BOOK REVIEW: THE FIFTH MRS BRINK

Finding this so hard, to précis my thoughts on this book. Should have done it the minute I put it down two days ago. That’s when the real, connected emotion was fresh.

Having a go now…

 

So there’s this beautiful Polish born woman who has fallen in love with South African literature and South Africa itself and is the obvious choice to meet Andre Brink (sorry, can’t find the accent on the e) and accompany him on a train trip from Vienna to Salzburg where he is to partake in a symposium which she has co-organised. He’s 69, a mere 42 years her senior.

 

And so begins a love story of tenderness and sharing and travel which she documents alongside her journey of becoming fully fledged writer,… “more than anyone else, he has inspired me to say, proudly and out loud: I am a writer’… until his tragic death ten years later on a flight home from Belgium.

 

Her story tells of her time of study in Wales…’my initial impressions of narrow roads, rustic cottages, sheep and autumn colours…mythic sounding names and clusters of consonants …’ and her fascination with the sea and bodies of water; her childhood experiences and family bonds, a short-lived marriage and painful divorce, and the development of her relationship with Andre which is intensely and intimately portrayed as precious.

‘Andre and I had it all. We were so happy…’

 

Her vulnerability and honesty of the task of telling her story of her life with someone who changed the lives of countless readers around the globe, a literary icon, is brave in itself. She questions whether it’s even her story to tell.

 

But she tells it beautifully and simply in many ways, revealing the love and care they shared for each other and afterwards, the trauma and loss and anguish of trying to come to terms with his death, of being a widow.

 

I have to admit that I was initially apprehensive about reading this book, not only because I wasn’t in the mood for a grief memoir (perhaps I’m a little scared of these) but because of my ‘reservations’ for want of a better word, of a relationship between a man ‘whose wife was younger than his own children, and who was older than in his in-laws ‘(as he describes in his own memoir ‘Fork in the Road’ written partly through her persuasion in 2010).

 

How wrong could I have been? I was so moved and engrossed in her story that when I had it in my bag in between reads, I would check on it every now and then to make sure it was there. And I flipped back and forth many times, re-reading the parts that resonated with me, of which there were many: her descriptions and experiences of Wales and water, her intrigue with numbers and lucky numbers and repetitive numbers (1:11), her quirky obsession with Rudolph, her furry friend, the writers whom she admired and books she had read, friends of hers (some of whom I’ve recently met, so odd ) and her own experiences of being a writer…

’That moment when something that was perhaps unpronounceable, hidden, painful or simply delicate is distilled into words, and you do not feel alone any more: as a writer, you have to make yourself extremely vulnerable to offer your reader this kind of experience’ …

 

And then of course the love story itself: I felt myself envying the complete  dedication and unfailing warmth she expressed for him, her appreciation of his beautiful hands and the way he walked.

 

The Fifth Mrs Brink will stay with me for a long time, and I will try to remind myself that if you are lucky enough to have travelled through your life with someone so special, you must treasure them, because no-one lives forever.

 

I strongly believe in the timing of books: that you read a book at that time because you were supposed to, for whatever reason. And that books can spark a whole new path of learning which is so tremendously exciting and even life –altering.

 

Karina may be at her own Fork in the Road but I have no doubt that Andre would be extraordinarily proud of this beautiful memoir and wherever her writing path takes her in the years to follow.

 

 

 

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why women become lovelier the older they get

pic of female brain

As part of my research on women and feminism for my new book, I came across several articles – most notably those in the UK Telegraph and The New York Times on the topic of Why Women Compete with each other.

In brief, the obvious starting point is evolution and the process of ‘natural selection’ which I believe occurs equally in both men and women i.e. we try to find a mate. In so doing, we have to outperform any female competition and we thus compare, compete and inadvertently or not often undermine and undercut one another. A Psychology Today author reveals that ‘the male view of women as primarily sexual objects becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As women come to consider being prized by men their ultimate source of strength, worth, achievement and identity, they are compelled to battle other women for the prize.’

