FNB Jhb Art Fair 2017 had everything for everyone


Performance art, new and established artists, endless walkabouts in the immense space of the Sandton Convention Centre, interspersed with visits to the food and bar sections. Not a bad way to spend one’s Saturday afternoon. It was my very first and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It did not quite have the same intimacy of the Turbine Art Fair – large spaces will do that.

Phulani Liebenberg

I discovered and fell in love with Phulani Liebenberg‘s gorgeous portraits; saw Thom Pierce‘s photographs of Basotho people and their ponies – an ode to my people; and even saw an old favourite – Ablade Glover – represented by Cape Town’s Christopher Moller Gallery. Something new, something borrowed and something old , perfect.

Adewale Fatai’s work, represented by Red Door Gallery was both quirky and charming and Mwangi Hutter‘s large canvas of their black and white body images had me searching for more on instagram. It was wonderful to see the range of representation from across the rest of Africa, and even more so the varied offerings being showcased. Already looking forward to the next one.



Gone Native: The Life and Times of Regina Brooks @ The Soweto Theatre

Directed by Makhaola Ndebele, with music directed by Hugh Masekela, Gone Native was an afternoon, well spent, at the theatre. Set in the 1950s, it is the story of Regina Brooks, a white woman, who defied the Apartheid regime’s Immorality Laws by falling in love and living with a black man. She is tried and sentenced to serve time for her crime. She later fights to be re-classified as coloured, in a bid to ensure her daughter is not taken away from her.

The play challenges our notions about identity and belonging. Regina Brooks came to identify more as a black person than she did as white, and as a result was ostracized by white people. She gained acceptance from black people, living as Linda Malinga for some time, but was never truly black enough to be welcomed into black neighbourhoods during the Soweto Uprisings of 1976. In a court scene during her trial, she refuses to confirm her identity as neither black nor white, insisting she be called umuntu – human. Though set in the 1950s, the theme of identity politics  remains as topical today as it was then, with the difference being that class politics now drive the debate, and not the threat of imprisonment.

The play is a highly entertaining and humorous look into one of South Africa’s most controversial figures. With more than seventy per cent of the play’s dialogue in Zulu, there were parts where even my Sesotho ear resorted to nuance rather than understanding to follow the action on stage. It has a wonderfully executed balance between dialogue and song, and for the duration of the play we sat there completely taken in by the talents of Marietjie Bothma, who plays the fluent Zulu and Sotho-speaking Regina Brooks; Soyiso Ndaba who plays Richard Khumalo – the man she falls in love with and father to her daughter Thandi; Nomtha Zikalala as the long-suffering wife, who sets the trial in motion by reporting her husband and his lover to the authorities;  Nhlanhla Mahlangu, Ayanda Nhlangothi and Isana Maseko.

The music and use of languages – Zulu, Sotho, English, Afrikaans, Tsotsitaal all evoked images of the Sophiatown we now only know from books and films. No subtitles required here. Gone Native is as educational as it is entertaining. The play is on until 20 August at the Soweto Theatre.

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez

512z2w0taxl-_sx324_bo1204203200_I have always thought that the first book I’d read by Gabriel García Márquez would be One Hundred Years of Solitude. To be honest One Hundred Years intimidates me. This is the tome to Magic Realism, a genre I am not particularly partial to, but which I will read in smaller volumes.  One Hundred Years is right up there with War and Peace. A mountain to be conquered. So whilst I build up the courage, I read Of Love and Other Demons and really enjoyed it.

It is in part a love story heavy with themes of religion and of redemption. Marquez writes that the book was inspired by the discovery of the remains of Sierva María De Todos Los Ángeles, the twelve-year-old daughter of an American-born aristocrat, who died from rabies. In life she was venerated for the miracles she had performed.

Sierva María is born to aristocratic parents, the result of a loveless union. Márquez traces the history of Sierva María’s lineage from her great-grandfather to her depressed and lazy father who does nothing but languish on the estate, pining for his first love and paying no attention to his daughter. Her mother Bernarda is a cacao addict who is also lost in the memories of a love she too has lost. Rejected by her parents from birth, she is raised by her father’s slaves who instil in her a belief system of their own, a mélange of their own Yoruban beliefs together with their master’s Catholic beliefs.

