Friday 30 October 2009

Prints from Zimbabwe

I spent all day yesterday helping to put up this show.
I’m used to exhibitions that take months – if not years – to go from conception to opening, so this was something of an eye-opener for me.

I felt like Lenore (heroine of Acorns and Stew, the best children’s book in the world ever) – who ‘cut and sawed and hammered with nails, and painted with brushes that were dipped in big pails’. I hung prints and held spirit levels and passed nails and stuck press-stick (this is South African for blu-tac) and typed labels and printed labels and glued labels and stuck labels.

But doesn’t it look good? (She asked modestly. But actually the prints themselves are fabulous - colourful, diverse, thought-provoking.)

The prints are all by Zimbabwean artists living and working in Zim and the work reflects their circumstances there.

Here are Portia and Gareth, two of the artists:

If you happen to be in the Cape Town area you should come and see – and take the opportunity to snap up a limited edition print by a Zimbabwean artist.


For those of you eager to hear me on Bush Radio, I’m sorry (not really that sorry) to disappoint but I don’t think they run to a ‘listen again’ service. But if you want to try, go to their website I would like to point out that this was not my media debut. I appeared on Action, Station, Saturday at the age of nine dressed as an ultra-violet ray. Really, it’s a wonder I’m not more scarred by the experience.

Happy weekend!

Thursday 29 October 2009

France: Flashback I – Rue Montorgueil

Talking to my lovely brother in Paris reminded me that I had taken a whole series of photos of his street and not done anything with them. I’ve described this street before as the kind of French street you see in a charming illustration, the kind that has one of everything: a butcher’s, a baker’s, a café, a cheese shop etc etc. But Rue Montorgueil really exists – and it really is charming.

So if you’ll forgive the brief departure from life in Cape Town, I’d like to take you on a tour of Rue Montorgueil.


Le bistro

Le traiteur (the Queen of England wasn’t too proud to shop here – they have the postcards to prove it)

La boucherie

La poissonerie

La fromagerie


La boulangerie (et le traiteur chinois – that one wasn’t in my French textbook)

La quincaillerie

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Bush Radio

Here’s another one to add to the list of things I never thought I’d be doing: I was on the radio in Cape Town yesterday.

I tagged along with Gary from Greatmore (who’s in charge of press and marketing) as well as two Zimbabwean artists. They were all going to Bush Radio to talk about an exhibition of Zimbabwean prints opening at Greatmore on Thursday. I was going to Bush Radio to sit quietly in a corner and listen to what they had to say about the exhibition. So I was a little bit taken aback when the DJ asked me to talk about cultural life in Europe versus South Africa.

Helloooooo Cape Town!

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Good Fences Make Good Neighbours

I was very bleary-eyed all day yesterday and this is the story of why.

I was woken in the middle of Sunday night by a strange sound, softer than a whip cracking, louder than someone cracking his knuckles. When I opened my eyes, alarmed, I saw flashes of light coming from the window. Eventually I unfogged my mind enough to realise that the light was actually lightning and that an epic thunderstorm was unfolding over Cape Town. But I couldn’t figure out the cracking sound.

It was rhythmic: cra-ack, cra-ack, cr-ack and seemed to be coming from the garden just outside my bedroom window. It didn’t sound like rain and I couldn’t think what might be falling from the tree in the garden to make that noise. After a long time I fell asleep.

Yesterday afternoon there was a slight drizzle dampening the air as I walked back to the house where I’m staying. When I got to the gate I heard the sound again. And finally realised what it was: the sound of rain sparking as it hit the electric fence.

I'm travelling to far parts of the world (far from my home, that is) to experience how other people live in other landscapes. Electric fences are part of the landscape here. I wish they weren’t, and not because they keep me awake at nights. I’m told I’ll get used to it – is that better or worse?

Monday 26 October 2009

Hints to Would-be Wildlife Photographers

Good morning!

I spent the weekend on a nature reserve on the Atlantic Coast. Yes, I know I’m lucky. In fact, I did spend a lot of time marvelling at my luck while I was there because it really doesn’t get much better. I could dwell on my good fortune, but a) you’d probably stop reading and b) today is Monday and therefore Hints Day.

When I wasn’t murmuring ‘what a lucky girl I am’ or words to the effect, I was mostly taking pictures. I took about 300 of the local wildlife and discarded almost all of them because they were blurry, boring, not of what I thought they were going to be of or just not worth keeping. Photographing animals is hard.

