After a five-month break from orchestral music I am now getting my fill again! Saturday night saw us in the Filharmonija, for the usual Christmas concert by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra under its artistic director Sergey Krylov, with an early Haydn symphony and a Mozart divertimento (we missed the second half of Vivaldi's four seasons for a dinner engagement; should have been Mendelssohn's concerto for piano, violin and strings but the pianist could not make it to Vilnius for whatever reason).
Both pieces were nice; I did not know the Mozart (a first?), and played with plenty of verve and energy (which has not always been the case in this orchestra). It seems that the pulse may begin to beat again.....It was lovely seeing a few friends, too!
Then last night it was the Kamerata Klaipeda with their usual Christmas concert. Usually they used to play baroque type music, but last night it was all romantic music; quite a nice change; though the programme, both in terms of sequencing and content, had rather little connection with what was played.
The concert started with Ysaye's 'Evening Harmonies' for string quartet and string orchestra; bit of a dirge, frankly and I was glad it was played at the beginning and not the end of the concert. Well played but boring - but I suppose 'evening harmonies' would not lead to much excitement (if you see 'evening' as either old age or the end of a long, hardworking day).
The band followed this with Mendelssohn's 7th symphony, strings only. It was nice and very energetically played. In the menuetto the cellos sounded rather dry; that place could have done with some warmth which the cellists are well capable of, but somehow that did not come across.
The second half was a series of more or less salon pieces. Vilhelmas Cepinskas struggled to make himself heard over his band in Schumann's 'Dedication' and Suk's 'Love song', both arranged for string orchestra and soloist. They all played beautifully but the balance could have been better.
Then the VIOLA soloist, Michail Bereznickij, played Bruch's Kol Nidrei and Tchaikovsky's Andante, both originally written for cello and string orchestra (I think). They were played very safely; he is also no Misha Maisky (who has produced the most moving performance of Kol Nidrei ever), but quite nicely. I would have preferred Weber's Andante and Hungarian Rondo (as advertised) instead of the Tchaikovsky. Like Bashmet, in whose orchestra Bereznickij plays, he used the sheet music in front of him.
Finally we had Vieuxtemps Virtuosic Duet for violin and viola (and string band). It's a delightful piece! Vieuxtemps, true to his name, wrote it in the style of Paganini, with very virtuosic parts to the violin, and also to the viola, within the limits of that instruments (there are some things you can't do on a viola as compared to a violin, something to do with string response). A lovely, lovely piece, played with exuberance. And the final, most virtuosic movement was given again as an encore since there was no other music available for the combination of all players. Which did not stop Cepinskas from adding a couple of solo (with band) pieces at the end, including a rumbustious Romanian dance. Great fun!
Both concerts had a fair amount of non-concertgoers in the audience, who applauded between every movement. Do I care? It's nice that they come to concerts!
Thursday, December 31, 2009
After a five-month break from orchestral music I am now getting my fill again! Saturday night saw us in the Filharmonija, for the usual Christmas concert by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra under its artistic director Sergey Krylov, with an early Haydn symphony and a Mozart divertimento (we missed the second half of Vivaldi's four seasons for a dinner engagement; should have been Mendelssohn's concerto for piano, violin and strings but the pianist could not make it to Vilnius for whatever reason).
Got back to Vilnius a week ago; it was raining, it had frozen earlier, and it was like an ice rink - until and including Christmas day, when it was absolutely pouring on top of the ice. As I went out to empty the bins, a couple of homeless guys slipped into our stairwell, no doubt hoping I would not notice. Found them sitting right at the top of the stairs (next to my apartment); they said they wanted to warm up (and dry out?) a little. Who could blame them? I gave them some Christmas biscuits to support any liquids they might be taking. The next morning they had gone and the stairs were fine.
Then it thawed a bit, and the pavements were clear, but a couple of days ago it started snowing again. I can't make up my mind whether the municipality is cutting back on snow clearing; now the snow is frozen to the pavements again and it is becoming treacherous. But I do see people out shovelling snow (this always used to be a public works scheme whereby the unemployed got a bit of employment and a bit of income). I am not sure how much the municipality is liable for people's injuries; they may never have been sued, otherwise the pavements might, even without snow, be in better nick.
Having said that, while I was in Germany a couple of weeks ago, during a very cold snap, I did not notice that there was that much pavement cleaning being done - and there the onus is on property owners/renters to clear the snow in front of their property....
Posted by Pete at 11:04 am
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Last night there was a fund-raising dinner for a women's refuge here in Gaborone, called something like Kanisano, supported amongst others by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung of Germany, or 'by Friedrich' as one speaker said. Expensive tickets, nice venue, big anticipation!
Alas.....it was supposed to start at 7 pm, by 8 pm half the guests had drifted in....at 8.10 pm it was finally decided to start in the half-empty (of half-full!) hall. By then it seemed like there was pressure on time (was the hall only rented till 10 pm?). Given the price of the tickets my team had all saved their appetite for the evening....so we were gasping. Not least because it seems that the drink was not included in the tickets (had it been more people might have been more motivated, later in the evening, to sign a commitment form for further funding).
One of the organisers then read out a list of all the organisations who were attending - at least it was all the organisations who may have paid (better than nothing), but many were not attending. (My team was out in full force!). Bit embarassing, that. It got worse... I spotted quite a few people who I knew, which was nice - I am getting into this Botswana scene! An entertainment was procured, with some youngsters dancing to Michael Jackson music (a school mate of my son's, over 20 years ago, was a huge fan, so I remember this).
Then finally we were allowed dinner, which was nice. Lovely puddings, especially - Botswana is quite good at traditional British puddings, with a compulsory trifle at every meal. I bought a bottle of wine for the table....
Then, the show went on, with a video being shown about the refuge's work. The person who was supposed to introduce this had also not turned up (Serious embarassment, no?). So someone else introduced it, rather at length. The master of ceremonies did a thing about how to treat a woman (compliment her - I turned to my neighbour and said 'don't I compliment you every day?' - she agreed. Flirting is Fun!). Bit of a thin ice situation, all the same, given the environment.
The video was ok, nothing new for me; I'm not sure about other people in the hall. One of my colleagues who had been affected by domestic violence earlier in her life, found that extremely hard to take - it was really brave for her to come at all. Later the master of ceremonies announced that just that minute a child victim of sexual abuse had been admitted to the refuge (really?, I ask myself). But it's good that at least this is talked about, unlike in Georgia. (Though many of the guests were not Motswana, but expats).
Then there was the awards moment, perhaps of donors? I missed the start of this, having gone out for a smoke (and yes, I am cutting back a bit, having come to an agreement with a colleague - she found the right button to push, after everyone else told me just to stop). When I got back, I saw most of the pile of awards, about 10 or so, having moved from the left to the right of the table - I think only one beneficiary was there. I felt so sorry for the organisers!
I suppose if people pay at least the organisation gets their money; though at the same time they will also have paid up front for the buffet (for the paid number of guests).
One interesting thing - SADC, the Southern Africa Development Coorperation has some sort of agreement on domestic violence and dealing with it; of all the 15 or so member states only Botswana and one other have not signed this. hmmmm.
Friday, November 27, 2009
The new law in Botswana requires every holder of a prepaid SIM card to register their number by the end of 2009. Did someone mention 'invasion of privacy'?
Having only 2 more weeks here this year I thought it was high time to get it done. Went round to the MASCOM office near the main mall....Every time I go there there is a huge queue....As there was today. Not only a huge, slow-moving queue with about one person dealing with it, but also no forms for registering the phone - they had run out (yesterday I had seen a guy with a several inches thick bundle leaving the place...). I was told to wait outside and they would soon get a form. Lots of people were sitting outside, slightly in the shade, waiting. I waited for about 15 minutes or so, by which time a queue had also formed outside. No forms appeared.
I got narked, and felt guilty because I was the only white guy in the queue... but eventually got up and cycled to Riverwalk, to buy those black trousers required for next weeks' 'President's Concert' - still need to find a bow tie....
Realised that I might have time to get my hair cut, too, and as I went upstairs to the hairdresser's I found a MASCOM office next to it; with hardly any queue! Went to get the modem configured - to get me through the times when my accommodation's internet is down; filled in the form and had my passport ready to confirm that I am who I am.
Only to find that no-one checks the form and it is just stuffed in a box. Hmmm. So what is the point of registering? People could put in any information in the form..... But job done!
Posted by Pete at 3:32 pm
Friday, November 20, 2009
Since Wednesday it has been raining, mostly non-stop - there have been a couple of breaks in the rain, but not many. The temperature is about 15 degrees or so...People are freezing.
Even here in Gaborone this shows up problems with drainage (not a problem that much considered in roadbuilding, it seems). Everywhere there are large, very large puddles - a stream is running down the road outside the complex, even in my complex getting out is a problem. I now have to take a detour virtually versus someone's patio, the pool and its surrounds are merging...
I wonder what it will be like in the countryside, in villages which don't have that many paved roads, where children often don't have shoes, where people cook outside their tiny houses (and how is the firewood kept dry). I wonder about people in tiny houses at the same level as the surrounding area - how do they keep the water out. I hope the rain is local to Gaborone, but even here there are house with mud floors etc, pit latrines in the garden - overall about 24% of people do not have access to any form of sanitation...
