Friday, January 30, 2009

The Truman Show

Sometimes, I really wonder if I’m losing my mind. Not in the “I’ve misplaced my car keys 14 times” or the “I’m hearing disembodied voices which are telling me to become a nuclear physicist” kind of way, but in the way that certain completely arbitrary things are having an enormous impact on me in the strangest ways. This is alongside the bizarre things that keep happening to me (and I promise that I will get around to that second post on the weird occurrences soon!)!

Allow me to explain. For the last few weeks, I haven’t been feeling 100% like myself. I haven’t been feeling like some else entirely, so don’t worry about diagnosing me with dissociate identity disorder. I’ve just been feeling as if my life is playing out like some weird postmodern novel – a postmodern novel with a good dose of magical realism in it! And it’s been happening in a lot of different areas of my life – from people I’ve recently met, to old friends, events that I’ve been invited to and even varsity. I feel a bit like Jim Carrey’s character in “The Truman Show”, to be honest, mostly because I feel like something is going on, but I don’t quite know what it is! And I really have been feeling the strangest things for the oddest reasons, and doing some weird things too, such as my previous blog post. I’m still wondering where it came from.

If all this is starting to sound as if I should be sending myself for psychiatric evaluation, allow me to give an example (although it may merely prove that I should be shipped off to Tara). My friend, Sexy Jake, who moved to London last year, has been on holiday in South Africa for the last 3 weeks. We went for coffee during the first week that he was here (during which I managed to have a truly psychotic reaction to a slice of lemon cake at the coffee shop we were at, and giggled for about an hour, to the point where Jake was considering driving me home, but that’s another story), and last week we went for drinks with one of his friends, Agreeable Dave. Jake picked me up from my house, and while we were chatting, we listened to a random mixed CD, which had everything on it from aKING to Jack Johnson. The song which really stood out for me though was the Death Cab for Cutie song, “I will follow you into the dark”. To me, it’s just one of those songs which gives me goosebumps and a lump in my throat every time I hear it. Strangely enough, it also always makes me feel incredibly happy. This is probably proof that I was an emo kid in another life, more than anything else. Nonetheless, I heard the song at least twice that night, and had it going round my head for the rest of the week.

This probably doesn’t sound that amazing, but a couple of days later, though, a friend of mine posted a note on Facebook, simply entitled “29 songs that, at various points, have seemed to provide the perfect accompaniment to life's varied turns”, and lo and behold, the Death Cab for Cutie song was on the list. This was really just a coincidence. I don’t know this friend incredibly well. We were in a couple of classes together in first year and only really started chatting in 2008, mostly about philosophy courses and other random things. Having read through the list of the songs that he had chosen was an amazing experience though, because I connected with so many of them in my own way. I see this guy as an incredible intellectual who occasionally descends into the realm of us mere mortals who are studying BA’s, but reading through the songs which had touched him gave me this feeling of connectedness, though I doubt that the songs hold any similar meaning for both of us! I read through the list with a smile on my face though, because it was so interesting to gain this insight into his life – and into something so personal. It was weirdly profound, and I carried this feeling with me for the rest of the day.

I’m not sure if any of this makes any sense whatsoever. I just seem to be empathising with random people in completely unexpected ways, being moved by the oddest things. Maybe I’m heading towards looming insanity, but I’m finding the whole experience really fascinating!

Here are the lyrics to the song, just in case you were wondering what I was on about. If they provoke any weird emotions in you, please let me know! Maybe I’m not as crazy as I think I am!

"Love of mine someday you will die
But I’ll be close behind and I’ll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight waiting for the hint of a spark

But if heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
And illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule
I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black
And I held my tongue as she told me, “Son,
Fear is the heart of love,” so I never went back

But if heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
And illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

You and me have seen everything to see
From Bangkok to Calgary and now the soles of your shoes
Are all worn down: the time for sleep is now
But it’s nothing to cry about
‘Cause we’ll hold each other soon in the blackest of rooms

But if heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
And illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

The strangeness that is my life continues. And strangely enough, this post isn’t actually a continuation of my last post about the weird things that have been happening to me lately. This strangeness is on a completely different tangent…

