07 December 2007

Summer Holidays!

Friends,

Starting tomorrow Daryl and I will be on holiday. We'll be picking up a rental car in the city and driving around to the local sights that we haven't yet explored. We'll drive out to Cape Town's Waterfront area and the famous beaches on the Atlantic seaboard, and then on to Chapman's Peak Drive and down to Cape Point - where Adamastor looks out to Antarctica! On Monday we'll have to bid adieu to Muizenberg and the new friends we've made here. It's the wrong time to leave - everyone comes here during the holidays to enjoy the beaches, walks, water park, etc. But we will head, exploring the coastal towns, and ending our drive in Durban where we'll join a safari tour. After that it's Christmas week with my family at the resort town of Ballito.

It may not be easy to keep in touch while we're on the road. So, I want to wish everyone a great holiday season.

06 December 2007

Cape Town Rocks!


Hey Friends,

While you guys north of the equator are huddled around fires, us folks in the southern hemisphere are in bathing suits lying on beaches. Ne-nene-ne-ne!! In the mornings it’s hard to stay in bed later than 7:00 with the sun so high in the sky. It’s also hard to be disciplined about working with so many wonderful distractions. One of the most enjoyable things we did was to go into wine country on Saturday. The Cape boasts about being home to the oldest wine farms outside Europe. We drove into Stellenbosch and started the day with breakfast at a wine estate called Delheim. From the restaurant terrace we had the most jaw dropping views of dramatic mountain slopes, vineyards, and lush forests. After feasting on healthy but delicious fruit, yogurt, and muesli, we wandered over to Muratie Wine Estate. This place takes pride in the fact they’ve been making wine since the 1600’s and they try to preserve a rustic, old look. So, eg. their walls are covered with gigantic spider’s webs! Cute! Anyway, we basically hopped from one magnificent estate to the next, tasting, buying, enjoying the beauty. And then we had a late, late lunch at Hillcrest Berry Farm, which also had a spectacular setting and top notch cuisine. While relishing their amazing cheesecake smothered in berry sauce, we saw a gorgeous little sunbird with irridescent green feathers sticking its long beak into a flower right near us. What a beauty!


On Sunday we hiked up a mountain above Kalk Bay. We walked through two beautiful forests and came up to an area called the Amphitheatre where there are several caves. The mountain is covered with enormous boulders and lots of colorful vegetation – mainly ericas and proteas. But we also saw daisies, everlastings, and freesias. Yellowwood trees provided shade in many parts of the trail which was well defined and lovingly maintained. Views all along were breathtaking. At the top we could see both the Atlantic seaboard and False Bay. This peninsula, I learned, is Adamastor according to some legends. When Zeus went to battle with the Titans he kicked Adamastor from Mount Olympia and he landed here and turned into this great rock. Standing at the top we were on Adamastor’s spine and the row of peaks in front of us were his vertebrae!

We did more entertaining in the last week. The Dugmores came over to our place for dinner. They are such a lovely couple and conversation with them flows inexhaustibly. We also had David, Juliet, and Isaac over on another evening. David made tortillas from scratch for all of us. Took him about half an hour. He’s amazing. We’re so lucky to have met so many wonderful people and I’m sure these will be lasting friendships.

Oh, big news! A letter of mine got published in the Cape Times last Friday. I had written a response to an article by a UCT law professor in which he expressed his grief and bewilderment at the recent murder of his colleague, Mike Larkin, a highly respected UCT professor. The incident had made front page news in the papers underscoring the high prevalence of senseless violence in this country. In this case Prof Larkin had been walking down his neighborhood street with a briefcase of exam papers. Two men descended on him and demanded his briefcase (unaware of its contents- useless to them). He didn’t hand it to them and so they stabbed him to death. In my letter to the Times I described my opinion of the phenomenon of senseless violence. Basically, that the dehumanizing effects of apartheid can’t suddenly be expected to disappear, and that current society still harbors practices that only fuels this behavior. It came as a shock to me that my letter was published!

Daryl and I had a great day in the City Bowl yesterday. We wandered around the many markets where we bought an African style shirt and African sandals. We walked around the Malay Quarter and then we had a leisurely lunch at Bukhara, an excellent Indian restaurant. The city center is very interesting with many old buildings, mainly of Victorian architecture, and a large variety of cafes, restaurants, pubs. It’s a great way to see a cross section of locals.

Our Cape Town phase is about to come to an end. We had many wonderful experiences here and I’m so glad I got to experience ‘living’ in South Africa again, this time in a democracy.

27 November 2007

Muizenberg Musings!

Over the last couple of weeks we have tried to have a good balance of work, sightseeing, and socializing. So much has happened I hardly know where to begin, so maybe I’ll select highlights. First, I should mention, the weather has been a major letdown. Lots of rain, high winds, cool temperatures, and then we get a few days of gorgeous warm sunshine in between, thank heavens! The locals have been whining about this being August weather in November. On warm, sunny days this place is paradise.

Highlight #1: Breakfast at Olympia Café in Kalk Bay. The last two weekends we had perfect summer weather (preceded by rainstorms, cold and wind!). Getting to charming Kalk Bay involves a scenic walk, either along Boyes Drive or along the coastal path. So we walk out there on Saturday mornings for cappuccino and croissant. Great views of the harbor, very atmospheric and friendly.

#2: Walking from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town. A four mile stretch of a combination of beach, coastal path, and main road brought us to Simon’s Town via Fish Hoek. ST is a naval base, has a lovely harbor, numerous specialty stores, great restaurants and cafes. We enjoyed a buffet lunch at ‘The Meeting Place’, which had a terrific assortment of Mediterranean dishes.

#3: Buying fresh fungi porcini at a specialty deli in Simon’s Town and making a delicious pasta dish back home.

#4: Having a dinner party with new friends. Meena (South African Indian), Emanuele (Italian) and their two delightful kids, Gianamar and Shanti, had been living in Cambridge, England until a year ago when they decided to try living in Cape Town. David brought along another friend, Bradley, and their two five year old sons. So we had quite a chatty, interesting group for a braai dinner last Saturday.

#5: Hiking up Muizenberg mountain. David, Bradley, their sons, Daryl and myself carried a picnic lunch and hiked up this mountain last Sunday morning. The trail was well defined with steps carved into the rocks in many places, making for a pretty easy walk. Bradley and Daryl found they had a common interest in evolutionary biology and discussed books they’d read. The conversation led to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, which they both enthused about.

The mountain slope was an absolute symphony of color. I could not believe the amazing variety of beautiful wildflowers. In fact the flowers were so pretty it was hard to think of them as wild. Some looked like snowdrops, but they were lavender in color. Others looked like daisies. Proteas in bloom were everywhere. There were also vast areas of purple watsonia and pelargonium (looks like geranium). Fynbos, which is its own plant kingdom, was the primary vegetation. But milkwood trees, mimetes trees with red flowers, and ericas were quite abundant as well. I learned that there is a type of Erica which is unique to this mountain – found here and nowhere else!