Sierva María is bitten by a rabid dog on the eve of her twelve birthday and from then on is subjected to a host treatments for the disease even though she shows no signs of illness. Given all the attention she overplays her ‘affliction’ to such an extent that everyone becomes convinced that she has not only gone mad, but is possessed by demons. It is then decided she will undergo an exorcism.

The priest put in charge of her exorcism is a reluctant exorcist – Father Cayetano Delaura. He however falls in love with the young girl, and they embark on a love affair that sees him banished from the monastery. A good part of the book is dedicated to the girl’s father, Don Ygnacio and his renewed concern for his daughter – which is  ultimately what leads to her admission to the monastery and to her exorcism. After Father Delaura is banished, the Church subjects the girl to more exorcisms, fuelled by the belief she is the cause of any and all misfortune that befalls the monastery.

Whilst infusing the book with religious themes, Márquez also makes Dr. Abrenuncio central to the book. He is a man of clinical medicine, a self-confessed atheist who is quick to see through the girl’s illness and declare very early to her father that: ” No medicine cures what happiness cannot”. He denounces the father’s search for a religious cure for the girl, and throughout the book remains the voice of reason regarding Sierva’s Maria’s plight.

Father Delaura, until the very end, remains true to his faith and belief that the law of the church will free them both to continue to see on another and to ultimately marry. There is  redemption in Don Ygnacio’s renewed loved for his daughter and in his admission of how much he had wronged her, perhaps understanding too late that Dr. Abrenuncio’s advice was all he need have heeded. By the end he has a renewed belief in God, even as he admits that religion was not the cure she needed.

This is a novella so it was a  quick read. I guess baby steps for me when it comes to Márquez. It is  worth reading.


Books: The Lover by Marguerite Duras

the-loverTitle: The Lover

Author: Marguerite Duras

Genre: Memoir

Published: First published in 1986

I am reading Modern Classics this month. As if my reading ambitions were already not lofty enough, along with #reading SA, #reading Africa, now there is this goal. This was more of an assigned reading on a writing class I am taking.

I remember seeing the movie when I was fifteen – the same age as she was in the book – and thinking: How very shocking and scandalous! Even now I still admit that she was very rebellious at such a young age, and for such a time.

In brief, The Lover is about a young French girl growing up in Saigon with her brothers in the 1920s. It is during the French occupation of then Indo-Chine, what would become Vietnam. They are raised by her single mother after the death of her father. The Lover is semi-autobiographical. Given when it was written, it was a very wild life for a poor French girl growing up in poverty in Saigon. Being white though afforded her and her family certain privileges, like riding in the front of the bus, and being allowed in certain restaurants. It did not, however, exempt them from the poverty faced by her mother, a school headmistress, who has made poor investment choices that leave her family near destitute and having to raise her family in Saigon, with not much hope of a better life back in France.

The protagonist takes on a lover at the age of fifteen and a half, a man almost twice her age, Chinese and wealthy. Her mother is complicit in this by ‘allowing’ it because she benefits financially from this arrangement whilst hypocritically berating, and at times, even beating her daughter for it.

Duras writes very candidly about the emotional detachment and of how she was void of any shame throughout this tryst. It was bold writing about a truth not often spoken of – very young girls and much older men in financially expedient relationships. After much of last year’s social discussions of ‘blessers’ and their ‘blessees’ in South Africa, and similar ‘sugar daddy’ arrangements of college girls in the US, it appears like Marguerite Duras was ahead of her time. The child prostitution that she writes about, shocking as was for that time, and for the society in which she lived, was not shocking by its nature, but carried with it the added stigma of her being a white French girl and him an older Chinese man.

The Lover was published when Duras was 70, and even though she was regarded as something of an enfant terrible for contemporary writers of her time, she went on to be awarded the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literature prize for The Lover.

The translations do not always flow well from sentence to sentence, and Duras uses very simple language, a style which she claimed as her own. Compared to her contemporaries, Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, she is said to have derided their use of long complicated vocabulary to convey simple meanings.  She is quoted as having stated “My contemporaries bore me”, dismissing their ‘left-wing snobbery’ and of being all too intellectual for her.

