Category Archives: Arts, Music & Culture

Eddie Vedder Found: Taormina, Sicily

My history with Eddie Vedder’s music goes way back. The night before I had my accident in 1996 I listened to Off He Goes, sobbing for a life I was leaving behind in a small town in South Africa. In that moment, I had no idea of how my life would really change the following morning, in the few seconds, filled with crashing glass and crunching metal and breaking thorn trees followed by the hot still silence of a clear Karoo day, it took to put me in a wheelchair.

That was not the only moment in my life that had a PJ track attached to it – there were many moments, from gentle, quiet ones to gleeful ones to heartbroken, sad ones, that had a range of their tracks attached, and still do.  And there’ll be more to come.

And that’s the back story as to why this trip to Sicily from Cape Town is a dream. I’ve been wanting to see Eddie Vedder for years. Many, many years. When I saw the Florence festival announced, I hesitated for a split second, and booked, living by the cliched (but true) ‘Life is short’. Then Sicily was announced and the plan changed. Sicily! In an Ancient Greek ruin? No brainer.

And so it came to be that last night, in an amphitheatre dating back to the early Seventh Century BC (BC!), I saw Eddie Vedder, live. It may well have been the best night of my life.

One advantage of being in a wheelchair is that the ancient Greeks didn’t really build amphitheatres for us, so the only place I can go (after negotiating some pretty fabulously steep ramps, with the help of some pretty fabulously handsome medics and firemen), is right in front! The lovely Federica, from Rome, sat next us, having broken her knee saving a guy from falling during a stage dive in a mosh pit three days ago. She shared her water with us

As the sky deepened to cerulean blue, the new moon flirted with the Evening Star above Mount Etna and the Mediterranean turned dark. The ancient walls of the amphitheatre that have seen so much in their time twitched in anticipation. The hot evening air, filled with the whispers and stories of thousands of years, was electric. A couple got engaged in the front seats as the crowd exuded love. And then the electricity multiplied …

(Thanks to Martin Grundberg for this gorgeous pic from up at the back.)

The crowd roared – echoes of gladiator fights of years ago – as Eddie Vedder walked on stage, 25 m from me. As he picked up his guitar and sang those first few words, I dissolved, grinning like a loon, my lips quivered and tears overflowed. That voice. The one I’ve listened to a thousand times, on tapes, on CDs, on YouTube videos … live.

For two-and-a-half hours he sang, no break. Just Breathe, Society, Without You, the best rendition of Jeremy, with the string quartet, the list went on and the crowd went wild and my lungs scrunched up and my heart expanded and I was enthralled. And an R.E.M. track, with a Michael Stipe in Berlin story attached – my second favourite band – swoon!

During Jeremy he came into the crowd, shaking hands, hugging people, coming closer to us, until he was right there, so close I could’ve touched him, but I was totally frozen in awe. Leigh put out her hand, he shook it. And then he hugged Federica, before going back to the stage. We all cried, like teen fans, but much more sophisticated (of course).

Pigeons flapped from rampart to rampart, momentarily lit by the stage lights, and bats flitted across the sky. A heavily pregnant woman in a white dress walked up and down in one of the top tiers, beautifully lit and looking like a Greek goddess. The whole thing was surreal.

And Eddie Vedder sang and chatted and shared his wine and congratulated the newly engaged couple and brought his daughters and wife on stage and it just all felt so incredibly lovely. And, dare I say it again? That voice.

Fascinating fact of the day: Eddie Vedder with a ukulele and Glen Hansard can sing, without microphones, in that ancient amphitheatre, and the sound is perfect and the audience will be hushed in wonder and it will be magical.

Second fascinating fact of the day: Five thousand people singing Hard Sun on a hot night in an amphitheatre overlooking Mount Etna and The Med can change the cells in your body, rearranging them into something that just feels better, man. (See what I did?)

Tonight, I’m lucky enough to go again. Hold thumbs for Off He Goes, please.

