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

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tuesday, 30 June '09: What passing bells...? Omaha Beach, Normandy is part of My World

Grey and ominous, the silver stainless steel sculpture by French artist, Anitore Bacon, entitled: 'The Braves' commemorates the brave men of the 1st and 29th Infantry Division of the US army who began landing a half an hour before dawn on June 6 1944 at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. A gently curving beach of silvery-pink sand and gentle ripples which occasionally washed up a whelk at my feet hardly seemed the setting for death and destruction on such a scale.

My day visit to the Landing Beaches at Normandy was the highlight of my recent overseas trip. No passing bells sounded from the spires of the grey stone churches of the surrounding villages of Colleville, St Laurent and Vierville (all rebuilt after apocalytic destruction in 1944) for those young men who died here - and at Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold. But, in awe, I paid a deeply felt tribute with my heart.
The main strip of beach is surprisingly narrow, rising to a bank of shingle up against a low sea wall beyond which is a short stretch of grassland, today dotted today with holiday homes. Several of these roofed with thatch.
In the distance you can make out the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc.

I was struck, and still am, by the significance of the D-Day landings by Allied troops at the Normandy beaches, code named: Omaha and Utah (US), Juno (Canada) and Sword and Gold (British). The French Resistance, Free French and Polish troops also made their heroic contribution. This was the largest sea based invasion ever launched in history.
One erroneously thinks that once the longest day had ended, things were virtually over. But the ensuing battle of Normandy was savage and relentless. From 6-20 June over 11 000 US men were lost; over 4 000 British troops and a similar number of Canadians. This excludes the thousands wounded. On these beaches where toddlers paddled and holiday makers strolled? In the lush surrounding meadows where well-fed white cows feed?
The Allied flags flutter at the memorial on Omaha beach.

Well you may ask: is this part of Your World? Yes, it is. South African troops fell in North Africa and Italy; South African pilots over the mountains of Yugoslavia and over a beleagured Warsaw. And, of course, the brave men of many other nations.

Visit many other interesting posts on My World this Tuesday. And do join me for the rest of trip to Normandy, Paris and Riga, Latvia in the next few days. I am now back home and will also be dropping my calling card at your front door in the next few days. I missed you all!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wednesday, 10 June '09: Something to enjoy while I am away

Piano by DH Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

Hope you enjoyed this little post while I was away. Thank you to all recent visiting friends. If I have not yet returned the call, I shall do so on my return from Europe.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tuesday 9 June '09: The FIFA Confederation Cup, 2009 is in My World

Hey, all you soccer fans across the globe! Pretoria is gearing up for the FIFA Confederations Cup to be played in South Africa from 14 to 28 June. This sporting event is held in the World Cup host country a year before the really big event - the 2010 World Cup. But the Confederations Cup is major happening in its own right as six continental champions come up against the World Cup holders and the hosts, Bafana Bafana.

In Pretoria the games will be played at Loftus Versfeld Stadium (homeground of the Blue Bulls rugby team), just a short drive from my home. Now I must confess I am not a soccer nor a rugby fan; but the enthusiasm is contagious. At present massive road works are underway to updrade the transport network in Jo'burg and Pretoria for the 2010 event. We in this part of the world are very hospitable folk and I am know that these events are going to be great success. I just love the official emblem, a soccer ball in the colours of our flag!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday, 5 June '09: First lines

“The introduction of your essay,” repeatedly admonished my English high school teacher, a diminutive Irish nun with mischievous blue eyes and a Master’s dissertation written on Gerald Manley Hopkins’ The wreck of the Deutschland, “must grab your reader’s attention”.

So also the first line of any text; that single sentence that seduces you, draws you, renders you the writer’s willing serf for hours and hours. The most effective first line suggests a whole story in a few words. Think of Daphne du Maurier’s opening to Rebecca: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Manderley? A return? A nightmare or pleasant reminiscence? Who can resist finding out.

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show,” writes Charles Dickens. And David Copperfield has me like putty in the hollow of his palm. Champion or rogue, what will he be?

“Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” So George Eliot introduces us to Dorothea. Now, is Miss Brooke really poor as her dress belies or is she a self-absorbed, priggish saint who wishes to appear poor for maximum effect? My battered Penguin version of Middlemarch required my undivided attention for 895 pages to establish D's character.

Amy Tan had me committed for days with her opener in The Joy Luck Club: “The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum.” Sudddenly I am back in my childhood, in a once-upon-a-time world of ugly ducklings and doomed swans. Little do I know that instead, Tan has lured me into a complex web of mother-daughter relationships: regrets, misunderstandings and dogged love.

For pure lyricism, my countryman, Alan Paton gets my vote. He opens his seminal work, Cry the beloved country with the words: “There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills.” Is it surprising that he wrote that in dark, cold Norway, far from wife and country? Can’t you hear the homesickness that overwhelms South Africans abroad, exiled from dusty roads and hot sun?

But surely the most powerful first line was penned by Moses in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Majestic in its simplicity.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wednesday 3 June '09: Next stop, next week: Amelie's Paris

With the wind in their hair, the fabulous Amelie (Audrey Tautou) is off to find her destiny in Paris with Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) at the wheel of a scooter. Will they breakfast on croissants and coffee at a cafe in Montmatre or crack the brittle topping of a creme brulee somehere on the Left Bank?

This time next week I shall be following in Amelie's footsteps. More or less at this time I shall be awaiting the call to board my Jhb-Paris flight from International Departures at the OR Tambo Airport, Johannesburg. Summertime in the southern hemisphere means conference time in academe. I am off to a deliver a paper at an erudite gathering in Riga, Latvia with a three day personal vacation in Paris.

To complement the information in my guide books, this evening I am going to watch The fabulous destiny of Amelie Poulain once again. If you have never smiled at the sweet quirkiness of our heroine in this 2001 French movie starring Audrey Tautou, you have a treat awaiting you. Amelie is a little lonely waitress at a Montmatre cafe who has a unique view of the world. Engaged in a quest to find the owner of a treasure box of childhood memorabilia which she accidentally stumbles across in her little apartment, Amelie decides to spread happiness to the lonely and eccentric. She plays a mischievous Fairy Godmother distributing random acts of kindness to a collection of odd Parisian characters until she meets her own destiny in the shadow of the Carousel, just below the Sacre le Coeur.

A movie worth seeing set in a city worth visiting - for me, the fourth time!
This award seems designed for me: roses and porcelein. Thank you, Poet Laureate of blogland, Kat!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tuesday, 2 June, 2009: The first day of winter in My World

1 June was the first day of winter in My World. Temperatures fluctuated between 3 degrees Celsius in the early morning and rose to a mild 22 degrees by midday. I made a quick detour to Celliers' Park on Venning Street, Groenkloof - about a five minute drive from my home - to snap the aloes in bloom.

What are the colours of winter? In my world they are brilliant orange, green and gold dislayed against the bluest of skies. Aloes reflected in the pond as did...

the blossoms of the purple broom.
Bees were busy on the strelitzias.
A young mom pushing with a pram, an old man engrossed in the daily paper, a couple with a picnic spread on the grass - all were enjoying the winter sunshine and the sound of the water.

Pink blooms amidst a web of fine spines which edge a succulent's leaves.

Yes, this is the wild dagga or leonotis as Raph rightly identified in an earlier photo on my blog. The earliest dwellers in South Africa chewed and smoked this plant instead of tobacco.

The lime green trunk of the fever tree. This lovely park, whatever the season, is one of Pretoria's best kept secrets.
Make a visit to the many other lovely postings on My World and discover the seasons in other parts of the globe.