This was an easy and enjoyable read, and I probably enjoyed it more because of memories of the movie, which I saw that many years ago.

Bolton Road Collection @ Park Corner, Rosebank

Food discoveries that end well warm my heart. After last week’s adventure to this part of town and its burgeoning eateries, we tried Bolton Road Collection. We went without reservations, and just managed to get seating at the bar tables overlooking Bolton Road, which actually ended up being the perfect place to have a late lunch and watch the world go by.

It is a very popular place, so be sure to make reservations. Families, young couples, old couples…a really laid back and casually cool restaurant this. Servers  know what they are serving, are able to advice on drinks and on the food choices, and the kitchen’s turn-around time is extremely efficient. The food was seriously worth writing about. The food experience began with seared tuna with a chutney like mélange of puffed rice, smoked daikon, apple, horseradish snow and spiced ponzu. I had the honey smoked duck breast served up on burnt melon with a sweet and sour dressing. Both were incredibly delicious. For a place that looks like a casual-burgers-and-fries type, everything about the food surprised.

We followed this up with a short-rib burger. This is quite substantial. A juicy flavoursome  patty with fontina cheese – excuse me while I go and google  what kind of cheese this is – it was definitely  not the usual cheddar. I had a slow cooked pork belly, with a carrot and fermented apple purée, smoked potato fritter ,and beer and barley jus. The crackling was crispy, without having to worry about cracking my tooth on it – as can sometimes be the case with pork belly, and had been roasted sufficiently for me to not have to slice off pieces of fat from it.

I am very excited about Bolton Road Collection, as well as the other bars like Bar Ber Black Sheep and Proof – which serves up craft beer. Another great place to add to Joburg’s dining scene.

Bolton Road Collection, Cnr Bolton Road and Jan Smuts, Rosebank

First Thursdays & Pizza night @ The Coalition, Rosebank

Last Thursday night started off what is definitely going to be a regular attendance for me: Joburg’s First Thursdays. Loved the atmosphere around Keyes Art Mile, where police had cordoned off the road and it had been turned into a pedestrian-cum-foodstall-cum-bar area. There were food trucks and a bar serving up drinks to the artsy folk who had ventured out. It was gearing up to be a great evening…until the rains fell. Still determined to salvage the evening, we quickly took in Blessing Ngobeni’s exhibition at Circa, made another stop at The Goodman Gallery for Clive van den Berg’s exhibition, then made for The Coalition for a pizza meal.

You would have to have been living under a rock to not have read the numerous raving reviews about The Coalition’s pizza. Everywhere I turn have been stellar write-ups. The restaurant is not a big place at all – so be sure to make reservations. The service is efficient and friendly and the pizza is uncomplicated and amazing. I am not going to go into the details about the type of fluor used or the tomatoes sourced from this place or that, or how their cheese…all that has already been written about. Thinnish crusts, medium sizes – which was a refreshing change from the usual intimidating extra large sizes you can often get – fresh ingredients that don’t give that supermarket pizza taste with just enough tomato sauce to still taste the base, and just the right amount of cheese.
Their salads were actually the highlight of my meal. We ordered a caprese salad and the house salad, made which had buratta, tomatoes and prosciutto. The pizza’s were perfect. On offer on the menu was also a fish – hake, and a meat dish of beef rib – both were served with salad greens and focaccia. My beef rib was too fatty, which left me with not much food, and the fish was dry. Definitely stick with the pizza when you do go, it is after all a pizza joint.

The coalition is not yet licensed, but you can have drinks at their Bar – Sin & Taxes, which has a separate entrance. Lovely new addition to Park Corner, where cool seems to thrive these days. I look forward to returning.
The Coalition, Corner Bolton Road and Jan Smuts Avenue, Rosebank.

Circa Art Gallery, Rosebank

It was my very first time at the Circa Gallery, even though I have walked past it on numerous occasions on my way to where the food is . It’s a an unexpectedly beautiful building with curved walls which lead to the galleries and the lounge area on the top floor. From the top it has amazing views of Parktown and beyond.

