Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Arno Carstens

I walked into the theatre for the Arno Carstens concert in Grahamstown and two things struck me. The first was that we had PERFECT seats. We were about five rows from the front, a little to the left of centre stage and were at eye level with the band. It could not have been better! The second was that this was not the ideal setting for a rock concert, and when it comes to Carstens, that was exactly what I was expecting. I was expecting something along the lines of the last Parlatones concert that I went to in terms of atmosphere, and that is not what I got.

While the venue for the concert (Guy Butler theatre in the Monument) may be great in terms of acoustics, it is not so great in terms of atmosphere. The theatre is built more like an opera house with folding seats going back around 26 rows and further seating in raised rows at the back. Which does not make it the ideal situation for the kind of music that Carstens produces. The biggest trouble is that the Guy Butler theatre  is the largest in Grahamstown, and the only theatre that could accommodate the kind of audience that Carstens wants to draw. Going to the concert would have been a more attractive idea if it had been in a smaller location, but had been running for a few days rather than a one-night-only show to draw in the crowds, but then have them sit awkwardly in their seats while you play at them.

Despite the atmosphere, I found the concert to be rather enjoyable. I am not a big fan of Carstens, nor was I a big fan of the Springbok Nude Girls, but that is simply because I do not know much of his (or their) music. The little that I knew of it, I liked and when Mike and Vicky suggested going, it was not something that I jumped at, but considering that we were going to the show before and considering that it was in the same venue, I was not against going either. And I'm glad that I went!

The music was good. Nothing spectacular, but it was good enough to make me want to dance along. To be honest, I found that Carstens did not have much of a stage presence. I found my eyes wandering from him and on to the band and the vocalist that he brought along. He didn't engage with the audience much. He played, he sang and it was good, but not great. When the songs that I recognised came up, I stood and I danced, but for most of the evening I stayed stuck to my seat. I am sure that if there hadn't been a seat to stick to, I would have been up there and dancing along, even to the songs that I didn't know.There is something about the atmosphere of concerts that does that to me. But as it was, I was happy to just be there, listen and leave. I wasn't one of the people shouting out for an encore, but I wasn't asking for my money back either.

What I can say is that the music was enjoyable. Carstens has a great voice, there is no doubting that. The classics are classics for a reason and I loved hearing them. I thought that a little too much of his new stuff was played, and I found it to be a bit too generic for my liking. All of the music sounded the same essentially with only two songs really standing out, those two being the ones that I already knew and loved. If I hear one of his songs come up over the radio, I will turn it up and listen, but I won't be going out of my way to buy myself his CD any time soon. Unfortunately, he didn't convince me of that much. But I wouldn't give up on old Arno quite yet. I think there is still a lot to come from him, and I look forward to hearing it when it comes.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Self-image is not an easy topic for me to discuss, but it is one that I have been faced with a lot recently. I have been bombarded with news articles about it and faced with it whenever I look in the mirror.

I have always had weight problems. At first, when I was young, I was significantly underweight. I was accused by classmates and teachers of being anorexic, and my parents seemed to feel the same way to some extent. I had no appetite, and the small amount of food that I did eat they tended to encourage. Nevermind the fact that it was terribly bad for me, as long as I was eating, it was fine.

Then, when I hit my teenage years and my appetite started to grow along with my figure, at first it was a relief. The change happened to come at the same time as a change in school, and the feeling was that the weight-gain came from somewhere in between happiness at my new surroundings and just growing up in general. My metabolism was changing, and at first it was seen as a good thing. A great thing in fact! I remember bragging to my sister that I had finally put on weight, and she didn't believe me! And putting on weight was something to brag about at that stage. It meant that I was getting healthy. It meant, in my mind, no more mocking and no more accusations.

