Monday, November 23, 2009
Hell, it all looks so glamorous but nothing is as it seems
After a fabulous year last year, this year has been one of extreme drought as far as financial renumeration has been concerned. I struggled to pitch stories as a lot of the magazines were doing them inhouse. Thank God for press releases and the work that did come my way. So I started up this blog, just to keep my name out there. Blogs are about what you personally feel about stuff, not necessarily just toeing the official line. So here's the inside story about what it's REALLY like to be a social columnist. Never mind the stuff on the profile, everyone has to work an angle on themselves these days and get onto Facebook/Twitter/YouTube/whatever just to get out there.
Was being a social columnist what I really wanted to do with my life? It has almost been a sideline to what I really wanted to do - which is write. When I first pitched the idea of a social column to the then editor of The Citizen Tim du Plessis over nine years ago, I made a promise to myself. Two promises, actually. Firstly, I grandiosely said: "I want to put out the best damn social column in this town!" and secondly I promised myself that this was not who I was, it was what I did. This was an important distinction. I had to be true to myself in a complicated way.
Weirdly enough social journalism, in fact journalism, was not what I wanted to do with my life at all. Sies, seen through my student eyes journalists were those unwashed types who were always getting arrested and smoking pot. They were scaly, dodgy lowlifes that I wouldn't be seen dead with, and what was worse they always had some sort of agenda or other (I still feel like this about some of them!). Some people know from a very early age exactly what they are going to do with their lives. Not me. My career desires changed like a weathercock from month to month, from year to year, from one stage of my life to another and it all seemed like a natural progression. Twenty years ago I wanted to be a horticulturalist, and studied every botanical name of every plant. I knew them all, in my vast enthusiasm. I still know them, it was a very useful exercise, and my green fingers are still active. Then I wanted to work in publishing but my politics weren't far left enough for Wits, too middle of the road. I kind of "fell into" the social journalism thing. I took to it like a duck to water, and built up contacts and relationships like a pro. I could relate to people, and loved writing social stuff (after all, my Barbies had a social magazine back when I was ten). Nice pictures appealed to me, thanks to an art background, so the layout part was easy. I had always had a sharp tongue and found it was an asset to the job, as was an understanding of people.
I know where they are coming from. People are weirdly insecure and because of that seem determined to make me as a social columnist into what they want, not what I want to be. Some of them live to see their picture in the paper, just for some sort of validation. Is this why they are nice to me? I feel bad sometimes for the things I write, but hope they can see it as tongue-in-cheek, not a desire to be cruel. Of course the corrupt, the rude, the nasty get exactly what they deserve. Some high profile folk live in a world of wealth that is closed off from reality; they have no clue what the man in the street is experiencing nor do they want to know.
It's peculiar how they behave towards me. When I am camera-shy they literally push me into pictures and how I hate it (and untag myself from Facebook pictures! I look like a slug, twice the size I used to be!). Old friends of twenty years introduce me, saying: "Be careful what you say to her". They desperately want to make me into a celebrity, a big frog in this tiny little Jozi pond. They schmooze me and kiss me and tell me I look FABULOUS. God knows what they say behind my back!! Some give me the evil eye, which is very honest of them, to their credit. Some pay compliments which are in fact insults, but more power to them. Of course I love aspects of the job, it would be hypocritical not to admit that. Good lord, I get to meet famous people as a matter of course. I get to be interviewed on TV/radio. I get gorgeous goody bags from time to time. Designers dress me. People mention my name left, right and centre. My picture is in the paper every week! How hard would it be not to get a swollen head?
But knowing that I cant be too egotistical is part of a necessary survival kit. It's the publication that has the power, not me. Look what happened to Jani Allan, look at what happened to Gwen Gill, their publications just dumped them. I know perfectly well what will happen should I stop writing a column. It's happened to me before, after all, so I know. I am a writer, first and foremost, not freaking Hedda Hopper. So knowing who you really are and your own personal power in life is the most important thing. Everything in life is fleeting and momentary, only that knowledge remains for me at the end of the day. When I'm 80 I don't want to sigh sadly and say "those were the days". I want to say: "Today's the day!"
