Social Media and Smartphones Dictate the Pace but Detract from the Vibe

Social media and smartphones can play havoc with the way you understand the world. DIANE DE BEER is hoping for a reality check where the picture doesn’t tell the only story:

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Smartphones on the march

 

There are lots to say for both these modern amenities but sometimes – and that probably has much to do with my age – I can’t help but wonder about real life and slow living that is lost along the way. Two examples of their impact had me puzzling just a bit recently.

The one had to do with commuters on a train in Tokyo all so lost in their smart phones, they might – and probably are – be living in a parallel universe. Back home, an invitation to sample the new summer menu at one of Joburg’s premiere restaurants had me struggling to make sense of the moment as single plates of every dish was passed around for diners to sample, photograph and promote to the outside world – at breathtaking speed or that’s how it felt.

On a trip to Japan, our mode of transport in Tokyo was the train – sometimes above the ground and, when we couldn’t do it any other way, underground. But this didn’t really make any difference to the phone phenomenon which was so pervasive it had my whole party pondering the merits of easy access to … well almost anything. And that is the problem perhaps.

It wouldn’t it be smart phones I suppose if we didn’t have perfect access?

It doesn’t take long for foreign travellers to notice that everyone on the train is either on their phone or sleeping. That’s sounds like a rather mild condition when stated like that. But what I really mean, from the moment you walk into the station and then arrive at the right platform and step onto the train, there’s no eye contact with any individual who is probably making this journey twice a day.

It makes sense that they would use this instant source of entertainment to keep themselves occupied during what must be a tedious part of their day. But it is the level of engagement which completely ignores the public space they find themselves in that is quite fascinating.

Given the Japanese innate politeness, it feels especially as if the young men have found a way of ignoring all the social conventions of their society by simply locking into their phones. From the moment they step onto the train and off and beyond, they have their phone pressed – up close and personal – right into their face and they do all of this while grabbing a seat and then they stay put.

There’s no acknowledgement of pregnant women or elderly individuals who might warrant a young man giving up his hard-earned seat – and which they are advised constantly to do via public announcements and one understands why.

But there’s also no embarrassment or losing face, because he is locked completely off from the world happening around him. If they were reading books or even watching news, that would also add some justice to the endeavour but it’s usually games. We did spot some manga to our relief and perhaps three books (always manga) and perhaps two newspapers on our journey.

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Those on the train who aren’t on their phones (both men and women) are asleep, standing or sitting, sometimes with the phone pressed to their noses. Admittedly, commuting is tiring and while we are on holiday with all the time in the world, this is a hard slog – before and after work – either way.

What is disturbing though is the absence of discovering who these people are. They’re simply missing – any time of the day. It seems that’s what the Japanese do – particularly in Tokyo –when on their commute. The sleeping is less disturbing because tiredness in today’s world is a universal trait amongst workers.

The stress and long days are easy culprits but the cutting off from the outside world, your fellow travelers, to the point of not making any contact at all cannot be healthy. Instead you’re in communication with a machine.

Our fellow commuters seemed lovely people, but who could really tell?

Similarly, a recent media lunch at 54 on Bath’s Level Four to test their new Summer Menu was equally soulless. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the function that’s at fault, it’s what the world has become and what we have to do, to survive. By ignoring the process and going simply for goal, depth and thus lasting impact is missing, to my mind.

Previously – and not that long ago – a tasting menu would actually include having a meal, conversing with you fellow diners, testing the temperature of the room for conviviality and all those other benefits that add to a great meal.

Call me old fashioned and I am when it comes to this kind of stuff, but simply gathering around a table while the starters, then mains and concluding with desserts are placed on the table while everyone has the chance to sample, doesn’t do the food any favours. There’s too little time to savour and chatter about the food, because everyone is busy taking pictures and posting it on one of the many social platforms all of us use to promote whatever catches our fancy and an event expects.

It’s not that I want to fault the restaurant or their marketing people. This isn’t their doing.  It’s how media works now and how it works best. I love the instant thing and the fact that one can get your message out there.  I use it myself to promote my blog and anything I might post – how could we possibly have done any of this before? It opens new vistas for those who love to write (or want to promote anything else) and want to share what they experience with like-minded souls who might tune into a particular vibe.

