Stream of consciousness. Full stop.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I'm finishing up one last item of work, hopefully by tomorrow morning, before considering myself officially on holiday. I'll also be emailing off an instalment of my masters research project tonight; the deadline of 15 February looms.
There is a crack in the clouds, the summer sun is drenching me and I can almost see my bare legs turning brown before my eyes.
Two obviously wealthy women with, apparently, few cares are sitting at the the table next to mine. I can overhear their every word - subpoena this, subpoena that. I don't envy them in any way.
Tonight I look forward to family time...
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
* When did you start blogging and how often do you blog?
I ventured, very insecurely and with a definite sense of exposing myself, into blogging for the first time in September 2005. I blog erratically, sometimes - depending on how exciting life is, or whether I've got the time or not - up to five entries in one day. I do the day after New Year strive to blog at least once every day of the week, but have - often - been known to fall horribly short of that. But I never beat myself up about it - if it's not going to be fun, I'm not going to do it.
* What are your reasons for starting a blog and do you make money directly from your blogging efforts?
I started initially blogging (anonymously, until I gained in confidence) mainly to have fun, secondly to make notes, in almost a diary-like fashion, pertaining to both my life and work, that I could type up when I had bites of time I couldn't usefully use up in any other way: like on a flight, or on trains and busses overseas, especially while waiting for unpunctual people (like myself), and especially at my special "me-time" coffee shop moments anywhere and everywhere in the world. The incredible ease of posting blog entries AND photos in a split second, and as close to 'live' as possible, on to the internet is incredibly alluring. It also means that you have typed our your notes once, as opposed to oh-so fashionably having scribbled them down in your Moleskine. The entries are then always available for whatever you want to do with them - without needing to be transcribed - straight off the 'net and anywhere in the world. And they make for great idea seeds once they've been percolating for a while out there in the soupy cyber-swamp.
PS: I've never made, nor intended to directly make a cent from blogging. However, on three separate occasions this year alone, my blog has marketed me to people that have offered me work, who accessed it as both an online CV and portfolio. Out of this I've currently got a contract encompassing three separate clients that has become the mainstay of my writing work the last six months. As a direct result of my blog I'm also currently negotiating the writing of a book in the New Year, with the ANTICIPATED publication to take place exactly a year from now. I emphasise negotiating....
* How much time do you spend on your blog and in what manner (i.e.. time set aside in the evening, odd moments, dedicated full time blogger etc)?
I blog whenever I want to doodle, whenever I'm inspired, whenever I have free time, whenever I have something to say. In other words, I don't always blog. My favourite time, as I might have mentioned, is while having meals alone (which is when I'm my most inspired), on flights (the email goes live the minute there's a signal upon landing) or public transport and when I'm on a high from coffee, like in Seattle coffee shops in book stores (the greatest combination ever invented).
* What do you blog about and do people respond to your posts in a meaningful way?
My greatest blogging challenge has been to focus my blog, which I've still not achieved, especially now that I no longer blog anonymously, and that my blog has become an extension of me in the so-called "public eye", and has inadvertently become a marketing tool (which was not my intention, and is something I'm not always comfortable with). My blogging highlights were when I blogged anonymously and could sordidly introspect online in the true tradition of a diary, except that it was online and available to the universe.
* Are you a "consumer" of other blogs on the internet?
You've got to do a lot of trawling through the outer wastes of the internet to discover blogs that you'd like become a groupie of and throw your underwear at. In fact I cannot imagine for a second why anyone would even want to read mine.
* What does the practice of blogging mean to you personally?
It means fun and, in particular, having fun while having time on my hands that would otherwise be wasted. It also keeps my friends up to date with some aspects (the less sordid of course) of my life. It also feels that I'm being forced - in a pleasant way - to keep up with the internet's rapidly changing trends and technology. (For the record I deleted my Facebook profile three months ago and have not once looked back. I had never been so invaded in all my life. Before you ask, of course I take responsibility! Ha-ha!)
I'm just back from a magical eight day tour of South Africa with a group of great American bloggers and South Africa's own Nick Haralambous, one of the geniuses behind Zoopy, Africa's YouTube. The idea was to create some interesting content about aspects of the country that often get missed by old media, and have it ripple through the blogosphere.
