Morsels of Gratitude, part 2

It’s not easy!!

Part of this gratitude lark is to stay positive and avoid anything that will bring me down. I was doing well until I realised that my visit to the specialist last week cost R2000. Yes, my medical aid will pay for it but it’s a third of the total annual fund supposed to cover all doctor visits, medication, any blood test or x-ray, spectacles, and so-called dental basics. There is NO justification for such a high fee for a 20 minute consultation. The special machine used to measure my lung capacity was a once-off expense, years ago by the looks of it, and nothing else was used. We are ripped off by fees like this. The alternative is to go to a public hospital but there are problems with this. One is the long queues, like all day sometimes, second is the possibility of catching the virus, and thirdly, although this country has excellent medical people and training, the system itself is a disaster.

What am I grateful for today?

As I type this, my son is washing my car. This may sound like no big deal but it’s actually a minibus (see at the end of this post) and it’s an exhausting job to wash it, so I’m really grateful that he’s doing it.

Grateful for living close to nature and open spaces. I’ve heard many people from Europe remark on how wonderful it is that this city and surrounds still has so much open space, so much nature. This is something many people take for granted or simply don’t care for.

I couldn’t live in a big city. I couldn’t live far from open space, water, mountains. I’m so grateful that I don’t have to go too far to walk amongst vegetation that is unique in the world – the wonderful fynbos of the Western Cape; or along a stream in the green belt nestled in the middle of a residential suburb; or the wide open white sandy beaches (when permitted, not these days of lockdown limits), and of course the mountains that cover almost all of the Cape peninsula. Further afield, the wide open expanse of the Karoo and the Northern Cape are sublime and I miss them enormously, having not been to either of those regions ages due to the virus limitations.

Pics below were taken this morning at the Tokai Plantation. It’s half plantation and half fynbos garden. The fynbos section has been reborn by cutting down a large portion of the pine plantation and allowing the natural vegetation to grow back. In cooler weather the open area is wonderful to walk in but the plantation is ideal for hot summer days because the trees provide much-needed shade.

I mentioned my minibus. Below is the link to a crowdfunding campaign I’ve set up to help me pay the bank for this minibus so that when tourism picks up again I have my vehicle all paid up. Any contribution will be welcome and very much appreciated!

Morsels of Gratitude, part 1

Finding the positive in a dark world where negative is more comfortable

I’ve been experiencing depression for several years. I thought it was manageable but I was wrong and the pandemic has exacerbated it. It’s been building up for several years and is now a massive problem. This is not depression out of the blue, it’s linked to specific events and practical issues. The events of the past tend to fade with time but the practical reasons are always there and have, in fact, increased dramatically in recent years.

Then came the virus to put a real cap on things. Suicide, often on my mind, is not really an option but forging on seems impossible. So I’m stuck in a demotivated nightmarish rut.

Fight or flight? I have to choose fight but it’s easier said than done because negative has become too comfy. My therapist has urged me to keep a gratitude journal because apparently it really WORKS!! So, here goes. This is very difficult for me to do because I find it super-cheesy and reminiscent of Oprah-type clichés, but I’ll give it my best shot.

I wanted a special blog for this but I’m struggling with the newfangled functions of WordPress that have popped up since I created this very simple format years ago. I’ll work on it and then transfer posts, but for now this will do.

  • Grateful that my friend Michael has survived his hideous ordeal with Covid-19 and can be discharged from hospital as soon as his husband can get his hands on some oxygen for use at home. I’ve not met Michael in person, he lives in another city, but we have mutual friends and a few years ago he sent me a very gracious and old-fashioned friend request which I happily accepted. I’ve never regretted it because he’s wonderful. I can’t wait to meet him one day. We’ll drink exotic tea and eat fancy little cakes.
  • Grateful that my lung capacity has improved slightly. I was apprehensive to go for a check-up this week because no-one wants to visit doctors or hospitals these days, but it was necessary and I wanted to find out how my lungs are doing. I’ve had bad days lately so I thought my COPD might have worsened, but it turned out there’s a slight improvement and my ‘bad days’ are normal.
  • Grateful to have had a little brainwave that might lead me to earn a living again, while we wait for tourism to revive itself. Watch this space!
Photo by Hiu1ebfu Hou00e0ng on Pexels.com – Because these Gratitude entries are different to the normal things I post, I’ll use free WordPress stock photos.

