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.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Heart strings, part one.



My phone made the sound of a harp.
My Darling, he wrote, I'll be home soon!
After months of phone calls every day,
of faraway hearts and postcard love...
The garden was bursting into bloom, the floor was swept.
It was time.



The plane from Qatar was late, I paced up and I paced down. 

But then there he was, as always, larger than life.
And home we sped, on a sunday winter's night, to the fire in the grate, to the lamb in the oven. To laughter and clinking glasses. To wisps of lace from


Sometimes the world can be monochrome for days on end.
Then, in an instant, it bursts into full colour.
Later we fell asleep.
There was music.
And the scent of skin.




Monday, July 14, 2014

Animal, mineral, vegetable.

Natal, place of a thousand hills, I have left behind. My suitcases were heavy with honey, old patterned enamel plates and wax resist fabrics from Nigeria. On the set dressing truck, a few days later, were three ancient Zulu grinding bowls. They sit in the driveway now, waiting placement, but that doesn't stop the birds from visiting.



Natal, dark at five in the afternoon, after a sunset the colour of papayas, fleshy and bruised. A richly atmospheric place: smoke on the hills, the strangled cries of strange birds high up in the trees. Talk to someone for a while and you discover that they don't just own a junk shop, they also breed polo ponies and speak fluent Zulu. All the farmers there do. It made me smile when they answered their cell phones. And it made me envious, for the majority of Zulu people I met don't speak much English at all.

It was a tough time - clashing egos, unspoken grievances - and you know what happens to those, eventually. But what people say about the generosity of the people there is true. We experienced it time and again. One day we drove to Verulam to buy some green bananas for a set. After showing us around, the young farmer refused to take money. As we were driving off, the pick-up full, he ran after us with a bunch of special bananas for us to eat - the good stuff, he smiled.
And they were.

















Days spent in Durban, in Grey Street.
A curious mixture of Indian and Zulu.
We stopped for maize grilled over a brazier and the girl handed the hot ears to us wrapped in a bit of the husk. The ladies at Ennen's Sarree Shop said that we should have lunch at Patel's Refreshment Room. Bunny chow - half a loaf of white bread filled with a rich stew of broad beans and curry leaves, eaten with the fingers of the right hand. An old crone shuffled in and the young wallahs at the counter brought her a free plate of food. She ordered them around - bring me this, bring me that, and good-naturedly they did. She said sage things to us in Zulu and we nodded, when we left we gave her our change and she gave us a big toothless smile.



The street vendors were selling foraged produce that day: huge creamy avocado pears, madumbis, strange beans and peas, rolled up leaves for steamed parcels of fish, tiny green guavas, macadamia nuts and bunches of juicy clover - purple on the underside of the leaf. I felt awkward trying to take photos - the avocado seller ran down the road screaming after she saw my phone.








We ordered what we needed for our set at the meat market: sheep's and goat's heads, entrails, chicken feet...


when we went back a few days later to pick up our gory load, we went to the Victoria Market for henna and newspaper wrapped parcels of spices, and attar of roses.



At Moodleys we bought Nag Champa incense - scent of the sixties. In the shop are small altars to Ganesh and Hanuman, and pictures of Sai Baba, all draped with sandalwood beads and crinkle paper marigolds. The shop lady, beautiful in her sari with golden threads, took us to the doorway to show us how to get to Little Gujarat, for another vegetarian lunch.  We washed at the basin with the sign that said:
No Gargling!
And then we sat down to roti's, pea curry and small crispy chunks of chilli-dusted potatoes... delicious.



After lunch we went to the massive Muti market on the bridge. You enter underneath the flyover - passing rails of ready-to-wear frilly shwe shwe outfits, young guys playing cards, people singing and rocking from side to side while watching a religious ceremony on an outdoor tv. Then you start walking up a spiral - past dark doorways hung with snake skins, animal parts and plant matter. The actual market is on a network of pedestrian bridges about a kilometre long. Hundreds of small stalls with things you have never seen before - neatly boxed shelves of various tree barks, roots, dried jelly fish, starfish, snakes in bottles of liquid, bottles of fat and blood, entire dried monkeys, bone, horn... the air is filled with smells and sounds, men chopping bark into chips with pangas, women with various coloured clays smeared on their faces. I wished with all of my heart that I could take out my camera, but we had heard that the taking of pictures would be regarded as disrespectful. When we left, my heart was beating very loudly and I was filled with wonder - that this culture is so big and thriving, so dark and unfamiliar. It was an extraordinary experience and I would love to go back and spend some time there with a Zulu speaker.

As I write this, my love is on a plane somewhere over Africa, flying home. It has been a long, long separation. I want to take him to these places one day, perhaps in the summer, when the rains come. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

All that is gold does not glitter.

Pietermaritzburg. The longer I am here, the more warnings I am given, the more stories I hear. The story about the couple who stayed in my room for three months, part of the witness protection program, who disappeared overnight.
Don't walk down the road on your own.
Watch out for the skollies on the corner.


