I Like Ravines


I do like street ravines and until recently I though my appreciation had deep roots in childhood memories. It might be so, but there’s more into it.


A few good moments of my childhood were spent playing with other children on the streets of my father’s hometown, the kind of village where everybody knows everybody. I remember waiting by the window for the rain to stop so that I could go out. I have the clear image of a freshly washed street, after the rain, with water still flowing vertiginously through the side drains. It only lasted minutes but it gave us the kind of entertainment one never forgets. (Forgotten were the expensive toys stacked in the playgrounds of a few.) We used those temporary “rivers” to sail paper boats, running street down and we after them so that we could collect them and bring them back for another ride.


That was the kind of pleasure kids knew it could only last scarce minutes when nature was generous. All the cheers and laughs died out very fast. So, I was convinced I liked steepish streets for reasons buried in the past.


More recently I discovered a sort of mature explanation for fancying ravines. Streets were still wet by the rain and the lights already on, making the newly washed tarmac glitter. It was at that moment between day and night, when umber prevails over so many other shades, that the street where I live became a tarmac mirror vibrantly reflecting our city life. That’s when I found another reason to like street ravines.


Listening to Reggae While the Winter Steps In


Our week in TD’s apartment in South Africa shrink to five days, two of them mostly spent on the road. We had just a business meeting and other punctual things to do. The main idea was to relax and enjoy the ride. Well, our ride this time was a Limpopo driver named Walter with a visible inclination for reggae. He fanatically listened to a wide variety of performers but when he tuned to hits like No Woman No Cry the volume was turned up. High up.


We had one day of summer (Monday 19), one day of Spring (Tuesday 20) and the winter stepped softly and unmistakably into our short holidays. It was such an unexpected change that I remarked locals heavily dressed and even a free spirited tourist who went to a Rosebank well known restaurant wrapped in a common blanket. Color? It had to be orange. I was really surprised because she was an average woman by all standards. Was it the case that we wore short sleeves because we enjoyed the contrast of the cold with the asphyxiating hot summer days in Mozambique? Anyway, that blanketed woman was with a partner and they seemed to be very much in love. Was she sick or too hot from love to cope with the cold?


During those days, fun meant walking, shopping and eating. Paul was lucky I only noticed three movie tittles I really wanted to watch the morning we left.


Walking was mainly at night and in the quiet streets of Rosebank. Shopping was the same old same. As I gave up one of my dream acquisitions, I had cash enough to buy all the rubbish I wanted. It’s evident I bought a couple of things with meaning and purpose. Paul seemed to be pleased too because he had the opportunity to buy all the nutritional supplements he could have need and a great deal more. Yes, I do believe he is a compulsory supplement buyer and consumer.


As for eating, we usually had a simple fruit breakfast in TD’s place, lunch out and mid afternoon tea also out or already at the apartment. Monday and Wednesday we dinned at TD’s: Monday was chicken and Wednesday a salmon salad. Tuesday we had dinner in one of TD’s favorite restaurants. It was a cold night, but not yet for a blanket. Ever? We had minestrone soup, grilled king klip for Paul and grilled calamari for me. I feel constricted to say baby calamari. It sounds like if I am contributing to the extermination of a species. Dessert was assorted cakes after a long walk with a stop to listen a saxophone busker. The next day a fortuity blood exam reflected the assorted cakes temptation. Only twenty-four hours later my nutritionist explained that the result of the test could be affected by that particular dessert.


Thursday was our traditional goodbye dinner with a Chinese or Japanese meal. This time was Chinese. It wasn’t good as usual (Where is now the Chinese restaurant functioning at the old nice Rosebank Hotel? I enquired and heard the owners just quit.), but the quantities were more than enough for ten. The Chinese waitress decided I was French and I decided not to disappoint her. I was inclined to make people feel happy, before I felt inclined the other way. I think I’ll confirm if people keep asking me if I am French or Brazilian because they might feel much happier if I reply “Spot on!” or “How could you guess it?”


From this short holidays I will also remember the cold nights sat in front of the computer, almost like if I was at home writing, sometimes too absorbed to notice that summer had turned into winter.

Living in the Slow Lane


Last week we visited Johannesburg. A couple of things making us drive from our base in Mozambique to Gauteng could not happen due to enterprises and services closing from December to January. It seems common in South Africa, but it’s a bit upsetting in terms of functionality. Services should honor the word. But then we live in Africa and here speed kills.


