Friday, May 31, 2013

Places to make plans

We have been spending our Cape Town evenings in the study of my parents' house. It is a room which is now little used. My father's desk, out of the frame to the right, can no longer contain his needs, and he has spread all his work out on the long dining room table, one room over. To my mother's eternal chagrin. So Vince and I have migrated in here, making fires, lighting lamps, sipping drinks, working on our laptops on our...laps, or on that ottoman, covered in books.

On Monday we leave for the Kruger Park, a long sliver of land bordering Mozambique and apparently bigger than Israel. Closer to Switzerland. There is no fence along that border, now, in the spirit of Transfrontier Park stewardship. The rhino horn  poachers and their wranglers have benefited from this arrangement. Because we'll be heading for the less-peopled north we are rather hoping not to run into any wayward poachers.

We'll spend two-and-a-half days driving up to Kruger, sleeping over in Bloemfontein, the city of my birth, in the flat Free State, and then in the small town of Dullstroom, famous for fly fishing, at the limit of the Drakensberg mountain range, in the province of Mpumalanga. From there we'll approach the park, and enter at the Orpen Gate.

There is a great deal of packing to do, and some last minute shopping. My camp packing skills are rusty, but we'll only be spending  a few nights in a tent, in two small camps called Tsendze and Balule. Neither has electricity, and we are looking forward to candle-, fire- and starlight. For the rest we'll be in self catering cottages. We'll take in all our food, and that takes planning. My greatest concern is green stuff. I live sadly without leaves. Enter the unkillable iceberg lettuce!

There will be little posting from the road. We will have our hands full with a long journey, and then we will be far, far from the Internet.

I think we both need that.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Chapman's Peak Drive

No visitor is allowed to leave Cape Town without having being driven along Chapman's Peak Drive. No person returning to their mother city after a long absence can stay away from the Chapman's Peak for long. It is too beautiful.

We stood in the on-again off-again rain beside the wet road and looked far out over the wide white beach at Noordhoek. A rainbow appeared, and disappeared.

The road was slick and black with water. This spectacular piece of construction is now a fusion of old time guts and hard labour, and modern Swiss engineering. I don't like to think much of its construction - convicts built the road, starting in 1915, and I don't imagine it was a picnic. It took seven years. 

In 2000 the drive was closed after several rockfall that resulted in injuries and fatalities. Enter the Swiss consultants.

Et voila:

We stopped along the way several times and at last I had the opportunity to photograph a daisy that seems ubiquitous and beautiful in the Cape at the moment. It is everywhere, in high, mounded bushes. My mother identified it for me as a bietou bush and seemed a little surprised at my interest. A little research reveals that this indigenous shrub - Chrysanthemoides monilifera - is an invasive scourge in Australia, which dedicates significant resources to its eradication. Plantz Africa says that its berries are edible, and were eaten by the Khoi and San. Another source says they are sweet.

So the daisy was on my left. At the same spot I turned to my right and took this picture of moody Hout Bay.

And straight out ahead, the cloud pouring over the Karbonkelberg on the far side of Hout Bay.

I like this other season.

The best bisque

After a morning spent supply shopping (me) and mapping (Vince) for our camping and self-catering trip up to and in the Kruger Park, we regrouped and drove to Kalk Bay, to look for waves. Sometimes, a Frenchman just needs waves.

The sea was flat. False Bay is protected from the Northwest winter wind by the mountains running down the curve of the peninsula. We're still getting used to that. So, before heading across to the other, exposed side of the peninsula, we stopped for lunch at the Olympia Cafe.

It's been a while. Two-and-a-half years (I just checked). Long enough to forget. The v e r y very slow service.

We crossed the Main Road in a rainshower, the clouds tangling in the mountain above us and the sunlight golden through the drops. Inside, I focused immediately on two words: prawn bisque, chalked up on the menu with some panfried kablejou (Argyrosomus inodorusa - a wonderful local and overharvested fish*), and asked about it. It's wonderful, said the waitress, wide eyed. Could I perhaps have just a bowl of it. Yes, she said, I could. So I did.

It was perfect. Exceptional. It's the elusive, rich taste I chase after when I make bouillabaisse. Very much influenced by the prawn (shrimp) bodies that are fairly hard to come by in the States, as well as the shells, perhaps pulverized.

(* About kob or kabeljou - I don't know much about the practise, but it is now available as a farmed fish. This will affect its sustainability rating, currently under revision).

Maybe it's the weather. Or the season. But the service was perfect. If you hurry, they might still have some of that prawn bisque.


