Tag Archives: media

The Charmer, Vetfaan’s Gout and Immortality

Paul_Désiré_Trouillebert,_The_Nude_Snake_Charmer.jpg

Paul Trouillebert: The naked snake charmer

Whenever Vetfaan is asked about the sexy girl he had met that fateful summer’s day, he blushes, stutters and tells you to mind your own business. Should you persist, a rather unpleasant exchange of a more physical nature is sure to follow.

The problem involves the fact that this waif of a girl – somewhere between mid-thirty and menopause – had the body of an athlete and the ageless wisdom some women seem to possess.

It was a particularly hot day, with heat shimmers rising and warping the scenery of the Kalahari. The distorted surroundings often create a surrealistic symptoms-of-gout-in-the-toe.jpgatmosphere, especially if the traveller is new to the area. Vetfaan, being a born-and-bred son of the region, simply failed to notice the visual impact of the heatwaves. His attention was focussed on the joint where his big toe joined his foot.

Now, anybody who has had some experience with gout, will understand the degree of pain and discomfort poor Vetfaan endured that morning. He had already eaten a handful of black cherries, drank two litres of water, ate three lemons and packed his foot in ice. Nothing helped. The throbbing, red, painful joint insisted on swelling up even more, forcing Vetfaan to take off his boot while driving to Upington, where he hoped to see the new doctor he had heard so much about.

Well, heat waves may have escaped his attention…the girl in the middle of the road did not. No Kalahari-man will ever drive past a stranded woman. Especially if she’s beautiful. Or wears a revealing, short skirt. Or stands  in the middle of the road, aiming a short-barrelled  .38 at you. In this case, the woman in question had ticked all these boxes, and Vetfaan did, indeed, stop.

She was unapologetic about the gun, saying a girl could never be sure who would stop to offer help.

“Listen, I’ve been around. I’m a woman. You’re a man. It all adds up.”

“What does?” Vetfaan didn’t understand.

She ignored his question, picked up her bag and got in. “Drive slowly and don’t make an accident. I’ve had enough trouble in my life.”

“What’s wrong with your vehicle?”

She eyed him for a full minute before answering. “Mam doesn’t like the smell of petrol. Neither do I, for that matter.”

“Mam?”

She rolled her eyes heavenward in exasperation. “Mam. My snake. Short for mamba.”

To recount the disjointed conversation that followed, would involve many pages of blank looks and horrid stares and still-born sentences. The short version: Mimi – she of no fixed abode and rather limited means – made a living as a snake charmer. She also treated various  health conditions, communicated with departed family members and had once sat as a model for a famous artist.

“That’s immortality, understand? Paintings don’t grow old and die. Oh, the paint the artist used, might get a bit flakey,but the picture? It remains as beautiful as the day the brush touched the canvas.”

By the time they reached Upington, Vetfaan was completely confused.  His passenger was either completely mad, or perhaps the most interesting woman he had ever met. Fascinated by the possibilities, he asked her to join him for coffee before his appointment with the doctor.

“Doctor? What for?”

He explained. She suggested moxibustion. Vetfaan said the people in the Northern Cape frowned on polygamy. She laughed.

japanese-moxibustion.jpg“No, it’s not that, silly man! I burn a herb on your toe, and you feel better. Moxi-bustion…the burning of mugwort.  It’s an old Chinese trick. see? Mugwort, that’s the herb – is what you need. I’ve got some.”

Vetfaan claims to be the first man in the Kalahari to have undergone moxibustion. There, on the front seat of his old Land Rover, his strange passenger rolled a few mugwort fibres into a little ball and placed it on his swollen toe. He watched, horrified, as she lit the potion with a small gas lighter and was amazed that he felt no pain.

“The swelling will go down now,” she said, “but I must go. Mam needs something to eat and you’re too nice. And…I must still find my two friends. I’ll just keep on looking, even if it takes forever. So, thank you and bye-bye.”

Vetfaan watched, dumbfounded,  as she sauntered down the street, swinging her bag casually as she strode along. He ran a hand over his still-bare foot and sighed with relief when he noticed how much better it felt. By the time he had his sock and boot back on, Mimi was nowhere to be seen.

