Wednesday, September 10, 2014

There's an eye in the sky...

I've spent the past week working on a film featuring Helen Mirren. I was employed to add a final layer onto her character's bedroom. It's something I really like doing - that final layer. It's what makes a film habitat believable.

An early start in town means rush hour traffic - something I will do anything to avoid, so I decided to take the coastal road. One pays a toll, but you rarely see other cars and the views are spectacular. There's a rocky overhang with a rush of water droplets that never fails to delight me when they spatter onto my windscreen. One evening there was an old man flying ahead of me on a bicycle, wavy grey hair streaming as he pedalled furiously down the hill.

The rising sun over the city was torridly red. The sunsets apricotine. And the harvest moon, the moon, the moon...

I'm bound contractually not to publish photographs of the film sets I work on, so behold: our gooseberry bushes are full of fruit! And Fancy has a new haircut:

We had a young runner on the job and one day, watching me, she asked me how I knew where to put stuff. I told her that I'd learnt by watching others, and by moving things again and again
until they feel right.
 But how do you know when it feels right?
But that is not a question I can answer, because I just know.
I feel it in my bones.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Special powers.

Taken by a very tall man. Los Angeles 2014
 I've been wearing spectacles ever since I was a little girl of nine or so. At first, for reading the writing on the black board at school. For years I walked around in a fuzz, not realising that I needed to wear them all the time. Then, when I was sixteen, I got my first pair of contact lenses. Epiphany: the trees are not big green blobs - they are made up of leaves! And the boys have very hairy legs. (My mom remembers me telling her that)

I've always known my eyes are bad, but it was a shock to me when my optometrist told me that if I had been born in the middle ages, I would have a staff and someone would have had to lead me around - in fact, if my right eye was just a little weaker, I would be legally blind. Not in darkness, but without aid I saw only light, colour and blurry shapes. The long legged man often stands in the doorway and smiles at me - I know this because I hear the tiny kiss of the corners of his mouth. For what my maker took away in sight, I was compensated for with a fine set of ears.

 Last monday I went to see the Superman of corneas, Dr. Michael Attenborough. By a stroke of luck, I was bumped up to have PRK laser surgery on thursday - the waiting list is normally months long. It was over within minutes: the pasting of eyelashes with special curved tape, the flashing lights, the ice cold drops and a smell I'd rather not remember. Gentle words of encouragement from the doctor and the firm pressure of a nurse's hand on my arm the entire time.

I asked him a few days later what it felt like to bring such miraculous change to people's lives. He said that often it doesn't feel like work - in a case like mine, it's actually fun. Then he showed me some of the other work he's done - cornea transplants for people with cataracts covering the entire eye. He has special powers that man, and a very steady hand.

I can now read the teeniest little words on the eye dropper bottle. I've just done some darning and could thread the needle - piece of cake. Long distances are still settling in - there's a haze. But it's early days yet and just another lesson in patience.

The eyes can do a thousand things that the fingers cannot.
- Iranian proverb.

Sanell Aggenbach

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Surely there can be no better balm for the world-weary than a week on the West Coast.

We go at slightly different times every year, but the changes are vast - the flowering plants, the behaviour of animals...

Tortoises busy with their tortoise business. A few lonesome francolins still chirrup, looking for mates. Bulbuls and wattled starlings splashing in the birdbath - sometimes six thick. At dusk - a rim of pale yellow still on the horizon - a large owl swooped low and over us, going who knows where. On a sunny afternoon a pied crow came soaring straight towards me. But then had a change of heart.
The constant honking of the flamingoes - nothing on earth more beautiful than those jesters taking flight.

Strange landscapes we found ourselves in. Glimpses of movement and colour through the reeds.

Growth and gentle decay.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Boxes. Balls of wire.

I enjoyed reading Mark Gungor's take on the difference between the brain of a man and a woman. He says a man's brain consists of many small boxes. The boxes get taken out and opened one by one.
The boxes do not touch.

A woman's brain consists of a big ball of wire and everything is connected. It made for a rueful laugh, as it rings so very true. The tall man says he suspects there are smaller balls of wire leading off from my big one.
And I am convinced that he has at least one large box full of wire...

There was a concert this week. Heartstrings... wires, electricity, emotion. Call it what you will. Mine were sparking. Willy Mason: boy from the north-east. Such charm and wit, such talent. Smooth talker, voice like molasses. One understands what makes girls throw their underwear at musicians and wonders why no-one did,
last wednesday night.

By the time Cat Power cantered onto the stage, I was a quivering crow's nest of live wire. Useless at photography: two black frames, three blurred. Found wanting. Chewed up, swallowed whole.
Over the moon.

She reminded me that famous people are normal people too. And then. That voice.

