or are they not?  The plot is intricate – reminiscent of a set of nested Russian dolls.

And – a big plus point! – Nabokov is very funny, which in the setting of academia , literature and murder, is unexpected. He’s droll, he’s witty.

An anonymous  reviewer wrote “ One of the most original and creative novelists of our time”. I don’t think this comment does justice to the novel.  But the following comment by Martin Amis does do justice:  “The variety, force and richness of Nabokov’s perceptions have not even the palest rival in modern fiction – the nearest  thing to pure sensual pleasure that prose can offer”.

If you’re in the mood for a modern classic, something different, then read “Pale Fire.”

 

 

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THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO – Junot Diaz


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Book Review 

I finally caught up with this 2008 novel which was greatly acclaimed at the time.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction – deservedly so. It’s original. There’s a nerdy anti-hero (Oscar); feisty Dominican female relatives; the history of the Dominican Republic during the years of the dreadful Trujillo dictatorship and post-dictatorship into the 90s.  We get a picture of expat Dominican Republic (DR) people fighting to make a new life in the USA. I enjoyed the book despite seriously grim DR historical content, which was in lengthy footnotes; normally long footnotes annoy the socks off me, but the slightly  droll tone of the account made them palatable.

I knew absolutely nothing about the DR and  had to consult my atlas to locate the country.  I  discovered DR was in the Caribbean. The Island of New Hispaniola, was divided into two – Haiti and the DR.  Haiti having an even darker, more violent, grimmer history than the DR if that can even be possible.

Reading the book certainly puts the Republic of South Africa’s dismal history  into perspective.  Sometimes we tend to forget we’re not the only country with a difficult and dangerous past. Man! those South American dictators were something else – torture was their middle name.  Urrggghhh!!

The black DR women were ferocious survivors – loud, harsh, sexy. Their child-rearing methods would not go down well in today’s p.c. climate. Despite this, their kids survived, although the book title might give prospective readers a clue.  A recommended read,it has warmth and humour,  but not for the faint hearted.

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The  Christmas Gift  –  by A M Smith ©


This short-short story was my entry to our Writers’ Circle monthly writing exercise.  The prompt was, “underneath the Xmas tree…”  which starts off  the story. Read on!  

Underneath the Xmas tree lay the long box, the contents of which would end my marriage, remove that which I held most dear. I didn’t know it at the time of course, and hindsight is hardly useful after the event.

I noticed Pam’s expression when she spotted the long box  under the tree on Christmas Eve. She looked at the box, and turned to me with an odd expression. A mixture of despair and anger, I suppose.

“If that’s my gift,“ she said slowly, pointing at the box, “you obviously didn’t buy me perfume, like I asked you to, did you? You just don’t get it, do you?” she snapped, and left the room, slamming the door behind her.

Women! What can I say? I was accustomed to her seemingly eternal disappointment. I shrugged, and went outside to brush stray leaves off my front lawn. Although small, it was perfect in every respect.  Edges neatly trimmed, grass evenly mowed; glowing  emerald green, despite the deepening dusk. I surveyed it with pride, and felt my customary  warm glow of satisfaction.

Christmas Day came and went. Pam’s  lukewarm reception of  her Christmas gift  was unsurprising. I can’t bear wasting money, and perfume – I ask you? An   overpriced product with over-elaborate packaging; a few squirts and it’s all gone. Whereas the new Hoover I bought  her for Christmas would last us for years. A five year guarantee on the motor, the latest technology, light and easy to handle, and only a subdued hum when you switched it on. I gave it a trial run on the lounge carpet. It worked like a dream, as I knew it would.

Returning to work after the Christmas weekend came as a relief. To say the domestic atmosphere had been  frosty would be an understatement. But I bore it with my accustomed cheerfulness. These things are sent to try us, as we all know.

I walked briskly from the station, down our street towards home, a nice cup of tea, and then some  lawn maintenance – the perfect end to my day.

Hello, I thought, what’s a taxi doing outside our house?

And: why is there soil on the pavement outside our property?

   And then: What’s the new Hoover doing on my  lawn? why is my long extension cord running out  through the lounge French Doors?

As I hesitated by our gate, trying to make sense of  these unusual  factors, Pam burst out of the front door, wearing her coat, and yanking her biggest wheelie suitcase behind her.

She pointed to the Hoover in the middle of my lawn.

“Seeing you’re so keen on the Hoover and your bloody lawn, I thought I’d put the two together and make life absolutely marvellous for you – now you can Hoover your lawn and have the most perfect grass in the world!”

I stood there gaping.