I decided to show you the evidence by way of a sliding scale, from 1 (grr) to 10 (easy!)

1. Dolphins

Dolphins are beautiful to watch and friendly and mischievous and lovable and oh, skip it. They won’t sit still. As soon as I lowered my camera they would do some kind of flashy move, but as long as my finger was on the shutter button all they would show me was a hint of fin. (Click on the photo to enlarge it and you should see a tiny black triangle in the middle of the photo.)

2. Pelicans

The pelicans flatly refused to come any closer than one field away.

3. Peacock

The peacock condescended to open his feathers for about 10 seconds.

4. Yellowicus Birdiensis

After much effort, I cornered the very rare specimen in a bush.

5. Gulls

Birds in formation are easy to photograph … but let’s be honest: the photo is a bit boring, no? It looked so much better in real life.

6. Peacock II

The peacock wouldn’t show us his full display again, but he did prance around for a while and posed on a variety of walls, pillars and roofs. (Is this my best angle?)

7. Horse

Lady the gelding (I know, it's mean, but I didn't come up with the name) was very cooperative. Pictures in return for apples.

8. Ostriches I

Looky, looky, looky! These girls were very happy to be photographed so long as we gave them right of way.

9. Ostriches II

But now they’ve had enough.

10. ???

And these birds made very patient models.

Friday 23 October 2009

Friday All-Sorts

  1. I was going to make this the subject of a caption competition but then thought – what can you add to this? However, if any of you would like to offer your ideas, please feel free.
  2. I have been in Cape Town for a whole WEEK now. I have climbed Table Mountain, had a braai, gone wine tasting and learned lots of new words (but I’m saving these for a forthcoming post).
  3. My mean face is mostly working.
  4. I think I ate the best samosa of my life yesterday. It’s from Dollar on Albert Road. They don’t deliver though, so you’ll have to come here to test my claim.
  5. To complete my first week of cultural immersion, last night I watched South African tv. A soap, the news, a lifestyle show and three minutes of a comedy show (at least I think that’s what it was) in Afrikaans. South African home-grown tv is not unlike Irish home-grown tv – yes, it’s that bad. Only – wait for it – the ads are even worse.
  6. If you don’t hear from me over the weekend it’s because I have limited internet access. But I promise I’ll be back again on Monday morning.
  7. That is all.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Can We Make Eithne Laugh?

Yes, we can.

I passed this hair salon and stopped, arrested by the sign board.

Then I took it all in.

I myself had a set of Obama family paper dolls (I bequeathed it to my fellow interpreters at Event when I left), but this, this is so much better.

It’s still making me laugh.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Windy, Windy Weather

Fig. A

Fig. B (taken half a second later)

I know it’s bad luck to walk under a ladder. But what kind of luck is it to avoid being hit by a ladder that is blown over an inch in front of you? A prize for the best answer.

Since yesterday the Cape Doctor has been blowing. Wikipedia tells me that ‘Cape Doctor’ is an obsolete term and that people generally call it the ‘South-Easter’. But if you have a good name for a wind, why not use it?

How do you know the (Cape) Doctor is in the house? Doors bang. Windows bang. Tree branches scrape the walls. On the streets people walk like Arctic explorers, teeth set, eyes squinting as they push into the wind.

My hair looks like I’m trying a new and experimental do (I’m not). I’ve already flashed the traffic on Main Road when I crossed and my shirt blew up. Skirts are strictly for the Marilyn Monroe-wannabe. This is not a gentle breeze I’m talking about.

But for some perverse reason, I like it.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Working on my Mean Face

I’ve been told that when I’m walking around Cape Town I should wear a Mean Face.

I lived in London for six years. I passed through Vauxhall Tube Station (London’s grimiest tube station TM) on a regular basis. I can walk past panhandlers, tramps, Big Issue sellers and gangs of teenage boys with the stoniest of stony faces. (Inside, of course, my heart is like butter, but they don’t need to know that.)

But stepping outside here I see bright colours everywhere. The hot blue sky, the reds and greens of the buildings in Woodstock, palm trees and lilies on the side of the road, Table Mountain for background. I see this outside my front door …

… and I feel the corners of my mouth creeping up. So for the past two days I’ve been walking around Woodstock biting my cheeks. I hope it looks like a Mean Face. I have a suspicion, though, that it looks like a Stupid Face.

(Sorry about the flash reflection … it was dark in my room and I was in a hurry. Also, there’s only so long I want to make faces at myself in the mirror.)

