Rodriguez – the “ordinary legend”

sugarman

On Friday 29 January 2016, a friend and I went to see the legend in concert.

Rodriguez is of course the Sugarman aka Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, a Mexican-American folk musician, born on July 10, 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. I became a fan of his music after seeing the documentary “Searching for Sugarman”. For many other older South-Africans he gained cult status during the apartheid era

His fame in South Africa was completely unknown to him, until 1998 when his eldest daughter came across the website dedicated to him. In 1998, he played his first South African tour, playing six concerts in front of thousands of fans.

This year he is back. He is now a frail seventy-four-year old led onto the stage by his one daughter, sipping out of four coffee cups standing next to him on a stand, becoming flustered because it is the first time he performs before such a big crowd – 12 000 South Africans in Johannesburg hungry for his wisdom and eager to get a glimpse of him.

But when he starts to play and his fingers find the familiar path on his trusty guitar, he is in the zone and he starts to relax.

At first most of us in the crowd felt slightly confused and disappointing, because he didn’t just sing his own songs. He also did a few cover songs. When I came home after I was convinced he didn’t play as much of the songs we wanted to hear. But then I thought about it and realized he did actually do a lot of his own songs.

Songs he sang from his two albums:

  1. Cold Fact

Sugarman
Only Good for Conversation
Crucify your mind
This is not a song, it’s an outburst: Or, the Establishments Blues
Forget It
I Wonder
Inner City Blues
Like Janis
Rich Folks Hoax

2. Coming from Reality

Climb up on my music
I think of you

It started out so nice
Street Boy

At one point he asks the audience: “Do you know the secret of live? The secret is: breathe in, breathe out.” And then he laughs. After every song he thanks us in different languages even in Afrikaans: “Baie dankie”.

Later he says: “The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement”.

The support act was also very good and surprisingly from South Africa! Alice Phoebe Lou is now known as a street musician in Berlin. I really liked her “Tiger and Dolphin” song, but I can’t find it anywhere so it must still be new.

alice phoebe lou

“The Book of Aron” by Jim Shepard

book of Aron

UNSETTLING. That’s the first word that comes to mind reading this book. Which is true, because every war story is unsettling. Some people like Aron become unsettled: emotionally and physically.

As a reader you become unsettled. This is not a bedtime story. It takes place in a Warsaw ghetto in 1939. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m obsessed about anything to do with the Germans, the Jews and the Holocaust. Even the humour is unsettling:

So Hitler sees Jesus in Paradise and says to St Peter, “Hey, what’s that Jew doing without an armband?”‘ he said.’ And St Peter tells him, “Leave him alone. He’s the Boss’s son.” (p.123)

Back cover: 

Warsaw ghetto, 1939

Aron is a nine-year-old Polish Jew, and a troublemaker.

Dr Janusz Korczak is trying to keep a hundred and fifty orphans from starving.

They call the Doctor a hero. Aron is not a hero. He is ordinary.

He is willing to do what the Doctor will not.

What I liked about the book: 

From the very first page Jim Shepard draws you in with the dark humour in the first sentence:

“My mother and father named me Aron, but my father said they should have named me What Have You Done, and my uncle told everyone they should have called me What Were You Thinking”

I kept reading the last sentence on the back cover: what is Aron willing to do what the Doctor will not? That is the mystery that keeps you wondering until the last page is turned.

First published: 2015

This book is another example of faction: a novel that reads like fiction but are mostly based on facts. Joshua Ferris calls it “historical fiction”. It focuses on Dr Janusz Korczak who was a Pole and ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. The last thing known about him is that he followed his charges to Treblinka and the death camps.

Inspirational people: Malala

Malala

Over the past year I’ve started reading more non-fictional books especially about people that inspire me. I’ve recently finished Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography. If you don’t know who that is, you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years and I almost beat my colleague when she told me she never heard of Malala!

“I am Malala” tells the true story of one girl that stood up against the Taliban in Pakistan. All she wants is for girls to get an education, something strictly forbidden by the Taliban. But surprisingly not the Koran!

Malala is an inspiration to me because she stood up for what she believes in and became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

So who is Malala in a nutshell? She was the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.

Back Cover:
“Who is Malala?” the gunman demanded.

I am Malala. This is my story.

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, one girl fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday 9 October 2012, she almost paid the ultimate price when she was shot in the head at point-blank range.