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Sweet potato ginger tart starter

It’s not that difficult to give a snapshot and a soundbite about the dishes as they pass you by. The starters feature seared yellow fin, fresh raw peas, avocado mousse, wasabi powder, and pickles; the ‘Black Angus’ carpaccio, quail egg, pomegranate, truffle mayonnaise, and parmesan; the chicken and sundried tomato terrine, with smoked tomato, baby beetroot, radish, apple gel and roast nuts; and my favourite for its originality, the sweet potato and ginger tart, with spicy pineapple gel, corn, lemon cream, and pickled cucumber.

For mains I would opt for the nose to tail eating with the ‘Marino’ lamb cutlet, loin, confit belly, braised shoulder, with pea puree, and asparagus which is hearty and rich in flavour yet strangely works as a summer dish, while with dessert, opt for two classics, lemon crème brûlée or vanilla pannacotta, both with a summer swirl of berries interpreted in different ways.

_'Marino' lamb cutlet (002)
Marino lamb cutlet

The accent is on quality ingredients like yellow fin tuna, duck and Wagyu sirloin while punting local with fresh produce and artisanal cheese. Dining at 54 on Bath has long established itself and with their exec chef Matthew Fox inviting all his chefs to the party to contribute their own dish, there’s an individuality to the different dishes which works well.

There’s a lot going in its favour, but sadly for me personally, sampling a new menu, I want an individual bite of food which I can savour if not in my own time, given some time rather than sitting in the middle of a hectic scramble to get it out there briskly please. It’s as if the chase is on because the ice cream might melt before the picture hits its audience.

Lemon créme brulee (002)
Lemon crème brûlée

Is it only me? Or do I simply long to focus on more than just the destination? Personally, eating has as much to do with the vibe as the visuals.

Meandering in the Midlands is Magical

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View of the Midmar dam from Lake House

DIANE DE BEER

In our stressful world, all of us should respond to the need to get away. The Kwazulu-Natal Midlands is around the corner for Gauteng with ‘meander’ the verb that encapsulates this scenically spectacular part of our country:

 

 

The Midlands reminds us of a country rich in things to do and places to go.

The choices of how you do it are many and will be determined by what you want to do and how active you want to be. Price also comes into play because this is a popular area for many things, weddings included, as well as the Midlands Meander, which offers a leisurely way of exploring the countryside by crisscrossing the area in search of artisans and artists selling their wares. Like anything else, this has also become commercially driven more than the initial ideals of people making and developing their own, but there’s enough of the real thing left to keep everyone happy.

It’s not always easy to find them but with smart phones, everything is possible today and much of the discomfort is dissolved as you find a map or a phone number which will quickly explain and navigate the route. The roads might also be an obstacle for some, but this is not speed racing and if you amble along, even the challenging ones will be easy to navigate.

Personal favourites on the Meander included the Terbodore coffee roasters with simply the best coffee to drink (also available online), clothing companies, including well designed and locally made canvas bags and cotton shirts at Dirt Road Traders, irresistible handmade shoes at the Groundcover Leather Company, homemade goat’s cheese with delicious options at Swissland Farm, the extraordinary family-run Culamoya wind chimes and a really cool kitchen shop Cookin at the more commercial end of the Meander at Piggly Wiggly which was really an anomaly on the meander yet hard to resist.

Glorious Culamoya wind chimes
Glorious Culamoya wind chimes

Our favourite by far was Ian Glenny’s Dargle Valley Pottery – everything about it from the pottery to the place. And it’s no secret that there are fairies playing in the woodland area surrounding his house which is an artwork in itself and worth the trip.

But be warned, both the artist and his work will captivate you and you won’t be leaving without one of his beautiful art creations. There are tables full to choose from which makes it really tough.

Ian Glenny's fairyland
Ian Glenny’s fairyland

It is all quite bewitching and one can wander around the pottery and the place for some time and then have wonderfully winding conversations with the artist about his work and his life.

As one of the originators of the Meander, he misses the way it was, but is happy that he still attracts his fair share of visitors. You would be silly not to take the turnoff to his special world.

The special Howick Falls as well as arguably the most evocative Mandela site are both easy to access on the meander.

The Marco Cianfanelli monument
The Marco Cianfanelli monument

The Marco Cianfanelli monument was constructed to mark the 50th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s capture by the apartheid police in 1962 – at the site of the capture.

