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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wednesday, 30 December '09: Waiting for my American 'sister' on her first time visit

I am waiting for the arrival of my AFS 'sister' and her daughter travelling all the way from St Paul-Minneapolis on their first-ever visit to Africa. A last minute re-routeing due to bad weather means they will arrive much later than expected. So as I while away the time, let me post a few holiday pics to show that our Christmas break at Wyndford Holiday Farm in the Eastern Free State was a blast!

The pool gave relief from temperatures in the early 30s C.
The food was scrumptious.

Ryan and Cath left the stress of 2009 far behind.

I was unashamedly lazy. And a very good time was had by all.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday, 19 December 2009: Wishing you a happy Christmas

A very happy Christmas to you all! My Bible study group celebrated Christmas with a lively bring and share party. Our ages range from twenty to seventy and so do our backgrounds. We really are the United Nations!

I leave tomorrow to spend Christmas with both my daughters and their families (Catherine's family is to be - a son in April 2010) at our family favourite, Wyndford Holiday Farm in the Eastern Free State, 17 km from Fouriesburg and overlooking the distant Maluti's of Lesotho.

It's a fully catered old fashioned holiday farm where the kids can run wild, grown-ups can chat, read, hike, play tennis or bowls and swim. May God richly bless you this Christmas! See you in 2010 (0r almost)!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday, 13 December '09: 'Departures'

Last Saturday a friend and I indulged in a little matinee movie-going at the local arts movie cinema in Brooklyn Mall. Our choice was Okuribito or Departures, the 2009 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film. The unusual subject matter of this movie - a wonderful mix of human interest, black comedy, cultural enlightenment (for me) and beautiful visuals and cello playing - centres around the ceremonial Japanese custom of encoffinment in which the 'departed', the dead, are respectfully and artistically prepared before an intimate circle of mourning family and friends before being placed in a coffin and ultimately cremated.

'Could that topic make for entertainment?' you may well ask. Oh, yes, profound, funny, interesting and heartwarming is the story of young Daigo, a cellist, who loses his job in an 0rchestra and moves back to his hometown, far from the glitz 0f Tokyo, with his delightful wife. Here he apparently takes a job at a travel agent, only to find that the 'departures' referred to in the job ad refer to the departures of the deceased. Against his better judgement and eventually incurring the censure of his wife and friend, he learns to carry out the highly ritualised procedures of encoffinment and to appreciate the reconciliation that often takes place among the mourning family members. When his own estranged father dies, his involvement with 'departures' becomes personal. It affords him a moving opportunity for forgiveness and healing.

The movie took ten years to make and its producer initially doubted its reception in Japan where the subject of death is taboo. Well, now isn't the subject of death taboo in most cultures, including Western society? My personal experience is that death is just only manageable to most people if it is sanitised, sentimentalised or kept at a firm arm's length.

Rent this movie for an evening's worthwhile viewing. It may be sad at times, but it is hardly morbid.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday, 7 December '09: Circles in the forest

Dalene Mathee (1938-2005) , South African authoress, lies buried at the foot of the great tree on the fringes of her beloved Knysna forest. A fitting resting place for someone whose most acclaimed 1984 novel, Circles in the forest (cited on an international publisher's list of the 100 Must Read books) deals so poetically and poignantly with the exploration of the indigenous forests, the extermination of the Knysna elephants and the humble lives of the forest folk, the woodcutters.

"Like a mighty king it stood towering above the white alder and mountain saffron, the stinkwood, assegai and hard pear. As if God had planted it long before the others, its giant root anchored it to the ground like giant arms." These lyrical words have been translated from Afrikaans into fourteen other languages. Mathee's forest novels: Circles in the forest; Fiela's child and The Mulberry Forest, have thus reached around the world, even to Iceland.