The government has a disaster unit. If, in a little while, you hear about severe flooding in Botswana, you read it here first.
Posted by Pete at 5:45 pm
Sunday, November 15, 2009
- when you don't want to go out because it's so hot
- so you end up walking around the flat and balcony in boxershorts all day
- when the brick paving outside is too scorching for bare feet (how do poor Africans do it?)
- when the pool is so warm that it feels like swimming in soup
- when going on the balcony from the air-conditioned flat is like entering an oven
Posted by Pete at 3:50 pm
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
'Moatlhodi appeals for officers accommodation04 November, 2009
FRANCISTOWN - Tonota South MP, Mr Pono Moatlhodi has urged his constituents to assist in providing affordable accommodation to nurses and other officers posted to their village.
Mr Moatlhodi, who is alsoDeputy Speaker of the National Assembly, said when addressing a kgotla meeting recently that civil servants may not be able to stay in their village if the rentals are high.
He told residents that rentals for private property are set by the owner and no one can advise to lower them.
The MP said government will in the near future post nurses and other government officials to Tonota Primary Hospital.
On other issues, Mr Moatlhodi commended residents for taking Ipelegeng projects (public works) seriously. He said de-bushing at primary schools is a welcome initiative as pupils were prone to being attacked by snakes.
He said all primary schools in Tonota did well in the Primary School Leaving Examination with Tonota Primary School scooping position one for the second consecutive year. This, he said, was due to concerted efforts by parents and teachers. He advised parents of students at other primary schools to take leaf from Tonota Primary School in order to improve their childrens results He also noted that, Batswana voted in large numbers during the past election and that as the election dust has settled, residents should come to terms and work towards developing their village. I want to call for cooperation and coherence in serving the public, he said urging all councillors in the constituency be they opposition or BDP members to unite with him to form a better team that would deliver to electorates.
Mr Moatlhodi also briefed residents on the new SHHA loan scheme and that funds are now available. He talked about ISPAAD and advised the area agricultural demonstrator to ensure that seeds are enough and ready for distribution. For their part residents complained of women, who attend kgotla meetings wearing trousers. They also complained about drivers who over speed because they pose danger to the public.
Residents called for traffic lights at a junction near the new bus rank saying to date more than seven pedestrians have lost their lives while more than five accidents have occurred on the newly constructed road.'
Sunday, November 01, 2009
I've been reading Bertrand Russell's 'In Praise of Idleness'. The title attracted me - and I remember my mother eading his stuff when she was about my age, and I always wondered what she saw in him. I think I still do, though it's interesting reading these 15 essays written in the 1930s.
He covers a wide range of topics, from idleness, to architecture and social conditions, to communism and fascism, the cynicism of the young, the powers of capital (to use a Marxist phrase). I cannot quite work out what kind of type he was. Clearly he was not a scientist - while there are references to other thinkers/writers, they are not properly referenced. While one could argue that perhaps the style of academic writing may have developed since then, in fact Freud who wrote a good 20 - 50 years earlier, was fairly meticulous in his referencing. So he is not a scientist - is he 'just' a thinker? He did get a Nobel Prize for literature - which makes me wonder what constitutes 'literature' - I always thought it was novels, poetry and such like - but I don't think he wrote those.
The book is fairly readable; the foreword talks about his wit - I did not notice much of that, unless it was unintentional. Clearly his ideas are somewhat dated. But there are some interesting moments:
In his essay on idleness he suggests that 4 hours work is quite enough for anyone, given the possibilities of modern (1935!) machinery. If the income from work were properly distributed we could all live quite happily and enjoy idleness - time to sit and think. (I am getting better at that....though for a long time that damned protestant work ethic got in the way). He even suggests that teachers should not work for more than 2 hours per day to keep themselves fresh and interested in their charges.
On architecture and social conditions he suggests that families should live together, eg in apartment blocks, with a communal kitchen and kindergarten, to free (especially working) women from the drudgery of housework. The kitchen would provide wholesome meals for families (this might be desirable given the UK obesity epidemic) and the nursery would be child-safe so the children could explore their limits; they would spend all day there, only returning to their parents after the evening meal. A bit like the kibbutz idea - at the time attachment theory (relating to babies and children) was not even thought of. ...
On finance and financiers he writes: 'the interests of finance in recent years have been opposed to the interests of the general public....It is unwise to leave financiers to the unfettered pursuit of their private profits'. Something we could echo today....
On youthful cynicism he suggests that young men (sic) in Russia are not cynical because they accept ...the Communist philosphy. Perhaps he was not aware of the Stalinist clampdown on free speech, even thought, at the same time.
He writes a lot about stoicism and mental health, particularly in the face of death. He suggests, for example, that parents who lose a child should not hide their grief from their other children, who might then think that they would not care either if this child died. I suppose there is not much danger of hiding parental grief these days - perhaps the opposite is the case.
Although he often mentions the lot of downtrodden wives, he is still a man of his period; discussing body and soul he writes 'we knew that a man consists of a soul and body'. And pray, what do women consist of?
Interesting reading, in terms of social construction of social categories.....
and now I will idle some more.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Here it says that pearshaped women (large hips and thighs) and appleshaped men (larger bellies) are more at risk of DVT. Illustrated by a back view of two very very large ladies.
But....it goes on to say that, in the case of women, even if they have the ideal weight they are more at risk of this.
So what, pray, are people supposed to do with this information? Hunger themselves down until they are well below the ideal weight? Sounds like a recipe for anorexia....
Sometimes there are things one really does not want to know.
Posted by Pete at 2:49 pm
Friday, October 16, 2009
Picked up A S Byatt's latest book, 'The Children's Book' a week ago at the local bookstore. I was quite surprised that they had one of hers, but it's not a bad place ('Exclusive Books', in Riverwalk, Gabarone, a South African chain; has the most choice). I did not really mean to buy more books, have quite enough to last me for the moment, but could not resist. I think it may have been listed for the Booker prize.
In some ways, Byatt always writes the same books; complex arty and often left-wing families, who always seem to be putting on Shakespeare dramas in amateur performances. This one was a bit different, being set at the turn of the 19th/20th century until the end of WWI (my heart sank when I noticed that), and for my liking it contained far too much history - I hate that stuff. It contains a wide mixture of real and imaginary people, and probably real quotes. All sorts of left wingers, from the Webbs to the Pankhursts and so on. Particularly near the end the characters almost disappear under the weight of history. Ok, so it was a horrible time, even before WW1, and the struggle of the suffragettes was quite horrific (just had conversations about women's votes this week on the eve of the Botswana election tomorrow), but I am really not into history.
Apart from that, it was a jolly romp, though also including some deeply disturbed families (my diagnosis - bipolar depression in one person, unipolar depression in at least one other), emotional abandonment and so on. All upper middle class stuff, apart from the working class folk, who somehow fitted in, more or less, on sufferance. Some characters always remained on the edge of things, colourless - one never got an idea of what went on in their heads.
It was a nice read, it's just that I found it much of a muchness for A S Byatt (bit like Isabel Allende, who always writes the same book), and I could not abide all that historical stuff. But maybe that was a new challenge for her.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I've never had an experience like this! Cycling out to Kgale Sidings (distinctly dodgy given that outside the town I could barely see the difference between the road and the rubble beside it; someone gave me a lift back into town with their bakkie) I found the 'opera house' all lit up and the audience milling around, having drinks and chatting. Found a few friends there which was really nice.
The opera house is a converted garage, with about 100 seats (seemed fairly sold out) crammed in a very steeply sloping auditorium. The stage is tiny, and the garage doors at the back of the stage were open to the African night - awesome!
The opera was 'Okavango Macbeth', with words by Alexander McCall Smith, and music by Tom Cunningham. (Okavango is a delta in the north of Botswana famed for its wildlife). Have to say that the music was very, very easy on the ear - he describes himself on his website as a New Age composer, and there were hints of that in the piano accompaniment (there is no orchestra and there is no space for one anyway). One of the songs repeated three times in the 75-minute opera (could call it leitmotiv, but wonder if it was a bit of lazy composing), and much of the other harmonies and accompaniments seemed very easy to write - I could have done those. But no matter. David Slater, seemingly the only capable pianist in town (I've heard 3) and 'Mr Music', did a great job managing the 'orchestral' part.
The story was of Macbeth among baboons, watched by a group of scientists. It started with a chorus of animals singing about peace, but then all hell had broken loose and it was the fault of the baboons. The animal acting was fabulous - the actors had got the behaviour and the movements so well! Some were better as baboons than others, but overall it was stunning. I do wonder though about the wisdom of McCall Smith writing an opera about monkeys using black actors; one of the many racist comments about black people in Europe are in the form of monkey noises, or throwing them bananas.....
Unsurprisingly, the story was very compressed, given that it was not only Macbeth, but also the scientists who had troubles between them - so some story lines started and were then left in the air....
Visually it was stunning, funny, unexpected, and much of the singing was very nice indeed. Lady Macbeth played by a young woman from the Sedibeng Choir who I think studies singing in France was amazing, especially in her acting. What a sly bitch! The guys had wonderful voices, and this was one of the few opera performances where one could actually understand the words (in English).
