Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cold as Hell in NYC

I was actually scared taking this picture that one of the members would open the door and disapprove of my souvenir photography

South African Journal: Day Twenty -33 hour flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg to Dakar to Washington DC to New York City. I had a window seat next to this guy who was too big for his seat so his 'overflow' occupied a good part of my seat for 15 hours. You don't get much for $1,500 these days. At least South African airlines had TV monitors in the seat backs. Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett is a great movie (and not just because I have a crush on Cate Blanchett).

T-shirt in Dulles International Airport.

I [heart] NY

An appropriate photo considering the state of our country. Lower East Side, NYC.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Last Day in South Africa (for now)

Saw this in a Middle Eastern restaurant next to the Green Market. Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela & Malcolm X

South African Journal: Day Nineteen - Relaxing in Cape Town on my last full day in South Africa. Twenty days is clearly not enough. Coming back for the FIFA World Cup in 2010!

Thea, a mojito and Signal Hill

Even Rolando is having a drink (well, Thea drank most it I think)

We were watching dolphins jump as we sipped our drinks. Signal Hill in the distance.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Top o' the Table

South African Journal: Day Eighteen - Highlight of the day was climbing Table Mountain. A fast, steep climb. Mom and Ben took the cable car up while Meg, Miles, Thea, Rolando and I raced the sun to get to the top. Made it up the Platteklip Gorge trail in about an hour and a half and joined mom for wine just as the sun was setting (which was around 9:30pm; its summer down here baby).

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

South African Rednecks?

South African Journal: Day Seventeen – traveled back to Cape Town, about an eight hour drive through fairly monotonous Arizona like landscapes. Mellow night as we were all tired. Sushi & bed.

I listened to some of my 13,823 songs on my 120GB iPod Classic on the trip home and thought of the Afrikaner people. These are descendents of the original Dutch settlers who colonized this area beginning in the mid-1600s. Today, they are considered, at least by the descendants of the British, as rednecks or hicks. The stereotype of an Afrikaners person is an uneducated, Christian fanatic farmer, not too unlike the city folk from Boston or New York City might think of someone living in the Louisiana Bayou. I went into a truck stop shop on the way home run by a family of Afrikaners. The walls were completely covered in hand written messages about Jesus, in both English and Afrikaans. There was a floor to ceiling wooden cross (that could have easily supported a human nailed to it) with a halo of thorns hanging from the cross section.

Friday, December 26, 2008

More 20,000 Year Old Art

One day Ben, one day

South African Journal: Day Sixteen – Today is Boxing Day in Great Britain and in her former colonies. Has nothing to do with the sport boxing or putting items in a box. It has something to do with St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death in Jerusalem around A.D. 34-35, but few Christians can remember what the celebration is all about. To most of the consumer world... I mean Christian world, this is a day to shop, with huge discounts. In South Africa, it has been changed to Day of Goodwill, a day to give gifts to the less fortunate members of society.
Thea & Meg fire-up the cycles

Rode the motorcycles again today to see some more 20-40,000 year old art carved into stone and another stone gong.

20,000 year old ostrich, gemsbok and lion

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Veld

Agave Americana, the desert Christmas tree

South African Journal: Day Fifteen – Christmas day, fruit and croissants for breakfast, kids opened presents. I got a bottle of wine and Antony Osler's book Stoep Zen (Stoep is Afrikaners for porch/patio were people gather; a place for conversation and reflection).

Maeder and Les sporting their new Jamas on Christmas day

Went back out into the veld (the land), this time saw some indigenous art carved into rocks on Maeter's property. An academic from the Free State University came and looked at this rock art that they are guessing it could be between 20,000-40,000 years old based on similar art from around the region.

Maeter also showed us a rock gong thought to be from the same era. This was a group of large rocks, all different sizes, that were specially balanced so that when they were struck with a baseball sized rock, each 'gong' made different tones. It was like a drum kit with a seat and five 'drums' in a horseshoe design around the stone seat. Academics looked at these as well and confirmed they are way old.

20,000 year old drum set

Doesn't look like much but this was used by a prehistoric old Neil Peart

I have to say, there are few things more fun than chasing baboons around the Karoo on a 185cc off-road Kawasaki... ok, didn't really chase baboons around the semi-desert. Baboons are all over this area but we didn't see any tonight as Rolando, Meg, Thea, Miles, Ben and I ripped it up on three motorbikes and a Jeep. There were a few rabbits that almost feel pray to this knobby wheeled Japanese pleasure craft but no distant relatives of man were harassed by our motoring fun. Can't think of a better way to spend Christmas day then by speeding 40 mph through the African desert on two wheels, avoiding aardvark holes at sunset. Good fun.

So my nephew Ben had his first driving lesson today. He is five years old, just. And the jeep didn't have power steering. My sister Meg worked the gas and break while he managed the steering wheel. Aside from almost driving me off the dirt road when I was trying to pass them, he did a pretty good job. Good thing not too many cars transverse this stretch of dirt road. He found a porcupine quill as well, which added to the excitement of his first day of driving.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I Can Get Used To This Life

The farm's alarm clock, aka calves

South African Journal: Day Fourteen – Woke with the sun and cows at 5:15am. I sleep in a windowless room in San Francisco (cheep rent), so I'm not used to the suns rays upon my sleeping head. Gave me time to read Dark Star: From Cairo to Cape Town and work on some of my photos before anyone else woke.