“Watch!” she commanded, abandoning her suitcase, marching onto my lawn – in high heels,  in high heels! How could she? My lawn …

Pam grabbed the Hoover, kicked the start button and it purred into life, moving smoothly and efficiently over the grass.

“See?” yelled Pam. “The perfect combination  – you and the Hoover on your ruddy lawn. Now it can be spotless. You love spotless, don’t you?  And don’t worry about  the grass mucking up the Hoover engine, I’ve taken care of that too, don’t you worry!”  She shot me a malevolent glare as she barged through the gate, wrenching  her suitcase into the waiting taxi,

How could the Hoover operate on grass? My grass! My precious lawn! I rushed over to the Hoover and suddenly it hit me.

Astroturf .

 

 

 

 

 

 

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*A PASSION FOR PISTACHIOS


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CONSTANTLY CONNECTED, YET ALSO DISCONNECTED


Walking on the treadmill at the gym provides me with headspace, thinking time, reflection periods. Today as I trudged along, working off my Silly Season excesses, I caught a glimpse of the woman to my right, briskly walking, but deeply involved with texting on her smartphone as she walked. I thought:  Lady, you’d better not mis-step – you’ll be in dead trouble!  Her face showed she was probably  in her mid-30s,  so no surprises there, I’m accustomed to seeing younger people wandering around, zombie-like, entranced by their mobile screens as they shop, walk, cross roads, you name it, that little screen has them hypnotised. But on the treadmill? This is a new one.

I have long thought this laser focus was confined to the 35s and under.  But imagine my surprise when my gaze shifted to the treadmill on my left, and there was a senior citizen, and he had the grey hair and wrinkles to prove it, tapping away like mad on his cell-phone as he trotted on his treadmill.  Yikes!  Clearly the disease is spreading.

One of my teenaged grand-children once loftily informed me that young people had to be connected all the time ; this in response to my comment on their passion for texting. She did not elaborate on her statement being convinced that I couldn’t possibly understand, because I’m so old and therefore, completely out of touch with modernity. Exercising every atom of self-control, I refrained from slapping her and chewing her head off. This is where the generation gap shows its ugly face.

And don’t get me started about couples in coffee shops and restaurants.  One wonders why they bother to accompany their partner, because there’s no personal conversation, laughter, general chit-chat, eye contact. Uh-huh. Those heads are bent, eyes riveted to the tiny screens and their fingers flying over the keys. Zero interaction between the table-mates. You’ve got to ask yourself: wouldn’t it be cheaper to simply stay at home, text as long as you like, from the comfort of your own sofa, and make a mug of Nescafe? It would certainly be cheaper!

As an aside, I blame the arrival of Twitter, a few years back. Now people seem to feel obliged to report on their every  action, trivial or otherwise. You will not be surprised to learn that I refuse to Tweet. Texting: yes, no problem. It’s very useful. And P.S. I’ve even heard of Whatsapp.  But Twittering?  I’m cosily hunkered down into my crusty old generation gap, thanks very much, and I’m sure you don’t want to know I’ve fed the cat, brushed my teeth, and eaten two dried apricots. Yawn.

I find it curious that so many friends have sent in post-Christmas reports  gushing about  their  holiday breaks spent in remote Karoo  dorpies, or in beach shacks, sans electricity, sans cell-phones, having a wonderful refreshing and relaxing break.  Note: un-connected for days – if not a whole week or longer.  Gasp!

Isn’t there a disconnect here ? It seems that a city mind-set has to be constantly connected. You have to be reachable, day or night, at all and any time, whether the seeker is your boss, a friend, a kid, a phone survey troll  – the permutations are infinite. And yet, once out in the country,  the connection virus weakens and some people even – I’m assured this is true – switch off their cell-phones. For hours, if not days, at a time.  Totally radical, huh?

I’ve had further thoughts on the topic.  By being so electronically connected, 24/7, people are disconnected from the world around them,  from people and events – life itself. Isn’t this ironic?  They’re not connected at all. They ‘re oblivious of  the natural world, the nuances of sunshine on foliage, the sudden flit of a bird out of a nearby bush, a swirl of colour in a woman’s scarf, smiles on little kids’ faces, the  touch of a friendly hand on a shoulder, the list goes on and on. Life, with its myriad textures, sounds, colours, sights, is shut out in the tunnel vision of electronica.

Yes, they might be viewing a friend’s pictures on Facebook, a birthday party, a Youtube clip – sure, but this is not the real thing. This is not here and now. This is experiencing life at a remove,  life via the printed word, symbols and mini-graphics on a small screen. Here and Now is reality.  What reflects off the oblong screen is an image of reality, a shadowy doppelganger.

Do we really want to live via the printed word? Do we realise we’re living a dream life in our heads when the entire glorious, marvellous, terrifying wonderful world is right in front of us?