Rumour has it that they might take it to the Edinburgh festival (McCall Smith probably has connections). It's length and need for only a tiny stage would make it perfect for the Fringe! As long as they can all get visas.....
Posted by Pete at 9:22 am
Friday, October 09, 2009
A few weeks back I had enough trouble finding a bikeshop, but eventually got my bike. By the time I had had it for 10 days I had a small puncture; fixed it after a fashion but not perfectly, then I had another puncture, and decided to get new inner tubes; two, just in case.
Gabarone has 3 bicycle shops that I know, and I have heard of a fourth one, but don't know where it is. One of these three only does bikes, the others do all sorts of other things, too. Went to the first one, nearest to work - had none and did not know when to get them in. Went to another one, a B&Q type of place; did not have the right size. Went to the place where I bought the bike; had possibly the right size, but the wrong valve for the pump they sold me! Aaarrrggghh!
So tootled home in the taxi with a mad taxi driver (was he on drugs? he seemed to be very angry with a lot of people; he seemed to be looking for a room but not with me, honey) and repaired my punctures. Have realised why the last one, and many others I have repaired in the past, did not hold well - I always repaired them with some air in the tyre; this time I let all the air out - so far (14 hours later) they seem to be holding.
Gaborone is not a 'green' place!
Off to the opera tonight; in the bush along unlit roads - hope I don't get a puncture there!
Posted by Pete at 11:46 pm
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I do have a wonderful set of headphones to listen to my iPod, but sometimes it is a bit weird singing along to it, and people passing by must wonder what I am up to.
So today, once I had repaired the puncture in my bike, not wonderfully successfully, but enough, and then in the middle of the road reset the rear wheel, then gone to one shopping centre for a new inner tube (Game in Game City, closed for Independence Day) I finally found the electronics shop open at another shopping centre (Riverwalk). It had been open on Saturday, too, but constant power cuts meant that the shop could not actually sell anything to all those people patiently waiting in a queue (imagine if you had come 800 km just to buy something there...).
Treated myself to a Phillips 'docking entertainment system (see photie). It's cool and gives not a bad sound! Also works as a radio (if I get South African Classic FM here; since it's modelled on UK classic FM that may not necessarily be an advantage...) and alarm and all that. It's nice to be able to listen to music and not have my ears squeezed all the time!
Posted by violainvilnius at 6:40 pm
Since there seems to be some delay built into the writing and publishing of posts (and comments) at the moment, let me be the first to tell you that the Lithuanian conductor Vytautas Lukocius has won yet another conducting competition; this time in Mexico, the Eduardo Mata competition. He wrote to tell me so himself (comment under previous post, once it appears). Well done! I wish, though, that at least one of the jury members had not not only been in the Helsinki jury, but also his some time teacher. That sort of thing makes me feel uncomfortable.
I don't know where he has been since he won his last competition in Helsinki, then got a bit carried away, with mouth running away ahead of his brain, producing some rather intemperate comments about the Lithuanian music business (he may have been right or not, but damn it, it is a small country, and his home country - that was a big risk to take, and it did not pay off so well).
Posted by violainvilnius at 6:15 pm
Sunday, September 27, 2009
It's a long time since I wrote a concert review, no? (And what, by the way, is happening with blogger that my posts don't appear?).
So last night I went to the Maitisong to listen to the Sedibeng Choral Society - I had heard them in rehearsal last Monday, nearly a week ago, and thought they sounded good.
The Maitisong was about half...full, with few expatriates (code for 'whites') to be seen. The programme consisted of a classical half and a Setswana half. For the classical half the ladies appeared wearing lime-green dresses and the guys were wearing snow white. A stunning appearance! During the first half a number of choir members also sang solos. Particularly impressive was Oteng Zachariah with Bernstein's 'Lucky to be me', sung like a cheeky chappy - with really wonderful singing, acting and a bit of dancing. The Gluck and Mozart arias plus choir had their moments, not least from the pianist (must be hard to find a decent pianist here; the 'orchestral' transcriptions not only seemed to be sparse, but also often wandered off into unexpected directions, for those of us who knew the pieces). Interpretations were a little unexpected at times, as well, but interesting. Refilwe Ramogetsi, who sang 'Let love be triumphant', from the Orfeo, a tiny bit unsteadily, but she tried hard, reminded me so much of the Orfeo I have seen in Vilnius many times. Later Tshenolo Segokgo was wonderful in Bizet's Habanera (though is it really a soprano aria?), kind of like Westside Story in Spain. Very sexy!
The second half was quite different, and amazing. This was a collection of Setswana songs, including weddings, and funerals and daily work songs. Here the choir wore normal clothes, and went about their business, singing and dancing. The theme was 'how beautiful is Botswana' - it would do well as a tourist attraction or for selling Botswana world wide. Particularly moving was the funeral song, preceeded by an announcement of the HIV/AIDS statistic - the song was harrowing - it expressed so much pain! A young guy did a dance act involving a medicine man, and at the end lead the whole troupe out of the hall, singing. It was fabulous!
Saturday, September 26, 2009
It seems that Riga has been nominated as one of the European capitals of culture 2014.
The Vilnius Capital of Culture appears to have been nothing short of a disaster (partly because of the economic crisis, but also, at least as far as I can tell, due to the appalling response of the government to the economic crisis - it singlehandedly deepened it even more in Lithuania; but I am not an economist).
A comment in the article points out:
panel chair Sir Robert Scott, who headed Liverpool’s successful bid to
become the 2008 EU culture capital, told DPA that he hoped the funding
cuts experienced by this year’s title holder Vilnius would not be
repeated in Riga.
“Vilnius was not a happy example. The possibility of capital cities becoming capitals of culture and then not doing their work was something that haunted our discussions, but Riga’s presentation was very impressive, so we are giving Riga a real opportunity,” Scott said.'
What a devastating critique! It did also not help that Vilnius lost its charismatic mayor between the time of the bid and the event; his successors have been ....unimpressive, to say the least.
Posted by Pete at 1:31 pm
In the last week or so the weather has been changing. A few thunderstorms at night, spectacular ones (though I cannot see the lightning very well, what with having buildings directly opposite me), never-ending thunder rolls, and some rain. Yesterday morning it even rained without a thunderstorm! I wonder if the plants in the desert are heaving a big sigh of relief, and stretching out their little water-gathering cells (I used to know the word for those once) and sucking up every drop of moisture. Will the desert turn green?
Meanwhile I learnt, the hard way, that cycling in the rain with a bike that lacks mudguards is not a good idea. Even on the short trip to work (about 5 minutes) I could feel my back getting wet; when I got to work the (Friday casual) T-shirt was not only wet, but covered in mud, front and back. Very embarassing; especially since it was a version of our organisation's polo shirts which my local colleagues do not have. More to the point, there has been a rare day that I have arrived at work without having at least a wee oily stain somewhere. Maybe it's better to continue walking to work.
Alo, cycling at night. Last night cycled to the Moth Hall (like a small village hall, at the back of the bus terminus, behind the Gaborone Hotel) for the Capital Player's performance of 'Barefoot in the Park', by Neil Simon; an American comedy set in about the 1960s, when having a gay couple as neighbours could still create laughs. The performance was, kind of, ok - amateur; could have been done at twice the speed and nothing would have been lost; I think it was meant to be fast-paced. The funniest performer was the lady with the smallest part.....I left after the first half, maybe the second half might have been better.
Cycling there and back was a bit of an adventure. On the way there the traffic was still fairly busy, I somehow drifted into the teeming bus terminus with people everywhere, finally found the entrance to the 'theatre' with pot holes all over the place. On the way back cycled along a footpath und crashed into the branches of a very thorny three; if I had not closed my eye so fast, I could have had a very nasty eye injury! And thank you, helmet, for saving my head from instant combing!
Posted by Pete at 11:06 am
Monday, September 21, 2009
Another long weekend; the UN team has today off in honour of Eid-Al-Fitr; a Muslim holiday. You have no idea the slagging off I got at the hash yesterday about the UN honouring this holiday. Did we honour every religion's holiday, people asked, and if so, did we do any work?
So I had planned to use my last weekend's 'car allowance', ie the use of the office car, to fill up with shopping. Alas, out of the three cars a colleague had one (who is well over her 3 months' car allowance), and two others were out in the countryside. I was supposed to get one of those, but it broke down in the middle of no-where on Saturday; so no car for me.
I was narked; seriously narked. So I finally decided to buy a bike. People laughed - someone had asked me some time ago how I can live in Gaborone without a car. A colleague said that a UN employee cannot go around on a bicycle. But me, I can be stubborn, especially when I am narked.
So on Friday I looked up the address of Jonmol bicycles, Plot 25146, Gaborone Industrial West, and hailed a taxi to take me there. An hour and a half later we still had not found it! He was bothered, I was annoyed - why do I have to know how to get somewhere in order to use a taxi; seems the wrong way around....
Then on Saturday I finally spoke to Bones, the owner, and he told me it was next to 'Fruit and Veg', on the north side. That kind of direction is another one I struggle with, but today managed to get there, remembering that the sun here travels via the north, not the south.