$4.00 (as of today).

It might be worth the plane ticket, if you are not from these shores. In fact, with the exchange rate as it is, come on down, regardless.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

In the Tokai pine plantations

During a break in rain showers Vince and I headed towards the nearest pine forests with the two corgis. Mission? Two-fold: give the dogs a promised walk, and find mushrooms. Vince humours me. Unless they're chanterelles he doesn't get very excited by fungi. But he spotted many of the pine rings we collected and herded me in the right direction as a light drizzle penetrated the pine plantation. 

There were many of what resembled ceps (usually referring to Boletus, or boletes, a genus of mushrooms with pores rather than gills), these above with sticky caps staining yellow when cut. Boletus? Or Suillus? Not even sure of the genus. I'm not  a big fan of boletes in general, despite the hype, so we ignored them. Perhaps I'd be converted to their cause if I ate fresh Boletus edulis (porcini) which is apparently also found in these parts...?

 A Russula, above - edible but not particularly pleasant.

Above and below - if you want an interesting evening... This is the notorious fly agaric. Amanita muscaria. When young it is the classic fairytale "toadstool" - white spots on a bright red cap. Highly and famously hallucinogenic.

Our hunt started slowly, but soon the pine rings started to appear.

If you're looking for them too, check for this orange ring when you cut the stem. And leave some behind... Good mushrooming manners. 

It's just possible that I may have eaten enough, now.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cape Point in late May

I am still not used to this weather of clouds unraveling and knitting up again within minutes, and rainshowers so dense the roads disappear, and then skeins of mist parting so that you see the spine of the peninsula again in receding and paling grey. It is wonderful.

At Cape Point today we walked in fine mist and picnicked in the car, looking out at the calmest water we have seen on False Bay. Ibis and ducks and cormorants sat on the smooth beach. A seal rolled in the turquoise water. Baboon handprints were pressed into the sand.

Near Olifantsbos the restios grew thickly. In the black aftermath of a controlled burn on the other side of the road green bracken fronds were already pushing up above the still-smoky and damp soil. Two ostriches pecked their way delicately through here, snapping up the fiddleheads with each step.

In the unblooming landscape a stream of welcome white flowers appeared. Swamp daisies, apparently, Osmitopsis asteriscoides.

It is all very green, and this is just the tip of the emerald iceberg. The rain only started two days ago, after dry, warm weeks. Waterfalls have not yet filled, the soil is still absorbing. But every excursion from the car brought the sweet clicking of the small, invisible frogs, scattered like a minutely planned but apparently artless soundscape from one end of the city to the other

The sun sets just after five. It still feels strange to me, as my Cape Town life is very unbalanced, bringing me into intimate contact only with summer. I know long, light evenings, birdfilled and leisurely.

By six this evening, we were gathered indoors around a fire, in a house wrapped in darkness.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mushrooms for supper!

Lactarius deliciosus. And they are.


In South Africa we call them pine rings, because they like pine plantations. In the States they are usually known as milk caps. Apricot caps (slightly convex) with a suggestion of circles within it, apricot gills, a hollow stem, and they bruise green.

It has been raining. Per my wish. I am lucky. It rained all night. It was like being inside a waterfall, lying in bed, the running water from the steeply-pitched roof like streams past our ears in the gutter just outside the window. Great beating episodes of rain. Today the light is clean and golden and there are fewer leaves on the trees and the clouds over the mountain are tall and whipped like lilac cream. In every pause in last night's rain the click frogs filled the silence, sounding like sharp drops of water in a shallow pool.

After lunch today at a nearby wine estate (amber vines, roaring fire), we drove past a pine forest just to see what the mushrooming prospects might be. Tell-tale brown craters clean of pine needles indicated that someone had pre-empted us. So this afternoon I took the corgis for a hopeful walk opposite my parents' house, in a piney area, and found, one by one and over about an hour, the plateful of pine rings above.


We'll have them tonight as an appetizer, cooked with the suuring (sour oxalis) above.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tree tomato

The tree tomato in my mom's garden - either Solanum betaceum or Cyphomandra betacea, I'm not sure which is current -  is loaded with ripe fruit. Nobody seems to like it except me. I cut the fruit in half, sprinkle it with some sugar and scoop the fleshy insides out with a teaspoon. The texture is like tomato, but more jelly-like and the flavour hard to describe. A little tropical, a little tart.

Occasionally I see them sold at Fairway, or Dean and Deluca, where the individual fruit cost anywhere between $1 and $3. I have never figured why they, and passion fruit and cactus pears, cost so much, as they grow so prolifically and do not seem fragile in terms of transport.

