Goodbye, Ayoba World Cup

July 12, 2010

Part of the Cape Town fanwalk with Table Mountain in the background

It’s been fun and it’s been (mostly) exciting. And it’s united the country like never before. So for these and other reasons I’m happy we had the Soccer World Cup in South Africa. No analysis of the tournament from me today. I’m sad that the Netherlands didn’t win it. But I’m happy that they came very close and that Robben didn’t dive in the penalty area the way that many many others players would have. Maybe the better team won. At the end of the day, does it really matter?

Of course my attention is massively diverted by my upcoming Sudan trip and so I probably won’t allow myself to post more than a few words before getting back to work. But the reality of this job is that a lot of the time it’s about “hurry up and wait”. There’s nothing pressing that I need to do in the next 30 minutes for example but I know that I will feel guilty about blogging for more than a few minutes. Something to work on I guess, those guilty feelings.

But while I’m here I want to show you a few images* I took from our trip down the fanwalk in Cape Town the other day. I loved the atmosphere and the colour and the flags. I could have done with less annoying vuvuzela blasts close to my ear-drums though. I would find myself whipping around in anxiety at an ear-splitting cry from a distressed hippopotamus to find that the sound was coming from a small 12-year old boy. No doubt he was mighty pleased that he could produce such a powerful sound. My rather uncharitable wish in those circumstances was that whoever bought him the annoying plastic trumpet gets to enjoy the sound of it as much as the rest of us.

More of the fanwalk

In the jungle, the mighty jungle ...

The t-shirt in the bottom picture shows the inside of a lion’s mouth. That’s another thing about this tournament – it really brought out people’s creativity. From a marketing perspective alone, this was phenomenal since the whole country now associates the word “Ayoba!” with the cellphone provider MTN. We don’t actually know whether this is a real word or not but we all know that it has to do with parties, massive excitement and the soccer world cup. Here’s hoping that the next one (in Brazil in 2014) is equally Ayoba.

* Click to enlarge

Summer holidays

December 29, 2009

Taken yesterday at the local botanical garden. I was amazed that this bird let me creep up to within a metre of it while it was enjoying dining on its own King Protea.

So far I’ve had a pretty quiet time on my holiday. We had a really good family Christmas and I’ve been taking it easy since it’s only a week today since my dog died. I’m feeling a bit numb about it now and I’m trying not to dwell on her death itself.

On the book front, I’ve got a lot to keep me busy. In no particular order we have:

Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell)
We are all made of glue (Marina Lewycka)
Cape Town Stories (Marianne Barnard)
The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga)
Daddy’s Girl (Margie Orford)
Touch: Stories of contact (edited by Karina Szczurek)
Engleby (Sebastian Faulks)
Cape Town Calling (edited by Justin Fox)
Shark’s Egg (Henrietta Rose-Innes)

I’ve started the Lewycka and am enjoying it. It’s light summer reading and her characters are quirky and amusing. I’ve also been dipping into “Touch” which is a collection of 22 stories by South African authors around the theme of human contact. Contributors include: Andre Brink, Nadine Gordimer, Damon Galgut, Ivan Vladislavic, Jonny Steinberg, Alex Smith, Zoe Wicomb. It’s perfect for when you have 30 minutes to spare but it’s not the kind of book I can read for a couple of hours at a time.

So far I’ve read one story from Outliers on the cultural aspect of plane crashes and it was thorough, entertaining and thought-provoking. I’m tempted to sneak a look at what some of the other book bloggers have said about it before I make up my own mind.

The White Tiger (TWT) won the 2008 Booker Prize with its unflattering portrait of India as a society racked by corruption and servitude. Reviewing it in the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries says that one criticism of Adiga’s novel is that he writes about the experiences of India’s poor without himself being poor. Adiga says it is a challenge to “write about people who aren’t anything like me”. But can he actually pull it off?

Stuart Jeffries: “But isn’t there a problem: Adiga might come across as a literary tourist ventrioloquising others’ suffering and stealing their miserable stories to fulfil his literary ambitions?”

Jeffries says TWT has many failings but its “engaging, gobby, megalomaniac boss-killer” narrator (Balram Halwai) seems to be a strength. From village teashop waiter to Bangalore entrepreneur, Halwai is the white tiger who breaks out of his own cage of servitude.

I can’t help thinking about the dark side of India which finds a favourable audience in the West. Makes me think of other writers from the developing world who show up the corruption of their own countries and are applauded for it in the developed world. Locally the name of RW Johnson springs to mind.

Daddy’s Girl is a local (and celebrated) crime novel by the multi-talented Margie Orford. Just not sure I’m in the mood for crime so soon after suffering a trauma of my own. And so I’ve been sampling this and that and allowing my thoughts to settle and flit off again and then settle and so on. Perhaps this is normal. But it would be great to lose myself for a day or so in a really gripping novel.

I’ll take a break and return in early January. Here’s wishing you a fabulous New Year and all the best for 2010.

Please be patient …

September 30, 2008

Power’s down here at the military base which means I’m on the laptop battery for about another hour. No power means no coffee and a generally grumpy pete. So to cheer myself up I’ve put up some cool wrapping paper (by Cape Town-based illustrator Alex Latimer of The Western Nostril fame) on my office wall.

Without the coffee I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those sloooow days.

Annie Leibowitz: Playfully serious

August 25, 2008

Saw the Annie Leibowitz documentaty (Life Through a Lens) on Saturday. What an amazing portrait photographer. Lots to think about. What struck me, amongst many things, was the down-to-earth way she interacts with people she photographs. Unpretentious, professional, authentic, driven, an ability to engage with her subjects in a way that draws out the essence of them (as problematic as that expression is) and takes it, in her own words, to another level. The sheer volume of work (over at least 40 years); the quintessential rock-and-roll photographer of her generation.

I was thinking about what the psychoanalyst Emmanuel Ghent talks about as surrender: an active conscious effort to let things happen. Not forcing yourself on the world but working with things. A slow openness to life and other people. Perhaps that’s also what impressed me – her ability with people. She doesn’t come across as narcissistic or full of herself. She’s very talented but she just interacts with people in a way which allows them to be themselves. They relax with her and so she is able to take extraordinary pictures of them.

But there’s also a conceptualisation that takes place. What is it that this person’s work represents or where they are right now? Bette Midler in a bed of roses, Whoopee Goldberg in a bath of milk, Sting in the desert. They’re very short stories but very powerful. And then the lavish Vanity Fair covers (extravagant sets and costumes, marching bands, opulence etc.)
Very inspirational. Makes me want to go out and take more photographs (and sift through my own photographs and put them in albums, put them up on my office wall).

She’s got this almost deadpan way of talking which is relaxed and serious at the same time, which seems to match her style of photography which is playful and serious simultaneously. Those “fierce” looks of the dancers (with one dancer having a playful smile). I love that she didn’t make them all deadpan. And the photograph of Miley Cyrus is pretty tame – I really can’t see what the fuss was about.