Monday, February 11, 2008

This is the termination of your journey- please ensure that you take all you have learned with you – summing up

As I planned this trip I really did not know what to expect in terms of my emotional reactions. The thought of returning alone to Cape Town, ten years after my last visit there with Bob, engendered a real concern that I would find the experience very painful. And perhaps because of that, uncharacteristically I did not do my usual meticulous preparations, bring my family research files, make lists of people to see, and things to do.

And yet this turned out to be a wonderfully satisfying journey, a re-connection with my “roots” and a time of quiet pleasure in being with Barry, Brin, Carole and Sherida. The other dimension that added a special enjoyment was finding a dance teacher whose teaching style was just perfect for me at this stage of my development and who juggled his timetable so that I could get a lesson every week day during the three weeks I was in Cape Town. Thanks, Edwin, for reminding me that for me dance should be foremost for enjoyment, and striving for perfection can be self-defeating in the long run. So I had a blast, kept my endorphins going with daily exercise, and survived the wine, chips and ice-cream without gaining too much weight.

South Africa- what a strange mixed up country. Things to love and admire: the accomplishment of officially abolishing apartheid with out the violence and revolution that was predicted and feared. The evidence of a rising affluent middle class among the populations that had minimal opportunity before. But… the problems of violence, incompetence, corruption, the energy crisis, the vast squatter camps, the inability to deal with the refugee problems. Wow- so immense!. Such a huge segment of the population living in awful conditions. Some things have not changed at all.

Still, when I left on this trip I really thought that this would be my last visit to Cape Town, the place of my birth and my growing up. It’s a long flight from Vancouver to Africa. Now I am not so sure. I think I will be back – for dance lessons at the very least!

The Way Home - Disaster and Recovery - Thursday 7th, Friday 8th, 08

A pattern of travel seems to be developing for me. Fortunately most of my journeys away from home are uneventful, but something generally complicates the trip home. The problem on my trip to France was the nasty ankle, knee and shoulder sprains I sustained the day before I was due to travel home. There as I wrote in my blog, miraculously total strangers materialized seemingly out of nowhere to hoist my suitcase onto trains, and up stairs for me.

This return journey had another potential crisis that turned into an unexpected bonus. But first…

Thursday morning in Cape Town was HOT. I spent the morning trying to figure out how despite my best intentions, my suitcase was more full and heavier than when I arrived. And me- the non-shopper type. Actually the major increase in weight was from the couple of pairs of dance shoes that I acquired. Ok it was more than a couple. Three. But they are so comfortable and relatively so cheap. I also caught up with my travelblogue, having fallen quite behind. Weren’t the penguin pictures cool?

The plane was absolutely packed. The configuration of the Club World was a single row, nose to tail along each side of the plane – as when I came out and had a window seat. But I hadn’t looked closely at the centre configuration which is actually a set of 4 seats, the two aisle seats facing forward and the two centre facing the rear. If you are traveling as a couple, and you actually like each other, the two centre seats would be rather a nice place to sit. Like a little cozy love-nest, very private – you could get up to all sorts of fun things, largely unobserved. Unfortunately if you are sharing it with a total stranger, it affords somewhat less privacy than in the old business class seats. So when I checked in on line and saw that I had one of the centre seats I was not too happy. The on line seating plan showed that every seat in Club World was assigned. So I thought maybe by getting there a bit earlier, I could put a plea in for another seat if one came available.

With dire warnings about the afternoon traffic, we agreed to leave quite early for the airport. The traffic was horrendous and at times I thought it might be quicker to walk to the airport, but Carole continued on valiantly and we got there in plenty of time. Needless to say the seat could not be changed. But any way I checked in my one bag, said a teary goodbye to Barry and Carole, and made my way through security to the BA Lounge at Cape Town. They do a good job at these airport lounges of pacifying the traveler. Lots of great food, wine and liquor was available. I had some fruit but resisted the temptation to imbibe.

An interesting phenomenon I noticed about the lounge in Cape Town was the preponderance of the young (30 to 40ish) males, in business suits. From the fragments of conversation most seemed to be in the investment banking business. I wondered if there was a conference but I just think there is a huge traffic between Cape Town and various big money centres. Somehow the Air Canada lounges and the business lounges I have visited in the States seem to have older people, 50s, 60s, and middle aged women traveling business class.