But what of Big Foot, the doomed bull elephant of Circles in the Forest? Could he have ripped out this tree with his enormous trunk, leaving its carcass across our path? Sadly Big Foot has disappeared along with the rest of the elephants who roamed the the forest and fynbos areas in the southern Cape in the late nineteenth century. The elephant population declined rapidly as increasing numbers of woodcutters and hunters settled in the area. By 1908 the population status was estimated at 20 individuals, dwindling further to an estimated 11 by 1970. By 1980 a mere 3 individuals were believed to still roam the area.

In 1994, three young female elephants where introduced from the Kruger National Park in an attempt to sustain the presence of elephants in the Knysna forest area. The translocated elephants did not remain within the largely forested conservation area but progressively chose to range in more open habitat on private land, and were eventually relocated to the Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape.

So Graham, Di and I walked the magic circles without any sounds of distant trumpeting or crashing feet. All we heard was the cry of the Knysna lourie and glimpsed the flashing of brightly coloured wings among the treetops.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

3 December '09: Holy Trinity Church, Belvidere

"Anything special you would like to see?" asked by my brother on the first day of the holiday. "Oh, yes! That little Anglican church on the lake somewhere just before Knysna," was my quick response. When we were children, my mother's favourite detour on our journey to her sister's farm, Assegai Bush, outside Grahamstown, was the Holy Trinity Church on the Belvidere Estate, on the banks of the Knysna River.

As children we would peek into its dark depths with its jewel-like stained glass windows, admire the handstitched kneelers and read aloud the gravestones under the oaks, wondering what adventures had brought the deceased parishoners from the English shires to the then wilderness during the mid-nineteeth century. The miniature church built in the Norman style of the 11th and 12th centuries looks quite at home in the lush landscape of the south-eastern coast of Africa. It was built by Thomas Henry Duthie, founder of the Belividere Estate from 1833-1857.

It is good to know that the little stone church is still a place of active worship for local residents and many visitors and the centre of a parish comprised of foresters and sawmill operators who work in the Knysna forests. The little white rectory with its English country garden delighted my sister-in-law and I.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday,1 December '09: The beaches of the Garden Route were My World for a short break

Mid-November saw me take an unusual pre-Christmas break with my brother, Graham, and his vivacious wife, Di at Sedgefield on the south-eastern coast of the Cape Province.

This area stretching from Mossel Bay to Knysna and beyond is known as the Garden Route of South Africa, named for its spectacular beauty.

Graham is a keen fisherman. He tolerated our sallies into the little coastal towns and the indigenous forests of Knysna as long as he was granted his fishing: early morning and late afternoon. Sadly this area with a climate so temperate and its vegetation so green is now 'Water stressed', a euphemism for drought-stricken that I have not encountered before.

But the beaches with their pink sand and the never-ending rows of breakers are unsurpassed -some of the most magnificant stretches of coastline in the world.

What do the other folk at My World think?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday, 13 November : Aunty Helen

Aunty Helen was a perfect aunt. She never scolded or punished. She could make up bedtime stories which carried on for weeks in a comforting, never-ending saga. She believed in fairies just as I did and didn’t mind tiptoeing on a damp lawn peeking in foxgloves and snapdragons, all excellent hiding places for the wee folk. She rubbed legs aching from growing pains until the sufferer fell asleep. The smell of 4711 Eau de Cologne marked Aunty Helen’s ministrations when I was fevered with tonsillitis or exhausted from throwing up last night’s dinner. She would generously sprinkle the astringent perfume from her precious bottle into enamel basin of tepid water and bathe my sticky hands and flushed face. Wordlessly she exchanged soiled nightclothes for clean ones and tucked a clean towel over the top sheet in the case of any other mishaps. She took me to symphony concerts at the Cape Town City Hall before I was the proper age and ignored my squirming on a creaky chair. Afterwards riding on the top deck of the bus headed for her bedsitter in Green Point, we talked earnestly about how music made pictures in my head: galloping steeds, dancing girls in silk garments, crashing waterfalls and placid streams. She heard my brother and my bedtime prayers and was persuasively behind our enrolment in Sunday School at a time my parents were only occasional churchgoers. She allowed me to brush her thick brown hair, which never greyed, into exotic styles, pinning it with jewelled clips and tying it with scarves. Then she would go downstairs and eat dinner with the rest of family without altering a single outlandish strand. When I had my girls, I watched her, thinner, wirier and wrinkled, do exactly the same for them, weaving a childhood magic they have never forgotten.