On his way back to Rolbos, Vetfaan stopped at her abandoned vehicle. On the back seat he found an old shoe-box with a dead rat in it. Mam’s supper?  In the boot, another box – a lot bigger, containing three pieces of art.

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It was Gertruida who told Vetfaan about the girls and the great portrait artist, Paul Désiré Trouillebert. “The Young Girl, the Harem Girl and the Snake Charmer were all painted by the same man, Vetfaan. Remember, Trouillebert was a landscape artist – he abandoned his attempts at portrait works because he fell in love with the girls in his painting – like all artists do. The real, flesh-and-blood subjects were admired for their beauty, but the paintings became the loves of his life – because they were immortal. Time would not decay their beauty, neither would the lovely faces and bodies sag and become wrinkled.”

“Immortal? Really? Are you saying that I…?”

“Either that, Vetfaan, or you’ve lost your mind.” Gertruida shrugged. “I don’t know which is worse…”

Gert Smit’s Tomatoes (# 12)

images (59)Jacques and Harry sat there, waiting, for most of the night. They finished a bottle of Bombay Sapphire. Then had coffee. Eventually, when the barman could not keep his eyes open any more, he chased them off to bed.

It was half-past three. It was only at nine – the next morning – that Gert and Lettie finally appeared from her bungalow. She was radiant. He seemed pleased as punch. During the night (amongst many other things) they had sorted out the why’s and the how’s and the wherefores. It had been a night filled with explanations, exclamations and a few standing ovations. (Well, come on – the period of abstinence and uncertainty did have an effect – so just go with the way Gertruida tells the story!)

So, when they arrived at the breakfast buffet – all weary and happily doe-eyed –  they found Harry and Jacques there. Gert was still wearing his uniform, but it had obviously been washed, The reporters were bleary-eyed too, but for a completely different reason…

***

Gertruida says adventure stories are different than erotic ones. In adventure stories, a good author will describe the colour of blood, the gasping desperation for breath, the jagged bits of bone thrusting painfully through the bruised skin. Now, she says, when it comes to describing a tender moment between two lovers, some authors descend to remarkable depths by trying to use graphic detail instead of subtle suggestion. This, she reminds her audience, is called a Peculiarly Obscene Record of Note –  a completely senseless effort to sell words to illiterate readers. Intimacy – like in real life – needs to be handled with great care and soft lights. In fact she says, the shadow of Love is often more satisfying than  stark focus.

You see, Gertruida says, there exists (even today) the steadfast few who believe in the beauty and kindness only found in those moments of sincere intimacy. She reckons these moments are so holy, that no author or storyteller should even consider describing in graphic detail the shared joy of true love. It’s like grace and forgiveness – no matter how many words you use, it just doesn’t really ever manage to express the complexity of the concept.

***

Chobe Safari Lodge: Patio

Chobe Safari Lodge: Patio

“You kids have a good night?” Jacques squinted in the general direction of Gert and Lettie when they sat down for breakfast. Harry, of course, smirked knowingly until Jacques shot him a disapproving look.

“Jacques, Harry – this is Gert Smit. Gert, meet the two gentlemen who took a chance in coming here.”

Lettie waits for the handshakes and murmured greetings before going on: “Gert told me what has happened in the last few weeks. Well,” she blushed, “some of it anyway.”

“Ja, we had a lot to talk about, see. Other things as well.” Gert seemed apologetic until Harry started giggling. That broke the ice…

“Okay.” Jacques held up a hand. “Maybe we should retire to the patio after breakfast. I’d feel better after a Bombay – hair of the dog and all that. Then, if Gert s up to it…,” here he was again interrupted by Harry’s giggle but chose to ignore it, “I’d like to chat with him about some rumours I’ve heard.”

***

“What!! Where? Damn it! Damn it to hell!” Major Gericke slammed down the phone. Of all things!

First his daughter went missing. Then he got a report that the two journalists were missing, too. Then he sent a telex to Voortrekkerhoogte about Gert Smit: missing in action, presumed killed in action. That was bad enough. But now…now one of the informers reported observing the three of them in Kasane!