Anyway, the plane left more or less on time around 9 pm or 7 pm London time. We had dinner and then lights out- it’s a bit like boarding school. Around me everyone seemed to pass out like a series of load shed lights. I watched Michael Clayton- good movie- I finally see why women fall for George Clooney. Stretched out on my airline “bed” and sort of dozed. Really never slept. The lights came on and the crew began to serve breakfast – and disaster struck.

Ever since I spilt orange juice on a white shirt on a plane trip about thirty years ago, I have always been meticulously careful and never even get crumbs on my clothes. But somehow between the flight attendant handing me a very liquid, very pink, very creamy fruit smoothie- and my taking it, the entire glass spilled over my pants. With a 6 hour stop-over in Heathrow before connecting to the Air Canada flight, I had packed a change of underwear, socks and T-shirt in my hand-luggage, planning to shower in the BA Arrival Lounge facility but I had not packed a change of jeans. FA lady and I stared at each other in dismay as I mumbled “how am I going to get on another 10 hour flight smelling of fruit smoothie?”

My attempts to mop then wash out the smoothie in the basin just ended up with soaking wet jeans. Then salvation. BA still has First Class section and apparently they hand out a very comfortable black track suit- like outfit for the elite to sleep in. The purser presented me with one of these and thankfully I changed out of the wet jeans. Although a trifle long, the pants were quit comfortable. So all’s well …

The BA Arrival Lounge is great. After a shower and a change of clothes I felt almost ready to travel again. They offer a great cooked breakfast too. Maybe I should start accumulating BA points instead of Aeroplan. It’s that One World versus Star Alliance thing.

The Air Canada flight from London was also jam packed. Fortunately I had a window seat again for my little executive class oasis. The BA travel pants were really comfortable! The flight left London around noon on Friday and we were traveling into daylight for most of the ten hours. I did not sleep at all – watched 3:10 to Yuma which I actually enjoyed despite not being particularly a western fan. The concepts of pride, sacrifice for honour – are universal issues so the story line kept me watching through all the gun fights,

Arrived in Vancouver around 2:30 – breezed through immigration with my Nexus pass and was home by around three thirty. A quick walk to Urban Fare to stock my empty fridge, then to the Concierge to collect an alarmingly heavy stack of mail, and I was back in the apartment, determined to stay awake till at least 8 pm to fight jet lag.

Days blur into one –Monday to Wednesday, February 4th – 6th, 08

On Monday morning I took a Rikki down to the Waterfront from 10-12 to pick up some gifts and then off to dance class at Camps Bay from 3-5. The weather has been almost unbearably hot. Reading about commuter chaos in Vancouver because of snow seems quite surreal. I think I prefer cold to heat because it is so much easier to warm up than to cool down.

Carole called to tell me that Nathan and Edina’s baby, Maya, was born and all was well.

Later that evening I had dinner with Brin and Sherida, Olive, and Sandra, Sherida’s sister in their flat upstairs. Sherida cooked tuna, and we had salad with it, followed by Sinful ice cream for dessert. Sandra gave me a copy of a stunning coffee table book on the Wild Horses of Namibia. She wrote the text to accompany the most amazing pictures.

On Tuesday I had my last Rikki rides to and from dance class 9 – 11 at the Scout Hall. Back to the flat for a quick shower and change before Socky, my aunt, fetched me for lunch at the Mount Nelson with her and her sister, Annette. Annette and I were at school together at Good Hope. She is a librarian at the Hiddingh Hall branch of UCT library – that services the performing arts and film programs.

After lunch Socky dropped me at Cape Town Medi-Clinic where I saw Edina and the baby.

Had a quiet supper with Barry and Carole and then took a walk with Brin and Sherida to buy some blank CDs to record some of the dance music I particularly liked- the Latin music especially.

The sunset was magnificent- just a tinge of red along the horizon, the sea so blue it was almost black – the sounds of surf crashing against the rocks and the sharp tang of sea salt in the air. Even living on the False Creek water front, I don’t get that wonderful sea scent that evokes those endless summer days on the beach that were such a major part of growing up in Cape Town.

Wednesday morning I took a leisurely walk with Brin to buy gift certificates at Exclusive Books. That completed my gifts.

Taryn, Barry and Carole’s daughter, arrived back from Ireland. It was great to have a day of overlap- I had not seen her for ten years.

