27 March 2009

What I love about Germany. Part 2

First of all I have to say that this is a new experience for me. Loving anything about Germany has taken me about 20 years of living somewhere else in the World. But there is one thing I learnt: nobody makes rolls like German bakers. I have no idea why. Cake, bread, anything else you can get in other places, different styles, but just as good. Not so rolls. They are crunchy on the outside and soft inside. Yum. And I'm not saying this because I have a baker in the family nowadays.

25 March 2009

German bureaucracy

I am taken back 30 years to my youthful job hunting days visiting the Arbeitsamt. Today it's the Rathaus to apply for a passport to fill up with African stamps later this year. There is something uniquely grim and sober about those corridors. When the rain pelts down outside and it's never going to be spring again I wonder whether it's possible to have efficiency without Kafkaesque architecture.

24 March 2009

Clarkson on Joburg

Jeremy Clarkson has a big mouth, and he gets a lot wrong, but this article is interesting for the sharply divided comments from ex-pat and resident South African readers.

22 March 2009

Random book recommendations

Kiwi lit really did nothing for me, but South African books, oh boy! There is such intensity, take-no-prisoners honesty, it's amazing. I started with Nadine Gordimer, The Pickup, because a friend had recommended it to me as a book to read about Arab life, but I never go into it. So when I got to Joburg, I tried again, and totally got it.

I moved on to J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. Spare, harsh, relentless. I am not sure I can cope with any more any time soon.

Next up Alan Paton, author of Cry, the beloved Country. I couldn't find that one (the well-known books of these authors are hard to come by in the local book shops, for some reason), so I started with Ah, but your Land is Beautiful (the man knows a snappy title when he sees it). This semi-fictional story of a group of characters living during the 1950's defiance campaign had such compassion and understanding, I can't wait to read more of his stuff.

As for non-fiction, I finally got around to Nelson Mandela's autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom. I hadn't bothered before, everyone seemed to read it because it was the done thing, but after visiting Constitution Hill and the prison there I changed my mind. I loved the simple words describing an extraordinary life story, as if every step was a normal progression from the one before.

Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart was a recommendation from the Rough Guide. Malan's family is old Huguenot Africaner, Voortrekkers, politicians and all. He was a journalist and the book is a series of reportages from the frontline of Apartheid. It's a tour de force of horrible and hopeful stories.

By accident I came across Antjie Krog at the airport. I had vaguely heard of her previous book Country of my Skull but had no idea of the eloquence and poetry of her words. Again the bookshop didn't have that, but it did have A Change of Tongue. Beautiful.

That's it for now, but I am looking forward to more books of such fire and force.

21 March 2009

A giraffe's bum


See that painting third from the left? We just bought it. There is something very immediate about it, as if you can smell the animal's skin in the summer heat as it goes about grazing from the tops of trees. The painter is a Jozi graphic designer.

Our new shopping mall at Melrose Arch

Opening next Thursday with 100 shops:


This is a brilliant blog, incidentally, giving a whole other side to
Jozi from a guy who works in the CBD. .

19 March 2009

Incongruous signage in Cape Town

Going through my photos from the trip to Cape Town a few weeks ago I came across these. The race debate here is informed from a different place, it seems:


Nelson Mandela, political prisoner for decades, remembered in the same place as Cecil Rhodes, imperialist and racist.


A hipper than hip boutique on Long Street.

18 March 2009

The South African Satwa

Who says that all Joburg shopping is either Sandton City or street hawkers? At the suggestion of Dixon, who knows all the best places to go Anna and I made our way to Oriental Plaza and discovered the best mall in town. You can really get anything there, from fabric to curtains, dresses and suits, fake flowers and rattan baskets, spices and samosas freshly made. Plus lots of interesting conversation with the shop keepers, a mosque and benches to sit and watch. Truly we have found a place as interesting and fun as Deira, Satwa and Karama rolled into one.