As you can see if you visit www.brandsouthafricablog.com or www.weblogtheworld.com (and keep visiting, because it's taking time to get everything uploaded), we saw and did a lot in a very short space of time and met some really extraordinary people along the way. Standouts for me included Nkhesani Masilani, a geologist I spoke to 3.8km underground at Anglogold Ashanti's Tau Tona mine; Elizly Steyn, the 28-year-old metallurgist from Springbok running the production side of things on De Beers astounding Peace in Africa mining ship; and Dr Adrian Tiplady, the astronomer, engineer and world class jazz musician — he plays with Manfred Mann — who is helping make sure South Africa wins the right to host the giant Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, the most ambitious undertaking of its kind ever.
So tight was the schedule — even when we were on the bus and not prostrate with exhaustion we were mostly tapping out posts on our laptops, editing video and sound or uploading photographs — that I didn't read a newspaper or take in a news broadcast for almost the entire time we were on the road. I do not mean this as a criticism of the media, but boy, to experience South Africa for a week with media intake dialed back, and the political cacophony nothing more than background hiss, was a truly refreshing experience.
That said, politics was never very far from my mind. Here we were, a bunch of bloggers, geeks and media mavens, experimenting with social media as a means of changing the way people look at South Africa. How, we were asked, might a political party use the same tools to advance its cause? What did Barack Obama's use of the web have to teach the ANC or Cope or the DA or the ID or the UDM or whoever?
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
I had a marvelous opportunity on Friday to again experience the peace and quiet of the Cradle of Humankind; I'm sure God lives there. This time I was able to be present - behind-the-scenes - as a new fossil exhibition was set up. Getting up close and personal (yes, the covers were taken off!) with these magnificent fossils is, excuse the cliché, nothing short of awe-inspiring. The perfectly preserved, few million year-old teeth were what really did it for me... God is undoubtedly in the most intricate details of our Creation.
Yes, the vaults have been opened and original fossils of both Paranthropus and early Homo – what scientists believe to be our direct ancestors and which coexisted in the Cradle of Humankind about 2-million years ago – are seeing the light of day in a new, fascinating exhibition entitled Paranthropus in Context just opened at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site's visitor centre, Maropeng.
"These fossils only very rarely go on display – some have only been displayed a few times since their discovery," says the visibly excited Maropeng Curator, Lindsay Marshall.
Marshall explains that Paranthropus is currently at the centre of some major scientific debate.
"Although at Swartkrans (in the Cradle of Humankind) there is fossil evidence of Paranthropus robustus as well as Homo ergaster, which have been found along with fossils of baboons, leopards, sabre-toothed cats, hyenas and antelope, scientists have traditionally thought that Paranthropus was not capable of tool-making, and that only hominids belonging to the Homo genus, were toolmakers. Now, this assumption is being challenged."
Marshall says that University of the Witwatersrand paleontologist Dr Lucinda Blackwell suggests that Paranthropus may have made these tools: "Blackwell's research suggests that indeed, Paranthropus was using bone tools to extract termites, a rich source of protein, and the fact that they might have been making the bone tools does not reflect a species that is as inferior as previously thought."
Marshall emphasises that these questions and others will be scrutinised in the display: "You are able to see real hominid fossils, which are normally kept locked away from the public eye."
In September, Marshall - who has a BA Honours Archaelogy and a Postgraduate Diploma in Heritage Studies - approached Wits University (part of the Maropeng Public Private Partnership), the Northern Flagship Institution (NFI) and the Transvaal Museum (part of the NFI), to discuss doing a collaboration for the display.
"Setting up this exhibition was straightforward because everyone collaborating was very enthusiastic about having this material on display," she explained. It seems that the most complex aspect of this process was having to organise a secured armed escort for the material: "As it is hominid material and seldom out of the vaults where it is stored, we had to guarantee as safe a passage as possible."
Marshall, who is passionate about sharing this incredible heritage with the general public, says this opportunity to put hominid material on display was very exciting: "I'm very proud of this exhibition. It is the first time we are putting so much emphasis on a display, so it is my hope that we will grow and learn from here and the displays will just get better and better."
She explains that the first ever Paranthropus robustus was discovered at Kromdraai in 1938, where it was coexisting with another hominid species Homo ergaster, from which humans are directly evolved.
"So instead of a linear evolutionary line it rather looks like a tree or bush with some of the branches snapping off, as is the case of Paranthropus who eventually died out."
