FASHION MAVERICK ANDRÉ LEON TALLEY CONQUERS THE CHIFFON TRENCHES IN STYLE

There’s so much surprising in the André Leon Talley book, which as the title suggests is all about the haute couture world, that temple of mainly French fashion, but also the world of the high priestess Anna Wintour. And then he deals with the rapidly declining media world because of the shift of advertising and of course all the personalities he mingled with daily. DIANE DE BEER hangs on to every word:

Pictures from the book

André Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches (4th Estate)

Anyone who has even the slightest interest in the fashion world would at least have noticed this author at international fashion events.

He stood out –physically because of his size and his race in this almost lily-white world, but also because of his presence, his flamboyance, yes even amongst the fashion glitterati. He knew how to do that.

I’m not sure I would have read the book if one of my smartest friends didn’t gift it to me. She sussed that this might have more depth than simply chronicling the sometimes vacuous world of couture.

And indeed it does. If we have realised anything in this past decade if paying attention to America (and how can we not), it is that nothing when race is involved is as it should be. That was even true for this remarkable man, who made such an impact in the way he celebrated fashion.

There was really nothing he loved more. His own stylish entrance into this world, the way he found a way to work for Andy Warhol and form a decades-long friendship with Karl Lagerfeld. And finally at the tail end of his career, his working and more intimate relationship with Anna Wintour.

As part of the printed world, I was stunned by the revelations in this book almost mirroring what happened in our newspaper and magazine world when their advertising platforms started imploding.

I used to jokingly say that I would be switching off the lights, but not thinking for a second that the rarefied world I had been working in for most of my life would end almost with my formal career – and quite harshly at that.

Surprise then that even for those glamorous journalists and editors who are almost as much part of the story as the people they write about, life was not much different. When printed journalism’s problems escalated locally because of a dearth of advertising, it was happening worldwide. And the bosses there behaved as badly as the bosses locally.

“When Polly Mellen who had been at Vogue for thirty years, was forced to retire, they gave her a cocktail party in the basement of Barneys. I went, and remained utterly confused about it throughout the night. It didn’t make sense; it was undignified. They could have honoured her with a seated dinner, with guests of her choice. Or a golden watch, a Bentley, a Rolls Royce, something! She could decide to keep it or sell it, but a little cocktail bash in the Barneys basement? Ageism at its worst. They wanted to get rid of her at Vogue to make way for someone else. They booted her upstairs to Allure, and she retired soon afterwards. That was not befitting of what Polly Mellen had contributed to Vogue, nor of the decades for which she worked there

This might all sound a bit over-the-top. Who gets a Bentley when they leave the company? No one who can be described as middle class. But I suppose in this moneyed world where the journalists become as famous as those they’re writing about, it happenened.

What fascinated me was the business ethics which are on a par around the world. One thinks it is just in one’s little corner. But as Talley illustrates, this is the way the world turns and why we have the top 1 percent so far removed from ordinary lives that they can’t respond to their employees with any humanity.

It’s not all gloom and doom, however, not in the life of the larger-than-life André. Because of who he is and where he works, he doesn’t have to name drop, those are the people who are part of his immediate circle. From Lee Radziwill (Jacky O’s sister) to Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour (whom he both admires and admonishes for her lack of warmth), and of course many others like the supermodels who reigned during his time as well as the different designers who would share their design secrets, their fears and their dreams with someone like André who had both power and empathy.

From the early days, long before Vogue, he established his own style. That’s what propelled him into this world. He could identify style, he could step into that world with grace and he could write about it with flair. He also became part of the fanfare which is part of the chiffon trenches if you really want to be part of that world. And he did.

His passion for couture and everything that represented is what dominated his life. And like any creative, he simply put his head down and found a way to become part of everything he most loved in this world.

Friends in fashion: Lagerfeld and Talley

Sadly, Talley (and of course Karl Kagerfeld) died early this year and that world has lost one of its most entertaining and flashy personalities. And as is often the case, he is really only appreciated now.

It’s a fascinating read, because of the man and the universe he lived in. No one is irreplaceable, but I’m sure even Ms Wintour must miss this valued eye who was both honest and honoured to be asked for advice on, for example, her outfit for a smart occasion.

But also his take on the world, his way of entering a room, what he believed his role was and how his whole being was thrown into his daily work. The chiffon trenches is where his heart and his passion lay.

JAPANESE TEAM PRESENT DREAM CUISINE, TIME AND AGAIN

DIANE DE BEER

The exquisite tastes of Japan as presented by the Japanese embassy.

If a Japanese ambassador brings his own chef (and, as a bonus, the chef’s wife who is also his assistant in the kitchen), you can know there’s something interesting happening both in the kitchen and at the table. We have been privileged (myself and chef/wine connoisseur Hennie Fisher) to be part of these Japanese dinner adventures a few times:

Because Ambassador Norio Maruyama arrived in this country almost at the same time as Covid19, he has had to keep his wits about him when trying to fulfil his mandate. Sometimes there was nothing to do because lockdown prohibited all gatherings, but with the lifting of restrictions, he came up with the idea of hosting small dinner parties rather than large gatherings.

This, of course, especially for those of us not part of the diplomatic scene, was a perfect solution and one that worked brilliantly. Sometimes at the large ambassadorial events, the diplomatic corps gather for dinner talk and other guests are left dangling somewhat.

Yet with these small dinners, not only can the food be more splashy, but –  especially, as in this instance, when  your host is both a foodie and a wine lover (one with excellent knowledge of local wine, to our excitement)  – the dinner can also turn into a huge learning as well as extravagant sensual experience.

From the first dinner (which I wrote, about in previous posting), we knew that not only did we discover new delights when presented with their amazing cuisine, but – especially we also lost our heart to the host and his chefs, Jun Suzuki and his wife Mutsumi.

Returning recently for a dinner, we both felt that because the chef was aware of our admiration for his food, he could relax and be more comfortable in what he presented us with. We are the kind of diners who like being surprised and discovering different levels of a cuisine we are getting to know. And with the excellent wine pairings, as well as detailed descriptions of each dish, it’s my favourite kind of meal. I’m getting nourishment of both the soul and senses – narrative and nurturing. What more could one possibly ask for?

