Cafe Life, Sevilla

They call Sevilla, or so I am told, ‘the frying pan.’ And man, it is hot. Or at least it was when we were there, in September; the sun baking into the stones and reflecting back so that by mid-afternoon you were in an oven, and only beginning to cool after eight or so in the evening.

But the evenings are long, and the good citizens of Sevilla – like those of every other town we visited – know how to live. Living, in the Spanish way of life, means going out at 8 or 9, having dinner at 10 or 11, and wandering from tapas bar to tapas bar way into the small hours of the morning.

This image, of a cafe in Sevilla, in the evening, offers a more sedate but still typical portrait.

Did I tell you that we loved Sevilla? Oh boy, we did. We’d go back in a flash, Rob and I.

Cafe Life, Sevilla

Monkey Sanctuary

I’ll leave it to Rob to write about burst pipes in the deep freeze of a Toronto winter, and the generosity and kindness of neighbours and friends (Andrew, Jackie, Boyd, you know who you are). Instead, a word simply to note our brief escape from the city, here on the other side of the planet, for a night away, with dinner and breakfast, at The Cradle Hotel and Restaurant in the Magaliesberg.

Accommodations, in a beautifully designed and modern, minimalist log cabin, were excellent; dinner gained mixed reviews (we suspect it was a skeleton staff for the holidays, and whoever composed the gloppy roquefort salad should either be properly trained or be fired) while breakfast, out on the sunny deck of the restaurant, with three giraffe visible through the binoculars deep in the valley beyond us, beneath some trees, was sustaining and sufficient.

On we went, at Rob’s suggestion, to the Monkey Sanctuary, where a knowledgeable and patient guide led us along a wooden walkway between trees and cliffs, including not one but two suspension bridges, and introduced us to the simian population.

Of the many photos I took, these seem to me the most worth sharing. I’ve tried, in presenting these images, to avoid the obvious pitfalls of sentiment and anthropomorphism, but I did want, if possible, to show the animals as individuals, and to give a sense of their own particular intelligence, not to mention their extraordinary agility and possession of their environment.

Drakensberg Wrap

In previous posts I’ve shared a few images of the Drakensberg landscape, in the area around the Amphitheatre and the Royal Natal Park, both in colour and in black and white. This final post on our holiday last month focuses, instead, on what we did, and where we were.

We stayed, as I might have mentioned, at Berg View Cottages, high on a hill overlooking the distant Amphitheatre. The owners keep miniature horses, a source of infinite entertainment and delight to the children of a Dutch couple who were visiting. In the evening, hares came down from the hills and played, jinking and leaping, in the darkening field where, just a while earlier, we had been sitting watching the sunset.

The day before we left, we drove into the Royal Natal Park, beneath the Amphitheatre and found ourselves a guide from the village just across the river, who led us on a 45 minute hike up into the mountains to see the San rock art. Charming and considerate, as well as knowledgeable, he made the walk an absolute pleasure. It was so good to see someone from a local community enterprise making a productive living from the tourists, local and international, who drive daily past his village, in many cases with barely a glance, except to keep a wary eye on the goats and cattle – and pedestrians – who stray into the road.

On our last evening, I was out taking a few last photographs when, on the hill off to my left, I saw a herd of eland descending, followed after a while by another herd, this time of mountain reedbuck, who followed the fence down until they could turn into a field where there was sweet green grass, the land rejuvenated after a purging fire.

And then of course there was our final Drakensberg sundown, before we had to pack and return home.

Sundown, Drakensberg

Ardmore Ceramic Art, Midlands Meander

Ardmore # 1Ok, so you’ve meandered through the Natal Midlands, you’ve stopped off for a coffee, or a glass of wine at Ardington Winery, you’ve pulled over to take photos of hills, of valleys, of dairy cows contentedly doing whatever it is that dairy cows do on an August morning or afternoon, and then you turn down a winding dirt road, and swing off into a driveway, and there – across a placid pond and beneath the bucolic hills in the distance – what do you find? Ardmore # 1 B&WYou find the wildest, craziest, most lunatically imaginative art at Ardmore Ceramics.

Now, if you described to me the kinds of craziness that Ardmore gets up to – teapots and candlesticks and vases and bowls intertwined with psychedelic crocodiles and monkeys on LSD and humans on elephants and all kinds of fantastical contrivances individually crafted and hand-painted Ardmore # 4I would have said – well, that’s not my cup of tea. But the work at Ardmore is so inspirationally mad, so over the top, so out there, that all you can do is gawp, and admire, and wish you could afford to own a piece – just one piece, mind you, as that one piece would be enough to totally dominate your living room, if not blow it to pieces.

With each piece in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars, however, all we came away with was a couple of napkins and a whole lot of crazy photographs.

Not to be missed, if you’re in the Midlands.


Hillfold Pottery, Midlands Meander

You reach Lindsay Scott’s Hillfold Pottery in Lidgetton in the Natal Midlands by following a dirt road into the hills, climbing through forest, then turning off down a narrow rutted track that makes you wonder why, oh why, do you no longer have the Landy, until suddenly the woodland opens and you are in a sunny clearing where a low bungalow awaits, and the studio beckons.