Of course he was glad that Lettie was alright. Relieved. Happy. But: what was she doing in Kasane? And to make matters worse, she was with a deserter? And, insult to injury, in the presence of that lousy, snoopy, inquisitive, nuisance reporter…

He closed his eyes. That reporter won’t be so stupid to sell the story of the alleged plot to get rid of Savimbi to a local newspaper. No! The London Times. Washington Post. Mail and Guardian… The story would be a splash in the international media and South Africa’s already-tarnished reputation would get another coat of shame.

Even worse: he – Major Gericke – would be the central figure in this drama: his soldier, his base, his failure…and his daughter…

How the hell am I going to clear up this mess…?  Gericke paced his small office for a full ten minutes before he sighed and sat down. Then he closed his eyes. Please God, forgive me. I have to do this…

Then, galvanised into action, Major Gericke stormed out of his office. shouting for the aide to get the Land Rover ready. He needed it for a trip. And yes, damnit! He was going alone!

“And, Corporal, get that mechanic here! Now! I want to know that vehicle is in top shape!”

***

“…and so I came sailing down the Chobe, avoiding the hippos and the police patrols and everything. They deposited me on the bank, where Lettie found me.” Gert Smit stole a shy glance at her. “That was the most wonderful, the most exquisite moment of my life. I reckoned I would have to beg and steal my way back to her. I thought she’d be mad at me for not writing. I even guessed she’d reject me for absconding from the army.” He sighed happily as he reached for her hand. “But no…there she was, so happy to see me. She was great…she is great. I loved her before. I love her even more now.”

Jacques wrote everything down in his own brand of shorthand. He’d just listened to the most fantastic story, filled with strange characters and almost-impossible events. Yet, he knew, this was as true to life as anything he’d ever heard. He also realised the story was packed with political dynamite. Once he’d published the story, it would be another nail in the Apartheid coffin. As an outspoken liberal, he couldn’t wait to get to his typewriter.

Harry took a few photographs of Gert, Gert and Lettie, Ger’s bare feet, Gert’s almost-empty rucksack.

“So…what now?” Lettie clung to Gert’s hand, her anxiety obvious.

“Easy.” Jacques leant back in his chair, waving his drink in salute. “We ferret the two of you to Cape Town. I’ve a friend who is the local correspondent for CNN. You, Lettie, we spruce up and make you a TV superstar. You know, the girl waiting for the soldier to come home. Faithful. Loyal. Believing in her man.

“But Gert? We make him look like last night. Dirty. Tired. Out on his feet. The soldier who dared question his superiors. The soldier sent on an impossible mission. The rebel.

“This, my friends, is award-winning stuff. It is powerful. And it’ll be worth every cent we’ve spent on gin in the last three days…”

No bloody way!” They all looked up is shock as Major Gericke interrupted their conversation. Where did he come from? Here? Impossible. And yet, here he was, ramrod straight, dressed in full uniform, and there was no mistaking the anger in his voice. “And soldier…in the presence of a superior officer, you should have been standing to attention ten seconds ago!”

Lettie reacted first. “No, Daddy! Don’t do this!! Please…”

The Unique Bogus Reality of Life

article-2242722-1657FE04000005DC-339_634x474“Did you know,” Gertruida asks because she knows everything, “that people lie every day? Some studies have shown that men lie six times a day, almost twice as much as women; while others show that 60% of people will lie at least once in a ten-minute conversation. The studies vary so much, because people tend to lie about lying. Psychologists reckon that deception was important for the development of the rather large human brain.”

Now, you must understand, Gertruida has a way of throwing out this type of statement whenever the conversation in Boggel’s Place dies down and the customers lapse into staring at their half empty glasses. Or maybe they’re half full, depending on your point of view. If there is one thing she can’t stand, then it is the absence of communication.

“It has to do with the survival of the fittest, you see? Initially it was the biggest and the strongest Neanderthal that dragged the most beautiful female off to his cave. Now, if that trait continued, the world would be filled by giant men and every woman would be stunningly pretty – but that isn’t the case, is it?”

By now she gets a few curious looks. Where is she going with this?

“So, somewhere along the line, some little guy managed to convince the alpha male that he wasn’t good enough. Maybe he had to be cleverer to get somebody to cook his meal, or maybe he lied about the size of his clan (amongst other things) – but in the end, deception became a necessary factor for survival. Tiny, the diminutive Neanderthal, had to intimidate his huge nephew Brutus, to get to Delicious, the pretty one who got tired of being beaten up every night.”