We  were there for the ‘Dark City’ collaborative project by architecture  graduate, artist and researcher Hariwe; Photographer Jono Wood and Filmmaker Dirk Chalmers. ‘Dark City’ is the culmination of a  three-year project by the three creatives which highlights the inner city problem of Doorfontein’s ‘bad buildings’. Harrowing subject matter in a beautiful building. I will return for further exhibitions.

Circa Gallery, 2 Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank.

The Cosmopolitan Bar, Maboneng

The Cube Tasting Kitchen has a new home in Maboneng, at the Cosmopolitan Building. But even more interesting is The Cosmopolitan Bar by The Cube. Housed in a heritage building that dates back to the 1800s, The Cosmopolitan Bar is a more casual version of The Cube. The food is still sublime, but instead of The Cube‘s gastronomic exploration of ten courses, you get three wonderfully crafted courses in a charming restaurant. It is not a big place;  there is just enough space to order and enjoy your pre or post dinner drinks at its bar – restored from the original – and the night we were there, there were no more than ten tables. The whole set up makes for intimacy, and combined with the open kitchen, where you can see Chef Dario and his team preparing your meal, it’s a foodie’s paradise.

For starters it was the salt cured pork for me – with pan seared green onion, olive caviar, roasted peppers, and crème fraîche flavoured with black pepper – served with flatbread. No words. Just the contented sighs of  happy diner. J had the smoked duck with confit potato, a mushroom “deliciousness” – their words not mine – with parmesan, soy soaked tomato, poached fennel and pea shoots. Both were perfect, although I was more partial to my choice. Main were the beef fillet, with potato rosti, truffle, roasted beetroot, sour cream, capers (yes, capers!) and rarebit. Fillet as you have never has it before, and all the flavors worked. My choice was the braised lamb, which was not as good as I had imagined it would be: it was with roast baby onion, pumpkin, tahini and gremolata with sesame. It was not nearly as flavoursome as the other dishes and the flavours of the dish tasted  ‘separate’, with none of that wonderful melding of different textures and flavors of our other choices. Dessert was chocolate truffles with berries, quinoa and marzipan for J, and I went with the grilled mango, sprinkled with chilli (and it was a fine combination), candied ginger bits and a milk and honey ice cream. Perfect.

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There a well-stocked wine cellar, where you are free to go and choose your wine, alternatively you can go with the wine pairing option. There is no corkage.

Another great start to the new year, with amazing food memories made. I cannot wait to try The Cube in its new premises. Make sure to make reservations for The Cosmopolitan Bar, it was full the night we were there. The Hazard Gallery is in the same building, so you can combine your evening with some art before your meal.

The Cosmopolitan Bar, 24 Albrecht Street, Maboneng.

Books: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

fullsizerenderHalf of a Yellow Sun is about the Biafra war of the late 1960s. A war that was fought between Nigeria and the newly formed Biafra Republic following its secession from Nigeria. The book provides a clear backdrop of the history of the war, and brings with it a clear explanation to some of the causes of the war.

The story centres around Ugwu, the thirteen-year old house boy who works for Olanna and Odenigbo. Olanna, is an academic and partner to Odenigbo – her ‘revolutionary lover’ as her twin-sister Kainene refers to him. They are politically aware academics and Igbos teaching at the Nsukka Campus.

Olanna has left her upper-middle class  life in Lagos to be with Odenigbo, an academic impassioned with ideas of the looming revolution. The book is set in the years preceding the secession of Biafra from Nigeria, which  would be the precursor to the war. Richard, the British writer who adopts Biafra as his own and is Kainene’s partner is the Brit who, unlike other British expats, sees the meddling role that Britain played in the Biafra war for what it was. Kainene herself, is the business-minded twin sister with a tough edge to her personality and who does not languish as much in the sentimentality of the others about the New Biafra Republic.

518198257-half-of-yellow-sun-hits-the-bigThe author’s telling of the history is delicately interwoven with the characters’ lives as we learn of the resentment harbored towards the Igbo people by the Hausa people of northern Nigeria. She writes of the resentment felt by the Southern Nigerians, namely the Igbos towards the Northern Nigerians, because of the favouritism meted out by the British government to the Northerners . The Northerners’ resentment stems from the fact that Southerners are more enterprising, are wealthier, and more educated.