Sicily On My Mind

Sicily has never been on my list of ‘Places I Want To Go’. Not that it’s been on my list of ‘Places I Don’t Want To Go’, either (I don’t really have one of those), it’s just not been on my radar at all, really. I come from a travel-lovin’ family. My childhood was filled with back roads, exploring old graveyards and farmhouses, stopping to swim in rivers, look at rocks (my Dad’s a geologist) and follow paths to see where they went.

As a 16-year old, my parents took me on a Whistle Stop Tour of Europe, to open my eyes to the world outside of my Small Town, South Africa. Open my eyes it did, to the splendour of the world and the tinyness of each of us in the greater scheme of things, and the tinyness of the block of time in which we live, and the joy of seeing new places and meeting new people, trying food whose name you don’t understand and whose taste you’ve never experienced, seeing cultures that are so removed from your own, yet, in some ways, comfortingly familiar.

I loved Italy on that Whistle Stop Tour and swore that when I finished school I’d become a plumber and go and live in Venice, because Venice, surely, needs plumbers. I didn’t though, and got swept up by life and all that goes with it and went to university and, and … I didn’t stop travelling and exploring throughout, but  didn’t go to live in Venice. Italy has remained up there on my list, but not Sicily. Sicily never crossed my mind. But now, it’s very much on my mind.

Here I sit, reading my umpteenth article on Sicily, tickets on my desk from Cape Town to London, London into Comiso and two weeks later out of Catania to Paris, then to London, then back home to Cape Town. I now know all about the Mafia, towns with names like Modica, Noto and Ortigia, ancient buildings, beautiful ruins, shining beaches lapped by the Med, and I haven’t, yet, been there. But I’m going. Next month. Next. Month. To Sicily. The place that I’d never really thought about going to.

And here I get to my point: the most marvellous way that the world manages to throw ideas at you, randomly and beautifully. You see, I’d never have thought of going to Sicily, but Eddie Vedder’s going, and I’ve loved his music since my teens. And he chose to play in an ancient Greek amphitheatre that overlooks the even-more ancient Mount Etna, with her rumbling tummy, and the Med. Who could resist? Certainly not me.

So, though the culture and the history and the food and the scenery are only some of the reasons to visit Sicily (I know now, having armchair-travelled a lot in the past six weeks because, really, the planning is half the fun, isn’t it?), seeing your favourite musician play, is the cherry on the top of those reasons.  The fact that I’ll be seeing Eddie Vedder, live, TWICE, in the midst of such scenery makes me grin like a loon and squeal like a teen. Music really does broaden your horizons.

The fact that Sicily sounds particularly, let’s say … challenging, in a wheelchair doesn’t put me off one iota – I’m travelling with two of my favourite allies (credit to RHCP, and now we all have an Ear Worm), and I can’t wait.

I do love an adventure.

 

 

Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie

It was the perfect pre-show to a gritty and brilliant film: the red carpet, glittering dresses, air kisses fluttering to the floor, pierced by impossibly high heals, perfectly masked and made-up faces, hipster beer and hipsters. In between, warm hugs of old friends thankfully swallowed the echoing of the hollow laughs of the industry shmoozing, the nerve centre that is a premiere.

Johnny is nie dood nie is up there with Noem My Skollie on my top South African movies list. The Afrikaans script is incredible and the English sub-titles are almost as incredible, which is saying something. Usually so much of the nuance is lost in the translation (and horrifying lack of proofreading). Here, not so. I wished that I could turn my phone on and take notes, there were some lines that gave me shivers with their perfection. I will watch it again.

Perhaps I found it so brilliant because of its familiarity. While I’m ten years younger than the characters are in real life now, and ten years older than they are in the ‘present day’ of the film, it’s a story line that hits close to the bone. It’s about the inevitable loss of youth, replaced by house mortgages and talk of school fees. It perfectly portrays the wandering and experimentation of student life, between lectures and farm dams, political uproar, the fear of conscription to fight in a war they didn’t believe in and fearless love, youthful ego and friendship, all dressed in mini skirts and sheepskin-collared leather jackets.

