Saturday, December 31, 2022

Plants of the Bo Kaap

On a hot day, walking the Bo Kaap's cobbled and steep streets, I noticed the plants. They are minimal, scrappy, and tough. The colors of the old houses behind them accentuate their form and texture.

Lots of succulents, lots of thorns.

Crown of thorns (a Euphorbia species).

Even a dying bougainvillea looked dramatic.

                                                     Spikes and shutters.

Spekboom, Portulacaria afra.

Even the weeds look good.


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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Sour grapes

Foraged in a Cape Town summer. Sour grapes. Not such a bad thing, after all.  How did I learn this? Shopping. In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, at Balady's, a supermarket catering to Middle Eastern palates. In the produce sectiion was a crate of bright green, hard, sour grapes. And I recognized in myself the universal reaction: If they are selling them, they must have value. Of course I bought them (this was about five years ago...).

I think about this often in terms of wild or undervalued plants. Like Japanese knotweed, or garlic mustard, or field garlic. Or common mallow. Put a price tag on them and suddenly they have value, become visible, acquiring form and substance, coalescing from the great anonymous, undifferentiated green that most people (don't) notice even when they they are surrounded by plants. 

I'm still working on these grapes and stories will follow. Sour is interesting. It can do all sorts of things to dinner.


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Thursday, December 22, 2022


An oil lamp in the bathroom at Wolfgat, in Paternoster. It is an evocative thing. Memories of camping trips. Of suppers by its light at home. And a quiet and beautiful symbol of resilience in a country experiencing multiple blackouts a day in a skillfully choreographed load-shedding dance.


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Saturday, December 17, 2022

Botanizing at the southern tip

Summer. Cape Point. And a small shrub that I have never seen in fruit, before. 

En masse, the crimson berries were strikingly beautiful on the usually anonymous-looking plant - Passerina ericoides. One of its common names is Christmas berry. The fruit is very juicy, and inoffensively tannic. One of the plant's other common names is dronkbossie, which means drunk berry, in Afrikaans. The website Plantzafrica says that the "juicy pulp has a somewhat unpleasant taste, but appears to be harmless..." Well, I'm still here. Perhaps it was used in ferments?

Mighty Diaz Beach. It was one of the first places in Cape Town that I visited regularly as a young teenager, with my parents and some friends, each of us carrying part of a formidable picnic whose menu never varied. Waldorf salad (packed in its own small styrofoam cooler to stay cold), grilled chipolata sausages, smoked salmon sandwiches, and...were there or weren't there scones? I think there were, just-baked. There was sparkling wine, and there was orange juice, for Buck's Fizz (the Mimosa of the US). We sipped it - and yes, I was allowed to drink it - from glass flutes.  

The Frenchman loves this place. The legendary Cape of Good Hope that entranced him as a child. A thunderstorm brooded above us as we walked down recently, and the first crack of lightning sent us right back up those steps at top speed, with rain pelting us so hard that our bare skin stung. It's not supposed to thunder in the Cape. Or rain in summer. But rain seems welcome after the legendary drought of a few years ago (2015 - 2018).

In the old days, we scrambled to the beach down a gully. There was never anyone there. Just cormorants, and pounding surf. Not swimmable. Now, an elegant wooden boardwalk snakes around the top of the cliffs, and endless stairs - not a rail in sight - lower you to the sand. There is still no one there. It is awesome in the real sense of the word.

At another beach at Cape Point, dune celery. And it does taste a little like celery, or lovage. Dasispermum suffruticosum.

 I had not seen this plant in bloom before, either. Beach stinkweed. Poor thing. Oncosiphon sabulosus. In the big Asteraceae family. 

It poured, all the way home.


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Friday, December 2, 2022

The last leaves

The last of the autumn leaves, at Green-Wood Cemetery. Fall has stretched out very gently, in this little corner of Brooklyn.


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