Just when you thought it could not get any worse

I still use bunny ears – or an equivalent – to tune into the public broadcaster and eTV.  I have had brief fantasies about the perfect picture that a satellite dish and an exorbitant monthly subscription (I think R600-ish a month to watch Masterchef Australia once a week and Super Rugby/Tri-nations once a year is more than a little steep) would bring, but not many.  If I watch without my glasses I don’t really notice the speckle and the fuzzy edges and anyway my expectations of the channel offerings are not high. Anything worth watching is usually scheduled after my bedtime, although it was my intention to break to the rules tonight to catch the new (sic) CSI New York at ten.

Considering all of the above, I was a little puzzled at my dismay when I switched on SABC3 shortly after eight. At first I thought I was watching a choir competition. The fellows sported brown shwe-shwe dashikis and crooned what I thought was something religious. I am accustomed to the fact that its economic woes meant that the SABC has had to rerun 20-year-old Afrikaans drama series to avoid hours of black screen, but the old TV2 and TV3 Sunday afternoon faire, I thought, was a new low.

But when the performance faded to a melodious halt, the man who dashed onto the stage to do the continuity presenting had a funny accent and soon lapsed into some French, which I thought made the whole affair a little more current. This, and the absolutely great suit he was wearing. While I was trying to Google the night’s TV schedule, a full symphony orchestra erupted in the early, delicate notes of Ravel’s Bolero and some ballerinas teetered into the frame.

Hmm. A variety show? As my computer booted up a male dance group joined the swaying swans. The guys were wearing plain white shirts and black pants and they were doing that very old Michael Jackson Thriller-type dancing, except that they were barely synchronised. And then some girl dancers came on with red costumes that were sort of Indian, and they immediately converged on centre stage to do the goddess Durga-lookalike thing when they crouch at various levels behind each other and stick their hands out and flutter them. Hmm. Cross-cultural, crossed purposes and generally pedestrian. I managed to open Chrome and typed in “what’s on SABC3 tonight”. At which stage everything was explained, if not clarified.

SABC3 was going to “cross live to the IOC opening ceremony in Durban”. JZ was going to speak. The Ravel persisted relentlessly, as it does, increasingly urgent and loud. Sanitised gumboot dancers came on to add to the symbolic cultural diversity. I looked at my watch. They were supposed to cross to Top Billing at 8.30, according to the announcement, and it was already 8.38. I wondered if JZ was still going to speak. But then the music terminated and the continuity announcer was back, this time with a sidekick. More English and French, and then more dancers, this time with flags. I knew what I was looking at, but not sure why. I was not sure why the show took the form it did. The orchestra indicated there was lots of money thrown at it – the size of the cast. But who in this day and age designed a variety show with such a budget? I imagined that even Mbongeni Ngema could do better in an afternoon.

I recognised the flag of South Korea. Well, I knew it was one of the two (Google again). Now there is something we could call an actual legacy of the 2010 WC. More South Africans now know more international flags than ever before.

SABC3 cut to Top Billing. Seeing Ursula Stapelfeldt sparkle in an overdesigned house was almost a relief.

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Parallel universe

Okay,  somewhere in between the weekend in the bush, the period during which my brain stopped working (Monday afternoon/Tuesday), the all-nighter getting my essay in and the restless night in my niece’s bed before hunting-weekend I have entered a parallel universe. It is a very strange place.

I have attributed the low-level depression I have felt in the last few days to lack of sleep and lack of an immediate long-term employment prospect, but now I suspect I might be suffering from the alienating effects of culture shock. Everything is slightly surreal, but I think now that I understand the cause of this perception discord I may be able to snap out of it in, oh, the next few months or so.

For example… right now I am sitting at a table in the far end of Doppio Zero in Rosebank, in that little area with the two sliding doors that create a private dining room of sorts. I am here because I needed electricity for the laptop, I had a few hours of work to do, I was famished and was tired from walking around a museum for two hours. I ordered beer and bruschetta with hummus and roasted peppers. It was delicious, and I started working.

