Sunday, December 11, 2005

Christmas In Africa


The church is breathless and full.
Sweat drizzles down between my legs
as bodies press in on all sides.
We ooze and drip quietly
in time to the music
trying to concentrate on the words of the songs
giving up eventually as the African resonance
makes a mockery of Westerners’ pipings.
Damp armpits blossom
staining bright clothes.
The priest intones his message limply…

We pray

For a breath of fresh air.


In the white heat of the
Post Office
Christmas trees
with tinsel
look out of place
and wrong -
their brightness
upstaged by the
African sun.


Smells of turkey
in Suffocating
Soggy paper
oozing with salad
collapse and

People who shouldn’t -
wear shorts.
Cellulite dimples
out of tightly-
drawn cotton
which damply
as the heat

Christmas trees
with the exhaustion
of holding up
glittering balls.
“Not in this heat,”
they groan
and their limbs drop
even lower.

The decorations
look falsely
bright -
against the backdrop of
Hydrangeas and Hibiscus.
Bougainvillaea outshine
the baubles
with wedding gown white
and passionate purple.
Like primadonnas
they take all the glory,
shaking their proud
Spanish Dancers’ skirts
in disgust,
the shop-bought

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Perfect Pause - In Honour of Harold Pinter winning the Nobel prize.

(After a course in which living in the moment is the aim and a pause is the means to achieve it)

Pick a piece of perfect Pinter
By peeping into a pause:
Every perfect, pregnant moment
Plops plumply into place -
Propping up the silence
With pendulous space
And meaning and measure
Beyond all acts and deeds.
Dipping into the silence
Inspires, unveils, reveals
Depth, perception, promise,
Understanding of the NOW -
The ultimate in living
In the moment is, like, WOW!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Two websites of interest

Website for viewing extracts from play and interview with author:

Original interview on this site:

Comment on Litnet interview by Brent Quinn - film maker

Hi I commend Michelle McGrane on her Janet van Eeden interview. It is anon-intrusive lens into Janet's process and a fascinating glimpse into hergift with story. The interview allows the writer¹s vision andself-reflection to bubble forth. Affording Janet the space and comfort toexpress her method and what inspires her was simply a pleasure to read. Yes,a far cry from the grandstanding that many movie critics indulge in whenfiring inane questions while sloughing toward the limelight. I recently attended a movie indaba with mostly top movie critics on a paneltasked with comparing Zulu Love Letter and Mr. Drum. Predictably neitherfilm got much of a mention. Wisely no directors or funders pitched. Thewhole session became a display of which critic wore their ubuntu mostsublimely on their sleeve. A case of watching apologist ham in full flutter.The audience of course could all make much better films, correct 350 yearsof history and knew exactly how to make SA film travel. But that¹sJo¹burgSand hey, in case you wondering, I¹m not defending either film. But,here's the rub, who on the panel or in the audience, many of whom do getfunding, have written 9 screenplays or taken over a year out to research asingle story? Janet's work needs to be seen on local screens.

Brent QuinnFilmmaker/typist

Original interview on this site:

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Ixopo Poems

Ixopo Haiku.

Bees dive-bombing in
trees. Sun brittling thoughts.
Betrayal blossoms.

A Tulip Leaf's Lament.

Colour of chakras, violet mauve
tulip leaf on grass, lies smouldering.
Cold fleshiness of the flower's mound
gives way to silken flaccidness of
the bruised skirt; promise of purple heights
Lost. Browned off with life.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The New Feminism?

“It’s Neo Feminism,” said Cate Hornby as we wandered around the Village Green in Grahamstown selling our play, The Savage Sisters. We had been talking about how many strong young women were coming to see our play. There were also the more expected older women and men in the audiences but the young women were the definite majority. What surprised me was how vocal they were in their applause and praise of the message of the play. I also envied them their incredible sense of their own abilities and strength and wished I had been more like them twenty years ago. Cate and I agreed that the young women today are no longer crippled by needing to break new ground. They are taking ownership of their power to be whoever they want to be. In spite of the odds against them.

This was borne out for me by the plethora of plays about women by women which were at the festival this year. Although these plays didn’t always attract the attention of the mainstream critics, there were at least ten plays which dealt with women’s issues. At one extreme there was comic lightheartedness such as the play called Kiss Kiss in which two young and very pretty performers were marketing themselves unashamedly as Barbie dolls. On our first night at the festival they were looking for help on how to pitch their show. I suggested they say it was a parody of the fashion industry and a satirical comment about models. They were apparently very grateful for this advice as days later I was amazed to see them turn up at our show. Ours was a rather more hard-hitting piece about the difficulties facing women writers in the 18th century and how things have changed (or not) in the present. They came back stage to say how much they were moved by the show. Duty bound, my cast and I immediately went to see their show. It was a carefully choreographed comic piece about two models obsessed with their weight and looks. And it made a biting comment about the way friendship often goes out of the window with women when a man comes into their lives. Even if he is a dummy, as he was literally in this case. I thought the piece very honest and funny even as it made a very real point about the competition women sometimes engage in when men are around. We were all reduced to tears of laughter. But the issue was serious.

The next play we saw was the intriguingly named A Woman’s Bum is Like the Moon. This piece drew the audiences because of a provocative poster which showed a woman’s naked bottom (which was constantly being pinched as the posters disappeared regularly). The play dealt with the many aspects of most women’s lives: the wife, the mother, the kugel, and the overlooked young spirit who wants to have fun like the men and refuses to grow old. The most telling point of this play for me was the end where the actress stood in front of the audience in her underwear telling us about herself as a young woman today. As a woman she isn’t able to compete with the perfect model types, she doesn’t want to end up a slave to domesticity, and yet all she wants is the freedom to explore what she really wants to do with her life without any constraints imposed on her because of her sex. It was a brave and honest piece, and though, not flawless, it was laudable. My cast just loved it and gave the actress, Samantha Gray, a standing ovation.