I have present Mozambique case. From 24 of December to 15 of February nobody works with capital W. Holidays multiply and are sacred days devoted to Holy Laziness. There is an interesting system to show that national holidays are untouchable. If they coincide with Sunday nobody works the next Monday. I don’t know if this is usual in other countries, but it seems to me pure nonsense. As if fate had somehow robbed people and it’s up to the government compensate them for such cruel injustice. I know people in general do similar manoeuvres, but it’s startling when they are institutionalized in a country desperately in need of human energy to grow from poverty and apathy into a viable project.


Besides the never-ending construction site South African cities have become due to the 2010 World Cup, there are other worrying signs here and there, now and then. Rubbish as we never witnessed before, especially all long the N2 and N3, is one of them.


Signs of slow pace are everywhere to be seen. In front of TD’s apartment there is a street lamp working intermittently. It’s like a strong holophote turning on and off from five to five minutes. It’s like if TD had decided to live right in front of a lighthouse. I don’t know how TD can take it. I am a lot less conformist because I was already plotting to kill that blinking eye. And before you start to think I am intolerant, I have to add a missing piece of missing information here: that street lamp, situated in one of the best areas of the city, is in the same state for three years now. If this is not apathy I have to improve my vocabulary and find some other appropriate word. A stronger one maybe.


I read this post to Paul. He is a supporter of my writing attempts, without being that supportive. He nodded all the time and in the end he asked: “Don’t forget to mention the phone operators. I don’t care if it’s a problem from the Mozambican or South African side, but the fact is that we have spent two days without connections. That when traveling and in more need of contacting people!”

A Mistake With a View


This post is above all the description of how shopping for Christmas 2008 was. I could say it in three words (it was okay), but by now you must have realized how words seem to multiply when I start.


The first aspect of shopping 2008 was the symmetry with shopping 2007, in terms of periodicity. I guess we have done precisely the same last year: shopping early (mid November) to avoid the last hour rush. The similarities stop here. The highlight of 2007 was crime, this year entering a mall was almost like boarding to the USA.


The Road
Rain and cold. Cold and rain. Cold started 80km from Maputo, at Goba border, fog right after the border and rain less than 10 minutes of Swazi road. In general we had a smooth ride to Durban, with a sad note: Gugas, the little pug I used to photograph, is no longer there. Dennis and Jessie, the other dogs, looked like they missed our little friend.


The Decision
Before going to Zinkwazi we first stopped in Ballito for food. You cannot believe how cold it was! Rain and wind still reigning… Worst than the worst winter day! As we don’t have to give explanations in terms of reservations, Paul suggested a cozy hotel in Durban instead of a windy desolated beach. I gladly accepted. Though I have pleasant family memories there, the place still makes me feel a knot in my throat – you know, the way we feel when we are about to cry.


The Mistake
I was quite excited with the perspective of a beach hotel where we often stayed before 2006. It was fully booked. The same for hotel number two, three, four and five. The last receptionist recommended a five star downtown hotel, the only she knew with rooms still available.


‘Downtown hotel?’ Paul said. ‘No way!’


As a result of his reticence, it was night, and still raining and cold, when we found ourselves discussing the possibility of staying in a hotel we found in Umhlanga with rooms rated at R7.000 per night or accepting the downtown suggestion.


‘Let’s give it a try, Paul.’ I insisted. ‘If the receptionist recommended it to me, it can’t be that bad. Both hotels are good, but the difference in price is incredible. I know that if JP was here he would tell us to stay, but after, if TD discovered we paid such amount he would spend an entire year without speaking to us!’


The View

So we went to the suggested downtown hotel. The desk personnel, knowing through Paul I wanted a beach hotel, gave us a room with an incredible view. The hotel is old style but cozy. We had a pleasant stay, full of episodes I cannot tell to save on words: we met a media producer somehow related with TD; I had some extras for breakfast after teaching a nice zulu lady how to speed up the process of frying eggs for rushed conference people.


Maybe before going any further I should explain the reason why hotels were so packed: conferences! Through different conference attendants, mainly two from Austria, we learned a few themes being discussed in Durban while we were shopping for Christmas 2008. Interesting to say one of the meetings was organized by the WHO: against smoking! Yes, s-m-o-k-i-n-g!


So, Paul and I playfully changed our colloquial language to a conference mood. ‘Let’s have breakfast. Our conference is starting in half an hour!’ we would say. ‘Let’s drive to our conference centre…’ referring to any shopping centre.


