Seriously now, some things to consider…

Check out The Nation’s Food Issue (aptly dated 9/11).

I am that I am

Once I got it into my head that I should become a chef. So off I went to chef school.

We went to class and looked like this

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and we learned to make things like this

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(That’s real Danish pastry, of course. Wienerbrød.)

and this:

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(That’s really marzipan. I promise)

Even the famous horn-of-plenty:

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How very odd to think of that now. And how very much odder that I should suddenly feel the urge to proclaim this, on the internet, for anyone to read.

But OK, if I was Hans Christian Andersen and I was working on my autobiography, Mit Livs Eventyr (My Life’s Adventure, or The Adventure of my Life, or The Fairy Tale of my Life), I suppose this would be a chapter.

And let’s face it, if he were me, he would equally be tempted by the instant gratification of writing and publishing something immediately, with pictures (!), and that way circumvent the sinister threat of beginning yet another magnum opus which will end up gathering dust, unfinished, like all the rest, abandoned…

(Maybe HC was a bad example, since he was rather prolific, even without a blog).

But that’s enough about me. The pasta bell has rung.

flower mountain

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Just back from three days of luxury. It was at a place called Mont Fleur, in Stellenbosch, a.k.a the lovely Cape winelands.

Let’s see, a typical day: breakfast at 8, comprising the usual full spread (hot or cold, healthy or British, whatever, all with home-made bread and preserves). Tea at 10, with fresh scones, cream and strawberry jam (the stuff with real fruit). Lunch at 1, something “light” like a prawn and seafood skewer on a bed of wild rice with fresh salad. More of the good fresh bread. Tea at 4, with freshly baked lemon meringue (that’s mar-an-gyoo to you). Drinks from 5.30ish with snacks (peanuts, potato skins, pretzels and so forth). First course: blinis with smoked Franschoek trout and sour cream. Entree: Stuffed, deboned leg of lamb with pommes dauphinoise and a blah-blah jus. Dessert: Chocolate mousse with fresh strawberries. Or poached pears in a butterscotch reduction.

All accompanied, of course, with plentiful fine wine from the area. Some (no names mentioned) went on to after dinner drinks: Jagermeister, Amarula and so on.

Anyone hungry yet?

Well, I was, and it was all delicious. And in case you’re wondering what was happening in between all the feasting, it was a “writer’s workshop”. That’s another way of saying a departmental peer-review session. Or a getaway. Or a piss-up.

But let me not misrepresent. It was all useful in the ways that these things are, that is, in the way of picking you up and dunking you in a large barrel of icy water, which is both exhilerating and potentially deadly (if you should suddenly forget not to try to breathe underwater). They make you excited to come home and get on with your work and they also make you want to run for cover or look for work as a cashier. The ivory tower is a cold and magnificent place.

Page of Sage

So. Yes, it’s been a while. (Anyone else notice how the good old “while” has been speeding up lately? It just comes and goes, comes and goes.)

The week did not start on a good note. On Monday I met some bad mussels. They were good(ish) when I ate them but then something happened and I spent some time feeling bad.

Fortunately, though, I was strong enough to go for a steak the following evening (to replenish, you see). I was also lucky to be the only one in a party of six who was genuinely satisfied with my food. A medium-to-well blackened rump steak was just what the doctor ordered.

Wednesday and Thursday came and went as Wednesdays and Thursdays do.

On Friday (yesterday) I got invited – in the capacity of lovely assistant to a friend who was DJ-ing – to a farewell party thrown by people in a big house with enough money. I was actually relieved of my assistant duties as soon as we arrived (who knows why…), so the first part of the evening was spent sitting on the porch drinking champagne while DJ-friend had to lug speakers around.

Then people began to arrive and one of them was lugging a cello in a big black case which he proceeded to unpack and provide us with his classical repertoire while the sun set and more people arrived and bubbles were drunk and there was general glitter and sparkle. There were also children jumping on a trampoline. It was very cultured.

When the cello silenced the DJ started doing his thing, and the rest of the evening was spent, variously, dancing, eating lamb breyani (pretty tasty for a 50-cover production), dancing some more, talking and, finally, sampling one of the SIX decadent cakes. I had the cheesecake.

I slept well, woke up well, and spent the rest of the day doing nice Saturday things: a bit of shopping, a bit of work (!), a leisurely swim and a long sauna.

On the air: Cassandra Wilson.
On the programme: a BBC series on DVD borrowed from the library.
On the table: whisky (Famous Grouse)
On the stove: a pan simmering with a good-smelling combination of mini-mushrooms, onions, lots of garlic and sage, a few olives and a splash of balsamic.

I wanted to take a picture of the lovely ingredients but I realise I forgot my camera at a house where I went for dinner a week ago. It’s a house with heated pool and a jacuzzi and much of the night was spent in a watery way.

