Tuesday, March 31, 2009

White breasted nut hatch

Actually, apart from the bunny, this guy made my day, too. I had wandered into The Ramble, where one is more likely to see birds at this leaf-thin time of year than solitary men standing about in odd places waiting for odder things to happen to them. I stood still to watch three little chickadees who looked as though they would have sat on my hand if I had offered it. And I also stopped to listen, because all I could hear, in the heart of New York City, was birdsong.

The nut hatch, the first I have seen (I am not a birder, rather an accidental bird watcher), was about 6 feet away investigating a fallen tree, and moving vertically up and down it, very slowly and methodically, and utterly unfazed by my presence. I went closer and did not disturb him then, either. He caught several insects and only then moved fast bambambam killing them on the bark with his beak.

Central Park Spring

I had an hour to kill between an Upper West Side rooftop appointment and West Village townhouse garden appointment. Two very different spaces needing gardens. Wild, windy and sunblasted. Cool, dark, shady.

But before taking the subway downtown again I walked into the park, opposite the Natural History Museum, taking bites of a $2 hot dog as I went. The park belongs to Cornelian cherries at the moment, the earliest of the dogwoods. I now see their point: planted en masse, the Cornus, er, mas, make absolute sense. Alone they are lost. In threes and sixes they are stunning clouds of pollen-yellow.

There was a lot of the Lonicera fragrantissima. It has followed me about for two days and the lemony-sweet scent is delicious. Below, one can see how nondescript the bushes are.

Daffodils. Much of the woodland is fenced off and I am sorry for it. It spoils the view and one loses the idea of wildness.

More Cornelian cherries near the Conservatory Pond.

And...a BUNNY! This rabbit made my day. I totally forgot to ask his name. He was being walked on the lawn on his leash and his owner was also sad about the fences. He was friendly, unstressed and very soft to stroke.

The pond looking back to Central Park West.

Rather icky water near the Plaza, on central Park South.

Blue squill, I think, in the leaf litter.

Birds and birdsong abounded. Squirrels too. And tourist taking squirrel pictures. I always wonder about those.

I'll be back.

Shadow Country: Mr Watson's Voices

My dog-earing habit was put to the test with Peter Mathiessen's Shadow Country, an 892 page Southern [why are most of the best Southern???] epic published in 2008 (The Modern Library). I felt lost when it ended, and irritable. It's hard leaving a world one has lived in every night for a month, for the empty unknown.

I actually put the book aside after the first part, and picked it up again weeks later. I found the going turgid and complicated and couldn't imagine wading through a whole book like this.

Then it changed.

It is masterfully written and everthing has its reason. The dog-earing was put to the test because I found no sound bites. Precious few dog-eared pages. It's as though his revelations take pages and pages and years to unfold. Everything is dependent on or born of what came before. So lifting paragraphs out of context is without reward.

But: one of the first dog-ears, on p. 58, was for Estorbo, my Dominican cat:

"Ass-toneesh!" the Frenchman inched a little more of Brewer's lightning into his glass like it was medicine. "I am ass-toneesh from the first fokink day I set my foots in fokink Amerique!"

And for growing things:

" ...I planted corn by hand, gold kernel after kernel, row after precious row. Thin fresh green lines, weak and broken at first, came forth mysteriously and rose in a green haze; for a while, I cherished each and every plant among the hundreds, even the weak ones I would later weed away. I felt ingrown in this dark soil, as the Artemas Plantation's heir, putting down soft tendrils like a native plant of our old land. I grew to love the Clouds Creek earth, and in summer I made strange love to it in the soft evenings, lying down upon it naked as the soil gave off the gathered heat of the long day." P. 535

And for lyricism

"We...walked barefoot down along the edge of the blue springs, beneath a canopy of crimson maples, old gold yellow hickories, russet oaks. Charlie picked watercress for our wild lettuce, and a blueberry with reddish stems: she called it sparkleberry. She led my eye to the woodland birds of fall, knew their brown names - hermit thrush, sparrow, winter wren." P 579

Poor, terrible Mr Watson.

