Fall

We don’t call it Fall, here in South Africa. We do it the English way. We call it autumn.

Barn Quilt Trail, Prince Edward County

Be that as it may, fall has arrived, including this morning an unseasonal thunderstorm and rain. It’s not just the weather that is changing, folks, it’s the climate, as you know of course, unless you’ve had your head in the sand, or in Fox News’s ass. In Teilfingen, in Germany, our friends Lisa and Klaus have had snow, no less out of place at this time of the year, except that our expectations about what to expect weather-wise at any given time of the year now need to change.

This is not just an inconvenience, it’s a global emergency. But let me not go on about that now. It’s the weekend, right, and we just want to relax.

Not that we can go anywhere relaxing, what with the lockdown and the rising threat of a third wave of Covid. Here, too, one could rattle one’s chains and mutter something foreboding about the encroachment of farming and human settlements on wild spaces and wildlife, the inevitable risks of animal to human transmission of viruses and disease – but again, let me not spoil your lunch.

Which comes, I guess, from a farm somewhere, or many farms, some of them close by and others in far, exotic lands, flown in by air, trailing not clouds of glory as in William Blake’s poem but carbon emissions and … oh, dear, there I go again. Must be something in the water, though in this water scarce country, not to mention incompetence and misgovernment, even a reliable water supply can’t be taken for granted. Ask Cape Town.

Barn, Prince Edward County

Fall, it seems, is not just about autumn, it’s about Man’s Fall – oh blast. Not Man’s Fall, people’s fall, their fall, they being both singular and plural and extremely awkward these days.

(The thing to do, I’ve been slow to learn, but am learning slowly, is that when you’re digging yourself a hole, it’s time to stop digging.)

That goes for you, too, humanity. Stop digging us all a hole!

Ahem. So here, to soothe your shattered nerves, and to make up if I can for my lack of consideration, my disturbance of the peace, calm and tranquility we expect as our due as members of the middle class, are four images of fall – of farms, and barns, and autumn light. The time, October. The place: Prince Edward County.

Rob and I live in hope that one day soon, armed with our jabs and our vaccination certificates, we will climb on board a plane, and fly all the way back home, across the warming oceans, to our little heated house in Toronto, and then drive up some time to revisit the county.

Perhaps we should purchase some carbon offsets.

The Slow Road Back

Traveling at Sixty was the topic of my last post – a post about slow travel, about taking the time to observe and relax, think and reflect. Now, a week later, we are on our way back, after nearly two-and-a-half weeks on the road and over 2000 km (so far) on the clock, with a quiet stopover in Prince Albert yesterday and today and the road to Bloemfontein calling us tomorrow.

It has been a good trip. Seeing my mom, alone, would have made it worthwhile, after more than a year since the last time we saw her, and the days ticking by as we start gearing up for our return to Canada and her 90th birthday drawing slowly closer.

It has been good to travel again, too, to see the country, knowing we might not be this way again, taking the time to take it in before it passes.

The rest has done me good, too, the break from work, before the next few busy and intense months land with a bang on Wednesday.

And, it has been good for the two of us, for Rob and me, doing this together, finding connection in the shared experience and the shared memory of previous journeys.

So, we are lucky – more so, in this time of Covid.

We have been careful, and diligent in our sanitizing and social distancing and avoidance of too-crowded places, and hope to remain safe as we head back to Jo’burg, both on the road and off it.

And because we have been able to travel, while so many haven’t, we have been glad to share these stories and images from our travels with those of our friends and family who have followed us.

Thanks to you all, and stay safe also.

Here is a round-up of some of the iPhone photos from our trip.

Big Easter Road Trip

BERT – the Big Easter Road Trip – is at last under way (Bert was my paternal grandfather’s real name, by the by – we called him Pooch).

We have mapped out the trip in easy four-to-five hour driving segments, starting this morning from Johannesburg, heading south on the N1 to Bloemfontein, to spend our first night at Clover Cottage. Lambs chops on the braai tonight, a glass of red, and then happily off to bed we’ll go.

Clover Cottage, in Bloemfontein (iPhone photo)

From Bloemfontein our journey tomorrow takes us south and then east, to Graaff-Reinet. From Graaff-Reinet we continue south-east on Monday, a public holiday, to the Wilderness, on the Garden Route, where we will spend two nights in a little cottage by the sea, before continuing further south to McGregor for two more nights. Thence to Greyton, also two nights, and finally on to Cape Town, where we will spend the next few days until the Easter Weekend.