Dealing with my colleagues is progressively more trying. For the past eight years I was left alone to do my job but over the past two years the professional jealousy I have had to deal with at work has been noticeable (isn't it always like that in every workplace? The jealousy just follows you around). I daily hear the hisses: "Who does she think she is? Does she think she's a celebrity?" They make a lot of noise so I can't concentrate on creating my masterpieces and try to create a negative energy force around me. I always call it the "crabs in the bucket syndrome" and think it's quite funny. People don't understand that the more they try to drag other people down for being successful, the more they drag themselves down. Praising other people for their hard work and being inspired by their success is my philosophy. I wish our society would stop hating success and embrace it, on every level. Think of what we could achieve! The dark side is a reflection of the light side, it wants to pull it into itself and vice versa.
The really, really great thing about this job is the people you meet that you would not have a chance to meet as a civilian. I meet amazing people who are an inspiration to me (Arctic explorer Lewis Gordon Pugh, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius, Advocate George Bizos, Sir Salman Rushdie, Bettany Hughes, the former Mrs Sarkozy Cecilia Attias, Nelson Mandela, the list from the past nine years goes on and on). These are the kind of people whose energy I want to encounter, whose positivity and success are an inspiration. Everything else just falls away, all the petty jealousies and other people's insecurities are eclipsed and I feel re-energised and raring to go. Nothing is impossible.
It means I can go back to my little desk in my messy home (oh, the mess! and the papers! I would rather go out than deal with it) and try to get the thoughts which have been playing in my head into some sort of coherent form, my iPod playing something soothing in my ears. Next year and the year after that will improve, the work will come back, the money will improve and hopefully I will have another year to do the things I love.
Monday, November 16, 2009
IT girl Lady Kitty Spencer is now the Most Stylish Person in South Africa
Lady Kitty goes up to claim her prize
It might have been the sheer glamour of her lineage but the judges for the 13th South African Style Awards were also bewitched by 18-year-old Kitty Spencer's friendliness and peaches-and-cream complexion last Saturday when winners and judges alike met for tea at the Hyatt Regency. We liked her gladiator stilettos and her open-book manners. None of the "hubris of the high born", as a British newspaper put it. Because she is Princess Di's eldest niece, and first cousin to the young Princes Harry and William, Kitty is actually a countess and her father likes her to be known as "Lady Kitty Spencer". Apparently the Spencers are far higher on the food chain than the reigning monarchy and always have been. A magazine editor told me though that Kitty was "minor royalty" and unless she invented something like Velcro or did something spectacular the mag wasn't interested in an interview. Maybe I should try again? It's hard for South Africans to address a friendly teenager as "Lady Whatever", so we called her Kitty instead, which she did not seem to mind.
Strike a pose ... Photographer Xander Ferreira knows how to grab attention in his gold takkies while an amused Yair Shimanky from Shimansky Jewellers looks on
Who were the winners and the judges? Former Miss Universe Michele McLean won Style Icon, The Smarteez Most Innovative Style, Most Stylish Performing Artist was Xander Ferreira whose photo shoot took place in the window of the Gucci store in Sandton, Most Stylish Media Personality was Glamour editor Pnina Fenster, Metro Fm's Unathi Nkayi and Thomas Msengana were Most Stylish Couple.
Unathi with her prize from Shimansky Jewellers, one of the sponsors
Most Stylish Designer was Gavin Rajah (this caused some controversy which I refused to be drawn into).
Actress Nina Milner looking all 20s. You know her from the Appletiser ad!
Actress Nina Milner walked off with Most Stylish Performing Artist in Film, and Bafana Bafana's popular Matthew Booth was Most Stylish Business Personality.
Protective custody ... Matthew Booth
Unshakeable confidence .... Michele McLean in a plunging red Malcolm Kluk gown with Henri Slier who presents the naughty Sex in the City style programme, 'Man'
Doing her push ups ... Actress Lee-Anne Summers in red Louboutins
The red carpet champagne reception itself was ultra-pretentious and not for those who fear Ellis Park-like stampedes. Those bravehearts in the centre were squashed like sardines and yelled at each other over the general hubbub. There was so much airkissing going on and chameleon-like eyeings over shoulders that frankly a lot of people came across as insecure and unstylish. An unshakeable confidence is one of the most stylish attributes to possess, no matter what the outfit. Something we South Africans have yet to learn.
