Tuesday, 28 May 2013

They can all/just kiss off into the air

Nicholas Mirzoeff is here.

Initially I did not understand why everyone was so very taken with him. It is just another person, another Professor presenting some lecture on some topic using some words that I don't understand.
Now, I can comprehend why he is the academic equivalent of a rock star. And he is very nice, too.

Visual Culture Studies is not the most widely known field of research. When people ask what it is, I am not even entirely sure myself, although this searching for the visual and what it means is what I am passionate about. Often VCS or just Visual Studies is hidden away in some corner, stashed behind the star attraction that is graphic design or fine art or even art history. We are a field without clear parameters, and as such revel in interdisciplinarity (ja, I know, that is not really a word, but the perks of not knowing what you are doing for sure are the ability to add -ity and -ness whenever you feel like something needs distinction).

Now, with a NYU professor coming to South Africa, coming to speak to US, it validates this existing in the corner and this incomprehension by others (and perhaps by ourselves, too, at least in my case). Having someone come and say, hey, the way you are thinking and questioning and wondering is great, we need to re-evaluate what we know, we are on the cusp of a revolution in the way the world is seen, well, that is like a pat on the shoulder from a father who never shows any emotion.

It's a much bigger deal than I had initially realised.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Blurred Lines

The words on the paper read "Casual Staff needed". Nothing more. I was waiting for my mom to finish at the bank, so I went in and asked about the position. The manager wasn't there but I got her e-mail address and sent my CV. Then I heard nothing for a few days, so I assumed the position had been filled.

On Thursday I received an e-mail asking if I could stop by, and then the manager lady asked if I could start the following day. In my eagerness I agreed.

The day started at 8.30 and ended at 17.36, with one hour lunch break. What did I do for 8 hours? I stood behind a cash register, scanned items, packed them in bags and had people pay me large amounts for art supplies. It was the very opposite of exciting.

Lunch time was the highlight, because in the shopping centre there are three benches, and all the shops' employees crowd onto the benches. It was really stupidly designed to not at least plan a little green area outside or add more benches or something for people to sit on. I was sitting alone, wondering what to do for an hour, when a lady who works as a cashier at the Pick 'n Pay came and sat next to me. She was eating a custard-pudding mix for lunch and started asking about the new job.

Two other ladies arrived. They tried teaching me some Sotho. I sounded very white trying to say "Dumela", "O kae?" and "Ke teng", which is hello-how are you-I'm fine. They told be that earning R200 (a bit less than €20 at the current exchange rate) a day is an ok salary, and if there were other jobs available because the one lady's sister was looking for work.

The manager at the store had told be she was looking for young students to work on occasion, and she did not want to sound racist when she said she wanted to hire people who were good with customers. It is a really disparate situation: here I am, thinking that this is really bad pay for a days work because I am overqualified and cannot imagine how anyone could survive on a salary of R4000 per month. Rent alone costs that, never mind paying for anything else. And then there is this lady's sister who is in desperate need of a job, but she can't even apply for it because she is not what they are looking for.

I know it is like that in every job, that employers have a specific idea of what they want, which is naturally their right. But this job? It is not hard to learn, one needs no real previous experience except for actually being able to talk to people.

Meanwhile the government is spending excessive amounts on renaming streets and building toll-roads that no-one can really afford. Good lord, people. I do not understand how you cannot see that educating people and giving them basic access to services is more important than throwing a big bash for fat cats that are all abusing their countries in the same way.  It seems that in Africa, maybe everywhere?, as soon as one has power one becomes corrupt.

A friend of mine in Romania started this group called Incubator 107, and I think their aim is cultural interaction through everyone teaching everyone else something. I don't understand Romanian, so it could be completely wrong. I think it is aimed more at an artistic exchange of abilities, but for a South African context the same model could perhaps be adapted to have a more educational component: how to write a proper CV, how to dress and act during an interview, basic computer literacy, etc.

There are so many charity organisations, so many volunteers that come from overseas, so many people willing to help one another. I just wonder how one could get the government to realise they are working for the people, not for themselves, and that improving the situation for all in South Africa is more important than drafting the Secrecy Bill or flying up an entourage to celebrate the AUs 50th birthday.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

It's a Good Life

My mom reused the birth-announcement-card as a birthday card this year. Now I know I was born at 00.25 AM. Being born at twenty-five minutes into the day turned out to be a good sign for my 25th birthday. It was the first time in my life that there was no one in the house with me on the day. Normally someone puts out flowers and presents and a cake, even if they had to already leave for work/school.

