Monday, August 6, 2012

Walter Benjamin

I have a dilemma today as I really wanted to post but what I wanted to write about is not ready.  The reason for this is partly because I had the most marvellous weekend reading bits and pieces for my next thesis chapter about Ivan Vladislavic's Portrait with Keys.

This is therefore not so much a blog post as an introduction to a quite extraordinary writer I read in the process.  His name is Walter Benjamin.  He dabbled in many different kinds of writing (much about cities, which is why I am reading him) and his life was cut tragicaly short because he committed suicide rather than be captured by the Germans during World War II.  Go look him up and read his stuff: I find reading over his sentences is like running one's fingers over particularly beautiful jewels.  I introduce you to him via this quote about the imagination (which I hope will lead smoothly to the troublesome blog post about my writing):

*"the faculty of imagination is the gift of interpolating into the infinitely small, of inventing, for every intensity, an extensiveness to contain its new, compressed fullness, in short, of receiving each image as if it were that of the folded fan, which only in spreading draws breath and flourishes, in its new expanse, the beloved features within it". (75)

*Benjamin, Walter.  One Way Street.  Intro. Susan Sontag. Transl. Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter.  Noldon: NLB, 1979.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Meet Dresden

Meet Dresden.  He is the Clivia who lives at the foot of the stairs.  A Clivia, in case you didn't know, is a flowering plant indigenous to Southern Africa and is quite simply gorgeous.  Clivias are also really good company because they do not like skulking around on your balcony.  They like to live in your house because the sun will burn their leaves and they go brown and shrivel up.  They thrive out of direct sunlight.  I discovered this because at first, I left Dresden out on our balcony keeping Mabelline company.  It didn't work out so good (sorry, Dresden).  He is much happier now, smiling up at us as we pass him on our way up and down the stairs.  And I know he is smiling because he is flowering bright orange flowers.  Duh.

Dresden is named after Harry Dresden.  Harry is a wizard from Jim Butcher's series, "The Dresden Files".  He is called Dresden because my friend Gwynlyn, who is obsessed with the Dresden files and can quote witty passages from it, gave the plant to us because we had her to stay over the holiday.  It was from then that Dresden joined our community of plants (a community which, at the time consisted of two).  The other is Mabelline, so named for the Chuck Berry song.  Except, unlike the song, Mabelline is remarkable true to us because she flowers even when we forget to water her every two days.  No, I don't remember what kind of plant she is, but I know bought her the last time I lived in Pretoria (2010).  I would maintain she has survived this long because I talk to her when I do get around to watering her.  It's the little things...

My plants really do feel like a family.  It might be because I have no pets, but I think it is also because it is actually really exciting when something is growing and changing in your house.  All you had to do was water it (and talk to it, a little, when no one can hear you) and then, voila!  The thing is flowering and growing new shoots and developing.  It's magic, I tell you.  I think you should go and get a plant too.  Maybe even a Clivia.  They're really good company.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In honour of Mandela's 94th Birthday

Today in South Africa, everyone (and I really mean practically everyone) is celebrating Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday.  Everyone is celebrating the man, but more than that, they are celebrating what he stands for and what he represents.

Rather than explaining what exactly this is in my words, I would like to use some of his.  I could write a story about how this quote is relevant to me, or about the myriad of impressions I was receiving when I found this quote a week ago on the wall of the Nelson Mandela House Museum at 8115 Vilakazi Street in Orlando West, Soweto.

I think this quote needs no stories or any more of an introduction than the one I have given.  I would not want to shape the form it takes in your brain or in the way it affects your spirit.  All I can hope is that it settles in comfortably and enlightens and inspires you as much as it did me.

In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education...but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being: humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow men – qualities within the reach of every human soul.

Nelson Mandela in a letter to Winnie Madikizela Mandela, 1977.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What I've been reading in June and July

When I’m reading, I like to be able to dip into a whole variety of things and mediums.  I read my kindle books on the Gautrain because they are so light.  I read my heavier (literally) volumes on the couch or in bed and then I am usually reading and then re-reading for my thesis work at my desk (or lying on the couch in the winter sun if I am feeling luxurious).   So the following is deliciously diverse...
Alberto Maguel’s A Reader on Reading (2010): I have been reading this volume (it is a kindle book), essay by essay for months after I bought this for my mother for Mothers’Day.  This man is erudite and well-travelled (and old) so he actually knew writers like Jorges Luis Borges and can write about their lives and work from a personal perspective.  He has fascinating things to say about the role of writers and their literature in society.  After feeling quite stifled and nihilistic about literary study sometimes, this writing renews my vigour and belief in the power, importance and ineffable pleasures of sustained engagement with literary texts.