#6: Exploring Cape Town city center. We took the train into the city and wandered its streets. We loved browsing at market stalls at Grand Parade, where Daryl tried to find a Mandela type shirt. We walked past many historic buildings and into the Company Gardens. This is a huge, green space with numerous trees and gardens and is of historical significance. During the days of Dutch East India rule this is where produce was grown for the sailors. We went into the National Gallery and saw a Marlene Dumas exhibition. This South African born artist, whose work is quite daring – genitals among portraits depicting universal faces – lives in Holland. We then made our way to Long Street, one of the more interesting downtown streets with its many cafes, bookstores, backpacker’s lodges, etc. We stumbled on a veg café where the food we ordered – rissoto and Durban curry – took a half an hour to prepare. Superb! While waiting a random person came over to our sidewalk table and asked if he could interview us. He wanted to hear what we had to say about the media’s influence on our thinking!!!!! We also found ourselves in the middle of the making of an Adidas commercial and had to sign waiver forms! After lunch we went to the African Market on Long Street which sells crafts from all over the continent. It was Saturday and shops were beginning to close so we got on the train back home. The sky had been blue all day and then on the train we could see a layer of cloud beginning to drape over Table Mountain. We were fascinated at how quickly the clouds moved and began to spill over the slopes like a sheet of water.

#7: Dinner with Margaret and Peter Dugmore. This couple manages The Haven, the house we’re renting, which belongs to their Jo’burg daughter. Margaret and Peter are incredibly warm and friendly. They served a spread of fantastic artisanal cheeses, crusty bread, marinated veggies, bruschetta topped with white asparagus and other yummy stuff. We drank lots of great Cape wine and talked about traveling around Southern Africa. They raved about Namibia and the West Cape coast. We’ll have to be more adventurous about traveling in Southern Africa next time we’re here.

#8: Having Sunday lunch with our friend Rosie at her breathtaking place in an area called Marina Da Gama here in Muizenberg. Her house is right beside the vlei. The vlei out here is this enormous body of water which looks like a lake and is fed by the sea. Lots of wildlife, including numerous types of birds can be seen here. Rosie has a kayak and a boat and from her back garden can get right into the water. From her living room she has awesome views of the vlei and the mountains. Rosie made us a feast – eggplant parmesan, avocado salad with cress and rocket, and roasted tomatoes and bell peppers.

#9: Concert at Kirstenbosh. This should actually be #1, except that I have been making a chronological list. We heard the great Vusi Mahlasela live at Kirstenbosh Gardens on Sunday evening. He kicked off the summer concert series which will go on until April. I have been to many outdoor concerts in various parts of the world and in my opinion these gardens have been the absolute best setting. The weather fully co-operated. So, at 5:30 when the concert started, the temperature was perfect, the sky a nice blue with the massive mountains standing like sentinels in the background. The place was crowded with smiling people drinking wine and munching picnic goodies. Vusi, with his stirring voice, was an absolute delight to listen to.

15 November 2007

Path To My African Eyes


Ever since PATH TO MY AFRICAN EYES arrived at bookstores this October, I’ve been walking on air. I want to say a big THANK YOU to the team at Just Us Books for making this possible. I’m especially grateful to my editor, Katura Hudson, for all the time she has put into the book. Her insights and valuable comments have been incredibly helpful. I also would like to thank my dear writing buddy, Lou Lynda Richards for her invaluable feedback. Another special friend, Fran Lantz, would be so proud if she were here. I will always hear her advising me on plot development. Last, but not least, thanks goes to my husband, Daryl Cooper, for making me do it!

I wrote PATH TO MY AFRICAN EYES to celebrate and share some of the beauty to be found at the bottom of the African continent, land of my birth. I invite you to open the book and meet the fascinating Thandi Sobukwe. She’ll take you into her teen life and tell you all about that exciting, difficult, wonderful, lonely, unforgettable time when she left Cape Town, South Africa with her family for a new home in California.

12 November 2007

Everyday is Different

Everyday in the Cape holds new experiences. The people around here are so warm and welcoming with big, open hearts. On Thursday Margaret (the person from whom we are renting our digs) took me into Kayelitsha, one of Cape Town’s black townships. Her sister makes crafts for a craft store in the township that’s run by an NGO. We drove along the very scenic coastal road and I was surprised when we entered the township via a wide multilaned, well maintained road. The area we drove through had nice houses, many of which were council homes built to replace informal shacks. There were lots of shacks between built up neighborhoods, but you can see that they are on a decline. The craftshop had a terrific selection of African themed clothes, artwork, kitchen stuff, and jewelry made mostly by people who are HIV+. After this little township tour, Margaret and I met up with her sister, Anne for coffee at a seaside café in Muizenberg. These two sisters grew up in Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia. We talked about Alexander Fuller’s books. Turns out Anne’s husband had taught her, and Anne had known her too because she had also taught at the same school. We all agreed that Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight was excellent. Margaret and Anne felt Fuller did a great job of capturing the period and place. As for Scribble the Cat, Margaret and I expressed disappointment, but Anne seemed to have enjoyed it. Anne sympathized with the author’s need to connect with someone who had experienced and understood the African bush. I personally thought the guy in the book was a bit too weird, especially his religious zeal. I really enjoyed chatting with Margaret and Anne.
Last Friday evening was Diwali and we were invited to spend the evening with David’s friends. Actually the ‘Auntie’ (German) and ‘Uncle’ (Indian) had been friends of his parents when they all lived in Lesotho when David was a boy. Auntie and Uncle have been in Cape Town (Claremont) for six years now and they’ve ‘adopted’ all these young families who have immigrated here from various parts of the world. So for Diwali these young families were at their place to celebrate. Auntie and Uncle served a nice variety of delicious Indian savories and sweets, and all over the house there were clay lamps so it was all quite atmospheric. With such a global group – Taiwanese, Brazilian, English, American, Italian – you realize what a cosmopolitan city Cape Town is.
On Saturday Rosie, a friend of our London friend, Laura Epstein, came round to see us. Rosie, a doctor at a hospital in Kayelitsha, has lived in Cape Town for about five years now. She’s a gutsy woman intent on spending her life doing good for the world, but at the same time she knows how to enjoy the finer things in life too. She took us to Hout Bay, on the other side of the peninsula from where we are. We went for a long walk on the beach there, and then we went for a drive along Chapman’s Peak Drive. This amazing road is carved along a mountain slope and provides superb views of the coast below. Very reminiscent of Highway 1 near Big Sur in California.
On Sunday we woke up to blue skies and spring weather. Quite a change from the yucky cool, rainy days we’ve been having. Spring here has been a bit of a bust, kinda like England’s summer. The warm weather brought everyone out to the beaches and walking trails. Daryl and I walked along a road called Boyes Drive which goes south toward the bottom of the peninsula. It’s a road that follows the coast, but is high up and so the views are quite breathtaking. Along this road are some seriously grand houses, many of them equipped with small funiculars to take you from the road down to the house. The road took us to the fishing harbor of Kalk Bay, a very lively little place. Fisherman go out with their small boats and bring back bounty from the sea which they sell right off their boats. From the pier at Kalk Bay we could see a whale and a seal. We had a delicious lunch at the extremely popular Olympia Café. I had a pasta dish with fresh funghi porcini, baby tomatoes, and basil. Scrumdidliumptious! Daryl had tomato soup which he claims is the best one he’s had after his that he makes from homegrown tomatoes. On our walk back along Boyes Drive we spoke to the guy at the Shark Spotters. He told us there was a shark sighting (Great Whites in case you didn’t know) earlier and they had to blow the siren and get people out of the water. He also pointed to a whale that was directly across from us. The water was a clear turquoise and very calm. It’s so beautiful here you could forget that you aren’t on vacation.