The other plays about women dealt with real and contemporary issues. Behind the Veil was a look at the world from the perspective of a woman who wants more than her Muslim husband allows her. 37 Degrees of Fear was a piece of physical theatre which looked at the murder of a Grahamstown woman, Yvonne Wellman, and explored the way women are often unable to feel safe in the very communities in which they live. And then there was the UKZN’s own avante guarde production of BlueBeard directed by Tammy Hammerslag. Though it had men sometimes playing the roles of women who were victims of physical abuse, it explored the whole issue of domestic violence in a most creative and illuminating way. Then there was Cherry Under My Foot, a two hander by women exploring the materialistic life of a copywriter in the city, who has a vocal subconscious who undermines her superficiality. And even the protected male turf of Herman Charles Bosman was plundered by two women. Bosman performed by women, the purists might cry? They did the job admirably, I thought, and much better than any old ex-Patricks I have known, if you ask me. There wasn’t much of a feminist message in this play though, other than saying that women can do anything men can do. Even play Oom Schalk Lourens!

There were even more plays about women, but I couldn’t see them all. And even though audiences continued to flock to the many plays in which one man, or two men or even three ran about in their underpants (and sometimes a bit more) and spoke in Afrikaans accents and told silly jokes and danced with chickens, in the quiet corners of the festival women’s voices were being heard.

And that brought me back to my conversation with Cate on the Village Green. What is this Neo Feminism exactly? “Women are no longer attacking men, in any way,’ said Cate, “but they are urging women to take their future into their own hands. This is the same message Mary Wollstonecraft has in our play. She did not hate men. She just thought that women should just take more responsibility to do more with their lives.”

So this made me think a little more. What exactly was the message in my play in the light of this Neo Feminism? Even though the three authors in The Savage Sisters have a heated debate about their work, and there is a real competitive edge throughout, they form an understanding in the end where compassion for each other’s difficulties in making their voices heard is the tie that binds them together. So perhaps that is the message to take out of the festival. Competition is inevitable between women (and men for that matter). But women’s voices will be heard even more strongly when the competitiveness becomes secondary to compassion.

Saturday, June 25, 2005


Van Eeden Harrison Productions

Three young actors are rehearsing a play based on the lives of three seminal women authors - Jane Austen, Fanny Burney and Mary Wollstonecroft. While they try to portray aspects of the authors' lives, they find themselves exploring aspects of their own lives, and what it means to be a woman in 2005.

Written and directed by Janet van Eeden, this third in her Savage Trilogy (the first two were A Savage from the Colonies about the life of Katherine Mansfield, and Oviri, The Savage Civilian, about the life of Paul Gauguin) explores the lives of the three authors through the eyes of the students who are putting on a play about the authors. As it turns out, their director has to miss the first rehearsal because her child is sick. The actors have to make a start on their own, much to the swottish Genevieve’s disgust. She can’t believe that people could be so unprofessional. She is horrified to hear that Vicky hasn’t even read the play, and takes on the role of director herself as she tries to put some semblance of order into the rehearsal process. Marla, the third young actor, at least has done her homework and is up to speed with the characters in the play. After much annoyance, Genevieve manages to make a start, but even her best laid plans are ruined when the authors decide to have their say too. The denouement brings us back to the present where we discover the real reason behind Genevieve’s unhappy disposition.

The play aims to inform the audience about the lives of the authors (even those who have never heard of them) and casts a reflecting light on the lives of women in society today. Genevieve is played by Cate Hornby, Vicky by Louise Buchler, and Marla by Avi Maistry.

Funded by The National Arts Council, SA.

Language/s: English (mild profanity) Age recommendation: PG
Duration: 60mins Company status: Semi-pro Premiere
Previous Festival appearances: 2 years
Ticket prices: Full: R 38 Members: R 35 Students: R 32
B2 Arena: Thu 30 20:00; Fri 1 12:00; Sat 2 17:00; Sun 3 19:00; Mon 4 16:00; Tue 5 20:30; Wed 6 18:00; Thu 7 12:00; Fri 8 16:00; Sat 9 17:00
Half price on 30 June

Thursday, June 02, 2005

After the Fall.

So there I was, walking in nature as I have been advised to do by so many people, and it’s something I really love anyway, watching the bees pollinate the bright yellow flowers, sensing the butterflies’ wings flutter by, and feeling - dare I say it? - almost enlightened? And I bent down to pick up a butterfly's wing on my path, admiring its ephemeral beauty as I walked down the steepest path of the Botanical Gardens as I have done so many times before. I just begin a pleasant day dream when suddenly my left leg is stretched out underneath me at a most painful angle, and I can't feel a thing in it, and I have a sinking knowledge that not being able to move it means I am in big trouble. And I’ve been walking on my own of course if you don't count my dear dog Cassie who is sorely in need of lessons from Lassie. And now I am badly hurt. So badly hurt that it takes all the girding up of my loins - which are usually pretty well girded anyway - just to get back up onto my feet again. And it takes even further girding to hobble from foot to foot down the path which, for the first time ever, seems interminable. The pain makes me cry in anger a number of times, and I pass a number of men scraping leaves together in a self absorbed fashion, and I try to hide behind the dark glasses so that they can't see how I am crying. Of course, they think my hobble, hobble, shout at the dog to stop pulling at the lead (which makes me land on my incredibly sore foot), is the way I usually walk through the gardens. And I can't help wondering why, whenever I feel on top of the world, this time literally, I fall flat on my... back! And I also can't help wondering if all those old wives tales about pride going before a fall and so on are really true and is someone trying to tell me something? But then I think of the Buddhists' way and I think I must not make any more of this than what it is. It is what it is. And I must just adjust and adapt. And even though I was supposed to start rehearsals today for my play which is going to Grahamstown I will just have to start a day later and be one of those directors who sits on a chair when she directs. And even if it takes a little longer to get the play to where I want it, I will still get it there. And after a day in which I spent some time in a wheelchair at Casualty as well as learning to walk with crutches to survive the next few weeks, I have renewed and infinite respect for people who are disabled. Everything is just that much harder when you can’t move properly and independence is a rare feeling. Perhaps, as a friend put it, this fall was from grace into humanity, to remember how hard it is for some people to get by.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