What I didn't realise at that point was that the weight gain was not all going to be good. While eating whatever I wanted was fine when I was eating hardly anything at all, the weight gain meant that eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted should have been off the cards. And yet, I had grown so used to eating whatever I pleased that dieting was not something that formed a part of my vocabulary. I had grown used to eating meals that were not necessarily good for me, and succumbing to any cravings that I had. I would not let my body hold me back from what I wanted, under the impression that I would rather be over-weight and happy than under-weight and unhappy.

And I think this is where the biggest problem came in. I had started associating my weight with my emotions. The times in my life when I had been at my lowest weight were also the times when I was at my lowest emotionally. I wanted to avoid that at all costs, and food became a means of reaching this end.

It is now many years later, and my weight is a rollercoaster. I have hypo-thyroidism, which does not help (and nor does my phobia of needles for getting my thyroid checked regularly), but my diet is still all over the place. I am a stress-eater, and I consider my job to be stressful. I am not a smoker, I am not a huge coffee drinker, and this means that when I stress, I use food to cope, and I eat badly.

I look in the mirror and I often wonder how I got to be this way. I try to lose weight, but as soon as an obstacle comes along, I tend to falter in its path. I think part of the problem is that I have a low self-image. While Grant can look at me and say that I am sexy, I look at myself and do not feel it. And I don't think that is something that is going to be shed with weight-loss. When I was overseas and had lost over 10kg in weight over a matter  of months, I still felt over-weight, I still felt like it was not good enough. And when you have that mindset, no amount of weight is ever going to be good enough. At that point,  you have to take a deeper look at yourself and wonder whether your weight-loss or -gain is the real aim, or is there something else about yourself that needs to change - whether it be  your attitude, your lifestyle or your way of coping with things.

To me, I think that I could do with a change in all aspects. I have a very negative way of looking at the world, I live a lazy lifestyle and I do not cope with stress well (screaming and eating being only two of the signs that I am having a bad day) and those are things that are not going to fix themselves with weight-loss. Those are things that may lead to me being happier as a person and happier with myself, and I think that is a good start on the way to having both a healthy body and a healthy mind.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Accident Prone

I took a tumble over the weekend. Not a big one, not one that would normally have featured on my blog, except that it really got me thinking. I took a tumble, and it wasn't the first in recent months.

The first happened a good four months back when I was walking with Grant and Jono to quiz. We were walking and chatting and singing along to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, and it was beautiful and poetic and helluvah lucky. There I was, belting it out, "And it goes like this, the fourth the fifth, the minor..." And there I went. Plummeting to earth in a most graceful manner, camera in hand and face forward. I don't know how I did it. I turned in mid-air and instead of landing face-first and camera first in the gravel, I landed back down, head slightly raised and the camera an inch from the ground. It was miraculous. I was bruised in more ways than one, but I was in one piece and I stood up, dusted myself off and was on my way again.

Then, a few months later, there I was feeling sorry for myself, having just failed at diving not for the first time, walking out of the changing room carrying all of my belongings and poof! Down a small flight of stairs. This time I was not so lucky. This time I didn't manage to walk away without a scratch. Instead, I walked away with a bandaged up foot and a sprained ankle that reminded me of my failure for days and weeks on end. There went any thoughts of playing sport. There went any chance of finishing my diving course. There went practically all of my dignity as this fall was not graceful in the slightest, nor was my response. I was a ball of tears and weeping, and let me tell you I am not a pretty sight when I am upset. Trying to make me feel better, the assistant at the dive shop tried to take my mind off the pain by asking how my diving course went. I burst into tears on the spot.