He has a whole shop full of used bikes, some very used (one saddle looked as if a rat had made a hole in it), also some new bikes. Found a reasonable used one, male, not female, with a saddle with only a small hole, and paid about 65 Euros for it. It runs well - took it to Game City and bought all the other kit, helmet, lights, backpack, repair kit - all that together cost more than the bike, and now I am independent. I can't quite understand why I never needed to shift the gears, even though there were one or two mild hills to conquer.... so I'm very pleased with it. Also the wind, while cycling, cools me down a bit, which is pleasant, and better than walking. And since it looks old it might get stolen less easily. Bought the heaviest lock I could find, which Lithuanian bicycle thieves would only laugh at, and I hope it'll keep me going until I leave, in December (if I leave).
I noticed that Bones had a whole pile of bikes there labelled UNDP - now what is that about? He's a lovely guy; well worth going to if you want a cheap bike. He also has a full-time mechanic who I suspect is able to fix anything. While I was there a buy came in with a very very buckled front wheel - apparently it had been a bike-to-bike crash.....There's another bikeshop in Gaborone, near the station, Gaborone Garage and Cycles; it sells mainly new bikes, and most of them are behind a huge counter, so it's difficult to just go and look at them, without asking. Me, I don't like asking, as my son will confirm.
Posted by Pete at 2:51 pm
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Anyway, walking along a very busy road, overtaking another guy, when I hear him talking to me. I think 'another bad luck story, he'll want money'. Turns out he wants to talk his problem of a 'running stomach', Botswana for 'diarrhoea'. As one does, of an evening. I'm very glad it's dark so I can hide my smile. But he is serious; he wants a medical consultation in the middle of the road. So we go through all the symptoms, he makes some shapes with his hands indicating something, and I just wonder if he is going to drop his trousers on me. But no, the conversation stays perfectly polite; I give him some suggestions, including going to see a doctor seeing he has had it for 3 weeks, and we part company.
Posted by Pete at 10:11 am
Saturday, September 12, 2009
It's a week ago now that I was in Palapye (for work). It's 270 km from Gaborone, quite close by as people say. The rather ancient bus took 3.5 hours going there and 3 hours coming back.
Travelling through Botswana is not interesting. In that distance we passed through one town, a few villages, and in between there is just scrub land and nothing and nobody to be seen, apart from some goats and donkeys here and there. In Botswana animals are not tied up, as they might be in Eastern Europe; a colleague said that at the end of the day they find their own way home. Given that there are some nasty wild beasts about, it's probably better if they can run away....
We finished work in Palapye on the Saturday afternoon; some people decided to stay on for some excursions. Not sure there is much to be excursioning about....but someone said that in the villages around it there were/would be lots of weddings, and it seems anyone can just gate-crash. It's one way of spending a weekend, no?
On Sunday I will be off to Ghanzi, on the other side of Botswana, near Namibia. It's a 700 km trip, each way. So we'll be spending Sunday and Wednesday driving all day. It's possible that I may have to go again the following week! That week we'll have a meeting there in the morning, but still cannot return in the afternoon. Apparently that road is really dangerous to use at night, what with all the wild animals crossing roads (Only this week some people were killed by crashing into something big on four legs....).
A few weeks ago a friend was telling me about when he crashed into a cow. The cow landed on the bonnet, then on the roof, denting all, crashing all windows, breaking all mirrors (the car now drives without any mirrors....) and then sliding onto the road. The driver got out, rather stunned. Went round to look at the cow. She staggered to her feet and strolled off into the bush......
Today had a works outing, a brief one, to Kgale Hill, the main hill near Gaborone. It was lunchtime. 12 people had signed up and got their sports gear, maybe 9 came out; 5 ended up strolling up the side of the hill for about 15 minutes and then down again.....It was very warm; maybe it's better to walk up early in the morning - but when?
The spring has really sprung now. The evenings and mornings are noticeably warmer, and my colleagues are now starting to use the air conditioners for chilling them out rather than for heating. A week ago I was talking to a guy who has a building business. He wondered how he could heat his house in the winter; this winter he used four cylinders of gas to keep them warm - that he considered a harsh winter. (I used one a week when I lived in Scotland). I had to explain to him, literally in words of one syllable, different heating systems, like radiators, electric under-floor heating, that system where you get the heat out of the earth.....It's weird for us northerners when people don't understand hot water radiators.
The other nice thing about spring are the beautiful trees and bushes beginning to flower. They are pretty stunning, in all sorts of bright colours. At night, when I go home or sit on my balcony, a beautiful scent wafts through the air. Tonight, returning from my weekly shopping trip, I saw a stunning sunset - a huge red globe dipping down the horizon, fast.
I wonder, though, how hot it will get?
Posted by Pete at 10:58 pm
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
The landscape is mainly flat, mainly sandy but covered in scrub or small dry trees. Not all that exciting. Apart from the cows and donkeys we saw some goats, one group of sheep, and a horse or two. And there was an interesting bird, kind of like the hornbill, but with a much smaller bill than those you see in the zoo.
The road seems to be mainly used by lorries travelling from Namibia to South Africa. There was very little other traffic. It is in beautiful condition, so I could thunder along at 160 km/h.....
3 days later....
On the way back met the first car, on leaving Ghanzi, after 30 km.....The wildlife was a bit more prolific; spotted two tiny antelope-type animals (or gazelle types?) with big fluffy ears quietly grazing beside the road and lots of birds. Quite a few hornbill-type birds, one of whom unfortunately took off the road in front of the car too late, and hit the windscreen at 140 km/h; a huge bird, about owl-sized, with a brown body and black and white wings, which just managed to lumber out of the way of the car; some delicate grey fowls with long necks and a little red crown; a little black bird with a stunning red tummy, an fluorescent blue bird and two ostriches! They were also stunning - from the distance they looked like a little black cloud a metre above the ground, until you got nearer and spotted the grey legs and head. Going about their business quite calmly.
I really must buy a book on the flora and fauna of Botswana. No pictures were taken, of course. Not on a 700 km road trip in a hurry to get home.
Posted by Pete at 9:09 pm
Monday, August 24, 2009
But this ostrich did. The Botswana Hash (also known as the Kalahari Hash) migrated, as it does annually, to some place in South Africa, just south of the border. The way it goes is that 90 km or so are covered by various teams, each team responsible for a bit of the distance. And then among each team the runner carry an ostrich feather duster, and change every so often. In the case of the old folks, it's very often, in the case of fitter folk, it's less often.
Being among the fitter folk, I was not only among the first team,but also among the second team (as was all of the first team, what with the second team not getting visas in time to enter SA). A five am rise, 6.30 am departure, 8 am running start. 'Sprint', we were told....And so we did. With the pick-ups and drop-offs it means, essentially running behind a car. Not so good for the lungs. Also not so good for the interior of the car, given that most of the running was on dirt roads, which were very sandy. My car had the additional disadvantage of being well-oiled inside, given my home-made salad kept in a box, specially bought for it's nice closures, but which leaked all over the place....
What with the second team not arriving, we had to cover a total of 27.4 km between five of us. Then I had to drive for a South African team....Later, I also took on 3 km of a cycling leg (again someone had visa problems), and finally joined another team of 6 to cover a further 6 km. Plenty of running was done, and waiting while we drove ahead of other groups and waited for them at the end of their leg. The landscape was deserted, which was just as well seeing as it might not have looked very kind to see an older person running after a car full of younger ones. And at around 4.40 pm we had all arrived!
See hashes? See different cultures? The Botswana hash is very nice, a family kind of hash, with people of all ages. The South African Hash, mentioning no towns of origin, but they were not that far from the BW border, were a rough lot. Geeez, their songs - the Botswana hash was covered in embarrassment while listening to the SA lot. It's interesting how different hashes attract different folk.
SA got well carried away with themselves; there was one (rather butch) woman who gave me a hard time all day, over this, that and the other, finally kneeing me in the groin over me burning a lid of a cardboard container. No harm done :-). I was shocked at the time and it was only later that I thought that maybe she fancies me and does not have the words to express this....some sociological studies have been done on how little boys make friends, and they often beat each other up first before becoming firm friends. There's not much danger of that on my side, but I wish I had thought of that at the time and grabbed her in my arms and kissed her! That might have sorted her out!
Some people camped, in a seriously nippy temperature; I shared a room with another guy and in fact was very warm indeed (though by the time I showered in the morning no hot water was left).
Posted by Pete at 12:17 am
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Today looks a bit like verbal diarrhoea, no?
Spring sprang in Gaborone on Wednesday, 5 August. Waiting outside the yoga place at night I suddenly realised it was not as chilly as usual at that time of night. The next morning a colleague reported that she had taken one of the blankets off her bed.
Today I went into my compound's pool for the first time, and as probably the first person this spring. A South African friend laughed and said it showed that I came from a strange country. And yes, ok, it was rather nippy, especially in the morning. In the afternoon it was better, and it's quite nice to swim. Though putting the head into the water, to spare the neck a little, was a wee bitty challenging.
By 2 pm today there were distinct symptoms of sunburn. I'm glad I brought some stuff out with me.