Then, while nobody’s looking, we suddenly find ourselves (they find themselves) closed in by the electric-fenced walls of suburban mediocrity, the ancient, unreliable VW Kombi filled with adventure and lust replaced with a Soccer Mom SUV that smells like pine. Inane, middle-class, claustrophobia. The cast are outstanding, every one.

I thought it was a film about Johannes Kerkorrel. It is, but it’s also about his circle, friendships in a politically tumultuous era, love that survives distance and time, betrayal, the restlessness that’s attached to midlife crises and, ultimately, the fragility of life and the tragedy of those who don’t manage to survive. And the tragedy of those who do. It’s all set to the rocking and intense soundtrack of Johannes Kerkorrel and The Gereformeerde Blues Band, his music, his collaborations: Bernoldus Niemand en die Swart Gevaar, Andre Letoit, all fantastic. And heartbreaking.

Sadly, the one that doesn’t survive – as always – is the shape-shifter, the one with paper-thin skin and an intricate soul. The film left me sobbing, a snotty, salty mess. I wept not only for the loss of a superbly talented man, but for the loss of youth and its passion.

It made me want to find the nearest dodgy bar, to drink whiskey in a smoke-filled room with loud music and wild conversation.

Woordfees: ‘n Fees van Woorde

Woordfees is a smorgasbord of culture, in the true sense of the word. Heading down to the hub behind the museum, after watching an angst-inducing performance of Wild at Hoerskool Cloetesville, we sat in the dappled shade under the oaks, decompressing with a glass of wine – this is Stellenbosch after all!

It’s one of many such spaces at Woordfees. They’re filled with people discussing the things they’ve seen. While Katinka Heyns chats, live on air, to the RSG crew set up in the corner of the space, people like us meet farmers from Wellington and talk about the wild fires and the stellar performances of Albert Pretorius, Joanie Combrink, and Tinarie van Wyk Loots in Wild.  It’s a play that leaves one emotionally exhausted, and in need of that glass of wine.

An amble through the US Museum is like walking through a treasure chest of art, with exhibitions by various well-known and up-and-coming South African artists. Upstairs, arranged around the gorgeous circular balcony that looks down onto the ground floor, is Deur Die Bome Die Bos Nie Sien Nie, curated by Alex Hamilton. It’s an eclectic collection of a number of artists’ thought-provoking works. Just as art should be.

There’s live music on the breeze, coming from somewhere nearby. People are sitting at tables in another little nook. A food stall is serving up tasty lunch delights and a truck nearby is offering glasses of bubbles. There’s electricity in this air – the buzz of the arts fizzing in peoples’ brains, making them think.

At The Kaya, Bertus Basson guides us through a lamb tasting. Four pieces of perfectly cooked lamb, each one cooked in exactly the same way – on the bone, at 55°C for twelve hours, without any seasoning. Paired with four award-winning red wines, the point of this tasting event is to demonstrate the difference in taste of lamb from four distinct sheep-farming regions of South Africa – Calvinia (Northern Cape), Bredasdorp (Overberg), Riversdal (Hessequa) and Steynsburg (Karoo). The difference in tastes is astounding and, as Basson said: ‘Daar’s ‘n skaap vir elke smaak!’  I’m a Karoo girl, me.

Back through the US Museum, on the ground floor, Athi-Patra Ruga’s A Young Retrospective glitters and shines, with bright bursts of colour in various media. His pieces are mythical and magical, with an underlying sense of urgent examination of all the issues of South Africa – and the world – today.

It’s time for a discussion of what to do next, a perusal of the full-to-overflowing programme. Book discussions, music recitals, dance productions, more drama, or just a little sit, a meeting of new people, a chat with an old man we’d otherwise not have met at the communal tables.

And that’s what Woordfees is all about: it’s about the arts, all of them, and it’s about the coming together of people in the appreciation of them. An appreciation that fills the heart and opens the mind, and gets those conversations that are so important, started.

An edited version of this review appears on What’s on in Cape Town.