thoughts of deep contemplation at the Buddhist Retreat in Ixopo

four haikus

I step off the grass
onto a small brown stone. It
squishes. Cows have been.

blossomed bosomed trees
giving suck to ecstatic
bees: frenzied, yumming.

butterfly, colour
of sun, orange and brown, shuts
wings; hides as a leaf.

The wind sings through grass
heat hums and bushes rustle
Nature is noisy.

Retreat in Ixopo

The heat rises from the clay road, baked solid by the midday sun. Unseen creatures scuttle, slither or fly away in sudden freight through the long grass on either side. Two calico covered women, bending low over a stretch of grass, turn out to be mother goats with their frisky kids nestling around their hooves. The goats and I negotiate negotiating the path; the kids stutter nervously in front of me, stiff legs jerking them forward. The mother concedes, and leads her kids up a side path. Four sets of eyes watch me, yellow and sideways, as I edge past. Great blossom bosomed trees give suck to ecstatic bees. The trees hum as the road shimmers ahead.

I turn into a scraggly grove of wattle trees to escape the heat. Dead leaves scrunch noisily under my shoes, making sharp cracks to break into the insistent hum. I walk higher into the cool. The grove sorts itself out into more uniform rows.

Descending once more, a dam appears, contemplating the trees’ overhanging in green silence. I rest on a bench meant for watchers too shy to swim. On my back I look up into the height of the pine above me. Sparse leaves and angled branches – an Ikebana airscape just for me.

Loud grunts and leafy rustles startle trees nearby. I become aware of being watched. Two monkeys sway above, eyes drilling into mine. I ignore them and rest, trying not to look at their furry bottoms suspended above me. They know – and I know - I am in their territory.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

In Conversation with Gillian Slovo.

It was a bit of a gift, really. Phoning Anant Singh’s office about something completely different and being invited to the South African premiere of Red Dust. And to interview, among others, Gillian Slovo on the following day. Perhaps it was serendipity at work. Or perhaps it was just rewards for being at the right place at the right time.

The film is an adaptation of Gillian Slovo’s novel about the TRC, something she became very familiar with when she watched her mother’s killer asking for amnesty at the TRC. Craig Williamson admitted guilt to being responsible for a parcel bomb which killed her mother, Ruth First. Slovo found the whole process flawed. The questionable role of the TRC is explored in all its nuances in Red Dust, the novel, and brought to the screen by a sensitive adaptation by Troy Kennedy Martin. Slovo expressed that she was pleased with the version she’d seen on the screen.

“It honours the spirit of the novel, even though it is different,” she said, “which it has to be, as it is a different medium. And I am so in awe of actors and what they do. They take these characters somebody else has written and inhabit them.” We then talked about another recent experience of this which has heightened Slovo’s appreciation of actors.

“I have just written a documentary play called, Guantanamo – Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, which has had spectacular success,” she says. “It was a project based on interviews I did with Victoria Britten with people who had been either prisoners themselves, lawyers who defended clients or families of prisoners at Guantanamo. Out of all those interviews I wove a narrative which is really about what the experience of what Gauntanamo was. It came out just at the right time and it was spectacularly successful. It went from a local London theatre to the West End of London, then to New York, and it’s just finishing its run in San Francisco and it’s off to Washington. It’s also been in Stockholm. The slogan Honor Bound to Freedom is written on top of the prison camp in Gauntanamo.”

The irony is perverse. Slovo says that the official American reaction has been silence although she is certain that they aren’t too happy about the play. The New York public thinks differently though. “You know what happens when you open in New York,” she says. “You have a first night party which doesn’t take off until you get the New York Times review. If it’s bad, that’s it. You close. And we had the most wonderful New York Times review.”

As the song says, if you make it in New York, you’ve made it everywhere. I ask Slovo whether she would have been a writer if her parents weren’t Ruth First and Joe Slovo. “It’s no accident,” Slovo answers thoughtfully, “that my eldest sister is a screenwriter, I am a novelist, and my younger sister has moved into film production after being a script editor. I think that says something about the fact that my mother was a writer of non fiction. We grew up with the sound of the typewriter and with the understanding that writing is a perfectly good job for a woman. I think that led us into these kinds of professions. It is interesting though that all of us have chosen to work in fiction.”

