Most of us will agree that democracy, in whatever broken shape or form, is preferable to other ideologies that have been promulgated over the past few hundred years. There is a point though, where the noble narrative of the empowerment of every eligible citizen can be taken a step too far. We’ve just seen a bawdy Christmas party spree called ‘pikkujoulu’ in the vernacular, in which it has once more been demonstrated that not all elected officials are worthy of the trust imbued in them. Take for example Teuvo Hakkarainen, the truest Finn of the Finn Party formerly the True Finn Party, who has once again demonstrated his complete lack of self control and good manners. The Parliament of Finland joins in on the jollifications of the festive season by throwing a party. What should he do but grab no less than former Taekwondo Olympic athlete and MP Veera Ruoho of the National Coalition Party to firmly plant a French kiss on her. Needless to say, alcohol was the driving force behind his passion. This incident was and probably will not be the only one that can be blamed on the odd tipple too much. Two weeks before this, his expensive Audi came to blows with the barricading pillars at the entrance of the parking hall to Parliament House. He claims they ‘suddenly rose up and lifted the front of the car’.
Seriously, who votes for people like this? And he’s not the only one. The buffoonery that is politics has become the laughing stock in more than one country. Surely some basic education should at least be a premise for adding your name to a ballot? Teuvo Hakkarainen was first elected in 2011 which means that he’s not been elected once, but twice!
Cape Town has its mountains, wine and beaches, Johannesburg has business going for it and the Kruger National Park but for some strange reason Durban in KwaZulu Natal, has been left out of the equation. It’s not exactly the first stop on tourists’ priority lists when visiting South Africa. As a native of this part of the world, I’ve always thought this unfair. One thing’s for sure, the Durban City Council is taking this personally and doing a lot to improve the situation.
Beaches abound along the Indian Ocean shoreline and its year-round warm waters give it one step up from the cold Atlantic Ocean in Cape Town. The promenade stretches 5 km turning it into a great big playground for runners, Segway riders and cyclists. The casino at one end keeps the slot machine addicts entertained, the hungry fed with its huge food court and the movie goers occupied. The paddling pools near North beach provide a safe splashing spot for kiddies and uShaka at the other end is a shopping paradise, restaurant complex and more pools and adventures for the whole family. The entire area is kept pristine and security is strict. Then there are other unique features that make it stand out. The car guards at North Beach take care of your keys while you go swimming or surfing, a service not to be found anywhere else as far as I know. They’ll even Whatsapp you to give you a surf report if you live some kilometres away. The rickshaws are iconic and perform their jumps and shouts wearing native costume for gleeful tourists.
The football stadium built for the Soccer World Cup, aptly called The Bread Basket because of its shape, houses huge international concerts and sports meets nowadays. Right next door, a superb outdoor market called I Heart Market fills the lawns under the trees at the weekends selling everything from mohitos to delicious curries, jewellery, clothing and lots, lots more.
Up the road, about 20 km inland, the Valley of a 1000 Hills is jaw-droppingly beautiful for its views while Zulu dancers and cultural ethnic events drum up the native in you at PheZulu. And then there’s the food and the incredibly cheap prices that put a smile on your face when you’re presented with the bill. The standard is high, the quality good and the portions generous not just at PheZulu but everywhere you go.
And while you’re in Durban, take a trip up north where the Hluhluwe Game Reserve houses the Big Five and where the wild of Africa grabs you as much and which might even be less expensive than the Kruger National Park. And we haven’t even touched on the spectacular mountain range about a 3-hour drive west called the Drakensberg.
Bathe in the warm Indian Ocean, enjoy the good weather and immerse yourself in the multi-culturalism that is Durban and surrounds.
First you see the church and then a ghostly figure of an expressionless doll suspended between heaven and earth. This is the island of Prvić Luka where the body of Faust Vrančić rests in peace and his spirit treads the ground of his summer vacation spot. The latter is actually in Šepurine, on the other side of the island about a 10-minute walk from Prvić Luka, while the former is buried at his bequest in the aforementioned St. Mary’s Church.
