About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

07 February 2016

Buskaid at Johannesburg International Mozart Festival 2016

Sometimes, Rosemary Nalden brings her teacher persona into the concert hall; which can lead to the detriment of the experience. Yesterday was such an occasion, leading to, in my opinion, a more subdued audience. While welcoming the audience yesterday afternoon, a young boy spoke a bit loudly - leading Rosemary to first comment that the concert is not for "under 6", before ejecting parent and child. 

There was a murmur from the crowd (the lady next to me commented, "She is very bossy, eh?" while another later commented on "how strict" she was) and Rosemary did explain that external noise was distracting during the performance. It was therefore quite amusing that a loud thunderstorm decided to intrude during the later part of the performance leading Rosemary to comment that she couldn't control the heavens unfortunately.

Personally, I think this attitude is one that detracts people from attending classical concerts, as it comes across as snobby and aloof. After all, if children are not attending concerts (given that this concert was at a school too!) at a young age, how can we expect them to develop a following later in life? The atmosphere of concerts has also changed - modern day classical concerts compete with pop, rock, jazz and even musicals - all of which encourages healthy audience feedback. Given that the concerts I have attended in Soweto tend to be quite boisterous affairs - perhaps the Buskaid should encourage similar attitudes for all audiences.

The distraction aside - this year's programme was the most enjoyable since I have attended Buskaid's concerts. It had the usual amazing diversity in composers and style and really showcased the talents of the young musicians.

The concert opened with Rameau's Overture to the opera Zaïs. While it is traditional for the Buskaid to always play Rameau, I think this was the first piece that I really enjoyed. It was lively (aided by guest musicians playing woodwinds and the Harp) and felt more engaging than the usual pieces performed by the Buskaid.

Jules Massenet's Meditation from Thaïs, featuring Kabelo Monnathebe, fast-forwarded the era of music by a few centuries, and was a stark change in pace to the Rameau. However, it did go very well with the next piece - Reverie; performed by the modern composer Angela Morley. The composer's life story is in itself interesting, and it is a haunting piece on her conflict being a woman in a man's body before her sex change operation. The solo performance by Mzwandile Twala was amazing - and was also a stark reminder on the youth of the performers - I first saw Mzwandile in the first Buskaid I attended, and he was barely bigger than his violin. Yesterday, as he commanded the stage in his performance - he towered above almost everyone on the stage! The last performance of the first half was the full performance of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 3. It's a popular piece that is played often - but I don't think I have ever heard the full piece live.

The second half started with Mozart's Overture to Il Seraglio, to keep to the theme of this year's festival of all things Turkish, followed by Sibelius' Impromptu for String Orchestra. The final piece before the kwela and gospel performances; was an amazing arrangement of Bruch's Kol Nidrei featuring two of the senior performers of the Buskaid - Tisetso Mashini on Viola and Gilbert Tsoke on Cello. It is an amazing musical score - and the hand off between Tisetso and Gilbert was seamless. It was a showcase of proficiency - and a perfect piece to finish the formal concert.

02 February 2016

Movie: The Hateful Eight

The 8th movie by Quentin Tarantino (I assume he considers Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2 to be one movie) does not reach the heights of his 6th and 7th movies - but I didn't expect it too. And while the movie itself does share a common thread in the last few of his movies - revenge and retribution - it is more of a whodunit, than a revenge movie.

Sadly, the movie does not project in the touted Panavision 70 projection; but the snowscapes and the initial chapters are stunning. As can be expected from a Tarantino movie, there is tremendous dialogue - with some great acting performances - especially Jennifer Jason Leigh and Samuel L. Jackson. The story is compelling; and achieves what every good movie should - complete escapism - and the 3 hours go by without much notice. 

24 January 2016

Movie: The Revenant

Mauled by a bear, shot at (by guns and arrows), riding off a cliff and submerging in a frigid river - nothing seems to be able to kill Hugh Glass. In a set of experiences that would probably have killed most of Marvel's super heroes, it seems that a mortal man did manage to actually survive. 

Much has been written about The Revenant and the movie does deliver on its hype. Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as the survivalist Hugh Glass is amazing; the scenery is jaw dropping (it is difficult to imagine that such wilderness still exists on earth); and while the story is embellished (if compared to Wikipedia's version) - it remains an epic story of survival against all odds. 

Amongst the controversies of this year's Oscar nominations, at least it can be said that this performance and the movie itself are worthy nominees.

