Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Provenance.


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.
BEWARE OF IMITATIONS.


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
Jánoshegyi.



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.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The call of objects.


I had some nice little lily pads in the city, back when I was a single woman. Most of my possessions have been packed away for almost three years now, but one day I will unpack my crates and gasp. Sometimes, at night when I lie awake, I walk through those places - peering into cupboards and drawers - wondering if I still have that bent spoon, or the postcard from Japan that was written in spirals.


Of course, as I suffer from degenerate collecting disease, I bring things home all the time.
This week has been a doozy.

 The plate is tilted only because I was not paying attention. I love old porcelain maker's marks.

I popped into Randall Hare's shop in Wynberg. He is one of the last true gentlemen in town. A wonderful collection of old Cape furniture and Boer War pieces. He restores everything himself, beautifully.
The shop smells wonderful: resin, beeswax, wood shavings.

This wee bird box from the early 1900's drew me in an irresistible way.

If I were to stay at home and garden and cook, surely I would want less. But alas, I am working on a huge commercial for a small chocolate bar. The work depresses me and I seek rewards. 

A few weeks ago, on a hot, hot day, I met my friend Niki in town. We sat at Café Mozart, under the trees. Niki remembers those trees when they were small. When he was my lecturer at university, he was younger than I am now.

That's me in my rockabilly dress. I never told him about the black beast who lives next door, but there he is! Zorro the chihuahua.
A few nights later, as the tall man and I sat down to dinner, a bat zoomed by in the garden..

The painting was a Christmas gift from me to the tall man. My friend Mrs Owl gave a loo revamp to Mr Owl for Christmas. I've been meaning to ask her how she kept it a secret.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

The eye of a needle.

Not overwhelmed by the art, I wandered around looking at other things.

Someone had ordered a flower arrangement and said:
I want something different.

If I had R 50 000 lying around, I might have bought this sculpture.

My mother remembers Tretchikoff selling his paintings in Garlicks - a department store in town, in the 60's.
She found them rather awful, though my grandmother had his "Lost Orchid" hanging in the hallway, above a half moon table with a crystal bowl of Gerrie Hoek dahlias from the garden.
I often fell asleep with that picture in my mind, imagining the woman who had lost her corsage.


What a pity is elitism. That a ticket for the exhibit costs R120, putting it out of reach of the majority of the city.

Our moody valley.

If you don't act fast, you share everything with the birds.


I don't mind. The figs on our small tree were honey-sweet and delicious.

There is a new star in the garden: the Andean Manzano chilli. Inside, the black seeds sit in a brain-shaped cluster.
The plant has dark furry leaves, the flowers are purple. Medium hot flesh, very juicy and fruity.

The bee balm bush is full of shaggy flowers. A plant wonderful in so many ways that it has been named several times. Bergamot, horsemint, oswego tea and monarda.

I am reminded of a woman I saw at the art fair - she wore her hair as extra clothing - a scarf, a shawl, a floating set of sleeves.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

My Valentine.

A quiet man.
He lays out my clean laundry in interesting combinations.










When I'm down, he doesn't leave me alone until I crack a smile.
For Valentine's day, he gives me bunches of lilies and heart-shaped Lindt.

Not bad for a non-believer.