Jonathan Franzen’s novel, The Corrections (2001) manages to convey some of that literary studies claustrophobia by beginning the novel from the perspective of Chip, a disgraced literary studies lecturer.  Before my non-literary readers run away screaming, let me assure you that the perspective continually shifts between Chip, his brother Gary, his mother Enid, his sister Denise and his father Alfred, who is suffering from Parkinson’s.  Alfred’s passages are perhaps the most difficult to read but also the most surreal; so much so that I had a nightmare last night stemming from one of his hallucinations.  Other parts of this novel are bitterly funny, sad or bitingly satirical.  This is definitely worth a read.

And (to quote Monty Python) Now For Something Completely Different, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1859).  Dickens is a tricky author.  He is anti-Semitic, drippingly sentimental and his characters are all clearly polarised: his good characters are angelic and his villains are very very bad.  Yet his descriptions are sheer comic genius, his characterisation unforgettable and his plots twist and turn and keep you quite enthralled.  Dickens, for me, is a good example of why you shouldn’t censor writers because they had prejudices nor canonise their every word and opinion. 

For my final magic trick, (or final thesis chapter, which sometimes feels as if it requires similar levels of dexterity) I have been re-reading Ivan Vladislavić’s Portrait with Keys (2006).  I am writing my thesis on three of his texts: The Restless Supermarket, The Exploded View and Portrait with Keys.  As I write on each one, I tell myself this must be my favourite.  Portrait with Keys is not a novel, but is rather a semi-autobiographical love letter to Johannesburg.  It is told unflinchingly in small and not-so-small incidences of kindness and violence, revealing forgotten corners and revelling in everyday detail.  I love this book because it seeps into your subconscious so that the next time you are walking or driving around what he has said will come back to you and you will have fresh realisations about ordinary things or ways of thinking you never really noticed before.

I recently watched Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris which is, among other things, about engaging with a city.  I loved a line by Owen Wilson’s character,

“You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can't. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form”.

Of course, Allen is writing about Paris or New York, and part of the beauty of those cities is that when we look at them, we are seeing them through the eyes of artists.  How then should we see a city that not even many tourist brochures immortalise?  I leave you with some words of Vladislavić’s to ponder.  Appropriately, he is comparing his own process of writing about cities to that of Dickens, one of the authors who immortalised London:

“Dickens was blessed to live in a city that offered the walker ‘miles upon miles of streets’ in which to be lonely and ‘warm company’ at every turn once his loneliness had been satisfied.  Moreover, to live in a city that collaborated enthusiastically in its own invention.  I live in a city that resists imagination.  Or have I misunderstood it?  Is the problem that I live in a fiction that unravels even as I grasp it?”*

*Vladislavić, Ivan.  Portrait with Keys: Joburg&what-what. Cape Town: Umuzi, 2006 (54)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Check out these blogs...

So a little while ago, I explained that one of the things I have loved about winter is settling in and finding interesting things on the internet.  Some of the things I found through pure procrastination (which, after I found these blogs actually felt pretty productive retrospectively) and others were found in the thickets of brilliance on other blogs.

I faffed around on Facebook (and “faffing” – that over-fed sounding word – is exactly what one does when one sits and scrolls down the news feed of every photograph and half-explained status (“What do you want from me?” or “I will never forgive you for all the things you said. #sohurt”.  What is with that????) when one could be doing something far more productive) but this time (if you managed to find your way out of that really long double aside that probably should have been a footnote) I saw a link to this great blog called “Hyperbole and a Half”. (Thanks, Sindile).

The post I started with is called the “alot”, which is a must-read for anyone who has ever come across that creature.  The concept of this blog is that each post tells a story (hyperbolically) and is then animated in large, colourful and child-like drawings.  Her animations are really affecting and her self-deprecating sense of humour and her abstract jokes really tease your brain for a while after you’ve read them.  

Then, I logged onto BlogLovin’ (of which yours truly is a member) and had a look at the blog feed.  I saw many many fashion blogs which are not my favourite things: endless pictures of people looking soulfully into the iphone-camera-instagram-app-created-picture...but Jerusha has already summed up why this is annoying really well.  Go read her description.