06 November 2007

Fairest Cape


Greetings Faithful Blogreaders

Yes, I know - too long since I’ve blogged. You log on to this website everyday looking forward to my witty/funny/clever renditions of my travels only to be disappointed .... Fear not. I'm back!
It’s been a crazy few weeks as we ended our Oxford stay and began our Cape Town stint. For the next 5 weeks we’ll be staying in the oh so charming seaside village of Muizenberg which is 25 km from the Cape Town city center. Our digs – “The Haven” – is fab. Spacious, full of character (built in the early 20th century), with shabby chic décor. We are right at the foot of a dramatic mountain so views are great. The beach – white, sandy, and wide - is a 5 minute walk. Muizenberg has an alternative lifestyle feel to it kinda like a mini version of Santa Cruz in California. This is a very popular surfspot with gentle waves for the amateur. Near us are numerous cafes, organic food stores, dance and yoga studios, and trendy restaurants. It’s undeniably a beach resort, but on a small, laidback scale. No big hotels and tacky touristy shops. I guess you come here to charge up your batteries - sun, beach, fresh air, good food, great wine from the region, and peace.

I’m enjoying being thrown back into spring just as winter arrives in the northern hemisphere. Long days, warm and sunny, and the promise of summer. We are signed up for a weekly organic produce pick up and I got to pick up the first box on Friday morning. What fun it was to find all these spring veggies – asparagus, baby squashes, beans, peas, lettuces. We got a bunch of bananas which were just picked, but needed a couple days to ripen. In the US and UK the bananas are utterly tasteless, so what a treat to have sweet, flavorful ones. On the weekend a vendor came down the road selling avocadoes and papayas. We are eating very well here.

We arrived right in the middle of a math conference. So on our first evening we attended the banquet dinner held at the Kirstenbosch Gardens, famous for its enormous collection of indigenous vegetation in a breathtaking setting. Getting there was an experience in itself. David ( our host and topologist at UCT) and his wife, Juliet don’t have a car and use public transportation to get around. There is a great train connection from Muizenberg to various places, but of course, in SA middle class folks drive everywhere. Given the incidence of crime here I found it a bit nervewracking to get on the train to the university. It was close to 5:00 so the train was very crowded. It was quite funny to see how noisy and full of life the train riders here are compared to London where everyone on the tube trains are quiet, serious, with their faces buried in the papers.

The dinner at Kirstenbosch was quite an amazing event. First there was music outdoors – a violinist and guitarist played popular classical music pieces. We had drinks and met people out in the gardens with the imposing Table Mountain forming the backdrop. A most elegant dinner was served at the restaurant. The meal was accompanied by wine from the Nederberg estate. It was really interesting to talk to SA mathematicians and learn about the local concerns. There seems to be a lot of discussion of math at the pre-university level. It sounded like in the past not everyone took math all though high school. Now a change is being made so that university bound students would be served a rigorous curriculum while the other kids will take maths literacy, but every single student will have to take one or the other. The problems faced by incoming university students seem numerous and complex, while educators try to figure out how to fix a situation created by four hundred years of colonialism then apartheid.

Daryl gave his talk on Friday, his first at a South African university. Since not many people would understand his field he was a bit unsure how it would go, but according to David people enjoyed it.

We go for beach walks everyday and often see wildlife. On our first day we ate delicious roti wraps on the beach and saw a whale putting on a performance. There is a scenic coastal walk along a rocky stretch called St. James’s Walkway. The first time we walked along this stretch we saw a school of dolphins and on the walk back we saw a pair of seals.

This is quite the perfect spot to do a final stretch of intensive work before we take our vacation in December.

23 October 2007

Quick Overview of Week

Hi Folks,

Last week everyone was talking about rugby and if the topic wasn't rugby then it was about James Watson. Every morning on the BBC's Today Show there was always a discussion on some aspect of Rugby. What were England's chances? Should the Springboks in the future reflect SA's demographics? Etc., etc. And on Saturday everyone in England had plans to watch the game. The morning's papers had articles on what you could do if you were not planning to watch the game. Turned out all the posh restaurants in London which were always fully booked, had plenty of seating. And all the shows and things that you normally had trouble getting tickets for, well, Saturday was your chance!!! Daryl and I watched the game at our local pub, The Dewdrop Inn. It was completely crowded, but with a very middle class nonrowdy type. We were very lucky to get space on a sofa with a woman in her 80's! She told us she came out because she wanted to be a part of the excitement. She turned out to be quite an interesting person whose late husband, a social psychologist, was highly respected in his field. After the game she invited us to have dinner with her at a nearby Indian restaurant later this week. So we had fun and because we seemed to be the only Springbok supporters we couldn't show our joy too openly.

We spent Saturday with friends outside of Chichester which is between Southampton and Brighton on the coast. Karen, Dave and their two daughters, Holly and Harriet, updated us on what they're up to over a pub lunch. Later we did a coastal walk then returned to Oxford.

We spent Sunday with our friends David and Rona Epstein at a famous estate called the Waddeston Manor in Buckinghamshire. This estate belonged to a famous banking family, the Rothschilds. The manor was designed to resemble a chateau in the Loire Valley, so it had those characteristic turrets and elaborate wall carvings. The grounds of the manor were spectacular. Acres and acres of green lawns and many, many trees and hedges and shrubs. There was an aviary with some exotic birds and also a large, very fragrant rose garden.
We had an exquisite lunch there of creamy cauliflower soup, rissoto cake, and roasted veg. tart. Later, after a tour of the house, we had a cream tea at the cafe. We talked about James Watson and whether the Science Museum in London ought to have cancelled his talk. Daryl and I had tickets to see Watson in a question/answer session with Richard Dawkins here in Oxford, but that got cancelled because Watson returned to New York thoroughly disgraced. Rona, with her legal background, thought that Watson's free speech rights might have been violated. Then again the Science Museum is a place of great prestige so should a person who thinks blacks are stupid be allowed there? Personally, I feel most people would have refused to go to his talks and so he would have been forced to cancel anyway!

Well, I'm still hard at work on my manuscript. I find it hard to exert effort on other writing (like this blog) when I'm so focused on my book!

The biggest news this week is Troy's wedding. Daryl's sister, Troy and her fiance, John, will be tying the knot this Saturday. The whole family will be together over the weekend and this will be a great way for us to end our stay in England.

Next week we will fly to Cape Town where we'll spend 6 weeks.

A quick update on my itinerary.
Nov 1 to Jan 2 - South Africa
Jan 3 - Jan 5 - Singapore
Jan 6 - Feb 6 - India
Feb 7 - Feb 27 - Australia (mostly Sydney and hopefully Brisbane)
Feb 28 - March 6 - New Zealand

March 7 - Back home in Santa Barbara.

15 October 2007

Book Release, Rugby, Writing

Well, it’s the big day! And since the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times haven’t had the sensibility to announce the news of the birth of my book, Path to my African Eyes, I have taken it upon myself to do the job. My book is published! Congratulations to me! It’s so weird to be abroad for this momentous occasion. I can’t have the usual book launch celebrations. It has to be said though, being with a small publishing house, everything about the process has been in slow motion, so delaying a launch party may be quite in order. Go out to your local bookstores and ask for Path to my African Eyes. Then after you’ve read it go to Amazon and write rave reviews. All who write a review are invited to the delayed launch party on March 8.