Behind me there were two very French looking women speaking French. I absolutely love the sound of the language, and I never hear it without renewing my resolution to learn. The Italians are less fond of it: some guy called Cesare once told me that “French is like a man speaking with a woman in his mouth.”

Well, as a woman I can only say that the sound of it is lovely. Make a note to yourself there, Cesare.

But back to Doppio. My blood sugar levels rose, I was busy, I had soothing incomprehensible conversation in the background. The girls left, the battery ran out and instead of plugging in right there, I moved to the table that they had vacated, to the very back of the restaurant.

On the tablecloth was a film of very fine, short black filaments. It looked as if someone had a quick trim… of sorts. I found it slightly incredible that the waiters would be doing their grooming in the restaurant, as opposed to the bathroom on the opposite end, but there was no real mistaking the fibres on the white cloth.  I wondered if this happened after the women left, or if they simply did not notice. I toyed with the idea that I might be imagining things. I was not offended, at this point, just slightly curious. As I was not going to eat, and not being the squeamish type, I plugged in and sat down. On the other side of the window the grey, sunless afternoon turned to early evening, the streetlights came on the red lights of traffic and cars gave the street a little colour. There was the distinct feeling of the change in shift. A whole new bunch of people streamed in, popping into the kitchen before peering at me around the curtain.

I was beginning to feel slightly irritable, when I realised that right behind me, against the wall, was a wall unit in which the staff obviously stored their bags, and that my presence at the table, at that time of the evening, was inconvenient for them. They seemed to make a different plan, and I ignored the slightly exasperated stares. The guys going home had no choice, however, but to mumble an apology and get their stuff. One guy was very sweet – he squeezed his bulk in behind me, took his bag and jacket out of the unit, dressed and packed before he shuffled off. In that moment it was not inconceivable that, before going home, he might well pull a comb through his hair before stepping into the street. I asked my waiter for another beer, and to change the table cloth, which he did. Ten minutes later another guy hovered for a second before squeezing past. This one, a new arrival, took time to peel off his top layer, pack it in his bag, store his stuff and tie on an apron.

“Excuse me,” I said. “If you have to get dressed, please do it in the bathroom.” He ignored that and ducked. 

It is the parochialism of the act, I think, that made me feel slightly divorced from the world. In a restaurant, where people cook, serve and eat food, one would imagine that personal grooming, especially the kind that leaves behind swathes of DNA, would be expressly forbidden in an area where customers are served.

Now I look at the table and I wonder if it really happened. It hardly gets more bizarre, I think.

Bête Noire, MTN and chocolate cake

I am not sure why I do not use the internet more judiciously. I could argue that it is because my Mweb/MTN-3G/HSDPA connection has mostly been in a coma recently, but when I chose a name for my blog it was uncharacteristically operational, and hence, that would be lie.

Whatever. Point is that this morning I actually looked up “Bête Noire” for the first time in Wikipedia, (on someone else’s computer) and found an eclectic gathering under its umbrella. It was a ‘Word of the Day’ sometime in January, and I liked it a lot. It did not occur to me at the time, however, that so many others might also have found some use for it. It is a very sexy term, after all, AND French.

Even though I am a very big Brian Ferry fan, (well, from “Boys and Girls” onwards anyway) I did not know that Bête Noire was a Roxy Music album title. There is also an episode of NCIS called so, it is a song by the The Gutter Twins (no idea), and it is big in the world of the comic strip and the comic book: Bête Noire is the universe of Fallen Angel; the kitten in the strip Gordo by Gus Arriola; and it is both a comic book and a comic book anthology, according to my source of information.

Lastly, but certainly not least, La Bête Noire is a flourless French chocolate cake. One that appears to be both dangerous and delicious: the kind that makes your eyes roll back in your head with pleasure. Continue reading