The Hamilton-Russell wines were as stylish as Anthony's dinner jacket
Winemaker Anthony Hamilton-Russell was one of the self-confident few. He was beaming because he could still fit into his dinner jacket which he had made when he was at Oxford.
Wild style ... the Smarteez burnt up the stage
The Smarteez, our own Soweto-inspired fashion invention, were also divinely confident. One Smartee even got onto the drums with the band and rocked to his own rhythms with his eyes closed. He had his hair made into the shape of Africa with coloured beads. I liked the men who arrived in dinner jackets, so rare these days.
Pushing up daisies ... the rather pretty floral arrangements!
Make me famous ... Lutho Somdyala, the presenter from e.tv's The Style Report
It was a tough call to find a winner this year in among the other strong contenders (such as former Miss Universe, the omni-elegant Michele McLean and the Smarteez), but it was a democratic vote taken round a table in the Ndau Lounge. All the judges (Thoko Qoboza from Sun International, Jill Grogor, Alan Ford, Rosie Motene, Viwe, myself, David Gilson from Carlton Hair, Louw Kotze, last year's winner Mandla Sibeko, Annaleigh Vallie from Wanted magazine, and Leanne Liebenberg) all wrote a name on a piece of paper and submitted it to the "chief judge", Alan Ford. Can't say I have ever come across a chief judge before, maybe a chief justice. I can't reveal much more about the judging process as I was one of the judges (cool!) and was interviewed by Glitterati.
As for young Kitty, she's a Cape Town girl born and bred, so I say hands off to the British press. She's OURS. I remember earlier this year, when I was invited to join the Lady Kitty and her sister Amelia (very Jane Austen names!) as well as a few other stylish folk on an ABSOLUT Vodka yacht trip around Cape Town harbour. The pictures landed up on the front page of the Daily News, obviously sold to the paper by a local photographer for cash. The press have been interested in the story of her mother's latest divorce, and young Kitty is no stranger to her family hitting the headlines on a regular basis (though she did tell me that her mother had gone off for the weekend with her boyfriend, obviously a new boyfriend). Her father completely loathes the press and who can forget his famous remark about the press being at the opposite end of the moral spectrum to Princess Diana? Who was, ironically, an arch manipulator of the fourth estate. Something she should have passed on to her niece.
One can't help feeling that she has been sheltered and does not know what lies ahead. "She's very young, what has she done so far?" was one of the concerns brought up by the judges. Well, now she's won this award it means a story in Hello magazine and much more publicity and public appearances locally, as that is one of the functions of a SA Style Award winner. She's a huge IT girl in Britain and recently attended a debutantes ball in Paris with all the other beautiful children of the beautiful people. Red carpets seem to be her second home these days. It might be a good idea, for her to get a little more media-savvy, and maybe have a press person around her who knows how to fend off the press who are showing an ever-growing interest in her after a Tatler cover story and an Italian Vanity Fair interview this year. Kitty greeted me with a kiss on each cheek at the Hyatt tea, but she needs to be aware that the press are not always her friend. She's the story and they've got a job to do.
But on to more arcane matters. What was she wearing? She seems to like minis a great deal (short dresses were a key theme this year, no more long) and told me that she picked up her short white dress about a hour before the awards. This despite my being told that Donatella Versace had phoned her to offer an outfit.
More about the SA Style Awards with lots more pictures in this Saturday's pages of the Citizen
Saturday, November 14, 2009
A bellydancer with the very un-Greek name of Tarryn Rego!
People always ask me why I like the Greeks so much. Maybe I should qualify that, as the only ones I have had major contact with so far are the South African Greeks who combine their unique warmth and hospitality with South African friendliness. I come from Irish stock and my mother always told me that "the Irish are the Greeks of the West" (they really are, I think). Dinner table conversations jocularly consisted of: "While my people were keeping the light of learning alive in Europe, YOUR people were running around painted in woad." This to my British father with an Irish name, who generally retaliated in similar vein about German U-boats in Irish harbours.
But I digress. Both the Irish and Greek cultures have such a zest for life and enjoyment that it is impossible to resist them. Everything is extreme, they either love you or they hate you, nothing in between. I totally get this ..