In Search of Eddie Vedder

I have loved Eddie Vedder since I was a teenager. And by loved, I am perfectly happy to admit that it’s a love of the complete teen-adoration-for-ridiculously-good-looking-rockstar-who-stage-dives kind. It’s not only that, though, and it’s lasted into my 40’s. I love his voice, his lyrics, his … I’ll stop there. Swoon.

Pearl Jam and, later, Eddie Vedder’s solo songs, have been integral tracks on the Soundtrack of My Life. You know how when big things are happening – you’re falling in love, you’ve had your heart broken, somebody ate the last piece of pizza – every song lyric is written for you? In those moments, those song lyrics for me, very often, were those of Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder.

For years I’ve been watching them announce concert dates, the world over, and thinking ‘should I’, ‘shouldn’t I?’  Then they announced a Florence Festival date *Quick whirl back in time: I went to Italy in 1990, as a long-limbed 16-year old, and fell in love with it* and I thought, ‘I should.’ A few days later, they announced more European dates, one in Sicily.

And that is why I have spent the last weeks plotting and planning and calling in Italian Knights in Shining Armour (IKiSA) to help me translate booking sites and correspond with organisers, to work out if I could wangle it to see Eddie Vedder play in the most beautiful ancient Greek ruins overlooking Mount Etna in Taormina, Sicily. There have been mails to-ing and fro-ing and nails being bitten and so many lovely, kind people both here and in Italy giving me the low-down on accessibility.

Yesterday, I received the final one, from the organiser of the Taormina concert. Yes, I would be able to access the Teatro antico di Taormina, all I needed to do was get online and book, when bookings opened this morning at 10 AM (CET), all in Italian. My IKiSA gave me careful instructions on what to do. Yesterday, using Google Translate, I registered on the ticket site, practiced buying a ticket for something else, Google Translated every little line.

I checked three different websites to make sure that 10 AM (CET) was the same as 11 AM here.

This morning, with my ADSL behaving like a 2-year old that doesn’t want to go to school, I pretended to do some work while I watched the clock like a civil servant waiting for tea-time. At 10:45 AM I moved myself and my tetchy computer into the kitchen, with its nose against the modem and logged on on my phone too, in case. Google Translate was open. Everything else was closed, so that my computer could concentrate solely on the matter at hand: Getting. Those. Tickets.

10:58.

10:59.

11:00! And there they were! A little green button next to ‘Biglietti’! I clicked on it, put in the number of tickets and clicked on ‘Metti nel carrello’. The little Circle Thingy of Hell turned and turned, the page not changing. I started doing the same thing on my phone, a panic rising from the pit of my stomach.

Wait! A Capchta code. Eek. Those things freak me out. Is it a ‘C’ or a ‘c’, a ‘W’ or a ‘w’? I felt like I was doing my final Chemistry prac again.

Success! New screen.

Pick ‘Ritiro sul luogo dell’evento’, as told by IKiSA. Then more Circle Thingy of Hell, as the time-allowed-clock ticked down from 10:00 to 08:40. My shattered nerves. New page loading!

What? Who? You need me to fill in which? Eek. Frantic Google Translating … Enter credit card details.

We’re down to 04:21.  The timer is sticking it’s tongue out at me. 02:34.

Enter SMS’ed code to agree to payment coming off my card: 9939.

Circle Thingy of Hell.
Circle Thingy of Hell .
01:24.
Circle Thingy of Hell …

VOILA! (I think. Everything’s in Italian, but it looks like tickets to Eddie Vedder, and the money’s gone off my account, and I’ve got the e-mail. I feel like I’ve just received a Golden Ticket to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.)

I am going to see Eddie Vedder in Taormina, Sicily on 26 June 2017.  I have that excitement that makes the tummy gurgle and the mouth stretch into a smile and the heart flutter arrythmically. The excitement.

This is where I’ll be seeing him. It’s almost unbelievable. Here. That’s the Mediterranean in the distance. Oh. My. God(father). Sicily. Eddie. Swoon.

 

Oh, George

Remember just last week, when I was telling 2016, all dressed up in its Grim Reaper suit, to bugger off? No way, it just keeps on going, waving it’s bloodied scythe about.