Feeling on guard around other women as we search for a partner is fairly standard for most women. It’s flipping exhausting actually. As a teen finding a boyfriend a few years older (with a cool set of wheels too!) relieved my agony for a short while but I certainly did not escape the common occurrence that someone who was one day my bestie could the next become my worstie.

At varsity I found that the male sex was far easier to befriend. Less complicated or competitive and I seemed to have dodged much of the ‘indirect aggression’ and catty, bitchy stuff which so sadly undermines so many friendships amongst girls. But then I have never been a ‘girlie kind of girlfriend’ and always wondered why two girls would always needed to go to the toilet at the same time- let alone in the same cubicle!

And then in the workplace, the not-so subtle competition takes on a further dimension: not only do you need to fluff out your feathers (peacocks have nothing on us girls) with our shirt skirts and pert parts, we also have to show that we are equal in intelligence and grit to men and are thus competing on both fronts.

Of course, the reality is that often ‘our negative response to other women is a projection of how we feel about ourselves. For many of us, we look at other women and see, instead, a version of ourselves that is better, prettier, smarter, something more. We don’t see the other woman at all… And we turn on her anyway, because it’s easier’ writes Emily V. Gordon for the New York Times.

But adding to this is a further interesting article which suggested that the decades- long battle for equal pay and derision of the ‘old boys’ networks (largely absent in female corporate life) in an attempt to obtain power parity in the workplace in fact has another spoke in the wheel: other women.

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Studies suggest that women battle with the concept of female competitiveness and do not take it in their stride as easily as men who view competition as a healthy, natural and acceptable part of life.

Women intrinsically value harmony and the appearance of calm and thus one of the factors keeping her back is exactly the thing that feminism is fighting so hard to achieve: the ability to deal effectively with competition from other women.

Women take competition with other women much more personally than men take competition with other men. At the same time, women should be aware that taking competition too seriously could be holding them back from leadership positions ‘ explains the article.

And then of course the mommy wars. Oh the messy, mommy wars. Women extend their competitive cheer to the school grounds and ‘compete’ with their brilliant offspring: initially, who has a greater vocabulary or walked at 10 months rather than 12: later, who plays for more A- teams and plays the piano, trumpet AND flute AND does tap dancing from 5-7pm, in addition to winning all the class medals for both languages, PLUS history , geography AND art and design: who got accepted for ALL their choices at varsity and is dating a ‘drop dead’ doll too.

Fortunately, fortunately this all starts to melt away slowly as we reach that 50- something factor and women start becoming really lovely. Women’s competitive spirit –not within themselves since this is something separate and will continue or not, based on health, temperament, passion or whatever- against other women is replaced with genuine warmth, support and companionship.

We suddenly become concerned that soon our parents will die too and we feel the heartache of those who endure this before we do; we dread the departure of our grown teens and notice a universal pit in our stomach at the thought when someone else’s leaves before ours do; we are more empathetic to those who suffer strained finances and marital mayhem.

We finally begin to understand what Emily V Gordon proposes in her article that ‘when we each focus on being the dominant force in our own universe, rather than invading other universes, we all win’.

In short, we become lovelier.

Women’s month has come and gone and I’ve been wanting to get this post out.

Now I have.

Happy Spring Day on this the 1st day of September from a beautiful, warm South Africa to all you wonderful women.

And the wonderful men who walk with us.

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BOOK REVIEW: UMBILICUS: PAULA GRUBEN: A brave tale of discovery and identity

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The term ‘umbilicus’, otherwise known as the belly button is the point of attachment for the umbilical cord to the embryo. Everyone has one. Everyone was once tied to a woman who gave them life- their birth mother. But not everyone has the privilege of knowing who that is. And that must be agonizing.