A Street in Stellenbosch (Hamman Street, don't ask me why they called it that!).
Below the lads from Pretoria giving their best playing kwela music to the clear delight of their audience
View of Table Mountain on a dreich day
A wonderful magnolia in Stellenbosch
Posted by Pete at 7:51 pm
It's Saturday, I have the office car (not pranged anything yet this weekend...).
So I thought I'd do my duty wild animal wise and go to Mokolodi Game Park, just outside Gaborone. I even found it, first time - that does not often happen to me here. (It's off the Lobatse Road).
Since people rave about the park's restaurant, that was my first stop. It has nice outside seats, with a view over the park (no giraffes wandering by), and a day's special involving pork knuckle, sauerkraut and 'bratkartoffeln'. Almost enough to make me turn back! But in the end I had a wonderful salad and a fillet steak with chips. Folks here are great on meat, less so on vegetables.
Then off I drove towards the game park, only to find that you have to be a member to drive your own car in it, otherwise you have to participate in a guided tour (which costs less, I am Scottish!). And today's tours were already booked. I suppose that is nature conservation for you. Did not see anything alive, though passed closely by the reptile department. Bit scary that!
My local colleagues seem to think that those wild animals are best kept in a zoo. They are really scared of them, perhaps not surprisingly. I told one that in Europe buffalo milk is used for rather nice mozzarella - she exclaimed 'How do they milk those wild beasts?'
It reminds me of the day my son (then 9) and I met a little snake sunning itself on a stone in Scotland. Not sure what it was, but my (half-African) son screamed and screamed and ran away. Even then I wondered if a fear like that could have been passed down genetically (certainly not culturally in our case). Having just read Carl Jung on something like a common unconscious (between all people) which is fed by ancient myths I still wonder about that. He suggests that apart from their own psyche people's unconscious is also fed by all sorts of stories and myths from ancient times till today. (Though I think Jung looks at this from a learned middle-class point of view - he analyses [probably Swiss] folks' dreams and links them to all sorts of mysterious mystical events all over the globe. Can't imagine that my friend's English removal man, who, on being told that she works for the European Union, said 'never heard of it', would have similar dreams, and might well think his analyst is off his head talking about squares and circles, and ancient Indian myths. Myself, I prefer Freud, plain old sex and family problems. No wonder Freud and Jung fell out.) Wow, bit of a detraction here, no?
So a guy goes and buys Lisa Batiashvili's recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, combined with 6 miniatures by Tsintsadze, a Georgian composer.
Now, normally one expects the main piece to come first, with the fillers filling up the end. One is then rather startled to find the rather folksy, almost folksy-poppy miniatures at the front of the CD. Some people, slipping it into their player and wandering off, might think they have slipped the wrong CD in altogether, especially since the first piece starts with a startling drum solo (but then, so does the Beethoven...).
Me, I was totally startled, if not stunned, to find a rather cheesy arrangement of 'Suliko' as the second piece. Suliko is, in any case, a rather cheesy Georgian song, and the arrangement adds an extra layer of buffalo mozarella on top. It's the one song that unites all of Georgia, and Georgians abroad, if drunk and/or homesick, will burst into this. Given that I am not good at dealing with separation from people or places (family history, and yes, I have just the right job for that, don't I?), eg Georgia, it had me damn nearly in tears. It's incredibly emotional! I wonder if Mr Saakashvili was singing it yesterday, on the anniversary of his war against Russia.
All these pieces, arrangements of Georgian songs (I thought I recognized another one or two of them) are brilliantly played by Batiashvili, who obviously has this music in her blood. Even the men's songs (aggressive pieces) she plays with the right (sword) edge. Her Beethoven is pretty stunning, too!
At work we have, among others, this lovely wee security guard. He's a slip of a lad, barely at the shaving age, and I dread to think how he would protect us against a marauding horde brandishing machine guns. Let's hope that never happens!
It seems he is not that well paid, like most security guards; one time, while I was out for a smoke, he asked me for some money because he was so hungry - I did not have any on me; I have also seen him sell phone cards and one time he was handing out cards for a taxi firm; that evening when I needed a taxi I used them - it only took them three phone calls to me to find my place. Had I mentioned that Gaborone is not good at doing addresses?
Yesterday he turned up at work wearing a pair of glasses. I asked him about them, about to make a quip about old age not coming itself, when he took them off and showed me that in fact they did not contain lenses - it was just a rimless, and lense-less frame! He would not admit to his motivation....He did look rather cool in them, and most people had not notice the lack in the specs.....Aaaaah!
Here's a wonderful conversation my friend varske had whilst moving from Oxford, England, to Vilnius.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
We always start the session with 'what kind of [thing] am I today'. In my first session it was fruit, so after dismissing the thought of 'lemon' I said 'orange'; in the second session it was 'weather' ('cloudy'; interestingly she was facing a wind which she was having to fight). Today it was something to eat, so I said 'sausage'. That caused a bit of a stir (I imagine serious yoga folk being vegetarian; I also have had enough psychoanalysis to know fine what I was saying). She asked what kind of sausage; I said 'boerewors' - a Southern African kind of sausage. Did not elaborate that it was long and full of fresh meat..... Later there was some exercise involving massaging the abdomen and being nice to the bits inside it, including the ovaries. I pointed out I did not have any [functioning ones]. Resisted manfully voicing the suggestion that I might massage my testicles instead. The teacher suggested it was a shame I did not have any ovaries; it's rather a matricentric outfit, no?
Posted by Pete at 12:26 am
Sunday, August 02, 2009
South Africa, and in particular Hester Worlitz, who was the main mover behind the 37th International Viola Congress, has really done itself proud! Hester and I both attended our first congress in Germany in 2003, and were both enthused to do a congress in our countries. I did not manage to pull it off, but Hester did, and the end of the congress was a triumph!
The congress dinner at the Morgenhof was magnificent (though they seemed to be unable to cater for vegetarians, and proportions in South Africa between meat and accompanying vegetables seem to be greatly in favour of meat... the wine flowed very generously...).
Early the next morning not that many people appeared, but eventually trundled in for a fascinating lecture recital of Brazilian music for viola. In Brazil the viola is a guitar-type instrument played by violeros; this has the result that many European type viola teachers ('viola di arca' played by 'violistas', give or take my non-existant knowledge of Portuguese) find themselves attended (once) by many little boys wanting to play the Brazilian viola, and getting a big surprise!
The closing concert was almost the highlight of the concert. Luise Lansdowne's group of students from the Royal Northern College of Manchester (including, it turned out at the very last minutes of yesterday, a lad from Wrexham) did a really funny, and technically stunning, performance of caricatures by Hindemith of military and waltz music. Finally it was the performance of the massed viola ensemble, a regular feature of congresses, where everyone can play along (even I, had I had a fiddle on me). This year's group must have been one of the biggest groups ever - with the lads and lassies from Pretoria and a few other players as well. After some rather dreary pieces (I hate Gordon Jacob's music) and the Queen of Sheba they then launched into an African suite, written specially for the congress by a local composer (sorry, white, I maybe should not go on about people's skin colours) - that was fun. But the final medley of South African songs, written by a black guy from Johannesburg (also specially for the congress) was riotous and brilliant - and for me incredibly emotional in terms of social cohesion, sense of human family and so on. What a finish! And then the group of youngsters from Pretoria just could not stop playing and played song after song, including dancing, while the rest of us were enjoying end-of-congress drinks. A brilliant end to the congress!
In the evening some of us went for dinner in a local restaurant (not cheap), as did all the UK students (students obviously ain't what they used to be given that they could afford to come along to this, apart from also perhaps paying for their flights here, and renting cars locally). It was really, really great having some relaxed time out with very good friends! Roll on the next congress in Cincinnatti (sp?)!
Friday, July 31, 2009
This is a World Bank saying, which they used about 15 years ago to introduce charged services everywhere in education, health, on the basis that if people pay for servies they are more likely to complain about the poor quality. In fact probably poor people, who are not used to complaining about anything, probably lost out on a lot of education and health services during this period.
So today, given that the Viola Congress programme was not that exciting, and given that I realised I would not have much time to shop for books in Cape Town tomorrow, I decided to make an early outing there. White people tend to assume that everyone has a car, and there are offers for 'transfers' to everywhere by car (350 Rand return), so they tell you there is practically no public transport in SA. But I spotted a railway station in Stellenbosch, so off I went. Call it social research.....
The first surprise was at the ticket office, when the clerk asked about first or third class. I suggested second class. Does not exist, so off I went into third class (14.50 Rand, 11 Rand to the Euro). Oh dear....The carriages have a long yellow bench along each side, an that's it. No toilets. Not a single white face to be seen. Stops everywhere. Hawkers selling (successfully) sweets keep wandering through the train. The windows, of plastic (?) so blind that you could not see out of them; more a problem on the return journey when I could not really tell where I was - but a kind student helped me.
