REPORT A PROBLEM
First day of spring in the South (so first day of ‘fall’ or autumn for most of you out there) and the fragrance of the Jasmine fills the air. It seems quite short-lived -- the Jasmine in its prime -- so should be appreciated while it’s happening.
When I arrived in London, I was told that the desk at which I’d be working had “a great view”, so my heart sank when all I saw was buildings. No trees to be seen, or birds to be heard.
I’m thinking of the reasons I’m happy to be here, rather than there.
Julie’s mention of being delayed going through security at the airport, due to her belly ring, makes me wonder what it must be like now at Heathrow… At least six (visible) body piercings seemed standard in London! Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a
“First tattoo? Next tattoo? Favorite tattoo?” asks Jeff.
In a lecture on Tahiti, Tim mentions how one of the main fears of the early explorers was being tattooed. “Those were the days”, I mutter under my breath. Got a laugh form Alex. I’m still afraid of tattoos. Apart from the needles… how they’ll look when I’m sixty!
Talking with the caretaker of my building (also just returned from holiday, visiting his son in Canada) we talk about the Parthenon (temple in honour of Athena) in Greece, which he also visited a few years ago. It is said that it took six generations to build. It’s extraordinary to think of that kind of commitment now, looking back from this (post)modern age. Perhaps it was easier that way, when your life was mapped out for you. Now they tell you “you can be anything you want”, but for those for whom the dream cannot be true, it is cruel.
‘Mother please forgive me for I have sinned. It’s been six weeks since my last exercise class.’ But it feels good to be back. Surprisingly I had lots of energy today (probably the coffee I had just beforehand, yes, I confess – I lapsed. How can you be in Greece and not drink coffee?) But there was something else also. A feeling of being
my body. I think that was definitely something I picked up in Greece. I marvelled at the way the women there
their bodies, of all shapes and sizes (much like African women). So unlike Hollywood.
“In the middle of nowhere”. Ever thought about that expression? I’ve just been watching
The Money Game
, where three contestants get dropped -- with ZAR 30 000.00, and three days to make three deals + turn a profit (in the genre of
- yes, I’m a reality tv addict!) -- in the middle of nowhere. Of course to the people who live there it’s somewhere. It’s their home. And who are ‘we’ to decide where is
? South African playwright Pieter-Dirk Uys once described Cape Town, my home town, as “the Southern tip of nowhere”. Those were the days.
“Losing teeth” says Julie, is “dramatic and traumatic”. It’s true. So different from when we were six, and wiggled and jiggled loose teeth to get them out, or tied one end of a piece of cotton to the tooth, and one to a door and slammed the door to pull it out. With lots of excitement, because it was currency, and either the mouse or the tooth fairy would retrieve the tooth and leave some money. No more to be had after this. My doctor reckons maybe one day we’ll grow a third set of teeth. Long after I’m gone.
Why is it that people travel to faraway places, and then complain that there aren’t enough people like them there? Surely the whole point of travelling to
different places is to experience
. Different climate, different people, different food. That doesn’t mean you have to
it. But to complain about it almost seems stupid, and such a waste, too. As Theroux put it (yes him again, and I promise he’s not paying me, but the essay’s finished, so maybe I’ll stop quoting him – then again maybe I won’t): “Only a fool blames a bad vacation on the rain.”
I once had a theory that if you sat in the same place at a party all night, sooner or later everyone would come round your way. You could pretty much get to talk to everyone there. Seems to be the same with life. Sometimes staying in one place, and watching everything change around you, can be almost as enlightening as travelling. Like watching time in motion. And the passing of the seasons. A time to move, and a time to sit still. But sometimes it’s the hardest thing to do. To not try and outrun our demons. Sunday thoughts.
Ever have that feeling that you’re being watched… by the UNIVERSE?
He mails me from Amsterdam at 12am, and I send back a note saying: Go to bed! Of course
don’t. In the morning, after reading his: “and i did”, I go down to the mailbox to find an envelope, with my name on it, and a little yellow sticker saying: “Go to bed!” I look around. Who’s there?! But no, it’s just Telkom, with a clever advertising ploy. “It’s easy to get tangled in our web,” it says. You better believe it! I’m not buying any more services!
how the most fraudulent people often have a very good eye for the genuine article?” Bruce Chatwin said to Nicholas Shakespeare at their first meeting. Shakespeare kept a diary at the time, and never imagined he would become Chatwin’s biographer after his death, nor the role that he would play in disclosing Chatwin’s creative reinterpretations. As Shakespeare put it: “Generally speaking, he did not subtract from the truth so much as add to it. His achievement… is not to depict Patagonia as it really is, but to create a landscape called Patagonia.” Much like the aboriginal
Perhaps the strangest thing about the writer, is that you can be invisible. Unless -- like Bruce Chatwin -- you are gregarious, and physically attract people to yourself in one way or another, you can be like a fly on the wall, and no-one would ever know. I can understand why people like Steinbeck never want to be photographed or interviewed. It seems like the perfect way to express yourself artistically, without losing your privacy. I’m having these thoughts, because I’ve been reading him all these months, and never knew he was the person I’d studied with for a year.
