A new continent, a new blog

One of the most magnificent locations in the whole of South Africa, and the pride of Cape Town – the world-renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. This photo was taken this year on my last visit to the garden.

This blog served the wonderful purpose of allowing me to share images and memories of my life in Cape Town, South Africa. It lasted almost 10 years and in that time I drifted from ardently posting every day to slipping for a year or more without a post. It was a mood thing but if I showed my bad mood or whinged about anything I was reprimanded by friends so I tried to keep it as light as possible.

I love Cape Town, I love South Africa. Althought I wasn’t born there, it was my home for almost 60 years and it’s all I know, warts and all. I lived through apartheid, I witnessed the change to democracy, I sadly also witnessed, and still do so from afar, the deterioration into a state of corruption beyond anything ever imaged by the people who struggled and died for change from a regime that has been descrived as a crime against humanity. The current state incompetence and corruption could also be considered a crime against humanity but that’s a discussion for people with a more intellectual and analytical aptitude than I have.

I loved the country and although I became a bit scared of it at times, I would have been quite happy to stay there for the rest of my life. Every street I walk holds a memory, every landscape photo I see I can identify, everytime I go in public I am likely to see someone or something that is familiar to me, cultural references mean something to me, my friends are there, my parents are buried there, my son was born there, my memories are there, it’s the homeground of my adopted tribe.

But sadly, the pandemic took so much from me. For financial reasons I became homeless and jobless and savings-less. So when a cousin in France offered me her home to share and I saw that France, where I was born, will support me and will give me free healthcare, I found myself with little choice but to move here.

I had to sell all my belongings and bring only a few boxes. I am still in shock at how I went from owning a household of furniture and things to just a few boxes and suitcases. It’s disgusting how attached one can become to mere objects. I almost had to rehome or put down my beloved dog, Vida, but thanks to the intervention of a generous friend I have brought her with me and will see her very soon. I am surrounded by family, I have a home, I am fed and loved. My son is also here, albeit in another city, because he relocated months before I did.

I am homesick and a bit lost but that’ll pass, in time, to some extent.

I need to earn some money to supplement what the state will give me, and working even part time will give me reasons to get out of bed. Right now I tend to stay in bed too late and do nothing substantial with my days other than bare minimum housework and a daily walk around the neighbourhood. The latter is the highlight of my day. I look forward to doing it with my dog when she arrives.

I’ve started a new blog, at the behest of friends. Because food is a big thing in France and I happen to live with a cousin who cooks like a master chef, the blog will focus on food and I’ll share my cousin’s recipes, tips and methods.

Here is the new blog – leblogetlebouffe. Bouffe is a slang French word for food. It reminds one of a table laden with food and wine and many happy people partaking of it all for several hours of shared pleasure.

This is probably the last entry of this blog – if I return to South Africa for a holiday, as I would like, it’ll still form part of my new life.

Thank you for reading and a special thank you to my friends who followed and who encourage me to write!

Sea Point, where I gew up.

Stuff and the joys of decluttering

I haven’t written in over a month and this blog has moved away slightly from its original purpose. The past few months have been torrid and it’s been almost impossible to be or do anything not mired in depression and anxiety. One day I’ll look back on this period amzed at what I’ve endured. I hate cliches, but this, too, shall pass.

I’ve suffered dreadful depression and high anxiety for a few years. Not too long, just the past 5 or so years. I guess it was always there lurking underneath, but specific events and situations gave it life. I am on medication, I have to lecture myself all the time, I can erupt easily, and I cry easily. But the meds help. A lot.

I’ve had support and help from one friend in particular who I can say without any reservation has been my rock. Without him, I’d be dead. Maybe even literally, because suicide was on my mind for a long time. But really, really, on my mind. It was a fantasy solution that played itself over and over, something planned and ready to be executed. My rock understood, supported, gave advice, played the shrink, sent me to a real shrink, and did not recoil. Unlike some – oh my goodness, how some people are terrified of the word. The very notion that someone else might be suffering so much is just too much for them to deal with. They might as well tell you to shut up and suffer in silence, which as far as they are concerned, is the best way.