Somewhere down the train someone began to sing, with a chorus behind him. Very interesting, I thought, remembering last year's music course. Then he started preaching, in a language ununderstandable by me (11 languages in this country). Given that later he preached in English I realised it was all about God, a loving God, a saving God, but heck - the tone of voice was loud, hectoring, all hellfire and damnation. Talk about the difference between the words and the body language! A woman, never-ending, followed him; another man preached, the main man preached again, a guy was saved (on account of trying to get off the train and unable to escape), and so it went on for the whole hour on the train. Jeeezus! Luckily they did not pick on me, or on the Muslim woman sitting opposite me. Some people seemed to be amused, but it was a little scary.
Off the train in Cape Town; the station full of blacks, again almost no white face. Went into town, in the pouring rain without a raincoat, had a coffee, decided to by a brolly at Woolworth's (which here is more like Marks and Spencer's), and the rain promptly stopped. Found a German bookshop, with no order whatsoever, and could not find what I was looking for, so asked about others - to be told they are at the waterfront and far away. Back to the station to look for a bus - saw a minibus loading up people. I know that they only go when they are full...so after about 10 minutes we left, and I was let off by the shopping mall. Did I mention that the bus contained only black people?
The mall was big, with a much more mixed population, especially among the buyers (paler than the shop assistants), and had a half-decent bookshop. So I managed to get a few books (though the Stellenbosch Protea shop was better in terms of what I wanted). Am now loaded up.
On the return journey the train was packed; people returning home from school and so on. This time we did not have the God Squad, but an elderly guy who never drew breath, telling anecdotes between Cape Town and Stellenbosch - he had the whole train in stitches! An improvement on the morning's performance!
I did briefly peep into the first class compartments; they were not much better - hard-looking seats only but across the compartment, not along it. Far from what one might imagine first class to be like....
The congress attenders are generally white, apart from the young people from Pretoria (the South African Viola Society's President's students). There is also a significant age gap between these and the rest of the participants, apart from one group of students from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, whose SA-born teacher brought them over for wall-to-wall Hindemith. Sometimes there can be a bit too much of a good thing. But the young ones from Pretoria participated quite happily in many things (not as much as they might have done, though maybe they were also busy practicing. Before last night's gala concert they did a lovely kwela (South African music, not improvised, but very nice and played with much enjoyment, it seems).
Roger Chase produced a stunning performance of the William Bell Viola Concerto, 'Rosa Mystica'; it was the first time it had been played live since 1917. It's a lovely romantic piece, and it really was a superb performance. The young Pretorian lads jumped up into a standing ovation - it's brilliant to see enjoyment and real appreciation like that!
Csaba Erdelyi's performance of his own edition of the Bartok concerto was very interesting. Not sure about his opening of the second movement, which Nobuko Imai had said should be played like a boy soprano in a church - Csaba's approach sounded more like a person in distress, voicing his anguish (just the interpretation, not because there were problems with the performance). This edition has a very complicated history. He started doing it because he was not convinced with Tibor Serly's completion of the work, which Bartok had almost completed when he died of leukaemia. Erdelyi found 260 wrong notes alone, and some transpositions which did not please him, so he laboured over the work for years. Only to discover that Peter Bartok would not give him permission to publish his edition. However, in Australia and New Zealand works pass into the public domain earlier than in Europe and the US, so he published it in NZ, and yesterday's performance was in an educational setting - which is ok. Cannot be performed in Europe or the US....
Kenneth Martinson and Vladimir Andreev's performance of the Rolla duos was fun; at times at the edge of the precipice in terms of hanging on in there, but fun.
I have not participated in as many activities/events as I could have done; it was also quite nice to hang out and relax....Though today it's raining; I don't have a rain jacket on me; the programme is not that exciting...Maybe I'll hop on a train to Cape Town. There's a railway station in Stellenbosch, and I'll need to see how long the train takes....
The food is a bit weird; yesterday I lunched at the student canteen and found myself eating potatoes covered in sugar and cinnamon....there was also sweet potato, I think, covered in sugar and a sort of sweet potato pancake (ditto). Hmmm.
Posted by Pete at 12:29 pm
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
There seems to be a white part of town and a black part of town (that with the cheap shops, including a rather smelly fish shop). Black people are seen as shop assistants, gardeners, tradesmen - though I saw a fair number around the university. In the viola congress the audience is white; the South African violists playing today were white (though one had a Russian name and a playing style similar to Bashmet's, rather attacking a Brahms sonata).
To us Europeans it looks as if nothing has changed.....I suspect Stellenbosch is rather a middle-class town - but does it all need to be white? We are very conscious about it, or, I wonder, is it our prejudices speaking and our way at looking at South Africa which is out of date? Are we overlooking the middle-class blacks? I wonder what it will be in Cape Town when I go there on the weekend.
Picked up last night at Cape Town airport I found myself the victim of a deluge of non-stop praise of South Africa by the white taxidriver of British-French descent. He seemed disappointed that he could not take me to Cape Town because he would have given me lots of information; instead he took me to Stellenbosch and never stopped praising his country; including offering interpretations which languages different words and names came from (not always correctly, but with much conviction), telling me about the history of SA (mainly white), and stating everything with a very clipped and almost aggressive sense of conviction. Talking about the languages he went through English, French, Dutch, German.... eventually arriving at some 'black' languages. I felt it wise not to ask about the black population; his discourse was so forceful that I thought he was defending something that he certainly did not want to be touched.
As it happens, I did touch a rather sore spot. Talking about his life (there's only so much you can talk about whilst driving through dark countryside) it turned out he had been a policeman. Seeing he is younger than me and the police seems like a safe job (better than taxi-driving) I asked him why he had left the police - I knew I should not have done when he burst out along the lines of 'I killed the fucking bastards'.....He had left for his sanity, he said. Myself, alone in a car with a killer (policeman or not), in the dark countryside, I wondered if he was really a) in total control of his feelings - they seemed damned close to the surface - and b) the right person to take tourists all over the country. After this small interlude the conversation became very superficial, talking mainly about wine....
Saturday, July 25, 2009
A fellow-blogger went off into a right rant in her blog yesterday (I'll keep this anonymous to avoid being ranted at again; she has ranted at me before for saying much the same thing) about an article in an up-market UK newspaper about why authors should 'get more real'.
The article's author suggested, according to her, that book authors should leave their comfort zone and experience other parts of the UK or even go abroad, to widen their horizons. I agree, though some authors do make a very good living always writing about the same thing (eg Ian Rankin, and dare I say Kate Atkinson, after that weird book 'Behinds the scenes of the museum'). Then again, you pick up some authors and you immediately think, another middle-class story involving this or that topic. (It makes me think that it is funny how some authors get away with writing the same stuff over and over again and others don't - that does not seem fair; what is the trigger that allows this for some authors and not others?).
The blogger, however, went off into a very heavy rant - seemingly going with the head right through the wall. Had she been a Glaswegian (well, some Glaswegians, I have to be careful here) she would have nutted the guy right in the face. She suggests that there is enough different stuff, eg crime, unemployment, different cultures, right here in the UK. Yes, indeed there is, but she does not write about them - perhaps because she does not really know much about this; eg by living on a run-down, drug-ridden council estate for 6 months (who can blame her....). Also not many authors can afford to abandon part of their lives for a longer period in the name of research.
Having said that and having noted that some authors can get away with using the same formula over and over again, psychologically I find it very interesting how she reacted. Completely in at the deep end, I'd say. Psychology, and people's reactions to certain events and statements, are just so fascinating. It suggests that the article's author hit a very tender spot in the blogger...though I would not like to speculate, in public, what this/these tender spot(s) might be. (Much as a reaction in a conversation I had this afternoon about elderly car drivers with a person in that age range. Personally, I have to say, I am not that happy to be driving myself; every time I go out, especially in this huge tank from work, I worry about killing a child. Though I will probably miss having the car when I don't get it any more from the middle of September). I wish, though, that I had know about all this psychology/psychoanalytic stuff much earlier in my life; rather than getting carried away in hotheaded situations it's much more interesting to stand aside and think why a person might be reacting in a certain way).
Getting hold of what I can (South Africa next week, hope Stellenbosch has more bookshops with a wider range; have already identified some...):
Ian Rankin's 'The Flood' - this was his first book, written while he was still at university and rejected by many publishers then.... Set in a mining (former mining...) village in Fife, it tells the story of a woman who fell in a pit burn aged 10, after which her hair turned white overnight, and had a son aged 16 whose father remains unknown until the end of the book. Also of her son and various other people who come into contact with her. The son has no idea who his father is and is afraid to ask his mother in case he hurts her. I know the feeling well! He, a smart lad (an alter ego of Rankin?), in his teenage years has his own problems and dreams....The woman falls in love but cannot do sex, given her earlier experiences, there is a new minister in town who also feels strongly attracted to her.... many people in the village think she is a witch, and she is a bit of an outcast (somehow she also made me think of Susan Boyle, who, like Mary Miller in the book, has not worked until now). There is no crime and no Inspector Rebus in the book. Knowing Scottish former mining communities (albeit in Ayrshire) pretty well I liked this book very much; it describes the community very convincingly, its decay, the despair settling in, the boys who are desperate to leave school (but after the summer holidays are envious of the boy staying on at school). It also made me think about all the policies everywhere in the world where staying in education for as long as possible is encouraged - but there are people who hate school (me included), and alternatives need to be found for them. The book made me feel quite at home.
