Letters from Madrid


Visit my photography website to view my latest portfolio of colour and black-and-white images, Letters from Madrid.

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.

Dusk, Kalk Bay – the follow-on

Interviewer: Last time we spoke, you ducked out of answering questions about this image. Perhaps this time you’d oblige? (Click on images to enlarge)

Me: Ok. Ambient light.

Interviewer: Ambient light?

Me: Yup. I don’t have a controlled light environment where I work, so the ambient light has a big effect on how I perceive the image. I do calibrate my monitor, using Colormunki Display– this is essential if you are to accurately manage your tones and colours. But the ambient light affects how bright or dull the image on the screen appears, and in my haste to get out the door for the long weekend, when we spoke last, I failed to see that the image was too dark. I had worked on it as the daylight in my room was fading, and so it appeared brighter than it was. I’ve brightened it a bit here, but not too much, as I wanted to retain that moody, monochromatic appearance.

Interviewer: And the images below?

Me: Well, here’s the thing, right? While I think that the black-and-white image works in one way – and I have to say I quite like it – what it does (obviously) is lose the magical colouring of dusk. The images below try to capture something of this. It’s the same scene, but quite a different mood, effect, interpretation.

Interviewer: Which do you prefer?

Me: Either. Both. It depends what you’re looking for, what you’re trying to create. How you want your viewer to see the scene, and feel about it.

Olvera, Spain – the Iglesia de la Encarnation

Olvera, one of the ‘white towns‘ or pueblos blancos of Andalucia, is dominated, as you will have seen in my earlier post, by a massive church-on-a-hill, the Iglesia de la Encarnacion

The building itself is in need of some maintenance, but its setting is magnificent, and its brooding presence over the white town below it speaks volumes.

Here are three images, in black-and-white.

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

Cape Vidal

Cape Vidal, within the St Lucia Marine Reserve, offers an expanse of beach facing the Indian Ocean, a pretty curve of bay, holiday accommodation, and what would seem, from the number of people you see wading into the surf with their rods, some pretty good surf fishing.

It was also, when we were there a few years ago, one of those curiously ‘white’ playgrounds, an anomaly in the rural African heartland – an echo, in a sense, albeit unlegislated, of the bad old days of apartheid.

Looking through my photographs of the Cape, I was struck by how the orange sand, deep blue sky, and white frothing surf offered a reminder of the old, unlamented South African flag, the ‘orange-blanje-blou’ of Afrikaner nationalism.

I have played up the effect, a little, in these images.

The President’s Keepers

‘The President’s Keepers,’ by Jacques Pauw, published by Tafelberg, has caused something of a sensation here, not least because of government’s clumsy attempts to suppress it – the best publicity that Pauw and his publisher could ask for. Copies of the book have sold like proverbial hot cakes – I had to place a copy on order, and picked it up at Exclusive Books in Hyde Park yesterday. I have hardly been able to put it down since.

Apart from anything else, it is damn well written – fast-paced, vivid, more best-selling thriller than sombre analysis. And yet the story – already so depressingly familiar – of Zuma’s utter corruption and malfeasance, surely treasonable as well as criminal? – comes off the page in a blaze of anger – the Zuptas and the rest of the whores who prostrate themselves before the gods of state capture naked in their greed and criminal impunity.

It’s in the anger and revulsion of the common citizen that South Africa’s hope lies. The rot in the system has gone too deep to cure itself. Let’s see what 2019 brings.

To remind you, and myself meanwhile, that there are still people who do honest work for a living – and as a reminder that there is more to this beautiful land of ours than scoundrels in office – here are some images of the crayfish boats and fishermen at Paternoster.




With Rob safely and warmly (well, warm indoors I guess) back in our little house in Marchmount Road in Toronto, my thoughts somehow turn to our last days here, back towards the end of 2010, when we had packed up our home in Johannesburg and were doing one last road trip to say goodbye to South Africa, before the big move to Canada, where I would descend into Pearson as a landed immigrant, and set out on the road towards becoming a Canadian.

One of the last places we stayed before our departure was the little fishing village of Paternoster, up the West Coast from Cape Town. Well, it had been a fishing village, was still, in one marginal corner, but to all intents and purposes it had become, for some years already, a playground of well-to-do – and therefore mostly white – holiday-makers.

And yet, on that distinctive coast, with its blinding contrasts of sea-green Atlantic, sand and sky, the lobster fishermen with their traditional boats – with motors now, not just oars – maintain a toehold, and the sea and the sky and the expanse of beach retain their simplicity and a little, still, of their wild innocence.

So for Rob, and her safe return to our other homeland, here are a few photos of Paternoster.

More will follow. With boats, this time.