Monday 19 October 2009

Aix Hints

Last night I decided, for no particular reason, that from now on, Monday would be the Official Day of Hints. So you can expect (until I get a better/different idea) that on Mondays you will find me offering suggestions, tips, clues, mentions, indications, warnings (and all the other synonyms Word has for ‘hint’).
Though it’s hard to imagine, just two weeks ago I was still in France. Oh, you remember: the obsession with the small boy, the problems with communication, the stalking of Picasso, the macaroon tastings. Anyway, before I write more about Cape Town, I wanted to post my list of Hints to Lady Travellers (or any travellers) going to Aix.
I really would recommend Aix-en-Provence for a visit. It is a perfect town for walking around – whether along the wide, gracious Cours Mirabeau and the streets of the Quartier Mazarin, or following the twisty-turny streets of the old town. When you’ve walked for a while then, depending on the time of day and your mood, there is always somewhere close for coffee, lunch, a drink or just a little yummy to fill the gap.
Here, in no particular order, are my Top Hints for Aix:
  1. The market at the Place des Precheurs is, we decided after careful consideration, the best. It has a little bit of everything plus the bric-a-brac/antiques market is just across the street. Can’t think exactly why you might want it, but there is also an excellent butcher’s, the Boucherie du Palais. Watch out for the artichoke-dip dealers. The dip is amazing but they’ll give you a little sample just to get you hooked … and a small tub costs about €10. Drugs would be cheaper.
  2. Wander along Rue Espariat for good (window) shopping including my favourite underwear shop of all time, Princesse Tam Tam. Have lunch at Pizza Chez Jo in the Place des Augustins.
  3. While you’re eating your pizza, admire the fountain in the middle of the Place des Augustins – one of the prettiest of the many in Aix. My other favourite was the Quatre Dauphins.
  4. Have an aperitif in the Place Richelme and listen to the yells of the fans watching Olympic Marseille on the TVs outside the bars.
  5. Buy an armful of flowers at the Place de l’Hotel de Ville and some postcards in Chat Reveur.
  6. Take the bus or car out to Le Tholonet – less than 10km outside Aix. Park at the foot of Mont Ste Victoire and take a walk in Cezanne’s footsteps. Have lunch or dinner at the Relais de Cezanne which is where, under a different name, the man himself used to eat. I think I ate the best tapenade of my life there – in fact it was so good that when I ran out of bread, I ate the rest with a spoon. I recommend the onglet de boeuf with garlic and onions and the tarte Nicoise.
  7. Back in town, admire the 17th century buildings in the Quartier Mazarine and stick your head into the Musee Granet to look at their Cezannes. If you’re feeling in need of some English-language reading, there is a sweet bookshop called Book in Bar that also does good coffee. Buy a stripy top in Agnes B, just around the corner.
  8. For people-watching, park yourself at the Deux Garcons on the Cours Mirabeau. Sure, it’s a bit touristy, but €6 will get you a good glass of Rose and some olives and you can sit for as long as you like.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Head Above the Clouds

On my second day in Cape Town I climbed Table Mountain. So far, so typical tourist. But there is more to this story.

You may not have known, but Friday, 16th October, was World Food Day. My Zimbabwean friend Simon is co-founder of an organisation called Hike4Hunger, which aims partly to raise money for hunger-related charities, but more to keep hunger in the news at a time when the worldwide financial crisis is reducing aid and awareness. In Zimbabwe this year, more than a third of the population is facing what the UN categorises as extreme hunger.

As part of Hike4Hunger’s activities, all culminating on World Food Day, Simon asked our mutual friend James to organise a hike to the top of Table Mountain. Jimmy is involved with a group called Teach2Fish that regularly takes guys from Khayelitsha Township in Cape Town on hikes and this time I was lucky enough to be invited to tag along.

First things first. Water, hats, tackies (aka runners, trainers, sneakers, whatever you’re having yourself), fruit and skittles were handed round and stowed away.

Though the morning had been sunny, when we began to cut our way up through Platteklip Gorge the sky was grey and clouds were lowering.