Ramp watch

Farmers' market: no ramps yet...

Monday, March 30, 2009


After leaving Paternoster we arrived early at the farm and fed ourselves out of the back of the Landcruiser, which was still well stocked after 4,700km.

Hungry kitties joined us.

Hungry, thieving kitties who liked cheese.
And a tame, pushy sheep called Lemon.

Very pushy, and smelly. That night the sheep drank beer from the bottle of a blue-eyed boy, ostensibly the farm manager, who sat at his master's right hand at dinner.

This was a strange place. We had decided to stay here on the recommendation of a source I trust. But her experience was not ours.

It would take a better hand than mine to define the source, and describe the depth, of my unease here.

The farm buildings and house are beautiful and old, and have remained - famously - in the family since they were built. Pepper trees and eucalyptus against crumbling whitewash.

That night, at the long antique dining table, set with silver and crystal, and waited upon by Coloured servants - there is no other word to describe their role - there was vegetable soup, beef stew and boiled rice and peas, served to each guest in the manner of a nineteenth century country house by maids who could neither meet one's eyes, nor smile of their own volition.

The bombast, the undercurrents that I could strongly sense, but only guess at, gathered both of us up at that long table, and left Vince as ill as I have ever seen him and me eloquent and cold with rage.

It is a place to visit if you would like to see the relics of an old order. Some more worthy of attention than others.

Magnolia stellata, East Village

On East 9th where it makes a funny little triangle park between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

New York Spring

Not all graffiti, all the time...

Sara D. Roosevelt Park, between Christy and Forsyth, and on Delancey.

The Funniest Salad in the World

...is what I ate, between gulps of suppressed laughter, at Buitenverwachting, a very beautiful wine estate in Constantia.

The menu, which was all over the place - from Austria to SE Asia by way of North America - said Caesar Salad. I ordered it, followed by schnitzel, for good measure.

A huge plate arrived. With a Romaine/Cos lettuce quartered lengthways and lying in four quadrants. On each hunk o' lettuce, balanced see-saw-like, were rashers of very stiff and very flat bacon. And upon each see-saw, an entire anchovy, supine.  And on each tip of lettuce, poised like bubble bath on your loved one's breast, a puff of foam. The foam was parmesan-flavoured. Foam has made it to Cape Town. At last. And inbetween two quadrants of lettuce an entire poached egg. And beneath each poached egg, a small brick of pan-fried baguette. Dressing had been poured over the leaves.

I have never laughed at food before. Not even at Heston Blumenthal's snail porridge and bacon and egg ice cream and vanilla pods like straws (I liked those).

I laughed and laughed.

Deconstructng the Caesar Salad. It's a good idea. But here it was on a plate as misunderstood and abused as a salad has ever been.We should have buried it with with honours in the courtyard garden and played Taps. It had been a brave attempt.

The schnitzel was dry and tasteless. The Sacher Torte afterwards, the first time I have ever eaten cake with a meal, quite delicious.

Visit Buitenverwachting for the architecture, the views, the wine, and the gossipy, Eastern Bloc spy history. Skip the restaurant, which in Etienne Bonthuys' early days (before he got stuck on Repeat) was a destination eatery, and order the picnic but don't sit under the oak trees: Years ago my mom and I were eating in the dining room (under the cheffage of Thomas Sinn, then), when a rotten branch fell on a family picnicking outside. A man and his little dog were killed.

The oaks have been well pruned now but still...

But if you really need cheering up, order the Caesar Salad.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fragrant Viburnum

Explosions of joy in my cranium after I crossed the street to investigate what I thought must be a weirdly early crabapple. No! It was something I had never seen before. I was clueless. The flowers looked like lilac, the emerging leaves looked like viburnum, the form...tree-like, but trained so...deeply perfumed and spicy, too. And dripping with blooms in late March. I mean nothing is open. Only the quinces have started. Not even the callery pears, which have buds right now.