New topic: Rugby. You can’t be in England and not be swept by rugby fever. Especially if you’re either English (Daryl) or South African (me). So Saturday evening I was in London when the match was on. Pubs were crowded and the excitement was palpable. For most of the game it looked like France was sure to win. Then the shocker at the end and OMG the smiles everywhere. Back in Oxford on Sunday I felt compelled to go to a pub to watch the Springboks against Argentina. (Daryl was up in the Lake District with his brother, en route to Durham where he’s giving a talk on Monday). I couldn’t bear to be alone for the game which I was sure South Africa would win. So I went to our local pub in Summertown, a very clean, dignified place with a healthy ratio of men to women, and watched the game. I’d never watched a rugby game before and I have to say there was nothing enjoyable about it. No, actually, I did enjoy something. I got a kick out of watching those broadshouldered, hefty Afrikaner men singing N’kosi Sikelele’l. It was touching, tbh. But the excitement of the folks sitting around me produced a fantastic atmosphere. The English were hoping Argentina would win, and that would seal their victory in the finals. They weren’t happy about SA getting the lead early and maintaining it. And when it was over and Francois Pienaar shared his analysis of the game, I felt proud of South Africa. Sure, we have a long way to go to integrate this sport. But resentment is counterproductive.

I saw my cousins, Angie and Jay, in London on the weekend. Angie just returned from a most enjoyable trip to India – mostly the south. I will be doing pretty much the same trip in January, so I picked her brain about it. We attended an underwhelming South African Homecoming Event in London. The idea of the event was to lure South African’s abroad back into the country. I didn’t learn anything new! In the evening we went to dinner at Peking Palace in Archway – a completely vegetarian Chinese restaurant with the yummiest food in the world. On Sunday morning Angie and I went for a walk on Hampstead Heath, which is looking quite different now with the trees losing their leaves. The weather this autumn has been incredibly mild. It feels more like a continuation of this year’s lousy summer than a new season. I haven’t yet had to use my scarf and gloves and find I’m always too warmly dressed. I’m not complaining, though.

We’re still loving Oxford. Last week we saw a play called “Burial at Thebes” at the Oxford Playhouse. This was an adaptation of Antigone by Sophocles. The production was superb – accessible dialogue, fine acting, and great pacing. On another day we heard a talk a the Oxford Union by Stephen Pinker, a linguist at MIT, who has a new book out. This time his focus is on language and thought. He is a very engaging speaker and discussed the real meanings behind everyday language usage. The funny thing is, when we were in Oxford in 2002 Stephen Pinker had come to town to talk about his book The Blank Slate. We had found that talk to be more dynamic and informative. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to hear what Pinker has to say.

It’s Monday morning and time for me to get to work on my manuscript.

Peace to you all!

08 October 2007

What a Week!

Okay, I know nothing about sports. To me it's like another universe that my brain isn't wired to comprehend. But, Jesus, even I was gobsmacked this weekend with the rugby quarterfinals. Australia and New Zealand knocked out? We were in the sleepy Cotswolds on Saturday afternoon when we heard the bewildered shouts of joy from the English, and everyone was going "Really?" and shaking their heads and then laughing with sudden abandon as the news sank in. Now, of course, it's really looing good for my countryfolks, the Springboks! Go, Springboks! (I'm only pretending to be excited because I'm sure they'll win. I don't really give a shit about them! Well, that's not entirely true. I do have patriotic pride. If you think I'm sounding ditzy, it's what growing up under apartheid does.)

We're trying to make the most of Oxford, sampling its pubs and restaurants, and its cultural offerings. Went to a play on Friday night - Visiting Mr. Green - a two person play, where a young man who hit an old guy has to do community service, by visiting the old guy, helping him, etc. The two develop a bond and confide their secrets to each other. A good play, kept you engaged, and the acting topnotch. Then on Saturday evening we went to a classical concert at the Sheldonian - a very interesting venue. The orchestra is right in the middle of the room which is round and the audience is seated in tiers against the walls. Great acoustics because you're quite close to the orchestra. We heard Tchaikovsky's Patetique.

On Saturday we went into the Cotswolds close to the source of the Thames and did a river walk which was part of the Thames Path - a National Trail. Very, very enjoyable with green fields on either side and then you come to old stone churches and pretty bridges and you see lots of swans and ducks. Wow! Quite uplifting. Close to the source the iver looks like a stream and it's hard to believe it's the same river that flows through London and which is such a prominent part of the city's identity.

We spent Sunday with the Epsteins in Kenilworth. We helped them harvest their apples, had a nice big lunch and hten Rona and I went to an event in Warwick. It was an afternoon tea with the author Sophie Hannah who read exerpts from her crime fiction novels. I' never been into Warwick before and very much enjoyed the old Tudor buildings and the remains of the ancient city walls. Back at their home we made apple pies which we had for afters.

And so, it's Monday morning, and my manuscript beckons. I am working up the courage to look at Lou Lynda's comments on the next chapters!

03 October 2007

A Writer's Life



What do you think of that picture? It's the view from the room where I work on my book.

We’ve switched gears big time now. It’s work, work, work. The manuscript I’m working on is quite a challenge. I revised the first chapter, sent it off to my good friend, Lou Lynda, the world’s most finicky critiquer, and she sent it back with practically half of it highlighted! “Rewrite to capture the main character’s uniqueness,” she commanded. Voice. The hardest thing about the work. Nailing my main character’s voice. And so I roam around Oxford, weaving through the hordes of freshers that descended into the city last week, searching for Mtonya’s voice. I pop into bookstores, page through books, seeking, searching. I cycle through the parks where the trees now are increasingly taking on hues of red and wonder what she would say to me. And so the rewriting goes …

One of the wonderful features about Oxford is the many, many open spaces. A short walk or a cycle ride in just about any direction gets you to green meadows, fields, or landscaped parks with ponds, and everywhere there are trees – horsechestnut, beeches, oaks. Of course, the River Cherwell, the Thames, and the Oxford Canal are prominent too, adding to the charm. It’s fantastic to take a break in the middle of the day and wander through one of these parks, taking in the fresh air. I’m enjoying seeing autumn unfold in front of my very eyes. The air, moist, with a coolness, isn’t unpleasant yet. After a good dose of this, I retire back into my den for more brain exertion.

25 September 2007

The Southwest


Here in Oxford I feel like I’m at a writer’s retreat. Our flat is in a building called Cherwell Lodge and it’s right in front of a beautiful meadow. We have a lovely back garden with a bench beside a stream and then on the other side of the stream is Sunnyside Meadow with the River Cherwell winding across it. We start the day with a walk in the meadow, filling our lungs with fresh air and enjoying the softness of the green grass and the sunlight coming through the trees. Then Daryl takes off for the office and I get to work on my manuscript. I find I can concentrate really well. Between the quiet setting and being away from work and home concerns, it’s easy to immerse myself in my project. After a couple of hours of work I go for a cycle ride, stopping at a shop or two for odds and ends. It’s great fun riding a bicycle in Oxford because the city is flat, and there are lots of cycle lanes through quieter parts of the city. Everybody in this city cycles, from toddlers to senior citizens. After my ride I shower, have lunch, then get back to work. When Daryl arrives in the evening we may go out to a pub or for a meal, or have a simple homemade meal, or socialize with the few friends we have here. We go to Sainsbury on a big shopping expedition once a week with the idea of whipping up easy meals for the week. This adds to the feeling of being at a‘writer’s retreat’.