I always think of belly buttons like the tied bit at the end of a balloon. When my toddlers would ask , ‘wazzat Muuum’, I’d say,  ‘it was how you were attached to me in my tummy and if the doctor didn’t tie it properly when you were born, when he cut it you would go ‘bithhhhh’ and deflate like a balloon’.

Paula Gruben’s autobiographical novel, entitled Umbilicus is the true story of a brave young adopted teenage girl who suffers the so- called ‘primal wound’ of not knowing her true origins and her quest to find her birth mother.

The story opens with the fraught and somewhat hostile interaction between Charlotte (the author’s name for herself in this work of fiction based on true events) and her adoptive mother when she fears she may herself be pregnant at 16. Charlotte contemplates whether she is not merely history repeating itself and sets the scene perfectly for readers to understand the mindset of a young rebellious teen.

At the same time, I could already feel the fear and sadness of her adoptive mother who must have battled to deal with her own issues of desperately wanting a relationship with a daughter which she could not give birth to herself.

Writing from the unusual second person point of view of Charlotte made me more empathetic to the agony of her journey. Paula writes with ease and her descriptions and characterizations make her story so real. Her dialogue passages read easily too and I breezed through her story in a few short hours.

What’s so fulfilling about this story was how we, as readers, get to see all points of view in the complicated triad of adoption. First with Charlotte, whose teenage years were certainly so traumatized with the stigma of being adopted and her resultant determination to understand and find her roots, then her birth mother’s agonizing story of how and why she decided that adoption was best for Charlotte and finally, a perspective from her adoptive mother.

Throughout the book, I found myself questioning and challenging my own feelings in order to understand the mindset of each of this tragic triad in turn. While initially I felt anger towards a mother who could willingly give up her own flesh and blood, (understanding and acknowledging that no-one travels another’s journey) Paula’s telling of her story made me understand how absolutely agonizing it must have been for her birth mother to know that her daughter was out there somewhere. And for Charlotte, to have had to wait until 21 for her to be reunited with the mother who gave birth to her.

I do have to say though that I felt sad in many ways for the mother and father who were clearly so terrified of their efforts as loving, adoptive parents being undermined or disregarded by Charlotte when she found her birth mother and that it couldn’t happen that the process of being reunited with her birth mom was something they could have embarked on together.

Apart from readers who are one of the adoption triad, I believe Umbilicus is important and relevant for many other readers out there: for young adults who are too young to appreciate and understand the intricacies and long- term effects of unplanned pregnancies and the lives that follow; and for mothers of teenage children who have the ultimate privilege of motherhood to nurture and care and support their children who are going through trying and sometimes terrifying teenage years.

Finally I have to say that the book was more meaningful for me because I had travelled some of Paula’s writing journey with her and could relate to her undeterred determination to get her story out and into the world.

The South African world of indie- publishing is not easy and she has rocked it!

Those docs and frocks certainly paved the way for you Paula! Onwards and upwards! xx

 

 

 

What’s more important- savings or sanity?

I read an article this morning about our globally projected future.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/must-read-article-how-our-lives-change-dramatically-20-delahunty

In a nutshell:

  • jobs for lawyers and many others will become superfluous (scary)
  • Tesla-type cars will be the norm therefore no drivers (good thing), fewer cars (also) on roads allowing people to live quiet lives on country roads (also), just staring at their phones all day long (not)
  • these phones will even be able to tell their mood via a ‘moodies’ app ( I hoped that by now this is the ONE thing I would have learnt myself)
  • don’t bother with saving for possible international tertiary education since everything will happen on the phone anyway- (Parys or Paris, irrelevant)
  • cheap and sufficient electricity and water . In South Africa this is a highly contentious and debatable issue but it does make us feel better.
  • I will probably live to 100.

Then l logged onto my emails. No connection. Phoned the ISP, took a while to answer and proceeded to ask a million security questions (including my phone number which I was phoning from …?) and had to wait for them to phone back. Frustrated.