Born in 1551, no doubt into a well-heeled family in Šibenik, where your ferry journey begins, this young man had many opportunities in life beginning with an education in Venice and later at Padua University where his majors included mathematics and engineering. And here’s where the eerie doll features. In a book published by himself in Latin, Italian, Spanish, French and German (did I mention he was a polyglot?) called Machinae Novae, sketches of his Homo Volans appear as one of the first attempts at parachute invention. Imagine running free on that pristine island surrounded by waters changing from green to teal to blue to turquoise, where the sky meets the sea and the two are almost indistinguishable? Floating, suspended, flying all come to mind. Vrančić’s daydreaming had no limits. The earliest drawings of bridges hanging from steel cables in many forms and shapes are also in the book as are his mills and wind turbines. A visionary by all accounts. His 17thC inventions proved to be sound and with the advance of technology, many of his discoveries were realised a century later. The eponymous Memorial Centre in his honour, right next to the puppet, documents his story in a delightful way showing his family tree, his ‘machines’ as well as some hands-on games for younger visitors.
With all this heady stuff churning around in your brain, it’s time to test the waters where Faust himself must have cooled down regularly. It’s hot and clear coolness hoodwinks you to take a dip and freshen up your thinking. And what follows is also quite natural – a deep thirst and a hollow feeling in the stomach. Where to satisfy these urges?
In amongst the stone buildings and their charming occupants, we find Stara Makina and eyeball the newly lit fire in the grill, right on the waterfront. This’ll do nicely, thank you very much. It takes a while to get a menu, island time you know, but when our mixed salad and mixed grill finally arrive, it’s worth the wait. The chicken kebab is succulent, the ćevapi (a type of skinless sausage made of minced meat) nicely spiced, the beefsteak tender and the lamb tasting of island shrubs and herbs. Served with crispy, thinly sliced oven-baked potatoes, it hits the spot together with the local red wine to wash it all down. The professionally presented dishes are served with a smile from both the waitress and the chef slaving away in this heat. To top it all, your stomach does the groaning not your head when the bill arrives.
Another swim in the glitter of diamonds that sparkle around you, and then locally made ice cream finishes off a day of a little bit of culture, a little bit of indulgence and a lot of fine feelings of time well spent. And this, my friends, is how you drift between heaven and earth with reality being put off for a later date.
Cheeky, I know, using a title like this, presuming that I even come close to understanding what this city must have been like for, arguably, the most influential artist of the 20thC. One thing I do know is that he would pick up a brush, choose a colour and dab it onto the canvas without actually knowing what his subject or ultimate goal would be.
“The painting takes me where it wants to go”
With this as a starting point I wander the streets of this circa 3000 year-old city and observe. This is what I see:
It’s not just for tourists. Although tourism is way up there economically speaking, it is also well known for its construction and technology services. A campaign to promote it as a serious business city is evident in ‘Málaga: Open for Business’ with IT in the forefront. Business executives have stepped up to the plate with an initiative called ‘Málaga Valley’, a drive towards turning this city into the Silicon Valley of Europe. It has an acclaimed university and houses the biggest bank in Andalusia, Unicaja.
It’s not overrun by tourists. End of May, perfect days, perhaps not high-high season but nonetheless, Málaga is not heaving at the seams with tourists. You can go into the Picasso Museum or explore the Fort Alcazaba and there is a good chance that you might even find yourself alone at some point.
Chatter, yes, cell phones no! Plonk yourself down at a square, there are many to be found, and see the refreshing sight of young and old alike actually talking to each other and not staring into the screen of a phone. The Malagueños will explain that having fun is a real time communication thing, not swiping the faces of tinder explorers.
Smile, even when you say ‘no’. History suggests that many nations have inhabited this place from the Phoenicians, to the Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, and Moors. The Malagueños are a mixture of all of them and are truly friendly, in the friendliest sense of the word. They’re tolerant of religions of all kinds, and it’s considered one of the best gay destinations in Europe. Even when I ask whether I can just have a glass of wine at 10 pm when dining is at its height, the negative reply comes in the best possible manner. Of course, they’d rather have diners rather than just drinkers.
“No entiendo” or “no Inglés”. English is not widely spoken and even if it is, it’s a bit broken. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. They’ll do their utmost to help you whenever they can and will absolutely go out of their way to make sure you find the right road, or get the correct change from your purchase by counting out the money.