This time my mom wrote down clues for me to find objects stashed in the house. It wasn't entirely successful because she thought writing down clues about what the present was, and not about its location, would help me find them. No wonder we suck when we're partners in 30 Seconds. Nothing a phone call couldn't fix though.

I am aware that as soon as you hit the double digits, birthdays become less cool. No more goodie bags at the end of a party, no more running around and frolicking in the pool, no more waiters at Spur bringing you something with candles on it and singing to you. Then all you care about is turning 16, turning 18 and getting your licence, and, the big one, turning 21, because then you are an adult and your parents pay for your last big fiesta.

I am still not an adult, but somehow, 25 feels like no one can treat me like a child any more. At a quarter of a century into life, it is a great balance between having experienced enough not to be a completely ignorant fool who thinks she knows everything (me at 19) and still being young enough to depart from what I know without the weight of mortgages, car payments and a long career at the same company.

This was the first birthday of being a semi-adult where I thought, well, you might just be able to do anything you want successfully. And the reason for this was all the great people I have in my life. My mom made a gigantic effort to bake a cake and organise a treasure hunt. She also involved my aunt and cousin to fly up a cape I wanted (yes, cape, like superman-ish, but better). My sister also helped with this cross-country endeavour and spent hours looking for a silk dress she thought I might like (I do).

My friend K planned a super surprise brunch date, with awesome self-made presents. Another friend called completely out of the blue from France and sent me the funniest YouTube video. I got  'Happy Birthday' sung to me via WhatsApp and sent in messages, in emails, in Facebook posts. Other friends, family and neighbours called. Often, sure, it was because someone had been told by FB that this was the day of my birth, but I appreciated all the little and great efforts equally.

William Somerset Maugham said that "we are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person". A birthday provides the opportunity to reflect on what one has done in the past year, how things have changed or not, and which friends you still wish to invite to your party. I remember how I realised a friendship was over: for the first time since 7th grade, I was not invited to her birthday party. 

Somehow, this birthday made me realise the truth of W. Somerset Maugham's quote: things change all the time, people drift apart, and we should value the ones that remain, steadily, in your life because they are the one's that will make an effort to celebrate you being born even if you aren't throwing a party this year. They are the ones that will be there throughout the curve balls that life throws at us, and in turn, so will you, because nobody can make it on their own. 

Never without cake. This one: Frozen Chocolate Mousse Cake. 

Thursday, 16 May 2013


My sister calls it my "flop": I made gluten-free brownies once, where one had to mush up a can of butter beans and use those instead of actual butter. The "brownies" were edible, but it was one of those weak attempts at making a healthy version of something that is not healthy. Rather eat one normal brownie than suffer through a few of the gluten-free ones. I don't see them as a flop though, rather as an experiment that won't be repeated. You can't stick to your fail-safe recipes when there are sites like foodgawker that present endless options to taste new things. Sometimes they turn out better, and sometimes worse.

Last Friday both my mom and sister returned home, so I relished the chance to actually make something for more than one person. The problem was the fridge didn't really contain much and in my standard outfit of a manly robe (think your grandfather, not Hugh Hefner) over tracksuit pants and an old Tshirt, well, it is not really what one should leave the house in. Not even if there is a fire.

So I found a cake to fit what I actually did have, and boom!, Mother's Day cake was sorted. And, hah, it was gluten-free as well. Te he he.

Nigella's clementine cake turned out really well, surprisingly.