While I waited, I logged onto my Medical Health webpage since I’ve realized that I’m a little more active than they think I am and even though I don’t plug myself into my laptop to tell them so on my little device as often as I should, I know I am ‘cos I ran one or two races recently myself. Not like others I know who pop into the gym to swipe their cards and buy the nice coffee and walk out cos that’s another way the way to earn points ( by swiping, that is, an invigorating wrist exercise)  and everyone seems to do it but no- one seems to mind and they still get their health rewards.

I want the rewards too.  And after all, a penny saved is penny earned isn’t it?  And since my earnings have fallen hugely and in direct proportion to the number of children I popped out it makes sense to appeal to the mammoth medical aid industry to spread their surplus saver funds doesn’t it?

But I couldn’t get on because my password had changed. Phoned them to sort it out because even though I am a fully- fledged person with real email identity and cell phone numbers and been on the phone to them several times before to explain this, somehow my husband  gets sent the new passwords and since my email wasn’t working, this was even proving even trickier.

Another half an hour passes. I finally logged on.

Now to try to register my activeness. This I discovered required a new registration with a new password and the next person who tells me to USE THE SAME PASSWORD for everything  I do deserves to have his toenails removed because I know and you know that some passwords require big letters, small letters, one number, one of these &^%$# , one capital and preferably my friend’s dentist’s ex-wife’s cell number (for SECURITY purposes you know) and others are MUCH SIMPLER . Like this one.

So there I go. I’m on.

Now I have two new passwords and re-registered and created my profile with my VERY LONG name (TIP for Mum : short name, Sue Poo would be preferable to mine with it’s six syllables ) but the races aren’t there to register cos they’ve been run of course which is precisely what I asked of the nice lady on the online chat but she assured me that I can still record them even 4 months later so I’m well within the time but now somehow I can’t and so I start a new online chat with people on the new site to find out how I do this.

My message says it’s been sent but I have no idea who it’s been sent to or how long it’s going to take and I don’t want to be hanging around on this website all day because otherwise I’m going to go INSANE.

I don’t know if I want to live to 100.

And I think I want to rather remain sane than save. Because it seems to me that the longer we live and the more supposed ‘progress’ we make, the more disconnected and discontented we become, the consequence of which is the constant search for less stress and more peace and love and light on the world and ‘if we just see the beauty around us in filtered frames of beach scenes and mountain streams and indeed even within ourselves’ we will be healed.

But if we weren’t so disconnected and digitalized in the first place, we wouldn’t be so needy for this illusive quiet.

Or is it just me?

‘Naaa, Spice Mom’ I hear my 19 year old son echoing in my head. ‘You just gotta keep up’.

Having just had some quiet time in the bush in the silence of animals and this in my bag, I’m wondering if I’m just perpetuating a modern myth.

john gray

What do you say ?

 

On the sisterhood and our traveling pants

Growing up in the same household, exactly two years and one day apart in age, the thing we

shared most, my sister and I, was the bathroom. More different we could not have been. While I

would be chatting to Anna in the kitchen as she prepared supper, having done my homework

next door at the Parkview Library (Johannesburg)  painstakingly copying out paragraphs from

their Encyclopedias (no photocopiers , scanners, iphones) Rox could be found playing pinball at

the Tyrone Fruiteres. Or lighting fire crackers in the tunnels at Zoo Lake with the boys

of the hood.

 

She was feisty, my sis. She played goalie for the first hockey team and a mean game of tennis. At

varsity she was one of boys- clocking up records for downing the most beers at the Pig (the

famous old Pig and Whistle Pub in Rondebosch, sadly no longer) and becoming the first female

cheerleader, swinging her baton in front of the IKEYS crowd against the mighty MATIES at the

annual rugby clash.

‘Who’s that?’ my first year UCT mates would ask when we attended the round of heats in Jammie

Hall the year she was elected. ‘You won’t believe it, but it’s my sister’ I whispered to the girl next

to me.

