Still me

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Bits and bobs about my life in my lovely home, Thatchwick Cottage, Pretoria, South Africa.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday, 30 August: Spring today, summer tomorrow

Suddenly bougainvillas blaze red, purple, brick, white.
Coral trees (Erythina caffra) burst into red flame. Clivias delight but only for a few short weeks.

My oak is too impatient for the last withered leaf to fall. The tender green leaves unfurl overnight, pushing the dry foilage off the branches, littering the courtyard.

Petunia trees line streets in more delicate pink and white. By mid morning the blue sky is hazy with fine dust swirled around by late August winds.

Last weekend I was in winter woolies; this Saturday I am in sandals, camisoles and cotton skirts. Pass the suncream, darl!

Soon it will be the jakarandas and the breathless wait for the early rains.

Nothing in South Africa comes in half measures - the bad and the good; the ugly and the glorious; the hope and the sometimes despair. That is why those of us who have chosen the beloved country as our forever home love it so much with old-fashioned passion, commitment and faith.

God bless South Africa and grant her and her people peace!
N'kosi sikelele, Africa!
Written in exile from South Africa

Hibiscus was red
(It grew by my window)
And salvia,
The spikes of aloes,
And the coral tree
In flaring splendour.
Here there are flowers,
Frail lives of loveliest name,
Daffodils, primroses, daisies,
Fritillaries, buttercups.
But nowhere in England,
That pagan colour,
Nowhere that red
That flamed by my window.

by Charles Ould.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday, 23 August: Sir Galahad, the pure-hearted

Sir Galahad, a 'verray, parfit, gentil knight', son of Champion Trenow Perseus and Champion Pencarron Pochard of Dennegeur (tr. the scent of pine trees) Kennels in Stellenbosch had the unfortunate kennel name of Hocus Pocus. But when Richard and Eleanor spotted their new labbie pup in his air freight crate at Johannesburg International in March 2001, they knew that here was a knight with the purest of hearts and named him, Sir Galahad. Off he went home to Thatchwick Cottage to walk in the illustrous pawprints of the late Hero, Valiant and Groomsman and to be companion-in-arms to Sir Tristram the Pict, another Arthurian stalwart.

Galahad has no vices; his heart is pure and he loves, loves, loves with deep loyal devotion. (He did steal a cheese scone off an antique porcelain plate on Thursday evening while we gathered for Bible Study. But his repentence followed quickly after the last crumb and he had no silly hangups about accepting forgiveness!)

Sir Galahad and Elvis Machele, my twice a week gardener, share a mutual devotion. Elvis insists on downing tools to accompany us on any visit to the vet: to hold Gal's paw and stroke his head during undignified procedures.

If you come a-visiting to Thatchwick, Gal will follow you adoringly, squeeze in next to your chair, stare into your eyes with deep brown pools of doggy emotion and try to climb onto your lap - all 35 kg of him. Because, as you know, inside every hefty fullgrown male Lab is a tiny puppy just ready for a cuddle!
Now above is the real man, Sir Galahad, son of Launcelot and Elaine, who quested for and found the Holy Grail. A perfect knight, he never stole a cheese scone in his life, but personally I prefer my doggy hero.
(OK, Trist, OK! I know this blog is starting to get soppy. I'll do a real macho one about you next week and the history of the Terrible Picts.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thursday, 21 August 2008: Thankful Thursday

I am hurriedly joining this Thankful Thursday initiated by Rhondi. I am celebrating the bevy of bright orange clivias which are budding extravagantly in my garden to announce that spring is just around the corner. And I am thankful that in this busy, busier, busiest day I have had these few minutes to stop, consider, post a pic and enjoy these blazing orange beauties amidst their shiny green leaves.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday, 19 August 2008: Treasure hunting

Work, work, work is threatening to make this Jill a very dull girl. Fortunately a full weekend of church, birthday luncheons and teas and some relaxing embroidery on the verandah with the Woofs was a refresher. And a little impulsive, spontaneous, extravagant retail therapy thrown in helped too!

Saturday morning friend Elisabeth and I were off to our embroidery class at Uncle Tim's. After class and a slice of feta and spinach quiche in the tea garden, we decided to stroll through one of the antiques shops. Just browsing naturally! But this very handsome black and gold Frister & Rossman sewing machine in used but cherished condition had my name on it. Don't you see it inscribed on the label? (Actually it says Auld Lange Syne and the price!)

Elisabeth would have succumbed to its charms but she is off to another foreign posting next year and a cast iron sewing machine is a tad heavy to put in your luggage. So I just had to buy it for both of us!