The man himself was there, reserved but gracious, and while he might have been of few words the work spoke volumes. We bought a piece for ourselves, and one or two smaller pieces for gifts, and I took a few photos.

If you love ceramics, and you’re visiting the Midlands, be sure to pay a visit to Hillfold.

Photos were taken with the Nikon D500, 10-24mm lens.

O, Pretoria!

These days I work, not in downtown Toronto, but in Pretoria, Gauteng – administrative capital of South Africa, a small city with Boer Republic roots and an African feel, a place of substantial Anglo-Dutch architecture from the nineteenth century commingled with brutalist Afrikaner buildings from the 1970s, and the litter, taxi mayhem and crumbling sidewalks of Maputo or (who knows, since I haven’t been there) Nairobi.

I go there, most days, by Gautrain, the gleaming Bombardier-built high-speed commuter train that links Johannesburg with Pretoria and the O.R. Tambo International Airport. Most days, since I try to travel outside of rush hour, the train is half empty; sometimes, however, especially late afternoon, it is crammed with office workers, students, travellers and of course the ubiquitous (in South Africa) security guards.

The whole experience is strange and familiar, simultaneously – first world and third world shaken and stirred in some Afro-European cocktail, with all kinds of ingredients – edgy, clamorous, a clash of poverty and wealth, modernity and marginalisation, that makes you want to look away, and look back again.

I’ve decided to do some looking, so here is a photograph, snapped (that is the word) on my iPhone, on the train one morning to bustling Pretoria. More will follow, mostly likely from the Leica.

Gautrain # 1

Habana Vieja: two murals

Cuba’s history, of course – by which I mean only its modern history, which we can date back to the first Spanish warships, sailing off the island in the late 1400s – long predates the Revolution.

As Richard Gott explains, in his dry but absorbing Cuba, A New History (published in 2004) there has always been trouble: privateers, conquistadores, slavery, wars and coups, poverty and excess, rebellions and the mafia pock-mark the narrative like bullet-holes in a wall.

Visiting Havana, in this sense, means descending into an archeological dig. At the surface is the Revolution, with its heroic moment, followed by scars and decay: below it there are layers upon layers. Hard-edged or crumbling, you see this most immediately in the architecture. You see it also in the bodies – dark, light, African, European – of the Cuban people, and in glimpses of the culture. The music, obviously, but the art also, and – if we had stayed longer, and if we understood the language – many other manifestations.

These two murals, found in the streets of Habana Vieja – the Old City – give you the idea. The one, with its bold figures, worn but strong, offers a window into Cuba’s history of slavery and its African population; the other, with a hooded woman, her breasts two snaggle-toothed fish, speaks to darker perceptions and other beliefs.

Neither, let it be said, says anything of Revolution.

The dark side of Havana

Once more to Havana….

So far, I’ve tried not to fall into the trap that the English novelist George Eliot described more than a hundred years ago: seeing other people’s misery as ‘picturesque.’

I’ve described, and shown, the Hotel Inglaterra, posted images of the magnificent Grand Theatre and other architectural triumphs, monuments and renovations, and avoided overt comment on – well, on the dark side of Havana.

By which I mean, not its flawed grandeur, or its magnificent decay, but its political system. In a word: communism.

Because one of the things you can’t help noticing is the drab, dreary, official lexicon of ‘the Revolution.’ Everything in Havana tracks back to the one brief, heroic moment of glory, a moment frozen in time, historical but without history, in the sense that nothing, evidently, appears to have happened in the half-century since then.

The hard-as-nails old men who rule Cuba appear, still, in the public iconography, as long-haired, gorgeous, romantic revolutionaries, uncorrupted and incorruptible, while everything you see – crumbling infrastructure, a quarantined, impoverished but somehow still resilient people – gives the lie to their lies.

Yes, the American embargo has done enormous damage. Yes, the regime has delivered education and health-care. But the regime, let it be said, is the author, also, of Cuba’s misfortune.

Failed economic policies, incompetence, repression – not to mention Cuba’s long alliance with and dependence on the Soviet Union – are visible everywhere in the streets and on the faces that you see in Havana. The tools of dictatorship – the cult of the leaders,  cult of the Revolution, the ideological instruments of the schools and the radio, not to mention the ‘repressive apparatus’ of police and the prisons – are there, too, if you choose to see them.

Here are a few images: the primary school, touchingly – or cynically – named after Camilo Cienfuegos: like Che Guevara, a hero of the Revolution who fell out with the Castros and died – would you believe it? – in mysterious circumstances.

And then you stumble across a simple memorial – on a street corner, lost, almost tender, standing in deep shadow beneath the leaves and branches – to Ethel and Julius  Rosenberg.


Havana’s Magnificence

Because it is a popular cliche to see in Havana only what is strange and exotic, ‘a magnificent ruin,’ one task of the visiting photographer – the photographer who is a traveller, not a tourist, a humanitarian, not a voyeur – is to reveal something of that city’s other nature: magnificent restorations, as in the Habana Grand Theatre, Art Deco masterpieces in the form, for example, of the Edificio Bacardi – the Bacardi Building – the intricate, ornate balconies and arches of another era.

With this in mind, here are a few images.