We spent the weekend with my adorably counter culture sister-in-law, Saffs, in the southwest (Somerset) in a village called Yatten, just outside of Bristol. Saffs is now an empty nester (at 44!). Her daughter Zoé will be studying ( not “reading”, you Oxbridge snobs!) statistics and psychology. Tom, her son, is a passionate musician. Plays the sax, composes electronic new wave stuff, burns his own CD’s, etc. Saffs took us for a walk on the coast in Clevedon, a pretty little seaside town. From the coastal path we had great views of Wales and the Severn Bridge. Back at her home we had a delicious meal of roasted vegetables and rice followed by an apple crumble made by Daryl with apples from the garden. Nothing tastier than apple crumble straight from the oven and served with thick double cream. Now here’s a reason unto itself to love England. Where else in the world can you just trot to a random grocery store and pick up pure thick cream from grass fed cows? No whipping required – it’s already thick enough to nicely coat a crumble/pie/tart and oh, so yummy.
We had a friendly game of Scrabble with the help of ginger wine and I won – no surprise there, really.

The next morning we drove through rural Somerset countryside, passing numerous farms and a couple of lakes. We stopped at Bath for a few hours. Bath is famous for its architecture – well preserved stone buildings adorned with carvings and impressive columns. The Circus is probably the most famous of Bath’s buildings. The Circus consists of houses forming a complete circle, divided into three sections. Georgeous indeed. The Royal Crescent, Roman Baths and Pump Room, and the Abbey are also quite stunning, giving the town a uniqueness and making it a very worthwhile stopover. We had lunch at a terrific completely vegetarian restaurant called Demuths. While the food was exemplary the price was outrageous and the portions quite skimpy. Daryl had an Elderflower Sparkling Soda to drink. We are finding that elderberry and elderflower appear on drinks menus everywhere in England. Quite the flavor of the day.

The days are now cooler. We've turned on the heating. The trees are beginning to lose their greenness. Next week classes resume for the new academic year in Oxford. Summer is truly over.

21 September 2007

Photos

Hi Family and Friends,

I am providing you with a link to my online albums just in case you were bored stiff and really needed something brainless to fill time. Or you may actually for some weird reason want to see some pictures of my travels. This is where you'll find them. I haven't uploaded much yet - but this will soon be corrected.


http://s209.photobucket.com/albums/bb158/Ermilasb/

17 September 2007

Oxford and Around


Hiya People in the real world, what's it like out there? Well, tbh, as we settle into a routine in Oxford, it does at times feel like I'm back in the real world. I got a sobering note from an editor from GP Putnam. She'd requested my middle grade historical fiction back in April which of course, thrilled me to shreds. Then last week in her letter to me, which was not an actual rejection, she said "You have a great premise. I wanted to love the book ....." Ouch! I had to down several pints at The Turf (famous Oxford Pub) to recover!!! Anyhoo ... she went on to say what she didn't like and said she'd be happy to take another look if I wanted to revise. Yippee doo dah. And so I now have to be disciplined and revise, revise, revise - change from 3rd person POV to first, work on voice, blah, blah, blah.
And Daryl is hard at work on various research papers - going to the office everyday.
We got ourselves bicycles this weekend. Driving is strongly discouraged in central Oxford and forbidden in the city center. We have to take buses or ride bikes to get around. It's fun actually.
I find it hard to capture Oxford as a visitor since we'd spent three months here on a previous Sabbatical. Walking around the center I see all the familiar and beautiful landmarks - The Carfax Tower, The Sheldonian, the Bridge of Sighs, the Covered Market, the colleges, etc. I love walking through the college grounds. It's amazing to find such lush expanses of green, wooded grounds in the heart of a bustling city. I love the gothic architecture and the old pubs with low beamed ceilings and uneven floors and the cobbled lanes and the scholarly atmosphere.
We spent the weekend driving and walking through the Cotswolds. Sleepy villages lie in rolling green countryside and just a few miles away are bustling villages, like Bourton on the Water and Stow on the Wold. Old stone buildings with slate roofs are characteristic of the area. Everything about the area is oh so quaintly English, from the pub lunches to the cream teas to the shops and what they carry. The weather on Saturday especially was fabulous - warm and sunny. We hiked around villages, into the countryside, across farmfields, meadows, woods, and along clear gurgling streams. Oh so beautiful.
Fall is tapping lightly at the door and I have a feeling we are seeing the end of summer.

12 September 2007

Adieu Toulouse, Hello Oxford


It’s Sept 12. We must be in Oxford! Yes, another home for the next 6 -7 weeks. We’ve unpacked, made a note of the address and telephone number, and shopped for survival groceries until we get our bearings. It’s great to be back in Oxford. This time we’re in the posh area – Summertown. (Last time we were in South Oxford.)

Our Toulouse stay was as wonderful as we expected. Perfect weather, the café scene, strolling the pedestrianized streets of the old town with its numerous lively squares, old buildings of architectural styles from different periods, and gorgeous fountains and sculpture scattered around the city. The locals smile and greet you warmly and farmer’s markets are everywhere. So we ate well – yes, cépes, chanterelles, French green beens, tomatoes, basil – and drank a lot of the regional wine. I feel fat after rich, creamy, cheesy restaurant meals. I’m ready for simple leafy salads for the next 6 months to recover!

Toulouse buzzed with rugby fever – France is hosting the World Rugby Cup. A park beside the River Garonne was transformed into a Rugby Theme Park. An enormous outdoor screen was set up with a big seating area for the public. Cafes, food areas, and a kiddies play area were also set up. And around the city there was rugby excitement, so much so that you couldn’t help but know what teams were playing and who won, etc.


So, here we are – back in England, back in the city of spires. Sitting in my home office I look out onto a gorgeous green field with the River Cherwell – a little tributary of the Thames – running across. I see several trees of different types and sizes, and pretty birds – some quite large and black. It’s all very picturesque and uplifting. The city center is a little over a mile away. Time for me now to be more disciplined about my writing. I’m working on two projects. One is a middle grade novel set in Durban, and the other is a sort of personal narrative. I hope to make significant progress on these before we depart for the next destination.

06 September 2007

Toulouse


Hey Folks,
A rushed message here from an Internet cafe. Believe it or not we are sans WiFi for ten days; Using a Franch keyboard is a bit tricky - please excuse typos. Toulouse is of course, wonderful. The weather is warm and sunny - but cooler in an autumn way. I'm loving the cafes and the many open squares and fountains. Indulging in the local wine and unbelievable ripe, creamy cheeses. Not to mention the cépes and other market produce. I tramp around the many markets scattered about the city just about daily!
Tomorrow I face another birthday. My, the days sure fly after 40!
Next week we'll begin our Oxford stay.

31 August 2007

Last week in London

I notice my last post was over a week ago! No, it’s not that I’ve been lazy. It’s actually been an amazingly busy week. But, I’m going to do my best to describe the memorable events of the past week, starting with last Friday, August 23rd.