Malala Yousafzai’s extraordinary journey has taken her from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations. At seventeen she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and is the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

“I am Malala” will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.

First published: 2013

Thoughts on the book: The only way Malala could have done any of this is because of her father. He gave her the freedom the do what she believes in and let her voice be heard. She wasn’t afraid when they started to get death threats. It makes you think: What will you be willing to die for? What is the one thing to you that is more important than your own life?

The greatest spy story of World War II?

rendezvouz

I have recently finished reading “Rendezvouz at the Russian Tea Rooms” by Paul Willetts that tells the tale of of real life spies and spy hunters during World War II. It is written in the form of a novel even though it is based on real life events. It is a new genre writers and publishers like to call “faction”: facts that reads like fiction I suppose.

I think this is what puzzled me most about the book. Reading the book I couldn’t help feeling disappointed and somewhat betrayed. The front cover sports a young woman in a red dress, supposedly a depiction of Anna Wolkoff, one of the spies Willett decided to write about. The cover promises an “Inglorious Bastards” kind of expectation.

If this is truly the “greatest spy story of World War II” as the back cover boasts… While reading the book I couldn’t help questioning what is fact and what is made up: I mean, how could he possibly know how Tyler Kent, Anna Wolkoff or Max Knight felt at that very exact moment? Or what they thought? Or what the weather was like that day?

Only after everything at the end of the book does Paul Willett assure us in his “List of sources” that “gaps in the evidence haven’t been straddled by creative embellishment or fabrication”. He used weather reports, interviews, autobiographies, archives of old newspapers and magazines and letters.

What I did in fact find very interesting is the fact that Nazi Germany had so many supporters in Britian – especially with exiled Russians that fled from the communists.

Another thing that got me thinking is that a lot of the people that worked for MI5 such as Ian Fleming and Max Knight became celebrated authors of the detective/spy genre in literature.

Is that perhaps where my disappointment lies? Did the truth sell short for me? This didn’t come nearly as close to any of Ian Fleming’s James Bond adventures. It didn’t read nearly as exciting. The first 250 pages is mostly just about the wonderful contacts that Max, Anna and Tyler had. Only when Anna and Tyler are caught does it feel like something actually happens in the book.

How do I review this book then? How can I say that this is NOT what happened? I can only say what I experienced and that was slight boredom – you can get lost in all the facts. It’s like reading or writing a book with more than 5 protagonists – afterwards there are just too many faces.

Maybe this is what real life spy stories are like? Just a little bit boring.

First published: 2015
Rating: ?

 

 

“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

I have this strange memory that way back when I was still in school I tried to read “Little Women”. The really strange part of it is I remember that I struggled reading the book and had to look up every second word.

But when I read the book again around Christmas time last year I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Was I dreaming? Did I make it all up? Maybe I’m confusing the memory with another book. But which one?

Book:little women

Anyway, “Little Women” is one of those books that you can just read, and read and read again. (PS sorry about the poor image. I couldn’t find this particular book cover anywhere online so I scanned it in.)

Back cover: “Little Women” is the well-known and enduring story of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – which is set in New England in the nineteenth century.

In the midst of financial hardship, and while their father is away in the Civil War, the girls manage to enjoy themselves, whether it is getting ready for a party or staging a play. Louisa May Alcott was writing about her own family – it is known that Jo is a portrait of herself – and the account of the girls’ day-to-day life, their quarrels and ambitions is related with humour, sentiment and charm.

First published:1868
This edition published: 1992
Rating: 4/5

What still bothers me about most of these old classics: it is based in a time of society where everything should be prim and proper – and the prose reads the same. Ever noticed that even when the characters  are mad at each other it seems so fake because their actions and words are still very elegant?

Film:

Watching the 1949-version of the book made me fall in love with the story. I like to think that I’m very much like Jo. I sure see a lot of myself in her: obstinate, dramatic, impulsive, dreams of becoming a famous writer and reluctant to growing up and becoming a lady. But I’d be lying if I didn’t confess I’m more like Beth: bashful and scared of the outside world.

June Allyson, the actress that plays Jo, does it so brilliantly. There have been other film versions of the book “Little Women” but none of them gets close to the perfect portrayal of Allyson’s version of Jo.

My favourite sayings of Jo: “Christopher Columbus!” & “Oh, bilge!”

Peter Lawford as Laurie
Janet Leigh as Meg
Margaret O’Brien as Beth
Elizabeth Taylor as Amy

Jo and Meg
I wish I was a horseSome of my favourite quotes:

Jo: “Don’t make me grow up before my time”

Jo: “I wish I was a horse.”