Would Slovo have written political novels if she hadn’t had such a strongly political background, I ask? “I started off writing detective novels,” she reminds me, “and I’m not sure that Red Dust is a directly political novel. It is a novel set in the midst of a very political event. I am very interested in writing about people caught up in history and politics. For example, my last book, Ice Road, is set in Leningrad in the 1930’s. What interests me is how politics is lived by ordinary people, and how huge cataclysmic changes affect ordinary people. But I wouldn’t say that my novels are directly political. It’s just that I am not scared of handling politics when I write a novel. What is most important is that the story is working and that the characters work, not that there is a message in there. I don’t think there is a message in Red Dust. It’s a more complex story than that. I’m not really interested in the black and white of things – I’m more interested in the texture of things.”

Someone said that drama is about ordinary people being put in extraordinary situations, whether it comes about in novels, films or plays, and Slovo agrees. “That’s the kind of thing that I’m interested in,” she says. “But I cut my writing teeth writing detective stories. It was a very good thing to do because it really taught me about plot and narrative drive. I’m a writer to whom I think narrative drive comes quite easily. Increasingly I concentrate on getting the characters right because I think to myself that the tick of the story will be taken care of. You learn how to do that and you don’t have to think about it too much.”

We talk about how being born in South African has made us uniquely different to people born anywhere else because of our complex political past. “All of us South Africans are really products of major political change. We have all had to deal with what it means to have your conception of ordinary life completely changed and what your future is going to be, in our own lifetimes. That particularly interests me as a novelist. South Africa is such a gift for a novelist. It’s so exciting to write about a country that is in such a crux of change. And life and death are so much more on the surface here. England is a lot calmer, but it is also a lot more boring. It’s quite different to find a focus there. In South Africa people are much more focused on specific issues. But a lot of South Africans feel very calmed by Britain.”

I quote Robert McKee, the screenwriting guru, who says that you can’t be a good writer unless you have had a terrible childhood. Does Slovo agree? “Have all good writers had a terrible background?” she wonders. “I don’t know whether I agree with that or whether I would even say that I’d had a terrible background. Traumatic, maybe, and a bit flamboyant, yes, but I don’t know whether I would regard it as absolutely terrible. But you have to understand pain. You have to understand strong emotions to be a writer. You have to write your way into people’s heads. You really need a certain kind of ability in the way that actors have - but in a different way - to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You have to allow your characters to inhabit you. I think that is the wonderful thing about writing. You invent these characters and you set them on the page. If you have done your job well, they take you places you don’t expect to go to. That’s when it is going really well. When you realise on page 150 that something you did on page five without even realizing it, is now paying off. You kind of knew what you were doing in a subconscious way. The more my confidence has grown as a writer, the more I rely on my subconscious and give way to it. My experience of writing when it is going well – and I hasten to say that it doesn’t always go well, as you know – is that it is sometimes almost non-verbal. It just streams out. And of course it’s me doing it, but it doesn’t feel as if I’m doing it. That’s when you’ve set everything up and you’ve done the internal work well enough to be able to allow that to happen.”

I mention that I see the pre-writing process as a sort of cooking stage when nothing is definite and everything is muddled together but it all has to simmer in my head. Slovo agrees. “It does seem to cook,” she says. “It’s a very mysterious process. I am in this place at the moment in the planning stages of my new book. One minute you feel you don’t have a single idea. And the next minute you have a synopsis of the book in your head and you don’t know how you got there. But it isn’t actually a mysterious thing. What has happened is that all that confusion has produced something. All that thinking about different things and not being able to put them together, it cooks, as you say. And it sort of comes out on its way to being baked. It is very mysterious. And unless you are prepared to sit with the confusion, you don’t get through to the other side. But the confusion can be awful. When it clarifies itself, you wonder why you didn’t think of it all in the first place. But you couldn’t think of it in the first place because the process is to think of it. You can’t do that initially.”

I ask whether Slovo also panics before a new venture is undertaken. She laughs wryly as she admits that she has been known to have the occasional panic. But she panics less now that she has 11 books under her belt. “It is a very real panic, but we have to learn to take it less seriously. I think I panic less than I used to,” she says. “I recognize that I have been here before. I recognize that this is a process and I’ve learnt how to allow myself to open up to ideas. So when I am developing a book, I often go and read whatever interests me on the basis that somewhere there is a logic even though I don’t understand it. I will go and read a few books on some subject that I might never write about but it somehow feeds the ideas.”

So is it serendipity of sorts I ask? “I don’t like to be too pretentious about it, because writing is also about a lot of hard and detailed work,” she answers. “But it is partly about opening yourself up to off the wall ideas, because those are often the most interesting ones. If you are writing fiction, you might go places your rational mind might not take you. For example, my last book was set in Leningrad in the thirties as I said. I had a cast of characters I was writing about and I wanted to follow this family over a number of years. So I made a rule for myself that I wouldn’t leave the city of Leningrad. It is set in the city only. But I made a second rule for myself that I would read whatever interested me. I would follow my interest. And my interests led me, following a foot note, into the Arctic. There was an ice ship that got stuck in the ice, during the period I was writing about. My rational mind told me not to go there because it wasn’t in Leningrad. But my instinct made me really want to go on that boat. As a novelist, a character came into my mind. In the end, despite the fact that I told myself not to go onto the boat because it was too complex, I realised that I needed this character more than any other character. There was a reason that I kept thinking I had to go onto the boat because she became my narrator. I hadn’t understood in the beginning that I needed a narrator.”

Slovo stresses though that she doesn’t want to make the writing process sound too mysterious, “as it is all coming from me. But it is about learning to understand that your instinct is as valuable as your learnt knowledge and you have to give it free reign,” she says. There is a warning though. “You have to learn to control this instinct though. People get into trouble when they don’t control it and then the reader loses access into what’s being said. If the writer is out of control the reader will never understand what’s going on.”