My last dance classes were scheduled for 2:15 -4:15at Camps Bay and Brin came along to record some videos using my digital camera. Edwin said we were going to do 10 dances. I could count nine that we had worked on including salsa. He just smiled and said “wait and see”. It was hot – really hot -over 34 degrees. But it was absolutely exhilarating going through one dance after another with a partner who led so effortlessly. Actually it was probably not effortless but pretty hard work on his part. The great thing about the videos is that it will remind me of what I have learned. The not great thing is that of course I don’t look anything like the professionals dancing in the Blackpool video! Oh well- if one was perfect at the beginning where would you go from there?

For my last night of this Cape Town visit, Brin and Sherida joined us for supper. With Taryn, and Nathan who dropped in for a visit, the table was crowded and conversation great. It is such a pity that Cape Town and Vancouver are so distant. And the rand-dollar exchange makes travel from SA so exorbitant.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Past and Present - Sunday, February 3rd, 08



As I have may have mentioned, I have been doing genealogy research and documentation for many years and one record type is gravestones. My brother asked me to photograph the stone of our father who had died 24 years ago, a decade after I had moved to Vancouver. So Barry, Carole and I stopped at the Pinelands Cemetery on our way to Muizenberg and I searched for the grave. We had been given the wrong location – it turned out the plot they gave us was the grave of one of his brothers – so we ended up spending a long time there.

Then we drove through to Muizenberg where Carole went to see her mom and Barry took me to a small beach front café where he wanted to show me a huge painting of Muizenberg that hung on one of the large interior walls. To his surprise it was no longer there. When he asked the new owner about it she said that she had had complaints and comments from customers and had felt obliged to remove it. It pictured Muizenberg beach as it was in in the apartheid years. And amid the brightly coloured bathing boxes and beach umbrellas all the people pictured on the beach- were white! In post-apartheid SA although it depicted history- the place as it actually was- this was politically incorrect. And realistically, the owner could not upset her customers. So good bye painting.

We then drove through to a restaurant , La Cuccina in Hout Bay, where we met Dirk Archer, partner of Joe, another old friend that I have known for as long as I knew Bob. I met Joe that night at Rosecourt when I was fifteen and met Bob. He and Bob had come to Rosecourt to the dance. I remember with absolute clarity these two tall gorgeous guys standing together. Joe was blonde and wearing a yellow sweater. Bob had black hair, brown eyes, was wearing a blue sweater and danced like a dream. Forty-eight years ago – my kids are now more than twice the age I was when I met him.

After lunch we visited the house where Dirk lives in Hout Bay. The house is gorgeous but there was a real reality check when we drove up and saw the squatter camp encroaching on the back wall of the house and the barbed wire and electrified fence surrounding the property.

That evening Barry and I drove back to Maynardville fro an outdoor production of Giselle. We were hoping that that Eskom would not have another power meltdown and it did not. However about three minutes before the end of the first act, the music died and they danced the final dramatic moments without music. The woman who danced Giselle was outstanding and I really enjoyed the performance. I don’t see enough ballet in Vancouver – somehow there is not the time what with opera, and theatre – although I did see the ballet version of Streetcar last year. Will make more of an effort this year because I love to watch most forms of dance.

Old friends, new friends - Saturday, February 2nd, 08



This morning I had brunch at the Waterfront with an old friend, Majiec, and his wife, Sandra. I met Maciej about 40 years ago when he and Bob joined IBM. Shortly after we were married, I was still in med school and
Bob was working as a chemical engineer when IBM SA advertised for new recruits. Bob ended up joining IBM in sales and Maciej became a systems engineer. When we moved to Canada Bob kept in touch with Maciej and we always connected when we came back to SA on a visit.

Since our last visit, the Waterfront which is a sprawling complex of hotels, restaurants and shopping mall in the dock area, has expanded hugely. And in fact, that evening I was back there for supper with Brin, Sherida, Barry and Carole at Primi Piatti, a noisy jam packed restaurant where I had grilled lam chops and Greek salad, After supper they introduced me to a delicious ice-cream place called Sinful – and the honeycomb flavour was indeed that..

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Merchant of Venice, Maynardville in the Dark - Friday February 1st,08


Today’s day time highlight other than a great chacha and samba dance class was lunch with two aunts, Essie and Rosaline, who were my mother’s first cousins, at the courtyard restaurant at Winchester Mansions on Beach Road, Sea Point . I caught up on the details of offspring and marriages for my family tree. My genealogy work sort of got put on hold for the pastg few years but I am slowly getting back to it.

