Saturday, December 29, 2012

Binding Spells.

 Paul Theroux writes about the soundtrack of Africa - it is not the trumpeting of elephants nor the roar of lions... it is the coo-cooing of the turtle dove. This soundtrack has followed me my whole life long, wherever I have lived. Lucky.

We laugh at the turtle doves flirting on the ridge of the roof. We don't wear shoes and sultry air sashays over bare skin.
There are no mirrors here - only the eyes of another.
We are building a secret vocabulary.

While I was away, the lilies died and the jacaranda burst into green.
Tonight we'll build a fire under the cooking moon.
I will make ice cream with mangoes and mint.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Eva's broken hearted chicken.

As I cooked, I realized with a pang that I was making something very similar to one of my grandmother's signature dishes. She would send me to the garden to pick the parsley and to pull a bunch of shallots. And I would watch...

You skin the chicken pieces and chop some of the fatty bits finely, along with a couple of rashers of bacon, also finely chopped. Fry in a skillet until nicely browned - the fat rendered. Remove with a slotted spoon. Dredge the chicken pieces in seasoned flour, brown in the same skillet. Return the bacon and skins, shallots, some slivers of garlic, plenty of chopped parsley, a cup of chicken stock and half a cup of dry sherry. Bake at 180C/350F for about forty minutes, basting a couple of times.

 My grandmother never served this dish hot - as it cools, the gravy turns into a delicious jelly, wonderful with a few slices of chicken, on a fresh bread roll.
We ate it warm, with basmati and a salad of chopped heritage tomatoes, charred red pepper and parsley. I made a dressing of balsamic - the one thickened with figs, Mission olive oil from the Karoo and Turkish chili flakes. The vinegar settled into a fat question mark and I could almost feel her there next to me.

I learnt so much in my grandmother's kitchen. I wish I could cook her a meal. I wish I could take her shopping and introduce her to this new wealth of ingredients. She is the one who came to our "Grease" party dressed as a Greek peasant. The one whose ring I now own. A sweet-smelling rose called Aurora. Crumbs for the birds on the lawn. Freshly baked brown bread and apricot jam.

If I had to condense my grandmother into one word, it would be kindness.

Happy Birthday Ouma.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dog days.

Overtaken by great fatigue, I nap at odd times of the day and sleep for hours, hours every night. The fan whirrs and brings forth dreams of flying contraptions, lemonade stands by the seaside, trickery and deceit.

Finally, tomorrow, this job is over as well. Storms large and small dismissed to a hazy past. The broken axles, the car stuck on the tree stump, the Teutonic alarm clocks... 
Man down on one of the final shoot days: we lost our strapping truck driver to a tummy ache. He disdained the on-set medic and insisted on traditional herbs. Perhaps an offering to Mami Wata, as one does in Cameroon. You try explaining that to a Cranky German Director.

Said CGD left South Africa in a huff, never to return. I was happy to see the back of him and his horses, his temper tantrums and stories of sexual prowess between takes having worn thin particularly fast.

So here's to the return of normality, to cooking, to spending time with the ones I love.

To peace.

Friday, November 30, 2012

To unwind.

This wind, we call it the Cape Doctor, because it blows away the smog and the cobwebs. But also, we call it the Black Southeaster, because
it blows for days and sets our teeth on edge. Girls hold on to their dresses.
Brave or stupid.

My bedroom in the eaves creaks and groans like a ship in a gale. Across the road, a sheet of glass crashes down from a fifth floor window in the middle of the night.
I wake to a day that is the colour of pigeons. The street glitters, all glass shards and oak twigs.
Jacaranda blossoms have blown from over the street and up three stories to carpet my floor.

A precious day off - I shut down my phone and the world doesn't end.
I try not to think about rings of fire, smoke tunnels, (small) waterfalls and other outlandish requests. It feels so good to walk and talk, buffeted by the wind.
Burgers and beer at Royale, books to read in the late afternoon.
Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Woes of a Set Decorator.

At the house where we are shooting, there is a beautiful green-eyed cat. He has large patches of fur and his tail missing. I ask the housekeeper about the cat and she laughs disparagingly: "Nerves! The cat has a nervous condition, can you believe..." Both the housekeeper and the full-time maid lie watching cable during the day and the house is very, very dirty. We clean as we work.

The nervous condition... I do believe. How did a lover of peace like me land in this industry?
Things move at a frantic pace, sleep is interrupted by nightmares of spiral staircases and scattered baby teeth. A permanent list by the bedside. One in a notebook, one on my phone. We are thinly spread and this results in barking and growling, small but momentously important things forgotten.
We eat lunch as we drive, in supermarket queues or in parking lots. Sometimes we forget to eat.