Thanks to generous loans from the Transvaal Museum (part of the Northern Flagship Institution) and the University of the Witwatersrand's Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research, visitors will be able to view these magnificent fossil specimens up close from 6 December 2008 to 6 March 2009.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, not to be missed," Marshall emphasised.
The 47000 hectare Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (COH WHS), situated 45 minutes north-west of Johannesburg, is a scientific treasure house containing valuable information about the human family, as well as early human and cultural development.
Gauteng's premier tourist destination, the Cradle of Humankind is one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa, and the only one in Gauteng.
Just by the way, Maropeng, the world class official visitor centre for the COH WHS, won the South African tourism sector's most prestigious award, namely 'Best Tourist Attraction' at the third annual Welcome Awards at Indaba earlier this year.
Friday, December 05, 2008
We were picked up at Clearwater Mall and right now we're chasing a typical Highveld thunderstorm to Maropeng in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritagre Site.
There's a great 'summer holidays' vibe to the world outside the bus: people are in shorts, schools have closed for the year and generally there seems to be relief in the air that a tough, fast-paced year is coming to a close. And it's Friday... need I say more?
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Leaning against the balustrade of a seventh floor apartment in Wolmarans Street on the southern edge of Braamfontein, these are some of the stories that unfold below me.
Perhaps I am just recovering from a long day but there seems to be a relative calm in the city at this time that makes the hustle, bustle and flow of activity seem like a well orchestrated piece of music. It's a catchy tune and it makes me want to tap my feet as my host, who calls this seventh floor apartment home, says, "If you're going to be in the city, you have to live in the city."
Callum Stevenson's two-bedroom, upmarket New York-style apartment is enviably cool. Complete with wooden floors and granite table tops, modern light fittings, big windows and an overall creative use of space, inner city living has certainly come to represent the best in urban living if Callum's apartment is anything to go by.
To top it all off, his corner flat gives him a 180 degree view of Johannesburg - a fantastic spot from which to witness the changing face of this captivating city. From up here the era of urban decay that defined Johannesburg's inner city for about two decades is truly reversing itself.
As we look towards the Gautrain crane in the distance, Callum says, "Joburg is without a doubt on its up cycle. You can already see it. The streets are clean, there is police visibility, beautiful public artworks, stunning buildings and new apartments coming up all the time."
In November 1949, 60 Mozambican miners died in a tragic accident on their way home to their families after a year's work on the mines. The steam train, derailed at Waterval Boven, on the treacherous edge of the escarpment where the Mpumalanga Highlands drops dramatically to the Lowveld.
To this day, families of the men return to Waterval Boven from Mozambique to honour their dead, and a memorial has been erected in the village graveyard. The character of Waterval Boven is forever influenced by the legacy of the railways and the importance this development bestowed on the town.
Waterval Boven has always been a railway town. The Nederlandsche Zuid Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappij railway line reached Waterval Boven in 1894, opening up a direct line from Pretoria to the port of Lourenco Marques, known as the "Easternline" or "Oosterlijn".
The Waterval Boven United in the Arts Choir Festival Against Xenophobia kicks off in 2008 with the support of Eventáge, SAHRA, the Emakhazeni Tourism Association, local business as well as the Emakhazeni Local Municipality and thanks to their generous sponsorships; this event will soon become an annual national festival.
KORISA Norway (SA/Norway exchange programme for choral music appreciation) is interested in participating the 2009 event. The Mozambican Embassy has provided press coverage and there will be Consular attendance, also the presence of Mozambican choirs and a pledge to become further involved next year during the 60th anniversary of the accident.
This event that will take place on the 6 and 7 of December 2008 and will assist tourism development in this magnificent part of South Africa, as well as support the local community and businesses. It will also act as a reminder that xenophobia in our country is totally taboo and should be combated at all cost.
I've a thing for sipping coffee in shop windows while watching the world go by, no matter where on the globe I am. I'm in another window, in another Seattle coffee shop, in another Exclusive Books, in another Christmas decoration-bedecked shopping mall.
Two years ago, roughly this time (give or take a week or two) I was frequenting coffee shop windows not unlike this one, voyeuring my way through London, Prague and Marrakesh.
