Tuesday, June 13, 2006

On the Eve of 28

I used the elliptical trainer today at the gym and they ask you to type in your age- today was 27 but tomorrow will be 28. I was tempted to type in 28 today but I am pretty adamant about accuracy so I stopped myself. The compulsion towards "taking care of life effectively" is a bit overwhelming at times- today I picked up dry cleaning and I was short ten rand (about $1.30). I was short in the sense that I had 283 rand in cash and the bill came to 293 rand. I don't like using credit cards all that much in South Africa (particularly for smallish amounts) so the cashier wrote "owing 10 rand" on my next slip- for the clothes that I dropped off this afternoon. I have to physically restrain myself from going back there tomorrow to give her 10 rand even though the clothes won't yet be ready. It just feels like a loose end that's not tied up. When I start a new jar of cosmetics- like La Mer eyecream- it feels fabulous until the jar is half used. Then I just want the jar to be finished so I can open a new one. This isn't a metaphorical statement but an aesthetic one- the jars are so pretty and new in the beginning but icky and congealed by the end. It feels like a lot of the ritzy housing complexes in Jo'burg- shiny and pink and lacquered from a distance but shoddy and chipped up close.

Everytime I clear my inboxes and take a deep breath there's more to answer if I turn away from the computer for a moment. My clothes are perfectly folded from the washing service but if I even try on a shirt for a minute or so, it feels wrinkled. When I take notes at meetings, my handwriting starts out neat and perfectly formed until it emerges into rough scribbles- frantically trying to keep up with the pace on the page.

All is well on the eve of 28. I feel vibrant, full of work, full of interests, full of life, full. I have 10 lipglosses stocked in the cupboard in case the one in my make-up bag runs dry. I feel so grateful to have an amazing nuclear family (notice if I specify "nuclear" as opposed to "extended" there must be a reason) and I am blessed with extraordinarily close relationships.

But 28 is still sad, in a way. All the people who keep saying "oh 28 is soooooooo young" are quite old themselves. My 11 year-old neighbor does think I'm old. I'm one of the adults now and I can't really pass with the teens. When I was 18, I used to "study" at the Second Cup on St. Laurent every weeknight with all of my friends and drink terrible lattes and laugh until I cried and ignore all the boys I dated but now hated. Now, I make better lattes at home, really do work instead of staring out the window for two hours, and use anti-aging eye cream. I'm not sure if I want to go back to falling asleep at 5:00 am with my make-up still on and waking up to a streaky mascara-scarred pillowcase and going out for brunch at 4:00 pm but it was really, really fun.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

But is it statistically significant?

I am really surprised. I just tutored a first year B.Com undergrad student at Wits (University of Witswatersrand) in inferential statistics (please do not laugh anyone who attended MI451 at the LSE with me as you may recall my reading Heat throughout most classes and begging MH to teach me what standard deviation was three days before the exam). I actually really like stats now and am using quantitative analysis all the time in my dissertation and consulting work. Go figure...

Anyway, her course (again a first year undergrad) goes far more into depth in regression/inferential statistics than our London School of Economics postgrad course did. Can you believe it? Sometimes I feel like "brand name" education is as meaningful a label as "designer" jeans (speaking of which---- my really expensive designer jeans are holding up much worse than the Chicos jeans my mom bought for me). And, yes, Chicos is really middle-aged (even more so than Eileen Fisher) but they fit well.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How Lame

Why does my all-pink gated complex (inside a gated suburb) insist on installing colonial taps into all the bathrooms? Colonial taps are beyond lame- basically there are two taps for each sink, either freezing cold or scalding hot. Those are your two choices when washing your hands. Alternatively, you can plug the basin and create "warm" water. Oh thanks--- I don't like basins of nasty water exposed to the elements when you are attempting to get clean. Also, every night when I wash my face (I stupidly bought 3 bottles of Evian Oxygenated Facial Wash from www.drugstore.com in 2005 after reading about it in American Vogue and am counting the days until they are finished because I can't stand the texture and medicinal smell) I splash water everywhere dealing with the warm water basin issue (and inevitably when my hair is straight it starts to curl from the warm water basin moisture). I may start showering twice a day because it is easier to wash my face that way but then I have to deal with the hair issue--- i.e. the longer it gets, the more my arm starts to hurt combing it out. Oh well, at least I have running water unlike millions of South Africans.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Reading List

