Friday, February 27, 2009


Vincent and I are running a disfunctional relay race as far as telling our roadtrip stories goes. Currently he is ahead of me, in the Kgalagadi, but seems he will be going backwards again to publish some earlier pictures. To follow the Frenchie's tale, click here.

Things change

I watered the pots on the terrace for the first time this 2009. Temperatures well above freezing, and everything dry. It's hard to believe that out of the ashes will rise the miracle of May, below.

For now, we wait. Knowing that nothing stays the same. The good times will roll again.

The domestic primate

I am really, really trying not to read the newspaper. I don't need it. I usually don't like it. Then there's a gem like this.

"Once, when Bob was leading him from an outdoor enclosure back to his cage in the house, Higgins exploded and the two got into a battle so ferocious that despite the steel mesh glove Bob was wearing, he screamed for Carlie to get his .22 rifle and put a bullet in Higgins’s head. She got Higgins a slice of raisin bread instead, quickly defusing the fight."

I, too, stop for raisin bread.

Story here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Return to Klein Aus Vista

The drive back from Sesriem down to Aus remains a bit blurry. I remember a dead sheep, the ill-smelling camelthorn (with the usual detritus peculiar to obvious roadside shade trees in Namibia, of litter and gnawed bones) we stopped beneath for our sardine lunch, and then...nothing, aside from this field of tsamma melons.

They really do look extraordinary, lying on the blemishless red sand. I am now sorry I did not pick more. The first one I'd tried, days before, had been so bitter that it seemed pointless at the time to open any others. It was only later, in the Kgalagadi, that I learned more about them, and realized that the bitter one may have been an exception.

I pounced upon this, though. Prickly sea creature! I was quite sure it was edible. Its spikes were like rubber and very pliable. Such spikes surely protected very delicious that went into the back of the car, somewhere between the axe and the gas bottle.

At regular intervals we had to slow down to cross stock grids where the road would narrow though a gate. This particular gate was tall and firmly shut, in the middle of nowhere.

A fruit garden opposite an isolated farm house contained figs, pomegranates and oranges under netting to protect it from the birds. Two mousebirds were trapped inside.

And when we arived back at our favourite campsite just outside Aus, we noticed that their few grapes, too, were bagged.

The sociable weavers welcomed us back and we put crumbs in our hands. Shy at first they got the hang of it in no time.

And the little striped mice that inhabit each bush shared with weavers.

I couldn't help it. It was such fun being being so close to them...

We went for a walk on the Sunset Trail, starting from the camp and listed as an hour-and-a-half long. We were hoping to see the wild horses that make the area famous...but the trail didn't take us over the hills as we thought it might, to look over the plains beneath (another one does, if you have four hours for it).

Instead we made a wide loop, seeing, frozen on the rocks, two klipspringers, the sweet little gazelles that leap vertically up rock faces. Vince spotted them in the rocks and we snuck up a little closer. They stared. They choose to stand in the most rocky place, all four feet on one pebble, even if there is a flat piece of ground nearby.

I saw quite a few of these wine-red, succulenty shrubs. In spring, I imagine, they do something very spectacular...

Below: very small, round, succulent leaves, and surprising red, yellow or salmon pink flowers.

Like this...

And this shrub looked as though it might be at home in an English garden. NO idea what this is...

Any ideas?

And then this fascinating midden: piles of poo. Everbody's. About 3' x 3' wide.

When we got back we had gins and tonics in our trusty mugs. It really does taste better out of glass. But the glass was in the Namib. Yes, we did clean it up...

Time to slice open the foreign fruit.

It looked very fetching with our tropical collection.


Huh. I licked. Cucumber. I nibbled. Cucumber. I decided not to swallow the seeds. Just in case.

Now, back at home again, I started reading Don't Die in the Bundu, by Col. D.H. Grainger, O.B.E., E.D. [Howard Timmins, Cape Town and no indication to date, though it is the 8th edition and the price is R2.50 printed on the flyleaf. It was given by my father to my eldest brother Anton in 1976 wih the inscription ,"In the sincere hope that we won't."].
It was written by a Rhodesian soldier, so there's all that baggage, but it is very interesting in a quaint and boys' own kind of way. It is basically a pocket survival guide where the final advice for most medical emergencies is Get Medical Help. There is a drawing in it of what looks like this fruit. "Cucumis metuliferus - jelly melon, muTete... eaten raw orcooked but the bitter strains are poisonous."