Slovo acknowledges that her mother’s example of extreme discipline helped form her strong work ethic. She usually takes three years to write a novel from beginning to end. And all she will say about her next novel is that it is set in London. I’m definitely going to be first in the queue to read it when it hits the bookshelves. I can’t wait to find out how Gillian Slovo portrays the effect London has on the people who live in it.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Who will fill the fisherman’s shoes?

Pope John Paul II has left a large void behind him. One of the most media friendly popes ever, his became the most universally recognised face in the world over the past decades of his reign. Never before has a pope travelled as widely and commented as much about worldly issues. I spoke to some of the Religious at the largest Catholic Seminary in South Africa, St Joseph’s Theological Institute (SJTI) at Cedara, about their thoughts on the old pope and their hopes for the new one.
Father Emmanuel Mosoeu (PhD) of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) reflects that, “there is no doubt that Pope John Paul II magically touched the modern world in a unique way with his constant message of respecting human life all the way. He touched the hearts of many of us around the globe and the youth of the world occupied a special place in his heart.” But there is a caveat, he says. “Pope John Paul II is also perceived as a man of profound contradictions. While he claimed to value life all the way, somehow he failed to grasp the urgency today of the exclusion of women in the church. While he claimed to be open to meaningful ecumenism, he failed to grasp anew the traditional true meaning of the bishop of Rome as ‘The first among equals.’ This attitude impoverished the chances of the Roman Catholic Church of achieving a meaningful dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Church,” says Mosoeu. “Again, while he longed for the lasting meaningful dialogue with Christians of Protestant tradition, his papacy ushered the unfortunate Document, Dominus Iesus (Our Lord Jesus) which dampened the spirit of dialogue with this great Christian tradition of ours in the West. While he is one of the champions who courageously confronted totalitarianism of Communism in Poland and beyond, he failed to see the same urgency in Latin America. While he appeared to be open to some kind of African enculturation, he made sure that Archbishop Milingo of Zambia is kept in Rome forever for his innovative Africanisation programme.”
Pope John Paul II definitely had a few critics. Sister Susan Rakoczy (PhD), of the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, IHM, of SJTI hopes for a new pope who “is open to dialogue on the contentious issues of the church that have not been allowed to be discussed during the pontificate of John Paul II. These include the ordination of women, a married diocesan clergy, the status of divorced persons in the church, the development of sexual ethics which includes the voices of married people.” She does however state that the pope has done much good in terms of social justice, peace, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue but adds that the new pope “should be open to listening to the views of others even if he disagrees with them.”
Father Daniel Coryn, of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), and President of SJTI, hopes that, above all, the new pope will be a holy man and a man of deep prayer. Coryn, who spent twelve years in the Vatican as a member of the general administration of the OMI’s, states that it may very well be an Italian who is chosen this time. “Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan is quite a possibility,” says Coryn. “He’s quite middle of the road and a good Moral Theologian. But the other two Italians, Archbishop Angelo Skola and Archbishop Re are also contenders. Skola is quite robust and assertive and Re has been in charge of the nomination of Bishops in Rome for a long time. He knows the daily workings of the Vatican well.”
Coryn does think that a few outsiders do stand a chance though. “Perhaps an outsider from South America will be chosen,” he says, “and this could be a surprise. The Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Claudio Hummes, stands a reasonable chance, and so does Oscar Andres Rodriguez, Archbishop of Tegucigalap. The Cardinal from Brussels, Godfried Danneels, would be a choice if the Church decides to focus on the de-Christianization of Europe. But if the Church wants to address the challenges in the relationship between Christianity and Islam, they would choose Francis Arinze of Nigeria. He has been in Rome for a long time in the administration. He is also in charge of the Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. He is quite conservative, but he could have an outside chance.”
When Cardinal Arinze became the first black man ever to sit on the throne of St Peter’s in Rome when he stood in for the pope in a mass during the African Synod in 1994, Father Luke Mlilo, of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill, (CMM) and Dean of SJTI, was part of the congregation. He has never forgotten the moment.
“It was beautiful to see Cardinal Arinze in the pope’s seat and to hear the African drums and the women ululating,” Mlilo says. “It was a wonderfully enculturated liturgy, and it was Africa making a statement. It was a really warm celebration, from the heart.”
But Mlilo says that it isn’t so important where the next pope comes from, as long as he is really in touch with the real issues “such as poverty, the divide between the North and the South, and the whole issue of family. It is important that the next pope rethinks the issue of returning divorced people to the sacraments for example,” Mlilo says. “It is a very concrete reality of life and it needs to be addressed from a more pastoral and caring approach. It is important that there should be more openness in dealing with people on a case to case basis, and particular cases should be considered on their particular merits. We don’t want a whole sector of the Catholic community denied their sacraments. I would hope that the new pope would be less hard-line and more pastoral. As regards the issue of Contraception, the subject should be open to debate. I am not saying that we should have it, but I do think it should be discussed.”
Mlilo also believes the Ordination of Women has to be brought into the frame. “As we move into the 21st Century, we have to rethink our entrenched position,” he says. “But my biggest hope is that the pope comes from one of the so-called Third World countries as this is a very different reality to that of Europe. While Catholicism is dying in Europe, the so-called Third World Churches are very much alive.”
Susan Rakoczy believes that the Vatican needs a huge shake up. Talking to Jeremy Maggs on SAFM recently, she stated that the previous pope put the Catholic Church back in many ways. “I was quoting Nicholas Lash, a lay theologian in Britain, who wrote a couple of years ago that at the end of Vatican II in 1965 no one could have foreseen that in less than 40 years we would have the most centralized and autocratic form of church government that we haven’t seen in a 1000 years,” Rakoczy says. “The cultural ethos of John Paul II’s Polish identity informed the way he ran the church. I grew up in a Polish-American parish in the United States and the parish priests ran the parish as their own personal fiefdom. This was writ large by John Paul II, who (as a BBC special on him over the weekend pointed out, never had a personal experience of democracy). At the Synod of Bishops there is no room and space for open debate; bishops speak one after another with no comment, no discussion except in small groups by language. Each continent and parts of continents have conferences of bishops but under John Paul II they had very, very little latitude for decision-making. Everything had to be approved by Rome. From what I have read, bishops around the world have resented being treated as if their decisions must always be approved by Rome. There was tension between unity and diversity and John Paul focused on unity - actually uniformity - at all costs. Yet the church is very different on each continent and the bishops should be trusted to make decisions in light of the needs of their people.”
I asked Rakoczy what the biggest challenges are to the new pope. “The challenges are to continue the appreciable heritage of John Paul II in areas of social justice, peace and ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and also give attention to issues of the church’s life as I said before. But there are also other areas. I read a NewYork Times article yesterday which stated that John Paul II focused on Judaism but did not engage Islam. Islam is a growing presence in Europe and North America and is part of the religious reality in Africa. There are issues of biotechnology, for example cloning, which need serious discussion. It is facilely said that Europe is no longer Christian and has yielded totally to Secularization. So how can the Gospel be preached in Western Europe? I hope and pray that the next pope will feel free in himself for the good of the Church to establish study commissions on women’s ordination, clerical celibacy and other controversial issues within the next few years. I hope that this will lead to Vatican III. Archbishop Denis Hurley suggested that an Ecumenical council be held every 25 years and that is an excellent idea. As a woman, I hope that the next pope would be free enough in himself to meet with women who have been ordained, such as Trish Fresen, a South African now in Europe and others who were ordained in Europe in the last few years and with women who have left the Catholic Church to be ordained in other Christian churches. Women need to have their stories of vocation listened to and taken seriously. This is the only way a real discernment process about women’s ordination can begin.”
Regarding the term of office of the pope, everyone I spoke to said that the new pope should not be young, as this meant he would be entrenched in office for a long time. Rakoczy suggests a term of office and a rotation system.
“The cardinals who will elect the pope in the next two weeks or so will have to confront the dilemma of age. They probably do not want to have another 25-30 year pontificate so they will elect someone over 65 or 70,” she says. “But older people get chronic diseases. Pope John Paul II had Parkinson’s disease and mercifully he and the church were spared the dementia which happens to some Parkinson’s sufferers. If the pope had a fixed term, for example 10-15 years, a younger cardinal could be elected. Or a retirement age for the pope could be fixed, such as 75 as all other bishops have.There has been much talk about a pope from Africa. Another possibility - which I think is totally remote - is to rotate the office amongst the continents so that Africa would take its turn.”
Finally though, all this is wishful thinking. John Paul II elected all the cardinals who are voting and being voted for, so there is not that much chance that things will change radically in the Vatican. Rakoczy feels this more than most.
“I was in Benoni at the Carmelite Retreat Centre for Holy Thursday,” she says. “Only men’s feet were washed at the liturgy. I learned that the priests understand that liturgy as a re-enactment of the Last Supper, which it isn’t. This is a small example of how in large and small ways women are marginalised.”
But Rakoczy hasn’t given up hope for change. “As a woman I am praying to the great women saints such as Catherine of Siena, who stood up to popes and civil authorities and called for reform in the Church, Teresa of Avila,; Therese of Lisieux, who wanted to be a priest, and also to Blessed John XXIII, Archbishop Denis Hurley and Archbishop Oscar Romero to be with us in this crucial time. I have also been asking my friends and colleagues from other Christian churches to pray about the next pope since his leadership affects everyone.”