I was also reading Stephen King's 'On Writing'. I'd bought it at a Waterstones just off Trafalgar Square on a deeply overcast, cold Saturday afternoon while well-heeled Londoners clipped past in their patent leather shoes, or scraggily expensive trainers, clutching over-size designer shopping bags (that piqued both my curiosity and good natured envy).
I was also reading Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Writing... a book that ironically spelt out just how nigh impossible it was to survive as a travel writer - I'm pausing to inhale the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans that's making me cross-eyed with satisfaction - so much so that I burst into tears out of sheer hopelessness. I was reading the book at dusk on the rooftop of my Marrakesh hotel, inbetween staring at the full moon above the snow-capped Atlas Mountains distantly outskirting the city. (I put the book away then and have never picked it up again.)
My favourite coffee shop so far must be the Starbucks just across from the Hampstead underground station in north London. Mere metres from another Waterstones book shop, there I've spent hours reading, writing, watching while recovering from the bone deep cold suffered while exploring Hampstead's west heath and enviously tramping her streets.
Reality check: I'm sitting here watching people watching other people, aware, too, in my peripheral vision of those curious about me. All-in-all it's an immensely satisfactory late afternoon heading for dusk. And I thank God from the bottom of my heart that it's not two years ago this time.
Friday, November 28, 2008
From the Mail Guardian's editorial today:
It's that time of year again when, amid much lunching and launching and ribbon-cutting, the country commits itself for 16 days at least -- to combating violence against women and children. But despite this noble effort, which has enjoyed high-profile government support, South Africa remains a dangerous place for women and children. A recent study that tracked the progress of rape cases through the criminal justice system in Gauteng threw up some startling facts:
- Almost half the rapes of women and teenage girls involved abduction;
- 40% of rapes of women involved a weapon;
- 43% of rapes of teenage girls were committed by a neighbour or acquaintance;
- 28% of girls under 11 were raped in their homes;
- Just half of rape cases reported to the police resulted in arrests. Only 42,8% of suspects went on to appear in court and fewer than one in five (17,3%) reports resulted in a trial;
- Only one in 10 rape cases reported by girls under 12 resulted in a conviction, while for adult women, this number was just one in 20; and
- Of 34 cases in which the perpetrators were eligible for a life sentence in terms of minimum sentencing legislation, only three were sentenced to life.
While the politicians rattle their sabres and trade insults of a simian and entomological nature ahead of the election, we should pay careful attention to what they aren't saying and learn to read between the lines.
When the likely future president, Jacob Zuma, calls for obedience to the Bible and the ancestors, what does this mean for women's equality? Is this a return to the patriarchal ideal of the omnipotent father who holds the power of life and death over his wife and children?
Does this mean an end to women's right to make their own reproductive choices? When Zuma talks disparagingly about gays or women wearing miniskirts, what does this mean for a country in which rape is endemic and violence against lesbians is growing? And why do his plans for banishing pregnant teens not mention the men who impregnate them?
Will the next government move away from the rights-based culture enshrined in our Constitution and bow down to reactionary, populist elements in a bid to win votes?
In the coming months we should evaluate carefully the gender stance of any party asking for our vote and challenge the party to explain how it will make South Africa a safer place for its women and children.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
In the heart of Sandton there's a slick, professional feel and I felt proud of what has thus far been achieved despite the challenges and criticism. My only concern is what are we as a nation going to live for once this particular show is over?
She's so wonderfully articulate despite her braces, he's so well brought up. It's wonderfully obvious.
I'm sitting at one of my favourite Seattle coffee shops, the one that's dunked in the well-stocked Mandela Sqaure Exclusive Books. I'm in my element - sipping a cafe mocha surrounded by a hundred thousand books, while a late afternoon thunderstorm brews outside.
Oh my word, they're now discussing OCD. I hope they can't see the glimmer of my smile. They're so wonderfully unaware; I'm so unashamedly aware, despite my innocence creeping back with age.
Now he's touching her nose with his point finger (are they lovers!); he says something about the colour of her iris, in a second she snaps out a cosmetic mirror and stares intensely at her own eye.
If they ask really nicely I'll hold up the mirror for them....
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The book's title Amytis (also the title of the first poem in the book) refers to the beloved wife of King Nebuchadnezzar, who pined, after marriage, for her lush native land, and for whom the king constructed the hanging gardens of Babylon.