Easter Saturday we begin the long journey back, stopping over for two nights in Prince Albert in the Karoo, then on to Bloemfontein and Clover Cottage again, before arriving back home on April 6th. All in all, by the time we get back, we will have covered probably in the region of 3000 kilometres. So that’s the ‘B’ in BERT.

I could play word games here, and say the ‘B’ is also for ‘bye,’ as in, bye-bye South Africa – this is our last big road trip, after all, before we fly back to Canada in September – if we fly back, seeing that nobody really knows how the pandemic will affect flights, or lockdowns, or quarantine regulations.

But that is in the future and we are in the now.

I have opened the wine, and poured ourselves a glass – a warming Rustenberg Shiraz. The afternoon rain has stopped. Soon I will light a fire.

A Food Tour in Istanbul – The Best Introduction to the City!

A food tour, on foot, proved to be the best introduction to the vast, over-crowded, overwhelming metropolis that is Istanbul that Rob and I could imagine.

Especially as we had just come straight from an idyllic week in rural Aveyron, in the south of France – the contrast could hardly have been greater.

[Click on images to enlarge]

There are many such tours on offer, but the tour we chose online, ahead of our arrival in Istanbul, was with Taste of Two Continents. We were not disappointed. Our guide, Ibrahim, met us outside the Legacy Ottoman Hotel in the old city, a stone’s throw from the Spice Market and the Galata Bridge, at the beginning of a five-hour walkabout that took in both the European and Asian halves of the city, on either side of the busy Bosphorus straits – Sultanahmet, to the west, and Kadikoy, to the east.

The Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

We began by the Spice Bazaar, exploring the stalls in the warren of small streets alongside, tasting as we went, before entering the bazaar itself, for an introduction to the real Turkish Delight (needless to say, we were back the next morning, to load up on sweets and spices).

Then, down to the Galata Bridge, and out to the ferries, for the short trip across the water to the Asian side of the city. The rain clouds were gathering as we crossed, and the rain fell intermittently – sometimes a few drops, a drizzle, sometimes a downpour – throughout the rest of the day, but on we went, our small group kept entertained and informed by the ever-lively and engaging Ibrahim.

A rainy street in Kadikoy….

The food, I have to say, was for the most part absolutely fantastic – colourful, flavourful, infinitely varied. This was not a tour for sissies, however – Ibrahim made sure that we sampled some of the local specialties which were, in some cases, pretty awful, at least to a Western palate.

Pickle juice, for example, and minced offal confections that were frankly too off-putting in the description to allow for even the smallest of nibbles. But we were pleased to be given the information, and the opportunity to experiment – willing to give the pickle juice a try (it’s as bad as it sounds) and happy to pass on the offal, with no offence taken.

Along with the food, in all its glorious abundance and variety and profusion of flavours, what strikes you too is the sheer industry of the people. Everywhere you turn there is someone turning meat on a grill, carving up cheese in a tin, pushing a rickety, overloaded cart down the colourful, cobbled streets, doing the hard sell with a customer.

If the food isn’t for sissies, neither are the people. Blunt and down to earth, to the point of rudeness at times, people work hard for a living, and are not ashamed of it.

After five hours of walking, talking, listening to Ibrahim’s jokes and stories, absorbing as much as we could of the history of the city all spiced up with the history of the food – stopping here, crossing over there, trying this or that specialty or delicacy – we were happy but exhausted. And just when we thought we were done, Ibrahim sprung his surprise – a much needed sit-down for a few plates at the famed Ciya Sofrasi, featured in Netflix’s Chef’s Table.

Rob at Ciya Sofrasi

Somewhere towards the end of the day, we stopped at a stall selling one of Istanbul’s signature street food dishes – mussels on the shell. We’d been warned to be careful – the mussels aren’t always fresh, and can cause some serious tummy ructions – but Ibrahim, of course, knew where to take us.

The mussels were so darned good that after we had finished eating at Ciya, stuffed as we were (stuffed like the mussels, no pun intended), back we went to the mussel stall, to be met with a huge grin and another round of mussels.

Did I say that this was a good way to be introduced to the city? Let me correct that – it’s the best way!

66, Cape Vidal

No, 66 Cape Vidal is not an address. 66 is the age I turned yesterday; Cape Vidal, or somewhere like it – open skies, wide open spaces, carefree and at ease like the geezer with his fishing rod – is where I should have been on my birthday. Needless to say, I wasn’t. Just another day down the salt mine.

But we did go out for dinner, Rob and I, and if we were not at the sea, exactly, we did dine on crustaceans, and talk about our upcoming trip to France, which starts next weekend, and where we should go to eat when we stopover in Lyon, and what we should do during our four days in Istanbul. Not a bad problem to have, actually, and one of the things that the salt mine pays for.