Sunday, March 06, 2005

You want me to take off my underwear?

“You want me to take off my underwear?” I look at the young man in surprise, as I stand next to the bed. He is waiting for me to lie down. He nods politely as he prepares to take my gown. “But…” I splutter. Does he really mean I must strip down to bare flesh without even the lubricant of dinner and a movie? Can’t I even have a glass of wine first? His smile continues patiently. “We do have disposable underwear for you to put on during the treatment,” he says reassuringly as he reaches into a drawer. He removes a frippery of light paper which has a thong attached to a central landing strip the size of an Elastoplast. I am not ready for this, I think nervously. But there is no escape. I am left to remove my reassuringly black and prevent-all-comers underwear to arrange the minimalist scrap of disposable lingerie in the most discreet way possible. It’s not easy, I sigh to myself as I lie down on the bed and try to cover myself with the towels provided.

My young man returns, still patient, still smiling. Efficiently, calmly he begins to scrub my whole body with a mixture of coarse salt and something else which smells delicious. I talk rapidly, trying to ignore the unusual situation for me. I mean, I do not usually share my cellulite with just anyone. Matthew – that’s his name - continues, professional and efficient, answering my slightly hysterical stream of questions. I should get out more often I think as he begins to wash the salt off with many nozzles of the Vichy shower placed above the bed. I now regret the bikini wax I tried to do in five minutes this morning before I rushed out to do an interview before I was due to arrive at this spa. I had a premonition that I might be required to wear a swimming costume. I never envisaged this post modern thong thing. In my extreme haste to wax and go, I had burnt myself rather badly. The bikini area was now mostly fuzz free, but had the alarmed and reddened look of a freshly plucked chicken. Oh, how I wished those nozzles would wash more quickly over certain areas.