Friday late afternoon the clouds began to thin out. We were to meet up with Jay at the Oxfam Bookstore in Marylebone. We walked across Primrose Hill Park and Regent’s Park into Marylebone. The air, pleasant, a bit muggy, had the promise of a summery evening. Jay, Daryl, and I went into a pub – Coco Momo’s on the High Street. The outside tables, alas, were all taken and the inside was beginning to rapidly fill up. The sky was now completely blue and everyone seemed happy and excited. It was the start of a 3 day weekend and there was a party like atmosphere around us. Over beer and munchies we chatted about the issues GP’s face in England. For dinner Jay said she wanted comfort food due to a hard, stressful day. “Shall we go to Drummond Street?” This is a street famous for Indian vegetarian food – there’s a string of them. So that’s where we had dinner – at a restaurant that had been there a long, long time, and was good and cheap in its heyday. The food unfortunately was quite mediocre, but, oh well, we enjoyed the experience.

On Saturday the weather was gorgeous. Warm, hot actually, and clear blue skies. We spent the afternoon doing a long, long walk. We walked along Regent’s Canal into Islington. What a charming area with an area of old buildings, pedestrianised cobbled lanes, and many, many shops selling antiques. We returned to the towpath and continued along the canal, then across town and picked up a lane along a man made river. It was a lovely walk – the area alongside the river beautifully landscaped. The river itself – quite stagnant – was covered with a thick green layer – ugh! As we approached the tube station we passed several noisy pubs and heavy police presence. We realized that Arsenal Football Stadium was nearby and a game was just finishing. We took the tube back home, then realized we were starving. It was around 7:00, warm, sunny. The pizza place beside the station had a huge patio and looked very inviting to two starving, tired souls. So we indulged in Italian wine and a great big pizza.

Delightful weather on Sunday too. We spent most of the day with the Self family on the Heath. We hauled a huge picnic lunch over, set it all out in the shade of an oak from where we had a terrific view of the London skyline. Hampstead Heath, an absolute hive of activity, looked so completely different to me on this Sunday afternoon. Down from where we were was the kiddies playground and wading pool and it was crowded. We could hear a band playing out by the café area. After lunch we walked around a bit, passing numerous clusters of picnickers. I just couldn’t believe that this Heath that I’ve come to know so well and which is usually quiet and peaceful when I walk on it, was so alive with activity.

Later in the evening with the weather still gorgeous, Daryl and I couldn’t imagine wasting it inside the flat. So we bought a large bag of fresh chips, grabbed an ale and returned to the Heath. We sat on a bench, stared out at the view of London’s skyline, and gorged on our rare treat. You can never find chips of this quality in the US. The potatoes are peeled and cut and fried at the restaurant. You can taste the freshness, and seasoned with vinegar and salt and pepper – OMG, so yummy!

On Monday evening we went to see a play at the National Theatre. We saw “Rafta Rafta” which was about an Indian family in Britain and the usual conflict between Indian immigrant parents and their British born kids. It was superbly acted and quite funny and engaging. The stage setting was really nice too. They managed to show scenes in 4 rooms of the house concurrently – kitchen and sitting room downstairs, and bedrooms upstairs. The play was mostly a comedy with tastefully funny scenes, but it dealt with a few serious issues too. In particular, the play focuses on the relationship between the father who was raised traditionally in India, and his British raised son. The play derives its conflict from their clashing interests, and the son trying to find a comfortable place as an Asian and as a Brit.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Early this morning I had to go to Budgens, the local grocery store, to get milk for breakfast. The air had a brisk chill to it, the mocking kind – “the ha ha summer is on its way out” kind. I remember when Angie and I took early morning walks on the Heath in July and often there’d be a coolness in the air. But it was different then. It was almost an apologetic coolness, a coolness that behaved like an unwelcome guest, squirmed a bit then escaped fairly quickly. Within 15 minutes of our walk, before we reached the top of Parliament Hill, we’d be shedding off our light coats and exposing our bare arms. So summer was a bit on the skimpy side this year in Britain, but heck, summer nevertheless holds promise. Who knows, we could have a sweltering weekend, which indeed, we did have one or two of those. But the last week of August holds no promise. Well, okay, maybe we’ll have an Indian summer. In other words we might not have to turn on the central heating for most of September. But you can’t escape the fact that the days are growing shorter, the evenings are losing their balminess, and the early mornings will greet you with a chill.

On Tuesday evening we were promenaders at the BBC Proms. Yes, we got in the queue around 5:15 and waited along with over a thousand others for £5 tickets. The program - an all Russian evening – Tchaikovsky (Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet) and Prokofiev - piano concerto #2 and Symphony #7 – looked very inviting, so we decided to get the true Promenading experience. And, apart from the discomfort of being on your feet for so long, it really is an awesome experience. We got to be somewhere in the middle of the arena with a pretty reasonable view of the orchestra. But the amazing part about this area is the sound quality – being so close – wow! Admittedly, we promendaders were rather crammed together – yeah, like sardines, and it got a bit stifling. But the experience, oh, we’ll remember this forever. And the music, especially the piano concerto – heavenly.

Wednesday morning I woke up to the news of the unveiling of Nelson Mandela’s statue. For some irritating reason I hadn’t computed that if I fled to Parliament Square that instant I would have been able to be there to witness the event. So, rather irritated at myself, I watched it streaming on the web. I was a bit surprised that this whole thing happened because of the efforts of Donald Woods. I then remembered from his book RAINBOW NATION REVISITED his early efforts on this ambitious project. Ken Livingston certainly ranks high in my book for the role he played in this matter. That South Africa has produced a hero deserving of a statue in Central London fills me with pride.

We were back at the Proms on Thursday night. This time we had reserved tickets because it was Beethoven’s Ninth. It was delightful to sit back and listen to this most beautiful piece of music ever composed. A grand piece of music performed in the grand Royal Albert Hall and there I was, witnessing it!

Time for us now to pack up our things and move on to the next phase of our travels. We’ll be in Toulouse, France for the first 10 days of September. Alas, another a topology conference forces us to a delightful city in France.
I'll miss London. I'll miss its energy, its diversity, its complexities, its hospitality, its pubs, parks, oh so many things to love about this city.

24 August 2007

Some Sunshine Please!

As I write this the sun is fighting its way through the clouds. What a joy to see it after 4 straight days of gloomy skies and intermittent drizzle. Each evening I watch the weather on TV and we are promised a change. “A high pressure system is sweeping through the country bringing dry, sunny weather. But there is this band of low pressure on its way out which is moving very slowly across the southeast.” Each night I prayed for that low pressure band to gtf out, and finally, oh finally …

Let’s see, so what have we been up to in the last few days? Last Thursday A level results came out. The two nieces, Zoe and Annie, did well and got acceptance at their universities. Zoe will go to the University of Manchester, and Annie goes off to Edinburgh. Our London friends, the Self family, had excellent news too. Dominic got 3 A’s and a B and will be going to Cambridge! Yea, congratulations all of you! GCSE results came out yesterday and Lili got 8 A*s and an A. Fantastico!

On Monday evening we saw another play – In the Club – at the Hampstead Theatre. The building, a 15 minute walk from us (right near the Swiss Cottage Tube Station), was a modern curved, silver structure, with very comfortable seating and excellent acoustics and stage views and stuff. The play, a political farce, was thoroughly enjoyable. It was about an MEP (Member of EU Parliament) and his political aspirations. The lines were so funny and the plot so ridiculous, the audience shrieked with laughter the whole time.