 I drive around this beautiful, broken place. There were riches here once. Victorian mansions, row upon row of gingerbread houses with fish scale roof tiles. Everything patched now, and worn. Giant trees with roots pushing up the paving, red dust creeping up the walls.

Litter in front of the Tiger Tiger Club. Bills pasted on the Hustler shop: Safe Abortion, Penis Enlargement. Zulu girls on the corner. Insolent stares and muttered insults.
Stupid Injakazi.
Thievery, skullduggery, monkey business.
Trickery, hoodwinking, jiggery-pokery.

This motley film crew. I live with them for a month and watch from the sidelines. Sometimes I wish I was a bigger woman, a stronger woman. I am bruised from this work - arms, legs, hips and hands. But more than that, I have a threadbare heart. Things have happened here that leave me with a feeling of foreboding and so much sadness at the lack of love in this old world.

Dennis Quaid, when asked by a younger man about the success of his marriage, says: You find the right person to share your foxhole with, and when you're away from your foxhole, you keep your dick in your pants.

But, you know, those are just lines from a movie. We get paid to make that stuff up.


Often I find consolation in the beauty of small things, but sometimes it's just not enough and I feel stupid for trying.

Nonetheless...
There is a man, a newspaper seller. I passed him one morning before the sun rose, ice on my windscreen. He was dancing up and down to keep warm. But when I caught his eye, he gave me a smile that warms me, even now.
There is the Msunduzi River, the grand old Duzi. I cross it many times a day. Mist over the water at daybreak. A tree full of white birds.


There is a couple in their seventies, on a farm we've been shooting at - the gentleness, the tenderness between them.
There's the mystery insect that starts up at night - the one that sounds like a rusty old wind pump.
There's that full honey moon coming up through the plane trees, over a fire in a wheelbarrow.

Fever trees scraping the sky.


There's Mr Love at the Howick Falls, who sings for his supper.
He works the little cardboard man with a foot pedal and the little man dances.
There's the sweet pixie girl who brought me tiny silver egg spoons, tied with a raffia twist.
There's the madcap woman whom I met by chance, who helped me to find my parth, who took me shopping and gave me a pair of rainbow coloured mittens, hand knitted, while she sat talking.


Another chance meeting led me to the only record collector in town. His golden labrador laid her head on my thigh
and followed me until I left.
Stay in a place long enough and you will find treasures.

But I'm so homesick it hurts.




Saturday, May 31, 2014

uMgungundlovu.

I left a cold Cape Town in darkness and horizontal rain. Now I find myself in a different world: the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. Hot and lush with sugarcane and cattle. Earth steeped in the blood and tears of Boer, Brit and Zulu.

Our first set takes shape on the savannah outside town.


On a rare day off, still trying to get my bearings, I followed my nose to the Botanical Gardens. I walked down the ancient plane tree arbour, kicking my way through ankle-deep leaves.


There was no-one else there. Sounds carried from far off - men chopping wood, the honking of geese. All around me, leaves fell in drifts. I can't explain the sound they made upon impact. An organic kind of snick. Some say it's the sound of the gods walking.



I sat under the huge canopy of a tree, looking out over prehistoric marshland. The air full of sunbeams and small flying insects.



I tried to ignore the signs that cropped up everywhere:
You walk here at your own risk.
I walked along flower strewn paths, bees diving drunkenly into the camellias. Tree trunks thickly encrusted with lichens. And then I left, one more rustle in the trees a rustle too many. This town is filled with warnings, some are veiled and some are not.


My Love is in Paris, walking the streets of yet a different world.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Better the devil you know.

Things are barking mad this side. Two assistants, two swing gangs, two eight ton trucks... just not two of me. Then we have an art director somewhere in Natal, one here and a stoner of a production designer. Tends to repeat himself. German punctuality? Not so much.

I have to ask myself, at eleven on a Friday night, why I am steaming curtains at the SABC auditorium and not all snug at home. Why I lie awake at three composing emails in my head, making lists in the notebook on my night table. I am a part of this big snowball and right now I can't imagine a different life.


A moment's respite from the madness: Champion, driver, old friend, brings me some plantain this morning, cooked by his wife. It's delicious.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Plagued by pianos.

A message from the German production office: the director has requested that there may not be any pianos whatsoever on set. The lead actor fancies himself as a budding pianist and having a piano on set is counter-productive.

As luck would have it, there is a piano at almost every chosen location. In some instances, a baby grand piano. Not to be moved. So it's a question of the cunning construction of boxes that look like built-in cabinets with drawers or doors with handles and knobs... this is a part of my job that I dislike. Also the hiding of plugs and switches and signage that isn't period. I have, in the past, gotten away with hanging coats over electrical boxes on walls. Washcloths over taps.


Did you know that in Germany, paint colours have codes only, no names. I loved watching the German art director smile when we chose these colours for sets: "Bleached Meadow" for a prison, "Happy Ending" for an apartment and "Marshy Habitat" for a bush hospital.
A dream job, the namer of colours.



One doesn't think of autumn as being a time of growth, but things are happening. And the birds are hungry. I am hungry for my long-legged man, far away in La-La-Land. Ten more weeks.