Speaking of sitting in the same spot… it’s the second day in a row that he’s walked by now. He being the winner of last week’s
, and he bought lottery tickets today. I swear! (Hey, it’s a small world, but an even smaller country.) Well, I suppose that’s the answer isn’t it? Like the joke about the guy who prays to God to help him win the lottery, and God says: “Work with me, buy a lottery ticket!” I guess you have to be willing to gamble… The boy with the tongue ring won yesterday. Way to go!
Reading Kapuscinksi (Poland’s first foreign correspondent, witnessed 27 coups in “nearly as many countries”) over cappuccino, he writes of border posts in Angola: “Then we have to wait. Wait and wait, which we spend our whole life here doing. But this has it’s good side, since shared waiting leads to mutual familiarity and closeness... If there is time, we can tell them something about Poland… There isn’t a single baobab in Poland… Everybody has shoes. You can go barefoot there only in the summer. In winter a barefoot person could get frost-bite and die. Die from going barefoot? Ha! Ha!”
Key Words, Problem Words, Words I Love
by Milan Kundera (excerpted from “Sixty-three Words,” a chapter in The
Art of the Novel
): aphorism, beauty, being, comic, definition, elitism, europe, excitement, flow, forgetting, ideas, inexperience, interview, irony, kitsch, laughter, letters, macho, meditation, message, modern, novel, novelist, rewriting, rhythm, soviet, temps modernes.
The “novel as an art: irony” says Kundera, and “moral ambiguity… The novelist makes no great issue of his ideas. He is an explorer feeling his way in an effort to reveal some unknown aspect of existence… The writer inscribes himself… on the map of the history of ideas.”
We talk about writer-as-spy... Okay, how about today? (Careful what you say over your latte. Just
like I’m reading!)
Very big, very camp man:
“No breakfast will be served in Zimbabwe… unless you’re in a plane flying
“And you’re not flying
!” his friend adds.
(It feels hard to find funny. Specially since the headline staring up at me says: “166 SA children die from starvation”.) But
He continues “… he didn’t
to pick him up! I mean he didn’t
to get laid!”
His cell phone rings. Pity. Was just getting interesting.
I was trying to think what excuse I could give myself today for missing my exercise class. And then I realised… it’s a Jewish holiday, so there won’t be one!
The Day of Atonement.
I’m sure there’s lots I can atone for, apart from skipping classes. Funny, this is the only Jewish holiday, that
Jew I know -- religious or not -- observes. Almost to the point of superstition. The Christians get “original sin”, the Catholics weekly confession, and the Jews… “hey, they schlepped through the desert for you, don’t tell me
day a year you can’t fast!”
I’m on antibiotics again, and this time I can feel war going on in my body, so it’s really unfortunate to be doing Redmond O’Hanlon’s
In Trouble Again
through the Amazon: “There is Chagas’ disease… carried by various species of Assassin bugs… between one and twenty years later you begin to die from incurable damage to the heart and brain…, leishmaniasis… a bit like leprosy… unless treated quickly, it eats away at the warm extremities…, the odd exotic… which erupted in the state of Para…killing seventy-one people, including the research unit…” I’ll eat my yoghurt and hope for the best!
“D’you need a lift?”
“No thanks, I’m going with the doctor.”
“Oh, a teacher’s not good enough for you?” Michelle responds.
“You notice how we’ve been stereotyped,” adds Sue.
“Well then stereotype me,” I respond. “I’d love to see how I’m stereotyped.”
“I don’t know
you are,” says Michelle. “I suppose I think of you as an artist.”
“I’m looking for an artistic-type to go to the Miro exhibition with me,” says Roz.
“I’m game,” I say.
“So’m I,” says Sue.
So we’re all going on a little adventure to downtown Johannesburg…
The end of your average Callanetics class.
Sue explaining to me how it all works is empowering, but also a bit intimidating. “Sensitive to cold?” Yes. “Well the earache is because the infection causes inflammation, so your nerve endings are inflamed. So you get rid of the infection with the antibiotics, but you also have to get rid of the inflammation.” Did you know that good old-fashioned aspirin works for pain, temperature and as an anti-inflammatory? The people I pay aren’t half as helpful! Co-ordinating medication, in this voyage through my body, is like co-ordinating connecting flights. Got to get it so the whole journey hangs together.
“I like to write as though I’ve just found something that interests me, and I want to share it,” says Tim. Makes sense to me. That’s probably why I quote so much. It’s usually other people’s writing that I’ve found, that has inspired a thought. I want to take you on a journey through their books and their thoughts. Usually when I buy books, I check their bibliographies first. Who inspired the writer’s thoughts? Do we have a similar frame of reference? Maybe that’s also the pleasure of coming from the same physical place as another person. A common language.