Jacuzzis? Parties with cellos? Cultured indeed. I have good friends.

But sometimes there is nothing better than a Saturday evening at home. If I would like to see anyone tonight, it would be only be my father. I’d like to have a whisky with him. He could always appreciate coming to the end of a hard day’s work.

Bing-je-ling, it’s spring

So I’m supposed to be cleaning my flat. I promised my mother I would. I would put on some nice music, tidy up my mess, and then take a walk down to Kloof Street for a cup of coffee. She’s good at helping me come up with little plans to cheer myself up, my mother.

I have a good mother.

I am 31 years old. I live about 2000km from my closest family. I have a car and a washing machine and a nice little computer. Plenty of other mod-cons. Some books (not as many as I’d like) and a nice collection of wine glasses. Many of my friends can add to this list, variously: husband, wife, a house, child(ren), dog(s), cat(s), useful credit cards. I have none of the above. The only one I’d really (REALLY) like is a house. I am suffering intense house envy these days.

But I have a good mother.

Well, mor, I got as far as the music. But the music was so nice that I had to start dancing. And then (still dancing) I smoked a little cigarette (yeah, yeah). That was nice. Then I had a piece of Stimorol, also very nice: fresh, licorice-y (liquorishy?). Then I thought, rather than clean up, I should make a list of some of the things I like:

I like to dance in my socks in the middle of the afternoon
I like the first five seconds of a fresh piece of Stimorol
I like drinking sparkling water just after those first five seconds of a fresh piece of Stimorol (it gives a nice burny feeling in the throat)
I like to bake in the evenings
I like to walk by the sea
I like driving on deserted urban roads on Sundays
I like cold Snickers

Today I even like my mess. It makes me feel busy. So I think I’ll just leave it where it is, perhaps dance some more (we’re onto Prince now) and head on down to Kloof a bit later for that coffee. Or, maybe for some bin qi lin (“bing-je-ling”), my mother’s favourite word. It’s Chinese for ice-cream (not Chinese ice-cream). And it is spring, after all.

So that’s it then?

This is scary:

‘Having ignored reality for years, newspapers are at last doing something. In order to cut costs, they are already spending less on journalism. Many are also trying to attract younger readers by shifting the mix of their stories towards entertainment, lifestyle and subjects that may seem more relevant to people’s daily lives than international affairs and politics are.’
(The future of newspapers, The Economist)

Great. In another twenty years when the ‘youth’ have lost complete interest in politics, it’ll be tabloids all the way.

I suppose the only redeeming thing about this is that people will finally stop pretending to have any interest in anything that matters.

Let me not

mislead you into thinking that all the time I am not posting anything here I am busy reading Marx. That would be a misrepresentation.

In fact I’ve been involved in some indulgent socialising.

On Saturday night there was the rabbit fiesta. The specific recipe was taken from this book, I believe:

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Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the dish – come to think of it, I didn’t even see it in its finished state; when we got to the table it was all “plated” – but it involved bacon, which is always good. The rabbit was poultry-like, whereas I had expected something darker and gamier. But it was delicious, as was the parmesan’ed roasted fennel. The biscotti I had baked that afternoon were a hit with the post-prandial port. Much (though not too much) wine was drunk, music and conversation was good and there was almost a view of the city from the table.

It was a civilised way to spend a Saturday evening.

Sunday morning was also civilised. Much (perhaps too much) coffee was drunk in bed.

When I emerged into the world at around lunch time I discovered that a friend of mine was in dire emotional straits and needed tending. So Sunday afternoon was spent drinking champagne in the sun by the sea. A martini was also had, but only once the sun had set. It was all very civilised.

Then there was Monday (it’s still Monday). I received an unexpected and very pleasant lift when two students stayed behind after a class to tell me that they had read my Masters thesis while researching some project they’re working on. They were particularly impressed (as undergraduate students are, I suppose) by the fact I had actually read all the books listed in my bibliography (heh heh). They were also enthused about the content, and my arguments. And right there, on the heels of a very recent crisis about the point of what I’m doing, came the best affirmation of all: readers. I was quite touched. My thesis shall not gather dust.

I guess this makes it a good Monday. I also put together a nice little pasta sauce (salami, aubergine, tomato, wine) which would very shortly be meeting a bowl of spaghetti. But I’ve just now been rerouted to have dinner with another friend at the Ocean Basket, local (cheap) seafood down the road. Suits me nicely. Spaghetti tomorrow then.

On the question of what to do with your mind

Some of my friends tease me because I sometimes get animated about things I am learning. If I get a chance, I think I tend to go on abit. And I agree, it can be boring to listen to someone going on. But at the same time, how can you not talk about stuff that you read that is fascinating. Or that somehow helps you to make sense of things in a way that you haven’t before.