 

 

The cause of all the trouble: Richard Stapley as Mr Brooke (right) coming to “take Meg away”

Teddy and Mr Brooke

I would recommend this book to anyone who read “Anne of Green Gables” and enjoyed it.

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter

Usually when it comes to a book and a film based on the same story, the book comes first and then the film. That must have been for most of you with Harry Potter. But my experiences are reversed – I watched most of the movies first and only afterwards I decided to read the books.

One of the biggest sins you should never commit in criticism is to say the book was better than the film. They are two different mediums: space and time is not the same. It is impossible to convey everything in a book on a movie screen – the film would be too long to watch.

But I was curious. I wanted to see if it would make any difference. I wanted to see whether I preferred the book to the film and/or vice versa. This is what I found out:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone: 
    Back cover: Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy – until he is rescued by a beetle-eyed giant of a man, enrolls at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns to play Quidditch and does battle in a deadly duel. The Reason: Harry Potter is a Wizard!First published: 1997
    Rating: 5/5 It is surprising in how normally the book starts. When you pick it up for the first time it could be any other ordinary book your reading. But the more you read, the more you get pulled into Harry’s world…
    Book or film? I watched the film before I read the book. Which one did I prefer? Both. Both enchanting and thorough introduction to the story.
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
    Back cover: Harry Potter is a wizard. He is in his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Little does he know that this year will be just as eventful as the last…First published: 1998
    Rating: 5/5
    Book or film? I watched the film before I read the book. Which one did I prefer? Both. Again very enchanting.
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:
    Backcover: Harry Potter, along with his best friends, Ron and Hermione, is about to start his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry can’t wait to get back to school after the summer holidays. (Who wouldn’t if they lived with the horrible Dursleys?) But when Harry gets to Hogwarts, the atmosphere is tense. There’s an escaped mass murderer on the loose, and the sinister prison guards of Azkaban have been called in to guard the school…First Published: 1999
    Rating: 5/5
    Book or film? I watched the film first. I preferred both.  This is perhaps my favourite book and film of the whole series. It has everything: death eaters, mystery, Professor Lupin, the Marauders Map, time travel, etc.
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
    Back cover: It is the summer holidays and soon Harry Potter will be starting his fourth year at Hogwarts School… Harry is counting the days: there are new spells to be learnt, more Quidditch to be played, and Hogwarts castle to continue exploring. But Harry needs to be careful – there are unexpected dangers lurking…First published: 2000
    Rating: 5/5
    Book or film? Book! Like I mentioned before, it is impossible to convey everything in the book. The film felt lacking.
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
    Back cover: Dumbledore lowered his hands and surveyed Harry through his half-moon glasses, “It is time,” he said, “for me to tell you what I should have told you five years ago, Harry. Please sit down. I am going to tell you everything. Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts. He is desperate to get back to school and find out why his friends Ron and Hermoine have been so secretive all summer. However, what Harry is about to discover in his new year at Hogwarts will turn his world upside down…First published: 2003
    Rating: 5/5
    Book or film? Book! From this point on the story line gets more intense in both film and book. It’s no longer just fun and games. J.K. Rowling means business!
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
    Back cover: It is the middle of the summer, but there is an unseasonal mist pressing against the window panes. Harry Potter is waiting nervously in his bedroom at the Dursleys’ house in Privet Drive for a visit from Professor Dumbledore himself. One of the last times he saw the Headmaster was in a fierce one-to-one duel with Lord Voldemort, and Harry can’t quite believe that Professor Dumbledore will actually appear at the Dursleys’ of all places. Why is the Professor coming to visit him now? What is it that cannot wait until Harry returns to Hogwarts in a few weeks’ time? Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts has already got off to an unusual start, as the worlds of Muggle and magic start to intertwine…First published:2005
    Rating: 5/5
    Book or film? Both! I loved the way the Draco Malfoy character grows in this book. It was also very well portrayed in the film.
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
    Back cover: Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task: that of locating and destroying Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes. Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows. But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given. He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him.In this final, seventh installment of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling unveils in spectacular fashion the answers to the many questions that have been so eagerly awaited. The spellbinding, richly woven narrative, which plunges, twists and turns at a breath-taking pace, confirms the author as a mistress of storytelling, whose books will be read, reread and read again.