Last night I went to watch “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” at Cinema Nouveau in Rosebank. It got fairly awful reviews in the newspaper and I had no intention of watching it (unless it was on DVD in 4 months or so) until my friend Kirstan saw it and was adamant that I had to see this film. So, last night, Jake and I decided to see what all the fuss was about – mostly because I really wasn’t in the mood for the doom and gloom of “Revolutionary Road”. Jake too had been instructed by Kirstan to watch the film, and so we (2 singletons) booked our tickets and prepared ourselves for the life-changing insights which were to be directed at us through this cinematic masterpiece. Unfortunately, the life-changing insights never arrived. I suspect that they were delayed in Barcelona. The film was AWFUL! I wasn’t quite sure if it was a comedy or melodrama – the audience certainly found it very amusing, but I have a feeling that they were laughing at Woody Allen, rather than with him, as the bizarre (and completely unnecessary) narration, over-the-top performances and ludicrous script wore on for an hour and a half. Now, I’m not generally terribly critical of the movies I watch – I mean, I’ve sat through “Hellboy” and “X-Men” and some cheesy romantic comedies. But really – this film was… somewhat painful. And, in the midst of this, Jake and I tried to decipher the mysterious message about love and romance that he and I were expected to draw from the film. Jake concluded that he was supposed to go to Barcelona and sleep with two girls. Meaning continued to elude me, however, because I struggled to empathize with the characters, mainly because I’ve never been propositioned by a Spaniard (a German, yes, but never a Spaniard) or cheated on my fiancĂ© or had a threesome in a darkroom.

All was not lost however (and I didn’t waste R22 or two hours of my life), since I realized that the most meaningful statement for me was delivered within the first 5 minutes of the film (and perhaps I should have left at this point). It was the one thing which I really did understand – the description of Cristina’s perspective on love:

"Cristina, on the other hand,
expected something very different
out of love. She had reluctantly
accepted suffering as an inevitable
component of deep passion, and was
resigned to putting her feelings at
risk. If you asked her what it was
she was gambling her emotions on to
win, she would not have been able
to say

Admittedly, reading it now, it does seem a little melodramatic and rather emo – especially the part about accepting “suffering as an inevitable component of deep passion”. However, I really do relate to associating risk and vulnerability with love. In fact, to me, that’s the most romantic part – putting yourself and your feelings on the line for someone else, and risking rejection for the chance of love. And I’ve done it – and admittedly, I’ve had a fair number of dreams come crashing down as a result. But to me, the risk and fear are part of the process, and almost prove my feelings – to both myself and others. I’ve also been on the receiving end of such gambles, and can honestly say that seeing such vulnerability in someone else is like seeing into someone’s soul, and has caused me to see these boys in a completely different light, because I am so astounded by their courage.

Someone asked me today if I thought that love was the most important thing, and as strange as it sounds, I said no. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve got a lot of strange stuff going on in my life at the moment, but reflecting back on why that paragraph from “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” resonated with me, I think it’s because – at least to me – there is something bigger or something else. And just like Cristina, I don’t quite know what it is, and I’m not sure that it even exists – or whether it exists for anyone else. Maybe I’ve become cynical or disillusioned with love and romance, but I suspect, instead, that I’ve chosen to search for something else that reflects what I believe in, although I'm not quite sure what it is.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

I am being followed by weirdness. Actually, I’m in the midst of weirdness, and wondering whether it has always been there and I’ve just never noticed it before. I’ve been meaning to write about the strange incidents for the last few weeks, and have now accrued so many that I’m going to have to write 2 posts, and summarize the incidents somewhat. Here goes…

It started a few weeks ago, when I realized that I needed a new cellphone (I’ve had the same Nokia for the last 5 years, which bears testament to both how long-lasting the phone is and how unwilling I am to update technology in my life. I’m slightly techno-phobic). So, in the midst of Christmas shopping madness, I wandered into Woolworths and investigated their MTN counter and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was not going to have to fork out R5000 for a decent phone. I left Woolworths, having decided to think about my options (all Nokia, as this is the only brand I’m capable of using) for a while before buying the phone. On the way out of the shopping mall, however, I saw the MTN shop and thought that they would at least have a larger range of options, so I went in, and had a look at their phones, until a sales guy pounced on me. He asked me what I was looking for, and I said that I wanted to buy a phone (I was under the impression that this was why people went into cellphone stores, after all!). It was at this point that it all went a bit weird. He asked if I wanted the phone for cash, and I said yes. “Sorry. We can’t sell you a phone”, he said. “But, why not?” I asked. “MTN are network service providers, and so we only deal with contracts, so unless you buy a contract, you can’t buy a phone” he explained. I couldn’t stifle my disbelief at this system – in fact, I actually told the salesman that I thought that their system was pretty silly (this in itself is weird – I normally remain silent and get ripped off by salesmen!)! Looking back, I now see the benefit of their system, which is pretty sneaky, but a rather effective way to sell contracts. I still haven’t bought a phone though – I’m still contemplating my options, although the process is being accelerated by the slow demise of the “6” and “9” keys on my current phone’s keypad.

