Friday, August 31, 2007

The Stuff of Poems

The Gardener

The noble and corrupt
core of me
the waterer
in awe of flowers

if I were tied
deprived of tools and garden
kept on pills
held down to gaze upon myself

would the core hold
confess, redeem
might it just cease

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ready to Go

I have had an old beat up, solid as a rock, navy blue suitcase since the day I left South Africa. Circa July 1994. That is my justification!
Flight 001 on Smith Street is the super-designed luggage store with the shopping bags so cool I would buy stuff just to get the bags, which are silver and insulated and Marijke scored two extra ones when we were there in June, and they're still waiting for the picnic duck I had decided they were perfect for; I've bought Mimi a bag there for Giao's baby-things, and Marijke, too, which she swapped for a better one (they still have that orange computer bag, Marijke - I wish they'd stock a bigger one so I can get it for me. I still need one.) Knowing that I'm flying South soon, for a couple of weeks, I knew that I didn't want to drag the Heavy Indestructable with me. And it's ugly. I'm tired of Thought occurs: is it bad luck to change suitcases at this point in my life? NO! NO! It's good luck. Anyway, so sometimes, back from the subway, I vary my route to go along Smith Street and past the luggage store. And a few days ago I walked past and there was the suitcase in the window. I looked at it. I ignored it, I walked on. Today I walked in, found the floor model at the back of the shop, lifted it, and popped it open. Love at second sight. Oh joy. Look what colour it is!!! I looked at the price. I justified it at once by telling myself I had just sent back the boots that cost half as much and that I wouldn't eat lunch out again this year... and bought it. Stress free shopping. Know what you want, see what you want, take aim and fire.'s perfect.
Tomorrow the Indestructable will go out on the sidewalk and thence to a new life. The sidewalk is where I found my three sweet blue suitcases, nesting inside each other, and in their case the genuine thing. Daisy, above, is a reproduction. But they have traveled too, and when sedentary they serve as my winter storage unit, keeping cashmere-eating things out of my sweaters. And when she's back home again, that's exactly what Daisy will have to do.

We know this place

There is a dipping
and a rising tide

Light slides from the bricks outside
and four o’clock's
the gangplank
poised above deep black

The tipping of the pliable
a teasing bounce
the embarkation point, noon

A potted boxwood in terracotta
seems to keep the whole afloat
an object anchoring a body
whose last desire is to be cut loose

Cleave my chest open at sunset
And expose the architecture within

Diagnose this

A lusting for and leaning toward
light, of which we are deprived
deprived deprived

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Sometimes I need to crunch on things, a bit like...a bunny.

I ate strange things today and the antidote was a chopped salad of radishes, fennel, Belgian endive, and an orange, with terrace mint. A variation of Cafe Gitane's salad of orange, black oil-cured olives and chile, which is wonderful. I was lazy and didn't, er, French the oranges (no, really, it's a technique: cutting between the segments and removing the membranes...I just sliced it. It makes a difference to the texture and, obviously, appearance - hence, overall feel-good factor. I think that's what good cooking is - maximum sensory impact). I feel funny eating oranges now, though. I still am a bit of a purist, and this late summer is the time of total harvest overload: peppers, tomatoes, aubergines, corn, beans, and peaches. But not oranges.

Hmm, so how do I justify my abuse of lemons and limes. Problem.

The peaches below are local at least to the Northeast, so not trucked in from Gardnowswhere, as Estorbo would say. They are sweet and succulent and perfumed and have the smallest hint of bitterness to the aftertaste, which I like. Contrast that to the straightline sweet of the piece of Kit-Kat I ate earlier today, and instantly regretted, and you are just plain puzzled. There's no better desert to me than fruit - maybe a taste I inherit from my father, who is a fruitbat (hey, we once ate fruitbat, together, but that's another story). He always eats fruit after dinner, peeling it carefully with his penknife. Who else has a penknife??? Or a handkerchief??? Or a Jag that keeps blowing up on freeways? Or a Rolex at the bottom of Zeekoeivlei?

But I digress. He also always eats the most bruised fruit first. When I was little I would eat the spinach first, which I hated, and save the roast potatoes for last. Another digression.