Dylan Lewis

I first heard of Dylan Lewis about 20 years ago when a group of impressionable students and little old church ladies erupted with outrage at one of his pieces displayed in the vicinity of the University of Stellenbosch. They labeled it satanic and called for its removal lest young minds be sullied. The piece in question was titled Male Trans-figure II and is described by the artist as “… celebration of the vital energy, life force and spirit of all that is truly wild.” Their outrage caused a ruckus and many of us were curious to see what the fuss was about. Below is one from the series; this one is Trans Figure IX. Scroll down for a selection of pieces less likely to cause outrage.

Dylan Lewis is an internationally renowned sculptor inspired by the nature around him. This is evident in the way he laid out his wonderful Sculpture Garden in Stellenbosch. High up the mountainside, past the manicured lawns of the rich and infamous, past the wine estates for which this region is most famous, you eventually come upon a most unassuming entrance and you’ve arrived. Lewis has transformed this 7-hectare piece of land by creating contours and waterways, planting mostly indigenous fynbos, and placing many of his works around the garden. New pieces are added all the time, and the most recent ones are gigantic in size, reflecting the new direction he’s taking.

The result is simply magnificent – from unused farmland to a wilderness of valleys, hills, fields, and several water features sourced from a natural spring and mountain river. The garden is open to the public, by appointment, and one can wander alone or with a guided tour – I highly recommend the guided tour because this is art that warrants explanations and history.

Dylan Lewis’s early career featured big cats and his series of leopards is well-known – there are even some wild ones still living in the mountains above the Garden. One wonderful piece is displayed at one of the entrances of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and there are several at the very hoity-toity Delaire Graff wine estate in Stellenbosch, as well as various others around the Cape, probably in many wealthy private gardens. Read more about Dylan Lewis here and here.

My photos taken on a recent visit to the Gardens. The birds are his father’s artwork.

Is this not the most magnificent piece of work?

I’m still hoping to raise enough funds to pay off my touring vehicle – the link is below. All contributions are welcome!

Today, a new era for the US

I follow politics but avoid it on this blog, except for an occasional mention or barb aimed at our own corrupt dolts, but today it’s worth acknowledging a most important event taking place: The US Presidential Inauguration (of someone who can only be better than the previous incumbent, even if he isn’t perfect and is so wrinkly he might pop his clogs before Easter).

Goodbye Donny, Hullo Joe (and Kamala – you go, girl!).

As many people, I have found the past four years to be a frightening entertainment show never likely to be repeated. I hate horror movies but this was fascinating. Never in my life did I expect a global pandemic such as Covid, but neither did I imagine that the most powerful and influential nation on earth would be led by a man as blatantly odious and dangerous as the Don. A man who attempted a coup d’état because he didn’t get as many votes as he wanted. A man who, to the very last day, refused to even utter the name of the man who has been legally elected to take his place.

Mind-boggling. And even more puzzling is how so many South Africans of every variety actually supported him. We do have a lot of racists in this country and Trump did feed in to all their prejudices, but to the extent of supporting a man who actually looks down on them, is beyond stupidity. Something else that always puzzles me is when I see how many people don’t realise that what happens in the US has a direct effect on most countries, and definitely on us in South Africa.

If the US election and the storming of the Capitol had taken place on African soil we would be pilloried for being savages, accused of barbarous ungovernable behaviour, and so on and so on as we’ve seen for centuries. Of course Africa has dodge elections – Uganda is a case in point this very week – but we don’t invade other countries under the guise of enforcing democracy or human rights.

I’m fortunate that one of my lockdown inmates is a passionate follower of US politics and has patiently explained the machinations of every absurd little detail of how a federal nation is run, the difference between the Senate and the House, the fact that Washington DC isn’t even a state but wants to be one (and that’s despite a state to the north-west called Washington State), and of course how the elections work, which to my mind is about 300 years retarded and needs to get with a real democratic programme asap.