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A MAN CALLED OVE – by FREDERICK BACKMAN


Source: A MAN CALLED OVE – by FREDERICK BACKMAN

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A MAN CALLED OVE – by FREDERICK BACKMAN


 

Book Review

I nominated the novel as my Best Novel of 2015 in my recent 2015 Reading Year Review.

Ove is the grumpiest man on the planet. He knows life only as either Black or White. He has no idea what emotions are, or how to express them. So long as he has a practical task to do, Ove is fine. * He has fixed ideas on everything, particularly on car buying and ownership.

When his wife Sonja dies, he is completely adrift. Of course he can’t express his grief, other than in bursts of anger. New neighbours – a useless husband (clumsy and inept), two little girls, and pregnant Parvaneh who is Iranian, move into his street, impinge on his life, and change it. And not to forget the stray black cat, who also moves in. Into his house, nogal!

The unfolding events are very funny, related in a deadpan manner. The ending made me weep. But prior to this, I’d enjoyed a feast of laughs.  Strongly recommended.

 

* Footnote: I have to add that I know squads of South African men who were cast from the same Ove mould.

*nogal – Afrikaans – an expression of disbelief.

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THE MOUNTAIN  SHADOW  by GREGORY DAVID ROBERTS


 

Book Review

This big, sprawling novel, with a cast of thousands, re-connects us with GDR’s alter-ego, the Australian Lin a.k.a. Shantaram, and his exploits in the Bombay underworld.

Some of the characters from the first novel, blockbuster Shantaram,  are re-assembled, plus squads of new ones.  There are few quirky, attractive new characters , the Zodiac Georges. Two street people, who are undying friends, both named George and differentiated by their birth months, hence Gemini George as opposed to Scorpio George. The new characters also provide arch villains. There’s the deeply unpleasant Lightning Dilip, the sadistic police sergeant , who routinely beats up suspects, and extorts bribes on every occasion. Concannon, the homicidal Irishman, wants to beat Lin to a pulp.  I could never quite understand why. There are many others, but as I said, there’s a cast of thousands.

Testosterone and violence permeate the first third of the book; thereafter we have holy men, spiritual teachers and quests for love and faith, mingled with bouts of violence. It’s an uneven mix.

The story revolves mainly around the convoluted, not to say torturous,  romantic  relationship between Lin and his soul-mate, Karla and one of the novel’s major weaknesses are the pages and pages of waffly dialogue between them when they have verbal sparring matches. Boring. As are the  tedious passages about earnest philosophical issues, with spiritual overtones.  GDR needs to make up his mind whether he wants to write a Philosophy 101 textbook, an exposition on his personal  brand  of spirituality, or a ninja novel. A mix of all three ingredients doesn’t work and we have to toil through 873 pages to confirm this for ourselves.

Mercifully GDR is restrained when it comes to writing about sex.  He does not indulge in pages of soft porn as so many blockbuster writers do. He keeps his purple passages for  one  dreadful poem  and for emotional or soulful pages.

When  Mountain finally staggers to a halt, with all loose ends tidied up, it’s an anti-climax. A review on Goodreads  said something about a possible third Shantaram novel. No. Enough already.  I enjoyed Shantaram, but his second outing on the theme is way, way too long.

What does work is GDR’s pages about the city of Bombay itself, its vibrant street life, its slums, mansions, and inhabitants; the myriad mini-stories of human struggles.  I was intrigued to read about the business activities of the Bombay underworld, and the pervasive graft and corruption at all levels throughout the  city.  Even subtracting 50% of the accounts as literary hyperbole, it made me realise that the country I live in is in the junior league, compared to the shenanigans in Bombay. Which, in a weird way, makes me feel a little better. Maybe.

At the end of 2015, which has been a tough year, I needed a relaxing, escapist read. I guess GDR’s novel was it, but, boy oh boy, it was a long haul!  Where was his editor, I wondered? Maybe if you’ve written a  wildly successful blockbuster first novel like Shantaram,  your editor treads softly.

Speaking of which, there’s an intriguing final page titled Proclaimer  where GDR makes it crystal clear he does not endorse the criminal lifestyle, drugging, drinking or smoking, and has merely used them as foundations for his story.  There’s a terse note on the back jacket flap that says GRD has retired from public life to pursue other projects and writing.I was intrigued, and a Google search  led me to an in-depth interview with GDR by the Sydney Morning Herald. The interview was tagged ‘The final Interview with GDR’.You can find it at:

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/gregory-david-roberts-final-interview-on-the-mountain-shadow-by-shantaram-author-20151005-gk1o20.html

As ever, GDR has plenty to say.

 

 

 

 

 

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