The director, fresh from a job in the Amazon, arrives with six pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage. He smells of sandalwood, he smokes cigars. Mistakes? Not acceptable. Could you replace my Maglite and bring me a campaign bed to rest on between takes and where can I buy Ostrich and Crocodile skins?
The actress takes over the newly dressed set, wrinkling the crisply ironed linen, getting make up on the pillows.

I curse this job, I think it may be hexed. At every traffic light and in between, there are the familiar beggars and the new. This makes me feel worse.
How dare I complain?
I spend my Tuesday off looking for a hinge on which the story hangs, but after the sixth far-flung source I am still empty handed. I want to roll in the grass. I want ease and I want sweet sleep and I want soft, soft words.

That is what I want.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

New things.

A time of novelty.
For weeks now I have been waiting for the Jacaranda trees to start flowering. The branches were full of swelling purple black buds which burst into bloom overnight. The Southeaster took the first flush of blossoms in one fell swoop, covering the pavements with a lilac veil.

Every morning as I drove to work, I saw the bus terminus under the bridge unfolding with new beauty. Freddy Sam was painting, Miss Lovell crafting her mosaics.

The Madiba money came out.
Strangers compared notes in supermarket queues.

A car
grew fur.

Monday, November 5, 2012

German George is Dead.

Nobody could save George, and he is probably better off dead than living the haunted life of his old age. I am sad and angry that I no longer have the photograph of him, his hair and beard glowing, backlit in winter sun. It was a great record of George, and would have been a fitting epitaph, not for any reason connected to picture taking or to cameras, lighting or lensing, but because of the way he revealed himself as both unbelievably strong (in the sense of unbreakable) and very intelligent. These qualities seemed at odds with the wear and tear he had put on himself, the relentless alcohol consumption, the lack of care, of housing, of any purpose but to survive another day. George had painted my old mini that year. He began by taking things apart. "This is not a repair, John... It is a restoration." Months later, the car was in pieces which he no longer remembered having ever seen: everyday a new coat of primer went on, followed by a coat of paint and later he would sand it all off with paper rough enough to gouge deep scratches into the surface, which he would fill the following day with another coat of primer. It was when George offered to help out with an electrical problem that I realized that he was completely colour blind. He could barely see, but managed to get by through touch and by navigating between the tones of light and darkness. Perhaps this was when I deleted the photograph, "Arsehole!" ... and swore never to offer him work again. His home was an old Kombi on André's farm, and it was clear that he was going nowhere from the day that he arrived. He had been living for some time in this car outside his countryman Willie's house in Tamboerskloof. It was when the police threatened to arrest him and confiscate the car (which contained all George's possessions) that Willie arranged for it to be moved on a tow truck to a spot outside André's studio. George subsisted on odd jobs. If one couldn't afford a proper repair or service or one was just too mean to pay, then George was the man. So he was always in work, but never earned enough to repair his own car, which was engine-less, wheel-less, radiator-less and rusted. He would lure me into a discussion on the merits of cars and motors: "John, if I can just get a BM 1800 motor, I will drive anywhere in this Kombi". He insisted on a fee of R200, paid at the end of each day. He refused work that only offered payment on completion. And so jobs dragged on and on, because his daily fee was spent on supplies, some meat, sugar, bread, a bottle of old brown sherry. And he would be too sick to work the next day. He would pass out on the bed in the Kombi, the door open, his meat cooking on the tiny battered Weber - to awake convinced that the farm children had stolen his supper - but the dogs were never blamed. The next day the Kombi's sliding door would remain shut until late in the afternoon. Or it had not been closed and George was displayed inside, as if dead, surrounded by flies. It was André or Peter van Heerden who suggested installing George and his Kombi as an artwork and for a while afterwards the encampment was referred to as The Turner.
I had met George in two earlier incarnations, both forgotten - in the early 1970s when he was a prosperous engineer and was one of a group of German expats whom we Space Theatre people would observe gathering in Willie's restaurant, The Blue Lodge (Black Forest cake and Eisbein, under a glass counter, framed of black square tubular steel, perhaps built by George?). We were young and ignorant and liberal and imagined that these were reunions of ex ww2 soldiers, that the songs they sung were fascist, that they celebrated Hitler's Birthday. Forty years later when I got to know George a little on the farm, I learnt that he wasn't really German, the story is half forgotten but he was by ancestry partly Polish. When my friend Braam, who later became Braam the Props Man, phoned me in 1993 to let me in on a great sale of wood and steel and timber that he had just found at a house in Brooklyn, I met George a second time, without at that moment realizing that I had seen him, often, twenty years before. This was when he became 'German' George. That is how Braam and myself identified the various supplies we bought that day at cut price and used for years to come... "Do you still have any of that German George Plywood?" The house was in chaos. Bottles were piled up on every surface and in every corner. George had been building an ocean going sailing boat, or planning to. The garden was full of the pieces that would have one day made the boat: steel plating, sheets of plywood, poles and rods and tubes. A marine diesel engine in a crate. The tools with which it was to be made - saws, bending presses, welding machines, hoists. “Everything must go, must go”, he was jumping around like a fairground barker: a muscular man with red hair, half young, half pissed, surrounded by a crew of drinking women of the night. This was George. He was forced to sell everything (a divorce, an estranged wife), and then he turned up at Erf 81, about ten years ago, a white haired derelict in his own car cemetery. In his prime George had worked for visiting formula one teams. He spoke of Nigel (Manson), had built the red Eduardo Villa sculpture outside the civic center and once gave me a lecture on colour theory, which spanned heraldry and racing cars, Norse Mythology, and the psychology of fear. Now he is dead and I am happy for him.