To my American readers: good luck and don’t do it again!

We’ll keep out eyes glued to the news later while we enjoy a typical South Africa braai (bbq) at around the time of the Inauguration – I hope it all goes smoothly and safely. As I write this, I have just received a breaking news alert that the orange menace and his tart have left the WH – bring in the fumigators!

LOCKDOWN CONTINUED!

Today marks 300 days since lockdown was announced in South Africa. We’ve gone from a very severe level 5 to a mild, almost nothing level 1, and now back to level 3 with much confusion, no beaches, no alcohol (so no champagne for the Inauguration!), and no school next week – I have sympathy for all my friends who have school-going children and who think they can’t cope with another home-school lesson!

Everyone I know has buried a loved one, everyone has a friend who either got Covid19 mildly or severely. The stats are easing, slightly, but the mortality rate is still very high and hospitals are struggling. From everything I have heard it seems obvious that healthcare workers need to be better equipped to deal with trauma, need more support from their industries, need better pay, and just more all-round genuine respect and working conditions. However, they also need an industry that screens trainees better – the level of theft and wilful neglect that takes place in hospitals is unacceptable. A nurse with 35 years experience has told me that it is directly proportionate to education – the better educated a nurse is, the more honest he/she will be in terms of ethics in the ward. Appalling but surely not difficult to address?

This post calls for a soothing photo – here is one of the most beautiful gardens high up in the mountains in Stellenbosch. I will write about it in another post.

Time is running out on my crowdfunding campaign – please read about it below. Any contribution will be most welcome and appreciated!

A roll of fat and a lot of rage

That pretty much suns up the past 10 months. When I’m not cooking or eating or planning either, I am raging.

Rage at the Chinese for lying and thereby not containing the virus. And the next one will be worse.

Rage at the US president for failing his own people and the rest of the world. If not for him, that mighty nation could’ve led the response.

Rage at a world that was already too unequal and is now so much worse. No amount of Aid or government subsidies will fix this for a very long time.

Rage at people who ignored safety because they just don’t give a fuck. Really, that’s all it comes down to, they don’t care at all. Fighting regulations, no matter how stupid some are, does nothing but drag it all out.

Rage at willful ignorance that was always there but now has now been so blatantly exposed. Conspiracy theorists lead the pack with all their prejudiced followers.

Rage at people being forced to risk their lives for a minuscule social grant that is roughly equivalent to the middle-class price of a pizza and a salad. And yet, some still manage to feed themselves for a month with it, assuming they get their hands on it.

Rage at the audacity of our government for ignoring requests to adequately communicate with the people throughout the crisis. So much trust is lost now and the vaccine roll-out is as clear as mud.

Rage at the profiteering and corruption perpetrated throughout the world, because suddenly so much money was made available. This is not unique to one country.

Rage at those who are blind to all of the above.

Last week was hard. A sick friend trying to manage Covid at home was suddenly out of comms and it turned out he was rushed to hospital and was fighting for his life; two other friends survived but will struggle for a while; another one has had the virus since March – only now is Long Covid even a thing. Another friend tells me she lost five people in one day.

I know people who are reckless, uninformed, selfish, and who will not get sick or not very sick. Others, careful, fearful, knowledgeable, caring only for others, land up in hospital. As I type this someone I know, only through FB but whom i have grown to be very fond of, is in hospital struggling to breathe. He’s been so careful, so very very careful all these months, but contracted the virus at work because someone was not careful.

So many still don’t understand they could be asymptomatic, because we have no idea how many such people there are and it’s precisely why we should all be staying the fuck at home unless absolutely necessary.

I am starting to feel the weight of it all. The long-term effects on all of us will be studied and reported on for decades, and longer.

No one ever said the world was fair and I doubt very much that the meek will inherit a thing. The arseholes will take it all.

Sighhh … depressing post illustrated with a photo of sunset restio, taken several years ago on the edge of the Tanqua Karoo.