The setting is striking, and you must do a symbolic “long walk” before you are struck by the remarkable image of Nelson Mandela and the rustle of the wind through the columns as you approach which seems to tell its own story. According to the artist, the 50 columns represent the 50 years since his capture, but he also hoped to illustrate the great man’s legacy of inclusiveness by showing how individual structures all come together to complete the perfect whole.

Howick Falls
Howick Falls

The Howick Waterfall is on the edge of the town and you can pop in when you pick up some groceries if you’re staying in a self-catering lodge which is popular in the area. It’s simply a skip and a jump from the car to the viewing point and again evokes a South African scene that’s quite humbling.

If you like traditional wares, this is also a good place to support the local community in their endeavors with even some serenading happening on the side which might just fall gently on your ear.

Succulent paradise by Mandy Crooks
Succulent paradise by Mandy Crooks from HillHouse

Hotels, lodges and self-catering cottages are plentiful and depending on what you like and for how many, you should find exactly what you’re looking for. Our first few days were spent in Lake House at Hillhouse Accommodation on a farm owned by two artists. It is situated in Dargle on a hillside (hence the name) overlooking the magnificent Midmar Dam. The cottage we stayed in can house four people but just the two of us filled it easily and the sheer isolation (seemingly) from the rest of the world was almost other-worldl

A higgledy piggledy gravel road takes you up to the cottage and while there are two other houses, one accommodating as many as 12 people, each one is different and slightly unusual to the more commercial venture. This is where the artists come to play with husband Nick the architect and builder and Mandy (Crooks) the one responsible for the interiors. All of the cottages are delightfully individual with a quirkiness that’s unexpected but joyful to experience.

And once there, the indigenous gardens in many hidden spots on the property and Mandy’s artistic succulent obsession are like outdoor galleries.

Hillhouse is situated on the edge of the Meander (was part of it at one time) and Howick is only 10 minutes away. But It felt like total immersion in nature as well as a kind of hideout from the rigours of the real world. You could easily just hide out right here for a few days.

The views at Whispering Waters
The views at Whispering Waters

 

Our second port of call, Whispering Waters, is nestled in-between hills and dams with cows munching in every pasture as far as the eye can see. From the minute you wake up, the fields and the water lie invitingly in the early morning light. You can wander up and down hills and dales and warmed by a brisk walk, the dams are inevitable even if we didn’t think so initially, more used to sparkling swimming pools. Once in the water, the spell was cast.

Closer to the Notting Hill Road side of the Meander in Fort Nottingham, this is a more commercially driven property and yet because of the farm setting, it had that Meander appeal. The thatch cottages are spacious with a large kitchen, lounge, dining area and a stoep with a view – and the staff are intent on catering to your every wish.

Food is another Meander obsession, but these can be hit and miss like anywhere else. Howick is best for grocery shopping and our best find for exciting food was the Blueberry Café (with the adjoining brewery with a different kitchen) presenting many choices.

the quinoa and falafel salad with a blueberry sauce
The quinoa and falafel salad with a blueberry sauce

A personal favourite was the quinoa and falafel salad with a blueberry sauce while on the more substantial side, the fillet steak paired with risotto caught my eye. The brewery offers hearty hamburgers or if you want a healthy option, a roasted veggie salad. But there’s much to explore even though we did find it simpler to stick with what works for you.

If you’ve never been this way, it’s a treasure trove to explore in so many different ways. Just another corner of natural loveliness in this diverse land of ours.

Lightness of Being at Louvre Abu Dhabi

Pictures: Diane de Beer

Louvre exterior
The magical play of lightness at the Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi celebrates its one-year anniversary this month (November 8). On a flight to Japan recently DIANE DE BEER decided to stop over for a little more than 12 hours to see not only the spectacular art collection but also what has already become yet another iconic museum designed by one of the architecture’s superstars, Jean Nouvel:

Flying with a stopover in Abu Dhabi on a recent trip to Japan, it was the ideal time to try to see one of the world’s finest new museums, the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Depending on your flight times, ours landed at 5.55am in the morning and there was a flight to Japan that night at 10 pm, it couldn’t be more perfect.

A visit to the EAU Embassy in Pretoria and their visa office confirmed that a visa would cost R800 per person (with no special concessions for museum visits and the like) and that there was ample transport to and from the airport to the museum and back.