My one “big” theatre experience plan was to see The Merchant of Venice at Maynardville open air theatre. Barry had picked up tickets for himself and me, and after an early super with Carole we drove off to Wynberg where Maynardville is located. Parking was quite an experience in itself. There is little parking around the gardens and cars were jammed into tiny spots lining the streets all around. As we were slowly driving by, one of the self-appointed paring attendants with a bright fluorescent vest, waved Barry up a side street to a spot on the pavement just under a no-parking sign. Since no-one seemed to care about the no parking signs, we left the car to his tender care and made out way to the theatre. Barry was quite convinced he would get a ticket so we took a bet for a toblerone chocolate. At least if he got a ticket there would be some sweet compensation!

Things looked promising as we entered the gardens. People were milling around, many having picnicked on the grass. They were selling a coffee table-like book called “Shakespeare at Maynardville.” I took a shot of the stage from the back and then we found our seats. The grass slopes up fairly rapidly so the sight
lines to the stage were not bad. The place was packed. The show started promptly on time. I found the accents a bit disconcerting – some frankly South African English, some more British, one sounding vaguely German – but the sound system worked well initially and the actors were clearly audible despite the strong breeze and rustle of leaves. Then on came Portia…and disaster struck. Whether her microphone was positioned incorrectly or was faulty, her voice faded in and out, so much of her lines were inaudible. Finally she exited and one could almost hear the entire audience thinking, ”Ok, so they will fix the problem.” But no – Portia re-enters and the sound is as bad as ever. Just as my level of irritation was rising to a point when I wanted to stand up and scream “stop the show till you fix the bloody microphone” everything went black and silent. There was a minute of stunned silence and then a mixture of groans of disbelief, frustrated laughter and mumblings of disgust. Nobody could believe that Eskom had chosen this time to “load shed”.

As it turned out, this was not a planned “load shed” but a massive power failure that plunged almost the entire Cape Peninsula into the dark. Someone from the show announced that it was cancelled and that we should be careful exiting in the pitch dark. He said “this is probably the only time you will ever hear a request in a theatre to turn your cell phones ON.” The little light from the phones helped illuminate the uneven pathways out of the gardens.

As we drove back over De Waal Drive then navigated traffic lights that were dark, it was actually quite eerie to see huge swathes of black where normally millions of lights would be visible. I could not help thinking of the closing scenes of Atlas Shrugged.

The Energy Crisis – South Africa’s, not mine. Thursday 31st, 08




Have you ever heard the term “load shedding?” I had not. It refers to the electrical utility, Eskom, switching off electricity to conserve energy. South Africa has a major energy crisis due to a combination of inadequate infrastructure and a growing population and economy. According to the newspapers and television reports the country spent billions on arms purchases and virtually nothing on expanding and modernizing the energy infrastructure, although well warned of a looming crisis. Actually while I was commenting scathingly to Michael about the problem he reminded me that California had a term for the same thing – rolling brownouts! I guess that would be politically incorrect usage here.

Well, by any other name… I had not personally fallen victim to a “load shed” until today – the one day Barry and I had planned to go to the main Cape Town Library to do some historical research. He fetched me from Upper Orange Street after dance class and we drove downtown. It was hot and slightly windy. The pavements wee dusty from the construction that is happening all over. In all the time I lived in Cape Town I don’t remember ever going to the Central Library – branch libraries were adequate for my needs at that time.

So I signed in, paid my 5 rand to get a locker to deposit my bag, and wandered around till a friendly librarian showed me the computer system. I had literally just completed my first search and was pulling up the first result when – lights out, computer off. Eskom had load-shed the downtown core. It was just around lunch time and cafes and restaurants were left unable to service their customers, card machines did not work etc. etc. Unbelievable. So that was the end of my research afternoon.

Skip rapidly to evening. We had hoped to go to dinner with Gavin, my nephew, at Pigalle, where he works but the restaurant was bought out for a private function. As a connoisseur of the restaurant scene in Cape Town having worked in the industry for several years, he suggested we try Riboville, a relatively new restaurant (late 2006), and a new concept. It is located at Wale Street and Adderley Street in an old bank building. The bank vaults in the basement have been converted into a massive wine cellar, probably the biggest restaurant wine cellar I have ever seen. Again, since I am days behind on the travelblogue I will let the pictures tell the story. However I have to say that the prawn and langoustine platter was excellent – succulent and sweet. Drank too much wine- here in the heat even two glasses is too much – and though I fell asleep promptly as usual, I woke up around 4 am really feeling the heat – environmental heat that is. I swear it was in the thirties even at that time.