But then I saw a title that was made for me in that very moment: “100 Things to Do Instead of Procrastinating on the Internet”.   Needless to say, I bounded off in that direction (metaphorically speaking).  What did I find, apart from a really awe-inspiring yet totally do-able list, but one of the most stylish people I have ever seen.  Her name is Gala Darling, and she is an ex-New Zealander who now lives in New York City.  I like a lot of things about this lady: she has two rescue dogs, pink sparkly high-heels, two kick-ass half-sleeve tattoos and a seemingly endless assortment of rad head-gear.  I am not sure I buy completely into her “Radical Self-Love Project”, (anything self-helpy makes me a little squeamish.  And she quotes Ayn Rand.  Hmmmm) but I almost always feel determined to do something life-affirming after I have read it.  So there must be something in it.

AND she has this great weekly feature where she features articles she has found interesting over the week.  It was in this way that I found my next blog: “The Beheld”.  It is all about concepts of beauty and body image, and is particularly intriguing because it is written by a woman who has been a copy-editor for women’s magazines for many years so she knows the inside of the business.  Her latest posts have been about compliments and their role in facilitating or restricting meaningful social exchange.

She also has a weekly post where she writes about articles she has read, ranging from people’s blogs to mainstream newspaper articles.  She even drew my attention to this article in the Sowetan about the upcoming black hair show.  As someone who struggles with my appearance (you can read about why, here) I really appreciate this woman’s insight and effort that straddles scholarship and pop culture.

What blogs do you like following?  Let’s share the <3 everyone...

Monday, July 2, 2012

on baking

One of the other things I decided to learn to do in my financially strapped and car-less state was learn how to bake.  I was one of those spoilt white children who didn't learn how to cook until she was almost twenty, and even then, I only learned what I wanted to cook (This did result in someone from the EastCape Opera Company teaching me how to scramble eggs a few weeks before my nineteenth birthday).  So while I baked a few things when I was younger and I got into the habit of making banana bread and whole-wheat bread that crumbled when you cut it in my last year in Grahamstown, this year, I resolved to become awesome.

And awesome I have become.  (At least my friends and family tell me so.  Bless)  I must admit, this is probably not due to my precocious baking skills but more due to:

1.) my pedantic recipe following.  Learning how to cook late has ensured I follow every recipe slavishly as I have had (until recently) very little faith in my own ability to make a meal taste great.

2.) My mother's amazing recipe book.

This is called "The Blue Ribbon Book of Beautiful Baking" and was published just towards the end of apartheid.  I know this because there are pictures of the three women who contributed recipes in the front and two of them are white and one is black (rainbow nation, y'all).  The white women have perms and are wearing white lace blouses (a "blouse" is the only accurate description) and the black woman contributed, in particular, her knowledge of baking using Maize products.  I will say no more.

The design may be old-fashioned, but even that suits me because it means the portion sizes are just right (no super-sized cake slices in my kitchen!) and the icing on the cakes is modest, not a tower of added sugar that is my absolute downfall.  You won't miss the taste, though, because the actual cake has so much flavour and just the right texture.  The recipes are just wonderful  because they are like the ones your mother used (or at least, your mother would have used if you are around my age and you grew up in KwaZulu Natal. I have two friends whose mothers have the same book).  All the measurements are in cups and spoonfuls (none of this tricksy gram nonsense for which you need an actual kitchen scale) and they give you handy tips about how to measure margarine or what measurement exactly is a "pinch" of salt in the front.

I enjoyed my first foray into baking (Beer Bread: so brilliant all you need is flour, beer and some salt) but what really hooked me was standing in the kitchen in the slanting sunlight after a really hectic week of work with my hands in a pot of flour (we don't have bowls big enough to accomodate the buttermilk rusk recipe!), kneading the margarine in.  After a week of engaging with my computer and with abstract concepts, it is really therapeutic to work with my hands and enjoy making something tangible.  It is also gratifying to feel I am acquiring a useful skill.

It has also been absolute joy to give people things that I have made myself.  I have already blogged about how much I enjoy wrapping presents and making cards for people, and being able to fill a jar with biscuits I have made with my own hands and give them to friends feels like I am giving them a jar full of homely happiness.

Part of the reason I only wrote one blog last week was that I was baking up a storm.  I made

1.) scones (with jam and cream I whipped myself (sort-of with a blender))
2.) Peanut-butter biscuits
3.) marble cake.  In a ring tin nogal.