The big difference between writing and the theatre, is in the laughs. Of course it’s rare that anybody ever reads your work in your company (well certainly mine at any rate), so it came as a shock when he read my essay summary and laughed out loud. That gave me a lot of pleasure. I know I read others’ stuff and guffaw, but it never really occurs to me that others may be laughing at mine. My sense of humour always feels like an in joke to me -- between me and me -- I love to laugh. Out loud.
In the theatre, we wait for the laugh. Maybe it will come, maybe not. If it comes, we must wait for it to rise, and fall, before we continue with our next line. The audience and the actors must work in harmony, like an orchestra. Each playing their parts. Your laughter is your contribution to the performance. We are grateful. We don’t take it for granted. We must work together. In my acting days, friends would sometimes say at the bar after a performance: “I knew you were in tonight – I recognised your laugh!” The signatures of laughter and footsteps.
I now have a VERY unwelcome houseguest… a HUGE spider. I know, I’m bigger than it is, but it’s very hard not to be aware of its presence. My flat is one large room, so although it was in the living room last night, we were effectively sleeping in the same room, so I had visions of it crawling where it shouldn’t. I awoke to find it in a corner of the bathroom, all folded up into its version of the foetal position (having 8 legs and all) to go to sleep (I didn’t know they do that!) Oy vay!
, so let me reflect on my heritage: a flat by the sea, a sense of humour, tenacity, honesty (from my point of view), love of music, words, fierce independence, stubbornness, impatience, independent thinking, free-spiritedness, creativity, curiosity, observant, sense of responsibility, appreciation of my own company, good books, good friends, simplicity, imagination, optimism, pragmatism, idealism, love of solitude, love of order, attention to detail, meticulousness, perceptiveness, communication, outspokenness, tactlessness(sometimes), anxiety, insecurity, adventurousness, love of home, talkativeness, fair skin that burns in the sun, dark eyes, small stature, night-owlishness, an enquiring mind, good eyesight, good hearing, endurance, hope.
“I can get a bus in Papua New Guinea where people have bones through their noses, and I can’t get a bus in Johannesburg!” she complained. It was 1984, and
was Lesley, a native Johannesburger, but intrepid traveller. We were waitressing together, but I think it was hard for her to readapt to the ruffled shirts and bow ties and shaven legs. But she needed to make some money before she set off on her next adventure. I was somewhat in awe of her. The people who pass through our lives en route… I wonder whatever became of her.
I wonder why I dreamt about her. Like that specifically. I know there’s a whole lot about her activist life that I know nothing about, and can’t begin to imagine (I think it’s what makes her hard for me to reach/read now) but I wonder if it was like that, all the wheeling and dealing. It’s slipping away now. Felt much more profound as I was dreaming it. But isn’t that always the way. I wonder where she is/how she is now. She seemed grateful about my honesty about finding her hard to reach. Then went up in a puff-of-smoke.
It seems a cruel trick of fate that some of us end up with talents that we don’t particularly want or appreciate. She was a very clever playwright, with an astute and original eye for pop-culture, but she told me once: “I’ve always been able to write. Always won the essay prise. But I
!” So she went off to Hollywood. A beautiful woman, and quite a talented actress, but not a Charlize Theron, or an Embeth Davidz, she ended up winning a screen writing competition, and going on to become a successful screenwriter. Wonder if she’s happy…
And then there was Arnold Vosloo. I stayed with his girlfriend when I first arrived in Johannesburg, and he very kindly lent me a mattress. He also went off to Hollywood. One director here said: “He’ll have to lose that accent!” But it didn’t seem to matter. He always seemed to play villains, and any vaguely South African/Eastern European accent would do. Now he seems to have turned his career to being
. A funny thought to me… You arrive and the pearly gates, and St. Peter says: “So what did you do with your life?” “I was
And then there was Gail. She also went off to Los Angeles. Lost a lot of weight, and ended up marrying a director. I visited her about ten years later. It was a rather strange evening as I recall. We ate spaghetti with a tomato sauce that came out of a jar. I never could understand the point of that. And her husband kept slipping off into the bedroom to watch video extracts. Bobbie told me angrily later that her husband was in fact a pornographer (!) The mind boggles. Needless to say, we all lost contact after that. Hindsight.
“Hindsight is an exact science,” Ingrid always says (I’m sure it’s not original). It is fascinating to look back twenty years and see who we all became (or course we’re still becoming, goes without saying). That was the thing about drama school. “When I think about all that money that I spent, and you’re not even acting!” says Margie’s mother. If she only knew. Working in advertising, and owning her own business, she’s at least one of those making an – albeit modest – living. “Some of the happiest years of our lives. I wouldn’t change it for the world,” says Margie.
The Tip Jar