The next incident happened the very next day, when my mom asked me to buy some stamps so that she could post our Christmas cards. It was a Saturday and I really was not in the mood to stand in a queue at the post office, so I said that I would go to the Postnet, since I was going to the Exclusive Books in Eastgate anyway. I wandered into the shop, and asked the cashier for the aforementioned postage stamps. He then informed me that they didn’t sell stamps – I could give him the letters and they would put them in Postnet envelopes and mail them for me. He was met with a look of incredulity on my part – I had to ask him if he was serious about the fact that a shop called POSTnet didn’t sell stamps. Admittedly, he also seemed to think it was a bit odd.

The weirdness wouldn’t seem quite as amazing were it not for the fact that the 2 incidents happened on consecutive days. However, I had another weird moment last week Friday in Sandton. I had arranged to have coffee with Kirstan and Chris, and while Kirstan and I waited for Chris to arrive, we went into the “Temptations” store to look for a white camisole for Kirstan. For those of you who don’t know, “Temptations” is pretty much like “Victoria’s Secret” – it’s a lingerie store, filled with little lacy, racy numbers. Having been unsuccessful in our search for said camisole, we headed towards the exit, where we stopped by a young man (about 25, light blue golf shirt, pristine mini-mohawk gelled into place), who wanted to know what we thought of the lingerie which was on the mannequin nearest us. It was at this point that it all became clear to me why I never enter lingerie stores! Nonetheless, the items in question were a bra and panty set, which were black and embroidered with red floral detail. Kirstan immediately said that she didn’t like it, but I said that I liked the detail and colour combination. “Well, you do have my girlfriend’s skin tone”, he said thoughtfully. “So, if your boyfriend bought that for you, you’d like it?” he asked. It was at this point that I started giggling. I’m showing both my age and level of innocence here, but the idea of a guy buying me lingerie was just so outrageous that I went bright red. Luckily, Kirstan stepped in and explained that I was the “prudish” one who would die of embarrassment if a guy bought me lingerie, but that she, as the less innocent one, who quite like to receive such a gift. With that, he made his decision, and told the saleswoman that he would take the set, while Kirstan and I left, giggling and wondering what the chances were that he had actually got both her size and taste correct!

The common theme is definitely the retail setting – as well as the sneaky sales policies of some stores (although I didn’t stick around in “Temptations” long enough to find out if anything similar applied)! Has anyone else had any similar experiences, or am I just the scapegoat of weirdness? Luckily, installment 2 is retail-free, although it fits rather nicely with the post I wrote last month about the hitchhiker (who was NOT a prostitute, Luke!) I accidentally picked up, but that’s another story….

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Foreign Affair

It’s done! At last! After months and months of procrastination, and motivated by dwindling free time, I finally braved the Home Affairs office this morning to apply for my passport! “Braved” is certainly the right word to use in this context, because all South Africans know that going to any government department (although mostly Home Affairs and the traffic department) is likely to require courage, patience and comfortable shoes (As an aside, I’d love to know how our system measures up against international standards – I mean, are South Africans just complaining excessively about something which is a global phenomenon, or is applying for a passport or identity document in Canada or England or Belgium an effortless process? I only ask because I wonder if things are truly as bad as people make them out to be, or if it’s just one of those things, like packed shopping malls in the week before Christmas, and most government departments are slow and poorly organized and it’s just a fact of life).

In any case, I spent the week “preparing” myself, by having passport photos taken and clearing Thursday of any other plans, just in case it took the entire day. I also did some research on the Home Affairs website, and checked what documents I needed and how much everything would cost, as the last thing I wanted was to get to the front of the queue and be told that I needed some copy of a mysterious document! I also spoke to people who know about these things – mostly Luke and his mom, who told me to go early, as this was the easiest way to get it done quickly, and to take a book with, just in case.

I set off this morning, armed with my ID, birth certificate, flat shoes, water, a book, my cellphone and the necessary money. I didn’t leave as early as I had initially planned, but having driven past the office twice, I finally found parking, and set off towards the building. Once inside, I was rather shocked by the length of the queue, but got the necessary forms and joined the queue. Unfortunately, at this point, I suddenly realized that having copies of my ID and birth certificate was probably a good idea, so I popped into the shop next door to Home Affairs, got the documents photocopied and then rejoined the queue. It was now 8:40am. There were only 12 people ahead of me, and the queue was actually moving – albeit slowly. Rather than reading my book, I decided that people-watching was far more interesting, and between the Asian baby, the two Afrikaans “poppies” who were discussing period pain and the yuppie who had decided to attempt the queue in stiletto heels, I was kept entertained. I finally reached the front of the queue, where I presented my filled-out form to the clerk on duty, who paged through it, scanned through my information and then looked at me and asked how old I was. Clearly, he didn’t think I was old enough to be applying for a passport on my own, and he expected to see my parents with me. Having explained that I was indeed 21, and that, if he were to glance at the ID number and birth certificate in front of him this would become apparent, he attached my photos, covered the documents in stamps and sent me off to counter 5, where I paid. Then it was off to have my finger prints taken by a man who seemed to think that, because he had a big pad of black ink and got to roll people’s fingers around in it, he had the most authority of anyone in the entire office (incidentally, does anyone know how to get that wretched black ink off one’s skin? This stuff seems to be permanent!)! Luckily, it was over quickly, and by the time I emerged from Home Affairs, it was only 9:10am! I am still somewhat in awe of how quick and easy the process was – and just hope that all my new-found faith in Home Affairs and South African bureaucracy is not undone by my passport never appearing! Only time will tell, and that could take between 3 and 6 weeks!