******

And here some wine notes from wine connoisseur Hennie Fisher, who accompanied me on these dinners:

Often, people who love food also feverishly investigate and research beverages to enjoy along with their food. This includes wine, but also other drinks. In fact, the art of pairing food and wine seems to be an increasingly popular pastime. Ambassador Murayama, who loves wine, of course came to the right country to indulge his interest. One seldom visits someone’s house to be presented with wines from your own country that you know nothing about. You may not previously have drunk that exact wine, but at least, because you have close interaction with wine as an agri-product in South Africa, you generally know either the producer, farm, or estate where the wine originated. On different occasions, Ambassador Murayama brought out the big guns, local as well as international one example is a sake from Ichinokura.

The ambassador was especially proud of a white wine made here in South Africa, by Stark Conde ‘Round Mountain’ Sauvignon Blanc, because the Japanese symbol for round mountain is the same as his surname, Maruyama. On another visit, we were served a barrel-selected Roussanne 2013 from Ken Forrester, which was probably one of the most exciting wines I ever had the pleasure to drink. A Storm Pinot Noir 2018 was also sublime. On yet another occasion we had a

Testalonga El Bandito Cortez, an orange wine by Elementis, followed by a Taaibosch 2018 Crescendo, and we ended the meal with some serious Japanese whiskies such as Hibiki Suntory, a 21-year-old whisky. We will miss the ambassador’s fine palate when he moves on to his next posting.

Kanpai!

******

As on a previous occasion, we again started off with One Bite of Happiness, a title I love, and it’s exactly what you get. As pretty as a picture, the deep-fried tofu with yuzu was exquisite. This was followed by a Tataki of tuna which simply means the method (pounding in this instance) of preparation served on a dashi foam. You can’t fault the Japanese on fish – and that’s no exaggeration. Next was their delightfully inventive gooseberry salad, taking the place of  the more traditional palate cleanser.

Duck yakatori style was the main and this was presented with great flair, to the guests’ absolute joy. And this being our first duck experience à la Japanese, it was quite splendid – and it had to be, not to disappoint after such a theatrical entrance.

Sweets started with an Amarula ice cream with the citrussy mikan and finally a work of art in the form of three sweet things: walnut, mochi (rice cake) and yokan (red bean paste).

Our appreciation was complete and we loved the way they paid homage to the host country with ingredients like the gooseberries and the Amarula.

Chef Zane Figueiredo from Brooklyn’s Wood and Fire with the two Japanese counterparts Mutsumi and Jun Suzuki with the restaurant staff all part of the glorious evening.

For the second time in almost a month, we attended a Taste of Japan held annually at Wood and Fire in Brooklyn, as the guests of Ambassador Maruyama. This time Jun and Mutsumi stepped into the kitchen of the restaurant and with the help of yet another of my favourite chefs, Zane Figueiredo, produced an extraordinary tasting menu which was the perfect infusion of Japanese cuisine to satisfy both the novice and those of us who feel we have been introduced to their food by those who know and love it best.

Okonomiyaki

The welcome snack of edamame beans with schichimi togarashi (a red pepper spice) is a staple on Japanese tables, familiar here but less frequently served. It’s a pity because it has that moreish quality which makes it difficult to stop and it’s healthy!

Okonomiyaki, another Japanese favourite and quite yummy, is a savoury pancake (almost pizza-like) and this was flavoured with green cabbage, beansprouts, kewpie (mayo), ginger, nori and otafuku sauce (close to our Wocestershire).

Noodles was next on the list with prawn served with a shiitake broth, assorted veggies and shiso (a mint herb) followed by a delicate arrangement of sashimi, including salmon, sea bass, and with a nod to the South Africans, Springbok carpaccio all with a dash of different Japanese condiments which just take it to another level.

Yakitori (either chicken or green beans with spring onion) was the last appetiser before the mains consisting of Katsu Curry, which included a choice of pork, chicken or aubergine with fukujinzuke (Japanese pickles) and short grain rice.

Most of the servings were small and with healthy food inherently part of  Japanese  cuisine, it was again a broad introduction to many Japanese ingredients and flavours in a meal that was delicately balanced and, as always, finished with a flourish of mochi and ice cream!

Soudai na (Magnifique)!

KAROO KAARTE LEADS THE WAY IN THE ARTS WITH A PROJECT DESIGNED AND DESTINED TO ELEVATE AND PROMOTE REAL CHANGE IN COMMUNITIES

South Africans are starting to realise that we have to do it for ourselves. That’s how change will really make an impact. It’s something artists Neil Coppen and Vaughn Sadie put into practice with the establishment of Karoo Kaarte at (and with the help and support of) the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees and a handful of other funders . DIANE DE BEER spoke to the two art activists about this ongoing dream of theirs:

Co-Facilitator Vaughn Sadie leading a discussion with the core team (left) with co-facilitator Neil Coppen during rehearsals for Op Hierie Dag. Photography by Ryan Dammert.
Karoo Kaarte (Karoo Maps) was one of the most intriguing and important productions at this year’s Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK).

The project’s name Karoo Kaarte plays on the dual meaning of kaarte in the Oudshoorn context. The English translation of kaarte is maps and in the local vernacular “om kaarte te sny” refers to hanging out and telling both serious and light hearted stories.

Described in the festival guide as the heart of the festival, it was the result of months of research and work done in Oudtshoorn. It was the dream of the late Dr David Piedt, a founding member and Chairman of the KKNK and someone who worked tirelessly for the transformation and renewal of the KKNK over the years.

The project driven by the KKNK was established to make a transformative difference in the Karoo town where the festival is based.

Facilitated by the smart combo of the innovative theatre maker Neil Coppen and the visual artist Vaughn Sadie, the idea was to use the arts in many different ways to change the narrative of the Oudtshoorn community to a more inclusive one.

Karoo Kaarte team gathers for the research and creative process used to bring together a range of participants to reimagine the archive as an inclusive community resource. And images and details of the Karoo Kaarte team engaging, over a series of workshops, with Zietske Saaiman’s large-scale map of Oudtshoorn and its many suburbs which she painstakingly demarcated in masking tape on the floor of the CP Nel Museum Hall. Photography by Ryan Dammert and Karoo Kaarte.

Storytelling is one of the most powerful and compelling tools we have as people to bring about change, and it is exactly what was applied in this project in many different forms. The whole community of the town was encouraged to participate and engage in the research projects, which focussed on as many individuals as possible telling their individual stories, and more particularly, how they saw themselves featured in the town.

The whole exercise is about bringing people together. With our past in mind, many of our towns and cities still show the former fault lines and it is wishful thinking to hope that things will slide into normality by itself. This is some of what they were working with to incorporate and bring everyone together to tell their stories and become part of the fabric of this Karoo town.