16 March 2009

Cape Town scraps

Too much is happening at once right now to keep up the flow of news. Cape Town is already almost two weeks ago, so here are some bits worth mentioning:

I am in love with its chilled atmosphere, the shady benches at Company Gardens right in the middle of the city; the ambitious exhibitions at the Art Museum; Charly's and the German Dinkel bakery - two businesses on either end of the baked goods spectrum, both perfectly formed; the not at all tacky V&A waterfront, which could so easily have gone wrong, but is surprisingly entertaining; baboons and seals right there in town; the incredible Aquarium - can't wait to dive with the sharks there; its similarity to Wellington which I miss terribly (not the crap autumn weather that they're probably having by now, though).

After Joburg and the constant warnings to watch your back - and your bag - I found myself wary to the point of paranoia walking the streets. I felt silly since certainly the CBD is perfectly harmless. Makes me wonder what is possible in Joburg CBD if one would just dare walk there.

Lesson learnt: when driving past a group of baboons, keep your windows up and don't leave the car. As we watched another car was invaded by a mother/child team of apish thiefs who emptied a stolen bag into the road in search for food only to bare their over-sized canines at anyone daring to take their loot off them.

14 March 2009

A rare link

Since Stuart has already said everything there is to say about our weekend at Tshetshepi, I will just link to him. Some nice photos, too.

07 March 2009

Ruminations on the train

Context: The Rovos train from Pretoria to Cape Town. A three day trip across South Africa. A long time to sit and look out of the window. There are only 33 passengers on this train, mostly couples, mostly retired, presumably relatively wealthy and all white. We have some Germans, an Italian couple, a few Brits and a bunch of South Africans. So there is a range:

Two Afrikaner couples travelling together with an innate sense of entitlement and lack of manners expressed in finger snipping and sparse use of the phrase "thank you". One of the expensively casual wives flashes her Blackberry in defiance of the request not to use mobile phones in public areas, while they generally monopolise the lounge with loud conversations.

At first I thought the Italian couple were Americans. The touristy dress sense and cranky Yankee accents gave them away, or so I thought as did the lady wife's tight facial skin. Out on the observation platform she said to me, pointing to a crack in the window pane where some rocks had hit it: "This train is not loved." I wanted to misunderstand her melodramatic comment and ask what it was that she didn't love about the train but instead wondered whether in her mind every graffitied intercity was a political attack on those who could afford public transport. But I wondered quietly to myself, fearful of cracking her controlled visage.

The two German couples also travelled together: A tall, confident, energetically dark-maned woman in her late 30's: we'll call her Stefanie; an equally tall, similarly aged male, tiny stylish diamond earring, dashing and casual: let's call him Stefan; travelling with two non-descript partners, early-middle age, crumpled and not even within earshot of those two in the handsomeness scale, she a dirty blonde with bargain rail clothes, he tired, sagging in the flesh: Gertrud and Norbert, let's say. So you would assume that Stefanie and Stefan would be one handsome couple, while Gertrud and Norbert were configured into the other. Matched in temperament, looks and inclination, you would assume, and you would be wrong. Despite the fact that Stefanie and Stefan flirt furiously, constantly, publicly showering sparks whenever Norbert and Gertrud are absent; despite the visible fact that they physically and mentally belong together, Stefan is in fact married to Gertrud and Stefanie lives in unmarried union with Norbert.

We have one single passenger, one person not travelling with a companion, a hunched over, balding gentleman from Germany. Without doubt everyone is assuming that he booked this journey with a travel partner - wife, maybe, but more likely his elderly mother, and that she passed away or was otherwise prevented from taking the trip. There is a stoic sad aura around him as he stares at the passing landscape, perhaps contemplating the semblance of this train driving through the dry veld to the travel through life, a trip that ends all too soon.

03 March 2009

Seen at MuseumAfrica


Possibly: "Where's my hand? I am sure I had it a minute ago?"

What do you think she is thinking?