George Michael was my first crush, ever. The second was Morten Harket. I longed for a t-shirt that said either ‘Choose Life’ (and this was years before Trainspotting) or ‘Go-Go’, to wear with my pink joggers with white piping. I must’ve been about ten. I bought the casette of Make It Big at the Carletonville OK, and flicked through the poster holders each time I went with my mother, hoping they’d have got in a Wham! one. They never did. Sigh.

I knew all the lyrics to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (and have just discovered, on listening to it now, that I still do. The brain is a marvelous creature); I longed to go and find the fun and sunshine at Club Tropicana; Christmas songs suddeny got cooler when they brought out Last Christmas; and Careless Whisper was the soundtrack to many beautifully mortifying pre-adolescent slow dances at discos held in various garages in and around Carletonville.

Then we grew up, and so did he, and our joggers and tie-on roller skates were discarded in the corner and my musical tastes wandered off to a slightly darker, dingier club than Club Tropicana. I fear George Michael ambled into a much darker one than mine, but he continued making music, singing, being brilliant.

Fast forward to around the turn of the century (oh, wow, I can write that, and it applies! Good grief). I’m in another dingy bar (I’m a fan), and it’s karaoke night. Nini, one of my favourite people on earth, takes her turn, and belts out Faith, and I am reminded of the man’s talent. And hers, of course. Now that I think carefully, it may not have been her. She always does I Want To Break Free. No matter, the details are secondary. I met George Michael again that night. He was a consummate song writer, and his music weaved in and out of my life’s soundtrack (and millions of others). Our memories melt into ghosts, as time goes on.

By all accounts, he’s had a rough time over the years. I hope that’s just the horrible popular media rumour mill with its hiss and claws, and that his last time on this crazy earth was happy. And although my fandom dwindled as my age increased, he will always be my first crush and there’s nothing quite like a 10-year old’s crush. And now he’s gone.

I hope he’s doing the Jitterbug as we speak.

Now, seriously, 2016, GO(-GO), and don’t bother waking us up before you do.

My Naam is Februarie: Identities Rooted in Slavery

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There’s something about being in the presence of greatness, of history. Albie Sachs spoke last night, at the opening of the new exhibition, ‘My Naam is Februarie: Identities Rooted in Slavery’, at the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum. It’s as if not only the people listened, but the ancient stones in the cobbled courtyard, the walls that have watched such atrocities happen, the new spring leaves of the trees peeping over the roof, the very air particles, all turned and listened to a man who can only be described as the epitome of dignity, a man who fought, tooth-and-nail, for this country to be free and fair. His heart must be broken about what’s happening now, on our campuses. Again.

In the background, 5 o’clock Adderley Street traffic created a low murmur, punctuated by the odd siren: modern-day slaves to the consumerism of the 21st century, trudging home.

Between 1653 and 1856, 71 000 slaves were brought to Cape Town, and housed in the Slave Lodge, stripped of everything, including their identities.

‘My DNA was brought here on a ship,’ said the MC. This is the story of South Africa. Well, an early part of it. An ugly, horrifying story of slavery, indentured labour and the complete lack of dignity and respect afforded to thousands of slaves.

This is our history. Without being aware of this, as awful as it is, there is no way we’ll learn about how to never let these things happen again, as they have, over and over, since 1653. And still are, in one form or another. Will we ever learn?

Each month features a person who carries that month’s name. Slaves, brought to South Africa from predominantly Indian Ocean countries, were named according to the month they arrived, their real names carelessly discarded. The photos are gorgeous, the stories, in equal parts heart-breaking and beautiful but, mostly, important. These are the stories of us, South Africans. This is a part of our history, our legacy, and this is a part that has been sorely neglected. As Albie Sachs put it: ‘This is not just a legacy of injustice, but the legacy of racism.’

Dr Bongani Ndlovu reminded us of the presence of the past. I like that. The presence of the past. The Slave Lodge Museum, with both its permanent exhibition, and this new one does just that: it reminds us of where we came from, which is vital to help us get to where we want this country to go.

An edied version of this blog appears on the What’s On in Cape Town site.