We spent most of Tuesday with the Self family at their home in Willesden Green. Dominic and his girlfriend from Birmingham, Lucy, entertained us with stories about their schools and teachers, etc. After they left we got caught up with Roger and Gil regarding the happenings of the last year – travel, family news, politics. For dinner we had Indian take away, a tradition we’ve had with these guys for many years now. Tasha was away with friends in France, and Katie, 12 now, (still wants to be a vet.), beat Daryl at Connect Four. Oops, I shouldn’t publically humiliate my hubby!

I am currently reading Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, last year’s Booker Prize winner. I remember how disappointed I was that Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, which was also shortlisted for the prize, hadn’t won. Now, I can see why the judges made their decision. When I had finished On Beauty I remember feeling greatly satisfied. An entertaining story, beautifully written by a gifted writer with an incredible understanding of the inner workings and desires of individuals from extremely varied backgrounds. She bloody well deserved to win the Booker Prize! I felt certain that the actual winner couldn’t be as good as Zadie Smith. But I was wrong. Kiran Desai, like Zadie Smith, has an acute understanding of humans and captures this deftly in her book. I love how she gets inside the minds of Indians in various circumstances and shows us the complexities of their perceptions and attitudes toward other races/classes/nationalities. Desai’s book is not as accessible as Smith’s, which would bias high brow types. I guess being the daughter of Anita Desai, another literary giant, she has high standards to keep up to.
So, Melinda, if book club is looking for a book, this is a great choice!

It’s August Bank Holiday weekend in England. This means Monday is a holiday for most folks. The Nottinghill Carnival is on this weekend. I thought I might go, but on last night’s news they mentioned that over a million people were expected to attend. This might make it a bit too crowded for any enjoyment, so … we’ll see what happens.
At Hampstead Heath a funfair has been set up. So it looks like it’s going to be crowded and noisy everywhere the next few days. The sky has clouded over again. Where the hell is that high pressure system that is supposed to bring us sunshine?

21 August 2007

School Blues

I woke up this morning feeling incredibly grateful that I didn’t have to report back on this first teacher working day of the academic year 2007-2008. Seven weeks is simply not enough time to recover from the intensity of a teaching year. Last year’s issues and problems and challenges are still too fresh in my mind. All that time and energy spent thinking about the specific needs of each individual child. Trying my best to make each lesson interesting and accessible and stimulating to the advanced and the needy kids at the same time. Dealing with challenging behavior - rudeness, arguing - of some while acknowledging and showing appreciation for the ones who are sweet and want to please. The self inflicted pressure to teach everything I feel ten year olds should know about, the worry, the obsession every waking moment. Then the other pressures - from the administration and parents and work colleagues. Meetings, phone calls, explanations for my actions and decisions, nursing hurt feelings from people who ‘don’t get it’! The life of a public school teacher in Santa Barbara is anything but easy. Maybe a lot of it is my personality. Did I take it all too seriously? Would the kids be just as educated if I were more laid back? I found it amazing that when I came out to England I seemed to have mentally left behind the life I’d lived. Just imagine, all the worries, concerns, preoccupations – things I thought important, things that influenced my state of being – all disappeared into the recesses of my memory once I unpacked my suitcase in London. Why did it have to take geographical separation? Why could I not just shrug it all off when I drove away from campus each day? That certainly would have made my life as a teacher much happier.

I can just imagine the first day back. It always begins with an analysis of the test results. Thanks to G.W. and NCLB we teachers can never again feel like we’ve accomplished anything. All our children are supposed to become advanced/proficient in math and language arts by 2013. First of all this would be impossible in the best of circumstances simply because children aren’t like cookies coming out of the same cookie cutter. Duh! Secondly, take a look at our classroom make up in the public schools. Last year on the first day of school I was given a class list of 31 students. I had 5 GATE kids, a child certified autistic, a few kids on medication with IEP’s, a child who spoke no English, and the rest spanning the academic spectrum from Below Basic to Advanced. I was promised an aide for 10 hours a week, but it was January before we could find someone willing to work for the absurdly low salary. I asked for language services for my non English speaker but was denied this because it was her 2nd year in the country! And so I had to line up volunteers and figure out various ways to attend to the needs of my class.
Anyway, so the first day would be all about how to raise our test scores. We already know we gave it our all last year, and this year we’d have to do the same and more. How to teach better to the test and make school more dull. How to turn our kids into test takers rather than creative thinkers. Stick to the text books, they say, rather than inculcate a love for literature with complex plot structures and beautiful, imaginative writing. I found it impossible to teach any Open Court Unit with enthusiasm because they were all so bloody boring. I can’t teach what I find boring. Period. So I won’t. My students did comparatively well in the STAR tests despite this. Or was it because of it??
So you come back from summer vacation, still recovering from last year, which was only seven weeks ago, and you have to get yourself all enthusiastic about RAISING TEST SCORES. That’s it. The bottom line. A child isn’t this individual with potential waiting to be tapped, a bud awaiting the right conditions to open up and blossom into something to admire, nurture, encourage. Oh no. A child is his/her STAR score and where it puts them - FBB, BB, B, P, or A. Let’s turn our classroom into places where our kids become great test taking robots. That’s presumably what ‘our leaders’ want in the 21st Century. Robots, not thinkers.
No, I’m anything but ready to face a new set of classroom challenges. You teachers out there, I admire you greatly.

20 August 2007

Theatre Week

Last week has been theatre week for us. On Monday we saw Pieter Dirk Uys doing his latest one man play – Evita for President. We had to take the tube to Kilburn for this – not too far – 3 tube stops from us. The Kilburn Theatre is well known for promoting talent that isn’t mainstream – plays that are on the alternative, more arty side. The performance was superb. PDU is such a phenomenon, taking on the personas of different everyday as well as high profile South Africans with astonishing ease. The funniest was when he played Adriaan Vlok washing Mbeki’s feet. Not sure if the audience understood the reference, but oh well, it was hysterical. I’d known about his Evita Bezuidenhout act way back when I still lived in SA. Well, he’s still doing it – and he has managed to maintain the high level of quality with fresh satire. The audience howled through the entire performance. He did something clever which was to scroll through the last 20 years of South African history in a funny, thoughtful way. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.

On Tuesday we went to the Camden People’s Theatre to see an obscure Shakespeare play called Timon of Athens. Now talk about fringe theatre! The venue was this tiny room in a modest, warehouse type building. Two rows of chairs lined the four walls and the actors performed right in the middle of the room. It was amazing to be so close to them. I really enjoyed the whole thing. The actors were talented and brought to life a play I would not otherwise have known about.
Wednesday night we went to the New Globe and saw Merchant of Venice. The theatre as you guys probably know has been reconstructed to look like the original and so the performances are fashioned after how it was all done during Shakespear’s time. The common people stood out in the ‘yard’ in front of the stage and interacted with the actors – cheering them on or shouting comments/insults, or whatever. Daryl and I had ‘yard’ tickets – for the fun and experience factor. Of course, it chose to rain on Wednesday night, so there we were, standing in the pouring rain, watching the play in this wonderful setting. We stayed through the performance like brave souls!! I was really surprised at the marble columns and surfaces of the stage. Despite the rain it was a great experience. I loved the costumes of the actors. During the intermission we went into the swanky pub – The Swan – for a drink. This pub’s architecture is also representative of the Tudor period with its wooden stools and long tables – but all clean, new and immaculate. The pub has big windows with delightful views of the Thames and the buildings alongside. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a ‘cool’ London pub.
We have a few more plays lined up before we leave this great and wonderful city.