In fact, if you wanted to, you could also pay a visit to other attractions including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque but on this first-time visit, my focus was very specific. It would mean a break and respite on a too long flight with the opportunity of an amazing art foray, not something I had imagined would be possible.

And then I discovered it was – quite easily. It’s not a cheap stopover for those of us on a budget but it’s worth the money and time with the museum and its art, food for both spirit and soul. On the way there in one of the airport’s black official taxis (a cost of approx. R250 more or less, either way) you get some insight of what this pleasure world is all about as you pass Ferrari World as well as the Formula 1 Circuit and Warner Bros Theme Park which also opened earlier this year.

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A play of light and people under the magnificent dome.

Many would have seen images of Nouvel’s Louvre building, which seems as if it is floating in the sea with a dome and its “rain of light” created by a complex geometric pattern of stars, but nothing prepares you for the experience. On a visit to Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, it was all about the architecture and this was almost what I was expecting with this Louvre in the Arab world. But, it is something completely different.

Expectations are high as you arrive but with the Bilbao museum, it is the structure in its completeness that overwhelms you from beginning to end – magically so. With the Louvre, almost blindingly white in the blue seas and skies of Abu Dhabi, the full scale is impossible to see as you arrive. You immediately get the design, the water and the cobalt blue sky but the full impact comes much later – like a gift that reveals itself along the way – little by little until finally it takes your breath away.

It’s as if the architect captures the mystery which seems so much part of the Arabic psyche. As you start walking through the galleries, Nouvel has placed windows which all differ architecturally and show different aspects and angles of the museum – almost like landscape art in constant motion.

As you round a corner or pass from one room to another, it isn’t until you walk into the domed courtyard with all its different outlets onto the sea that the spectacular play of light and the richness of the reward hits you. Nothing else really matters, even if all the heat seems to have gathered under the dome – and I still don’t know if we were particularly sensitive or whether its an issue that needs to be addressed. We certainly could have done with those cooling water mist systems so popular locally at that point.  Yet nothing detracts from the spectacle or the dramatic effect of finally walking into this imaginative play of light.

All of this is a majestic work of art, but then, so is the collection of art inside the different rooms and galleries. What makes it so fascinating is the breadth of the exhibitions and the way Western, Arabic and Asian art come together in such unique fashion. This is about viewing different masters from different parts of the world and how they made art in the past and today, who influences whom and what they have to say about their world.

We often speak about the usual suspects in the art world locally and that can also be said of Western art, and this is what makes this such an enriching experience and worth witnessing. It’s not that we don’t see these types of art in other museums, it’s the coming together that makes the difference especially in our diverse world today. Bring it on, lets share and grow with the diversity and difference.

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The magnificence of the Louvre Abu Dhabi dome with its play of light.

Louvre Abu Dhabi has announced a full season of programming for the 2018-2019 season under the theme World of Exchanges.

International exhibitions will include Japanese Connections: The Birth of Modern Décor (until 24 November 2018), which explores links between Japanese aesthetics and modern French decorative arts; Roads of Arabia (until 16 February 2019), the acclaimed touring exhibition exploring the archaeological and cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula; Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age: The Leiden Collection and the musée du Louvre (14 February – 14 May 2019) presenting 17th century masterpieces by Rembrandt and artists of his time; and Opening the Album of the World (25 April – 30 July 2019) in collaboration with Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, tracing early photographic methods from around the globe. The Children’s Museum – also part of the premises – has opened its second exhibition, which looks at real and imaginary animals throughout art history.

Louvre Rain of Light
Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ‘rain of light’ © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography: Mohamed Somji

The cost of a ticket is approximately (depending on the exchange rate), R230 per person and if you want an audio guide, that will be another R80 but I felt the information on the work all around the museum was more than adequate and the guide for me personally, removed me rather than brought me closer to the work. So altogether, stopping over, the visa (R800) and the transport (R500) would cost in the region of R2 700 for two people. That doesn’t include any refreshments and you do need some, not at the museum for those on budget but you could indulge in an Abu Dhabi meal if food is a passion and then do some more investigating of the city.

Hotels, especially luxury ones, are also plentiful and to make the excursion more meaningful you could stay over, take a trip to the old city of Dubai (which is about 75 minutes away by car), but this would all take more money and time.

For me, for now, the exceptional art and exquisite building was more than enough and something I wanted to savour. And in the future, there are plans to further expand the galleries to include a Guggenheim and more.

I can’t wait.