It’s a walking street city. You might get turned around, you might slip into a side street where you never intended to go but one thing’s for sure, you’ll find your way out and cars are rarely a problem. It’s as if they make way for the pedestrians not the other way round. The cool marble on the ground and the patterned tiles ease away your sore feet and divert your attention to the care with which things are done here. They could have thrown a slab of concrete but preservation is paramount and strictly maintained in the centre.
The best of many worlds
Sun seekers will find what they’re looking for on the beaches that run for kilometres along the coast. My favourite is Playa de la Caleta, a little further along from the main Malagueta but a whole lot nicer with cleaner water and less people.
Culture vultures can indulge in myriad museums, historical places, and palaces while gardeners and nature lovers can cool off in the shade and fountains of the Paseo del Parque and the Botanical Gardens.
Escape is easy. The infrastructure is good and while the buses might not always be on time, they will arrive and whip you off to exotic neighbouring towns like Nerja, where cliff-sided Burriana Beach awaits. Return bus ticket: <€10 (1 hr. 15 min one way).
Best of all, tapas, good wine and a fabulous feeling of freedom and joy abound. When the locals are happy, the tourists are too and a return visit is never far from your mind.
The few drops of rain falling from Helsinki’s heaven couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd gathered for the roof wetting of the appropriately named Löyly (sauna steam), the sauna on the shores of this Nordic city. Neither did it penetrate the roof of the steel/concrete/wooden construction aimed to blend into the Baltic coastline.
The ‘organic space ship’ (see New Sauna for Helsinki), is emerging bit by bit with the help of construction company Jussit Oy with Jukka Klang at the helm as Project Manager and Markku Mäkilä as Site Manager.
I spoke to the intrepid architects, Anu Puustinen and Ville Hara from Avanto Architects who are passionate about this building. They have to be. They’ve been involved in it from the very beginning, a process that started 5 years ago, has undergone 3 ownership changes as well as some site shifting and design manipulation.
“Antero Vartia (MP/actor/restaurateur) and Jasper Pääkönen (actor and passionate salmon protector) are the third set of clients we’ve been dealing with. It has taken some real sweat and struggle to get this off the ground and to this stage of the game.”
“What challenges have you had to face?”
“First and foremost the weather. It’s always a problem here in Finland and being so close to the sea poses even more obstacles. The framework has to be made out of steel and concrete to withstand storms and other adverse conditions like ice. When the sea freezes over it pushes and shoves everything in its way.”
“And the wood? Would it be affected?”
“Finland has a long history of building wooden structures next to the Baltic and hence, besides perhaps changing colour, it shouldn’t harm it. We’ve used Nextimber, wood glued and heat treated, then pressed to make it more dense, more like teak.”
“What kind of wood have you used?”
“On the outside pine, inside a kind of birch waste wood, like plywood, thin but creating a lovely veneer. It’s a really ecological way of using timber.”
“According to the operators, Royal Restaurants, end of May. And the construction company is giving its thumbs up to it, so hopefully. We’ll be proud when it’s finally done after so many years of planning and negotiating.”
The sauna will house electric, wooden and smoke saunas, a huge restaurant and terrace and a place to go for a dip in the Baltic. These will be open every day from 1 to 10 pm.
Royal Restaurants will manage the entire building and the menu will include everything Finnish and fishy (homage to Jasper) with the ubiquitous hamburger thrown in for good measure. It’s not a dining place, more a relaxation joint with partying reserved for Fridays and Saturdays.
I, a South African, always dreamt of living in a pink building and although this one’s more salmon than pink, it’s Jugend Style, has masses of character and is run by a fantastic housing company who keep it looking good. It’s when I look out my window that I see the fairy lights adorning the doorway across the road where sex is plentiful and dreams are short lived. So while my building is upmarket, the surroundings suggest something different.