It even resulted in my first Zulu birthday card.  I have been trying to get around to learning Zulu for about a decade, so this is a big acheivement:

So, to you, dear readers: Nginifisela impilontle nempilonde*.

*Seriously hoping I got all my prepositions right...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Things to love about (a South African) Winter

Growing up in sunny KwaZulu Natal, I didn’t really know what winter was.  It gets cold there, but only cold enough for some decorative jerseys or scarves.  Grahamstown (and the wilds of Hosback) initiated me into real winter (as well as a first snow fall for the three of us (Yemu, Natasja and I) in this picture: ah, bliss!)  I have since come to love some things about winter.  So for those of you out there hankering for the summer months already, here are some things to savour:

    1.)    (this one is paradoxical) The sun
Winter sunlight does not scorch your insides or burn your skin.  It provides tempting nooks in your house for you to lie in, soaking it up reptile-style.  You will miss it when summer comes and every time you step out the house you have to smother yourself in layers of sunscreen (or avoid stepping outside altogether).
2.)    Hot water bottles
Getting into bed and curling your cold toes around something warm until your feet are toasty and then hugging that delicious warmth to your chest whilst reading a chapter of a book with only one hand out of the covers: it is the stuff of hallmark cards, I tell you.
3.)    Gluhwein
Spicy red wine served still steaming in a mug providing all the comfort of tea with a spicy alcoholic kick.  If you are in Grahamstown for the National Arts Festival, get yourself to Yellow House for a mug of authentic German stuff. Mmmmm.  Which reminds me...
Yup, this happens in winter in miserable Grahamstown.  It just wouldn’t be the same in warm weather.  In some corner of my brain, winter means shrugging yourself into four layers and a heavy coat and walking briskly to the nearest theatre or hall that has been turned into a theatre and watching some AMAZ!NG.  Then it means ambling over the Village Green for some fantastic, nutritious Vegetarian food and wandering amongst the colourful stalls until it is time to start bar hopping until everything else but the Long Table has closed and you end up having thought-provoking conversations with people until four in the morning, when you finally shamble out into the cold and make your way home through the deserted streets of Grahamstown, only to start the whole process again the next morning.
5.)    Fingerless gloves
I love these things.  I can keep reading or writing without my fingers freezing off and I think they look rad.  I have a stripy pair and a grey pair that extend up to my elbows for extra warmth.
6.)    Spending more time on the internet
I recently blogged about my issues with the internet.  At the moment though, it is too darn cold to do much else in the evenings.  So I have been spending time finding some mighty interesting blogs out there.  More anon...
7.)    Tea
Oh wait. I’ve blogged about this already. Twice.  J

(ADDITION: I had some input and am remedying some omissions.  A warm thank-you to Yemu, Robyn and SJ.)

8.)    Soup

A bowl of soup is a beauty to behold.  I love the way the steam rises from the top and the way it is just packed full of hot, vegetable nutrients.  My favourite memory of soup is, once again at the festival, but this time working at Wordfest and enjoying cup after cup of pumpkin, chilli, orange and tomato soup from (the now sadly closed) Reddits.

9.)    Rusks

I have four words for you (or five words or three words and one hyphenated monster word, I guess): hot-cross bun flavoured rusks.  They taste exactly like hot cross buns, but they are rusks.  Best. Idea. Ever.  And soon, I will be attempting to bake health rusks.

10.)       Snuggling under the blankets by the fire and having good catch-up chats

Well, you need a fireplace for this, technically, which is in no short supply in Hogsback, I can tell you.  On the Opera Company camps, each cottage had its own woodstove (one of those old-pot-bellied stoves that they rescued from the scrap heap) that would belch smoke so we would smell like woodsmoke for the entire time we stayed there.  We would have to tend that fire as carefully as a baby.  But golly, it kept us warm and having brilliant, long conversations and storing up our strength for the summer.  I am not there this year, but that memory has a rosy glow around it, and somehow just remembering made me feel that little bit more restored.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The freedom of a public library

My current haul*
Joining the public library was, for me, a matter of financial constraints.  I really wanted to read the kind of books I cannot afford and cannot find in my university’s libraries.  So I trundled off with Zam that rainy Friday, and as I have detailed, it has been a real adventure (or a peri-urban adventure at any rate). 
But aside from the new experiences it has brought me before I even walked through its doors, the library itself has been a revelation.  For all the fun it is to browse in the university library, a book shop or on my kindle, I have to prioritise and decide to take only what is immediately relevant to what I study and do.  Every book I buy (or take out) must be strictly accounted for because every one is an investment of sorts that must give me finite returns in knowledge.  In addition, each of them has their drawbacks.