Here are the ingredients and instructions (copy/pasted from her site, you can also simply follow the link above):


  • 375 grams clementines
  • large eggs
  • 225 grams white sugar
  • 250 grams ground almonds
  • teaspoon baking powder


  1. Put the clementines in a pan with some cold water, bring to the boil and cook for 2 hours. Drain and, when cool, cut each clementine in half and remove the pips. Dump the clementines - skins, pith, fruit and all - and give a quick blitz in a food processor (or by hand, of course). Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190ÂșC. Butter and line a 21cm Springform tin.
  2. You can then add all the other ingredients to the food processor and mix. Or, you can beat the eggs by hand adding the sugar, almonds and baking powder, mixing well, then finally adding the pulped oranges.
  3. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake for an hour, when a skewer will come out clean; you'll probably have to cover with foil or greaseproof after about 40 minutes to stop the top burning. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, on a rack, but in the tin. When the cake's cold, you can take it out of the tin. I think this is better a day after it's made, but I don't complain about eating it at any time.
  4. I've also made this with an equal weight of oranges, and with lemons, in which case I increase the sugar to 250g and slightly anglicise it, too, by adding a glaze made of icing sugar mixed to a paste with lemon juice and a little water.

I didn't have clementines, so instead used 4 small naartjies (tangerines, thank you Wikipedia). I could've also blended the cooked naartjies for a bit longer, because there were a few pieces of skin that were too big for my liking. Also, I think adding a shot or two of Cointreau would be quite tasty. My mom  (like Nigella) commented that it was better two days after it was made because by then it was really juicy. Lastly we had pomegranates so instead of icing the cake I just poured some pomegranate rubies over the cake, which also worked rather well.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

That invitation is all I'm waiting on

In one week I turn 25. I was watching Smash and the one character also celebrated her birthday. Her GBF tells her that birthdays present an opportunity reminisce about what one has achieved in the year and how one is different, somehow. Last year I was in the middle of my degree and I was all supercertain about where I was heading, but then came 2013 with its roller-coaster-ride of rejection and now it means is looking elsewhere. 

But with birthdays come presents, which are a lot of fun to find and wrap up. Ja, I get a bit overzealous when it comes to wrapping. A friend is also celebrating his birthday today, so his bottle of wine is hopefully made somewhat more exciting looking like this: 

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Choose your own adventure

My cousin posted this on FB, and I wish my graduation speech could have been like this. I can't even remember what we were told. Something about "go out there" and then "give back to the university". Pshhhh.

THIS IS WATER - By David Foster Wallace from The Glossary on Vimeo.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Walk it off.

It was not like touching another living thing. Snakes, dogs, cats, lovebirds, horses, sheep, cows, humans, everything that breathed still somehow conveyed its being-alive-ness. I mean, Jesus, that snake-touching was no fun because it was a 3m python, but still, through the clammy coldness it was alive and, well, it could (try to) eat me.

Not the elephant though. The elephant felt strangely like touching a stuffed museum exhibit. Her skin was harder than I had expected, seemingly impenetrable, with bristles sticking out and a layer of mud caked on. I knew she was observing me, and feeling me sort of man-handling her stomach, the bottom of her back foot, the hairs at the end of her tail and the patch of skin behind her eye with some kind of special gland in it (I wasn't listening as intently as I should have to the elephant handlers). It was as though I was playing every part in the parable of the blind men and the elephant, except that I knew I was touching an elephant.

Only upon touching the back of her ear did it feel less like interacting with a 7t dirty rock and more like she could crush me whenever she felt like it. I felt an interesting contradiction between fascinatedly touching something so big and powerful, but at the same time so silent and vulnerable. All the elephants at the sanctuary near Hartebeespoort are orphans. Their families had been culled because of overpopulation in the Kruger National Park, and they were the only ones that could be relocated. So aside from the threat of crocodiles mauling their trunks, predators attacking them and humans killing them for their ivory, the elephant is on the endangered species list because it needs space to survive, and we are encroaching on its habitat.

It was a bit sad to have to resort to making an interaction with elephants all about taking photographs. On the tour one hears almost everything one can about the loxodonta africana. Then one proceeds to feed them handfuls of pellets, after which one enters one by one to pat the elephant down and pose for a photograph. At the end one walks around an enclosure, with the elephant's trunk in hand.

The entire visit was very cool to experience, but it also felt a bit rehearsed, as though we were at Disneyland queueing to go on a ride. Here we were just queueing to touch something frightening and beautiful. For instance, for the trunk-in-hand walk, I know the elephant did not want me to hold his trunk (I was walking with a different one than Ms. Elephant) because he kept pulling it away. Which I can understand, I also don't like holding people's hands. But then the handler would authoritively say a command, and the trunk would be back in my hand. Sorry Mr. Elephant.

