Friday, May 27, 2016

A charm to ward off lightning.

My white paintbrush lilies are blooming for the first time.
The flowers have a delicate, powdery scent.

I brought the bulbs back from Natal two years ago, carefully wrapped up in a piece of African fabric in my suitcase. They had clumps of red earth clinging to their roots and were given to me by a German woman I met in a shop in the Midlands.

She had baskets full of them hanging from trees in the driveway leading up to her house. She took me to places on the seamier side of town. She knew some Zulu and shouted good-naturedly at the women who tried to sell us things for more than they were worth.
HAIBO! she would shout, and everyone would laugh.

It's not always an easy thing, working so far away from home. But I often think of my time in Natal, the people I met there and how things seemed to happen in such fortuitous ways.

The Props Master told me that it was important to find a place in town that no-one else knew about. A place to think. Tell no-one, she said. After a few days, I stumbled upon a lovely old house in Boomstraat (Tree Street). There was a small antique shop, a restaurant, a room full of books and a topiary garden. Every day the statue of Mary at the bottom of the garden was adorned with fresh flowers.

The chef was very good.

Back home the time has come to harvest some turmeric root. Snow peas and broad beans are poking determined green heads through black soil. Aloes are bursting their seams. 

A pot of Osso Bucco is simmering slowly on the stove.
It's almost time to light a fire.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Autumn is a darker Spring.

Sulphur spotted lady bugs step out onto giant leaves of rhubarb for clandestine meetings with tiny white spiders. Under half cover of saw-toothed aloe, skinks scorch and blink.

There is evidence of fowl play.

The bulbuls slay meadow brown butterflies. Optimistic rats meet sticky ends. Unconcerned, the field mouse stands on his hind legs
to inspect a dandelion.

There are those that are precocious, while others - on a slower kilter, thrust out reptilian buds while we sleep.

Furred strangers brood beneath voodoo flowerets.

The guava tree, planted after Christmas,
offers up one perfect fruit.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Sugar peas (early bush) reads one of the hand-painted labels on the little drawers below.
Telegraph Cucumbers, American Wonder Peas, Marrow Peas.
Each bag is equipped with the Mauthner name, his best seeds.

My friend Henri (who owns my favourite shop on this planet - Koöperasie Stories) was on one of his Eastern European buying trips when he sent me an image of this beautiful old shop display cabinet.
I didn't dream then that I would one day own it,
but life's full of surprises.

I started to do some research and fell down many a fascinating wormhole.

Meet Mauthner Odon - agronomist and entrepreneur,
born in 1848 in Budapest, Hungary.
After studies applied to seed breeding at the Magyaróvár college and abroad, he founded a large company and experimental station, employing 800 workers. He received merits from the Hungarian nobility.
He was president of the Hungarian National Association of Grain Traders, editor of The Horticultural Papers and The Garden.

The sprawling factory in Budapest still exists - it was converted to apartments and though listed, is falling into disrepair.

There is a seed wholesale building, a customs house, a granary for sorting and cleaning. A vast courtyard. There was once a garden.

I found labels, seed packets and letters.

I found his crumbling villa in Budakeszi Road.

I found his grave in the National Cemetery.
Only then did I discover his first name.
It was

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fame is a fickle food, upon a shifting plate.

I want to dispel a myth. The film industry is not glamorous. At least not from over here where I'm standing it's not.
Oft asked question: Who's in it that's famous? See my heart sink.
Sure, I've brushed shoulders with famous people. But you avert your eyes and do your job.
(I broke this rule once only: on the last day of a film, I told the wonderfully deadpan Bob Newhart how much he had made me laugh as a teenager. He's a lovely and gracious man.)

I have crossed paths with many glamorous people. (It doesn't brush off.) I've ironed countless sheets for these people, I've fluffed their pillows, polished their shoes and taken up their hems. I've cooked for some famous people too -
which brings me to my next point. The film industry in South Africa used to be known for it's extremely delicious on-set lunches. That has changed dramatically in the last few years. It's very dispiriting - after hours of slog, to be greeted by chafing dishes of steaming grey meat, wilted salads, the vegetarian option of mushrooms and patty pans adrift in brown water. Five litres of melted ice-cream to follow.

Thankfully the majority of my work days are not spent on set. I drive and I search and I glean. Lunches are eaten on the hoof, leaning against my car in parking lots, sometimes while I'm driving.

What a treat to finally have a lunchbox from my friend Ammy's Food Maker Merchant in Observatory. I was tootling down Nelson Road when I spotted her tiny shop - a window in a wall, a yellow awning.

Let me explain: that is a cardboard container - completely recyclable. Those are arancini, which I last ate in Rome. They made me swoon - those crispy, melt-in-the-mouth balls of deep fried, tomato-ey risotto with mozzarella centres. Not a trace of oil. Alongside a zingy pesto - so green the herbs must have been growing still, mere minutes ago.
Grated beets and pears. Mustardy, vinegary chunks of potato. Pear and walnut salad. Roasted butternut with black beans and pepitas. The surprising little bursts of flavour - lemon rind, flecks of parsley and mint. Such a fine lunch I have not had in many a long moon.

What else can I say? Ammy offered a fork. I said I'd wait till home. Then I ate most of it before I started the car. I drove away with beet-stained, dill-infused fingers, sniffing them appreciatively at traffic lights. At home I licked the container.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Capable of being filled with air.

I was going to write about my drive home from a small coastal town - the huddles of dusty ostriches, the solitary blue crane in a field.
How depleted I felt to see a place after so many years and find it beyond recognition. Spoilt, a husk of what it was. The youths in town poaching crayfish to support their methamphetamine addiction. Inequality so vast it made me gasp for air.

But of course there were other things as well.

My friend John writes so succinctly:
Days wandering across tarmac between props trucks and craft tables, the director and crew far at sea in rubber ducks and trawlers, the cast ferried offshore in batches to swim in freezing water. They ride out of the surf as knights on horseback, as queens in sedan chairs, a barmy army on inflatable crocodiles, pizzas, pretzels and luminous whales. They float on pedalos, dinghies and lilos or slump in plastic chairs under huge tents waiting to be called into action. Wardrobe assistants wash and dry and iron hundreds of costumes. The sun, wind, too many dark and misted mornings, too much coffee, too much meat, a lot of waiting - days spent pacing and standing - but there is nothing as exhilarating as being part of a really big job that goes well after weeks of preparation .

And off he rows, our intrepid art director.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

In dreams.

One night this week past, I found myself inside the world of a much loved photograph by Thomas Abercrombie. Close to the carpet-covered hillside was a settlement. Women were hanging fabrics to dry over low, scorched bushes. It was that magic hour with the golden light.

Although I knew I wasn't in Turkey, I tried a Turkish greeting. Merhaba! I called. The men ignored me. The women tittered behind hands with henna-tipped nails. They left me to my own devices.
I stood writing a postcard to my dear friend whom I haven't seen in many years. I wrote in pencil, pressing against a rough wall.

The air smelled of thyme. There was the sound of birds.
Orioles, I thought.