Coppen explains how it all started: “I’ve worked with Hugo Theart (KKNK Artistic Director) multiple occasions as a producer and across many of our conversations, he always expressed the festival’s need and enthusiasm for developing projects that invested in the Oudtshoorn arts community and deepened the relationship between the festival, residents and local artists.”

 “The Karoo Kaarte Project was born from these conversations and is an expansion and deeper iteration of a variety of projects Vaughn Sadie and I have worked on over the last decade, both in collaboration and separately. As artists and facilitators we both are deeply passionate about, and committed to, initiating public participatory arts and theatre projects across South Africa, creating work that attempts to stimulate empathy, awareness, dialogue and deeper listening through performance and visual arts mediums.”

With the help of  the KKNK, their resources and energy, they were able to pull off a project and programme of this depth, complexity and reach. Both Coppen and Sadie moved to Oudtshoorn for six months, collaborating daily with what they  describe as an incredible team of young artists, writers, musicians, performers, arts leaders, activists and educators.

The good news is that this is an ongoing project. With the KKNK, their vision is to establish a solid and effective long-term engagement with the community of Oudtshoorn through the arts and expand the project annually to include and feature more and more local artists at the festival.

A big part of the success depended on the people involved. The process was one of broad consultation, which meant that Coppen and Sadie engaged with around 60 businesspeople, traditional knowledge holders, political leaders, supporters of the festival and artists to reflect on the possibilities of implementing a community-led festival programme for the KKNK in 2022. 

“Once the project began, we selected a core team of Oudtshoorn-based artists, poets, arts leaders, writers, musicians, researchers, facilitators and educators . These participants were guided over the four-month ‘first phase’ of the project through a series of weekly workshops to introduce the project methodologies and processes.

“Essential to the success of these processes was the involvement of leading intangible heritage consultant Deidre Prins-Solani, who facilitated a series of key workshops around developing the project ethos,  harnessing deep listening skills and the importance of preserving and archiving the intangible heritage of the region.” 

The core team participants were then trained in oral history skills and methodologies and, from October 2021, conducted 35 oral histories with a range of residents around the themes of music, land, identity, sexuality, disability, history and place. These unearthed a compelling set of stories and life histories which were and are being collated and used to bolster the existing archives housed in the CP Nel Museum, which means that the history of the town is being broadened to capture as much of the community as possible.

For change to truly manifest, everyone has to claim ownership.

From this body of research the team also generated content in the form of four Zines (small magazines distributed at the Festival), art exhibitions, a theatre production and a musical performance for a week-long community-led programme at the 2022 KKNK Festival, all of which we as festival goers could engage with.

On the art side, a participatory collage process saw the team working with hundreds of images handpicked from the CP Nel Historic archives and a selection from the KKNK’s past 25 years of theatre festival photography, as well as personal images brought to workshops by participants. These collage workshops were held with school learners, unemployed youth in outlying rural areas (in partnership with the Youth Cafe) and the broader public. 

This process was designed as a quick but thought-provoking introduction by capturing how participants from various walks of life imagined themselves, as well as their sense of place and context within the town and outlying areas.

 This then lead to the theatre production Op Hierie Dag and the public arts programme. Both the theatre and arts teams (each featuring around ten participants in their teams) sifted through vast bodies of research to create performances and exhibitions which fall outside of the more stereotypical ones that have come to define the region – and of course many others.

To find musicians, actors, writers and poets for the theatre production, a series of open auditions were hosted covering the town extensively. In the end, the panel saw over 100 people and completed call-backs and workshops to finalise the cast and musicians for the production.

Sadie explains that the visual arts, theatre and music are all invaluable modes of expression for communicating the research. “It’s important to have multiple entry points to make the project accessible to different audiences through different registers.”

“I was deeply inspired by the level of dedication, talent and commitment shown by the whole team and was challenged and changed by creating this work and dreaming alongside all of them. I believe the Karoo Kaarte process proves that collaboration at this scale can yield powerful and exciting creative results,” noted Coppen.

He argues that  much of art and theatre making in the Western world is about individual ego, hierarchies and ownership, while all the outputs of Karoo Kaarte were achieved through deep conversation, consultation and collaboration with dozens and dozens of incredible minds and talents. “It was a process whereby each one of us were encouraged to contribute our respective skill sets and abilities to the mix.”

 The theatre production of Op Hierie Dag, for example, featured many voices and contributions and a text inspired and co-authored by the citizens of Oudtshoorn. “One of the local participants, Tiffany Saterdacht and I worked incredibly hard to wield all these narratives into a coherent theatrical experiences, but the material itself literally stems from thousands of pages of research and interviews that were gathered by the Kaarte core team.”

“In the end there were so many people responsible for its success and reception and who could feel a sense of pride in what they collectively accomplished and saw up there on the stage.”

Some of the Karoo Kaarte team members including (L to R) Clarissa Saaiman, Glenisha Tarentaal, Tiffany Saterdaght, Cole Wessels, Zietske Saaiman, Lauren Theodore, Mirinda Ntantiso, Ané Koegelenberg,  and back Theo Witbooi, Janion (Noemwoord) Kennedy Vaughn Sadie and Neil Coppen.

What excites Coppen and Sadie is the talent they unearthed. Many of them were young artists and arts leaders who worked tirelessly at their craft and disciplines for several years and honed their abilities despite the challenges they have faced around lack of access, recognition and platforms.

 They both agreed that many of the participants across this project were some of the most talented and hardworking artists they had the privilege of working with.

If anything, this project set out to try dismantle this misconception that artists and performers from small towns (the fringes of more urban arts centres) are lesser or “amateur”… when all that’s really missing from the equation is the access to space, platforms, mentorship and resources.

 When you are able to offer these elements to these artists and storytellers, they are truly able to shine and receive the sort of recognition that is long overdue to them. So a project like Karoo Kaarte tries to foster and build these platforms and shift the national spotlight to shine on worlds, people and stories that have been excluded from national stages and conversations for way too long. It’s really about treating Klein Karoo based artists and storytellers with the respect, audiences and attention they deserve.

For those of us lucky enough to see some of what they had created, the most impressive was the participants and their enthusiasm.

Thato Mbambe during his solo in the Vallei Klanke concert at the 2022 KKNK festival. Mbambe was one of the successful younger candidates from the audition process to land roles in both the theatre concert and stage production.

If I had one bit of criticism it was about not understanding the breadth of the project. I missed out on the museum collages and I know many were unaware of the musical evening at the end of the festival, one of my highlights of the festival. The result was that even more excitement around the project could have been generated.

 Fortunately, as Coppen states, “the dream is for this process to continue and grow and expand well into the future and we are already dreaming up new processes as a collective for 2023”.