But I woke up one day, put on my big girl pants and decided I was *not* going to die. I found that last vestige of life and courage deep inside me and nurtured it. I also addressed one of the biggest problems facing me and dealt with it, once and for all. Like a big girl.

This big girl has also decided to make a major life change. I am relocating, very far away. Away from my comfort zone to a different, new, comfort, away from all that is familiar and off to the bosom of family. From the fear of old-age poverty to state sponsored medical care. From open spaces and unique vegetation to safety, security and seasonal salad. I’m going to need a new blog title and concept.

Relocating abroad means selling all your stuff. I can’t afford to spend loads of money on schlepping my junk halfway across the world and … guess what? I won’t need it! As tough as it is, I am realising that stuff is just stuff and I can live without most of it. I will take just enough to make me feel at home in my new home but the rest goes to worthy causes or gets exchanged for lucre. And the lucre goes towards the cost of taking what really matters, my beloved dog and that of my son who is already waiting for us all.

But, oh my word, the packing and the decisions and the realisation that my precious belongings are just junk in some peoples’ eyes. The majority of things that matter the most are items I either picked up on a beach or in a forest – what am I to do with my stone and shell collection? Or planted lovingly – I’ll never get to see the tree grow majestic. Or were given to me by my mother an eternity ago? How can I sell the art deco cups she very specifically said I must have and not my siblings? Who would buy the strange piece she painted during her Jackson Pollock period?

I think I do look forward to the day I have divested myself of most belongings. I know there will be a feeling of freedom and liberty. Me and a couple of suitcases, because a girl needs shoes and her big-girl panties, and my faithful dog, and off we will go!

Today marks one month before I move out of my house. That’ll be followed by 6 weeks in a temporary lodging, and then the adventure will begin with a long drive across the country … watch this space!

Karoo Detour

I haven’t blogged for over a month. Not much inspiration because I’m mostly still housebound and I’m depressed as all hell at recent developments in my life, which I won’t go into now but suffice to say that the virus has done terrible things to some people.

However, I did take a short break last month. From being housebound almost all the time to the other extreme – I flew to Pretoria and drove back to Cape Town with my sister in the car that she has kindly lent me. I’ve had to sell the touring minibus that I also used as personal transport so found myself with no wheels which is an untenable situation in this town, this suburb. It’s too dangerous to walk around here after sunset, I was spending too much on Ubers to get anywhere, and I can’t walk far anyway with my lungs as they are.

The flight was not as traumatic as I expected because precautions are taken by, and for, everyone. The wonderful commuter train system between Johannesburg and Pretorias was once again a delight to use – it’s a massive novelty in South Africa to have a rail system that not only works well but is safe and clean. After a few days in Pretoria my sister and I headed back to Cape Town. This is normally a 1600km journey – around 1000 miles – if done straight down the main national highway but my sister’s husband sponsored us to a few days roadtripping so we ended up doing around 2500 kms (1500 miles) and visiting parts of the country we had not seen before.

A first for me was Clarens and the Golden Gate National Park. After the flat maize and sunflower fields of the Free State, the exquisite rock formations and mountains of that area were a delight for the eyes and Clarens is a very pretty arty town, well deserving of all the attention it gets from wealthy weekenders from Johannesburg. We were not lucky with the weather – it was near freezing in the morning! – but still enjoyed it. Roadworks and excessive potholes prevented us from going along the back roads which would’ve taken us along the Lesotho border and those lovely Maluti Mountains so after the Park we reached the Karoo via the usual beautiful open spaces it’s known for.

We drove in and almost straight out again of some depressing Karoo towns, but the Valley of Desolation in Graaff Reinet made it all worthwhile. We also struck it lucky in that town with a delightful little guesthouse that we didn’t want to leave. We were on a tight budget so our accommodations were all simple but in this instance they offered a huge reduction so we were as happy as larks. My sister had never seen the Valley of Desolation so this blew her mind away, as it does all first time visitors.

Continuing our Karoo detour we then encountered lots of rain. This took me completely by surprise because I know the Karoo quite well and have never encountered rain there; in fact it hardly ever rains there, being a very arid semi-desert region. That didn’t last into the next day as we drove through what is known at the Little Karoo – less arid, more mountaneous and full of pretty little villages and towns. It’s part of the Garden Route tourist route so has all the benefits of regular traffic and people who expect decent coffee, good food and funky attitudes.