 

Next minute she was racing up Jammie Stairs holding a make-shift wooden boogie-board type

thing and flinging herself onto it in mid-air, smacking down onto the unforgiving stone stairs as

she flew to the bottom to be stopped by a flimsy looking mattress which was held up to stop her

path. Had she kept up her speed, she might well have collided straight into the pensive looking

Rhodes statue and saved us all a lot of angst.

 

Oh well.

 

Today she runs a successful series of three restaurants on the beautiful Garden Route. People

from far and even further book months in advance to sample her award winning, self-taught,

self-made style of food from The Girls, Flava Café and Roxi’s On the Square. Even PJ POWERS

chose Flava Café to launch her book, Here I am.

 

But no, this isn’t a food blog.

It’s about my sis and me. And maybe a little about diversity.

 

Her latest venture in Wilderness Village on the Garden Route, Cape.

 

 

 

 

 

For she has a beautiful head of thick, thick short hair, mine’s thin and long.

Her body is decorated with tattoos, mine ages without.

My skin doesn’t really do well in the sun; hers seems to bronze like the color of the foil of butter

she used to suntan with, years ago around our pool.

My house is filled with kids and dogs, hers with cats and DVD’s.

If you want to understand the latest gadget, need to change a faulty wire, or need something

digitally dissected, give her a shout. I have yet to record a TV program on a DVD (I believe TV’s

can be paused or rescheduled to watch at a more convenient time?)

She’s gay, I’m not. My house is full of books, her head is filled with what next shall we cook!

 

And then we took a little trip, my big sister and I. Off to Jerusalem we went, for the day, while the

rest of the family went their own way. (WRITING HABIT : Rhyme always creeps in when I need to

pick up the pace and have been laboring for too long on one piece. This is not necessarily good

or advisable but it adds a sentence or two. )

It was so HOT I had to buy a HAT!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the back story:

My aunt- my mother’s sister- turned 90 on 9 June (co-incidentally she shares this date with my

sister) and as we did when their older sister turned 90 (two years ago, also in June – June is a

busy month in our family though she sadly passed away a year later) the tribe comes to

celebrate. I didn’t plan to go, having just been on a wonderful trip just weeks before, but you

know what ? When people turn 90 you need to celebrate with them. And not only because most

of their friends aren’t there anymore, but simply because part of them is part of you.

My fabulous aunt (90) and incredible uncle (94) who have lived in Israel for 50 years.

So there we were, my sis and I, in the holy land of Israel.   The last time we’d been

there was in 1973.

It was time to pack our traveling pants and take a trip.

We hopped on a bus and a tram and the laughs began! We don’t speak Hebrew and the bus driver wasn’t interested in engaging with us at all- even to pay the ticket. He shooed us to a seat. I was already hysterical! She’s always made me laugh as only she knows how.

And all around us, young men and women, whether in army gear or civies slung heavy machine guns around their necks and no-one other than the two of us seemed intrigued. This guy just got off the bus…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And it seemed ironic that it was in Jerusalem that we shared such special memories for it is a

fascinating place where three dominant  and diverse religions of Christians, Jews and Muslims

alike lay claim to Jerusalem as their holy city.

Religious Jews walking in Mamilla Avenue, an area just outside the Old City of modern art galleries, eateries and modern shops like Zara.

I decided that my sister and I were a microcosm of this holy place: bound by both common

history and diverse daily rhythms,  where focused time allows you to dig deeper and reveal new

insights, and perhaps ultimately understand, that in the end, we are all threads of a

shared human existence.

Continuous excavations reveal new historical facts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there is one thing that I alone can lay claim to : my own unique sister. And how special is that ? !