14 January 2016

Thrifty Car Rental - No Frills Danger

Thrifty Car Rental is quite well known for promising no-frills, highly competitive car rentals. And it was exactly what it looked like when I booked online for last December - they had a number of well designed options, which led to a very competitive rate. 

The veneer started to come off at collection. Despite a confirmed, partially prepaid, reservation - the reservation was nowhere to be found on their systems. After about 15 minutes to fiddling, the agent proceeded to create a new booking; highlighted the same charges as per my booking on the printout, took the remainder of the hiring fee noted in my reservation document (plus the deposit off course); and we were on our way.

The trouble began after the return of the car; when I noticed a hefty charge deducted from my card. Upon enquiry, it seems that the new reservation was actually on a higher day rate than what I had actually booked. I looked closer on the printout, and it was true; although it was not highlighted. Suddenly, the well priced, competitive car rental turned out to be quite an expensive rental - one that didn't come with air miles that the "high frills" competitors provided, now at a lower cost. 

Given that I had signed the rental - I have no real recourse. When I mentioned my experience, at least 2 others mentioned similar experiences with Thrifty. Perhaps it is their business model - who knows. I have learnt my lesson with no frills competitors, it is easier to just stick to the high frills car rental agencies. I know what I will get, and in either case, I have always have consistent service and never had billing errors in the past.

03 January 2016

Movie: The Lady in the Van

Wikipedia's plot summary is excellent:
The Lady in the Van tells the true story of Alan Bennett's strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her temporarily to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home. She stayed there for 15 years. As the story develops Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild (died 1989), a former gifted pupil of the pianist Alfred Cortot. She had played Chopin in a promenade concert, tried to become a nun, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped, had an accident when her van was hit by a motorcyclist for which she believed herself to blame, and thereafter lived in fear of arrest.
The movie has an absolutely stunning performance by Maggie Smith, who also played Miss Shepherd in the play. The movie itself, is a great examination of mental illness and homelessness - and a very uncomfortable examination on society's general attitude, and interaction with homeless people.

01 January 2016

Run Racist Run

Eusebius McKaiser has certainly become a prominent commentator on race and race relations in South Africa. Run Racist Run is a more raw, focused follow up to the earlier "Bantu in the Bathroom" collection; exploring racism, race relations and impact thereof in various dimensions. 

The essays are more nuanced, more direct and covers forms of racism that are not easily identified. Although it is written very much from a South African perspective of a coloured man growing up in a township during Apartheid; many of the perspectives and insights can easily translate to other countries - be it similar environments such as the US; or diverse environments that do not exhibit outright racism but still has hints of tribalism (or classism, casteism? etc).

As to be expected the arguments are well thought out and well reasoned; the examples pack a punch; and ultimately each of the essays leave something to think about. It's a collection of essays that everyone should be reading, and discussing. As with the Justice course on edX, this is something everyone should reading and discussing - and maybe even being taught in schools and corporate diversity programs.

30 December 2015

De Hoop

I tried to go to De Hoop just over 5 years ago, and while J and I (with J's wife K) managed to get to Bedasdorp; for various reasons we didn't actually manage to make it to De Hoop.

From all accounts from the staff, De Hoop is not well known - and many of the patrons are actually regulars. One lady was staying for 7 days, and this was her 4th consecutive visit over Christmas. She was also excited that she had already secured a spot for 2016.

And De Hoop is a gem - there is off course the unique landscape and environment, but it is the absolutely amazing staff that makes De Hoop such an attractive destination. Most are locals - they have grown up around the area; and some can trace multiple generations in the area. They are very friendly and very approachable - hospitality at its best. And many of the waiters/hosts double up as guides with amazing knowledge of the environment. There seems to be a concerted effort in skills training based on the stories of their experiences but as one guide mentioned - it is not only the knowledge; it is how well they can interact with the guests that really define how successful they are. 



Broadly, De Hoop has three environments - fynbos hills, the coast and a "vlei" (translates to a marsh, but more lake/estuary). There is not much variety in terms of large animal life in the fynbos - lots of eland and bontebok, with some cape mountain zebra and ostriches. De Hoop is a marine sanctuary, and so whale season leads to frequent sightings of whales and their calves; and the rock pools are teaming with actuatic life. The bird life is amazing - blue cranes, fish eagles and oyster catchers - there is a lot of variety to be seen (apparently 260 species in total).

The dunes are dramatic, the beaches are pristine; and the staff are very hospitable. I do want to come back for the whale trail hiking trail; or perhaps for the whale season. While I doubt I will make it an annual pilgrimage, I can certainly see what the attraction is.