I like to read about ten books simultaneously- both academic and non-academic. It satisfies all the different brain lobes and also helps to enforce a state of constant stress- feeling like you are never reading enough, doing enough, living enough, sleeping enough. Ickily, I like that feeling.

1. A Woman in Jerusalem- A.B. Yehoshua- I used to read voraciouly Middle Eastern fiction and non-fiction. Until I just stopped. For no apparent reason other than battle fatigue. I like this book though since I am fascinated by migrant workers, particularly in Israel and in Dubai (see a great Vanity Fair article in May 2006 on this subject). There is really limited literary representation of these lost people- straddled between worlds, earning far more than in their native countries but suffering along the way, particularly in countries with insular identities.

2. The Lost Life of Eva Braun- Angela Lambert- A really irritating biography of Eva Braun's relationship with Hitler. There is a whole chapter on the comic books that both liked, no joke. I have to throw it down in disgust often, but I always pick it up again.

3. The White Man's Burden- William Easterly- Awesome, awesome, awesome. A groundbreaking economic account/history of the failures of "big government and NGO" development efforts in the global South. It is a perfect contrast to the utopian vision of Jeffrey Sachs in The End to Poverty which I am forcing myself to finish but it is really my bag book- I stick it in my purses to make sure I have something to read if I have five minutes of down-time at the mall or the petrol station (or watching two hours of a Miss Italia beauty pageant rehearsal under false premises. Don't ask, but let's just say don't fall for the old "this meeting will only be 20 minutes and we can get Italian Club pizza afterwards." Three espressos later, one conversation with a Sicilian mobster, half a regina pizza later, I'm still here).

4. AIDS and South Africa: The Social Expression of a Pandemic- ed. by Kyle Kauffman and David Lindauer- very, very good particularly the chapter on the South African national goverment's crisis of leadership on this issue. It suits my dissertation since one chapter offers an institutional account of the virus' spread throughout South Africa.

5. AIDS in the 21st Century: Disesase and Globalization- Tony Barnett and Alan Whiteside- the bible. Paged through and dog-eared many times over. This is the bible of social science accounts of HIV/AIDS. It is incredibly far-reaching and sweeping and covers economic, social, and clinical origins and outcomes of this disease.

6. French Women Don't Get Fat- oh shame, still haven't managed to go on that three-day leek fast. Next week, I promise. For reference only.

7. British Vogue- April 2006- This reminds me of the chick who came over to my apartment (shared with my then college boyfriend) and proclaimed to my then boyfriend (upon seeing my Vogues) "but I thought she was a feminist!" She then went into the bathroom and smelled all of my shampoos and conditioners and told me "now I know why your hair smells so good." I still love Vogue and if make-up is incompatible with feminist beliefs, I don't think there is a single feminist in Jo'burg cause the most common make-up brush used here is trough and scraper.

8. South African Style- Taschen sexy art book- love the pictures of vineyards and Cape beaches. It is fluff and but it was a nice present and I may regift the idea.

9. Economic behavior and institutions- Thrainn Eggertson- the definitive origins of new institutional economics. This is a book you have to work at, but I really need to master it.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Car Talk

I step out of the shower to a ringing mobile phone. He tells me that the guys from BMW will be over in ten minutes and I'm going for a test drive with them- it's a midnight blue BMW 330 Diesel with chestnut wood panels and retro finishes on the dashboard. The power is immense and the machine is a vision- the new BMWs have rounded corners and softer lines but are extraordinary looking. I'm sitting in the front seat- no time to put on any make-up or dry the wet curls, but the car is the adornment and attraction.

Hips Don't Lie booms from the radio (incidentally, finally available on I-Tunes!) and I notice 6000 kilometers already recorded on the odometer. The BMW rep mentions that his last customer gave up the 300d because he is "very particular about motor vehicles. He didn't like the diesel purr."

South African yuppie men always refer to cars as "automobiles" or "motor vehicles." As in, "I love the power this motor vehicle gives me. Feeling the road beneath, the sun against my face." It's more elegant than the American "car."

The BMW rep mentions the enormous responsibility conveyed in choosing a motor vehicle- the absolute centrality of the selected automobile to your life. "After all nothing says more about you than the motor vehicle you choose to drive."

People here have fuzzy notions of the differences between choice, reality, and necessity. Has the gardener across the street making do with hellishly unsafe kombi taxis chosen not to purchase a BMW? Has the father sacrificing the quality of his children's education in favor of a BMW made the right choice to preserve the family image?

Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula has some interesting words about choice and reality vis-a-vis the escalating crime situation in this country. From this morning's news:

Cape Town - Stop bitching or get out!

That was Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula's message on Thursday to those that he called "constant moaners".

And to those threatening to leave the country because of the high crime rate, the message was: "Get a life!

"There are two options. You can complain until you are blue in the face or leave the country so that the rest of us can get on with our work."

Among those, he said, were the Democratic Alliance's Roy Jankielsohn and Ray King, as well as Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front Plus.

Nqakula said during the discussion of his budget vote it was significant that complaints always came from people with surnames such as Jankielsohn, King and Groenewald.

Townships used to fighting crime

"Why don't you hear complaints from township folk?"

Nqakula said the reason probably was because township residents had been fighting crime for years.

"The government you were part of left these people to their own devices when it came to crime.

"Now that you're also on the receiving end of crime, you start complaining.

"That's disgusting!"

Unfortunately his recommendation that ordinary citizens not protest crime but rather choose to get a life is a bit optimistic- they are protesting since so many have been gunned down, murdered with total abandon and bloodlust. Notice too his singling out of white Members of Parliament criticizing the ANC on their complete lack of effectiveness in getting crime under control (for township, rural, urban or suburban residents- really the whole country). The racial dimension is not a coincidence.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

An Outspoken Ilana

I really liked this letter published today in a South African newspaper in the Western Cape from a fellow Ilana... I also really like her snazzy "van Rensburg" surname.

Dear Editor,

Today I visited our local municipality and I was shocked to find that the staff were sitting with heaters on in their air-conditioned offices.

When I enquired as to why they were using heaters when the Western Cape is in a power supply crisis, the lady behind the counter responded, "Because it's cold". I proceeded to ask her if she knew we must conserve electricity as there are Eskom campaigns running on the radios and in the newspapers, and she told me that she didn't have a radio

I went on to tell her how expensive it is to run heaters, and she wasn't in the least bit concerned and stated that "the electricity gets paid for, so it's okay".

Should the municipality not be setting the example? I called the municipal manager's office and the manager was not available, but when I explained what was happening to the lady who took the call, she too was not concerned.

Please help me understand this. Eskom has allocated a specific number of kilowatts for consumption and by tonight when I get home and I need to bath my kids, cook the supper and do the homework, there won't be enough electricity, and Eskom will switch it off.

Ilana van Rensburg

I think there is little to no evidence to suggest that anyone is actually attempting to conserve energy in this tide before the storm. Blindingly lit advertisements stay on all night in Sandton and the Northern suburbs don't scrimp on underneath-the-floor heating tiles. South Africans in informal settlements- backyard shacks, illegal inner-city flats, and the like- are the true conseravtionists. Without electricity to begin with, they make do with crumpled-up newspaper, kerosene, dirty blankets, and sheer fortitude.