Following the first military coup post the country’s independence from British rule,  a political movement that supports secession of the South from the North becomes the voice of the people of South Nigeria. With the political instability of the military coup, rising resentment between Northerners and Southerners,the secession,  a turn to violence with killings of Igbos initiated in the North that lead to reprisals and the war that followed – Adichie retells Nigeria’s history before, during and after the two and half-year war that would break out when Biafra became a Republic. Hundreds of thousands people were killed as a result of the military action, whilst it is estimated that close to a million died from starvation. The first half of the book slowly builds up to the events that led to the war, but in the second half Adichie does not shy away from the inhumanity of it  : the killings, the expulsion of people from their homes, the bombings of the newly formed Biafra by Nigeria and its allies, resultant evacuations, displacement of people, a growing refugee problem, and the insidious  effects of the war – namely starvation – are all woven into the characters’ lives.

The Half of a Yellow Sun is taken from the motif of the Biafra Republic flag, showing the top half of a rising sun. Adichie writes of the valiant fighting of the Biafrans: how the hope at the beginning of the war slowly dwindles as the war progresses and it becomes clear that the Biafran’s will not win the war. The resulting ceasefire by the Biafrans, which ended the war leaves the country divided, and as in real life, Adichie’s characters are left bereft, disappointed and facing the reality of rebuilding their lives in a country that still faces gross ethnic divisions. Adichie’s story revolves around the families of Olanna, Odenigbo and  Ugwu.

The very unexpected turn of events for the families surprised me. Perhaps I was looking for that very happy ending beyond the war ending, and I admit that in the author’s refusal to pander to readers’ needs for a happier ending, she highlighted the reality of what wars can do. Break up families and leave heartbreak. This was a wonderful read.

Brunch at Toro Toro, Dubai

Friday brunch, as we learnt,  is as sacred as Sunday lunch in Christian countries. So much that  restaurant websites stipulate that bookings are mandatory for Friday brunch. I suppose you could always wing it, at your own peril though. We went with playing it safe and made reservations.

img_5744_2Toro Toro is a Latin-American restaurant that offers Pan Latin-American cuisine. “You can eat your way though Latin America” the hostess told us. The menu is extensive and does offer delicious food, which I imagined was from exotic places like Ecuador, Chile, Peru.

The cold menu had a seafood ceviche, tuna tataki and a chipotle salad. The hots starters had cachapas – which was a corn pancake with sour cream, halloumi and mozzarella cheese; beef filet skewers; crispy prawn with habanero chilli, coriander and peanuts, and seafood a mélange of scallops, prawns and calamari called concha a lo macho. The starter plates keep coming until you give the signal that you are ready to move on to the main course.

The main consisted of meat, meat and more meat. The Rodizio was servings of different cuts of beef, lamb chops, chicken, turkey and prawns. Side dishes of sweet potato fries, vegetables and more salad. By the time we got to the dessert menu, which was quite brief – just what we needed after the lunch – we were ready to call it a day. It still  did not stop us from trying the Toro Toro Tres Leches – delightful sponge cake soaked in condensed milk, I think – the details of this weren’t too clear, but it tasted great. Their cortadito – chocolate coffee mousse, hazelnut and salted caramel cake was equally delightful. A fruit platter finished off our very long Toro Toro brunch experience.

A few nights earlier we had been there for drinks and what was meant to have been a quick dinner, turned out to be quite a long affair as the waiters plied us with food then sent us to Cachaça Bar upstairs, where they have a DJ three nights a week. The mixologist came to our table to mix the drinks as we watched. A process to witness as our mojitos and caipirinhas kept flowing and flowing. Whilst dinner offered food from the à la carte menu, brunch was a gourmand food fest that kept coming and coming.

The brunch dining concept works in the same way as The Carnivore and Rodizio’s in Joburg. The food will keep coming until you say ‘enough!’. And this you do by turning the cards on the table from green for “Yes, Please” to red meaning “No, Thanks” The side dishes come in tapas-sized dishes, and the meat is on skewers, where it is carved at the table. The. Food.Was. Amazing. The service, efficient, and a very relaxed family dining atmosphere.