The acclaimed Lida Botha as part of the Op Hierie Dag cast.

That is heartening and I for one will be planning ahead to make sure I witness Karoo Kaarte’s evolvement from start to finish. And I’m crossing fingers that this is a process that will spread to cities and towns across the country.

The six Kanna Award nominations for the theatre production alongside the Kanna Herrie-prys for cutting-edge contribution to the festival saw the Karoo Kaarte team sharing stages and recognition with some of South Africa’s top theatre and arts luminaries, an achievement that further begins to blur the lines between so called “community” artists and those who operate in the “mainstream.”

Karoo Kaarte, a KKNK project, was supported by the ATKV, Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater-inisiatief (NATi), the Oudtshoorn Municipality, the Western Cape Department of Culture and Sport, Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE), the Netherland Embassy of South Africa, the University of Stellenbosch’s Department of Social Impact and Transformation, the C.P. Nel Museum, SON, Business Arts South Africa (BASA) and Absa. Research was supported under the To-Gather programme of the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia.

JOHN KANI AND MICHAEL RICHARD SLAY DRAGONS IN THE JOBURG THEATRE’S KUNENE AND THE KING

DIANE DE BEER

PLAY: KUNENE AND THE KING

PLAYWRIGHT: John Kani

CAST: John Kani and Michael Richard

SINGER: Lungiswa Plaatjes

DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman

LIGHTING: Mannie Manim

SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER: Birrie le Roux

VENUE: The Mandela at the Joburg Theatre

DATES: Until June 19

To sit in a buzzy theatre and wait for a play to start in Gauteng has been a rare thing these past few years, but it is seriously starting to happen again.

And what a thrill to witness two of our greats, John Kani and Michael Richard, sparring with each other in a play written by Kani.

He has, as many times before, read the times right and written accordingly. When someone of his stature and experience decides to tell our story in whichever way he chooses, we should listen. He is scratching at the heart of our much maligned nation and does it in a way that draws his audience in and has them laughing and crying with great regularity.

Staged in the big Mandela Theatre, where I have witnessed many musicals in my time, and perhaps one or two plays at most, I was nervous about the space and if it could hold the play.

But with the knowledge that racism in whatever form is even more relevant now than at any other time and should be talked about – especially by those who live the experience  –  the space embraced the play and the people. With only 50 percent capacity allowed, the theatre wasn’t packed, but enough of a crowd was there and they were vocal.

It is the kind of work that allows for that. Two old men, one white, one black, meet under less than favourable circumstances with the one dying and the other employed as his caregiver. Nasty old patterns creep in from the start as the white patient realises a (black) intruder has just entered the room. Stereotypical? Yes, but that’s what we need in these circumstances and Kani is wise enough to know how to tell this story and make his point with great force.

You realise from the start that there’s no subtlety here, but the thing is, racism doesn’t and can’t demand that. And I would much rather be hit full-on over and over again with a problem that persists so viciously through the ages, than sit with the denial countries like the US have to tackle now. They’re still arguing about slavery!

With our apartheid history and if the audience witnessed in the theatre that night are a sample of who we are, we at least know what racism is and that we have it in this country in abundance, but we’re also far enough down the road that we can sit together and both laugh and cry bitterly at what people do to one another. Even when facing death.

Kani has cleverly told his story with all the familiarities around an everyday situation. He is dealing in broad strokes so that you don’t miss the awful stupidity. And then you put it in the hands of two accomplished actors who can pull it off – brilliantly.

It is the stupidity of so much of human interaction that allows Kani to bring enough seriousness to the topic to never veer too far away from what we are dealing with. He has a distinct speaking and writing voice and it’s a thrill to experience both. And now he has added grace and elegance to the ageing process to have one watch in awe how he slips onto his knees and pops back again with the alacrity of someone much younger.

It is the skills he has honed with his abundance of stage smarts through his decades of dedication to his craft which are joyous to experience time and again. And fortunately for those of us who love live theatre, while he enjoys the honours of Hollywood and is picked for the big ones these days, he always returns to his first love. And we benefit gratefully.

Richard is another who always returns when offered the chance – and this was a good one. He does curmudgeon well and switches easily between biting his caregiver’s giving hand and dismissing his own foot-in-the-mouth statements while ignoring the impact on someone who lived through the worst of apartheid at the harshest receiving end.

That’s what this play is about, mirroring those tap-dripping daily ignorant remarks by careless people who have no clue how their behaviour impacts the lives of others.

Tired of people asking when recriminations about apartheid will stop, I turned to my truthsayer, who said: When the victims say so.

And especially in circumstances where one group mistreats and denies another even the basest of human rights, those on the other side, whether participating or not, should listen and learn. And this is what Kunene and the King does so magnificently.

There’s nothing here that we haven’t heard before – in abundance and regularly. The point is that we still hear and witness many of these loathsome behaviours on a daily basis. We’re 27 years into our democracy, a number that rings harshly in South African years.

It is 2022 and we have had a couple of dastardly isolating years during which to reflect, if nothing else. That’s why a play like Kunene and the King is a blessing especially when it is delivered in such a generously heart-warming yet heartfelt fashion.

Lungiswa Plaatjes

The production is gently moulded by director Janice Honeyman, who is at her best when having to tell a story. She added the sass of design wiz Birrie le Roux and lighting genius Mannie Manim to add the visual strength as well as a magnificent musical interlude to soften the edges and complete a magical circle.

Kani and the team have  staged a  joyous theatrical experience in spite of the seriousness of the subject. That’s the way to make us laugh and learn.

IT’S TIME FOR MOTHERS TO MATTER, SPEAK OUT AND CLAIM THEIR RIGHTFUL STATUS IN THE FAMILY

MOER (Protea Books), the debut novel of Michèle Meyer, tackles the shrine of motherhood and both dismantles and deconstructs the position of family saviour these often battered and bruised women have to uphold. It’s a brave and necessary approach to take, writes DIANE DE BEER:

Mothers of the world are often celebrated in superficial ways, but when it comes to their daily lives and how they have to cope, it is often woman alone.

She isn’t really allowed to complain because so many get on with it and don’t say a word. It is a selfless task, even with the rewards of raising a family. With that comes a responsibility that must be quite terrifying.

And on my part that’s only conjecture, because by choice I didn’t have any. The task for me seemed too daunting and I knew for my sanity I needed to work. For some of us that’s just how it is.

Michèle Meyer’s book MOER (Protea Books) has a title with many meanings, amongst them an old-fashioned word for mother, but also translating to extremely harsh words, and thus giving the indication, certainly to this reader, that this is going to be an interesting read.