Which is to give notice, I guess, that there will be a break in this blog from now until late August, when a new series of photographs will start finding its way onto these pages.

Meanwhile, picture yourself, as I do, poised between beach and sky, at the edge of the ocean, with time itself stretched out to the horizon.

[As always, click on the image to enlarge.]

Dusk, Kalk Bay

Interviewer: Dusk at Kalk Bay – tell me about this image. (PS click on the image to enlarge).

Me: No. Not right now, anyway. Rob and I are getting packed and heading out shortly to spend the long weekend – it’s the Youth Day weekend, here in South Africa – in the Magaliesberg.

Interviewer: Ah! That means birdwatching, landscapes!

Me: You bet.

Interviewer: So what’s in the bag?

Me: Well, the binoculars, of course. I’m lucky enough to have a pair of Leica Trinovid 8x40s, which I love. They’re so bright and sharp. The Nikon D500. A 200-500mm lens, with 1.4x teleconverter. And my new (used, actually) 105mm macro lens, which I hope to try out for the first time. Not to mention the ever-reliable, versatile 17-55mm (24-70mm equivalent). And of course a tripod.

Interviewer: Travelling Light, I see?!

Me: What can I say?

Zurich Altstadt – Signs and Figures

Zurich Altstadt: Signs & Figures.

I suppose you can’t really ‘get’ the soul of a city, a spirit of place, from a (literally) flying visit, a one-day random perambulation through streets and squares, along the river and over its bridges, beside its churches and fountains – and yet, as I mentioned in my first post on Zurich, there is a tone, a mood, a coloration of stone and air that is quite specific.

I felt it in the signs and emblems, from the sacred to the quotidian and downright silly, and saw it even in the people, who themselves in my imagining became signs of Zurich.

Here are some images.

Zurich fountains – three more images

As promised in yesterday’s post, here are three more images of fountains in Zurich’s Altstadt.

You will see that I have done one more in black and white, but with a harder edge to it than yesterday’s more ethereal image.

The other images insisted on being done in colour – in the one case, as befits the flowers, with a vivid palette, in the other with more muted tones, the tones of the fountain – a swooping, very modern sculpture – echoing the tones of the Fraumuenster in the background.

Zurich Fountains # 1

On Tuesday morning I stumbled off the plane in Zurich after an overnight flight from Toronto, with a day to spend before climbing back on board another plane for another long flight, overnight to Johannesburg.

Why I would punish this 65 year-old body like this, I don’t know.

I took the train downtown, to the Hauptbahnhof, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed along the Bahnhofstrasse, popped into the Fraumunster to see the Chagall windows, crossed the bridge across the River Limmat beneath the towers of the Grossmunster, and so whiled away the morning with sightseeing and photographs.

By lunch time I was footsore and spaced out after only two or three hour’s sleep during the flight, so I found myself a table at a quiet little restaurant in a quiet little square and took my time over some very tasty pork and noodles – posing, to my amusement, as pork ‘ossobucco’ with ‘risotto’ and with an incongruous slice of grapefruit to the side. It was delicious.

Zurich – at least the Altstadt – struck me most on a chilly grey day with its quietude – its architecture and spaces not severe, exactly, but restrained, disciplined, a little prim perhaps, or perhaps dreaming of higher, more spiritual things, as befits a home of the Reformation.

This image, of the fountain in the quiet square where I ate my lunch, captures for me something of what Zurich evoked, in my mind and emotions. Perhaps this weekend I will have time to process and post a few others.

Cava and tapas at the Mercado de San Miguel

Cava and tapas at the Mercado de San Miguel – could there be a more perfect way to celebrate the end of a fabulous trip to Spain than in Madrid, a stone’s throw away from the Plaza Mayor, washing down olives and shrimp and delicacies galore with some fine pink fizz?

Two weeks on the road, and we had come to our journey’s end – tired, tanned, sweaty and footsore, but more than content.

Would we do this again – visit Spain, I mean? Are you kidding! We’d be back in a heartbeat.

Would we do it the same way? Well, yes and no. By the time we were done we were done, if you know what I mean: just a wee bit too much scrambling, from city to to town to pueblos blancos. Next time we’d probably do less, and stay for longer in each place we visit – yet at the same time, neither of us can think of any place we would have left out, at least on this first visit (for Rob) to Madrid, and our first visit to Andalucia.

And next time, I imagine, we would want to explore other parts of the country – Barcelona, obviously, but also places like Bilbao (to take one end of the country) or Malaga (at the other). And always, I imagine, we’d stop for a few days in Madrid – and for cava and tapas at the Mercado de San Miguel.