I love it. Right next door to the massage parlour called Amatsoonit (draw your own conclusions), there’s Dionysus Film Studio. On the other corner there’s Refugee Law. Down the road, some Jordanian guys are busily snipping away at men’s hair at Newroz the cheapest charge in town, only €12 and across from there there’s HumHum (details below). It’s owned by a young Egyptian student who has big dreams and makes even bigger shwarma sandwiches which are stuffed to overflowing. Everything, except the lettuce, is made by him. He opens at 1 pm not because he sleeps late but because he attends college in the mornings. His spirit will not be quenched by red tape, questioning authorities or health inspectors. Like the Jordanians, he’s determined to survive in these cold climes.
Vaasankatu is the closest you’ll come to a red light district and sex shops, dancers and masseuse abound. At last count there were 11 bars along the same street. But then, there are these special gems stuck in amongst the rough diamonds like Café Pequeño. The guy from Argentina shares the space with a beauty parlour and a hairdresser and they all work side by side in an atmosphere of cutesy calm. His contribution to the usual cinnamon buns and croissants are seriously delicious carrot cup cakes and empanadas, a delightful little meat pie from his home country. The music swings too. Solmu pub has its own special brand of beer; Molotov bar is filled with students and lovely people from across the globe. And there’s a thing, the drinks are cheap, for Helsinki that is.
While town is full of Thai restaurants, one as mediocre as the other, there are two that catch my fancy, Tuk-Tuk on Vaasankatu and Pinto B’Staurant on Vilhovuorenkatu. Fresh is the password, spicy and crisp, every dish is distinct and both have authentic Thai chefs in the kitchen. Then there’s Kombo run by a friendly Spaniard and his Finnish partner. They serve tapas made with care and heart and really good wines.
The sauna on Harjukatu is from times gone by. Heated the old fashioned way, by wood, makes the löyly (steam) soft and healing, the dressing room is well, retro. You can even find a lady who will wash you, men and women alike, although the facilities are separate. At Arla Sauna, cupping or the release of bad blood by small incisions in the skin, is a draw card.
Talk about rich, this area is as rich as it gets when it comes to people of different cultures all rubbing shoulders together. What makes it different is that we all feel that we’re in the same boat together and that survival is our only hope in this cold country. Survival with a good dollop of cream on top, that is.
HumHum – Helsinginkatu 4 a, 00500 Helsinki; +358 44 2511292
He’s seen the inside of kitchens, packed wine on cellar shelves, taken stock, paid his dues in some of the most renowned restaurants in town and now Samuil Angelov is a highly regarded sommelier and wine educator in Helsinki. I want to know his views on wine trends.
“Less is more,” he says. “People, especially Finns are becoming more and more health conscious. They want to eat well and exercise, drink less. This is evident in the sales of hard liquor which have gone down not only in Finland but I’d venture to say in the rest of Europe, especially in restaurants.”
“Today it’s not unusual to find say two gentlemen going out for a meal ordering champagne or sparkling as an aperitif. In the past it would automatically have been a dry Martini or a Vodka Polar. Wine and bubbles have become the order of the day, so to speak.”
“So you mean to say Finns have changed their drinking habits?”
“Definitely. The long lunch is out. Life is too hectic and demanding. It’s possible to have a glass of wine at lunch time without it affecting your work load in the afternoon. You can’t do that with a good dose of heavy liquor under your belt.”
“What would you say is the fastest growing beverage?”
“Champagne and sparkling wine. We have one of the world’s most highly acclaimed champagne specialists and Masters of Wine, Essi Avellan as well as Alko’s Communication and Marketing Director and Master of Wine, Taina Vilkuna, right in our midst. Needless to say they have had a great influence on the consumption of wine in general and especially bubbles.”
“Finns are quick learners and early adopters. As a sommelier, can you see this in your restaurants?”
“When I started working the floor in the late 90’s, wine knowledge was pretty limited. Today, my customers keep me on my toes. They’ve become so aware and know so much and it pleases me when I see a young couple coming in for a meal who know what they want in both categories of food and drink.”
“What about the style of wine? Are the heavy, in-your-face types still popular?”
“It depends on the weather. If it’s cold, Amarone and Barolo are the ones that’ll warm you up. But the lighter styles are in, with German wines doing really well at the moment. Riesling, Spätburgunder, Pinot Noir, cool climate wines with less alcohol are flying off the shelves. Personally, I’d like to see more consumption of the new style of USA and South African Chardonnay which is more acidic, fruity and elegant than the over-oaked stuff they used to make. It’s still oaked but balance is everything.”