My young therapist does not seem fazed. He continues with round two. He makes a solution of milk and honey and begins to wash it into my skin. How decadent, I think for a moment. But how smooth! No wonder this treatment is called Cleopatra’s Secret. A great lover of creams and softening agents – I have never been able to bear dry skin – I am amazed by the glorious richness of the mixture. I am then wrapped in the plastic on which I had been lying all the time but hadn’t noticed due to my crippling self-consciousness. I babble on blithely until Matthew moves to a seat above my head. While my skin is absorbing the mixture, he begins to massage my forehead. One waft of his fingers over my brow and I am rendered speechless. Bliss. So this is what it’s all about. Not another word squeaks out of my mouth as I finally get the point of all this therapy. I stumble out of the spa a few hours later – refelexologied, massaged and facial-ed out of all thought. I am so relaxed I can barely find the door. And this is just the first day of treatments. There are more tomorrow. I really should get out more often, I think again as I stumble back to my peaceful room.

I was at the blissful and extremely delicious Fordoun Spa in Nottingham Road to do a story for Longevity. The unsurpassable Spa Manager, Trish Holdengarde, had arranged these two days of indulgence for me. The spa is highly recommended for a day’s treatment or longer if you can manage it. Trish will arrange a series of treatments for you according to your requirements. And, as a renowned Reiki Master, she has amazing insight into your needs. The whole experience is serious blissful. But be warned. Coming back to the real world is quite a shock after being royally pampered for two days. Sigh. I will just have to keep dreaming of being Cleopatra whenever I get the chance. I wonder if anyone will notice if the milk disappears more quickly than usual.

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Monday, February 07, 2005

The Red Shoes

The clicking of the bright high heels on the pavement seemed to spark the street lights into action. Each one flickered on as she walked down the dusty grey street. The debris of the long, hot day drifted listlessly along the gutters: ragged plastic bags, bits of gnawed bone, broken bottles, yesterday’s newspapers fluttering like sad white flags, signaling surrender. Trying to keep focused, she lifted her eyes up to the sky – a smog-smudged patch of orange glimmering weakly between the buildings at the end of the street. Perhaps she should concentrate on the click of her heels instead. Left, right, left, right. Keep walking and it will be alright. That’s what her mother always used to say. Focus on the bright spots, she’d say. Like the shoes.

She remembered the day her mother had brought the red shoes home. All four children were scrunched around the paraffin heater in the shack when their mother arrived at first light. Her arrival after yet another long night out working was always filled with promises – just like the dawn, which was making a tentative stab at the day.

Smiling her smile which always filled them with the warmth of being home, no matter where they were, her mother held out the shiny new shoe box for their inspection. They forgot the loneliness of the night, they forgot their hunger and they huddled together in anticipation of a surprise which they knew they would love. She lifted the lid with a flourish to rival that of a show girl, and there, nestled on a soft bed of tissue paper, was the finest pair of red patent leather sling backs they’d ever seen. They gasped with pleasure. They knew how much their mother loved beautiful things. And she would look so lovely in the red shoes with her best dress when she went out again tonight. Their mother smiled at the children. These shoes, she said, were the start of better times. Things were going to be alright when she next walked down the street wearing these beauties on her feet. Finally things would work out for them. Soon they’d be in the pound seats. They’d see. They’d all see.

Nothemba thought of her mother now as the heels clicked under her plump feet. The red shoes were still a little too big for her. One strap slipped down her heel and she leaned over in mid stride to hitch the strap back up. Near the end, the shoes became too big for her mother too. Near the end, even her feet had shrunk into pale, bony ghosts.

A car slowed alongside her as she walked. She could see the man in the driver’s seat, even through his tinted windows. Self-consciously her foot twisted a little on a break in the pavement. Straightening herself, she tried to look as if she hadn’t even noticed the stumble. He mustn’t know that this was her first time. Keep walking, she thought. Left, right. It will be alright.

The car eased to a crawl. The driver rolled down his window and leaned out to look at her more closely. She steeled herself as she turned her head to smile at him. She smiled her mother’s smile, the one that made you feel as if you were home. She smiled as she thought of her two sisters and her brother in the shack waiting for her to bring home food. She smiled as she thought of her mother’s weak, gaunt face as she lay dying on the grass mat in the shack.

The car stopped. Nothemba did too. Taking a deep breath, she turned towards the car window. She smiled brightly.

The red shoes felt cold under her small, plump feet.

623 words.

Nothemba is an African name which means “Trust.”

Friday, January 28, 2005

An excellent day.

It’s started off so well. The day, I mean. My daughter had to be at basketball practice at 7 am. Can do this, I think. No problem. Just have to be organized very early. Off we go. Just a few minutes late. But all sorted. Come home. See her lunchbox still on the table. Alrighty then. Just another quick trip back to the school, stopping to buy a cooldrink on the way. She’ll be really thirsty after basketball and then there’s choir in the afternoon. Drop it off. No problem. Younger son is taken to school by dad. Excellent. Hours of time to self stretch ahead. Should easily get those two articles written today.

But first a quick bath. Hair fully soaked, and there’s a heavy beeping at the gate. A giant truck is awaiting instructions. Oh goody! It’s the potash due a week ago, arriving right now. Okay. No problem. Throw clothes over thoroughly wet self. Ask truck not to take gate off hinges as it reverses towards mud-pit laughingly known as the car port. But this is good. Gardener is here today. Wonderful. Gardener and potash on same day. Couldn’t get better. Gardener stands underneath truck as truck begins to tip backwards. Gardener removes a few errant stones from under truck as truck threatens to download ten tonnes of potash on him. I shout. Just a little hysterically. Gardener moves away just in time. Okay. All sorted. Still a good day. Gardener alive. Potash delivered. Gardener raking potash into shape. Excellent.