Or "Cucumis anguria:...smells like cut cucumber and is a valuable source of water. However there are bitter-fruited varieties which are poisonous..."


And then it was time to light the fire...

We had a beautiful sunset.

Goodnight, Aus. We miss you.

Our next stop on the way south was Grunau, where we'd booked in at The White House. But things didn't turn out that way...

I got no Othello ticket

Othello at the Duke is Sold Out.



I'll trade?

Boeuf bourgignon, the best? My last red currant jam? The recipe for a Missouri Mule? Garden consultation? Fresh herbs every month? Play the flute?


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Phillida's Country Bread

In many South African shops you can walk in and buy a loaf of heavy, moist brown bread. It has seeds in it and toasts really well, and I've never seen it anywhere else.

The bread above, a flat top sort of bread, is the home version that I grew up with. The sticky mix rises in the bread tin and is baked as soon as it has about doubled in bulk. Cut fresh and then frozen, I toast it for my breakfast. Here I ate it hot from the oven for supper with shameless amounts of butter, and Fynbos honey, brought from Cape Town.

Who is Phillida? All I know is that Phillida used to - and may still - bake the bread at the Matjiesfontein hotel in the Little Karoo.

We stayed there a couple of New Year's eves in a row to escape the dread and depression of Forced Mirth and of Not Having a Party in Cape Town. Matjiesfontein is a train station, the hotel, a shop, and that's about it. The stars are wonderful, the silence profound, even if there is a ringing to it, and the service and accommodation rooted in another time. At midnight my dad would fire a Swiss-made rocket from an empty champagne bottle in the only street.

Phillida's bread was served with chicken liver pate at night and butter and jam in the morning. My mom first published her recipe for the bread in House and Leisure, when she was its food editor.

[12 October 2010: Thanks to Lily for this clipping from House and Leisure]

An aside: at the booksale (books are VERY expensive in SA) at Exclusive Books in Constantia in January, I was about to purchase Richard E. Grant's journal about the making of his movie Wah Wah. A good film. But as I leafed through the book an entry jumped out. It was rather whiney, true (in the vein of "lamb lamb and lamb on the menu, with three starches." But that's why you go there. Boerekos Timewarp), so that's off-putting , but it described how he was staying at the hotel at "Meitjiesfontein". Oh, common! I put the book down and turned my back on it.

Over-reaction to a typo? Maybe, since I make many myself. But it's the trajectory of a typo that fascinates me. WHO is checking? It's a place name for goodness' sake. And ironic that the memoir of a film about the end of colonialism in an African monarchy makes a very colonial error about a super-colonial ex-British outpost!

Meitjiesfontein. What was the former South African thinking?

Here's another trivial tidbit about inaccuracies in the film.

Historical fact quibbling aside, it's still well made and very worth the watching.

One trip, two stories

Above: lunch on the road/the worst sardines ever.

More desert tales later today.

In the meantime you can catch up with the Frenchie's Namibian pictures and story here.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden in February

Possibly the best time to appreciate the espaliers near the Eastern Boulevard entrance.

And still a little early for the shrub honeysuckle - Lonicera fragrantissima. Another ten days to two weeks and it will be at its perfumed peak. It's an unruly and uninteresting shrub when not in bloom, so good for supporting something else, perhaps, like a clematis or climbing rose.

The corylopsis - winter hazel, so not ready. We saw it in full bloom last April so I don't know what I was thinking.

Hamamelis x intermedia "James Wells". This one seems to keep its dead leaves until spring, not liking to let go until it's sure of the next best thing. Kind of like serial monogamists.

Below, "Jelena". Very full and fluffy. This was in the rock garden, near the very frozen pond.

She shows the typical horizontal branch structure.

Below, near The Stream That Never Runs, pussy willow. As soft as bunnies' paws.

Or cashmere.

Frozen leaf.

Below, Hamamelis mollis "Pallida". More pale acid in the colour...

And "Diane", below. Again, wishing for snow to show them off.

Two witch hazels at the lotus ponds near the hot houses are labeled "hybrid". The branches are more upright than is typical.

Isn't it funny how the flowers resemble Cedar Apple Rust?

In the rock garden, some early hellebores catching rays.

Inside, anthers getting ready for hungry bees.

Winter aconite, not quite open, in the perennial beds at the lotus ponds.

And snowdrops nearby.

So, plenty to see in chill February. The gardens were mostly deserted. Good place to go on Recession Tuesdays, the gates wide open, the guard waving me through.