A book shop can only stock what it knows it is most likely to sell.  This means that certain popular series, new books and a limited selection of classics and older books that continue to sell well can be stocked.  A University library can only buy what it thinks will be relevant to serious study.  Sometimes that includes some popular fiction or science, but not often.  Searching for books on a kindle, like searching for information on the internet, is one of the most narrow and restrictive book-selecting devices.  When you search for a book, it will bring up that book, and a few recommendations that relate to that author, series or topic.  You cannot be distracted by something else from a different field of interest altogether as you can when wandering in a book store or library.  Anyway, I like to think I do not have generic buying habits, even within a genre, which is what you must ape if you browse books by category in Amazon. 

A public library, by contrast, is the accumulation of decades of government spending and the tastes of individual librarians that have been bought to cater to the many members of the public.  I only have the books for two weeks and I can return what I don’t like, savour what I do and return them.  Being able to dabble and browse without financial or category constraints is a really liberating sensation.  I feel like I have burnt my intellectual bra.

Knowing that I am one in a long line of people who will take it out a book is another benefit of reading a library book.  I have recently read editions of books that were brought out very soon after the original publication date.  The older is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, set in a post-feminist USA where everyone lives according to someone’s twisted version of Genesis.  This fascinating and disturbing tale was published in 1985.  When I paged to the back and looked at all the old date stamps, I could not help wondering what the citizens of Pretoria made of this futuristic, puritanical state that enforces serious censorship rules when they read it during the dying, violent years of apartheid.

The other book contained Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy.  This is what is now called a “young adult” fantasy, but it is written in such wise, philosophical prose that I don’t know if I would have been able to appreciate it fully had I read it as a teenager.  I loved it even more for that reason: she assumes that her teenage readership wants to be challenged.  The edition I had read had been rebound in hardcover from so many readings, and it had a slightly unsettling, brightly coloured picture of the wizard hero, Sparrowhawk on the cover.  The pages were yellowy-orange in colour and the texture was slightly grainy from age.  Knowing that many teenagers and older people like myself have read this book gives me more faith in the human race.  I have for years been an avid fan of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy as it is also intelligent, wildly imaginative and thought-provoking, and I am also a recent fan of Neil Gaiman.  This trilogy is still streets ahead.  These books are also older, however, and while good books stores will still stock Neil Gaiman and the Dark Materials trilogy, they seldom stock Ursula Le Guin.  It is up to the libraries to continue the tradition.

So go forth and have an adventure at (or near) your nearest public library.  They lurk everywhere there...

*From left to right: Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought, Gaston LeRoux's Phantom of the Opera, Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, Michael Ondaatjie's Handwriting and Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On my way to (writing about) my public library

I should like the crystal ball to shew me what my
husband will be like.
Disclaimer: In this blog, I was going to write about my new place to visit in Pretoria: my public library.  On the way, however, I became distracted by everything near the public library that I have discovered that I also love.  So this post will take you to the doors of my library, but no further.  Just so you know what you’re getting into...
 I have for many years been a compulsive book buyer.  My family have learnt to roll their eyes and find something time consuming to do if they take me within fifty metres of a book store as I will immediately find my way in and browse (and frequently buy) to my heart’s content.  Now I own a *kindle* which I love, particularly when I am addicted to a series as I no longer have to rush frantically from store to store trying to find a copy of the next exciting part of the saga.

 This year, however, as I fall deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole that is my Masters thesis, all my mind wants to do is delve not into more rabbit holes, but into popular science, economics, history, poetry and shallow popular fiction (I won’t tell you what, it is entirely too embarrassing).  I have also been the victim of the vagaries of the scholarship system and I have had nothing to spare for book purchases.  I could take out books from Wits University’s libraries, but I have often filled my card with work-related books, and every time I step into the libraries I feel obliged to take out something, if not work related, thenat least literature that is high-fibre: you know, the stuff that’s good for you.