“So you’re saying that the original lie was a way to stop domestic violence?” Servaas thinks this is all so un-Calvinistic, and his face show it.

“Well, you have the two extremes: brute strength on the one hand, and deception on the other. Deception can take many forms, mind you: setting a trap for Brutus, or waiting in ambush is as much a lie as telling him your sixteen brothers are on their way to beat him up. Making somebody feel safe while you’re waiting for him to fall into the cleverly-disguised hole you dug, is deception. So is telling Delicious you love her simply because you want her to share your cave.”

“Ag, alright, Gertruida. That’s all very interesting. People lie…I get it. Why bring it up?”

“Because, Servaas, the liars became more and more creative over the years. Brutus had no chance once Tiny and his offspring got to the point that the females stopped falling for the strongest – they went for the cleverest. And you know quite well that stupid people don’t lie so well. It’s the clever ones that mix fact and fiction to such an extent that you believe them completely.”

“I’m still not sure what this has to do with us?”

“We live in a world of lies, Servaas: we get fed lies from dawn to dusk every day. Do you think newspapers tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Every front page is slanted towards a political ideology. Reporters get paid to chase a story because we just love sensation – and then they write articles to tell us what the editor thinks we should know. What’s even more important, is the stuff we don’t get told about. The media filters the truth, Servaas, there’s no question about it.”

Precilla has been listening quietly. “Then advertising is simply sophisticated lying?”

2011716_StuyvesantCigaretteAu1970“Absolutely! Remember the Stuyvesant ads? They used images of planes, boats and ski-slopes – suggesting that people who smoke this brand are sophisticated and rich. So smokers used it as a symbol of their success – and they were lied to as well as lying to everybody around them. 

“Marketing involves creative lying. Skin products promise eternal youth, clothing brands want you to believe that you’ll be the envy of all if you buy their products, and consumers buy pure beef sausages containing anything but cow.”

By now, Servaas is sitting up straight. “You haven’t touched on politicians yet, Gertruida.”

“Who needs convincing? Look at Uncle Bob next door. Or Malema – himself not a paragon of virtue – who claimed that there were 700 criminal charges against our President? And who’ll forget the statement : I did not have sexual relations with that woman?

“To be a successful politician, you have to be extremely creative in the way you handle the truth. Simply sticking to the facts is not going to cut the cheese.”

“Ag nee a!” Vetfaan signals for another beer. “You’re depressing me here, Gertruida. You make it sound as if the world is stumbling along on a diet of fat lies. It can’t be that bad?”

“Wake up, Vetfaan. The Truth is a dying entity. Human evolution depended on the ability to lie. Nowadays, we reward liars by electing them to positions of authority or by buying product we believe will improve our lives. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but the fact is: the rule is in charge.”

“I agree.” Oudoom sighs as he joins the conversation. “We use an interesting term to justify lying: interpreting. People read verses of the Quran or the Bible – then they interpret it to suit their causes. Apartheid was justified by that. The fighting in Egypt, too. The list is long, but the point is: that’s the most dangerous untruth of all…”

“Where will it end, Gertruida? Are we doomed to live in a world of lies?”

“It’ll change, Servaas, but not in our lifetime. A very important thing must happen first: before we stop lying to others, we must stop lying to ourselves. Once we accept that we’re not as sexy, rich or successful as the adverts, and not as gullible to believe that other people must form our opinions, then humanity will revert back to the truth. And that will only happen when the drug of deceit is no longer addictive. When? Lies destroy, truth builds up. So, lies will cause such a major catastrophe that the world will change. 

“Maybe it’ll be a religious war, or a massive economic crisis, but in the end, only Truth will survive. It’s a tragedy.”

“I don’t agree.” Vetfaan empties his glass. “Fanny asked me yesterday whether I thought her jeans made her look fat…”

He gets a few sympathetic smiles, but the mood in the bar remains gloomy. One after the other, the patrons find an excuse to leave, claiming something to be done or forgotten.

“They don’t like the truth, Boggel.” A sad note has crept into Gertruida’s statement.

“No, Gertruida. They don’t. Lies are just so much easier to believe.”

Whatever Happened to Mister Average?

oscar 2Boggel gets on his beer crate to scan the faces of his customers. When he does this, they know it’s time to remain quiet, he wants to say something.

