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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday, 29 April: Old-fashioned holidaying at Wynford

What was our ultimate destination as we meandered through the countryside of the Free State?

Wyndford Holiday farm, established in the 1920's, first visited by Richard, our girls and I some twenty odd years ago. Little has changed since then. The rhythms of Wynford depend on the bell - to summon one to tea and cake, scones or biscuits at ten and four o' clock served in the summer house. To summon one to breakfast, lunch and dinner in the cosy dining room where guests are seated with strangers, where tired city dwellers who haven't said a cordial 'Hi' to a neighbour in years, find themselves sharing their histories over homely dishes of wholesome fare.

Jaelene spent hours swinging (me, pushing) doing puzzles, watching the resident tortoises move slowly into the morning sun, feeding scampering bunnies and chickens, riding horses and chatting to Gran on the lawn.

Joelle was the star of the stay - a fearless six-year old who went hiking twice a day on the mountains, wriggled through bat caves, swung through the air (safely helmeted and harnessed) on a slide high above the tree tops and even attempted to ab-sail down cliffs ("Not this time, next time, Mom, when I'm in big school!)

Cell phones don't work among the mountains surrounding Wynford so no-one leaps up from the table to rush outside and talk far too loudly about deals, emails, faxes and appointments.

Memories are made at Wynford. Ours stretch over three generations and twenty-five years: Richard and I, our daughters and now the grandkids.

As I packed my suitcase in my little cottage room to return home, I found a forgotten scrap of paper tucked in a side pocket, covered with Richard's loopy scrawl. A coincidence? The Westminister Confession speaks of the 'communion of the saints'; the writer to the Hebrews reminds us of the 'cloud of witnesses' watching our earthly journey and encouraging our perseverance as saints. So is it too unorthodox to think of a beloved husband, a proud dad, a grandfather who never knew his grandchildren, looking down on the new memories being made among the crags at Wyndford?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tuesday, 28 April '09: Country churches

You will find a church standing, solid and staid, in the middle of every dorp (village) in South Africa's platteland (countryside). Here are some of the country churches I encountered on the drive through the Eastern Free State last week. Built in 1894, the Dutch Reformed Church in Fouriesburg, Free State, was built of the tawny local sandstone hewn from the surrounding hills.
In the church hall of the Dutch Reformed Church in Rosendal, we met a congregant busy with carpentry. He told us that the once large congregation now numbers eighty regular worshippers. But they are a close knit fellowship and the hall is used for cosy potluck meals on special festivals, such as Pentecost. We took the opportunity to slip in to admire the austere interior, dominated by the elevated pulpit, the pipe organ, the single ornamentation: a banner, God is liefde, (God is Love) and the communion table.

The little Anglican church tucked away in a sandy side street of Fouriesburg was locked. Its size reflects the demographics of the area where English-speakers have historically been a minority. The notice outside announced twice-monthly services.

Wynford Holiday Farm, our vacation destination, has its own simple thatched A-frame chapel, recently built, overlooking the road from Fouriesburg to the Lesotho border. Services are held weekly for the Farm's guests.

A favourite venue for weddings the bridal couple can gaze on the distant mountains while making their vows.

On Sunday we listened to George, Wynford's owner, preach a down-to-earth sermon; hymns were sung to the guitar of Linda, his wife. The simplicity of the service fitted the majestic natural surroundings.

I have linked this little holiday snippet part to That's My World. Do take a visit!

Saturday, 25 April: Visiting Rosendal

Who needs city streets, bling boutiques, glitzy malls, cell phones and traffic jams?

The newly harvested maize fields where horses and cattle graze, evergreen willows and rust-gold plane trees, the strange shapes of the striped sandstone cliffs of the Witteberg and the Maluti's, veld flowers interwined with grass in seed, blue skies and the long tarred road with an occasional truck or car, frequently outside the range of a cell phone signal made my short visit to the Eastern Free State a perfect holiday.
Our first stop was the little farming village of Rosendal about a two hour drive from Bloemfontein or a three hour drive (and light years) from the frenzy of Johannesburg. I visited this little town about ten years ago on a similar trip and it appeared quietly neglected. Now Rosendal is part of the rural renewal taking place across denuded country dorpies (hamlets), villages and small towns as city wearied artists, potters, weavers, enthusiatic dealers in antiques, country junk and local wares revive the old settlements.Rosendal may have only one tarred road but it has a little theater where well-knowns come to perform. Rosendal's streets are dusty; its permanent population is under fifty souls, according to a mosaic craftswoman and weaver.

The Old Trading Store(Die Ou Handelshuis)is choc-a-bloc with antiques, memorabilia, yesteryear evening dresses, crockery and glassware.
Next door is the Meerkatkolonie Art Gallery (The Mongoose Colony) where soft stocking sculptures recline on an old bench.
Michelle Nigrini, artist, also presents creative weekends at the local hotel. Dahla Hulme creates functional art, furniture and sculptures using old farming implements, animal skulls and bones.

Rosendal can be roughly translated: Dale of roses. The prolific garden, planted English country style, at The Rosendale Country Lodge based in a restored and converted cheese factory contrasts with the open veld.
We didn't stay to taste the famed baked cheese cake on the Lodge's verandah. Next time!
The town's orginal cottages are built of honey-coloured sandstone

The climate is severe in winter with frost and frequent snowfalls so one needs mittens especially these which look good enough to eat.

Turksvy (Prickly Pear) Trading store is a vintage store packed to the ceiling with bottled fruit, jams, soft print cottons,homemade soaps and antiques.

Suzani's right next door has a most impressive dislay of old enamelware and ironware.