I found a suitable nook, of couse, on the wakis (tr. wagon chest) next to my television cabinet filled with a never-switched-on TV set and lots of sewing gear. A bonus was the teak case with inlays and carved sugar twists adorning the four corners. The machine is in perfect working order.
A little 'Googling' discovered that Frister & Rossman was the foremost manufacturer of sewing machines in Germany and the Berlin based company was started in 1864. Machines were exported to the US, Britain, New Zealand and Australia. During WWI shopowners outside of Germany removed the offending machines from shop windows and the Berlin badge disappeared. In 1925 Grizner & Kayser took over the rights to make the F & R machines. Looks my model is a 50R (I have emailed a fundi for more information) which was produced from 1919 to 1955. In 1954 it cost 26 pound sterling, at a time when the average wage was about five pounds sterling a week ( courtesy of Alex I Askaroff's webpage).
So much for the official history. What about the private history? So much more interesting. Not much, I am afraid. The young man at Auld Lang Syne told me he had bought it only a week ago from an old lady who had been taken up into Frail Care at a local home for the elderly. She had been using it right up to her last illness. So I shall just have to imagine how many fine linen sheets and tableclothes were hemmed, little girl's dresses were sewn later to be handsmocked, grey flannels, coats and jackets tailored, dresses with narrow waists and wide skirts created for dances and weddings and piles of worn garments mended. Was it a wedding gift or a 21st present or did she save up to buy it? Maybe as I turn the handle with a satisfying whirr and I sew a straight seam (after I have worked out how to rewind the shuttle and thread the needle) it will whisper its fascinating story to me!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday, 14 August 2008: Golden Oldies

Individual English tutoring out of office hours means that I get to read novels and plays prescribed by the school curriculum, year in and year out, with my young students. I think I have analysed "Macbeth" more times than the hardiest Shakespearean scholar. Annually my heart warms to Scout's shenanigans in "To kill a mocking bird"and l have read aloud the most harrowing passages from "Lord of the Flies" countless times, usually to groans of "How gross!" coming from my young student.

Jean Webster (1876-1916)

So I was delighted to find that one of my high school students is doing "Daddy-Long-Legs" by Jean Webster, together with her Grade 8 class, as part of their prescribed reading. What an apt choice for an all-girls school right here in Pretoria! I love the story of the feisty and independent Jerusha Abbot singled out by a mysterious, anonymous benefactor to attend an all-girls college and study literature. Remember Jerusha's determination to close the gaps left by her disadvantaged childhood in an orphanage, her amusing correspondence and her romance with the handsome, long-legged Jervis Pendleton, the wealthy uncle of a classmate? She rejects his proposal (even she can't quite imagine bridging the class divide) but then all is revealed. Cinderella discovers her fairy godfather and her lover are one and the same. Such a very satisfying ending! I have never seen any of the many movies based on this film. But I remember my introduction to this story was watching a solo performance of extracts of Jerusha's letters at a school concert when I was very young.

Jean Webster, the grand-niece of Mark Twain, was born in New York. Her father, Charles Webster was a partner with Twain in the Charles Webster Publishing Co. Tragically he committed suicide when Jean was only 15 years old after a severe interpersonal conflict with Twain. Jean entered Vassar College in 1897 where she studied English and Economics and was an ardent suffragette. After graduation she spent her time writing and travelling. Just like Jerusha, Jean fell in love with an older, wealthy man, Glen Ford McKinney; unfortunately in her case he was already married. However, in 1915 Jean married McKinney after his divorce. Less than a year later she died tragically after the birth of a daughter on June 11 1916, apparently of childbirth fever.

What are your favourite golden oldies?

Karen at the lovely Scrapbook of Inspiration awarded me the Brillante Weblog Premio Award 2008 just before I left for overseas. So her it is - proudly if belatedly displayed! The rules of this competition are:
1 You must add the logo to your blog.
2 Add a link to the blog who awarded you the prize.
3 Pass the prize on to another seven blogs.
4 Leave messages on the blogs of your nominees.

For prizewinners I have chosen new blog discoveries:
Thea Quilts
A brush with colour
Pammiejo and friends
The maX files
The pioneer woman
A whimsical Bohemian
The Lavender Loft

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wednesday, 6 August 2008: Tuscan glories

Flying in from Paris, my destination was Prato where I attended the conference. Prato cathedral may be a poor sister to the other glories I saw, but it houses exquisite Lippi frescoes in which Salome dressed in diaphanous garments presents John the Baptist's head to her wicked mother.
A drive through the luxuriant Tuscan countryside. I did want to stop at Bramasole and take tea with Frances Mayes but there was so much to do and to see. Next time, Frances!

Florence's dark and winding streets are filled with little craft shops packed with treasures. I visited Il Botterga d' Arte on the Borgo Ognissanti to buy another little carved angel to go with the two bought by Richard (in 1999) and myself (in 2004) on previous trips. The shop's interior just looked the same as it did then.