And …. a link to my crowdfunding platform wherein I have tried to raise enough funds to save my tourism minibus. Please have a look and see if you can help – many thanks!

Ardene Gardens, Claremont

At long last, a walk in the park!

I’ve been going a bit mad with this latest lockdown and the dogs haven’t had a proper run in ages. Most of our parks are either closed or dogs are not allowed or you need special dog permits, and all beaches in this region are off-limits. The mutts have been walked by my friend around the neighbourhood but they prefer running free, sniffing stuff, rolling in old bird poop, and chasing squirrels.

I heard Ardene Gardens were open so I met my son there for a walk. I hadn’t been there for many years which is a pity because it’s gorgeous.

Smack back in the middle of what is now suburbia and a busy commercial area, this large piece of land was bought for the princely sum of £740 (under a thousand dollars!) in 1845 by one Ralph Henry Ardene because he wanted to create a garden “with trees and plants from as many parts of the world as I can.” He did just that, asking everyone who came to the Cape to bring him seeds and plants. His son continued the tradition, travelling the world in search of plants.

A Norfolk Island Pine was brought from Australia and for a long time was the focal point of the gardens. It is said that every Norfolk Island pine in Cape Town is a descendant of this tree. This particular one died early last century, not long after Ardene junior himself, and at about the same time as the dwindling of the family fortune. The gardens were at risk of being lost, i.e. divided and developed, as this had become a thriving sought-after part of the Cape peninsula. Fortunately the City Council was urged to buy the land and now it’s a very popular place for walks, picnics, and wedding photographs. We saw large bits of shiny confetti scattered – this should not be permitted as it isn’t biodegradable.

The most awesome tree, but truly awesome in the real meaning of the word, is a Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla). This ancient and enormous specimen is claimed, in a book I have, to be one of the largest trees in Africa. I doubt that very much because there are baobabs that are much larger by far. What I suspect is meant is that it’s the largest cultivated exotic tree. Be that as it may, it is spectacular! The roots are spread out for more than 10 metres around the tree, with deep enough gaps between them to plant other things, and of course it’s very photogenic!

There is a natural spring, which apparently connects to the nearby Black River, and around which have been created several lovely ponds with ferns and other lush plants. The surface of the ponds is covered in scum and we saw only two ducks but no fish. The various little bridges across the ponds reminded me of Monet’s Garden at Giverny and there are even a few water lilies.

The gardens became neglected in the late 1980’s. In 2004, the Friends of the Arderne Gardens (FOTAG) was established as a public benefit organisation with the objective of working with the City of Cape Town to protect, preserve and promote the garden. The Liesbeek River Garden is another perfect example of citizens getting involved and filling in the gap when the City can’t do everything.

Although officially open during the current lockdown restrictions (with limits on numbers and no picnicking allowed) there was a ‘Closed’ sign at the entrance. This was strange because two employees sitting just inside the gate were quite happy to open up and let us in, saying that walking is permitted. Why the closed sign, I don’t know and didn’t ask. We saw only about 5 other people throughout our walk which was lovely.

Here is a full list of trees and a map here.

I was very conscious throughout our walk that the large hospital just over the road is buckling under the strain of Covid and here we were strolling in the park on a summer’s day as if nothing untoward was happening in the world around us.

My tourism business is in big trouble so I have created a crowdfunding campaign to help me continue to pay for my touring minibus. Here is the link below. Many thanks for any assistance and contribution, it is all much appreciated.

My love affair with Eugene

I can’t believe I haven’t banged on about this before – perhaps because it has nothing to do with Cape Town, yet. Yesterday, as I was scrolling through the news of drama coming out of the US, Spotify decided to cheer me up by enticing me to listen to all the works of my most favourite ever, bestest ever, musical group. Pink Martini. ALL their works at once? ALL of it on shuffle? !!!!

This is the story of one of my oldest loves and certainly one of the most faithful, albeit one-sided, relationships I’ve ever conducted. It started years ago, in the 90s, on the last night of a holiday in France, at my cousin Xavier’s Paris flat. He played a wonderful CD and when he saw how much I liked it he slipped it into my luggage for me to find when I returned home. It was called Sympathique and was the best surprise ever!