She asked the fates to let her sons have long, long lives.
 So, propelled forward by my addiction to these shallow and air-brushed forays into the human heart, I ‘phoned the National Library Services (based here in my very own Pretoria) and found out where my nearest library is situated, which while not within walking distance, is in one of the nearby tree-ed neighbourhoods.  Zama and I set off down the road and after driving twenty minutes too far into the wild green yonder and turning around, we finally found the place.

 It is just up the road from an honest-to-goodness park, replete with a see-saw, swings and a slide surrounded by grass.  Opposite the library is a neighbourhood shopping centre: an old-school one with an Indian-owned green-grocer that sells fresh flowers, vegetables and fruits.  When I walked there from the bus stop one day I bought a punnet of fresh raspberries and ate them then and there, leaving my fingers stained pink.  There is also a pet-grooming parlour and a Chinese restaurant with an outdoor area canvassed with red fabric to protect it from the wet.  There is even a corner cafe and bakery that sells R1 orange ices so filled with sulphur dioxide that I coughed every time I took a sticky, icy bite (and yet I just kept right on eating that thing...).

 They have a car boot sale there every so often.  There are second-hand clothes, white elephant stalls and (of course) a woman with a table filled with second-hand books, left to her by emigrating relatives and friends.  I know I said I don’t have money for books this year (and that was the whole reason I joined the public library) but then I found “Stories from the Faerie Queen”, a children’s book given by The Hatfield Baptist Sunday School to Violet Cross for Attendance and Good Conduct at Christmas, 1929.

But the knight was Britomart, the fair lady with
a man's armour and a man's heart.
To misquote Hadley Freeman (who is misquoting Charlotte Bronte): Reader, I bought it.  And I am letting you share in my good fortune by peppering this post with some of its whimsical illustrations and captions (albeit in blurry photographs from my humble blackberry camera).  I hope you enjoy (and that your appetite has been whetted for my next post: what I found in my public library).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On Tea: A more personal note

When I was writing about all the different teas I have tucked away in my cupboard, I realised that part of the reason I particularly savour all the different flavours is that each one was introduced to me by a different person, and when I drink it, I am reminded of them.  Tea is the stuff of long conversations with friends around the kitchen table.  It is the stuff of family visits accompanied by milk tart or Assorted Bakers biscuits.  It is served at important functions, like graduation teas or weddings, or even funerals.  You could drink it on your work or tea break while you sit and have a gossip, or, like me in my solitary working state, I enjoy it as it helps the words come out better.

In this way, knowing how someone takes their tea can sometimes be a measure of how well you know them, because if they have been invited into your home, there is a strong chance you will have made tea for them frequently.  Everyone has their own tea-drinking quirks. I drink all my tea black (after my mother) with the tea bag still in (at this, my mother thinks I am crazy) but Zwe and his sister take theirs with milk, sugar and not only the teabag still in, but the spoon as well.  My father has complicated routine that involved warming up the cup with some plain hot water first, and then using white sugar for tea and brown sugar for coffee (and never the twain shall meet).  I know I haven't speant much time with my school friends for a while because I have forgotten how they take their tea when I used to know.  This makes me a little sad.

I never used to be much of a tea drinker.  The only time I drank tea growing up was when I stayed with my grandmother. The taste of milky, sweet Earl Grey will forever remind me of her neat little cottage in Waterfall Retirement Village.  She no longer baked but always made sure there was something sweet for her first granddaughters to eat.

At school, I think the only tea I really took notice of was Paddock tea, mainly because my friend Carmen's father was a tea farmer and as a result, Paddock tea was held in wide esteem in my humble part of the world.  Sadly, no one in Paddock makes tea anymore, so if you come across any lingering boxes of the stuff, you should snap it up quickly.

Plain rooibos tea was my procrastination of choice when I was in residence at Rhodes University.  Breakfast or lunch or supper would be finished, but if you were still nursing a mug of rooibos from the dining hall stash, then you didn't have to go back to your room and get back to work.  Living in the annexe, I would drink the decadent Woolworths Green Tea (everything from Woolworths Food seems decadent if you live in a town without one.  Oh yes, Johannesburg readers, they do exist) one of my housemates would bring from Johannesburg, or I would make my own hot drink with honey and lemon.  Grahamstown is also bitterly cold in winter, and tea was always a sustaining cordial to get you through the winter (well, that and copious amounts of alcohol.  You would be amazed what you can get away with wearing out in winter when some alcohol has warmed you up first).

