Still me

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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

25 December 2010: May your Christmas be full of bright-eyed joy

May your Christmas be full of wide-eyed, bright-eyed joy! Jethro is delighted with his first Christmas ever.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Monday 27 December: The new kitchen

An unanticipated and unplanned development of 2010 was the complete gutting of my old kitchen and the installation of a completely new kitchen, down to the tap fitting and tiles. It all started with a casual remark over a coffee. "I would love to renovate my kitchen, " quoth I, "but lack the courage." My good friend, Trudie, an even greater optimist than myself, retorted,"What is three weeks' of chaos compared to the rest of your life?" I took up the challenge even though the three weeks were closer to eight!

My kitchen was old, functional and boring. The walls are crooked which made measuring a designer's nightmare. I wanted a romantic French Provencal look, complete with chandeliers. The latter were the cheapest item and the easiest to find: Mr Price's Home store.

The old wooden door leads to my pantry, which only needed new tiles and a coat or two of cream paint. A curtain bought earlier in Provence was just the thing to cover the glass panes.

My choice of wall tiles changed at the last moment. The tiler was already at work, using with the accent tile on the floor. I was doubtful but lacked initiative after weeks of dust and mess. Ria, my domestic helper, intervened. "Those tiles are ugly. They are spoiling your whole kitchen. Everyone (the installation team) thinks so but they are don't want to be honest. Now, I'm telling you!" Thanks to Ria and the salesman at Italtile, who made the exchange at 5 pm without batting an eyelid and no extra expense.

I just love my 'fireplace' with mantelpiece and glass cabinets which can light up at night.

I have since had blinds installed and am rearranging the displays bit by bit. The kitchen boasts pot drawers, a wine rack (still more or less empty at the moment), a pull out drawer for my Kenwood and a pull out grocery cupboard housed in the place of the former, unused broom cupboard.

The worst moments are forgotten; the best are still to come. Thanks to Trudie.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday, December 22: Cape Town reunion

The butterflies on Diana's 60th birthday devil's food chocolate cupcakes seem to flutter in anticipation. A week ago the up-country family - myself, Ruth and the girls, Cath, Ryan and baby Jethro - spent a long weekend in Cape Town to celebrate. We had not seen Ryan and Laurie since their permanent return to South Africa after a sojourn of a decade in London. Two-and-a-half year old Oliver and baby Eva needed to get acquainted with their cousins...
And Aunt Ruth, who looks mighty glad to have a lapful of baby.

Ruth and Joelle and Jaelene and I in a pre-party pose.

Laurie iced the dozens of cupcakes baked late night by Charmel.

The labourer is worthy of his wage and the baker gets to lick her fingers!

Graham and Di posed under the gazebo in back garden before the guests arrived. The south-easter died down to permit a tranquil summer evening party with lots of friends. The adjective 'old' took on a dual meanings: I renewed acquaintance with a former beau of teenagedom and the pipsqueak brother of a school friend, who had suddenly become middle-aged overnight even if he has not lost his impish charm. How could we all possibly have reached the formidable age that our parents had been just yesterday? 60's music played in the background: 'Remember the Bee Gees?' 'I just loved the Beachboys, Sonny and Cher, the boys from Liverpool!'

The three cousins enjoy some ice cream sticks. Oliver commented. "Di, I really like the two J's!" Well, what sensible young man would object to the attentions of two blondes set to mother him?

There was plenty to eat other than the cupcakes but somehow they drew the most smiles. Here is a chuckle from Bids.

The day after the party we picknicked on the green lawns of Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden with the sky so blue and the mountains the backdrop behind us. Cath is a soliticious mom and Jethro looks satisfied.

Especially if there is a jar of strained veg around.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thursday 2 September 2010: Petit dejeuner at Arles

Together with friends, Salome and Gerrie, I breakfasted on coffee and pain au chocolat at Arles. Situated at the crossroads of the Rhone and the Roman Via Aurelia, Arles was designated the first city of Provence by Julius Caesar.