It rained all night, so softly that we could not hear it on the corrugated roof of the house, but the gutters ran and the click frogs delighted. There may be waterfalls on the mountain, and I am hoping for some mushrooms later in the week.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Home, again

 Alphen Trail

After a fourteen hour flight Vince and I and an Airbus A340-600-full of people landed at O.R. Tambo in Johannesburg. Phew.

Two-hourly walks to the back of the plane, with calisthenics and stretches that cracked up one flight attendant every time he saw me,  kept my neck and back in better shape than usual. I caught up on a year of movie-watching. I cried during Searching for Sugarman. My neighbour, a young man who'd left Kenya for Colorado when he was six and who was going home for the first time, became concerned. He was a perfect in-flight neighbour. Hardly got up, quiet, and thin. We flew on SAA, and it was lovely to have a first taste of vacation as soon as we took off: Appletizer,  a fizzy apple soft drink that takes you home in one sip.

After clearing customs, we had a short wait on the tarmac in Johannesburg, waiting for a blanket of mist over the runway in Cape Town to clear.

And then we were home.

 Cape dwarf chameleon

The air is different. You could tell even from the air, as the pilot swung the huge machine wide over False Bay to land into the wind, gentle from the Northwest. In summer it howls from the Southeast. It is not a profound change, yet - I was expecting bare trees, but so far only the poplars and plane trees have shed. The transparent, softer light and the new clouds over the mountain, the green grass and the montbretias (crocosmia) in bloom in the greenbelt, the early evening (sunset is before 5pm), and the chill that settles with the darkness have stirred the memories of this season, so that the sight of yellow oxalis flowers and tiny white daisies in the grass bend my heart sideways.

We have had a small lunch under the tree, already - my mother, father, Vince and me, and supper at the kitchen table. I made a fire in the study last night, to satisfy nostalgia, and we have already eaten and drunk more than is good for us. The serious hiking had better begin, to compensate.


Under the pine trees on this afternoon's walk with the corgis I found pine rings (Lactarius spp). Too old to be good, now, but a promising sign. I hope we have some rain, and soon...

Fallen poplar leaves, chameleons in the greenbelt, a roast leg of lamb for supper, pink bubbly, ripe tree tomatoes. A profound, 12-hour unconsciousness in a deeply silent night was not interrupted by the invisible click frogs, clicking in the reeds and wetland beyond the house, nor by the occasional clattering territorial shout of African shell ducks.

I woke just once in the night, when Vince came into the room, and I thought I was in Brooklyn.

But I am home.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


 66 Square Feet from Sam and Sara's roof

I have never left the terrace in spring.

 Abraham Darby

But we are going far, far, away. To late autumn and early winter.

 Chives and sage

I am very excited, but also a bit sad.

Catnip, chives, bulbine, calamintha, sage 

Our kitty is doing very well, frisky and eating and ready to party. 


So are the roses.

New Dawn

See you in South Africa.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Henry Street townhouses are beginning to smell

The flipside of roses is sewage.

Of course.

For a couple of weeks there has been a terrible smell at street level in front of our building - human waste, without a doubt. My months in Prospect Park's Midwood forest taught me that smell pretty quickly.

Some days are worse than others.  At first I thought it was a homeless person using our trash cans as a toilet. Then two days ago a lady pushing a shopping cart past exclaimed, Who died here??? Very good Brooklyn accent. And I realized the smell traveled farther than I had imagined.

Today, on the sidewalk, after taking photos of the rose-encircled terrace from our neighbours, Sam and Sara's roof, I met our other, next door neighbours, emerging from Raccoon House. They sniffed the air and said, Did something die here?

But it's not the smell of death.

It's kaka, as the cat would say (he cannot be reformed, I have tried).

We sniffed collectively and our noses led us to the big metal plate in the street, covering yet another hole that has been dug on behalf of the three new townhouses across the street. Every manner of line has been laid to them, with the whole block being shut down for a day at a time, and suddenly the penny dropped.


30 April 2013

The street on this block now looks like a Third World highway. Patched and rutted and violated by repeated incursions beneath its surface. Scar lines of fresh, uneven tar cross it at right angles where trenches have been cut from one sidewalk to the other. A flimsy wooden cage appeared around the base of the central street oak a couple of days after my long post about the construction's progress. The cage appeared a year-and-half after construction started. A bit late. And the tree that I think is being killed is the one at the end, which suffered a trench slicing right through its roots.

