How to make friends at 30

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Well, I guess I’m not 30 yet, but I will be in a year, one month and three days, and it’s way sexier for a headline than the lukewarm age of 29.

But seriously, how do you make friends at the age of 29, in a new and vibrant city? I wouldn’t describe myself as someone who has a lot of friends. I have some, and they are the ones who I’ll take into my confidence without hesitation, signal them on Whatsapp using the designation “Holla Biznitch” and who will hunt down a taxi for me as they hold my hair back while I vomit all over Long Street (Thanks Kim and Luisa).

Well, Long Street no more I suppose, since my recent (and I mean oh-so-recent, three weeks and counting) what feels like immigration from the Mother City to The Big Smoke (also fondly known as Johazzardburg, the City of Gold, and “Oh dear God why did I ever leave Cape Town?”).

I didn’t, and still don’t, want to post on Facebook that I’ve left Cape Town, even though I know a lot of cool people who have moved from there to Joburg, who I know would be so warm and welcoming to me. The reason I don’t want to put it on Facebook (so I’ll just post it on my blog here for my one regular reader, thanks Darrel) is not because of the people who live in Joburg, but rather, the people who live in Cape Town.

The negative reactions I got from Capetonians was really just plain hurtful, and it was usually strangers (one close friend said she’d rather move to Australia, which made me feel great about the decision). I mentioned it to a woman at a wine farm in Tulbagh (my husband and I decided that Joburg wouldn’t have amazing wine-which it does-and that we needed to stock up before we left, which we did) and her reflex reaction was “Ag shame, but why?”I also made the mistake of telling an electrician doing some work in my house (a born-and-bred Capetonian who had literally never lived outside of the Southern Suburbs) and his five minute poisonous vitriol about how one could never live anywhere else when one had lived in Cape Town (note the irony) was gross enough to make me not want to pay him.

Back to the subject at hand. I don’t want to notify the universe that my postal code has changed via social media. So I’ve reached out to some people that I know from varsity and whom I haven’t seen in years, and I’ve had a pretty positive response. But everyone is working, and I am not, so while I know people, most have been here for several years already, and have integrated themselves into friendship groups with colleagues and school mates.

Which leaves me alone, exploring the leafy suburbs of this urban jungle on my ace. And I don’t mind doing this usually, except that, being more introverted than extroverted, I’m quite happy to be alone. I’m happy to walk about the streets of Linden alone (I did that today) and get lost in Rosebank (also today) and walk myself around the Botanical Gardens (last week). But when I discover a cool Joburg event, like Wine-Not (the last Friday of every month) I don’t have a group of girlfriends I can rally around to go drinking with me. I’m painfully shy in that way, and I hate inconveniencing other people. More than anything, I hate being told “no” or having to make awkward small talk.

How do I get better at this? Step 1: is to get a good job (please Lord) with a crowd of relatively young-and-funky people who can unlock the secrets of Joboogy for me. Step 2: Find someone who’s quite chatty (so I don’t have to make small talk) and cling to their legs until they accept the fact that we’re friends and I’m always going to be asking them to hang out with me. Step 3: Hope that Jesus made some people who are as equally strange as I am, and pray that they will be drawn to my strangeness (some would say “quirkiness”) like a piece of buttered toast is drawn to the floor (clean side down).

So Joburg, here I am, waiting for things to start falling into place so that I can prove all those nasty Capetonians wrong about you. Show me what you got.

 

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What I loved in September

 

I haven’t blogged in a long time. In all honesty, I haven’t felt like writing. I haven’t felt inspired, I haven’t read some amazing tome that I desperately felt I had to share with the world or tasted some luscious wine that deserved my (amateur) write up. In fact, if I’m honest, I’ve become bored with the format of this blog (that said, I really appreciate all the positive feedback that I get about it all the time).

What I have wanted to write about for ages though, like a fire burning in my bones, are several things I discovered in September. I hate Facebook, so I didn’t want to share all my discoveries there. The more I thought about it, the more wonderful things I could list that I loved about September, and what better place to speak my mind than my blog, which I  also love but have neglected for several weeks (if not months). So, disclaimer aside, these are the things that I loved about September.