The magnificent more or less intact Roman arena which could seat 10 000 spectators is larger and older than its counterpart in Nimes. I had not expected to find so many fine examples of Roman architecture and engineering in Provence but, of course, it was exactly that in antiquity- Provincia Romana.

Turning a corner, slowly wandering half-lost down a cobble street, stopping to buy fine serviettes and linens, we came upon the Arles Saturday market.
Baskets of lavender.

Pans of steaming paella.

Tubs of carmine strawberries.

Mauve and white streaked bulbs of garlic.

Mounds of cheeses.

Snails bubbling in a tomato flavoured sauce.

Striped melons making a Cezanne-like still life.

Piles of purple and green rough-skinned avocadoes.

Bunches of pink and white radishes.

Artichokes reminiscent of an armadilo's rough plated skin.

And on the other side of the road, delicately embroidered chemises of yesteryear.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday 27 August 2010: Popes and carousels: Avignon

Today Avignon is a city of carousels, boutique shopping and sidewalk eating in the sunshine. The sombre grey stone of walls encircling the old city and the ramparts of a fortified palace remind the passersby of days when beliefs and traditions were strong enough to make Kings bow low before religious leaders.

Avignon's famous landmark is the Pope's palace built as a fortress by Pope Benedict XII and added to by Clement VI, patron of the arts and lover of the high life. For about 70 years the Popes resided in Avignon, the years of the so called Bablylonish captivity. Clement V fled to France in 1309 to avoid papal power struggles in Rome.

Next to the palace is the Notre Dames des Domes, Avignon's cathedral. I found it a refershingly austere structure except for the gilded Madonna on the tower, a 19th century embellishment.

The courtyard of the older section of the Pope's Palace reflects Benedictine simplicity. However, the history of customs and traditions (relayed on the audio cassettes available for hire to guide one around a buillding which has explanations only in French) told a different story. Elaborate courtly procedures accompanied every move of the resident Pope, from sleeping rituals to eating and dressing. It all seemed a far cry from the simple, humble and unworldly example of the Christ whom the medieval clergy were tasked to represent.

I just had to snap the effigies of Louis II ' the good' de Bourbon and his lady, Anne of Auvergne, at whose marble feet lay their beloved and faithful pugs.

Le Pont St Benezet was built ostensibly at the instigation of a young shepherd boy during the 12 century. Over the years the floods of the Rhone took their toll and only three of the 22 arches remain.

The street of the Weavers once housed the dyers who supplied the local weavers. A branch of the river Sorgue flows in a canal down one side. Under the plane trees, the cobbled streets and the grey stone building a stall selling second-hand books caught my eye.

A quirky little cafe indicated what a can of green lime paint can do for two slatted chairs.

I am always on the lookout for something contemporary for Catherine amidst all the baroque. This little imp sits outside the city wall near the Pont.

The shops selling linens and Provencal prints abound. But you have to search the labels to avoid the telltale Made in China or Woven in India labels.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday 14 July: Ends and beginnings

The end or the beginning?The end of a hectic six weeks. Both for me and for South Africa. And it is now or never – to begin blogging again.

Spain lifted the FIFA World Cup high. A very good time was had by all as the world enjoyed a wonderful sports event that we locals have anticipated for a decade. I have acquired a taste for the sound of vuvuzela’s, flown our SA flag from my car aerial and learned quite a bit about soccer.

On a personal note, I have travelled to Provence and tasted the sun-ripened tomatoes at a Saturday market in Arles.

Of course, attending conference in Aix-en-Provence does not mean you can't wine and dine.
I arrived home to make another three trip to Durban - not watch the games but to teach.
Then the girls arrived...
For a week of the extended holidays with Gran ‘all by themselves’.

I also turned a year older and had fun celebrating it with the family.

It’ s been a remarkable winter so far.