If you are ever in Gauteng and don't know what to do, this is great. But I would bear in mind that this is an animal that could crush you, and not merely a great photographic opportunity to show to your friends back home.

Hello Ms. Elephant

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Designed/ to keep me discreetly/ neatly in the corner

Whereas Pretoria is a well-trained dog, with its neat city grid and orderly street signs, Johannesburg is a constantly changing beast, a chimera of (all) sorts that breathes fire and continuously threatens your comfort zone. It is exhilarating though, crossing the border of whatever is familiar and heading to a place where the guide fuels the fear by telling you that if you stray, you will get robbed. Even the four security guards lined up in an orderly fashion in front of an office building smile when they say we should watch where we are going.

I don't know if we looked like victims because we were in full tourist gear (think backpacks, cameras, tickets for the hop-on-hop-off bus and a twinge of fear) or because our whiteness made us stick out like gulls in a sea of seals. Fear gains power if you are in an unknown area and have heard of its dangers. Hell, we live in South Africa, anything is dangerous, so I think most people just get on with their lives. If violence wants you, it will find you. All you can do is not be stupid (as in don't go into dark alleys, don't dangle your 7D from your neck, don't flash your Rolex), and find a little courage to remind you that most people are just like you and have no desire to rob or harm you. And for the few that do, well, we'll cross that bridge of trauma if/when it plants itself in our path.

We went to Joburg because a friend is here from Mexico and it seemed like a good excursion. We went up the Carlton Towers to see all of the city at our feet; we saw the Oppenheimer Park and the old Rissik Street post office; we marched onwards to the Johannesburg Library and peeked inside the Rand Club. Then we caught the bus to the Apartheid Museum (more on that in a future post). Afterwards we tried to get into the Origins Centre at Wits, but they were really unhelpful so we headed to the Wits Art Museum with the exhibition of Gerard Sekoto's work currently on show. Finally we went to Constitutional Hill and returned to Pretoria exhausted.

Most noticeable however were all the signs and graffiti. When you reside in suburbia it is all homes and fences and lawns, so to see some colour was one of the best parts of the day.

At Constitution Hill, the Bill of Rights is carved into the door.
Metal plaques with words from the South African public, who were asked to pen down their hopes and ideas in 2004. 

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky

The robbers wanted the jewellery.
I pointed at the earrings I had, mostly made of beads. They are valuable because there is the pair my friend brought me back as the gift; there are the ones another friend made out of coins for me for Christmas; there is the pair with the light-blue moonstone (?) that I stole from my mom and have never given back; there are gifts and self-bought earrings, but they have no dollar value that makes them worth stealing.
So the thief grabbed the box with the earrings I got for my 21st birthday, with jewellery I had bought as a child in Mexico, with objects I never really wore because they were too special. Hmm. Now someone else is wearing them.

Anyways. I am not so much for jewellery. Earrings, yes, bracelets, on occasion, but the rest you can keep. I like wearing earrings I have made myself, even if they are not identical. All the expensive gems have never had any allure. Even going to a diamond mine on Monday could not change that.

It was very interesting though. The Petra diamond mine in Cullinan (originally named the Premier mine and renamed the Cullinan mine for its centenary) is about 30 minutes drive from Pretoria, and  is the home of the largest diamond ever found. The Cullinan diamond was found in 1905 and given as a present to Edward VII by the Transvaal government. Then the diamond was split and cut into 9 major stones and 96 smaller stones, which form part of the British Crown Jewels. I thought this was pretty cool.

We went on a tour of the mine (you could also do an underground one, but we remained on the surface), and since it is still a fully functional mine we had the pleasure of wearing blue hard hats. It is fascinating how much money is spent to find the diamonds, and how much value a stone has. I don't really understand why people like diamonds so much. The industrial use of diamonds I can still see, but why would anyone spend millions on a stone that can so easily be lost? Also, it is not as though you will be wearing it often. It is a strange thing, this need to be bejewelled.

I don't know, maybe the rarity of a diamond is why some want it. But going down 1000m, deep into the heart of the earth for it? No, thank you. I found the myth surrounding diamonds unfitting to the physical labour needed to surface even one tiny little stone.

After the diamond tour we went to WetNose, to walk with some of the dogs, and somehow that was more rewarding than any stone I could stick on my finger or pin to my ears.