PS – I have just re-read my post, and have become amazed by the fact that I can write this much on one incident, when I could have just said that I had gone to apply for my passport, and left it at that. Clearly, after three years of writing English essays, I have learned to waffle, with some degree of style, and it seems that I can draw out any subject matter long enough to cover at least 500 words! The joys of academia!
PPS - I realise that the title of this post is a bit of a stretch, but I really couldn't find too many movie titles that had anything to do with passports and Home Affairs. I eventually settled for the current title, although I haven't seen the film. Apparently, it was produced in 2003 and starred Tim Blake Nelson and David Arquette. Um... Yeah...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Ring

“So, are you single or dating someone?” he asked. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be particularly perturbed by this question (I might even be a little flattered), except that the person asking it was a random guy in my second year psychology class and a complete stranger to me. In fact, I have my doubts as to whether he was even in my psych class, or if he had just come to sit in on a lecture because he had nothing better to do. “I beg your pardon?” I asked, a little confused, since this guy had arbitrarily directed this rather personal question towards me. “Your Buffy ring. It’s supposed to mean something, depending on which way it’s facing, right?” he explained. Finally, I slowly began to understand why this guy was asking me these questions. For some reason he had noticed the ring that I was wearing, and had recognized it as a ring similar to the one that Angel had once given to Buffy on an episode of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”, and I understood why my piece of jewellery had acquired the name of the “Buffy ring” – and more importantly, why he had been questioning my relationship status!

This actually happens to me quite a lot, with people either asking me if I’m Irish, or interrogating me about my love life or being completely intrigued by this somewhat strange-looking piece of jewellery. A short explanation of the history of the Claddagh ring – more commonly known as an Irish promise ring goes as follows:

Legend has it that a young Irish man, Richard Joyce, bound for the West Indian slave plantations was kidnapped in rough seas by a band of Mediterranean pirates and sold to a Moorish goldsmith who over the many long years of his exile helped him perfect the skills of a master craftsman. When in 1689 King William III negotiated the return of the slaves, Joyce returned to Galway - despite, it said, the Moor's offer of the daughter's hand in marriage and a princely dowry of half of all his wealth. Back in Ireland a young women had never stopped faithfully waiting for her true love to return and upon their reunion, he presented her with the now famous Royal Claddagh gold ring - a symbol of their enduring love. The two hands represented their friendship, the crown signified their loyalty and lasting fidelity, and the sign of the heart symbolised their eternal love for each other. They soon married, never to be separated again*.”

A traditional Claddagh ring

The Claddagh ring is worn by people from around the world, as a symbol of love, loyalty and friendship, and the different ways in which it can be worn correspond to the wearer’s relationship status, as, “worn on the right hand, with crown and heart facing out, the ring tells that the wearer's heart is yet to be won. While under love's spell it is worn with heart and crown facing inwards. Wearing the ring on the left hand, with the crown and heart facing inwards, signifies that your love has been requited.*”

My Claddagh ring was given to me by my friend Claire, who is Irish, and bought it for me on a trip to Ireland in 2005. It has become one of my most prized possessions, because of both its sentimental value and the rarity of these rings in South Africa - although I’ve found one or two other people (including one of my English lecturers, who immediately asked me if I knew what it was and what it meant) who have them. I think that they are very beautiful and rather unusual, and I really like the significance behind them, although I have been told varying stories about the meaning of wearing the heart facing towards or away from the wearer. According to Claire – and she has lots of Irish relatives to back her up on this one -, wearing the ring with the heart facing you means that your heart “belongs” to someone, and it’s bad luck to wear the ring like this if you aren’t in a relationship or if the extent of your love doesn’t quite reach the status of your heart “belonging” to someone, regardless of whether you wear it on your left or right hand. Turning the ring around it a pretty big deal, and one which should not be considered lightly, especially if your partner is a random person who you met in a bar (or a psych lecture, for that matter!). I have yet to face this particular dilemma – mostly because I’ve always heeded the warning! One day though – in keeping with the romantic side of the Claddagh ring story – I hope to get to finally wear my ring with the heart facing inwards, knowing that I am “under love’s spell”!

My Claddagh ring, with heart facing outwards ;)

* explantion from: