Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Naughty, You are Such a Tsotsi

My frantic state from yesterday (see Worst Day Ever) has slowly dissipated, and I was momentarily relieved when Naughty returned my 1986 Ford Laser with a fixed "broken wire." Tomorrow, I have to cruise for about 200 kilometers, so I am slowly holding my breath that the era of irate taxi drivers beating my window is over.

I had dinner with my favorite Jo'burg family last night at Ciao Baby Cucina. The food was quite divine (kugel talk) with a nice dish of small raviolis with veal stuffing in a very spicy arrabiata sauce. They were off to see Tsotsi and I joined them for dinner beforehand. Nicki asked me if Jewish families in America also only think of life occurrences in terms of "best ever" or "worst ever"... hmmm. A resounding yes for the female side of my family. Like "I met this guy yesterday at the carpet store. He would be the BEST EVER for Tee." Or "I can't believe you lost your wallet. That is the WORST THING EVER." I told Nicki that the tendency for extreme superlatives is compounded by a propensity for major anxiety about minor life events, and minor anxiety about major life events (i.e. my car and when will grandchildren be delivered). "Did you go to the dentist? What did he say? Well, how did he say it? What did he mean by it? Are you going back? Did you make the appointment? Are you going to remember the appointment?"

Anyway, see Tsotsi. It begins at the Ritz this Friday and has already been playing selectively in New York. I saw the premiere in December at the Goethe Institute and we were all gripped- black, white, old, young. It is a stunning story of redemption, the nature of crime, and the realities of life on the margins of the new South Africa. It is absolutely terrifying, but astoundingly beautiful. The acting is immense- and it just won the Foreign Languague Film of the Year award at the Oscars. Oh, Tsotsi means "thug" and the kwaito soundtrack is booming and thrilling- it is "hard" in a way that so much hip-hop wants to be but fails miserably. I want to buy a soundtrack for the car but it's not like 1986 Ford Lasers come equipped with CD players.

It touches on so many issues of importance to Johannesburg in such a subtle way- the nature of crime as mostly directed towards black residents (as contrary to popular perception), the stigma against AIDS deaths, the gated/electrified/enclosed affluent home (and, an interesting question- do those "security" precautions actually exacerbate violent crime and drive criminals to more daring acts of violence? My favorite Judge says yes.), and the archetype of the savior woman.

Incidentally, there are many wonderful attributes about life in Johannesburg which are not at all captured in the film, and that's fine. I'm happily encouraged that the debate in South Africa is overall really proud of the film and doesn't feel that this success story needs to only portray a rosy picture of life here. It's great to observe a discourse that doesn't chastise brave storytellers or artists as "self-haters."

A few mundane observations:
-I have way too many e-mail addresses. I like the idea of maybe creating fake e-mail addresses, but my legitimate ones are already out of control.
-Thank you American Express for refusing to send a new card "to Africa" post my wallet theft (in Europe, not South Africa!). I'm sure that all the retailers here who pay your crazy-ass merchant fees will be thrilled. Also, all the Americans/Aussies/Europeans who come here to buy gems and use AMEX are surely loyal customers?
-Someone thought I was Australian yeterday based on my voice. That is strangely exciting/shocking/weird.
-Read the book "Capitalist Nigger." I'm not even sure if it's sold in the States but it is heating up the charts here... a really fascinating examination of the prognosis of Africans becoming "economic warriors" by Nigerian-American Chika Onyeani. It's not just a controversial title, but a fully controversial premise that is being really reflected upon by many here.
-There is a fabulous, fabulous, fabulous lecture tomorrow at Wits (relevant if I have any South African readers which is highly unlikely): "AIDS in Africa: The Role of Leadership in Community and Business Responses to HIV/AIDS." The discussion features the Managing Director of Goldman Sachs and Dr. Francois Venter, another Wits doctor changing the world through cutting-edge HIV research. Dr. Venter manages the provision of public sector-funded anti-retroviral treatment at the Johannesburg General Hospital and is a likely candidate for world expert on the provision of AIDS treatment in an urban, resource-poor setting. He is also an amazing speaker and scholar.

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