Very exciting.

Thanks to googling and going with the viburnum idea, I think it is Viburnum farreri*, described as a very early bloomer, sometimes damaged by frost. And this one must have been trained upright from an early age, as most of us should be.

[The tree is on Baltic between Court and Clinton, north side of street]

That's all it takes to cheer this girl up.

That and gallon of hot pink paint from Tony's Hardware.

Update: * The ever helpful Plant ID Forum at UBC tells me this: It is more likely to be Viburnum × bodnantense 'Dawn' (V. farreri × V. grandiflorum).

Sigh. It's so good to know exactly what something is, and how it got that way. Thank you.


This looks like a top-of-the-world-and-far-away-from-humans picture, doesn't it? The beauty of it is that while that is true, you are standing on the mountains of the Cape Peninsula, surrounded by a city and municipalities.

Marijke took me on a walk here last year, and it was the first time I'd seen these views, even after having lived in Cape Town for twelve years and having returned every year for another twelve. Since then I've walked it about three times, and it is one of my new favourite places.

Flower photos to follow.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Kom

There are some quiet places in Cape Town that are half forgotten (hence, um...quiet).

Kommetjie might be famous for its surf breaks, but it is the glassy inner Kom that I find unusually peaceful and beautiful. Our friends the Friedmans live here and whenever I see this view, and walk out to the serene little bay with its one boat bobbing, I feel that the place is perfect. Otters are still seen here. Kreef fishermen push off from the shore. Flocks of seabirds wheel and return to roost. And small children paddle, nets in hand, in the gentle water.

These aloes are the same, I think, as the one I photographed in Paternoster - Aloe distans. I'll wait for someone to tell me different.

Kir Rouge

A sturdy red wine
A slosh of Cassis
A slice of lemon
Ice cubes in the shape of hearts

To be drunk as an antidote to the terrible hope of spring.

Saturday 8.30pm, Lights Out!

Photo: Vincent Mounier, Insider's Guide to Table Mountain

Tomorrow evening, all over the world, lights will be switched off between 8.30pm and 9.30pm your time.

Or not.

It's up to you.

Earth Hour last year and I was at Eric and Mimi's when the Empire State Building went dark.

That was a good reminder.

Have dinner by candlelight. Don't burn the house down.

Paternoster camping

Marie, the dawn is breaking...

Morning in Paternoster, at the Cape Columbine Reserve.

...and the night terrors receded.

Vince unzipped the tent and came to bed when the sky and sea had turned opalescent, sometime before 5am. He was cold, his hands freezing. We had not equipped ourselves for night watches in the Cape mist. He snuggled up, covered in both sleeping bags. And I was wide awake.

So I decided to assume the dangerous dawn sentry duty.

The mist had lifted and the sea had cleared to its cobalt blues again. The tide was far out and the rocks in our bay exposed in frilly capes of weed. I poked about.

I found many sea urchins quite undamaged. Rare for this coast.

Pink limpit shells...

And many snails.

The sun turned the crystal-studded granite golden.

And dew on the coffee mugs called for remedy.

I lit the Cadac burner, the gas roar loud in the still morning.

And looked into the pot to see one of the most welcome coffee sights ever. The new day had begun.

While I sat in a camping chair sipping coffee feathered friends hopped about the campsite begging for crumbs of last night's bread..

And some bossy kelp gulls investigated the night's dishes to see if there was any crayfish left. I gave them some legs and crunchy bits.

I took a walk up into the high boulders down a sandy path in the low vegetation and saw a mongoose on his dawn rounds.

I need help with this one, above. It looks like the Tylecodon grandiflorus we saw at Olifantsbos but the succulent stems are so much larger.

Above and below, a small, precisely-thorned aloe growing right in the rock, a few paces from the water. Possibly Aloe distans, based on my googling.

I got back to camp as the last of the mist cleared out, and headed for the coffee pot to start over. In the tent the night guard was stirring, still very sleepy.

One more day to go, and we would be back in Cape Town.