So I had two delicious peaches for dessert, and watched some more of the Original Avengers, c. '66. The girl gets to do just as much fighting as the boy and still looks fabulous.

The High Life

Pool with a view...I looked at a new job for HWandV, on Broadway and East 4th. It's three floors, top of building, three garden spaces, plus this pool which is going to be resurfaced in...mother of pearl. I haven't met the client yet, just his agent, but this will be his East Coast pad - he's based in LA, and I suspect we're talking Movies. I look forward to it. I've actually been to this place before, for a party years ago, with Mr Tracey Ryans, legendary mover and shaker and transient friend. Now it's going to be gutted and redone, and I have to figure out what one earth to do with, for example, the built-in brick (eugh) planters on the second level (which is on the tenth floor), with massive, fullgrown trees, the fake lawn and the otherwise oddly suburban (read screamin' heebie jeebies) feel, and the completely abandoned roof, which does, though, have a very nice herringboned stone floor.

Below: see the above picture and skip over the lush garden on a roof in the middle of the view; in the faaaar left of the view is another roof garden, on the old Karl Fischer Building. That's ours, too. In fact the photo of me laying the little lawn on one of the previous posts, is in that garden, designed for the exclusive use of the two little Yorky terriers that share the house.

Now behind the Karl Fischer Building and just visible as blue glass way on the left of the second pool picture, is the Gwathmey Siegel-designed No. 1 Astor Place. Two years ago I was asked to do a freelance design for one of its two lower terraces for a young couple moving in. I gave them two designs, which they paid for, and then I was fired, during a 40 minute phonecall from the Missus, for forgetting twice in a row to cc her on an email. Hm.

This week, HWandV is contacted by a frustrated general contractor who says that the company hired to install the garden on this terrace in that building for this couple has been fired, that work has ground to a halt. And would we please fix it. I look at the design with Bill. Looks familiar! Funny. Anyway, I told Bill he'd better tell the GC the whole story and 'fess up that I am very much associated with HWandV (the couple knew this but may have forgotten). Apparently no one has a problem with it. Small, elevated world.

No, no, I'm staying well out of it. That would be a bit too weird, even for me.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Brooklyn Bridge

I didn't take my camera with me so have no pictures - I can't run and hold stuff. Two days in a row over the Brooklyn Bridge and with half an hour's difference in starting-time, the change in the light profound. I must have left home at about 6.30 this evening and would have arrived there around 6.45, with clouds beyond the southern tip of Manhattan, over Jersey, diffusing the striking light, pinkening it, so that the whole of Manhattan stretching northward, grounded by the Empire State Building and offset by the smaller Chrysler, appeared in staggered layers of colour-depth, sepia against bronze and against rose, against grey and silver, against highlights of orange, and southward against the slate green peculiar to the East River and the buildings fronting it in the Financial District, with Dumbo in Brooklyn still in transparent yellow, its blues deepened, its park defined to the blades of grass lying under picnic blankets and the water on the raked pebble beach throwing again and again a tiny clear, dark wave. Contrast this with the flat backdrop of humid summer days when the air is thick with moisture and heat and each particle adds to the flattening of the skyline, the oppressiveness of the city, making seem impossible the layers of dimension and possibility brought by the cooler weather.

I have seen this view so many times and wondered again at the nature of beauty, the foundations of land and water obscured by successive risings of brick, iron, metal, cable, painted, stripped, embossed, crossed by bridgespans, elevated by concrete, isolated by deep water, lightened by the wakes of the ferries and barges and tugs passing constantly beneath. On the horizon the prehistoric structures of the cranes that unload docked container ships, like dinosaurs come to the water to drink, in Brooklyn, in Jersey, in pink. The Statue of Liberty copper green and shining in the bay, speaking to the trees on Governor's Island, Brooklyn Heights and my own Cobble Hill standing opposite Wall Street, across water, in ranks of red brick against the glacial green glass. Beauty entirely manufactured.

The bridge a passage and destination, people constantly stopped in their tracks, on this their only visit, dodged by cyclists and ordinary pedestrians who pass this way every day, as they stand with cameras pointed at the massive arches, Gothic and cathedral-like with the cables soaring successively higher, the sun now catching the stone at the summit as it breaks free for moments before the cloud returns us again to this blessing of Western light.