According to Samuil, wine is here to stay. The demographic is changing to include the millenials who are taking a deep interest in the subject. This is evident from the attendees of wine tastings, of which he does a lot.
“We still have a long way to go to educate the entire population of Finland. There are a few wine drinking pockets mostly in the big cities but the countryside is going to take some doing. On the other hand, Alko is providing a good service in that you can find almost every grape varietal available in their shops from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, if not on the shelves then to order.”
“We’re crazy but we’re not stupid” is the brief you’ll hear from Bryan Vivier when you go out on a shark dive. He also talks about the ‘eye roll’ which basically means that you’ll be eaten alive unless you have the presence of mind to hit the monster right in the jowls. His relationship with the ocean is unique having dived since the age of 6 growing up in Hermanus, Eastern Cape.
“Those were the days when diving was dangerous and sex was safe,” he explains at his dive shop Aliwal Shoal Scuba in Umkomaas on the south coast of Kwazulu Natal.
You only need to go out once on any of their dives to know the reason why.
“Jacques Cousteau has declared this as one of the top 10 diving spots in the world even before we started doing shark diving. He was blown away by the Sand Tigers or what we call Ragged Tooth sharks. Can you imagine what he’ll say today?”
You can choose a cage dive or an open water one. This is how the latter works: they lower a bar into the water. You dive to the bar and lean against it to steady yourself eliminating hand movements or general flailing around. A chum bucket with holes in the sides filled with sardine guts and blood is then lowered into the water at a distance. At first you’re surrounded by Black Tips, lots of them, the puppy dogs of the sea. Then the big boys start moving in slowly, Tiger sharks that investigate and try to take a bite out of the smelly stuff on offer.
“There must be a huge risk involved?” I ask.
“Sure there is but we’ve been doing this since the 90’s and we’ve never had an incident. Scuba divers scare sharks because of all the noise we make and the expanding bubbles rising to the surface. They are 400 million years old, the scuba diving industry is about a 100 years old. They don’t know what to make of us which makes them wary. Besides, we’re definitely not on the menu.”
“Is there any chance of hurting them or damaging their eco system?”
“Some animal conservationists, not that we’re not, will argue that it’s wrong. But when you ask them about fishing, they say that’s ok. We’ve replaced metal drums with plastic ones since the former might hurt the sharks’ teeth. We go out for an hour and take a little bit of bait with us. We don’t catch or kill anything.”
“But don’t the sharks get frustrated or go into a frenzy when they can’t get what they want i.e. the chum in the drum?”
“Humans tend to anthropomorphize animals. They don’t have feelings like we do. When there is no reward they just go away. They might become a little frenzied when at the end of the dive some sardines fall out but even then they’re cordial unless two are aiming for the same bait.”
“In your opinion, do you see fish and mammals diminishing?”
“On the north side of the reef, it looks a bit like a mowed lawn, which is worrying. But generally speaking, the reef is still lively and vibrant.”
“And challenges ahead?”
“Well there’s this Sappi factory and the Natal Sharks Board with their nets, but that’s a whole different story.”
Eddie is as proud as he looks. He wears a reflective vest and a cap to protect him from the harsh African sun. His day starts at 4.45 and ends at noon. He works for himself and his job description includes holder of the keys, protector, predictor and catcher of thieves. He’s a car park attendant on the ramp leading down to North Beach.
“I love my job. It’s an early start but I get to know so many people and over the nine years that I’ve worked here, I’ve formed relationships with lots of surfers, bikers and regulars that use this beach and promenade.”
“Do you work for a boss? Is there some kind of a union you belong to?”
“No, not really. All the money we earn in tips goes into our own pockets. We have to pay for our own bibs (the reflective vests), we have to do a fingerprint test and get police clearance and then there are 3 senior guys who organise the shifts – 8 of us during the day and 12 at night.”
A guy drives past, opens his window and says,
“Thanks a lot Ed. Forgot my wallet at home but I’ll make it up to you later. Sorry man!”
“No problem Bevin. See you next time.”