We could say our shopping expedition-2008 was almost like a very informal conference!

Beware of… 3


Sometimes Paul talks about the chain food and how it has been ruined in America and Europe. He explains things and points out how even fish are now poisoned and poisonous. Over and over, he remembers the way I was sick in Europe because I am more sensitive to bad quality stuff. I listen and I note. I have ideas of my own.


The plan was so simple: feed the growing poor crowds with s… food! But then, the poor are so agonizingly poor they don’t even have money to buy s… food. So that same s… food ends up in the middle class houses of rich countries, at least of those eager to save on food in order to buy the latest big screen TV or the trendiest high heel shoes.


Years ago I confirmed how silly the system is, when I discovered by chance that I was buying expensive questionable frozen chickens while my maid was eating free range poultry she was feeding mostly with scraps from our own table. Since then I’ve been changing a few thing around here. Unfortunately, not so much as I would like.


We can say that the s… plan has exploded on the doorsteps of the sick minds that created it. And it smells!

Reading the Press


For professional reasons, I’ve been reading more press than usual. Now and then a subject catches my attention. I recently came across an article I intend to keep, translate and offer to my divers: the bachelor ones!


I’m not an avid newsreader. I just like to have an idea of what is going on and for that I have Paul’s morning highlights, besides other work activities I do. I don’t like to obsess about the news. I like the news as an exercise of free thought.


So I read the press selecting material corresponding to my own ideas and tastes or – rarely – if it surprises me. For instance, in a well-known magazine I recently found that I am not the only one thinking mirrors are fat big liars. The article points out that people perceive themselves thinner or fatter than they really are. So, the article reads, “the first step might be to find an objective arbiter.” Though I think it’s a reasonable advice, I was left wondering how someone would react if by chance I approach and ask:


“Would you mind to be my mirror?”


The following page left me completely startled. I heard of all kind of assassinations, but stabbing words is simply absurd. It seems that the publishers of an English dictionary want to eliminate words less used to make room for new ones. 


Hey, I thought people should decide whose words go or stay! I though more words mean a richer language! I just want to show my deepest sympathy and solidarity to the word lovers who think this is a dumb idea. I can say I am against and here I add the reason why I don’t like it at all.


Words are not only a privilege of restrict groups. They have a broader value that goes beyond the borders of a region, a country, a continent or a specific group of users.


Some words those publishers think to be useless are very much alive in other languages and it’s a shame to see someone doing steps to separate people instead of bringing them together.


Oppugnant is pretty used in Portuguese, my first language. It sounds like oponente, though we use more opositor. Nitid is an everyday word for us: nítido. I believe mansuetude translates into Portuguese in one of my favorite words: mansidão. The adjective apodeitic has a Portuguese relative sounding like apodíctico. Caducity, the word I would use to quality people wanting to kill words, is in Portuguese very much alive as caducidade.


There are words I cannot identify in my own language (e. g. fubsy or embrangle….), but they sound so beautifully I can only ask: why?


And to end this note about the international (add historical, literary, cultural…) value of words, I sellect agrestic. If not for any other reason, agrestic is agreste, the word Jorge Amado picked for his well-loved novel “Tieta do Agreste”!


I don’t have anything against new words. I just think people don’t communicate better if the list available is shorter!

Saved by… Seabell


Traveling by road can be boring, hence the music, the books, the senseless pictures and a lot more. I’ve been there countless times!


During our Friday Johannesburg-Maputo ride, Paul was stopped – as usual –by the Metro Police (road police), because he didn’t respect a 80km limit sign. I spare you from the conversation that followed, between the road authority and my Fangio companion. I knew it would represent a long negotiation and the unavoidable fine…


I just wonder why Paul bothers to explain? It seems everybody does. The moment he was about to be knocked down by the fatal argument (Pay or else!), I just decided to beat the odds.


“Okay, we pay! But first you explain to us why we have to and not the hundreds or more before us, like the motorbikes I’ve just photographed overtaking us!” I said, at the same time showing one of the pictures taken.


Three of the policemen went to the back of our car and involved in a live, fruitful discussion. Live for them, fruitful for us… They let us go!


Paul was relieved and surprised with the decision. It’s not usual to see the Metro Police let their prey go!


We suspect that the police like to stop cars with foreign register plates, because they have to pay immediately. No excuses accepted! No third opinion! Later, Paul explained that all their arrogance goes away in front of the judge, just because, even with cameras, they are unable to present any material evidence of the excessive speeding. Could this be for real?