Talks about Talks

Post the CBC interview on Friday I was contacted by one of the crew members whose production company has an Idea. Into which I would fit. Hint: it has to do with gardens. So I'm meeting with them tomorrow.
Tick, tick, tick.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Back to Life

Pictures from Marijke, from her weekend in Hermanus. Hmmm. Clever girl. I can almost hear the sea and smell the fynbos...

Ha! Ha! Little bugger. It wasn't just a missing screw but an uninvited guest. HALF a cherry pit! Again! I feexed eet, I feexed eet. I love my dishwasher.
Things are back on track.

We Know this Place

There is a dipping
dipping dipping
and a rising tide

Light slides from the bricks outside
and four o’clock
the gangplank
poised above deep black

The tipping of the pliable
a teasing bounce
The embarkation point, noon

A potted boxwood in terracotta
seems to keep the whole afloat
an object anchoring a body
whose last desire is to be cut loose

Cleave my chest open at sunset
expose the architecture within
and diagnose this:

A lusting for and leaning toward
light, of which we were deprived
deprived deprived

Sunday bloody Sunday

Yup. Reaping what I sowed. You may remember a weekend some time ago when I cleverly took my dishwasher apart to find a recalcitrant cherry pit jamming the works. And then I put everything together again and found this, up there. My screw has come back to bite me in the rear, since the poor dishwasher sounds as though it is possessed when it reaches the Rinse/Hold cycle. Back into its bowels I go. Maybe I'll buy a smaller wrench first. Grrr.

I'm tired of the Rinse/Hold cycle. I'd rather to go back to Light Wash.

The weekend's Holy Trinity: espresso, hot milk, hot flapjack. To be taken back to bed and eaten with the cat looking at me accusingly.

Johnny Cash singing: On a Sunday morning sidewalk, Lord I wish that I were stoned, 'cos there's something in a Sunday that makes a body feel alone. And there's nothing short of dying that's half as lonesome as the sound of the sleeping city sidewalk, and a Sunday morning coming down.

It's the day for what ifs to sneak under the door and sniff around corners of the room.

And Monday means work, which is good, and a return to my seat in front of screen and postboard where Important Things are put, and a hopeful death to the what ifs.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Funny thing happened. My intercom buzzed this morning. I pressed the Listen button, hopefully, really, because it hasn't worked for a while. There was neighing...I pressed the Enter button and could hear the door downstairs buzzing. Then a huge commotion and thundering as though the building were about to fall down, growing steadily nearer. The cat fled. Then the doorbell rang. I opened the door. There was horse, chestnut. He looked a lot like my old horse, Cromwell, and a little like the Forsyth Street police horse, Chivas. In his teeth, on a string handle, was a jar of apricot jam. I took it. It looked home made. He neighed again, turned around quite uncomfortably (the landing was not made for a horse), sat on his bottom, extended his forelegs, and shot down the stairs again, sounding like a reverse explosion. I hadn't even gathered my wits to give him a tip of loose sugar.

I was on my last bottle of spring apricot jam so I was really quite grateful. A possible explanation may or may not be found here; that horse landed in jail...but the story couldn't have ended there.

Horses who walk into bars have long faces.

Otherwise quite an uneventful Saturday. A pile of raw vegetables is clean and peeled, waiting to be dipped into bagna cauda, the delicious anchovy and garlic (yes, no vampires) and olive oil dip. It's right for the weather, which is Disgusting. Ugh. 90'F, 31'C, like a suffocating white blanket. Sauvignon blanc is chilling, Cassis is waiting.

And before that the purchase of the Very Important Things without which life would start squeaking rustily: kitty litter, cat pellets, dental floss and cottonwool wipes. And CHEESE: Reblochon and runny Brie and a baguette. Hmmm.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Things Inbetween

My fennel is flowering. (French translation in Comments, please? actually, I'll take all languages. I need to say My fennel is flowering in as many languages as possible. It could easily be the disarming icebreaker in a hostage scenario...)

Afrikaans: My anys blom.