Text and photos published with kind permission from my friend John Nankin. He is a great writer. I often encountered German George on my rambles at the Military Farm, which is around the corner from where I live. I would mostly take a wide berth around his van, as one could never be sure what his mood would be like on any particular day.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Familiar.

When I was a child, most people in South Africa didn't know what Halloween was. I remember wondering about it whilst reading the Archie comics, but the holiday itself and all of its' customs passed us by.
Now, with the world becoming a smaller place, you find some Halloween candy and big orange pumpkins at Pick'n'Pay and a few people actually go out trick-or-treating.

 Yesterday at twilight, as I turned into the driveway, I saw a gathering of people in costume up on the hill. There's a cat who lies at the end of my driveway more often than not, and the ritual is that I go and have a chat at the end of each day.
While we were talking, I heard a woman call my name, rather sweetly. Then a man joined in, but he sounded really irate. Lily! Li-LY!! Eventually with a growl: "She just never listens!"
I walked out and there they were. She: top hat, skull make-up, short red cloak. Him: swirling orange cloak with a big black bat applique on the back. Further down the road, looking disconsolate but rooted to the spot: shiny brown sausage dog.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Home is where I want to be, but I guess I'm already there.

I fall asleep with images swirling in my head.
Blustery days, unexpected meetings on the street, abandoned gloves on the sidewalk,
the photographer in black.
Sean Penn in This Must Be The Place.
The view from the 26th floor of a building on the foreshore - windows with latches, now screwed shut.
The long legged man under a pomegranate tree.
Fragments of old porcelain from a park in the Bokaap.

My neighbor is such a bad piano player. Discordance wakes me, interrupting my dreams of animal metamorphosis. That white horse again - eating red apples in my kitchen, the floor a mess of juice and pulp. I lie there wincing, waiting for the next false note.
I think of Salieri, shouting at Mozart.
And I wonder...
what does one read after Murakami's 1Q84?
1318 pages, so few notes,
such beautiful simplicity.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Girls with pink boots and some horses I know.

Years and years ago, before I had a car, I used to catch buses and walk much more than I do today. So it had been many years since I found myself on foot, walking past the big bus terminus near the Grand Parade. The same queues of bored-looking people, a large woman sitting with her legs spread wide open, shouting at the passers-by. The hustle and the bustle. We passed a shallow doorway and two thin and tattooed men were crouched there, the one meticulously shaving the other one's head with a naked razor blade. We strode across to the Castle of Good Hope, to see a photography exhibition.

you stole the show.
Happy Birthday!

A few nights ago, I had a dream about a grey horse. Since then I have been feeling a little sad. But there are other horses out there. Bigger ones.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Does your heart beat true to me dear...

Post cards, letters, inscriptions in books... by people I will never know. Recently I bought a second hand copy of Don't Try This At Home, subtitled Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Cooks and Chefs.

On the flyleaf it has this inscription:
Dear Lawrence
Happy Christmas
xxx Love Me xxx
(with many hand-drawn hearts)

Surely, if Lawrence felt the same way about Me, he'd have treasured the book - it's a beautiful hardcover, with thick cellophane over the paper cover. The book is so pristine in fact, I fear I am the only reader.
That Lawrence.

I found two old postcards today at the boot sale. They are mysterious and touching. Written 98 years ago by C, to an undisclosed sweetheart. The copperplate fades and darkens, as the nib gets dipped into the ink.

The first, dated 14/9/14:
Does your heart beat true to me dear
You have not answered yet
But by a smile on your face dear
My answer I shall get,
C x

The second, almost a month later, simply reads:
Lots of Love dear
to you
C. x