And now, having regained my stride and having finally stopped feeling pangs of pain when I put too much strain on my foot, I have gone and done it again. After the (most amazing) Mango Groove concert on Saturday, we were walking back to the car. Grant had cleverly decided to park off to the side to avoid the rush of festival ongoers and to ensure that he got a parking fairly close to the entrance. It would have been genius, if it hadn't been so dark. On our way into the concert I stumbled over rocks and stones, but made my way in unscathed. On the way out on the other hand... Once again, it was quite beautiful timing. Grant was racing ahead as I tried to find my way between rocks. "Baby," I called out, "Please walk a little slower. I don't want to..." And there I went. Plummeting to earth once again. Only not so graceful this time. Possibly worse than the second fall even. This time it was into a puddle and, once again, I was not unscathed. Not only was I wet and embarrassed, but my ankle was aching in an all-too familiar way. Panic struck. Literally. I started having a panic attack. I have only had 3 in my lifetime, but I know them all-too well as well. The numbing sensation of your whole body that stops you from being able to move even an inch. I had to be carried to the car (not a small feat) and once in, I was dead to the world. Forget shaking. Forget crying. I was utterly gone.

And so, as I lie here in bed, my foot pounding just a little more than is normal for a sprained ankle, I think to myself that it turns out I am accident prone. I don't know when it started. Come to think of it, I have always been one to watch my feet when I walk, so perhaps I have always known. But what I know for certain is that I am going to be watching them a lot closer from now on. Feet, you have been warned, as have all people coming into close proximity to me. I am not to be trusted on my own two feet.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Imaginings in the Dark

I am a big fan of magic, and I don't mean the Disney kind or the Wiccan kind or anything along those lines. I mean sleights of hand, illusion, mentalism and tricks. I find them both fun and fascinating. and I find them to be even more so when the person performing them throws his heart and soul into them so that they are not only good, but reflect the personality of the person performing them. That is probably why I love Stuart Lightbody's shows so much.

Last year I went to see Stuperstition, which ended up winning a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award, and absolutely loved it! So when Stuart returned to town with another show in his box of tricks, we knew that we were going to have to see it! With all of his shows booking up fast, we decided to book our tickets nice and early, and I'm glad that we did. This show was no exception and there were crowds lining up half an hour before the show even started. There could be no personal greeting upon entrance this time around as the door was stampeded with people trying to get good seats. If Stuart had tried to greet each person with a handshake as he did at the show last year, he would have been crushed by the crowds.

The show itself is a little darker in nature than Stuperstition as the name might imply. It's not that the magic itself is dark or that the humour is dark or that there is less of it, but it is a more thoughtful show and more serious in nature I found. Which, I might add, I see as a good thing. Before the show even starts, each audience member is handed an inkblot picture, and it sets the mood for the show as people discussed what it was they were seeing while waiting for the masses to settle. Throughout the show, the audience is invited and encouraged to consider what is happening before them, to question and, most of all to think.

While the theme of Stuperstition revolves around superstitions and mentalism and Stuart educating the audience on how these things can be done, Dark Imaginings makes more use of the mentalism and slights of hand and becomes less educational and more demonstrative in its nature. It makes for a great show! Stuart is hilarious as always, entertaining as always and brilliant as ever. He works his charms on the audience and enraptures them. Gasps of amazement and wonder were heard more than once and even skeptics found themselves challenging their views.

I would highly recommend seeing at least one of Stuart's shows at this year's festival, but if possible I would recommend seeing them both. There is little similarity between them and I know that I would see them both again in a heartbeat.

Festival Localised

Just as there are advantages and disadvantages to everything in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to being a Grahamstown local during Fest. There are things that I love and there are things that I hate, and it is hard to decide whether this time of year is one of my favourites or one of my worst.

What makes this time of year amazing is the atmosphere that fills the town. It feels like a two-week celebration. All of the things that I dislike about Grahamstown the rest of the year suddenly make their way here. There is food galore. There is entertainment in the form of music, plays, shows and fairgrounds. Town becomes electric and I love it!

What makes it terrible is that the thing that I do love about Grahamstown become ruined. The peaceful quiet of a small town gets lost in the manic hubbub of festival goers. Traffic lines the streets making it nearly impossible to find a parking anywhere and, living on the outskirts of town, this makes partaking in any festival activities pretty darn difficult! Peppergrove becomes nightmarish and I find myself wanting to curl up in bed and not leave because I don't want to face the horror of it all. And yet, you can't help but want to participate in the madness!