    First published: 2007
    Rating: 3/5
    Book or film? I had trouble finishing this book. Not because it was badly written, but because I fell in love with the characters and the Harry Potter series and I simply didn’t want it to end. In the two months that passed I lived only in reading these books. If I could climb into the book and never come back I would. I also remember wondering how this will all end and that there must be another book following this one (maybe because they split the last book into two films).

    What I did like of the book though: it explores every possibility of the plot and answered most of questions linking it with past experiences.
    Film: Watching the two last films I had the same experience as when reading the book. It was painstakingly slow, too much to take in. The worst was that this time I knew what would happen and then to sit and wait until it actually happens. What I did like about the film was the built up of Ron and Hermoine’s relationship. And when all three of them go disguised to the Ministry of Magic: the disguised adult actors were very convincing.

 

What I liked about this series, is that there are so many complex characters. Take Snape for example. Why doesn’t he get the job of “Defense against the Dark Arts”? Why does he want the job so badly? What makes Dumbledore trust him no matter what? I also liked the characters of Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom and the young Tom Riddle.  Compared to these characters Harry Potter seems almost bleak and boring.

What annoyed me of the series: The first few books always start almost the same – with a recap of what the previous books were about. It was almost as if J.K. Rowling thought her readers’ attention spans couldn’t last long. The other thing that bothered me is whenever something happened to Harry alone he always had to go share it with Hermoine and Ron first before the story could continue and J.K. Rowling painstakingly reminded you of this – it’s almost as annoying as the child actors’ horrible acting in the first few movies.

The ultimate ending: I didn’t like the “Nineteen years later” chapter: I didn’t want to see them grown up with kids of their own. That was just weird. Why did Rowling add this to the story? In the film it also feels unreal: they’re disguised as old people but they still look the same as when they were younger. What’s the point? What is the significance of “19 years later”??

 

I would recommend this to anyone that loves fantasy or someone who just want an escape.

The BFG

bfg

I remember way back in primary school we had an English teacher that read to us every Friday if we behaved. That must sound really dull to you, but for me it was the equivalent of someone rubbing my back. Always relaxing. I remember she read to us: The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and some other story that I can’t remember the title of except it was about a child living in a cold, dark cave.

Anyway, recently, I’ve become very nostalgic about books and wanted to relive my youth: and what better way than through Roald Dahl’s “The BFG”?

Back Cover:

“Me gobbling up human beans! This I never! I is the only nice… Giant in Giant Country. I is the Big Friendly Giant!”

Luckily for Sophie, who has been snatched from her bed by him, the BFG is far more jumbly than his disgusting neighbours. They guzzle and swallomp nice little chiddlers. So Sophie and the BFG cook up an ingenious plan to rid the world of trogglehumping giants for ever!

What I like about this book:

Roald Dahl is a very good storyteller and he knows how to use (or in this case create) the words to his advantage. I haven’t written anything about anything nonsensical in a long while: Roald Dahl is a perfect example of using Nonsense words. Here are just some of my favourite: scrumdiddlyumptious, snozzcumbers, frobscottle and whizzpoppers, crockadowndillies.

You can also find a lot of life truths in the book, such as:
“Giants is not very lovely, but they is not killing each other. Nor is crockadowndillies killing other crockadowndillies… Human beans is the only animals that is killing their own kind.”

First published: 1982

Rating: 5/5

My New All-Favourite Song: ‘Runaway’ by Aurora

I first heard a part of this song in the season finale of “The Following” and I fell in love with it.

“Runaway”

I was listening to the ocean
I saw a face in the sand
But when I picked it up
Then it vanished away from my hands (Darling)
I had a dream I was seven
Climbing my way in a tree
I saw a piece of heaven
Waiting, impatient, for me (Darling)

And I was running far away
Would I run off the world someday?
Nobody knows, nobody knows
And I was dancing in the rain
I felt alive and I can’t complain
But now take me home
Take me home where I belong
I can’t take it anymore

I was painting a picture
The picture was a painting of you
And for a moment I thought you were here
But then again, it wasn’t true (Darling)
And all this time I have been lying
Oh, lying in secret to myself
I’ve been putting sorrow on the farest place on my shelf (La-di-da!)