Penguin video

They go like little arrows video

Swimming with the Penguins- really! Wednesday Jan 30, 08





I arranged to meet Brin and Sherida downstairs at 7 am so we could drive out to the Boulders and then out to Muizenberg, to swim. Sherida’s mom, Olive, who helps with her in her clothing shop, came along too. We are all cryptic crossword puzzle nuts!

The Boulders is a reserve for the Cape Penguin, who used to be known as Jackass Penguins for the sounds they make. There is a huge colony there. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. The beach at Boulders was as beautiful as I remembered it but I couldn’t help thinking that penguins probably pee in the water just like humans, although probably less surreptitiously. Hmmm…..

Just to comment that the water at Muizenberg, which I fondly remember as relatively warm, was freezing cold. Well according to Brin it was around 17 degrees. Cold by my standards. Still I swam at both the Boulders and Muizenberg. At Muizenberg I was horrified to hear they have to have shark spotters stationed on the mountainside overlooking the bay as there have been shark attacks. Getting to be like Australia! Anyway, although I did not venture out any where near where sharks would venture, I did not stay in the water very long!

We had brunch at a lovely little restaurant and bakery in Muizenberg called Kneads, meandered around Westlake looking for a dance shop that I found on the internet – the dance shoes here definitely fit me better than the British and German imports I have tried in Vancouver. Then a dash back for dance lesson at Camps Bay, and later dinner at Greens, in Tamboers Kloof with Brin, Sherida, Gaby and Hayden

Craving curry - Tuesday, Jan 29th, 08


The morning started off with another unpredictable Rikki ride to dance class at 9 am. After it took twenty minutes and several dropped cellphone calls to get through to the dispatch, I was told “ the cab will be there in 4 minutes!”. Ha! So even though I know by now that 4 minutes could be anything from 10 to 20 minutes I rushed like mad to get downstairs. The cab actually arrived in about 8 minutes. Then we went on a majorly circuitous route that got me to the Scout Hall with about 10 minutes to spare.

Two hours of very energetic Latin and I was absolutely drenched but totally exhilarated by the time we were finished. Another circuitous Rikki ride got me back to the flat by just after noon. The average temperature has hovered between 29 and 31 so even after a cool shower, in no time at all I was feeling hot and rather unmotivated to move much.

Cape Malay cuisine is a spicy, often stew based style of cooking, that grew out of the food prepared by the cooking of the slaves from Indonesia, originally brought to the Cape by the Dutch East India Company. Bobotie, mince meat stewed with apricots, raisins and brown sugar, and tomato bredie, a rich stew often made from mutton or lamb, are two of the foods I remember from childhood. But curries of all kinds are also a common food, characteristic of this cuisine.

Weirdly, since I normally avoid curry at home, I was craving curry. So with a wide choice of restaurants, we headed down to the Cape Malay restaurant at the Portsmouth Hotel for supper. The lamb curry I had was good with a bit more of a bite than I find tolerable but in between mouthfuls, water helped. We tried their samosas but frankly I have had better ones in Vancouver. The pastry was very thick and doughy. However the setting was attractive. And I did not get indigestion despite the strength of the “mild” curry.

Friday, February 1, 2008

More Memories - Monday, January 28th,08





My morning got off to a slightly slower start than usual as my dance classes were scheduled for 3 to 5 at the Camps Bay Bowling Club. I was picked up at 11 by my cousin, Sandra, and she suggested we visit the Rhodes Memorial area which has a magnificent view of the city- and have lunch at the restaurant there. We sat at a table under the trees, at the edge of the mountain side and caught up on a decade of news. Sandra had been a boarder at Good Hope for most of high school and the fact that she was there was a major reason that I did not object too much when I was packed off to boarding school for the second last year of high school. It was a little strange to think that we are now both grandmothers.

I thought a few more pictures rather than words would be best for today. The low building in the foreground of the apartment complex is Forest Hill, the complex where Bob and I had our first apartment when we were married in my fourth year of med school. The second picture is the view looking up at Rhodes Memorial and the third looking over the peninsula from the memorial.