This morning, early, on my terrace, feeling the air, which turned from super cool to super humid overnight. Strange. Then I packed up my basket and headed to Manhattan for the CBC shoot, complete with bottle of champagne and flutes for the crew. They were so proper they wouldn't have any. I was already on West 17th Street when I did a Homer Simpson, Doh! realizing I'd left my garment bag with super-nice dresses in it at home. Fortunately I was wearing what I think of as my blog dress, for quick change purpose, so it was fine for the champagne-sipping sequence that they set up. Fake sipping. Sigh.

Funny, how, isolated, this picture conjures up nightmare.

But it was one of MANY jets that followed an approach path to La Guardia that was much lower than usual and also smack over the apartment... I kept rushing out to look at them. I think they are beautiful, movingly so. But this is also to demonstrate why I have a new camera (still in its box and uninspected). The smudge. Can't fix it. I discovered it first last year in the Northern Cape in anotherwise pristine sky. So I must retire the little Canon Powershot SD500. It seems such a waste. But I can't have smudges in the blue. I'm quite attached it it. I understand better how Marijke felt when her camera died.

Oh, and if you're wondering where the photos of the shoot are: I whipped out my little camera, pointed it at the crew, whose producer was wearing an orange shirt, and switched it on. Nothing. Black. Um. The battery was at home, plugged in and happily eating electricity.

Eeeediot! [how did the BlackCat get in here??]

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


My mom sent me news that we had been expecting, this morning. Our friend Marita Swanepoel died this morning, at home in Cape Town, having refused anymore chemo for her leukemia.

It bears repeating that she first planted the garden designing seed in me, a long time ago, when I was still only about twelve. I was side-tracked by other things, and it has been circuitous journey to where I am now, but I am here, and quite recently she took a great deal of informed interest in what I was doing, after we had been out of touch for many years. I was very flattered and gratified (and surprised) by her attention and admiration. She was an iconic sort of person: very cultured, very striking, an artist whose aesthetic vision was evident in her home, her work, her appearance; uncompromising, clean, warm, bold.

My mom said in her email to me that Marita and I were kindred spirits in a way, and if that is true, I take it as a great compliment.

I would very much have liked to have said goodbye. Or even just hello, one more time. Our love to Ian, and Pierre, and Lisa.

Izumi, Phu and the Ginger Ale Pig

This was last Thanksgiving, at Eric and Mimi's...this is Phu, Mimi's brother. It has become a tradition that if we have Thanksgiving together, I make a ginger ale pig. Phu gets quite excited about this.

I owe Phu a favour: I called Izumi today - Izumi, petite Japanese hairdresser with bat tattooed on her neck, who runs a secret salon in the East Village, reached by word of mouth. Eric and Mimi were the word, and that's how I know Izumi.

I have a Hair Situation and TV shoot in quick order, and the two are not compatible. I had taken advice, considered it from all angles, weighed the consequences and I still hated it.

So I phoned Izumi in desperation today to see if she could do some repair work before Friday and she's said, "Noooo, so sorry, I'm all booked...but Phu has a 1pm..." and a little giggle! Ha! I email Phu and everyone he knows to see if he'll swap with me, and take a Friday appointment. Rashly, I dangle a ginger ale pig in front him.

Sure, he replies just now, You can have my 1pm, but it'll cost two pigs.

Two pigs it is. Anything to avoid the being the Fluffbomb. My Canadian viewing audience is extremely important to me.

Lost without Space

A day with very spotty and sometimes non-existent cyberconnections has left me really thinking about how it has become part of my life, and the lives of people I love. Every week, at least, my mails cross the Atlantic, fly south across Africa, and land in Cape Town , in a lightly wooded suburb on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. They are read in a small room which serves as a study, and my words pop up on a screen read by my mother. And her words wing their way north, and west, as they have for so many years. I know an energy must be created by all this connecting. So much is positive, so much of it must be destructive. The humming, minute to our ears, must add to the vibration of our planet and send into space the message that we are a talking place... the ones who must pass things back and forth. Who must share. Because our whole globe, from a distance, is glowing with the evidence of it.

To know, now, that I can touch a key on my laptop in New York and become instantly connected with a human who until that moment is a perfect and invisible stranger, to know that that strangeness can be dispelled by an epic, consecutive exchange of, well, everything, because of a happenstance series of cybertravels, is to know that the Internet is a marvellous thing.