So this weekend, Grant, Jono and I decided to brave the Fest Grounds at the Village Green. Though this is not where the magic of the shows themselves happen, this is the centre of all things Fest and may be considered by some to be utter chaos and by others to be heavenly. I tend to gravitate towards the middle of these two opinions and see it as part good, part bad and mostly pretty average. The grounds are filled with tents, and the tents are filled with shops selling odds and ends - clothing, toys, novelties and food. But, of course you have to get into the grounds to experience these!

The first problem that we had was finding parking. The parking during Fest is awful. Absolutely terrible. Last year we managed to find a spot early on, but despite arriving at what I thought was a decent time, the paid parking lot was full, as was the area surrounding it, as was campus and we finally got lucky enough to find a parking on Somerset Street a short walk away. And when I say that we got lucky, it was literally the only parking I could spot in the vicinity and we almost missed it!

I must say that the food that comes to Grahamstown during Fest is probably my favourite part of the whole experience, and the Village Green is where you can find most of the good stuff. Chinese, Indian, Greek, you name it, they've got it! And this was the main purpose of our coming to the Green. Lunch! We wandered between the food stalls before deciding on a three-course menu. First up was Chinese as our main with smoothies to wash it down with.

I am a big fan of Chinese food! I am the advocate for Chinese food in Grahamstown, and I have never been more determined that Grahamstown should have a Chinese restaurant than I was after eating the Chinese at Fest. And that is not because it is amazing. Sadly, the food itself was pretty average - way too oily, way too generic. Not bad, but not very good either. And that was kind of the point. Even though it was just average Chinese, I was still wallowing in the joy of having it! Grahamstown needs a good Chinese place so that this is not the standard for the locals.

The smoothies, on the other hand, were pretty great. I love smoothies and I am determined that Grahamstown should also have a place that makes them. It shouldn't be too difficult to do! I know that Kauai is pretty much off the cards for a small student town, and the smoothies from Fest did not compare, but they were great and were perfect and I would have one on a daily basis if they were available to me! But they are not, sadly. And so I will make do with returning at some point during the Fest and having another.

With Chinese and smoothies in our bellies, we decided to walk around for a bit and see what else was on offer. There were books, but the book stall was not nearly as exciting as last year. I found a wonderful hat stall which sold incredible, steam-punky hats... for R1,800.00. They informed me that they would be bringing in more next week for around R400.00, but even that is beyond my price range! There were beautiful clocks and kaleidoscopes and so many wonderful things that made me ooh and aah!

And then there were the nuts. The greatest thing about Fest in my opinion. Of all the food, the nuts are the things that drive me mad! So, of course, these wonderful, caramelised, cinnamoned drops of goodness had to be mine. R30.00 bought me a small bag full of them, and though it is quite steep, it is also totally worth it! Another thing that I will definitely be returning for.

And finally, we ended off our trip to the Greens with a stop at Wicked Waffles. The smell was enough to bring us in, the idea of alcohol-infused cream was enough to keep us there. One bite was enough for us to know that it had probably been a bad idea and the price convinced us that it was a terrible one. The waffles themselves I found to be pretty average, nothing special. The cream was ridiculous! I am not all that good with my alcohol and find everything to be strong, but even Grant thought it was way too much, like taking a shot of Vodka with every bite. And at R35.00 each for a small waffle, it is not worth your while. I wouldn't recommend them.

And so our Village Green experience ended on a bit of a bad note. We finished our waffles and made our way back to the car, pretty keen to get out of the crowds. But I know that I will be back there next week again! As chaotic as it can be, I don't think that there is anything that can stop me. And that is the joy of Fest! It is a wonderous, terrifying time that we just cannot help but enjoy!

What do other locals think?