Was Aunt Helen happy in her spinsterhood which, according to family legend, was the consequence of her weak heart? Why did she arrive at our doorstep for an extended stay in the 50’s wearing a pixie cap of pink flowers and a set of leather suitcases embossed with her name? Was she always so reserved and shy, sometimes hardly speaking a word to the adults and favouring the children’s company? Did she really spurn a wealthy Scotsman because she didn’t like his bald head? With the self-centeredness of childhood, I never bothered to really find out. Later when these things interested me, she had become more and more taciturn, a precursor to Alzheimer’s and her last years in an old age home watched over anxiously by my mother.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday 5 November '09: Tribute to a friend: Sir Tristram

Sir Tristram (TristyBoy to his friends) has reached the rich age of twelve and a half human years or eighty-four canine ones. His eyes have a bluish tinge, his muzzle is frosty and his grin is gappy. He doesn't hear so well anymore. Just recently osteoarthritis has set in and our morning walk has been halved by two kilometers. Notwithstanding, his thick black coat still gleams. He remains a handsome knight of the finest kind.

Trist is my most loyal and loving friend. When Richard passed away, he mourned his beloved master for weeks. Then he assumed the part of my dedicated protector, a role which has caused him no little anxiety. The scarring on his leg, the result of obsessive licking to which Labs are susceptible, is probably the result of that trauma. To others he is a gentle warrior, with rather a distant air for a Labrador. But then he has Galahad, doesn't he? Galahad, the life and soul of the party, is always at hand to do the necessary socialising.

In June 1997 Tristram joined our household to follow in the footsteps of our previous black Lab, Valiant. His puppyhood and youth were expensive - he left behind a trail of chewed shoes, excavated irrigation pipes and dirtied dishclothes. But Richard, quick to anger and even quicker to forgive, said, "A dog must keep his spirit. You don't want him to become staid before his time." And spirit he had, also in the ring where he won a rosette or two or three. But Trist was not really a show dog. He never managed to hide his boredom at all the endless posturing and tended to sit down firmly when he received the command, 'Stand!' .

Old friends, like Tristram and I, don't need many words anymore. When he rolls on his back in my study, I scratch his tummy and he grins a wide doggy smile and murmers, "That's it! No, there, just over there!" When I nestle against the pillows with my opened Bible at the end of the day, he strolls to the bedside and says, "Oh, okay. But if you get to do any praying, say a word for me!" He gives me a nudge or two with his nose, while I sit hammering away at the computer keys in the mid-morning and remarks, "Don't take it so seriously, girl. Remember your in-basket will always be full!" I marvel at his wisdom.

How much longer do we still have together? In Tristram's view, that is a futile human question. "We're together today, aren't we? What more matters?" And I have decided he is right.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday, 3 November '09: The Union Buildings in a purple frame

It's November and the jacarandas are still a treat. The Union Buildings, seat of the administrative government in South Africa, in Arcadia are framed by purple.

From Waterkloof hills the suburbs have a purple haze.

I get sidetracked when driving down streets under a purple canopy.

Wishing you a happy Tuesday from My world. Take a trip in cyberspace and explore other worlds too.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday 22 October, '09: Hiroshima mon amour

Watch Hiroshima mon amour (1959) with a carefully chosen companion - someone who appreciates the craft of fine movie-making, striking screenplay spoken liquidly in French (with English subtitles), a bittersweet love story and the gaunt simplicity of black and white film.