Second son wakes up. Needs to go to friend for urgent cricket playing. Having just finished school he is making huge effort to do nothing for a living. Will just run him to friend. No problem. Then will come back in time to write two brilliant articles before I go to pick up other two. On way to son’s friend, I remember I have to book son’s learner’s license. Alrighty. Can do this. Friend lives near license place. Easy. Drop off son two. Go to licence place. See suspiciously large queue wending its way around the building. Am not put off. Make way inside. Find green form. Stand in queue. Long one. This is good. I can think about articles while I wait. This is a good thing. Get to end of long queue. Am told I can’t book learner’s license unless son is with me to test his eyes first. For a booking? Yes. Okay. Alright. No problem. I can do this. Decide to leave this mission for today. Will go home and start those articles instead.

Cell phone rings while driving. University calls to say that son’s late application for BSc has been approved. Must go in immediately to fetch forms. Alright. Can do this. This is a good day. Caller caught me in my car on the way past university. Things are working out well. Get to university. Don’t stand in arbitrary queue. Ask first. Am learning! Find woman who phoned. Get form. But now have to go to bank to do immediate deposit. And then come back again with form and deposit slip. Alrighty. Can do this. This is a good thing. Things are working out well. This means I can go to the ID card place and clear my university card for this year. Have had two letters written by the faculty, paid my fees and have been trying to update card for two months. All should finally be sorted now. Right. Arrive at the window prepared for swift successful interaction. Am told it can’t be done. Something snaps in head. It’s not okay. It’s not alright. It’s not a good day. Loose it completely. Shout about how it’s so hard to get a card updated that it makes getting the degree look like a picnic! Perform. Throw toys out of cot. The woman behind the window performs back. And then I just stop. It’s not going to help. It can’t be done. And that’s when it happens. The tears. They start rolling and nothing will stop them. Have lost this battle today. The bureaucratic world has won. The woman behind the counter softens. She tries all avenues but her hands are tied by red tape. I apologise for shouting. Say it has been an awful day. Leave quietly.

Just as I go I see a sky blue egg shell under the nearby tree. I’ll rescue that I think. It’ll make everything worthwhile. Such a beautiful blue. Carry vacated shell home in my car. Place it on my desk as a reminder of beauty in the midst of crises. Older son comes home and crushes it with one twist of his fingers. I thought it was a marshmallow, he says. Try not to think about metaphors.

798 words.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

A Matter of Time: Sc 31


SARAH:So back to the game, people! Now, you have to swear that you will do whatever is asked of you as a consequence.

FRANS:I’m ready for anything. But maybe some more brandy first ... to get into the SPIRIT of the game, hey?

LEONARD:I think I’ll just watch.

SARAH:No watchers allowed.

FRANS:I’ve heard Leonard likes to watch, isn’t that right boet?

MARTINUS:Come on Leonard. It’ll be fun.

LEONARD:Okay. But I still think it’s stupid.

KOBUS:I like games.

SARAH:Oh goody!

CADDIE:(To Sarah)I’m not sure I trust you tonight.

SARAH:What do they say: ‘Trust no one but yourself.’

CADDIE:(Jokingly).And even then, think twice!

MARTINUS:So how do we start?

SARAH:Who wants to go first?

MARTINUS:You start. Then we can see how the game’s played.

SARAH:An excellent idea.

FRANS:Oh hel, nou gaan ons kak!

SARAH:Okay then. Let me see. Oh I love this delicious sense of power! Right then. Let’s start with ... I don’t know ... Kobus!


CADDIE:Is that fair, Sarah?

SARAH:Hey, all’s fair in love and war, honey.

KOBUS:(Very keen)Okay, what do I have to do?

SARAH:Just answer the question - as truthfully as possible. Now, what shall I ask dear old Kobus ...?

KOBUS:Ask me anything!

SARAH:(Thinks for a moment)I know. Would you like to kiss my friend Caddie over here?

CADDIE:(Shocked, but quite amused).Sarah!

SARAH:No-one’s allowed to play the Pope, please. Just answer the question, Kobus. Would you like to kiss Caddie?

FRANS:(Excited at the prospect)Hell, who wouldn’t?

KOBUS:(Very embarrassed)I don’t know.

SARAH:You have to answer.

KOBUS:(Very quietly)Maybe.

SARAH:(Pouncing on his answer)What was that?

KOBUS:(Defensively now)No. Not really.

SARAH:And is that your final answer?Kobus refuses to say anymore.

FRANS:Come on Kobusie. You can tell us.

LEONARD:Ja, Kobus. Now we learn the truth, hey?

KOBUS:Shut up.


SARAH:Now do we believe Kobus’ answer?


MARTINUS:Hell, man, give the poor chap a break.

SARAH:This is just the way the game works, Martinus. Get used to it. Now you have to pay the consequence for not telling the truth, Kobus. Ummm. What shall I make you do? And remember, you HAVE to do it.

CADDIE:Come on Sarah. I agree with Martinus. Cut Kobus some slack.

SARAH:(Relentless and mocking Caddie’s attitude)‘Oooh. I agree with Martinus.’ Well, sorry for you. Now then, let’s see. Well because you lied, Kobus, you have to ... have to ... I know: kiss Caddie!Frans and Leonard laugh delightedly.

KOBUS:No man. I can’t do that.

SARAH:Oh but you have to, my friend. Come on.(Subtly wicked)You know you want to.