And it is so much more. It does indeed deal with motherhood, but is written in quite a novel fashion. The chapters are mostly short and while the characters are all connected and there is a throughline, it’s not a once-upon-a-time story.

It deals with different aspects of being a woman in relation to being a mother. I know that editor Deborah Steinmair guided the decision of how to present this particular story and it’s something author Michèle Meyer eagerly acknowledges.

It is the clever combination of the writing and the compilation that adds power to this/these  particular mother(s) story.

That’s what Meyer achieves. It becomes universal rather than personal, even when it feels almost painfully personal. As her mother was singularly alone in a house filled with husband and children, so many wives/mothers are confronted with children whom they have to raise on their own. Sometimes they are single, but other times the need for help isn’t acknowledged – mentally or physically – and often the means aren’t there and one partner is out in the world earning the family’s keep, while the other keeps the family alive.

It’s a setup that hasn’t changed for far too long with most of the time, the children handed over to the mother to do as she sees fit – and sometimes she has no clue.

In many instances, it is the circumstances not the people involved that turn out to be harrowing, but in others, it’s just the way things have been done for generations with the man of the household making the decisions while everyone else has to comply.

And then, of course, there are many permutations … yet very few are resolved. Meyer’s mother(s), alas, is from a very isolated place. Young and fragile, she is left to her own devices as she tries to face the terrors of motherhood singly. The husband is carving out his career and that is something that takes up all of his time, his wife and his growing brood hardly acknowledged.

And yes, I know in many instances these things can be worked out and dealt with in quite a wholesome manner, but that is still unattainable in most households. Sometimes money helps to alleviate the worst, but there’s not much one can do about an emotional wasteland.

Not many people have the fight to go this one alone, but sometimes, that’s the only option. And for this mother that was it – and her saving grace. Meyer doesn’t save us the hardship of what her mother had to battle to survive. And that’s yet another courageous decision. Mothers are meant to carry the load – without complaints. This one does too, but she knows she has to save her life for the sake of her children and even when losing them at the start of rebuilding her life, she knows she doesn’t have a choice.

A recent story of a single mother who fought for her child on one of the streaming services told a similar story. It was based on a true story of a young woman involved with a weak man she knew she had to shake. She does, but her only option is to work in the service industry cleaning houses, and everything (especially bureaucracy) is against her succeeding. The world isn’t set up to reach out  a helping hand. Instead these women are disregarded, or seen as victims, never worth saving. They have to fight for themselves.

It’s time that more women speak out, tell and share their stories so that others might have the courage to stand up and walk out when often their sanity and their lives are involved.

Because it is a story of mothers, individual readers will read it from different perspectives, and that is what makes this such a smart read.

Meyer’s writing is hard-hitting (many will think personal) and that especially makes it such a brave book and one that will bring relief to many who will (hopefully) no longer feel alone.

COLSON WHITEHEAD SHUFFLES WITH WORDS AND YOUR MIND WITH OH SO SMART SLEIGHT OF HAND

Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle (Fleet) reviewed by

Diane de Beer

Reading has been good to me these past few months. Just like the last book I read/reviewed, this is another author who always has me running to find his latest offering.

Following the deeply political Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, both Pulitzer-Prize-winners, Harlem Shuffle doesn’t disappoint. And like these two former books, while not overtly so, it also has a political thread running throughout. How could it not if it is Whitehead and Harlem is part of the novel’s name?

What grabs one though (and having heard Colson speak about the novel) is how different this is to anything else he has written – the story, that is. Not the writing, that’s as brilliant as ever.

He has a way with words, shuffles with your emotions this way and that (even had me wiping away a tear towards the end) and takes you into a world far away from your own and yet, turns it into something familiar and recognisable. He also has you smiling at the way he writes. Sometimes it is funny, but it is also his way of turning a phrase, his vocabulary and the way he paints pictures with his colourful language.

I truly love reading his writing.

Here is a conversational segue which slips in while telling of a death-defying  journey his main character is in the process of making:

His accomplice asks him if he knows how to use the gun and Colson writes the following: “There had been one time in high school when his father was out and rats had been squealing for hours behind his building. That anyone can hear it and not go crazy was inconceivable. He knew where his father kept his gun. On the closet shelf where his mother had kept her hat boxes, Big Mike had a shoebox with bullets and knives and what Carney later figured was a makeshift garotte. And this month’s gun. The day of the rats it had been a .38 snub nose that sat like a big black frog on Carney’s thirteen-year-old palm. It was loud. He didn’t know if he hit any critters, but they scattered and Carney lived in fear for weeks that his father would find out he’s been in his stuff. When he opened the box months later, there was a different pistol inside.

He told Pepper he knew how to use it.”

Naturally it is also the story he tells. And everything that comes in such layered fashion. This, for example, is how he describes his wife Elizabeth, who works for a travel agency that finds safe routes and cities for black people to travel through and to in the US:

“On the wall at Elizabeth’s office they had a map of the United States and the Caribbean with pins and red marker to indicate the cities and towns and routes the Black Star promoted. Stay on the path and you’ll be safe, eat in peace, sleep in peace, breathe in peace; stray and beware. Work together and we can subvert their evil order. It was a map of the black nation inside the white world, part of the bigger thing but its own self, independent, with its own constitution. If we didn’t help one another we’d be lost out there.”

Our main guy, Carney, is described thus before we even meet him: “Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked …”

And then the story begins. It is about two cousins who for a time in their lives lived like brothers and formed an unbreakable bond. Carney was the good one, and his cousin Freddie the one who got him into trouble.

But that’s only part of it, even if it drives much of the tale. Our unlikely hero is also married to Elizabeth and with their two children, he dreams of creating a very specific life for his family. With that in mind, he takes regular solo walks to a certain part of Manhattan where he hopes – someday – to move to so that he can live the life of his dreams.

In his daily life, he owns a furniture store, which he bought with ill-gotten gains. But now he hopes to keep it straight and yet, he is constantly pulled into another world – until it threatens his dreams.

It’s the story being told on the surface and that cannot be ignored because there’s a rhythm that keeps you transfixed as Whitehead ever so often meanders and detours to deal in metaphors  of a different kind. It’s not your regular crime novel or family saga, even though all of that is there.

It’s about specific lives, their doings determined by their race, which is determined by another race and even more.

How Whitehead manages to shape even something that feels from the start like a crime caper is astonishing. And he does this with such sleight of hand that you never feel manipulated as a reader What he is sharing is simply the lives of others and in this way we get to know how some people complicate (with intent and sometimes deadly consequences) those lives of others.