At the moment I’m reading Marx. And about Marx. Funny actually, since I have had, uhm, intimate relationships with more than two self-professed “Marxists” over the last decade or so and I, in my very naive understanding of the term, have argued with all of them about what I perceived as glaring contradictions between their actions and their so-called ideology. My basic point: how can you be a Marxist AND consume the fine things in life (whisky, cigars etc).

Well I’m not sure if those are still not contradictions, but that’s beside the point right now.
The point is I am in a state of fascination, even as I am still trying to grasp that fascination. I mean, how is it that someone’s ideas can be so important even though the main one – his predictions of the proletarian revolution and the “organic” decline of capitalism – never happened?

The intrigue is that once you pay attention to what he was saying, there is something infectious in his writing. Even in a monotone and frankly quite boring description of what a commodity is. Something like an old school master droning on and endlessly repeating himself, showing something between affectionate patience and an arrogant assumption of your stupidity.

But when you imagine that this kind of thinking has never happened before, and when you realise that so much of what you have read subsequently takes that first text as an assumption, then it is like – as my old history teacher Mr. Malaza used to threaten us with doing – like being pounced on by thunder and lightning.

Another funny thing I thought of is how when you read texts that are suggested by someone you look up to intellectually, you suddenly start to see where a lot of their own “brilliant” thinking comes from. And they slip a little notch off the pedestal. Just a little one though, because you also know that soon – if you keep reading – you will be up there too. Yup. Keep reading and soon you’ll be looking down on the gods and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Media

I’ve just read this line: ‘…a strategy is needed that defends the media from both public and private power, and enables the media to serve the wider public through critical surveillance of all those in authority’.

It comes from an essay on the so-called watchdog function of the media (this can be interpreted in many ways, all of which share the image of the dog; the only difference is who the dog is “protecting” – state, “public”, private shareholders, and so on). In each case someone is growled at.

I got stopped by this line because it’s rubbish. First of all, if the media is not, in it’s entirety, precisely an expression of public and private power, then I don’t know what it is. I mean, remove private and public power from the media, and what are you left with? Nada. Of course each form of media is infected with public and private power in different flavours and ratios and to different degrees, but still, that’s what it’s made of.

The media is one of those beasts that so completely saturates everything around it with its own importance and is, itself, so completely saturated that it’s absence has become unthinkable. A clever man once wrote that the spectacle is capital accumulated to the point that it becomes visible. The media, likewise, is power made visible, both in content and form. (And yes, power is money, and the media is spectacle).

And then, ‘critical surveillance of all those in authority’? A pathetic joke.

The point is that it is always a very dangerous thing to talk of a man-made institution that needs to be ‘protected’, as if it has a life of it’s own and was born in a forest. There is no watchdog. Or if there is, it’s definitely not snarling. More like a big smelly wolfhound that invades your nostrils from around the corner, always lumbering around, but never going away.

Media demia dementia

Time to cook some spaghetti.

Is it really true?

foucault.pngSo I’m reading about the ancient Greeks and some of their ideas on the point of men and women in society – all this from Foucault’s The History of Sexuality. And it’s the usual … ‘the gods endowed each of the two sexes with different qualities. Physical traits, first of all: to men, who must work in the open air “plowing, sowing, planting, herding,” they gave the capacity to endure cold, heat and journeys on foot; women, who work indoors, were given bodies that are less resistant. Character traits as well: women have a natural fear, but one that has positive effects – it induces them to be mindful of the provisions, to worry about losing them, to be in dread of using them up. The man, on the other hand, is brave, for he is obliged to defend himself outdoors against everything that might cause him injury.’

Of course the first thing that any emancipated woman does is scoff at these ludricrous ideas. “Typical”. “Sexist pigs” And so on.

But then I got to thinking. What if it’s all actually true? What if men and women really are born with these features, that they really are innate, and that the reason, then, that so many of us get confused so often is that we’ve made such a halabaloo about resisting them. Now I’m not talking about this in the extreme – suggesting, that is, that it is ever OK for a man to hit a woman because of some inborn subservience. No, I mean what if it’s really true that in some completely scientific (hormonal?) way, women have got this tendency to WORRY. You know what I mean? No matter how emancipated you are, sister, no matter how post-post-feminist, the truth is, you WORRY too much.

How many times has a conflict arisen because a man (lover, father, brother, friend etc) just doesn’t seem to CARE?

Yes, it’s true.

When they do care you can be sure they’ll be defending themselves against injury in the great outdoors. Indeed, I recently witnessed a man trying to kill a spider the size of his fist with a large and very long iron pole.
(He was protecting me, of course.)

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