“I have something to say,” he says.

“Get on with it, Boggel, we’re discussing the Oscar case. You’re interrupting a serious conversation.” Servaas scowls into his beer as he waits.

“That’s my point, you guys. Whether Oscar is guilty of a heinous crime, or if he made the worst mistake in his life, is something the courts must decide. But the reason you chaps is in such a deep discussion, is because Oscar is…well, he’s Oscar. National idol, international icon. A real modern-day example of overcoming all the odds. The man with no legs, who competed in the Olympics.

“Had he been Joe Soap from Brakpan, he’d have maybe fifteen seconds on SABC 3, and a mention on page 5 of the Sun. The magazines would have ignored him and the tabloids would have looked for something more sensational.”

“Ag, come on, Boggel! The man killed a beautiful young model…”

“My point, exactly, Servaas. Suppose she was just an old woman, living on a farm? Who would have noticed? Who would have cared? Do you think that BBC, CNN and Sky would have bothered to send a single journalist to cover the story? But no! Take an Olympic star, a model, and a gun – and you’re guaranteed hours and hours of screen-time. 

“My question is simple. Why, oh why, is the loss of Reeva – as sad as it is – more important than the murder of thousands of farmers? Is the death of one lovely girl at the hand of an idol, so important that we ignore the 3000 farmers killed by criminals? Why is CNN quiet about that, huh? And some say 70,000 Whites were killed violently since 1994, remember? Where’s BBC? Goodness knows what the figure amongst our Black population is – it’s probably even more horrendous. Do you think Sky was interested?

“Why do you insist on discussing Oscar, when women are raped at the rate of one every four minutes in our country? Children are being mutilated for muti, young men die at initiation schools and two children are murdered every day. Last year alone, there were more than 15,000 murders in our country. Did you see it on any front page in London or New York?

“When Time magazine said we live in a violent society, everybody got up in arms, saying it isn’t so. I’m sorry…we’re living is Wonderland. Like Alice, we’ve gone down a rabbit hole to escape the reality we can’t face any more.”

“So Boggel,” Gertruida’s voice conveys her concern, “what do you suggest we do?”

“Here in Rolbos? Not much, I’m afraid. We can respect the dead and the families concerned, I suppose. We can stop gossiping. And we can take note of what’s happening around us. Somebody must stand up to say enough is enough; and tell the government to stop pilfering the coffers and start doing their job.”

“But Boggel,” this time it’s Precilla who tries to placate the barman, “nobody’s going to listen to us, man! We’re such a small, little town. We’re nobodies. No way anyone will listen to us.”

Boggel shakes his head. “You’re wrong, Precilla. To change anything – anything – you have to start with yourself. Only if you’re convinced that you’ve figured it out, can you talk to a friend or an acquaintance about it. And if more and more people convey that message – friends talking to friends, families sharing the idea and so on – it’ll work it’s way through to everybody. Believe me: if the country adopted such an attitude, it’ll effect people in other countries as well. Word of mouth – that’s how we’ll change the world. The answer isn’t the sensational front page or the horrified TV-presenter; the answer is in each of our hearts and minds.”

“Okay, Boggel, you’ve made your point. But we’re just chatting about Oscar, and you’re talking about changing the world. It really isn’t the same thing.” Servaas points to his empty beer glass as he shakes his head.

Boggel obliges by opening a cold bottle of Castle.

Sometimes he wonders why he even bothers to talk to his customers. Maybe he expects too much from them?

Boggel is a very mild-tempered man. He doesn’t curse or shout. Now he looks Servaas straight in the eye as he says:

“%@#* man! Don’t be like the millions of South Africans out there! Wake up, will you? The country is in trouble and all you can think about is cold beer…and Oscar!”

The little bent man slams down the beer in front of Servaas, rips off his apron, and storms out.

He’ll take a long walk, calm down, and be the quiet barman once again. Like the rest of the country, he’ll just have to learn to ignore reality and go on living with Alice and her friends down that damned rabbit hole.

At least they seem happy down there.

Did he…or not? A plea to the Media in relation to the Pistorius case

oscarThe media will have a field day. I’m sure there are bookies out there taking bets. And, all over the world, people are guessing what really happened on that Valentine morning; when the wrapped gifts waited for the surprised smiles and subtle hints of love.