Next stop, next week, country churches...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thursday,15 April '09: My verdict? American filmaking at its best

Another pleasant moment of the long weekend was viewing 'The Verdict' (1982) with the inimitable Paul Newman. Leone and I tasted her delicious beef casserole and sipped our glasses of fruity dry white in silence, eyes fixed to the screen. Both of us had seen the movie years before; both us had long forgotten the twists and turns of the plot. What do you remember?

Paul Newman plays a down and out lawyer, divorced, disillusioned and hitting the bottle far too often. The only case he has is almost impossible to win. He resists being fobbed off with a generous out of court settlement. Instead, in the interests of honour and right, he risks the court and the verdict of a jury and takes on the combined powers of the Church, an illustrious law firm and a biased judge. Charlotte Rampling plays Jezebel to Newman's jaded Galahad. She is sloe-eyed, wan, desperate and unscrupulous. Was there a feminist outcry in 1982 when an outraged and betrayed Paul Newman struck her through the face, throwing her to the floor and drawing blood? I cannot remember.

The genius of the movie is that it is restrained; the courtroom interactions are understated. And the director, thank goodness, resists the temptation of providing a glib, happy ending. Now this is what I call American filmaking at its best!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuesday, 14 April '09: Musings on the Muse

The nice thing about a long weekend is the chance to read without interruption. With satisfaction, I completed a newly published novel (2009): The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee. Part love story, part thriller, the book is set in post-war Hong Kong with flashbacks to the main action which occurs following the fall of the British colony to the Japanese and the Occupation.

But a book review is not my intention. Charlotte Bronte, quoted by Lee, said, "The writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master, something that at times strangely wills and works for itself." And Lee writes about her own craft, saying that the book began as a short story (so did the popular 'Madonnas of Leningrad' which many bloggers have enjoyed). Her own childhood and life in Hong Kong provided the authenticity of the detailed backdrop. But what interested me was that the novel evolved without an outline or a plot. Lee created two characters, then another two sprang to life. For five years she kept writing: allowing her characters to converse, interact and act. They dictated the story. Lee never knew how the book was going to end. Propelled by her characters she 'kept trying to get them out of sticky situations'. The result is an intriguing book, with an exquisitely delicate touch and an unexpected ending.

There are several novelists (and some emerging while I talk) among the bloggers I know. How does the Muse lead you? I would love to know!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday, 13 April '09: Easter Monday

Easter-wings by George Herbert (1593-1633)
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With thee
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With thee
Let me combine
And feel this day thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
* To imp - to graft on new feathers to the wing of a falcon

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Saturday, 11 March '09: Holy Thursday Seder Meal

" I just had a look at your blog and the picture is rather old!" emailed my friend, Lydia from Australia.
Oophs! My excuse is that this past week has been a short one in South Africa. South Africans still have a long Easter week:Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays. And I was busy all week with the preparations for the traditional Holy Thursday Seder meal held annually at Thatchwick. This year the guest list, like Topsy, grew and grew ending with sixteen friends. So furniture had to be moved and tables joined so that we could all sit down to a three course dinner: chicken soup and matzos dumplings; roast lamb and trimmings; sweet Greek desserts of custard, nuts and honey. Above is our lovely Seder plate.

Isabella, the youngest guest, asked the question: "Why is this night different fron all other nights?" At that special moment, a little prompting was needed from brother Daniel. I wrote a special liturgy for our meal in which everyone had a part: a scripture, a prayer, a blessing. Together we remembered the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt; the last Passover which Jesus ate with his disciples on the night He was betrayed; His passion and resurrection. Suddenly everyone had another metaphor or symbols linked to this ancient Jewish meal, which they wanted to share.
Unfortunately I only had time for a photo of the table before the guests arrived. The intention to take loads of shots was lost amidst the scurrying around serving.

At midpoint in our meal, we broke bread together as a Christian fellowship. The three children were entranced by the solemnity of the moment as we passed the cup around the table and broke pieces from the Kifka loaf.

The Easter lights were lit at the beginning of the meal. The Holy Thursday meal is a special event at Thatchwick and each year the guests leave touched and transformed by this little ritual. On Good Friday I was on duty at church. We are currently holding an Easter conference and the church was overflowing with about 2 000 people of every cultural background you can imagine. My friends who attend other congregations also reported a bumper turnout for the Good Friday morning service. Leone commented, "I had couldn't get parking at church this morning. I had to drive round and round the block to find a spot!"

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thursday, 2 April '09: Discovering my world: Irma Stern

Blogging has become a way of appreciating my own world: its people, history, flora and fauna. Here are a few of the bold, emotionally intense paintings of Irma Stern, early South African artist (1894-1966). Above is the Cape flowerseller with proteas.

Irma Stern was born to German Jewish parents in the remote town of Schweizer-Renecke in the hot, dry North West province of South Africa where her father ran a trading store. Irma's life, however, was not confined. She and her parents travelled intermittently between Europe and South Africa.

Her parents welcomed her ambition to become a painter. She spent the years of the WWI in Germany where she studied under the Expressionist, Max Pechstein. On her return to South Africa, her art was derided and misunderstood in the conservative Cape Town of the 1920's. Reviews declared: Art of Miss Irma Stern: Ugliness as a cult.

But by the '40s Irma was an established artist. Her travels to Europe were cut short by WWII; instead Irma travelled into the interior of Africa, to Zanzibar and the Congo, where the colours of the produce at the food markets, the dress of the diverse peoples and the tropical landscapes inspired her striking paintings.

Irma's home in Rosebank, Cape Town has become the Irma Stern Museum administered by the University of Cape Town. Her studio remains unaltered and the Museum houses selected works and travelling exhibitions. Do visit on your next trip. You know, that first time ever trip to South Africa that you have been promising yourself!

Irma's comment on the creative process: "I work a long time at a picture in my head...I never touch the canvas after it is finished."