Coincidentally I then went on to read Kate Atkinsons 'When will there be good news', another Jackson Brodie book set mainly in Edinburgh. Actually I find her a better crime writer than Rankin (and she has not always been a crime writer); the characters are more sympathetic, though also quite appallingly complex. This book is another crime novel with twists and turns you would not believe - the opening scene reminds me of that murder in Kent where a guy murdered a mother and at least one of her daughters. The chapter headings are a mix of nursery rhymes, converted religious quotes, quotes from other literature, and she displays an intimate knowledge of classical Greek. The main heroine is a plucky 16-year-old girl who the reader's heart goes out to - she has had so many disasters in her life that it is surprising how well adjusted she is. It's also quite funny, despite all the murder and mayhem. Well worth getting (and I will be taking it home).
Finally (not finally really, given that there is another book on my office bookshelf whose name I cannot remember) there is Andrew Wilson's 'The Lying Tongue', about a young art history graduate, Adam Wood (notice the coincidence of the initials?) who gets a job in Venice tutoring a young boy with the aim of writing his first novel in his spare time. The job falls through, and he finds another one looking after an old author with a very murky past (which, not surprisingly, he is rather secretive about). Young Adam sets out to find out about the past, which is not very pleasing - but at the same time Adam is not necessarily the guy you would like to have as a friend, or even as an acquaintance - never mind as an enemy. It's ok; a good read, for hospital reading etc, and its end is one which I could not help feeling a little satisfied with. Not terribly high-brown literature though, the descriptions of Venetian art, buildings etc notwithstanding. This one is for sale in the office....
Out at the crack of dawn this morning to set the hash for tomorrow. Crack of dawn is 7.30 am, which it is distinctly nippy at this time of year.
The hash was at Kgale Sidings which I had heard of because the Ladies' No 1 Opera House is supposed to be there. Jeeez, it's way out of town, past Game City, along the Lobatse road, and then near major satellite dishes you turn left into the bush. All countryside, with a few nice houses dotted here and there. It's a cul-de-sac.
Not exactly a typical location for an opera house, nor for a restaurant which it is from 9-4pm during the week, or 10-2pm on a Sunday. Passing trade? Probably zero. Walking distance from anywhere? Forget it. I suppose it is a concert venue, reasonably cheap to set up, given the scarcity of land anywhere central, and with parking for visitors - but the casual visitor is extremely unlikely to ever find it. Extremely well-meant, of course, but I wonder about the business model....if it had not been largely funded by the generous A McCall Smith, would it ever have got a start-up loan? (See photo to the left below)
The Gaborone Hash have got some implements called 'stompers'; they are cans screwed to batons, with the letter 'H' punched out of the bottom. They contain lime, you stomp them on the floor and you have printed a beautiful 'H' to show the track. Off we wandered, followed by a delightful little Jack Russell who followed us all the way around our track. There were no serious animals to be seen, apart from a dog. I asked about snakes but was told they were not around at this time of year, and that the main dangerous snake, the puff adder tended only to be dangerous if you stepped on it. So would I, I'd expect! (NB I have no idea whose nests are swinging in that tree....)
On the way back into town I spotted a large animal strolling along the road - gee, some size of dog that, I thought. Coming closer I noticed it was a large monkey, casually strolling along on all fours, in no hurry to go anywhere! It must have been close to the size of me, standing up. Since this seemed to be quite a normal thing to happen, I thought it would look rather naff stopping and taking a photo of the beast!
When I got home, the guard made a lot of heavy weather of showing me into my parking space. Not only did I not much care for that, wee bump or no wee bump, I cared even less for him standing right behind my tank as I was manoeuvring in......
Friday, July 24, 2009
It's such a huge car that you tend to feel rather invulnerable in it, which does not really help....And yes, as Freud would say, there are always emotional reasons for accidents, there are no accidents per se. What had happened that someone had blocked me in my car parking space, I kept hooting the horn, nothing happened, then it turned out to be a colleague who had just nipped into someone's house nearby, and so I was a bit narked, to put it mildly before I started driving. Without due care and attention, obviously.
Posted by Pete at 8:11 pm
Thursday, July 23, 2009
But again the problem is the directions and the addresses; in the papers they talk about Block X, but on the slightly old map they talk about Extension this and Extension that. So I have no idea where the dratted place is. Just now I am downloading Google Earth to see if it shows the Blocks. When I ask for a street name and an address they just laugh - does not work like that here. A local colleague, who studied in England, was surprised how easy it was in England to find a place. And then proceeded to tell me how to get to a particular ministry, waving her arms about....
There is a place called Phalakane, where lots of places are for rent, but it is a long way out of town; very posh and rather nice, but I don't need posh (though need to meet my employer's security requirements); I just want somewhere in town, especially now that I am joining this choir.....
Posted by Pete at 7:50 pm
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Posted by Pete at 9:22 pm
Posted by Pete at 8:53 pm
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
What did I read?
Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene (1938). A scary book set in the underworld of Brighton, with knife-gangs etc (as they say they had in Glasgow in the 1950s). Some desperate guys kill a guy (except it seems he died of fright before they managed to kill him). A woman with big boobs has her suspicions about his 'natural death' and pursues the gang. It describes their rather horrid lives rather well - there is a rather complex character, all of 17, who runs the gang, and who has had the usual upbringing of reform school and so on. What surprises me about him is that he does not drink or smoke and he hates sex, perhaps because, in his family's one-roomed flat, he saw his parents at it every Saturday. But a 17-year-old boy, with hormones all over the place? A bit strange....
The Bad Mother's Handbook, by Kate Long - about a single mother (aged 33) of a clever 17-year-old daughter living on a council estate somewhere in the North of England, and with a rather batty mother herself, who slips in and out of dementia. Except there is a secret..... and the daughter herself follows her mother's footsteps. Very amusing in between all the drama. Well worth a read if you understand life in the North of England.
Spud, by John van de Ruit, written as a diary by a 14/15 year old boy in a South African boarding school. It's very funny, though I hope not too many of the events in the book happened to folks I know who went to boarding school. The narrator comes across as rather a complex child, singing in the choir one minute and up to no good the next.
A book by a South African author (currently lent out, cannot remember author's name or the book's title) about a Jewish family in South Africa and their black servants (in passing). Told by all the different characters (which makes each chapter difficult to sus out - just who exactly is talking here?). The grandparents come from Lithuania, and for some reason talk about Polish money (fair enough), had a terrible life in Lithuania (ditto), spoke little Russian (why would they speak Russian if they were using Polish money) and speak much Yiddish (when suddenly the Lithuanian word 'bulves' = potatoes) drops into it. The book is set in the 1950s when the main character, a child, is a young child, and goes on. It's very interesting psychologically, with the child/family having to deal with a mother who clearly sinks into deep depression (understandable, under the circumstances described in the book), but no-one in the family is able to deal with the woman's rejection of any help. Only much later, after the woman is dead, the daughter realises what difficulties her mother had to struggle with. Initially it seems a bit corney, but when you get into it, you really (or I really did) get into the child's suffering. I can't believe I can't find the book on the internet. Would help if I remembered any of the characters' names; I have a feeling it was shortlisted for some (UK?) prize within the last few years....I picked it because I have a South African Jewish friend who would have been about 10 years older than the child in the book.
A wild sheep chase' by Haruki Murakami; a usual Murakami thriller-type book involving the slightly weird and wonderful. Great reading, as always, less sex than usual (:-(). Unputdownable.
And I am still reading 'MacroPsychoanalyse', an economics/psychoanalytic textbook (in French) about how any economic models are really run by emotions (as is everything, in my view, even if, sometimes, it is the denial of emotions, which also gives its own message). Very interesting, converting the individual model of people (in French 'le ça', 'le moi' and 'le supermoi', as well as 'la pulsion de la vie' and 'la pulsion du mort'). Fascinating stuff, it really is - but it is so threatening to people to talk about emotions in relation to what they think are rational decisions. I'm waiting for a few more books on the same topic, should they ever arrive in Botswana. It's not quite as easy to get into it in French....
But Philip Roth's book, 'Our Gang' or 'Le théâtre de Sabbath' in French may be one step too far for my French. It's sitting there, and I have laboured through a few pages.....
Anyway, tootled along the Francistown Road (600 km to the North) but after 20 minutes turned left towards a village called Bokaa. What is there, we asked ourselves? The guy in the other car kept stopping and asking people for directions, which led us all over the village. Finally we saw the lake, but still could not get to it. When we asked again at a house, the woman there gave us her 15-year-old daughter (or sister) to show us the way. So young Keda joined us.....I was not at all sure about this, what with my work - how did the woman know that we were not child abductors/traffickers? Finally found the lack and young Keda sat beside us, occasionally saying something. She was a lovely little girl (rather than young woman which some girls of that age might have been). It was very tempting to go into the lake, but Keda (and later her mother/sister who appeared looking for her - so she was worried after all) told us that there might be crocodiles in the water, although perhaps more at the far side. I'm afraid when I hear of crocodiles in the water I always think of that scene in the cartoon version of Peter Pan where the eyes pop up, one by one - so I only went in up to my ankles. The ground was a bit slimy and it might not have been nice to be unable to sprint out of the water. In any case, I think crocs can have a fair bit of speed on them in water....