Opa! The Greek zest for life exhibits itself in their dancing and Derek Bester (Peermont Development Manager) and Julie Scafidas join in
My love of the Greeks also stemmed from my Classics professor at Rhodes, Warren Snowball, who instilled in me a huge love of classical civilisation when he took a group of friends and students on a trip to Greece many years ago. I just loved it and tried very hard to make baklava when I got home. Without much success.
I have since made staunch friends (who call me an Hellenophile) and love their food, which is very hard to find outside a Greek home. So when an invite to a new Greek restaurant at Emperors Palace dropped into my inbox I jumped at the chance.
Platia, which means "town square" in Greek, is run by Chris Malamas and his brother and boasts the kind of food that their yaya used to make. It took Platia four days to perfect the bread alone, which is crusty and rustic. It's made with olive oil and totally moreish. It was a media night and we were treated to four courses, a little taste of what was on the menu. Although most of us had not eaten much during the day, and brought along our appetites, by the fourth course we were beginning to flag a little because the Greeks can EAT. First course was the meze with the fab bread, then followed a fish course with squid heads, calamari, haloumi cheese (cooked to perfection), then the meats (souvlaki, lamb chops,and prawns), then baklava and Galaktobouriko, the pronunciation of which I always struggle with. I can say the name Antigone to perfection the Greek way, but don't let me try saying Galaktobouriko. It sounds like one of those ancient battles fought against the Persians where the Spartans were decimated but nevertheless won.
In between all this wonderful food was of course the bellydancing (more Turkish, of course) and Greek dancing. They had a great dance duo called Spasta Ola, which means "break everything". At one stage they poured whisky on the floor, set it alight and danced in among the flames, another tradition of Greek dancing. They say Greece is the biggest consumer of Chivas Regal in the world, and now I can see why!
Kung fu style ... Cyprus Radio presenter Stelios Leoni broke a whole stack of plates,then broke the last one over his head. Why? I inquired and was told, because he's Greek. In this case, Cypriot
The tradition of breaking plates during the dancing is really an expression of happiness and exuberance, but was banned for a while in Greece itself as it sometimes led to injuries. Someone once saw someone's leg being impaled by a plate. Careful chucking of the plates is required although the impulse is to throw them wildly like a frisbee. The dancing was frenzied and designed for a less Greek audience as the dance group said they did not want to do "the more traditional, boring dances" which non-Greeks might not understand.
African style ... Fihliwe Nkomo (Peermont Chief HR Executive), Hellenic News SA
Editor Taki Constantopoulos and friend
One of the dancers had a dishcloth hanging out of his back pocket with which he polished his shoes as part of the dance. The music and rhythm built up to a frenzy of clapping and bouzouki accompaniment while the dancers leapt in the air or onto each others' shoulders. It was all part of the kefi, or Greek spiritual mojo which is part of their culture. The cleaning-up operation was mammoth as the broken plaster bits were heaped high.
I will definitely be back, preferably on a Friday or Saturday night, for a bit of plate breaking (very addictive) and some wild Greek dancing!
Irene Athanasias of Hellenescene magazine gets some tips in bellydancing from MC Petro Magos, who was wearing an "island style" Panama hat and a flowered shirt.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Slice of heaven ... a jacaranda vista with the brick-pink Westcliff in the background
I always thought growing up in sub-Saharan Africa that jacaranda trees, with their light blue-purple, bell-shaped petals, were quintessentially African, a welcome sign of spring and early summer. Maybe the visual intensity when viewed en masse against a fierce, hot, blue African sky or against a rain-soaked, thundercloud-lit summer afternoon is homegrown, but not the flowering trees themselves. These beautiful, albeit fragrance-free, beauties originate in places like southern America, Brazil and Mexico and the Caribbean. If I thought they made stunning canopies over the sweltering suburban streets of cities like Harare, Bulawayo, Pretoria or Joburg (where more than 70 000 trees come out in blossom every year around mid-October, a tribute to our "greatest man-made forest" status), I should go to Mexico City in jacaranda season. The entire city is so vividly purple it puts anything I have witnessed up till now to shame. They grow in India and California, too, and parts of Australia which are not too far south like Brisbane and New South Wales. You get a great many varieties of jacarandas and you even get white jacarandas, but they are wallflowers compared to the floral displays put on by their blue-tressed sisters (Jacaranda mimosifolia)!