In this collection of poetry Marí Peté explores dreamscapes, everyday experiences, and the thin membrane between these two states of being. In many of her poems she weaves connections between the realms of Nature and Spirit. In contrasting mood, writing in Iscamtho or Tsotsitaal (an urban South African street dialect), Peté takes the reader on alternative guided tours of her home city Durban ("Umgeni Road", "Durban Taxi", "Local is Lekker").
A prominent theme which runs through the volume is the poet's attempt to capture "that moment when the bird sings / Very close to the music of what happens" (Seamus Heany) -- whether it be the moment when a "small stirring beneath inland sea" sets in motion the formation of a cave (in "Four Elements"), or "the moment the sun shifts over the spine of the earth" when an armadillo is dreamt into being (in "Beneath a Fig Tree"), or "the moment a hiker in a forest dreams of a shrine" that makes "gravel waves ripple" (in "Stream").
The reader will find various contemplations on kinship (what Mary Oliver calls "your place in the family of things"). In a sense the work becomes a networked conversation -- voices that emerge are, amongst others, mystical theologian Thomas Berry; spiritual scientists Michael Faraday and Albert Einstein; eastern philosopher Tao Te Ching; and Old Testament characters Noah and Sarah. References to praying mantises, dassies and geckoes, illuminate "the voice of the infinite in the small" (Sir Laurens van der Post). This conversation culminates in a multi-layered poem entitled "The Great Echo".
Two thirds of the poems are written in English and the remainder in Afrikaans.
"A sensual storyteller, Marí Peté shifts effortlessly between English and Afrikaans. Layer upon layer, subtle lines unfurl into imaginative explorations of the sacred in everyday life." - Michelle McGrane, LitNet
For more info and to subscribe to their newsletter: http://www.nlsa.ac.za/NLSA/centreforthebook
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
This cafe has been a haunt of many years, Charlie B thought to himself. Previously it was also a hunting and perving ground too. How things have changed, he thought almost sadly.
The rain is pouring down. I couldn't wish for anything better. But I've moved inside, my notebook was getting wet and my ink was running.
Now I need to acknowledge a headache, louder music, also - because this is like sitting inside a large concrete shoe box lying on its side - everyone's voices and laughter amplified. And the delicious racket of the rain.
Every now and then a cool-almost-cold and unexpected breeze scrapes along the hairs of his arm as he imagines a ghost, who was trying to get his attention, might consider doing.
It makes me shiver with anticipation at... well... - Charlie B thinks looking up and frowning - ...nothing. Previously times like these would most likely have been a respite from hunting - flesh hunting. Flesh hunting before more flesh hunting. And the anticipation would be sheer, unadulterated lustful excitement.
The aluminium sliding doors, tall and slim, have been closed against the rain. And with the shutting Charlie B suddenly realises he's sitting in the smoking section.
I'm looking at the world through tear-stained but happy windows. The smoke makes it only slightly uncomfortable, almost sexy. That was until my left brain bitch kicked in.
A fat, barefoot woman with long black curly hair, silver spectacles and a triple ivory-coloured chin momentarily blocks out the dusk- light from outside. The eclipse, albeit brief, is enough to make Charlie B look up. He notices that her shoes are gripped in her right hand. She also has cracks in her heels but smells suprisingly lovely.
Although her scent is a citrus, summery one, Charlie B doesn't shiver with anticipation.
I've got a soft spot for this city and it's Jacaranda lined avenues, it's warmer climate than Jozi and bushveld vegetation. Despite the suit- and-tied diplomats, this is a predominantly student city. People seem much more chilled here in their t-shirts and shorts, they also look different - good different.
After coffee I went back to his stunning home in Pierneuf (spell?) that looks over Pretoria North. Then a quick visit to the UN office in the centre of the city before diving headlong into peak hour traffic. Nope, I didn't need that, hence my 'sho't left' turn to Brooklyn Mall and now relaxing at Tribeca, one of my haunts for over a decade.
It's a great time of the year and the summer holidays are already in the air.
I'm attending the first of two joint Dinokeng tourism meeting and environmental management framework open days. There are incredibly interesting and postive developments underway - particularly around the Dinokeng Big5 Nature Reserve and the proposed Cullinan and Dinokeng tourism hub developments - which I'll report on as they unfold in the future.
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