Of course this being pandemic times we encountered very few people. Other than truckers and farmers we pretty much had roads to ourselves; guesthouses were not full, and restaurants were sadly almost empty and closed early every evening. All of this guarantees prompt and personal service but the toll it’s taken on the tourism economy is catastrophic, as I know full well myself. Strangely, the devastating effects have not diminished the warmth and smiles of the people we did encounter along the way – from shops to guesthouses to restaurants and petrol stations. The pandemic has not dented the hospitality for which this country is famous.

Our Karoo detour lasted only five days but it was great to get away and to have a change of scenery, literally. And we did tick off 7 out of our country’s 9 provinces!

First stop before the roadtrip started properly was Maropeng Cradle of Humankind. A friend of mine created and runs this unique Unesco Heritage Site which depicts the origins of man. This is a must-do when in the area of Krugersdorp, not far from Johannesburg. This photo shows a part of an underground boat trip taking the visitor through all earth’s elements. We loved it!

My pet hadeda

The bird with the loudest cry in Africa is called a hadeda ibis. It’s the bird most South Africans love to hate. We all know them, they’re everywhere. I repeat: the loudest shriek on the continent. When all other birds wake to a new day trilling with joy at the thought of an early worm and tree top rendezvous, the hadeda shrieks his cry across the sky as if to warn the world that he can take whatever crap the day brings. And he can.

This large bird with a long beak isn’t known for beauty although when the light is right the sun reflects the beautiful green-silver sheen of his wings and then one remembers that all creatures have a redeeming feature.

But that shriek … under a normal pre-covid world, ours is a country of tourism. Every morning thoughout the land hapless tourists descend to breakfast on their first morning in Africa asking their hosts ‘What on earth was that creature that woke us up at the crack of dawn?’ Because the hadeda likes to share with the world every detail of his progress to and from his nest every morning and every evening.

When I was a child living in Johannesburg we had one as a pet. Yes. Not by choice, mind you, but we had one nonetheless. I suspect we were his pets. I don’t remember that we ever gave it a name; we probably referred to it simply as ‘the bird’, or ‘l’oiseau’ since we were a French household. Our neighbour’s son brought him home from boarding school after rescuing and healing it. The bird clearly didn’t like the neighbours’ property and decided to come and live with us instead. We had a back door with a screen that was never shut and was permanently wedged open. This screen door, at the top of a few steps, is where the bird took up residence for all the time he lived with us. He seldom budged from there other than to go forage on the lawns, as they are wont to do.

I don’t remember how long he was with us but we became quite used to him. He would call now and again but he didn’t have a mate so was less bragful than he would no doubt later become. We were the only kids in school with a pet hadeda. The neighbours had always been a bit snooty towards us so being abandoned by their rescue hadeda was a kick in the teeth for them and totally raised our status, although we pretended to not notice it. We were privileged, I don’t care what anyone says about the pile of poop outside the back door.

He would fly off once in a while and not return for days. We’d sadly think he was finally gone but the next morning there he was again, just sitting on the screen door watching us. The yard overlooked the ubiquitous servants quarters and the toolshed so there was always activity and company. We had two cats, one of which would sit on the roof of the shed watching him for hours; this stand off never went anywhere, than goodness because the cat woud’ve probably come off worse for it.

Eventually, the hormones and the healing led him to health and the realisation that he was missing out on life by hanging out with unrewarding and ungrateful humans, so one day he took off and never came back. No, it wasn’t like in the movies where the wild animal returns to show off his babies and mate to those who cared for him; we simply never saw him again and imagined him making a proper nest at the top of a tree and raising a family of raucous little baby hadedas.

So now I pretend to hate them but deep down I think they’re awesome and whenever one of them lands on my roof or ventures down into my garden (which is seldom because I have no lawn and two dogs) I feel privileged and it reminds me of my youth in that Johannesburg house and the days when we had a pet hadeda.

Photo taken from Google as I have only blurred shots of it. Strange really considering how often I see them and how full our neighbourhoods are of them. Oh and by the way, they’re not endangered at all, in fact their numbers are on such an increase I suspect they’re planning a take over.