What is it about the purple colour of the jacarandas that have such a profound effect on the spirit? Maybe it's that magical colour, so impossible to capture in a photograph, which has lent itself to a name on the colour palette - jacaranda. After all, purple is supposed to be a deeply spiritual colour which feeds the eye and soul and looks good in every light and from every angle. Or maybe it's the feeling that you are attending some gorgeous giant wedding, as the petals fall oh-so-silently in purple carpets below like confetti. To be married under an avenue of jacaranda trees which reflects off the bride's white dress! What could be prettier? Maybe the colour combinations of the red bougainvilleas and scarlet coral trees which also bloom this time of the year.
Whatever the reasons, jacaranda season is one of my favourites in this town of mine (I always seem to miss the jacarandas in Pretoria, probably because they flower earlier) and I love to drive around and find the best spot to view them. Joburg truly has "pretty power" in jacaranda season. The northern suburbs of Joburg boast the highest concentration of trees and while it's lovely to drive around and let your eyes drink them in on ground level, in the streets of Rosebank or Melville, sometimes you need that extra bit of elevation to appreciate how they make the city "pop", like Mac eyeshadow.
Now despite rumours to the contrary Joburg is not a flat place like Bloemfontein. It is, in fact, as Hugh Grant once said of Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral, very hilly. One of the nicest spots to stop and look at the reign of purple is the street which goes behind the Joburg Gen Hospital, which has now been closed off. The security guards don't think I am mad, but let me drive through for a good gawk. They must get this all the time.
The Westcliff on the other side draws me too, perhaps because of their aptly named Jacaranda Hill section. PR Gaby Palmer is just leaving but tells me to pop up to the pool area at the Belle Terrasse for the best view. She's says I'm not the first journo to come there for a story; it's a popular destination at this time of the year and a honeymooning couple takes full advantage, interrupting my purple reveries with their tonsil-gobbling smooches (very annoying to an outsider). But I ignore them and look at Forest Town, Wescliff, Rosebank and Parktown forming a giant botanical garden below like an urban Amazon forest in among the honking car horns and the quaint late 19th century architecture. Even the grim, crematorium-like features of the Joburg Gen are softened by the already fading purple sea of blooms. The jacarandas are not so good this year, I muse. Gaby tells me that Moneyweb's David Bullard aptly described this year's crop as "straggly". Must have been all that hail we had recently.
It's the saddest thing when the purple fades and the green leaves start peeping through, making the trees disappear back into the urban forest again. So this is my ode to the passing of the Joburg jacarandas, before they spring back into life again next year. In tribute I have changed the colour of my blog headings to make them as jacaranda-coloured as possible!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
The photo-comic story featuring the winning 18 carat gold and perspex bubble armpiece by Kristin Malan, which was designed by Andreas Salver's team. Also, below, Kristen Malan's winning cellphone pouch
Eduard Claassen's Extreme Street accessory, Nose Job, an 18 carat yellow gold nose clip
Eduard also won second place for his Pollinator, an 18 carat yellow gold and red perspex hand shield with concealed memory stick.
Kyle Visser's cuff links
Lincoln Mokoena won third place for his Bond Jabulani Bond 'Deco and Wine Cellar Fellow' cufflinks, which he says he would like to see Tumisho Masha dressing up in for a spot on Top Billing and ...
... Lincoln's Hip Hop Home Boy Mag Rim Ring, which spun when he twirled it!
Pictures courtesy of AngloGold Ashanti
The AngloGold Ashanti AuDITIONS Urban Tribes Gold Design for 2009/2010 took place at the Turbine Hall at a Theatre Noir event in downtown Joburg recently and produced some spectacular pieces. The event had major mojo, helped out by the great spaces within the venue where guests could mingle, gather and disappear again, some fabulous jewellery and a hot sax band. Four celebs were involved in the design aspect this year, working with some of the top jewellery designers in the country, and presenting their gold pieces at the event. However, their designs were not eligible for judging. The finalist designers who did contribute alongside the winners and celebs were Tshepo Ditshego, Sid Forman, Trevor Lewis, Desmond Mapedi, Tiffany Marx, Zenre Rabe, Oriana Todesco and Kyle Visser.