That CD led me to haunt music shops for more, and my love for Pink Martini grew and grew; it has never faded, unlike some lovers who almost always eventually disappoint.

I tried to see them perform live – not an easy feat as they don’t perform just anywhere. I missed a chance to see them in Nice on another trip to France. I could’ve made a stopover there but I didn’t – big mistake. Then again in Fort Worth in the early 2000s. I was terribly excited to see they were performing there a few days prior to a planned business visit to Dallas, but my boss turned down my request to go early on my own time and buck. It seemed it was never to be. They are unlikely to come to South Africa anytime soon, despite my Twitter entreaties. Yes, I beg them on Twitter, I have no shame. They’re so kind and polite, they even respond.

Imagine them performing at Kirstenbosch for a New Year’s Eve without the virus fear? I can swoon just thinking of that!

There are not enough words, and I am not sufficiently eloquent, to express how much I love this ensemble of musicians and their work. Their music lifts and transports me, it makes me dance, it makes me sing, it makes me look a complete fool in the traffic, it helped me through many a dark moment, especially lockdown. That’s what music is supposed to do, right? They even make German sound romantic and melodic for goodness sakes! And how about Puff the Magic Dragon sung in Japanese?

One of my favourite numbers is Hey Eugene. It’s probably quite pedestrian to select this one because many of their other songs are far more complex, but there it is, that’s my fave. It’s my favourite post-party song. Once, years ago, I returned from a party late one night, quite the worst for wear, and played Eugene on my old stereo, over and over and over, very loudly. The next morning there was an anonymous note in my letter box from a neighbour asking me to please not play Eugene repeatedly. No, they didn’t tell me to not play loud music, just not Eugene on repeat. I never did find out who wrote the note. It was a funky suburb called Observatory, in Cape Town, you get away with a lot of stuff there.

What makes them so special, aside from their massive talent, is they cross over various genres – classical, pop, jazz, and so on, from all corners of the world in all languages. The three ‘lead’ performers, as it were, are Thomas Lauderdale on piano – if you haven’t seen him in action, you’re in for a treat! And the two lead vocalists are China Forbes and Storm Large. China has the voice of an angel, she could sing me to death and I would die happy. Melodies from every corner of the world … rare and raw talent. I don’t know how they are not known by every single person on earth. Forsooth, no one I’ve ever introduced them to has given me anything but positive feedback. I am most definitely unreservedly their number one fan on the entire African continent.

One of the best gifts I ever received was when I asked a friend coming from France to bring me their latest CD and he did better than that and brought a CD of one of their performances .. (You Tube wasn’t as big as it is now). It’s a very precious possession that I still play regularly.

I even think of them when I tend to my lockdown tomato plantation – because there’s even a song for that.

I’m sorry I didn’t realise they were doing a 31 Dec concert, I would have changed my mind about going to bed hours before midnight!

Give them a listen, add them to your Spotify, you won’t regret it and in fact you’ll thank me, and you, too, can Sway the lockdown blues away in your living room.

How I wish I could see them perform live! How do I put this? Don’t bother to fly me to the moon, just fly me to a Pink Martini concert!

Photos of Kirstenbosch concert lawn, pre-Covid, courtesy of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, SANBI, and Come-to-Cape-Town. Sadly, the annual Summer Concerts were cancelled this summer because of Covid-19 but it is one of Cape Town’s most spectacular annual events. A different genre of music every Sunday, on the lawns of South Africa’s most beautiful botanical garden. There are special Christmas and New Year’s Eve performances – I will continue to fantisise about Pink Martini on New Year’s Eve as long as I draw breath. (Pic of album cover from Wikipedia).

Covid is destroying so many businesses. Tourism is probably the worst hit and small businesses like mine are struggling to win the fight with banks and their greedy ways. So here is the link to my crowdfunding campaign in the hope that public assistance and a few dollars here and there will help me to hang on to my touring minibus until such time as tourism is revived. Much love and thank in anticipation of contributions.

Disclaimer

A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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