This unusual movie is no 'dime store romance' to use the words of the main character, a Frenchwoman who finds herself in post-war Hiroshima to make a movie about peace. She is expressively portrayed by the beautiful Emanuelle Riva. Riva was a stage actress at the time and was chosen by the director, Alaim Resnais, almost by accident, to star in the movie. Eijii Okada takes the role of her Japanese lover whom she meets by chance in Hiroshima, a city which has already been restored just 15 years after the atomic explosion. By 1959 the city has become a tourist showpiece fitted with flashing neon lights, a musem which artistically commemorates the atomic explosion, and many other tourist attractions which are beginning to trivialise the catastrophe and all its moral implications.

But could Hiroshima and its inhabitants have forgotten so quickly?
Can anyone dismiss a trauma with the rapid passing of a few years?

This is the question that is played out in this intense love affair. The emotions awakened by her love affair with her Japanese lover in Hiroshima evoke in the Frenchwoman a painful memory, a traumatic story of the war that she has never retold to anyone before. In a series of flashbacks she relates the story of her girlhood love for a young Bavarian soldier during the Nazi Occupation of France. When her lover is shot on the eve of the Liberation, her relationship with him is exposed and she is dragged to the city square to have her head shaven and to be shunned in disgrace.

This is a magnificent movie but it is a not just another Franco-Japanese version of Casablanca. It struck a chord deep within my own heart as I viewed it alone last weekend. Surely it concludes with the most romantic lines on celluloid spoken by two fine actors (screenplay by Marguerite Duras):
" You are Hir-o-shima!"
"And you are Nevers, France!"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

20 October '09: I never tire of the jacarandas in bloom in My world

I never cease to be captivated by the jacarandas in full bloom. The familiar streets are seen through a haze of purple lace; the pavements are pooled with great circles of mauve blossoms which go 'Pop' when stepped upon. In my front garden Tristram stands in the shade of a huge jacaranda with a twisted and rugged trunk of grey bark.

The view east up Marais street. While taking these shots, a passerby comments,"I'm from Durban and I always tell the folks up there to come to Pretoria in October if they are planning a wedding to have their photos under the jacarandas." "Wonderful, aren't they?" I agree, "I live here and I never tire of them. Every year I am out here taking still more pictures."
We strolled up William Drive in appreciative silence. The man paused again and glanced at me, "Do you know that heaven will be even more beautiful than this? I am a Muslim and in the Koran I have read that the next world will be far more magnficent than earth. Imagine the trees!" "Yes, I'm a Christian," I smiled, "and the Bible talks about eye not having seen what God has prepared for us." He nodded wordless and walked on..
Such is My World at present. What does yours look like this Tuesday noon in October? I'm off to the My World webpage to find out before my first student for the afternoon arrives.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday, 9 October '09: Seeking solitude while 'Out stealing horses'

Dominant themes in Per Petterson's striking novel are solitude and memories. Trond, a recent widower, retreats to a small cottage in the isolated forests of Norway (but within driving distance from Oslo) after the death of his wife. With his dog, Lyra, for a companion, engaged in hard physical work and in simple, uncluttered surroundings, he delves back into the past remembering the events of the summer of 1948 which he spent in similar surroundings and in close relationship with his father. Those memories spark off his reconstruction of what he had heard of the events during the Nazi occupation of Norway - events which eventually drew his father away from his wife and family and left Trond to face young adulthood and the rest of his life, fatherless. However, the most successful scene in the novel, in my view, is Trond's recollection of an outing with his mother - a single time when she rose above her hopeless situation as an abandoned wife and in which mother and son walked side by side in joyful companionship.

My two dear Norwegian friends have so often described the little wooden cottages with no running water and outside toilets in the Norwegian countryside which families hold dear as getaways both in winter and summer. I feel that I can see the wood stove, the scrubbed floorboards, the gaslamp, a brightly coloured woolen blanket tossed on the bunk and the stout door barricading the snow and cold outside. At present as the year hurtles to its closure, I wish I could escape to solitude in a hut in the snowy woods of Norway - just for a day or two!

Oh, and the enigmatric title? That refers both to boyish pranks and the code name given to 'outlawed' activities of the Norwegian resistance during WWII.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday, 29 September '09: Getting side-tracked in Bloemfontein

Purchasing pot pourri from a sweet scented mix in a battered enamel basin at the Bloemfontein Organic Market on Heritage Day last week.