Dion Chang came up with the concept of the Urban Tribes and they consisted of The Futurist, Extreme Street, Bond Jabulani Bond, Hip Hop Homeboy, The Black Gold Prince, The Gold Digger, Old Money Honey and the Pampered Princess who were played by various models interacting with one another on the runway.
Andreas Salver was thrilled when his team from Andreas Salver Manufacturing Jewellers took home the technical award: "It took over 500 people to help create the piece, it was very difficult to make," he told me. "I am also thrilled that we won the De Beers Shining Lights Awards this year as well!"
The judges liked winner Kristen Malan's 18 carat gold and perspex bubble arm piece Molecular Truth and gold sickle weave cell phone cage, Hands Off, so much that it inspired a photo-comic story in which the members of the various Urban Tribes conspire and even try to kill each other for the arm piece. Judges called the event a "gold couture triumph". The Urban Tribes collection will be exhibited across South Africa in 2010.
Check out my page covering the AngloGold Ashanti event in The Citizen this Saturday!
Monday, November 2, 2009
As every Joburger knows, you wake up in this city every morning with every hair on your head on end, glad to be alive with every cell in your body. The city has a survival code akin to the African bush, as the animals greet every morning as a respite from the predators and bloodletting which accompany each unholy night. But with its electric energy that reflects the summer thunderstorms Joburg is a gritty, exciting city that is intoxicating and addictive. Its origins as a dusty, gold-digging town with no pretensions of the Old World makes it brimful of soul, rhythm, life and colour and strangely generous and unquestioning towards those who come here with a will to survive and to thrive.
The inner city has been deteriorating since the early 1990s but R2,1 billion of the taxpayers' money has been set aside this year alone to improve the CBD. Finally, Joburgers are starting to claim their city back, inch by inch, and reinventing its history. One of the new developments is Arts on Main, on the corner of Fox and Berea Sts. To get there you have to drive through the inner city down the intestines of Market Street, past the beautiful old buildings of the city's early beginnings, some of which are in a state of sickening disrepair and some of which are being restored and re-interpreted. Tiny tailors' shops abound and the buzz is palpable. Looking around, one can imagine the entire city refurbished, cosmopolitan and full of restaurants, shops and urban prosperity. It's not as strange as it sounds ... the winds of change are sweeping through the city, cleansing its streets and blowing in fresh hope and energy. A year ago this was not to be felt, but now places further up Fox Street, like the old financial section of Marshalltown, are booming and attracting tourists and locals alike to the Darkie Cafe and the Mapungubwe Hotel.
Arts on Main is easy to find. A sign greets you as Market Street feeds into Commissioner, and you follow the fluttering banners to the DF Corlette Building which houses the space. The distressed exterior is deliberate and in keeping with the gritty downtown feel. The floors are bare concrete, and the bricks exposed. One is reminded of New York and its own reclamation of downtown, formerly unromantic warehouses. A narrow pathway, with a disused track for trolleys, leads into an Alice Through the Looking Glass space, full of checkerboard-like grass squares and olive trees. An old car is parked on the roof and turned into an installation. The resident restaurant Canteen was recommended to me by publicist and global traveller Jill Grogor who speaks of a meal from heaven. Cape Town designer Malcolm Kluk also loves Arts on Main. "I went for a meal at the restaurant and to see a play in the upstairs section the other day. The play was called 'Mouse', and was very weird, full of schizophrenia and nudity. But I loved the space!"
Today is not a good day, however. The suppliers have not provided their coffee beans and it is very quiet. Obviously it would be better to come back at a weekend or for a function. The finale of the Spring Arts Tour took place here with a party sponsored by Grolsch beer, and the place hops when it's full. Looking around at the adjacent spaces, I discover the David Krut bookshop which stocks an extensive range of South African art books and settle down for a good read.
A gallery next door has an exhibition of powerful black and white photographs of gritty cityscapes and political turmoil reflecting South Africa's uneasy history until 1994. Clearly one could lose oneself in this place alone for a few hours.
Besides all the arty spaces the offices are down another corridor and I see a sign for Black Coffee, where the designers have placed a pop-up store. Ad agencies would do their nut for this space, I think, it's so designy and trendy while maintaining its industrial strength. Suddenly the jacaranda-wreathed 'burbs completely lose their allure and the city holds out its hand again, waiting to be reborn.