If you haven’t yet delved into the world and words of Colson Whitehead, you’re in for a treat.

LOCAL MUSIC SHOULD MAKE OUR WORLD GO ROUND AND EVERYONE SHOULD BE PAYING ATTENTION

It was almost luck that I got to catch two musical documentaries at the recent Silwerskerm Fees. Musical prophet Danie Marais pointed the way and it was an extraordinary morning of two remarkable musical documents anyone interested in local music should try to see. Sadly, even at this festival, the attendance for these two searing films on the way music is used and abused was dismal – not even the local press seemed interested. DIANE DE BEER reviews and reveals more about MUTANT and DIE ONGETEMDE STEM:

Mutant pictures: Christian Imraan

Die Ongetemde Stem pictures: screen grabs

Mutant (directed and conceived by Lebogang Rasethaba and Nthato Mokgato) isn’t for the fainthearted. The Festival guide describes it as an intimate portrait of one of South Africa’s most outspoken and controversial artists and the turbulent, dangerous world he lives in.

I’m not in a position to dispute that, but I was gripped from beginning to end by what is described as an exploration of the rapper Isaac Mutant’s roots in the notorious violence-stricken Cape Flats of Cape Town, as well as his current situation.

This is an activist with a voice, articulate and angry yet reasoned when he explains that while he hates white people, he doesn’t want to kill them. “I just want to live or I would be like the evils I’m trying to fight.”

And he is coming from his reality, living in what he describes as “freedom” in a shack on Hangberg with the affluent Hout Bay and the harbour staring him in the face.

“I just want to live and I suppose everyone just wants to live,” he reinforces.

Still living in a country where apartheid determines lives, Isaac was directed by his sister, who saw him struggling with his anger, to turn to music. “Vent your anger into music,” and while many of his peers describe his lyrics as “hitting the nail too hard”, this is someone who is commenting on the life he lives and the one he experiences every day.

With his music he informs, he speaks his mind; and if democracy isn’t there to protect and nourish at least those dreams, what is the struggle for?

As another artist remarks, she doesn’t necessarily agree with what he is saying, but she admires Mutant for speaking his mind. Agreed!

And for those far removed from this world, it is an education, perhaps a harsh one, but in the separated worlds we still live in today, it’s invaluable. Are we just going to push people who are suffering away and hope the problem resolves itself, or do we at least engage and listen and hopefully understand and embrace?

As a representative for farmworkers explains: When one farmer dies, the world takes notice, but the deaths of farmworkers on a weekly basis are ignored. “Whose life is more valuable?” she asks.

 And that is what Isaac Mutant is fighting for. He might say things that those of us who are privileged don’t want to hear, but the least we can do is listen.

Isaac Mutant fighting for freedom

Or, as the man himself notes: “Let’s not talk, just give it back, give it all back. Everything that was taken away.”

We’re talking about a system which classified people along racial lines. And in those times, this mixed race man was considered black. It’s something he has identified with all his life.

But now, in this new country, he feels he is being shifted along racial lines once again. No longer is he considered black, now he has to identify as coloured.

And these are just some of the issues on the line. And the reason that Mutant has to be watched and Isaac Mutant has to be listened to.

Isaac Mutant in discussion with friends

The film is still on a festival run and has recently been  submitted to Netflix and Comcast for potential licensing deals.

The next festivals to screen it are: Blackstar Film Festival (USA); Rock This Town (France); and

Musical Ecran (France).

On a very different note yet with many of the same issues Die Ongetemde Stem takes a hard and uncompromising look at the Afrikaans music industry and the racial imbalances that still persist almost 30 years into our democracy.

Fraser Barry, Jolyn Phillips and Churchil Naudé, all who have been sidelined.

One would think that especially when people have a language in common, inclusion would be a given particularly  with our past. I was shocked, for example, to hear that someone like the articulate Churchil Naudé who uses his music to express particular feelings, still feels side-lined.

 Even if his music is not going to slot into some sections of Afrikaans music, that’s true of many singers, black and white, or are we still in this new  century going to judge on colour? Surely not?

Revolutionary rockers The Gereformeerde Blues Band in their hey day.

In this new era, rapidly becoming old, everyone writing and performing in a particular language should be embraced. And as the documentary points out, this battle was fought many decades ago by Johannes Kerkorrel and the Gereformeerde Blues Band when they broke through the boundaries of traditional Afrikaans music, which was often translated from European songs and determined by a self-imposed vanguard of elders.

But let Riku Lätti tell the story: “It came to us almost completely by accident while we were busy filming interviews and live performances by a multitude of mostly, but not exclusively, Afrikaans singer-songwriters as Die Wasgoedlyn. 

“Die Wasgoedlyn was a project that originated because I realised that the Afrikaans music that I liked and the Afrikaans music that received airtime and public attention could not be further apart.  I discovered, partly by virtue of being an Afrikaans music creator myself, connected and known to many other creators of original Afrikaans music, and partly because I started the investigation, that there is a magdom (please let’s submit that word to English dictionaries) decent Afrikaans music that for the lack of a better term could be referred to as Alternatiewe Afrikaans.

Arbiter of Afrikaans music the volk should hear; Anton Hartman

 “So Alternatiewe Afrikaans becomes a huge category from hard rock, punk, industrial, electronic, to all the way gritty folk and darker country, hip-hop, Goema, Afrikana (think old-school (and thought of as inappropriate by the Afrikaans music police) boeremusiek like Die Briels en Koos Doep).  Basically every kind of Afrikaans music that you wouldn’t hear on commercial radio stations.   Those are all the styles that I have a personal affinity towards, but never got to hear unless you actually go to the concerts of these musicians and go to see them personally. 

Some of the vocal participants in the documentary.

“Many of my favourite Afrikaans artists I set out to go see personally. I asked them if I could record their music with my mobile recording studio sommer at their homes or wherever we had the good fortune to be.  I released hundreds of these tunes and you can go listen to them if you search for Wasgoedlyn on youtube or itunes, or spotify. Basically, wherever you listen to music online. 

“These recordings by the original artists have a stripped down quality to it, a rawness, a cut- to-the-bone grainy atmosphere, that the environment provides, since these tunes where not recorded in pristine soundproof studios (Go listen to Wasgoedlyn Volume 1 – 3 online you will hear what I mean).”

As David Kramer also reminded us in the documentary (and live as part of the too small audience), Afrikaans was appropriated by the white elite while the origins of the language lay within the brown communities. And again, that was the problem for those who had the power to decide what would be played at the SABC.