Bevin is a surfer who lives in Kloof, about 27 km away from Durban. By 7.30 am Ed has already sent out 16 Whatsapps to various guys giving them a wave report and whether it’s worth the drive to catch a wave. On this particular Monday morning, conditions have been particularly favourable. Huge swells, gentle peeling waves, calm waters, no choppy ‘white horses’.
Another guy collects his key. He asks me what I’m doing and he tells me in no uncertain terms what he thinks.
“Ed is one of the incredible blessings of this f…ing promenade. He does a fantastic job, taking care of our cars, standing in the heat of this scorcher while we’re having fun. What’s it going to be Ed, coffee or Coke?”
I ask him what’s the hairiest experience he’s had.
“Last Saturday, a guy parks his car at the top end, takes his son to the beach and the next minute I know, his car is slowly rolling backwards. I run up there and stop it with my body when suddenly, the engine starts and I see a guy behind the wheel. That’s when I realised it wasn’t just a handbrake problem.”
He flagged down one of his ‘regulars’ and asks him to chase after the guy while he’s alerting the police. Minutes later, the car has been stopped and the perpetrator caught. See what happens when you don’t give your keys to Ed!
This unique situation only happens at the beach parking lots, nowhere else in town, sadly. These unsung heroes are doing a sterling job of taking care of things in a country where robbery is a daily occurrence and car theft, second to none. I felt a little nervous about handing over my car keys, but when you think of it, Ed’s carrying a bunch, he has his pick if he wanted to steal one, but he’s smart enough to realise that being there day in and day out is more sustainable than a one-off and far more personally satisfying knowing that you are trusted and a valuable member of your community. Wish there were more Eds around.
Her children say, “Be warned. Talk about weaving and you’re gonna get a lecture.”
I launch forth anyway and discover the passion and enthusiasm with which Maddelein Anderson throws herself into her hobby which is hardly a hobby anymore. It’s become her life with only hubby, children and grandchildren taking precedence.
Just to kick off I ask her what got her into weaving of all things and so the roller coaster ride begins.
“After giving up teaching, I started a degree in Fine Arts at the Unisa. I completed the 101’s of drawing, art history, sculpture, etc. and found that the only time I had to work on this was at the weekend. Remember I was raising a family of four with a husband who travelled a lot and came home on Friday afternoons to spend time with us. I felt compelled to give up of my own accord.”
“Being a seamstress I had plenty of bits and pieces of material lying around and so I asked my friend if I could do anything with these. Weaving of course and after much deliberation I bought a loom from Finland made by Varvapuu. I took lessons from the best in the field, and as it happened, one loom lead to another. Nowadays I have 3, the Rolls Royce being from Sweden, a Cirrus Öxebäck. The beater is slightly at an angle and heavier so that only one beat is necessary. The tie-ups too are easier.”
We’re up and down the stairs in her home where she shows me the innovations that she’s come up with that nobody else is doing. No one-dimensional creations for this lady. Oh no, she puts pure cotton with pure wool, washes it in her washing machine and voila, there it is. The ‘bubbles’ that are formed are the cotton bits that don’t shrink as much as the wool does and so you get a 3-dimensional surface that piques the interest of the onlooker and the fascination of other weavers.
“I am intrigued by Sakiori weave, a Japanese thing where they use old silk kimonos, ripped up and woven in a tabby weave.”
“Yes, you know it’s like plain and purl in knitting. I use cotton since I can’t always find silk. But I got bored with the pattern so I started adding twill, a 45degree diagonal line in between the rest.”
Maddelein caught the attention of renowned South African designer Marianne Fassler. She was asked to use a China bag. We’ve all seen them, that iconic plastic red, white and blue hold-all so prevalent in African society and elsewhere. Free reign resulted in a weft of plastic, the warp being in pure cotton. Big squares, little ones, warp showing, her creativity matched that of the designer who constructed a jacket which wowed the judges and numbered one of the 20 most beautiful objects in South Africa. The Nelson Mandela statue in Pretoria was also on that list. Samsung, the sponsors of Amaze Africa were so bowled over, they even used it as a design on their phone covers.
Maddelein’s work can be seen at her home. She doesn’t use internet, hence no website but she can answer her mobile phone. Write me an email to set up an appointment. Or check her Instagram page: maddeleinweave.