The noise? That doesn't bother me in the same way. Yes, it's loud, but construction is inevitable in the city; there is going to be noise. Unavoidable. But sloppy, dangerous work gets my goat.


I've seen a lot of construction, and have worked on construction sites. I have a friend who works at street level, laying sidewalks and operating heavy machinery. He has permits and safety precautions up the whazoo. Because otherwise he gets fined for safety violations.  But the developers across the road delivered dozens of I-beams to the site without even closing the sidewalk. Have you seen an I-beam? Beyond illegal. People (not very bright, admittedly) were literally walking beneath as the multi-ton beams swung overhead. The sidewalk was wide open. Heavy earth moving machinery has ridden up onto both sidewalks, with no precautions taken. Then came the airconditioning units.

The EPA has been in the street on more than one occasion, for water main breaks. We've been without water several times, and when it comes back it's loaded with silt.

How does this continue? Is this project subject to a massive number of fines, or is someone's palm being heavily, and repeatedly, greased?

Or are they just lucky?

Parting gifts

The roses are being kind to me, blooming before we leave. More of the red Munstead Wood are opening and the Abraham Darby has begun, too (including the sick one I moved to the roof a year ago, for what I thought would be a month or two before it succumbed to die back, but it refused to die and is covered in buds).

After yesterday's heat (and airconditioning) the city is wrapped in a cool mist, which will prolong the life of these richly-scented blooms. In the heat of summer their size will diminish and they will gasp out in a day.

But every rose loves May.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Late spring dessert

Cut up strawberries.

Put them in a glass.

Sprinkle superfluous sugar over them.

Top up with that's left of your rosé.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gardens in the mist

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, yesterday.

Between the irises, wisteria and Spanish bluebells, it smelled pretty good.

Despite the low cloud and precipitation, I did not use the umbrella I was carrying, and arrived home pleasantly damp.

I did nibble a wisteria flower (flowers edible, pods toxic). Pleasant enough.

But nicer to look at.

And I'll leave it, there, hanging preposition, and all.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The bluebell wood

We were enveloped in low cloud, today. Persistent, gentle moisture. Because of it, the BBG decided to cancel the foraging walk I was to have led in the afternoon, and, despite having looked forward to it, it was a bit of a relief. I hadn't had much sleep, and the prospect of a free afternoon was quite attractive. 

I was at leisure, after my morning class,  to stroll back to the subway in the May weather, carrying my bags, and my post-class relief, like a tired albatross around my neck. Not quite, but sort of. 

I met some really nice people, everyone seemed to enjoy the food, and there will be other walks, on other days. 

Now, I just need to not think so much, for a while. I can't wait to see home, my parents, Selina, Cape Town, the corgis (but no Ben - I miss him), the mountain outside our bedroom window, to being on the road, again, to having supper in the kitchen. To winter. I haven't seen a Cape winter since 1994, when I left. 

Back to Brooklyn , and the heart breaking blue. The garden was deserted. A pity - for the garden, not me- as the light is good on grey days and the mist so fine that everything sparkled. The bluebells are in their glory. I write about them, in my book, in May (Chapter Five!). I write about everything that has mattered to me, in this city. I needed to do that. To say thank you.

The bluebells will still be there on Tuesday (the garden is closed on Mondays), but not perfect for much longer. Go, soon.

I wonder what it would be like to lie in the middle of them?

And yes, they smell about as good as they look.

Chives on toast

A soggy day in Brooklyn town.

While not viewing the morning with alarm, exactly,  I do wonder if it won't be too soggy to walk in Prospect Park this afternoon. I baked serviceberry cookies for my walkers.

But my bags are packed - with goodies for my morning class - and the Frenchman will help me ferry them to the BBG. He was talking about cloudy days and bluebells earlier in the week so perhaps he'll hang around to take some pictures of those. They are in bloom and the overcast sky will make their colour pop.

Above? Fresh sheeps milk cheese from Hilltop Creamery (for whom I can find no web presence at all) on wholewheat toast,  with spring chives from the terrace.

Also good with field garlic leaves.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Chicken and leaf sandwiches

When one has all these daily leaves, how does one eat them?

In sandwiches, for one thing. Sandwiches are weekend food. 

Brown bread, Hellman's mayonnaise, Maille mustard, and last night's roast chicken. A healthy cracking of black pepper over the top.

Leaves? Chervil, fava beans, pea shoots, trout lettuce, nameless cress and red mustard.

Now go forth, and picnic.

Bring back stories.