Today finds me cooking hero food - food that will find it's way to a film set. Cooking this kind of very specific food is a dubious honour - perhaps our Nooi van Benoni doesn't actually like bobotie. Most definitely, if they do many takes, there will be a bucket for her to discreetly spit unchewed mouthfuls into. Maybe Mr Penn decides bobotie is just too weird and calls for fried chicken instead.

There's buttered yellow rice too. With raisins and honey.
But by the time they serve it, we'll be far away.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The world wanes and so it grows.

Frederick Buechner writes:
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don't be afraid.

At night, I lie awake. Surely: somewhere in this world, in some forgotten language, there must be a word that means both beautiful and terrible, side by side. I cannot reach for a pencil or the light, for we are big spoon and little spoon - too tender to disrupt.

I know that outside, life is burgeoning: nectar drenched and pollen dusted.

Some weeks ago, alone here in this house, I read a book so terrible and beautiful that sometimes I had to get up and pace in between paragraphs.

There is no neatness in any life - great or small. It is only an illusion men foolishly pursue. The face at the door is just that - the face at the door. All lived lives are a mess. The neatness in my life had begun to crumble some time before, but now it disintegrated completely as I vanished into a world of endlessly opening doors, teasing riddles and lives without boundaries. For the first time I began to understand how shallow neatness is.
How cramping, how limiting.
For the first time I understood neat lives are comatose lives.
Soon the greatest neatness of my life began to diffuse.
Even now, so many years later, I find it difficult to fully understand how it happened so quickly, but each word written in those notebooks became like a stitch pulled out from our relationship. I read and read and read - every spare moment of my day and night - and the stitches snapped loose one by one.
I fell into those books like a frog into a well.
- Tarun J. Tejpal. The Alchemy of Desire

Beautiful and terrible.

A man sits at a table in Gugulethu and with a knife and a fork eats the heart of his girlfriend's lover. A woman's eyes are gouged out for the sake of a cellphone. Someone who has less than me offers me something: here, you have this. Torn apart and stitched back together again. Love has tides that ebb and flow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Heart strings, part two.

Readers! A big thank you for all of your positive comments, your letters and the likes on my page in the past few weeks. For someone who actually wants to make writing a much more important pursuit, it has been a balm for my heart.

These are the days I dream about when I'm working. Lazy mornings - coffee in bed - a second cup even. The sweetling child is visiting and that makes everything feel like a holiday.
On a slow stroll through town, we came across an extraordinary small man speaking in tongues. He spoke duck and cat and dog and chicken and sheep. He finished off in mourning dove. I should have taken his number as there are things I would like to ask him.

The winsome Marie invited me over to forage at her parents house in the green belt. Gum-booted and rain-coated, we made our way over to where the chickweed grows, only to have the heavens open wide. Then again, who needs chickweed when you can lie around the fireplace drinking Moët and eating smoked salmon? I practised a bit of corgi mesmerizing and then they did some spellbinding of their own.

The next day I tried a different method on a cat named Lucy. It also seemed to work. But there was brushing involved, so maybe it was that...

It's been a busy weekend and my heartstrings are still quivering after all the music...

At the door the security guard asked, pointing to the youngest - and he's eighteen right? I answered Of course! And that was that. He must have been the only twelve year old there and what fun we had. On friday night, at my left shoulder, I spotted Clare Danes - in town shooting Homelands. She was wearing a small trench coat with bright red lips. And a very big scowl.
In the bathroom I ran into the ravishing Miss Hannah Parmandaram - we reminisced about the good old days of High Five. She was DJ-ing on the electronica stage, which we missed entirely.
There was so much to see and it was all astounding. We bumped into old friends and made a few new ones. Madala Kunene had good advice for the young one - he said: Boy, take two hours with the guitar every day - keep in touch with it. Then he said: And stay away from effects. Effects is the robber - play straight.

I often think of South Africa as a bipolar place. The highs and lows are equally intense. The feeling of bonhomie at these gigs is so high and so good. You can catch anyone's eye and you're guaranteed a smile. We all stood swaying, in the air the warm smells of patchouli, clean sweat - river water and sunlight. Standing next to me, watching Tata Madala play, was a diminutive Grace Jones and her girlfriend, an equally tiny pale girl with long lashes. Every now and then they would give each other a kiss of such exquisite tenderness that my heart strings got into a right tangle. Around us women ululated.

Then there was Sannie Fox, black Fender Strat slung over her shoulder. Better than Polly Jean. Better than Peaches. Badass personified, but she brought her mother up on stage to sing with her and waved to her grandmother. And before her, this lovely man of humour and virtuosity - Guy Buttery.

But. My favourite of all was Bongeziwe Mabandla. Only twenty six, I predict he is on a path of greatness. Music, sweet music.