Hopefully now it’s time to get back into a routine. And record my meanderings in Provence in the next posts.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tuesday, 1 June 2010: Got my travelling shoes on again

Home seems sweeter than ever just before I leave on a trip. Safe, protected, familiar. Tomorrow I fly via Paris to Marseille to attend a conference in Aix-en-Provence. A destination that I have coveted since reading Peter Mayle.
Yet the butterflies always flutter in my innards as I pull on my travelling shoes. Doggos are off to the kennels; the budgies will chatter near Jethro's pram; my PC is about to be shut down; the Out of Office message on the email is set to operate from 6 am tomorrow and the last items tucked into my minuscule hand luggage.
I shall be back on 12 July to World Cup fever that is taking over South Africa. Back to home, sweet home.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday, 24 May 2010: Seraphine de Senlis

Seraphine de Senlis was the topic of the movie, Seraphine (2009) that my artist friend, Rhoda and I watched on Saturday evening. I had no previous knowledge of this French painter of Naïve Art and I found her creations and the story of her life moving. Seraphine was born in 1834 in Arsy, France. Orphaned at seven, she spent her childhood in a convent; her early years as a shepherdess and the rest of her life as a household drudge. But Seraphine was driven by her desire to paint – through the nights in the shabby bedsit; through the shelling of her village during WWI; when encouraged by the German art critic, Wilhelm Uhde; and when forgotten and unappreciated in the post-war years until Uhde found her once again. Sadly, her childlike spending of her patron’s money alarmed his sense of caution during the Great Crash and eventually insanity ended her virtually hidden career. She died alone and friendless in a mental asylum in 1934 (some put the date at 1942). She never knew that some of her paintings, brilliant images of leaves, flowers and feathers which seem to swirl and quiver, hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In the movie Yolande Moreau does a wonderful portrayal of the painter – scrubbing floors, emptying chamber pots and washing linen in the stream. Gazing with affectionate worship at the image of the Virgin Mary, mesmerised by the sunlight dancing on leaves or the image of her own work worn hand submerged in a pail of water. Making her own paints of glowing colours, grinding her mixtures with mortar and pestle from concoctions of mud from river beds, wild flowers from the hedgerows, a vial of blood from the butcher’s bowl and molten wax from the votive candles at Mary’s shrine in the village church.

‘She was obsessed,’ whispered Rhoda to me in the dim light of the cinema. ‘Well, so are you when you get going!’ I answered back. In the seat next to me, a young girl sat weeping. It was that kind of movie. That kind of life – Seraphine de Senlis.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

23 May 2010, Sunday: Falling in love with Jethro

Isabella's with its pink and white candy stripe decor, its range of teas and luscious, decadent cakes is just the place to be seen in Pretoria suburbia at the moment. And who better to be seen with than month-old Jethro. I am not sure if he is enamoured of his Grandma or not; he is far too sleepy to decide. But certainly I am falling in love with Jethro at each tète-et-tète we have.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday, 18 May 2010: 'Olive Kitteridge'

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is not really a novel; it is a series of short stories spread over a period of some twenty-five years and held together together by location, a small town in Maine, and the indomitable character of Olive herself. Olive is a 7th grade school teacher who has taught more than a generation of the town’s children; the wife to a man much nicer than herself; and the overweening, tiresome mother to a rather unpleasant son. Olive is crusty, awkward and insensitive. Yet in spite of rather than because of her sensibilities, she often says something that is just right in a particular situation – a former student contemplating suicide, a wayward girl suffering from depression. But she is equally capable of putting her untactful foot right into it – usually when her nearest and dearest are concerned. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Olive appears as a middle-aged wife, an aging spouse, a widow, a mother out of touch with the vagaries of her son’s very 21st century lifestyle and finally, as a elderly woman learning to appreciate the clumsy comfort of companionship and even, new love. I enjoyed the humanity of this book and was delighted to discover the writing of Elizabeth Strout. This was an interesting choice for a Pulitzer Prize winner (2009), such a understated gem populated with believable, small and endearing rather than larger than life characters.