You really can Google the person you want.

Monday, August 20, 2007

And finally

WOW! I just opened my new HWandV copy of Elle Decoration and found this kitchen...I think it's stunning. The owner "is not a keen cook" so the kitchen was shrunk. It is such a silly premise, though...In this case (the case of kitchens, I mean) smaller is better - you can reach everything. Or why do restaurant kitchens have galleys??? I hate doing laps to fetch things I need. These massive sprawls you see in a lot of magazines really are for people who don't cook. Or am I biased because I live in a moustrap where the cheese-space is, er, limited? Anyway, I thought this, especially for orange-lovers, was gorgeous. It's by Brazilian architects Triptyque (3 Frenchmen, 1 Brazilian woman. Lucky lady).

Missive from Marijke

[An African snowman]

"Pfffttttt! [I think that means she's tired]I've just returned from the Hex river Traverse - a 3.5 day 'hike' in the most amazingly beautiful and rugged area between Worcester and Waaihoek. Lots of snow and craggy, rocky stony, vertigenous peaks and canyons.
I came to within an inch of my life - slipped on snow at the top of a steep gully and fell 50m until I slammed into some rocks - luckily feet first, and absolutely no damage except for snow burn on my arms. Can't believe my luck.

[damn, must have got a huge skrik. I'm very glad you're still here]

Anyway we had excellent weather, lots of fun and the others had snow fights and made a snow man.

Day Two - if you look at the extreme right of the pic there are two peaks (shaped like boobs[36C?]) - I fell in the snowy line near the top of the cleavage. Actually it's called Mount Brodie.

Day Three - if you check the frosted peak on the left - we walked all along those grey montains to where I was standing in 6 hours.

Fonteintjiesberg - named after these little seeps - aren't they beautiful?

Feel free to post these pics - I'm so proud of the amazing beauty we have here and that we made it through!"

More Food. I cracked.

OK, self-imposed one week ban on food is OVER. Friday's single shrimp does not count...Momofuku (The Peach), on 1st Ave and 10th Street. Noodle bar. The broth for the ramen is incredible. You sit at a bamboo bar in front of the kitchen, so you see everything, so it's perfect for people, like me, with voyeuristic tendencies. Actually, that's nonsense. I prefer being in on the action, not the sidelines! And here you are.

Shredded slow roast pork belly, ramen, fresh peas, kombu, bok choy. Chris says the peas are very hard to eat with chopsticks...uh: spoon???, ginger, seaweed. Shame, they were very sweet. I felt a bit bad about murdering them. The white stuff is unfiltered sake, not milk!

And food porn. Braised pork again, on steamed buns with pickled cucumber.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Here and There, and There

Jetstreams, crossing.

How many places can one's head be at the same time? Looking out at our cool NY weather today I found some interesting clouds, and wondered whether they had anything to do with Hurricane Dean right now on top of Jamaica, about which I'm thinking because the Caymans lie beyond it and next in the hitline, and lately I've taken to thinking about them too.

And then I found in my Inbox some updated surveillance pictures from the cul-de-sac in Constantia, Cape Town.

Where, the spy wondered, were they going in the chariot? To lunch, certainly but where?

Answer! Harbour House in Kalk Bay. Plus an English/Zambian couple, the English part of whom my dad worked with in Lesotho. And they drank three bottles of wine! And they saw whales in False Bay, from the windows of the restaurant. I love that place. By far my favourite in Cape Town...Delicious fish. One of the loveliest views in the world. I wish I'd been there.

I lifted this off their website. Which is bad. The website, I mean. How, with this location, can one manage to have such BAD photos??? Odd.

Ah... I had no idea. Welcome to South Africa. Herr Goebbels, points out the spy, has upped his security, it seems. Dude, all they'd need is wire cutters, man. I maintain that the houses with zero walls are the safest. T-t-t.

The spy couldn't help itself. It spied on its own view of the sunrise over the greenbelt's mist. Hmmm.

A small suggestion for the spy. A spyblog.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Le Weekend

Vivian and Chris, from work, and I had our weekly power lunch (hahahaha) at Schiller's on Friday. It's a very good opportunity for bitching, bonding and blowing off steam. Sometimes we even solve problems. See how possessively Chris is holding his Stella. Someone may take it away...