And I was running far away
Would I run off the world someday?
Nobody knows, nobody knows
And I was dancing in the rain
I felt alive and I can’t complain
But now take me home
Take me home where I belong
I got no other place to go
Now take me home
Take me home where I belong
I got no other place to go
Now take me home
Take me home where I belong
I can’t take it anymore

But I kept running for a soft place to fall
And I kept running for a soft place to fall
And I kept running for a soft place to fall
And I kept running for a soft place to fall

And I was running far away
Would I run off the world someday?
But now take me home
Take me home where I belong
I got no other place to go
Now take me home
Take me home where I belong
I got no other place to go

Now take me home, home where I belong
Now take me home, home where I belong
Now take me home, home where I belong
Now take me home, home where I belong

I can’t take it anymore…

Aurora Aksnes is a Norwegian songstress with an amazing powerful voice. And to think she is just 19 years old!
Here is something interesting that I just found:
Runaway This almost reminds me of the “Dictionary of Obscure sorrows”.

Book Review: The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But now that I think about it, I’ve been doing it ever since I started reading. I always look at the cover of the book: if the title or artwork isn’t appealing enough then I move on to the next. But “The Chalk Cirle Man”‘s cover had me hooked from the moment I laid eyes on it.

Chalk Circle Man

Back cover:

Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is not like other policemen. His methods appear unorthodox in the extreme: he doesn’t search for clues, he ignores obvious suspects and arrests people with cast-iron alibis; he appears permanently distracted. In spite of all this his colleagues are forced to admit that he is highly successful – a born cop.

When strange blue chalk circles start appearing overnight on the pavements of Paris, the press take up the story with amusement and psychiatrists trot out their theories.

Adamsberg is alone in thinking this is not a game or far from amusing. He insists on being kept informed of new circles and the increasingly bizarre objects which they contain: a pigeon’s foot, four cigarette lighters, a badge proclaiming ‘I love Elvis’, a hat, a doll’s head.

Adamsberg senses the cruelty that lies behind these seemingly random occurrences. Soon a circle with decidedly less banal contents is discovered: the body of a woman with her throat savagely cut. Adamsberg knows that other murders will follow.

“The Chalk Circle Man” is the first book featuring Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, one of the most engaging characters in contemporary detective fiction.

First Published: 2009

Rating: 5/5 Worth a 2nd read!

Graffiti: Creation vs Destruction

Yesterday on Women’s Day I went on a Graffiti tour in the Maboneng, Jeppestown and Troyville suburbs of Johannesburg with some of my friends. It was led by a guide from “Past Experiences” – a company that organizes these kinds of tours and a local graffiti artist named George AKA Mars.

Mars and guide from Past Experiences

Mars and guide from Past Experiences

The history of modern graffiti is rather recent starting in the 1960’s in the USA by someone writing his name on public surfaces. But the need to imprint ourselves on things goes back even further – just think of the cavemen and their drawings.

A few things that I’ve learnt from the tour: not all graffiti is illegal. Some graffiti artists ask the owner’s permission first before they paint on the wall. Illegal graffiti is usually “tagging” where someone just put their name on a wall without the owner’s permission. These are mostly selfish acts. But even the most well respected graffiti artists will still throw in an illegal “tag” here and there. That is how most of them started out anyway.

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Another surprising thing I’ve learnt is that there are a lot of graffiti artists from overseas that come to South Africa for the mere purpose to put their graffiti on a wall. On the tour they showed us a whole building done by a graffiti artist from Spain (I don’t know the name because I didn’t have a notebook with me and most what I’m writing here is from memory).

By Spanish graffiti artist

By Spanish graffiti artist

Most of the graffiti are done through free styling, but sometimes they will use each others input or sources. They showed us one done by Aiko: a Japanese female graffiti artist that loves to use stencils in her work.

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Another local graffiti artist: Rasty

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Every graffiti artist have their own motive: doing it for the sake of art, politics, some see it as their careers, for others it’s just a hobby.

There are different categories of graffiti: legal vs illegal, creation vs destruction, street art, tagging, etc.

There is also a code of conduct or graffiti ethics between different artists. It is seen as disrespectful when you paint or tag over another artist’s work. Some of them will even become cross if you paint next to theirs and touch it in any way.

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If you look closely you’ll see a Kong character on the above picture – that was not part of the original painting.

Some more awesome pics:

In Maboneng

In Maboneng

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I can’t for the life of me remember who painted these characters though (see above)

By local artist Tapz

By local artist Tapz

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Sadly not all will last forever. The following graffiti wall is already 6 years old. Eventually the paint will fade and crumble away.

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The End.

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