Mixed Messages

We have dinner last night with a Jo'burg entrepreneur--- an importer of the world's "best" cosmetic line, manufactured by hand in Italy. I like to pride myself, normally, on more than adequate applications of logic and thorough analysis, but I totally lose all sense of reason vis-a-vis the beauty industry. The Jo'burg beauty business seems to have taken it though to new levels of hyperbole and guilt complexing and I am putty. Until now. I'm taking a stand.

Bedford Centre

Hair Chick (I mean stylist) #1: Your hair is soooooooooooo fine. You should really try TIGI's new line for fine hair. They have a shampoo, conditioner, and protein coater.
Ilana: Last week I was told my hair is soooooooooooooooooooo thick.
Hair Chick #1: Well, it is fine. Fine-thick. It's just that you have millions of strands so he must have been confused. But it's fine in a thick way.

Hyde Park Carlton Hair

Celebrity Hair Guru: Your hair is soooooooooooooooooooo damaged. What have you been doing?
Ilana: Just sitting at the computer.
Celebrity Hair Guru: It must be the ionic waves from the screen. Your hair is sooooooooooooooooooooo damaged. We have the newest technology from Italy to de-ionize. You have to try it.
One Hour Later under a Ceramic Head-Plate while Hair is Wrapped in Plastic Bags
Celebrity Hair Guru: You really need to come every week to de-ionize. All of my ladies do.

Eastgate, One Week Later

Master Stylist: How can I help you?
Ilana: I got a gift certificate for a blow-dry as a present.
Master Stylist: Your hair is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo damaged. You really a need a moisture intensive treatment.
Ilana: Really... cause I just had it de-ionized?
Master Stylist: Well, I have never seen hair that is sooooooooooooooooooooooo damaged. The capsule of treatment is only R250 and you reallllllllllllllllllllllllly need it.
Ilana: Um, I don't have time.
Master Stylist: Well, I guess, if you're willing to risk it and all. I wouldn't take that risk and all.
Ilana: Well, given that it is Jo'burg and all, I think it was more of a risk to drive here and put up with the hijackers and crazy kombi taxi drivers waiting in the wings.
Master Stylist: Not really. Damaged hair poses a maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaajor risk to health as you age.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

How Familiar

I had a coffee break at Europa in Norwood yesterday- one of the few Jo'burg suburbs with any street life that doesn't exclusively include various souls aggressively selling wooden birds whose beaks bend or now that it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, polyester ponchos. I'm chatting with my cool-cat Jo'burg chick friend and our mutual guy friend- in his 40s, Jewish, not yet married, chatty, fun, eclectic. I'm having a bowl of vanilla ice cream for lunch since I can no longer ingest any more halloumi cheese or smoked salmon for at least another month. South African food is so delicious and fresh, but can be limited in scope.

Male friend has a new girlfriend that we both know. She's lovely- kind, caring, appreciative and intelligent. Surprise, surprise, he has commitment issues. And issues with his mother. The Jewish people really are unified across the world since I cannot tell you how many identical conversations I have had on this topic in New York, Montreal, London, Philadelphia, and Jerusalem with other guy friends (i.e. me in a third person role- not directed at me!). Yes, I know your mother employed tactics including excessive guilt regarding your role in the future of the Jewish people, extreme levels of nagging, and passive aggressive phone-calling, but you can get over it.

More interestingly, I am now writing a compendium piece at a Sandton cafe with ostensibly free wireless access. In this case, free is defined as not requiring monetary payment but listening to a door slam in my ear at clockwork intervals of three minutes, watching a large man tap his foot loudly and to some techno rhythm, listening to the Musak version of Billie Holiday, drinking my fourth cup of coffee of the day (yum... Rwandan and Kenyan and Ethiopian beans roast like beauties), enduring the before-mentioned large man tell me the same joke six times--- what a burden it is for him to finish his fries, har, har, har--- and realizing that I could jog around the perimeter of this mall five times and the first page of this web-based database would still not be loaded.

Also, a metered taxi driver a few days ago tried to recruit me as a soldier for the upcoming South African race war and asked me to tell "all my American friends" about it. So I am telling you.