It was interesting - we were there with some Cuban doctors, who are here as volunteers. Apparently there are lots of Cuban doctors in Botswana, and probably other African/Latin American countries as well. Maybe Cuba gets some money for this, but it is so impressive that it sends its doctors all over the world. Cuba is well-known to run an excellent medical system on a shoe-string (if the string is long enough to close one shoe) - it may be propaganda, but this is just fine with me. (Much like El Sistema from Venezuela - if it does good to its own people and give benefits/pleasure to people in other parts of the world, why not. I wondered how able they might be to open a bank account here - the bank I opened an account with made me sign some thing about trading with unapproved countries, of which Cuba is bound to be one.
It was an interesting outing, not least because I found myself as one of the three guys going out with three girls (plus young Keda) - I did wonder a bit how to handle this. Stuff to get used to, I suppose.
Learnt something else over the weekend, and just had a long conversation with my South African mate, who clearly did not understand what I was talking about (he's never lived in the North). Sitting quite a bit in the garden, I was wondering about the path of the sun; I was totally bewildered in terms of the direction in which it was travelling. Seems that in the South it travels also from the east to the west, but via the north! I had never paid any attention to that in Australia. One lives and learns.
Posted by Pete at 5:53 pm
Saturday, July 18, 2009
So it's a long three-day weekend; I had taken the office car as I am still entitled to. Went shopping last night, and got enough for a while. Just as well - even last night there seemed to be a problem getting it started (it turns over but does not fire), and this morning it did not fire at all. I have a distant memory of having to jiggle something in the carburettor (was looking for a choke but did not find one), but it's a long time since I tried to get a car to start. There are no hills for bump starting, and the thing weighs a ton. So much for my planned trip to a game park, or anything else exciting.
Walked to the Broadhurst mall (about 4 km), described as 'atmospheric' in some information for American medical students. Hmm, not sure. Wish I had looked at their blurb again before I left, and looked for the second-hand bookshop. Otherwise it was the usual shops in Gaborone, slightly less organised than in the fancy Game City Mall (Broadhurst was probably built in bits), a post office which took 15 minutes to post registered letters, a very nice shop with a huge range Indian spices in bulk (200g makes an awful lot of spice), and chapatti flour in 5kg bags (how much flour does one chappati take? 10 g?). The 'stalls where you can bargain for all sorts of things' were largely of clothes, either fake designer goods or secondhand clothes, including huge piles of black shoes. Nothing African. As one who once bought a second-hand Tshirt of a street child vendor in Rwanda I should not quibble, and for non-posing running t-shirts it should be ok. Beyond that it does not have that much to offer to the average ex-pat.
Had meant to go to another place, with a garden centre, to try and liven up my dark patio (and it's supposed to have a nice restaurant, too). But one thing that drives me crazy in Gaborone is that no-one ever gives their frigging address on their websites or their adverts. I assume they don't use postmen/women here; it's all 'Post Bag XXXXX'. How do ambulances and the fire services manage? So lots of businesses do have websites, but don't tell you where they are. The garden centre in 'Block 7' is as near as I got; but Block 7 is rather huge, especially without a car; Botswanacrafts, another highly rated provider of Botswanan arts and crafts (can't say I am that much into that sort of thing, but it would be nice for a look), also appears to have its shop inside a post bag.
Posted by Pete at 6:53 pm
Sunday, July 12, 2009
After seeing Soweto Buskaid in concert last night, I thought I would try and compare it with Venezuela's El Sistema.
Both target children living in difficult circumstances (though not all those in the Venezuelan Band fall into this category, 'only' 90% do - that's a pretty good achievement in terms of targeting). Buskaid is privately sponsored (by Total petrol); El Sistema is publicly funded, under the heading of 'Social Action for Music', possibly by the Health Ministry.
El Sistema has 250,000 children participating at any one time, apparently 30 professional symphony orchestras (see Wikipedia) and is creating many very fine soloists, musicians and not least conductors (Dudamel); the population of Venezuela is 27 million; thus almost 0.1% of the population are in El Sistema. The Buskaid project is one music school in Soweto (population 900,000), which takes 80 students (0.01% of the population) and turns away 100s more, due to lack of funding. Rather than an integrative system, Buskaid is more an elitist system - but, it's privately funded, with apparently no state support. (It should be said that there may be other, similar projects in other townships - a violist friend is involved in a similar project in possibly another township, but that does not have as high a profile).
El sistema was started by a Venezuelan, Mr Abreu, whereas Buskaid came into being through a British violinist, a foreigner. El sistema grows its own conductors (well, it does have a huge base) whereas Buskaid is still a string ensemble and conducted by Mrs Nalden; who conducts a bit (I am sorry) like a school teacher - do those children really need two bars counting in? I do wonder whether another conductor, a local one, might not have let the children's personalities and their exuberance (all children are, or should be, exuberant) out. Perhaps the rather refined 'early performance practice' is not the best approach for this age group? But with such a small base it will be hard to find someone....
It would be great to persuade the South African government to expand something like Buskaid, but locally there is probably no evidence base whatsoever to show that it keeps children out of trouble (especially since I suspect that the children chosen to be accepted are probably those who might not get into trouble in the first place).
Posted by Pete at 9:50 pm
Soweto Buskaid is an outfit founded by a VIOLA Player, Rosemary Nalden, in response to a BBC programme about the 'difficulties besetting a string project in Diepkloof, Soweto. It is a band of about 20 - 25 young string players who tour the world, have played at the Proms (to '5-star reviews'), and voted as 'one of the world's most inspirational orchestras' by Grammophone magazine. Hmmmm. You know how it is when you have a blind pianist or someone else overcoming seemingly overwhelming odds, that sometimes judgement goes out of the window, a bit?
Yes, they played very nicely - but world class? They need to let their personalities out.
There was something funny about it. I found them rather timid. Someone said 'it's because they are very young' - that's no excuse; young people don't tend to be timid. Think of the Bolivar Youth Orchestra, or any other major youth orchestra - usually they are full of exuberance. I did wonder about the conductor's personality (more about that anon).
They started with some Purcell, a dance suite, of short dances. They were very nice; played with a nice baroque bow hold and so on, but Purcell is Purcell, fairly straight music, precise, at times not all that exciting....There were a couple of amazing dancers (one also a violinist in the band); I thought of the two Tumi Mapholo was the more talented one - they had done their own choreography which was very interesting, and Mapholo was really, really good. Drop the violin, boy!
This was followed by two Kreisler pieces, played very nicely by a violinist from the back row. In the second piece there were some intonation issues, and maybe not enough give and take on the tempi. There was the odd bit of funny bow direction, but he was having fun. I did wonder about him going to a music school in Europe, say Lithuania; he would have the talent though I would not wish Lithuania on a lad from Soweto.
Then we had two Beatles songs, sung by Cecilia Manyama; she was far more at home in Preacherman than in 'Michelle' (which the band is hoping to send to Mrs Michelle Obama). I think that needs a bit more practice to get more into the singer's comfort zone. This was followed by the first movement of the Brandenburg 3; we have all played it, haven't we. It was nice, though again not as lively as it might have been.
Finally they ended with the Beale Street Blues, an old American piece, nicely played by the band and the basses (they seem to have streamlined basses - they had the thickness of the cellos rather than being deeper as is normally the case).
The second half opened with the best of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, No 6 for violas and basso continuo. I was listening closely to the violas - during the first half emotions had taken over and I was wondering about sponsoring (or helping to sponsor) one of the viola players to participate in the viola congress at the other end of South Africa in a couple of weeks' time. When I was listening to them, they were good, again lots of musicality, but at times (mildly) iffy technique, and damn it, can those personalities not be let out? I thought of the standards of other viola players and wondered whether really theirs would be up to congress level. Still some time to think.
Then we had two slow Gymnopedies by Satie - those that we all know and can sing along to. The dancers appeared again and did very nice dances indeed. I see that the programme notes suggest that Satie may have suffered from 'compulsive neuroses' (hence the 'hypnotic repetitions' of the piece??? though you could say the same about any ground bass; and I wonder if people like Philip Glass have similar neuroses??? - Freud - where are you?). Does this come from Wikipedia, one of the sources of the programme notes?
Another two Kreisler pieces followed - again not as much give and take (rubatos) as there might have been, but pleasant and nice. Finally we had an African Kwela; African music arranged by Buskaid students - these were fun. Again I wondered if the players had restrained themselves a bit too much, and were a bit too much in the European music straight jacket - it was pleasant music, but I would have expected some raucousness.
But overall I thought temperaments were curbed, the members of the group were too restrained, and there was not as much fun as there might have been. '5-star reviews?' At the end I went to ask a member of the accompanying team about the viola congress; not only had she not heard about it, but she also felt 'we should have been invited' - before she dropped me to speak to the US embassy representatives. Well, with that attitude of 'entitlement' (I am sure the congress is run on a shoe-string budget, and could probably not invite a whole group) I could see no reason to offer to support anyone. Money saved.
Will blog a bit more about Buskaid and saving the world and so on....
Posted by Pete at 10:00 am