After a breakfast of Weetabix, bran flakes, eggs, bacon and coffee, Maeder took us out into the veld (Afrikaners for the land). He was checking the irrigation system that pumped water from underground wells to his sheep and cattle. They use simple metal windmills and plastic pipes. If it was the USA, I'm sure it would be gas powered pumps. We love our petroleum products.

Green energy, USA take note

Maeder took us out in the bakkie (pronounced bucky). These small pickup trucks with iron piped bars can be seen all over the Karoo.

The Irish Sheep dogs followed the bakke through the Veld

Rolando and Thea on the back of the bakke

Mile's uncle and aunt, Antony and Maggie, came over for Christmas Eve dinner. Very impressive, the dinner that is. Antony is impressive as well. He had just published a book about Zen Buddhism in the South African Karoo. He had studied Zen for three years at a monastery outside of Los Angeles and he and his wife run Zen workshops out of their farm.

Christmas Eve dinner, a good time had by all

Les made a special vegetarian plate for me with some of the best avocado and mango I have tasted. Coming from someone from Northern California, that is a rave. Much good food, drink and conversation had by all.

Avocados and Mango, doesn't get much better than that

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Farm Life

The Karoo, an arid semi-desert in the middle of South Africa

South African Journal: Day Thirteen – Drove from Port St. Johns to Mile's family farm just outside of Colesberg. We left the lush, green rolling hills of the Wild Coast to the flat, arid, semi-desert which they call the Karoo. We reached the farm just before sunset.

The main farm house. Hard to imagine this is in the middle of a desert

It felt like a Merchant Ivory film meets the Dukes of Hazard; the proper 'British' aristocrats meets the unrefined, redneck Americans. This is what I felt in the first night at the farm but like most things I've assumed in this country, I was soon to find that I was mostly wrong (The Osler family are not snobby aristocrats and though I do know how to shoot a compound bow, none of us Paars have Confederate flags painted on our car hoods).

My mother, Kathryn, and Miles father, Maeder (yes, the sky really is that blue)

Miles father, Maeder, is an incredible man. One of those rare people overflowing with geographical information, historical anecdotes, facts and figures on flora and fauna and the dry type of witty humor that sneaks up on you and leaves you laughing inside for quite a while. Miles stepmother, Les, started a local school/adult education/health clinic for the poor farm labors (mostly black). She had some amazing stories. Miles brother and sister were there with their spouses and young kids. Miles grandmother, who I think was hitting on me (we were the only two single ones over six years old in the house, aside from my mother), was the matriarchic of the house.

We got to the farm a bit late because of a problem with the Land Rover. Drank some sundowners, ate an amazing dinner and had a great sleep in the fresh, cool, Karoo night.

Windmills pump the water, not gas powered pumps like we would have

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom & Ben

South African Journal: Day Twelve – Today was HOT, “like Africa hot,” as Matthew Broderick said in the 1988 movie Biloxi Blues. It was pretty obvious from early on that it wasn't going to be a very physical day. It was my mother's and nephew's birthday; mom achieving the age of 65 and Ben excited about being five. Ben wanted to go to the beach but it felt like 96 degrees in the shade at 10:00am. We decided to jump in the Land Rover, crank the AC, cross the Umzimvubu River, and drive north on a fairly bumpy dirt road to see what we could find.

The four kilometers of beach was nearly empty as the waters are a breading ground for sharks. We eventually climbed a few switchbacks which gave my mother white knuckles as she watched the goats navigate the near shear drop to the ocean just outside her car door. The hill finally leveled off to a beautiful view of a few villages that overlooked the Indian Ocean. These were black African villages, of the Xhosa people. Their colorful, conical thatched roofed, round houses dotted the bright green hills.

We came back down the hill and stopped off at the Cremorne Hotel for a late lunch. The college aged black waiter serving us spoke nine languages. And not like I “speak” Spanish (I can say 'beer' and 'I love' you and count to 100 on a good day). We lounged around the beautiful grounds of the Cremorne for most of the afternoon. Ben swam in their pool then met an Afrikaners kid about his age. Ben said hello in English, the boy said something in Afrikaners, they realized they didn't understand each others language and then played together for about an hour.

Ate dinner at Fish Eagle for the second night in a row. Some of the best thin crust, brick oven pizza I have ever eaten. My mother and I joined two tables by the river and decorated the umbrella with balloons for Ben. We ate pizza, ate cake and played a game of Cranium Cadoo. Just before we left, Ben gave away most of his balloons to three other kids at the restaurant. One little girl was so happy she walked around the restaurant waving the balloons for over half an hour. I felt 'white guilt;' the privileged, rich, white foreigners giving the poor African kids balloons. My brother-in-law must have sensed my feelings and commented that if these black families are eating in this restaurant, they were probably rich folk from Cape Town or Jo'burg here vacationing just like us. He said, “they probably all have Mercedes Benzs.” We walked to the parking lot which was full of Mercedes.

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