A martini in the middle of the workday you ask (actually, it depends who you are. Some of you - like one of the six people who read this blog [an elite group, though, yes?]! - may ask, what, only one?). Yes, I wanted a martini. It was happy, celebratory martini. It's a nice word, which is why I repeat it...It was a very, very good martini, shaken by the cute bartender with the dreads. He said it was shaken with love... yeah, right. Grey Goose, no vermouth, and the olives. It was shaken so that not too much ice got into the drink. Really, it was one of the best I've had. I can't do gin martinis anymore. They burn my mouth and they smell a little like my Chanel No. 19, which is disconcerting. My father still does the gin version, very proper and old-school. For a man who drinks very little, he has been known to order a couple at The Cellars for Sunday lunch. It is a beautiful, evocative, romance-laden drink, a throwback from another time.

The sizzling shrimp. It's a very small cast iron dish that is put in front of you, bubbling furiously, and dangerously hot. In it are medium size shrimp, molten olive oil, thinly sliced garlic, hot chile flakes and lemon. It's fantastic. With some bread, it's perfect. I have favourite things to eat everywhere: the lemon chicken on fennel salad at my favourite, best-loved restaurant, Al di La; the chicken liver and foie gras mousse with bitter frisee at Balthazar; the Croque Madame at Robin des Bois; the burger at Prune; the rabbit and noodles at Lucien...I better stop. And this shrimp. It's so simple.

And on to Saturday morning and a late breakfast on the terrace under a blessing of cool blue sky. I've just started Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for the second time, after reading it in 2004. I'm looking forward to getting into it again: magic, secret pathways, old England, the Raven King. It's very well written. I took it out because I was going to lend it to Mimi, but then I made the mistake of opening it, so maybe I'll have to buy one for her.

And this for Vince:

My free-seeded grass and the purple basil. Signs of the season. What will it look like in a month? In a month...I have always wanted to look forward to September. From the inside, I mean, not just because of feeling the relief of the outside: lovely weather and clear edges. It is the month of remembering, and wanting, and thinking you hear voices and music but not sure whose or where. Possibly from dreams. The one who lives there and occasionally shows himself, but isn't recognized in any of the ones in the waking world.

Setting the Record Straight

My mom says Home in Africa (previous posts) "really does look like Africa." Me, I don't think that is bad thing 'cos, well, it IS Africa!!! But. The point is, usually the house and garden look very beautiful. So here follows a short tribute to La Mama and proof that this corner of Africa has beautiful gardens as well as major earthworks...and earthworms. But I digress. OK - above - I think this was the night the Louws came over from next door and we sat chairs in the driveway and drank wine together and laughed immoderately. Then Peter Klatzow came by and delivered some crayfish he'd just caught. And was a little taken aback and a small bit jealous that we were all in the driveway drinking wine instead of behind locked doors and barbed wire under a state of siege. My parents' home is the only one of the cul de sac that is open like this, and it just seemed to me that we should use our stoep/porch for what it was intended. Sitting and looking at things and talking to the neighbours. This was last January.

This hedge no longer exists, but it was lovely. Helichrysum. An everlasting-like flower with the pungent scent of, to me, honey and a little mustard, on the other side of the house, at the bottom of the garden.

Slightly washed out picture of the patio, with loooots of roses, the greenbelt's poplars beyond, and the eastern face of Table Mountain.

View of the mountain with Icebergs in a pot. They bloom all season. It's ironic that I have them on my terrace, too, in this vastly different climate, on a northern and western continent.

Here is Andre Khamel (named after a French attorney on an opposing team in one of my father's cases), sitting watching the birdfeeder. Just out of academic interest.

And a harvest: potatoes! They were grown in pots, as an experiment, and were delicious.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Now the lawn is missing...

Home in Africa

It's nice to have neighbours who read blogs and who sneak out in the evening to take pictures of the parental stomping ground, recording, for instance, the disappearance of four olive trees. I know copper wire disappears overnight, but olive trees? In the process showing up Google Earth's dated satellite image of the can also see that the next day is Trash Day..the wheelie bin is waiting for the Dirty Boys.