Twinings tea is all because of my mother and our English holiday at the end of 2009.  We shopped until my aunt was horrified that we had come all the way to London to shop (the horror! to be fair to us, I did arrive two days before Christmas and I hadn't done any of my Christmas shopping...)  England in winter is just so cold and dark that a flavoured tea can be the last thing between you and full-blown madness.

It is from 2010 onwards that my tea obsession has really taken a solid form.  Zwe's sister Zama introduced me to Buchu tea (on one of our annual Summer get-fit drives) and her friend Thabi stayed at the flat one night and brought her own tea (something every sensible tea lover should do).  That was when I discovered the marvel that is instant, extra-strong Honey and Ginger Tea.  I have sustained myself on that tea when it is late and everyone else is still partying and my alcohol jersey has worn off.

The Chai Tea is something that brings all sorts of people together.  Zwe's mother likes it, as does my sister who is my supplier of the delicious stuff.  (In some ways, she is my drug dealer, as sugar is my drug of choice any day)  She worked in a wonderful little health shop called "The Mustard Seed" in Grahamstown that is the only place I have ever found it that sells it.  She and I often let each other know when we are drinking it and it is definitely something us sisters share.  I also introduced it to my old friend Christy (we've been friends a whole decade now, whoopee!) the last time we had one of those delicious catch-ups, and she really enjoyed it too.

Some catch-ups in my world occur not in my home, but in the English Department.  My one-woman-wonder friend Eva who is currently completing her Phd (along with working three or four other jobs) invited me for tea in the Phd room when I was too broke to go out for some, and we sat and sipped our way through two cups of Laager Green Rooibos, Citrus and Ginger tea.  Ah bliss.

The Five Roses Orange and Lemon teas was also introduced to me by friends, Malcolm and his wife Jess when Gwynlyn (another school friend) and I were staying at their newly-wed home in Secunda.  It was a revitalising visit for both of us, we speant a lot of time sitting at their table or in their living room just chatting about everything under the sun (and by everything I mean everything, as these three are comprised of two engineers and a geologist) and down time with distant friends is better than a weekend at a spa.

My next tea adventure (I think) will be into leaf tea.  I have a teapot and a strainer, and the redoubtable Mrs. Spiller gave me leaf tea for Christmas in two gorgeous boxes: Assam tea and Caramel Rooibos.  Perhaps, like my adopted grandmother, Granny Pam, I will learn to tell fortunes in the tea leaves...

Monday, June 18, 2012

On Tea

My illusrious tea collection
and beloved red teapot.
I spend a lot of time in front of my computer these days, clacking away at my Masters thesis and my spine seems to curve in on itself because of the cold.  As soon as I have wrapped my fingers around a solid mug full of steaming tea, however, everything warms up and I feel cheered, comforted and energised, all at the same time.  The trick is to have a lot of flavours.  Here are some of my favourites (in no particular order: picking a favourite tea?  As my friend Karl once said, it would be like choosing a favourite child!)
1.)    Woolworths’ Green Tea.  Green tea is not everyone’s, well, cup of tea (I walked straight into that one).  It has a distinctly bitter, green taste.  I quite like it however, and until very recently, the Woolworths brand has been the cheapest.  I like to make a pot with two tea bags and I can get four cups of strong tea out of it.  Perfect for a morning when to get up out of your chair to make another cup is to lose your train of thought.

2.)    Twinings’ flavoured Green Tea(s).  I have never seen this in South Africa (so maybe it is a little unfair of me to write about it) but if you ever go to England or even if the most distant friend or relation is going, ask them to bring back some flavoured green tea.  Twinings is ridiculously expensive over here (for my student budget at any rate) but in England it is a very cheap and light gift to buy.  The green teas I tasted were flavoured with pear or cranberry or grapefruit flavours which may sound quite strange but are just perfect to take the bitter edge from your brew as well as add some subtle sweetness.

3.)    Freshpack Rooibos with added Ginsing.  I am not sure if I believe the hype about ginsing being good for energy, but what they don’t tell you on the tin is that this tea has strawberry granules in it, which makes a sweet rooibos flavour that little bit more sweetly fruity.  Delicious!

4.)    Laager Green Rooibos, Citrus and Ginger: This tea is something magical, not least because its aroma fills your cupboard with its invigorating smell.  It is very more-ish, so be prepared to return for another cup.