Watch this great short documentary about the Hadeda Ibis and the city of Johannesburg.

Swartberg Pass, again

swartberg pano blog
Playing with pano, full sun, not ideal. I took this standing on top of what’s left of the building from which the master road-builder Thomas Bain worked. It’s a pity it’s a ruin because it has historical significance given that Bain was this country’s most visionary road builder.

I found this in the draft folder. It was written about 6 years ago and I don’t know why I didn’t finish and publish it at the time. With some editing, here it is – low on wording, high on photos, and I’ll leave it like that. I remember well this strange client, and how difficult he was, but seeing as it took us to some of my favourite parts of the region, the time was not wasted.

So last month I had an unusual tour to the Klein Karoo.  One person, 6 days, and he didn’t hesitate to speak his mind about certain aspects of the trip – which details we won’t go into here, it’s fading from my mind. Luckily, he was thrilled with the open spaces of the Karoo and went nuts on Swartberg Pass. I decided to do a full day of it – up to the top of the pass in a 4×4, lots of stops for photos and plant stories, down into Prince Albert for lunch and a tour of the town, and then back to Oudtshoorn via Meiringspoort ad De Rust. It was a perfect day, warm and sunny, happy client, and my favourite aspect of any road-trip – mountain passes.

gentle start 2 swartberg
Gentle start up the mountain. The road was in surprisingly good condition as it had recently been graded. As I type, we have heard that it’s being damaged by rains again and can only be accessed in a 4×4.
start climbing swartbrg
Not at the top yet but already you can see how high the pass is. 1600m at the top.
retaining wall
Built in the late 1800s, this wall has not changed much since then. Its unique method makes it as strong as ever.
You’ll know you’re at the top when you see this.
swartberg scenes
roelnds office on swartberg
lucas thatchers
Lucas Thatchers are the most well-known thatching company in the Western Cape. The owner originates from Prince Albert and this is apparently the first building he ever thatched. It’s tiny, like a child’s toy, and neat as a in.
water of prince albert
One of the old water canals of Prince Albert – the town still uses this water reticulation system from the early days of settlement in this part of the Karoo. The whole of the Karoo is very dry but Prince Alvbert is especially dry so a nearby river serves well and not a drop of water is wasted.
domisee house
Classic Karoo Victorian house.
water mill
At the old water mill near the entrance to the town.

The mafia, the ghost and the garden

I enjoy looking at the stats on this blog now and then. I don’t have a huge following but it’s nice to see someone is reading some of the posts.

Since starting this blog about 9 years ago the three most popular posts have been about a lovely urban garden, a wonderful old ghost story, and a depressing account of how a quaint fishing village not far from Cape Town has become a haven for poachers who operate like a mafia. Although those posts go back to 2012 and 2014, they are still consistently visited. This means Google algorithms work and I tagged them properly. It also means people want to know about ghosts, the local mafia, and the garden. It’s the garden I’m most intrigued about because as lovely as it is, I had no idea it could be so popular.

As for the mafia post, I’m hoping it’s searches for the town itself that draw readers. Despite what goes on with the poaching (and the fishermen who are exploited), Paternoster is wildly popular with Capetonians. There isn’t masses to do there but for a quiet weekend, great food, and walks on the beach, you can’t beat it. During the wildflower season it’s the ideal place to visit. As I type this, I wish I could transport myself there. I did say in the original post that I wouldn’t be in a hurry to return but I have been back many times and I’ve grown to love it. The mafia-style issues, they are not mine to worry about and I can do nothing except support those people who do care for the village.

There’s a restaurant there that’s received enormous international attention but my favourite food is still what is served at the guesthouse known as Ah! Guesthouse. See photos below.

The garden from 2012

The ghost from 2012

The mafia from 2014

A series of photos of the food and hosts at the wonderful guesthouse where I’ve had the privilege of staying a few times in Paternoster. It’s called Ah! Guesthouse and is one of the best places to stay on the west coast, with some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Oh and they serve dessert with breakfast – what more could you ask for? See the website here.

Because no visit to the West Coast is complete without a view of Table Mountain.

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!


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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