Either way, the thing that should in this new millennium be the motivator, is the riches that the different communities bring to the language. We are a country that should be embracing all our artists because our diversity adds to the richness that will then emerge on our stages, in our literature, in our music and on our canvasses or in our sculptures.

We have tried separating and proved that it doesn’t bring solace to any particular group. It is our diversity that brings strength as this documentary shows so magnificently! And even the recent Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees again showed how the diversity on the stages added to the stories and songs that enveloped and enchanted audiences.

And that is what Die Ongetemde Stem celebrates.

It will be shown at a South African, Australian, New Zealand film festival in May in Melbourne but also online at: 

RONELDA S KAMFER’S KOMPOUN WILL LEAVE YOU SHATTERED BUT THE BRILLIANCE WITH WHICH SHE WRITES IS LASTING AND WILL BLOW YOUR MIND

As a fan of Ronelda Kamfer’s gut-wrenching poetry, I was excited by the announcement of her first novel, Kompoun (Kwela). There’s something about her writing that holds you in its thrall and instinctively I knew that whichever way she chooses to tell a story, I will be on board. And having declared my subjectivity, I, DIANE DE BEER and the author speak our minds:

Ronelda S Kamfer

With Ronelda S Kamfer you know from the first sentence the kind of story you’re about to drop into.

And if you want to know what’s happening in literature in this country, you have to read this one. As an award-winning poet, this is her first novel, but she says that she doesn’t view the writing in any way as different.

“There was never really a shift. To me the boundaries between poetry and prose are superficial. I felt the story would benefit from a longer form. I wanted to capture more detail than I usually would. 

 “The main differences were the technical aspects of writing a novel. Basic things like ensuring continuity and providing geographical context, etc. But I tend to keep a lot of notes anyway.

“ And that helped. With Kompoun (the title, which is explained by a dictionary entrance on o the word in the front of the book), Nadia and Xavie had a notebook, the landscape had its own notebook, and my feelings had its own little section in a bigger notebook.

“I had a very clear idea of all the different elements that would make up the book eventually,” she explains

The brilliance of the writing and the story lies in the way she catches life, colours it in so many different shades and textures that you have to keep your wits about you, and also tugs constantly at any emotional toughness you think you have.

You should know by the end of page one whether you can stomach this one and if you do, you will be gloriously enriched on many different levels. But believe me, it’s tough.

The young Nadia explains that her Uncle Empty is actually oraait. He hits his wife, but she has too few nice adults in her life to write him off. And right off the bat you take the first hit.

Telling the story is Nadia and she alternates with her cousin Xavie as they reflect on their childhood.

Readers not familiar with Afrikaaps but also the way Ronelda tells the story, will have to pay close attention when reading Kompoun. It is  heart-breaking and often shattering in its pain, yet completely compulsive – and brilliant.

Ronelda’s choice of young narrators also determines how you experience the story. “We are children for such a short time. But it’s a time of our lives where we’re most ourselves in many ways,” she says. “ It’s a beautiful moment, before we start to compromise bit by bit.

“We are more selfish in little ways, but less selfish in the ways that matter most. When we’re children, we are less averse to risk, and that makes us more open, more forgiving and more honest.

“Most adults are calculating and closed off to some extent. Self-preservation becomes the dominant theme in our lives.

“Their resilience in the face of life’s disappointments made the children the ideal storytellers because the story to a large degree is about the struggle to retain your innocence and the desire to live freely, openly and honestly.”

And this is perhaps further explained in the dedication in the front of the book: All the women, who had to say sorry, even when they weren’t sorry

Musing on the difference between the novel and poetry, she felt that the novel required more stamina and concentration for a longer stretch of time. “I get bored very quickly, so my mind would trail off to other things. With poetry everything moves faster. And every new poem feels like its own thing even if it’s part of a collection.

“With the novel I was always aware that every part is a piece of the whole. That’s one of the reasons perhaps why I had to break the book down into these short fragments. So that every chapter could feel like a little project. It kept me engaged. I will always write poetry and I will continue writing novels, but I’m sure I will write other things as well.”

One of the riches of the book is the language but it also restricts the readership as your Afrikaans has to be good to get a grip on the Kaaps. But if you do, it’s like music to the ear.

And for Ronelda, it is who she is and how she expresses herself, as she explains:

“The language is very important, because the story spans across generations and different geographical spaces. It was important to represent all the different variations of Kaaps, whether it was Plattelandse Kaaps or the way it’s spoken in the Western Cape.

“Kaaps is also a very visual language, that relies a lot on metaphors. My mother died 10 years ago and my grandmother a year ago and I see the way they used language as part of my inheritance.

“With Kompoun I managed to come up with some phrases that felt like it came from their mouths. And that is probably one of the most satisfying things for me.”

And for those of us who read it, the way the language is used is such a huge part of the story, as often it hits its target with a speed and velocity that catches you unaware – but has double the impact. It’s simply not translatable.

It has been said that it feels like an autobiographical story, but when you ask Ronelda about the objective of the story, she says it was the book itself.

“I write things because I feel compelled to write them. It’s not a reaction to anything nor a statement. It’s really just the manifestation of a desire. I wanted to see these places and these characters in literature, so I expressed that,” she says.

And that’s  precisely why you are drawn into the lives of these children from the start. In a South African context, it is a familiar world, perhaps harsher than many of us might imagine, but something we can understand.

I have found that the thing that excites me most in any book is originality. They say there are only a few stories to be told, but it is the way the story is told where the creativity lies. That’s true for Ronelda as well.

“I love books and films and music that give me an adrenaline rush. And I get that rush from hearing a truly original thought, or seeing something beautifully observed or understood.

“My aim as a writer is the same as my aim as a consumer of art. I want the reader’s heart to skip a beat.”

And that mine did from start to finish!

I was fascinated by the way I experienced Kompoun. While the story is devastating and, the lives of the children, especially Nadia’s beatings, emotionally and physically painful, the book is powerful rather than painful, as if  by telling the story and not hiding from the truth, the children reclaim their power.

“I think Kompoun is the first book I wrote without any rage; the characters might be fighting but the story is not about rage. For me, it is about profound loss and we have all lost.

“ It is not about whiteness or patriarchy or violence. These things are a product of loss but I understand how someone might read into that first. I think it has to do with empathy, and how you relate to the unfairness of the lives of the characters.

“In some people this need to empathize causes that almost knee-jerk reaction, to look for reasons and to allocate blame. I do that all the time, but I am learning to process things slower and sit with my feelings longer.”