  1. The 1975

This British bubble-gum pop, 80’s throwback band are indubitably the inspiration for this blog post. It’s also dishonest of me to say that I only loved them in September. The truth is, I have barely listened to another album since I stumbled across their song, The Sound, sometime at the end of July. You think I’m exaggerating, I know you do, but the truth is that I listen to, wait for it,  I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, at least twice a day. The fact is that this album is an absolute masterpiece. The piano and saxophone solos, the catchy yet incredibly intelligent lyrics, the smooth voice of Matt Healey (my obsession is so bad that I dreamed recently that I told him I loved him at one of their concerts- when a fan actually did that at one of their shows, Matt Healey had a breakdown and asked the audience what right they had to love him, when they don’t even know him) and the self-belligerence contained in this sophomore album makes it feel like audio cocaine. I wake up at night with rifts from various songs running through my mind. When compared to their self-titled debut album (which I also loved and didn’t think could be improved upon) I like it when you sleep knocks their debut out the ballpark. The band said this album is an answer to critics of their first (well, they probably would say that it’s a giant “F#@k you” to critics). Where they were berated for being smarmy and smart-mouthed on the previous album, they became more pretentious on the second, when mocked for their 80’s nostalgia pop, they added more sax solos and a definitively 80’s rock sound. I love that about them. I love that they’re obnoxious, I love that they’re so honest about what they wrestle with (they recently said that if they had been awarded the Mercury Prize this year, they would have spent the money on lots and lots of drugs). They eschew the “social media” game that so many factory-made musicians use to promote their brand. These rough British boys with band teeth from Manchester are as real and raw and authentic as it gets, and for that reason I’ll keep listening to their disgustingly-catchy songs and I’ll keep loving their music.

Listen to The Sound here. (Also watch out for She’s American, Somebody and This must be my dream).

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2. Outlander

Dear God. If The 1975 is audio cocaine, then the time-travelling/historical series Outlander is visual heroine. I literally didn’t sleep some nights because I was awake thinking “What if Claire had touched the stones? What if they’d rescued Jaime from Black Jack Randall in time?” I can.not. Okay, it was released in 2014, so I’m a bit behind, and Netflix only has the first season on it at the moment (note to self: email the elves at Netflix and beg for the second season). I don’t know what it is that’s so utterly delicious about this series. It’s epic, start to finish. Maybe its the heroism of the Scots, maybe it’s the undeniable chemistry between Claire and Jaime, maybe its the accents and the gorgeous men running around in kilts killing each other. Maybe it’s because I myself am a McDonald, so every time the opening credit song (the Skye Boat song, originally penned by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1892 about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape from the British) my heart soars. Based on the books by Diana Gabaldon (which you know I’m gonna get my hands on!), this is escapism at its best, the editing is excellent, the scenery is lush, and if you can get a hold of it and watch it, do it! Also…Sam Heughan, those blue eyes get me every time!

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3. Learning something new about a very old earth

What would a book blog be without a book, right? As you may or may not know, I’ll pretty much read anything that flows from the pen of Bill Bryson, though I’m not much of a traveler myself. In fact, I’ll read almost anything, although non-fiction is seldom my first choice. Some time back I read a popular science book called Big Bang, by Simon Singh. It’s really hard, as an author or scientist, to get popular science right, because you have to be able to convey very difficult concepts in a way that the common man can understand. I enjoy books like this, because you can learn so much you didn’t know before, it just expands your mind (and after hours of binge-watching Outlander, some mind-expansion is usually in order). So I tackled Bryson’s ambitious attempt at just this, A Short History of Nearly Everything. In this 500-page tome, Bryson covers everything from Cosmology and the start of our universe to bacteria, volcanoes, continental shifting, clouds, Neanderthals and us. It is an extensive, and as I said, ambitious project, but it was incredibly satisfying to pick up a book and learn something new in each chapter. As always, Bryson’s journalistic skills are on form as he meets, greets and interviews an incredulous variety of experts in their own unique fields in order to compact and convey sometimes very difficult subjects to an average person like me. It felt good to take a break from mindless fiction for a while to challenge myself. And a note on something I think is really important- especially from a Christian perspective- which is not to be afraid of science, Christians are so quick to dismiss evolution, the Big Bang and fossil records, but when you actually study these things in detail, as Bryson has done, as a Christian there is a distinct golden thread running through the discourse, which is that there is just no way we were not made or at the very least, part of a much bigger design. There have been too many fine, cosmological “accidents” which led to our existence. We live on such a knife-edge, not just in terms of the fact that our planet is the only one that evolved to support life, but even just the fact that homo sapiens evolved to become the dominant species over homo erectus and Neanderthals is enough to give you pause about your brief, yet potent existence (and how we should look after our only planet).

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4. Podcasts

Turns out, podcasts are great. On the back of the above discussion, I’ve recently felt incredibly under-stimulated at church. If I have to hear about another three steps or five points or four “take-aways” on how to be a better person and thus earn God’s approval on my life, I’ll cry. I scoffed at my sister when she said recently that podcasts are all she listens to in the car, but then I thought, why not try listening on the train to work. So every day for the past month, I’ve listened to a podcast from a range of international preachers, it’s done wonders for enriching my internal dialogue. In particular I’ve worked my way through a series by N.T Wright, Bishop of Canterbury and New Testament scholar par excellence, on the historical Jesus. Also noteworthy was a talk by Louie Giglio called Paradise in a Garbage Dump and one by Erwin McManus called No Waiting for Daylight. If you haven’t jumped on the podcast train yet, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

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Besides theses four simple things, September was full of a range of wonders. It’s spring here, so my garden is alive with the smells and colors of a new season, I tasted a cocktail made with spekboom and cinnamon, and I was surrounded with good friends and positivity. What were some of your September highlights?

Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

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Sometimes you find a book that is more like meeting a person and developing a friendship than just picking up another paperback. Memoirs of a Geisha was precisely this for me, and I feel quite upset – like I’ll never find another book that is quite as enchanting as this one.

I’m almost embarrassed about how long it took me to pick it up. I had bought it with a bunch of other second hand books, but wasn’t in the mood for having to try and understand a foreign culture, so I kept putting it off. But that is part of the magic of this novel, that Arthur Golden (a white, western, male academic) can take the hand of his reader and immerse them so utterly and completely in Japanese culture­­ ­– and especially into the life and times of a rural Japanese woman in the early 19th century.

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The story is exquisitely crafted and the language is rich. It is impossible not to feel that the lead character Sayuri Nitta, is not real, and not really sitting across from you with a cup of green tea, recalling her life as a Geisha in Kyoto. This book has moved me so much, that it immediately jumped into my top ten list (similar books in that list include Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind and Lord of the Rings, if that testifies to the richness of this tale and the fact that it is definitely a modern classic).

I cannot recommend it strongly enough, regardless of whether you’re into Asian culture or not (disclaimer: I wasn’t interested in Asian culture until I read this book). If I was you, I would consider getting hold of a good bottle of sake (Japanese rice wine­ – so it’s still applicable to this blog) and enjoying this magnificent story. If sake is not your thing, why not try the impeccable Hillcrest Estate Merlot, with berry flavours and a feminine finish, it is the perfect accompaniment to this tale.

 

A year of marvellous ways- Sarah Winman

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This is one of those books that I found myself enjoying-despite myself. That’s because at times it felt like you could see that the author was trying too hard to write a whimsical story. That she was pushing the magical realism a little too hard, and at times the plot is perfectly predictable.

At the same time, it was a charming read. That’s why I enjoyed it despite myself, because even though I could see through all the literary ploys, I allowed myself to be captivated at castaway with the gypsy, Marvellous, who nurses a spiritually-broken soldier back to physical and mental health.

Set in Cornwall just after the Second World War, this is the history of Marvellous Ways, a gypsy whose mother, she believes was a mermaid, and Francis Drake, a shunned lover and fatherless soldier who’s been left broken by life.

It’s a sweet and easy read, worth it if you want a story that you’ll enjoy, but through which you don’t have to think too much. I paired this with the equally sweet and charming Altydgedacht Pinotage.

Wool- Hugh Howey


Honestly, Wool wasn’t something I needed in my life. It gave me nightmares, and at a time when I already feel like the world is on edge: the global droughts, racism rife, refugees, terrorism, and need I say, Donald Trump, the reality that high Howey paints in this latest dystopian novel hit a little too close to home.

That said, it was a great ride. There were enough twists to satisfy the definition of dystopian, but the ending was also satisfying enough that I feel no compunction to read the rest of the series (and I have no intention to).

The story is about Jules, someone who has greatness thrust upon her in a world where human beings only exist below ground, sheltered from the toxic wasteland that planet earth has become. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but if you enjoy young adult fiction it’s a good read, but don’t expect the Hunger Games.

I paired this with the Heme,-en-Aarde Vine Garden, a Chardonnay-type white blend, sweet and memorable but poisonous if you drink too much.

The English Patient-Michael Ondaatje


I’d heard of The English Patient often, it’s a cult-classic among my parents generation. But it took me a shameful number of years to connect it with one of my favorite authors-and one of the living greats as far as I’m concerned. I first met Michael Ondaatje in Anil’s Ghost, after which I ferreted out his latest work, The Cat’s Table, so it was inevitable that I would eventually get around to The English Patient.

At first I was a bit disappointed, and I’d forgotten his unique poetry-like way of writing, and it took me a while to figure out what was happening, but once I did, I was enraptured.

This story unravels from Italy, to Canada, to Egypt in a conflagration of loves and lives experiencing the Second World War. The tale of unrequited love, of loss, of architecture, of education, is cleverly crafted, and by the time I had finished it, Ondaatje’s skill as a writer was indisputable and it’s no surprise that he won the Booker Prize for this story in 1991.

If you love prose poetry and history, this is one to add to your “must read” list. I paired this with a delicious Sangiovese, a fruity and delightfully palatable wine from Italy, pairing perfectly with this book which is set in the hills of Tuscany.