All things pretty, smelling of lavender and roses under the hot sun.
The syringas are covered in pale mauve blossoms against a blue sky. Goods for sale at the Organic Market related to a greener, cleaner world - bins for recycling, water-wise plants and worms to start one's own wormery. I drew the line at unbleached loo paper. I want to save the world but...unbleached toilet paper looked a little too natural for me!

Somehow I kept getting side-tracked from Green issues. Here are the ice-cream lickin' reasons: Joelle.

And Jaelene. The reasons for my visit to Their World - Bloemfontein (translated from the Afrikaans. Fountain of flowers) in the Free State.
I am rather late in posting. Just back from my short visit. But if you hurry, you will find lots of other interesting corners of the globe and equally nice folk on My World.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday, 21 September '09: Coco Chanel revisited

I always loved to dress in a tailored suit, stockings, court shoes and pearls. I rather regret today's casual style where the occasion seldom arises for that kind of outfit. I find the simple oh-so-French elegance of Coco stunning. So, last weekend I could hardly have missed seeing Coco starring another favourite, Audrey Tatou.

The movie received disappointing reviews. 'A film about nothing', one reviewer remarked and in a certain way I did agree. The movie focused on Coco's rather pragmatic affair with French millionaire and playboy, Etienne Balsan, and her passionate and ill-fated love for the English buisnessman, Arthur 'Boy' Capel, who lent her funds to start her first salon. But the beautiful French interiors, Audrey's sensitive acting and the contrast of Coco individualistic dress with the period's overdone style made up for it.

I do realise that movie's aim was to depict the young Coco - before Chanel - but I would like to have known more about her childhood in the orphanage at Aubazine where the nuns taught her to sew and her life during the ravages of WWI. For her affair with the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky I shall have to wait for the release later this year of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky which stars Anna Mouglalis and Mads Mikkelsen (both actors of whom I am ignorant).

Ah, well! If you have a classic Chanel tweed tucked away, I dare you to take it out of the mothballs. Wear the jacket mached up with your blue jeans and trainers to the Mall and let me know if you get any compliments! Who know? You may even start a trend.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday, 11 September '09: Don't disturb! Ladies at lunch

One of life's small but important pleasures are my regular luncheon dates with my girl friends.

Today was a sidewalk lunch with Theresa. Ordering from the menu is easy. After years of lunching together we know each other's preferences, "Two glasses of water. Yes, ice and lemon, please. Two glasses of dry white wine and a tumbler of ice on the side."

And so the conversation begins: our current reading; the biography Theresa is writing and the upcoming publications her solo publishing company will soon produce; the latest in movie going followed by a lively update on each of our adult children. Friendship is toasted with a glass of Two Oceans' savignon blanc and the intricacies of mother-daughter relationships is teased out over fettucine and basil pesto sprinkled generously with parmesan cheese. We offer opinions on the economic meltdown and compliment each other on the canine virtues of our respective Labradors - her eight-month old Benjamin and my aging Trist and Gal. We philosophise about life's seasons (are we in autumn or is it still late summer?) and rejoice in each other's little miracles.

Eventually the bill is divided without a thought. The tip requires some fuzzy arithmetic to ensure our patient waiter receives his due. After all, he has hovered over us for two and half hours and managed to interject the enthusiatic dialogue twice to take our orders. At last we reluctantly part company. Where did the time go?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday 8 September: Verandah days in My World

It's verandah days at Thatchwick Cottage. So wander up the path and admire the clivias.
Take a seat on the verandah and I will bring you a drink. Iced camomile tea laced with berry juice?

Galahad is happy warmer days are here again.

I love my out-of-Africa stoep as it is known in Afrikaans. This long tiled verandah under the thatch overhang becomes an extension of the house in the long summer months. And it is the best place to watch a summer thunderstorm.
Join friends all over My World to see how the seasons change as the globe turns.