5.)    Five Roses Orange-flavoured Tea:  Another more-ish tea is this Ceylon tea with a hint of orange flavour.  My friends who usually have sugar in their tea go without when drinking this one, as the flavour also removes that edge without removing the comforting strength of good old traditional tea.  There is also a lemon version of this tea which only really comes into its own when a dash of honey is added.

6.)    Eve’s Honey and Ginger Tea (Extra-Strong): I am not sure this is strictly a tea, as it comes in box containing little sealed packets full of yellow granules that make your throat burn with ginger.  Only suitable for those ginger nuts out there...

7.)    Skimmelberg Buchu Tea: This is supposed to be a natural remedy of the San for a whole host of problems from constipation to cystitis.  Whatever it actually does, I really love having it first thing in the morning as it makes my insides feel refreshed somehow.  It’s difficult to describe the taste.  I suppose you just have to experience it for yourself...

8.)    Holotropic Pukka Chai: Again, I am not sure this is strictly a tea as it is pretty much some chai spices, milk powder and sugar but it is richly delicious.  I recently gave up all cocoa products that are not fair trade and this is an excellent substitute for Hot Chocolate or Milo.

And remember...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ebony and Ivory

The theme song of my boyfriend and mine is“Ebony and Ivory”. We usually sing the first few bits together (not in harmony, alas as my white ears are rather deficient at that skill*) and move our hands together in slow motion so that our hands meet and our fingers intertwine. For those not blessed with knowledge of this eighties optimistic kitsch, the words go like this:
"Ebony" (sung by Zwe, aforesaid boyfriend)

"And Ivory" (sung by me, rather ineptly)

"Live together in perfect harmony" (sung together, of course)

This is funny (to us, if no one else) because I am white and Zwe is black, though I always prefer to refer to myself as“faintly pink”. I mean, “white” isn’t even a colour (technically) and it makes me annoyed to have to tick the “white”box on forms rather than the box that says “other”. Maybe I have actually always wanted to be Gonzo from the incorrigible Muppet crew, who is known as a “whatever”. Which just goes to show that Muppet Shows and the latest excellent Muppets film (called, classically, The Muppets) actually has really intelligent things to say about everything.

Like these excellent (Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Concords (just had to throw that out there)) *rhyming* lyrics from the opening piece:

Life's a happy song,
When there's someone by your side to sing along.

Which, as this blog post attests, is just too true.

*Zwe to Clea on reading this bit: “Not all black people are good at music, you racist white”.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

the internet

So I haven't had an Internet connection at home for a while (cause I moved in with my boyfriend and away from the wonderful almost endless campus Internet connection) and my blog posts have therefore been non-existent.  I invested in a blackberry to be able to at least read my e-mails and get onto facebook (but only theoretically-jeez blackberry facebook is Horrible) but the blogger app, wait, there isn't one.  So I have been out of contact.

To be completely honest, I am getting more and more twitchy about being online.  I don't like seeing carefully chosen advertisements from words in my e-mails and in what I have "liked" on facebook.  A case in point is The Little Prince.  I love this book: it moves me almost to tears every time I read it.  So I said I liked it on Facebook and now I have a feed full of items with "Little Prince" on them that I will presumably want to buy.  There is a music box, a duvet cover with matching pillow slip, a watch and endless other things that clearly (?) have equal importance to me as my friends' news as it all streams over the same page.

Facebook even looks different: now I have a timeline with a cute little cube with pictures of my friends and a list of places I have studied or lived in the past.  I can practically feel the marketers and other creepy people who follow your every move closing in...(I have just caught up on my friend Zoe's blog: she (rightly) complains that white people love to panic.  This is me, panicking.  But I suppose if I (kind of) know I'm panicking? Then...)

But I have missed seeing everyone's faces: Amy wandering around London in all her fabulousness; Indra and Thomas smiling out at me from Belgium; all the music department people in their graduation gowns and smiles; and Beatrice with her husband-to-be (nine more days today!) celebrating Easter in typically wacky fashion (picture the chocolate rabbits peering over the rocks towards a waterfall).

I could go off facebook, but then I would expect everyone to...send me letters?  Call me from overseas?  E-mailing is difficult enough.  I do savour an old-fashioned e-mail myself, but not everyone has the gift (or curse) of the endless words that flow from my fingers once I get writing.  I would miss you all too much.

So despite my paranoia about people being able to follow my every move (catch me "tagging in" somewhere I go!) I will stay here, in this online space.

Hello everyone!  It's great to see you all again.