And then she concludes with what she wishes for readers.

“It was important to me that the experience of reading the book would conjure more than just sadness in the reader. These are strong characters who have things they believe in. I felt the character’s rebelliousness was integral to the book.

“It’s not a book about being defeated, it’s a book about emotional and psychological revolution.”

That is exactly what stays with you throughout the reading. This group of cousins, children all at the time, looked out for one another and were born into a generation that decided it was time to talk. And that made the difference. And does similar things for the reader.

If you think you might understand it and get to grips with Kaaps, no one tells a better story about these people and their lives than Ronelda S Kampher. May she never stop telling her stories – it doesn’t matter whether in poems or novels or any other way she comes up with. I will stand in the front of the line.

YOU CAN EXPERIENCE THE FOOD PARADISE CREATED BY SAVVY CHEF ELZE ROOME IN DIFFERENT WAYS

When someone so accomplished in the cuisine universe shares her food stories, you listen. Her adventures are many as she shares everything she learns while moving around in different hospitality ventures. DIANE DE BEER visits her current spot Tashas on Menlyn Main:

Pictures: supplied by Tashas

This was the best of worlds. I was having a late lunch with chef-patron Elze Roome at Tashas, Menlyn Main, sampling her new menu in tapas style, while listening to her latest food adventures.

It’s been five years since she and her brother Wally opened this little corner of heaven where people are endlessly drifting in and out and platters of food come streaming past anywhere you sit in the room.

There’s nothing better than have the one who came up with the menu also make the selection of whatever you are going to have. Elze’s favourite (coincidently like mine) has always been the Levant and when she had to introduce her trademark to this particular Tashas, the region was an easy one.

“I’ve always liked the combination of spices,” she says and agrees with me, that a close second is Thai food.

I first met Elze when she was executive chef at Brasserie de Paris following their move to Waterkloof in their iconic Karel Jooste home. With the owner (who also happens to be Elze’s aunt), these two presented me and a couple of friends with many memorable evenings of sheer delight.

The one was an Easter dinner (bunny ears deluxe included) on their magnificent rooftop with food that was quite extraordinary and night skies that stole all our hearts.

But also the dinner led by Elze, when the Brasserie recently decided to close its doors, was quite spectacular. Fortunately for fans, they quickly opened again with new management after only a few months of closed doors and the reports out there are good. Similar ambience and food as before.

In typical Brasserie style, the farewell (if brief) dinner was done with many of the previous chefs slipping in for this one extravagance to celebrate the restaurant and everything it stood for.

Chef patron Elze Roome and Tashas, Menlyn Main.

But since her stint as fine-dining chef, Roome has travelled the world. First she spent some time in France where she trained as patisserie chef and on her return she was courted by Tashas as executive chef and product developer.

She was not easy to lure, but Natasha Sideris was determined. She is obviously someone who knows how to spot talent and once she has, she wants you as part of the Tashas team. Which is exactly where Elze has been this past decade.

It’s been an adventure and much of that time was also spent in Dubai where she helped with the establishment of the first restaurant in the emirates. In Dubai, they now have the fine-dining Flamingo Room, the Avli which is Greek inspired, the Galaxy Bar which has been named #45 in  the world’s 50 best bars, with four Tashas restaurants- one in Abu Dhabi.

So watch this space. The Tasha empire is expanding … constantly.

In the process, Elze gave her heart to Dubai. If you ask her about the attraction, she distils it to the constant buzz. “Both Paris and London are sleepy towns in comparison,” she says as she explains how this desert city is always on the hop.

For this foodie, that’s part of the attraction. Anyone who has watched anything on food in Dubai will know that they have attracted many of the world’s top chefs. “It can take you easily an hour just to scroll through Uber Eats,” she says.

She also likes the idea of night or day, anything you want or wish to do is probably available. And, she says, the people are super friendly. It probably helps being part of the Tashas team which also provides her with a very special place at the Dubai table. After all, the brand has firmly established their credentials in a very short space of time.

One of her most recent Tashas adventures has been developing the recipes for the very smart Tashas Inspired: A Celebration of Food and Art.

The production team was identical to that of the previous book, Tashas Timeless Café Classics, but this was a much more expansive book with Elze focussing on the food side specifically. “We had many team meetings about the way to go, how to approach the book and what the end product should be,” she noted. But in the end, the food was really inspired by Natasha’s food memories.

“She wanted to reflect her food memories by way of her travels and her favourite cities and flavours,” explains Elze and obviously when it came to the Greek side of things, the family was very specific about the food, the presentation and how they do it. After all, this is how Tashas evolved into what it has become today.

It is a franchise but from the start, even in the early days, visitors to the different restaurants knew that each one had its own flavour and if you visit the revamped Hyde Park Tashas Le Parc today, the cake section has been another Roome-inspired  creation.

The book too is something else. It is as much a lifestyle extravagance as it is a food journey as we go from New York deli to Greek taverna. And in typical Tashas style, even though this is a high-end cookery/art book, Natasha hopes it will sit as easily on the kitchen top as it does on the coffee table. In other words, appreciate the art, luxuriate in the lifestyle and travels to get to this continental style cuisine, but also get your hands dirty and start cooking.

Here’s one of my favourites from the latest cookbook extravaganza.. It is an easy salad/accompaniment and it points to the layering of tastes and textures:

Tashas yummy coriander couscous.

CORIANDER COUSCOUS

Caramelised onion, feta, handfuls of fresh herbs and couscous make for a full-bodied flav ourful dish that can be a salad on its own or a side dish.

Couscous

4 cups cooked couscous (I use the bigger sized couscous, but that’s a preferance)

Herb paste

1 onion, caramelised in olive oil (love that they tell you that)

4 spring onions, chopped

2 red chillies (optional)

4 tsp cumin seeds, crushed

80g shaved almonds toasted

120 extra-virgin olive oil,

Plus extra for drizzling

Juice and zest of 2 lemons

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

120 g feta cheese

Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Herb paste

20 g flat-leaf parsley

20g dill

20 g coriander leaves

10g tarragon

10 g mint

150 ml olive oil

Herb paste Blend the herbs and the oil to a smooth paste in a food processor or with a stick blender.

Couscous  Put the cooked couscous in a serving bowl and stir in the herb paste, onion and chilli, cumin, almonds (keep some for the garnish), olive oil and lemon juice and zest. Mix well and season to taste. Cut the feta into thick slices and arrange on top of the couscous. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and garnish with shaved almonds and parsley.