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.

Monday, May 29, 2006

This Time for Real

I'm back... no more arbitrary two month lapses. I was feeling guilty under the weight of a seemingly unmoving mountain of "official" writing to complete but I had an inspiring chat with a reader and reconsidered Western notions of guilt. So I'm devoted to chronicling this goofy city and its intrigues, rather than increase my own goofiness and intrigues. A series of briefs to get us started:

Economics 101

I'm tutoring Anele in his introductory economics course (He is my domestic helper and a Zimbabwean refugee. He came to Jo'burg to care for his brother dying of AIDS, but once the brother began taking HAART- highly active anti-retroviral treatment- and gained strength, he kicked Anele out to make room for yet another girlfriend. Anele is very smart and is beginning courses in economics and accounting.) and we are working on one of the most basic concepts in macro-economics- the differences between needs and wants and its impact on economic behavior. However, his crap South African econ text doesn't believe in needs but labels all purchasing behavior as wants- i.e. for South Africans, food, water, and shelter are seen as wants not needs. Oh wait, for millions of South Africans, food and adequate shelter are wants at this point. But, still, the moral amongst us regard them as needs and the BMW 7-series at the side of every mid-level ANC-appointee as wants.

Fire in the Mountain

I'm driving home from the gym, past Bruma Flea Market and the rooftop entrance to the prison-like shopping centre Eastgate (as differentiated from similar complexes dotting the city called Northgate, Southgate, Westgate). Bedfordview (my 'burb) rests on the side of Jo'burg's largest mountain (Linksfield is two kilometers on the other side of the mountain) and as I drive into the boom marking the entrance to my guarded "security estate" I can see waves of flames along the markings of the mountain. It appears like the entire mountain is engulfed in flames, but no one seems to be responding and I don't hear a siren or see any fire trucks. The next morning there isn't a scant mention of the flames in the newspapers and there doesn't seem to be any damage. Am I hallucinating?

My Fair Lady

I see the Pretoria State Theatre production of My Fair Lady with a bunch of kugel and Italian friends yesterday. The production is reasonably good (like seeing Mamma Mia at the Walnut Street Theatre rather than on Broadway) and the theatre most likely holds 500 to 1000 people. It's packed and there isn't a black face in sight- not in the audience nor on stage (only the ushers and bartenders). The announcements and auditorium markings are in Afrikaans. This is eerie.

We were going to have dinner in Brooklyn (suburb of Pretoria) after the show since there is a WangThai and I am in a constant, unsatiated, unfulfilled craving state for Thai food. The show goes on for about four hours and most of us only had breakfast that day and it's now 6:00. I am woozy from the hunger so we decide on the State Theatre basement buffet. It is Afrikaans hausfrau heaven- green-beans, limp and soggy fried potato bits, milky cole-slaw, roast with mint sauce. Oh and lots of cans of Tab which I believe was banned in the States many years ago for known carcinogenic properties. Let's just say the heat-plate-warmed Afrikaaner attempt at chicken curry and yellow mushy rice didn't placate the Thai cravings.