Outside Jaffa gate. We happened upon a ‘free’ guided tour which took us through the Four Quarters of the Old City: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian. Fascinating and a good starting point for future visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 Things I See Happy People Do (that unhappy people do not)

Rev. Shane L. Bishop

I have been thinking a lot about happiness of late, partially because so many people seem unhappy.  I think that was my first epiphany upon entering the world of Social Media; people are unhappy and there are a lot of them.  Now don’t get me wrong, we all know some people who wouldn’t be happy, were they not unhappy but I am not talking about them.  We will just let them be.  I am also not thinking theologically here (i.e. juxtaposing happiness and joy), today I am going to err on the practical and pragmatic side of things.  With that being said, let’s get going.

I think most people want to be happy; they are just not quite sure how to get there from their present location.  Many people honestly believe that happiness is a lucky bounce; a sunny disposition or favorable circumstances but I disagree.  Happiness is a choice…

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what was YOUR trip of a lifetime?

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Look who I found strolling around Dubrovnik- our host, Dave Koz!

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The road to Manarola

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Long time fan of Jeffery Osbourne. Gorgeous man.

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Local at Monterosso. Couldn’t resist the captivating smile.

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Our incredible ship

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Example of what’s on for the day. Exhausting! And incredible !

Tell me about your trip of a life time!

It’s partly the anticipation of travel that makes it all so exciting – not so? The images you

create, the foreign sights and tastes you foresee? Once you’ve arrived is almost passive in

its enjoyment as you swiftly appreciate that you are one of a throng of thousands of

tourists all snapping away at the same astonishing

architecture, dodging other people’s selfie sticks, stroking the shirts,

bags, magnets and touristy trinkets which colour the marble-paved squares.

So it helps to do a reality check when you’re there too.  Just to be really present in your

new surroundings because before you know, you’re back again.

But travel is essential for it provides perspective on how you live your life, the value of

your relationships, the familiarity and comfort  of home and the one thing that puts it all

into context: the realization that even if you had the time and resources to travel to all

the countries in the world on your bucket list, it would all be meaningless if you didn’t

have the anticipation of being reunited with your children again.

Which is exactly why when you DO travel, it’s the most exciting thing on the planet! And

when you combine that with non-stop jazz, well,  it’s simply extraordinary!

So, with that bit of reflection done, allow me to share with you a once in a lifetime trip

my hubby and I just returned from.

And for once, I will do away with any more wordy trivia,

because it cannot do it any more justice.

ONE TIP: BEFORE you scroll through the pics,  familiarize yourself with just a few of

the jazz legends (65 artists in total!) who accompanied us on the DAVE

KOZ and FRIENDS at SEA Cruise 2017, Venice and BEYOND.

Dave Koz  – the most entertaining, energetic, warm, affable man I have yet to meet (Try

the track ‘‘Together Again” which was the one I played over and over

and then googled. The CD that made me book the trip, way back in September 2015),

Rick Braun, Richard Elliot,

Jonathan Butler, Gerald Albright,

Peter White, Vincent Ingala ( the new young hottie from Connecticut)

Jeffery Osbourne,

Sheila E, Valerie Simpson and the list goes on….

and you will get a glimpse, perhaps, of the extent of my 7 day euphoria as we sailed

down the Adriatic Coast, and then cooled off on the cliffs of  the Cinque Terre for a few

days more.

The pics are not in order. It doesn’t matter.

ENJOY and SHARE with me your OWN story!

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Exploring the Doges Palace, this room supposedly the largest hall in Europe

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A glimpse from our breakfast dining room

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Leaving Venice

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On the edge of the old city – Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Spring flowers along the 1300 step climb up to fortress, Kotor, Montenegro.

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Beautiful white and blue of Oia, Santorini

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Leaving  Monterosso by ferry to Riomaggiore. Crowded!

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Arriving Riomaggiore.

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Sunset over Riomaggiore

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Two of the best – Rick Braun and Michael Lington.

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An essential Aperol Spritzer overlooking the Grand Canal

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Bridge of Sighs- the sounds of prisoners as they were led to the cells

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Sculptor’s contribution to awareness of climate change and rise in ocean levels.

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St Marks Square

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And Jonathan Butler!