The kids raced ahead but I lingered towards the back of the procession. My excuse was that I wanted to take photos – but really, I wanted to take it all in: the group, the flowers, the views back along the path, the singing of the birds. There were also quite a lot of human-made noises:

This, by the way, is my Co-Official-Photographer:

More surprisingly, we were serenaded in Italian by a young opera singer called Loyola. Here’s Loyola with Akhona, the one brave girl who joined us from Khayelitsha:

A little way short of the summit, we all gathered round and were led in a brief meditation session by another one of the boys who invited us all to feel our connectedness to the earth. Sitting on a rock on the side of an African mountain, my feet planted in the scrub, listening to a lilting voice urging me to absorb the sounds of nature, I can promise you I felt connected in a way I haven’t been for a long time. After our meditation, James led a brief discussion about World Food Day, the reality of starvation around the world and the fact that we were part of a bigger event happening in Australia, England and Zimbabwe.

It wasn’t all serious though. One of the kids, a natural comedian, announced that he had listened to the wind ‘and it’s telling me that I’m freezing’. This was our cue to get to our feet, take a picture and then scramble to the top.

This was actually my third time up Table Mountain – but on both previous occasions, clouds obscured the view. So when the clouds came down on Friday I prepared myself for the worst. And then we got to the top and saw this:

And this:

And this:

It was magical.

Truth be told, I still feel as though my head is in the clouds and my feet haven’t really touched the ground since arriving here. But for half an hour on Friday afternoon, I stood above the clouds on Table Mountain, staring at the view with 16 companions, all of us joined in our enthusiasm for what we had achieved.

On World Food Day next year and for years to come I will remember climbing Table Mountain with these lovely people and I won’t forget why we did it.

To find out more about Hike4Hunger, visit the website

Friday 16 October 2009

Touching Down in Cape Town

I have been in Cape Town for a whole 24 hours now (my flight was an hour early! Isn’t that almost unheard of?) and I can’t blame jet lag for feeling spaced (oh and by the way, it’s only a one hour time difference from Dublin/London at the moment, not two as I was blithely telling everyone) but at the same time it does feel quite surreal to be here. I will resume posting of my usual ramblings about things I see and do soon, but in the meantime, and in no particular order, here are some things that have been running through my head since I arrived.

  1. Best Hint Ever: plant friends in all the places round the world that you might want to go to so they can come and meet you at the airport. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have managed on my own … but I can’t tell you how nice it was to be met.
  2. Table Mountain really is a very cool mountain to have in your back yard.
  3. It’s Spring here. For some reason this is more confusing to me than if I had arrived in a full-on heatwave.
  4. As before, I don’t have enough socks. You can never pack enough socks.
  5. Universal adaptors don’t work in South Africa. Does this mean that South Africa isn’t in the universe?
  6. Small boys with blond curls make me smile. Luckily, where I’m staying happens to have a very nice one in stock.
  7. It turns out I actually had a 30kg baggage allowance. Will the thought of the extra shoes and books I could have packed torment me for the next three months?
  8. This is a proper adventure now, make no mistake.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Greece-Germany-France: Flashback 6

I am in London and shortly to leave for Cape Town ... where hopefully I'll soon be back to regular posting. In the meantime, here's the final Greek flashback - the story of an epic journey.


The day after Phaedra and Simon’s wedding I went back to Thessaloniki to collect the very important consignment I was to bring to France. What can I say about flying with an 18 month old baby by yourself for the first time? It’s very, very, very, very, very hard. Hard!

In summary: at Thessaloniki they didn’t stiff us for our excess baggage, but neither would they give us boarding cards for our connecting flight from Munich to Marseille. Our flight was 20 minutes late taking off (we had 45 minutes connection time in Munich). Gregory was every bit as pleased to have to sit still and be strapped in on my lap as you can imagine he would be. The man beside us was every bit as pleased to have Gregory throwing plastic packets of sugar as you can imagine he would be. It took them 25 minutes to get Gregory’s pram off the plane in Munich (we had 45 minutes connection time, remember?) However, thanks to the kindness of strangers (even a surly-looking teenage German exchange student), a very helpful Lufthansa gate attendant (thank you lady whose name I forgot!) my shameless queue-barging and a crew delayed in Zurich, we did, in fact, make the connecting flight.

(Gregory in Munich, playing with my ipod.)

We were both very tired and quite tearful by the time we arrived, but there’s no question that the experience was a bonding one. The list of things I didn’t realize I would do in public has expanded to include singing lullabies – quite loudly to be heard over the noise of the engines – to an audience of 64 business people on board a Lufthansa commuter flight, plus one small boy and his panda. Gregory and Pandagiotis appreciated it though.

(Look how tired poor Pandagiotis was.)

PS my best hint to lady travellers travelling with small people is the advice given to me by Gregory’s mother – wear a skirt.