While street artists chalked an admirable depiction of Botticelli's Birth of Venus outside the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, I gazed in awe at the real thing inside the Gallery together with the Botticelli's Allegory of Spring, Lippi's Madonna and Child, Giotto's Madonna Enthroned and Michelangelo's Holy Family.

In Siena a marble dog spouted water into the famous fountain in Il Campo.

It's appropriate that my visit to Tuscany included a visit to the piazza in the little town of Fiesole, perched on the top of a hill overlooking the roofs of Florence. This is where Florence's history began. Fiesole was an Etruscan city and some of its inhabitants ventured down into the valley to give life to a village "destined to flourish" (the meaning of Florence) long before the Romans arrived to start a settlement. I enjoyed a glass of Chianti in Fiesole as I watched the rays of a late summer sun bathe Brunelleschi's Duomo in its soft light.

While the rest of Europe built cathedrals in sombre grey stone, the Florentines (and the Sienese) built extravagant creations of pink, green and white marble to the glory of God! The flamboyant cathedral of Sante Maria Del Fiore was begun in 1296 and finished 1461. The famous Duomo only took Brunelleschi 32 years, a relatively short time. On both my visits to Florence (in 2004), I was startled by the frivolous beauty of the Cathedral as I turned the corner of the dark winding medieval streets and came suddenly upon the Piazza de Duoma.

Siena's glorious Duomo is smaller but as impressive. It is like an iced wedding cake adorned with carved animal faces and sugarstick pillars.

The view down the Arno - the Santa Trinita Bridge, Florence.

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence, is a huddle of jewellery shops selling exquisite cameos, coral bracelets and necklaces, opal rings and fine goldwork.

A highlight was a morning visit to the well-preserved medieval town of San Gimignano. 15 of the original 70 towers survive. Do you remember this little town which featured in Zeffrelli's movie, "Tea with Mussolini"?

A street cafe in Siena's Il Campo which is also the scene of Siena's contrade (neighbourhoods) twice-yearly race, Il Palio.

And the brilliant wares of Tuscany - rich brocades, gilt frames, carved angels, painted Montecalcino ceramics, rich tapestries and delicious food and wine.

Florentine pigeons atop a lion in airy arcade of the Loggia of the Signoria.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday, 1 August, 2008: A South African in Paris

Now what does a South African do in Paris?

I spotted the Eiffel tower against an early morning sky as the shuttle bus drove me into the city at 7 am.
In the distance the grey-white Byzantine dome of the basilica of Sacre-Coeur could be seen where that same afternoon I would stand once more in awe of the mosaic ceiling depicting a triumphant risen Christ surrounded by apostles, saints, clergymen, popes and the nations in postures of adoration. I love the mosaic of St Peter holding his keys and accompanied by a cockerel to remind him of his human frailty. And I am so pleased the artists, Marcel Magne and Luc-Olivier Merson, included a handsome dog among the heavenly crowd of worshippers!

I roused some sleepy pigeons at the Opera House on my early morning exploration.

The magnificant Opera House..

The foyer at the Opera House and the giant chandelier with the ceiling of the auditorium painted by Marc Chagall. His modern art coexists happily with the baroque splendour. Of course, each time I turned, I glimpsed the Phantom lurking just behind my shoulder...
A little shopping...this is not a monument - just the interior of La Fayette's department store.

But for the real thing, I chose the Place Vendome where the big names like Chanel and Cartier jostled for my attention.

A chocolatier for something sweet...
or a necklace or two to tuck into my travel bag...

Diamonds set by Cartier are a gal's best friend.
On Sunday I attended St Michael's Evangelical Anglican church where I was welcomed with great warmth. Thank you, Isobel!
After church I strolled up the Champs Elysees.

At the Louvre I saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. But I still think my all time favourite art musem is the Musee d' Orsay housed in the old railway station on the Left Bank. I viewed the work of Renoir, Degas, van Gogh, Millet, Cezanne, Manet and Monet, to name a view.

Bridges over the Seine...

...and artists on its banks.

The grim conciergerie where Marie Antionette spent her last days. One of the towers, the Bonbec tower, was a place of torture and in the Courtyard of the Twelve those condemned to death in 1793-4 were assembled in groups of twelve before taking their last ride to Madame Guillotine.
I had a three course Sunday lunch at a tiny sidewalk cafe on the Left Bank in sight of Notre Dame. The simple meal was served with such elegance and care over a period of two and a half hours. No rushing a Frenchman at his food! When presented with a choice of five desserts, I selected the creme caramel. "Aah," the waiter sighed, "A good choice, madame!"

And so it was.