Notes on a small island – Bill Bryson

After reading some heavy literature, I found myself in one of those rare literary droughts, picking up books, setting them back down again, reading a few pages then feeling unsatisfied. So when I went on holiday, I left with three different books in my bag, hoping to find one that would fit my mood.

Fortunately for me, after landing and before hitting the long road to my holiday destination, I stopped off at my gran’s house for lunch. Now my gran and I do not have the same taste in books, she subsists solely on a diet of murder mysteries (Patricia Cornwall and the like) intermingled with a dash of Danielle Steele for variety. So imagine my delight when I found this literary treasure upon her shelf! (I also picked up a Toni Morrison).

After having recently read A Walk in the Woods, and just heading on an adventure myself, this book was the perfect fit. It wasn’t the same as A Walk in the Woods, and definitely took me longer to read, but it was packed with all of Bryson’s wit, skepticism and charm.

In the book Bryson attempts to traverse all of the U.K using only public transport, as a kind of farewell to the place he met his wife, and the place he called home for fifteen years. In true Bryson style, it is filled with insight about England, with all its quirks. He really captures British culture succinctly, and although the book seems to fall into a monotony at times, and is somewhat dated in terms of cultural references, it’s still a lighthearted and entertaining read.

Keeping with the tone of this travelogue I didn’t pair it with wine. I did however pair it with some great gin and tonics, particularly Gillespie’s or Cruxland truffle-infused gin. Add a dash of bitters for a rounder flavor.

A Passage to India-E.M. Forster

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E.M Forster’s seminal work A Passage to India is anything but an easy read. It took me three weeks. Not only because of the difficulties of the themes that he wrestles with (rape, racism and colonial domination) but also, because the author assumes the reader’s familiarity with Indian terms, concepts and traditions, especially under British rule (I suppose that’s why there are three appendices to the novel).

However, once you get the gist of it, it is a beautiful, powerful, and what many call prescient story. Dr Aziz, a surgeon in Chandrapore, believes (unlike many of his contemporaries) that there is good in the English colonials after befriending the aging Mrs Moore. Aziz offers to show Mrs Moore and her young companion Miss Quested “the real India” but when Miss Quested accuses Aziz of attempted rape, his image of British India and of his colonial overlords is turned on its head.

I guess I found this book difficult to digest, because I enjoy reading about India (Shantaram utterly enchanted me) but Forster describes the India of his day, not as magical and mystical, but harsh, cruel and unforgiving (bearing in mind that he travelled to India often and lived there for some time). But, if you enjoy historical fiction and classics, then it may be worth a read. I paired this book with Thelema’s 2010 Sutherland Cab Sav Petit Verdot blend, a complex compound of spicy flavours, like this book.

Love in the time of cholera-Gabriel Garcia Marquez 


I have mixed feelings about this love story. I appreciate that it is exquisitely written with fine details so that you feel as if you are standing in a Caribbean thunderstorm with the characters. The magic realism that Marquez so skillfully weaves through his narrative is wonderful, and I’ll be the first to admit that I love a bit of magical realism.

It tells the tragic story of Florentino Ariza, who spends his whole life waiting for the chance to love once again the woman who scorned him in his youth, Fermina Daza. The story opens on the day of Fermina’s distinguished husband’s death, and as is the case with many of Marquez’ books, it is set in a fictional country based on his homeland of Columbia at the turn of the century.

The book is beautifully written, but the thinly-veiled references to rape and pedophilia really just ruined it for me. I couldn’t really enjoy the character of Florentino Ariza after those parts of the story.

I paired this book with an excellent Italian wine, the Terra del Capo Sangiovese, perfect for those humid Caribbean nights that the book conjures in your mind.

A walk in the woods – Bill Bryson

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I put this book down more than three days ago, but in my mind I’m still wandering through the deep woods of America’s back country. I’ve never read a Bill Bryson book before, but I must say that A walk in the Woods was the ideal introduction to his work. His humour in this short travelogue is on form, as he details his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. It had me literally laughing out loud, sometimes in very public places.

Maybe what made me pick it up was the fact that I have always thought someday I would hike this trail myself. However, after vicariously experiencing it through Bryson’s account, I think I’ll give it a skip. Bryson goes into great detail about both the beauty, history and challenges of this trail (bearing in mind that it is over 3000 km and goes through  14 states, including Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee and New York).

It was a great read, light, funny and reflective on man’s relationship with nature. One of the most poignant themes that runs through this book, and one that Bryson continuously brings his reader back to is how humans have destroyed our planet. In that sense, the book is a tragi-comedy, but highly worth the read.

I paired this wine with the Sumaridge pinot noir, perfect for summer or winter (both seasons which Bryson experiences in the woods) and with flavours that I feel connate dark American forests: Black cherry, cedar wood smoke and wild herb.