Instead, the neighbours heard shouts…and shots.

And Reeva Steenkamp lay dead behind a door. A hero became a villain. A model became a corpse.

No matter how the media depicts it; or how we judge the situation; it remains a tragedy. Two families have to live with unspeakable sorrow – even guilt. Should they have seen it coming? Said anything? Done anything? How could they have helped to prevent this awful reality of death, court cases and public outcry?

The sad fact is that justice will take it’s course. The prosecution, in typical South African style (Think: Marikana, Fochville, Fidentia and even the Nkandla case), will face serious questions. The defence will be brilliant. There’ll be red faces in court and hushed whispers afterwards. The tabloids will have a field day and the authorities will wish society had a short memory.

The fact is: a man killed a woman – one that he professed to love. It sounds so much like the Dewani case, it’s scary. Both men claim they’re innocent. In both their cases, the lady in question died a violent death.

But…

The one man owns up to the fact that he pulled the trigger, and the other pleads mental instability. There’s a lot to hear in those facts.

So: on behalf of the people of Rolbos, Oudoom asks for silence. Stop the gossip and the guessing and the unfounded opinions. Only one man knows what happened that terrible night. If he fired those shots in anger, he must face the wrath of the law. If he made a horrible mistake – then, too, justice must be served. In both cases, we must remember and have sympathy for the pain and the anguish inflicted on two unsuspecting families.

We must, too, urge the media to focus an equal amount of attention on the farm murders and White genocide in our country. Black on Black violence is still at atrocious levels. We want similar headlines and photos for murdered and maimed young ladies after they have been raped. Please highlight the inability of the government to help youths find a job. Tell us about the way the president is squandering millions on his household, while people are freezing to death on the Cape Flats. Make us aware of the deficiencies in the hospitals and schools around the country. Inform us about the defence force and their role in the Congo – and why it is important for our young men to have to die there.  Be truthful about our economy and the dismal future we have to prepare for. We want to know why the railways fell into disrepair and why the national airline is in such a mess. And while we’re about it, let us know what – exactly – is happening to our electricity supply and why maintenance of strategic assets has fallen by the wayside.

Nobody thinks the Oscar/Reeva case is excusable. Fact is: it happened, and there’s nothing we can do or say that’ll change that. Let justice be done and let us close that chapter.

The media, however, should address the future for a change and stop digging in the past. They should guide the nation towards a better tomorrow, and not make us wander around – aimlessly – in the sordid details of yesterday. While history provides the foundation for the future, it is up to every individual to reach out towards the day when we all strive towards a country where life is precious, and we all have an equal chance to make people proud to be South Africans.

How to do this?

Not easy. It’ll require stern editors and visionary journalists.

Sadly, people want to read about the mistakes other people made and the sensation surrounding these individual tragedies. We love pointing fingers and whispering behind our hands. We have not progressed to the level of showing compassion to those that have wronged; but we are experts in ignoring the obvious catastrophe we are heading for.

Is it so difficult? When will we learn that news is only news when it is aimed at improving lives and not of value when it silences the sirens of warning we must all heed? Every ‘Oscar’ headline steals away a front page aiming to improve the lives of those of us who are struggling to survive in the New South Africa.

Let us sympathise with the families concerned with the Oscar Pistorius case. Whatever the outcome, it won’t bring Reeva back. But let us not lose focus: sensationalism has a place and we must live with it – but what is sauce for the goose, is also sauce for the gander. Let us then break the silence about our farm murders, the economy and the state of our country as well.

Societies do not survive because they blame the past. They build a future because it’s the only option. Let us face reality, allow justice to be done, and focus on helping each other past the hurdles of our current situation. If we stop wallowing in scandal, we might just bask in the promise of a better tomorrow.

Like the homeless young man in the video, South Africa has the potential to wow the world once again. We did it in 1994. It is time to revive that spirit and start telling the world we aren’t wallowers in the past. We believe we can create a better life for everybody who lives here. We can forgive; we can move on; we can feel each other’s pain…and we can stop casting stones. Instead, we can build a castle…

There’s only one requirement: making everybody believe it is possible.

May the media rise to the challenge.