The weather has turned yucky. What a mood changer it is to wake up to cloudy skies. Don’t have much desire to leave the flat and brave the cool, rainy weather.

On Thursday evening it cleared up a bit so we went to the farmer’s market in Covent Garden. This weekly event during the month of August is to create some summer excitement. Turned out to be a disappointment. Way too crowded, impossible to actually see the products, and the whole event seemed too contrived and touristy. Overpriced produce, lots of artisanal cheeses, olives, oils, breads, and most interestingly wild mushrooms and truffles absurdly priced. Street performers did juggling acts and a young man sang folk songs which was fun to listen to. I used to love Covent Garden when I first started coming to London, but now it seems soulless, overrun with tourists, compared to other parts I’ve discovered. We wanted to sit down and have a drink and dessert and couldn’t find anywhere with the right atmosphere. We wandered out a bit and discovered Neal’s Yard. What a pleasant surprise! This open airy space with people enjoying wine and organic food, surrounded by old buildings which are colorful and pretty brought smiles to us. It had a beatnik look to it. We learned the restaurant here is one of the oldest vegetarian restaurants in London. We sat at an outside table and had wine and a custard tart. Up on the wall above us was a blue plaque that claimed Monty Python lived there from 1976!

Troy came out from Cambridge on Friday and we had a long dinner at the flat just chatting and relaxing. We drank lots of wine, then moved on to single malt whiskey. On Saturday Troy, Daryl, and I went to see friends of ours (Laura, Simon, and their 2 little girls Rosa and Ilana) on the Isle of Dogs near the docklands. We walked into Greenwich via the tunnel that runs under the Thames. We had lunch at a café and caught up on our lives. Then everyone else left and Daryl and I explored Greenwich a bit more. We took the DLR to Canary Wharf and explored that whole area which is all cleaned up, yuppified, and full of gleaming skyscrapers. We were astonished to find endless indoor malls with marble walls and expensive shops.

After all the walking around and exploring we decided to treat ourselves to a decent restaurant meal. In our rovings around London we always make a note of restaurants that serve quality veg food. We’d found a Chinese Vegetarian place near the Archway tube station last week, so we decided to give it a try on Saturday night. Turned out to be a superb choice. First of all the restaurant itself was tastefully designed with classy finishes. The menu was quite staggering in its options. It reminded us of a Buddhist restaurant we’d gone to in Beijing a few years ago. We had sweet and sour 'ribs' for starters, Peking ‘duck’ for seconds, and lemon ‘chicken’ and stirfried veggies for mains. Everything was done superbly with perfect seasonings and excellent presentation. What a find!! We returned home satisfied and exhausted.

We have two more weeks in London. Still so much more to see and do.

12 August 2007

Walking, walking, walking

I know, I’ve been slagging. Heck, London is beginning to feel like home. I walk around the neighboring areas like a local, hardly noticing things. Daryl and I now laugh at tourists who point at the weird giant sized things stuck on the buildings on the High Street of Camden Town. The first time I saw six enormous boots on the wall of a store I gave Daryl a baffled look. WTF is that? The building next to it has this humungous white rocking chair pinned to it. A whole row of buildings with bizarre wall objects – that just about sums up this part of London.
We have done a huge amount of walking in the last couple weeks. OMG my legs are pissed at what I’ve put them through. August has decided to behave like a proper summer month indulging us in a spate of glorious, sunny days. So, of course, you can’t waste them indoors in a flat. That would be sinful. We had to get out there and make the most of it. The first weekend of August had temps in the 30’s.
Sunday morning, Aug 5, the sun was strong by 6:00. After a lazy morning of sipping lattes and reading the paper we got out into the world. We decided to have lunch in Camden Town. All of London had the same idea and invaded the numerous food stalls serving up every cuisine the world has ever seen. So after fighting our way through crowds and checking out the menus, we decided on an Afro Caribbean meal. A round faced teenage girl with a Caribbean accent handed us an exotic bowl of vegetables in a thick, spicy sauce served over a savory rice. We had a fried plantain slice and a battered something or other with that. Sitting down to eat this meal turned into quite a game. All the tables set out beside the food stalls were taken. People bearing newly acquired food stood alongside these tables glaring at the folks sitting down. We joined the glarers. As soon as a table got free there was a race for it. Well, we eventually did manage to sit down and eat our lunch without breaking any bones.
After lunch we strolled along Regent’s Canal with no specific plan. Many people had the same idea. We walked past London Zoo – saw some wild boar and a canine we couldn’t identify. The canal seemed to end and we got onto the surface street to determine the next move. We weren’t far from Hyde Park so we hopped on a bus and got off at Speaker’s Corner. A few loonies were spewing religious dribble so we marched off in the opposite direction. We found some welcome shade and rested for a while.
Then the walking continued. Through Mayfair, Carnaby Street, a stop for tea and cake at a posh place (Quotidien), onto Covent Garden, Soho, dinner at Maoz (falafels), beer at a pub, and then as we made our way to the tube station we past a bar where two transvestites were singing Abba songs. They had on blond wigs, enormous false breasts, shiny dresses, and high heeled shoes. They were hilarious to look at and they sang beautifully. Exhausted from our long day we were thrilled to find that our bus happened to be within yards from us.
On Monday evening we went to the Proms like good citizens. We felt very cultured dressing up and going to the Royal Albert Hall. No, we didn’t do the £5 standing room tickets. Oh no, we paid for decent seats so that we could fully enjoy Beethoven’s Symphony #8, Renee Fleming singing Berg’s Seven Early Songs, and Schumann’s symphony No. 2. I always feel like a miracle is at work when I sit at the great concert venues of the world. My child self would never have guessed that I would some day be ‘high society’. It was all quite special and enjoyable.
We are getting good at finding atmospheric pubs for good English ale after tramps around parks and neighborhoods. Sitting at an outside table of a noisy pub on a balmy summer evening is one of life’s better pleasures. We discovered that Regent’s Park is a do-able jaunt from our flat. Such a fun park to stroll through, especially in the early evening. Every activity imaginable seems to happen here. Cricket, rugby, football, frisby, jogging. Then in the inner gardens which are beautifully designed with big fountains and colorful flowers, people sit on benches or have picnics, or just stroll around. A big lake in the park adds to its beauty. Paddleboats are popular, and there are lots of waterfowl.
Every day we find new places to explore. What a great city to get to know in the summer.
I walk around different parts of London and think about the great people who made this city their home. My heroes – the Bloomsbury Group - Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Bertrand Russell, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant. I think about their ‘at homes’ and the great intellectual discussions that took place right here in this city. Other great people who lived here – Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Max Engels, Oscar Wilde. This city has inspired such profound thinking. And I think even today it continues to be the home of so many accomplished, talented individuals. I might walk past them on Hampstead Heath or the bookstore or at Waitrose and not know it. They have chosen London as their base to express their creativity and profundity. What is it, I wonder, that makes this city such a magnet? It is, after all, a big city, saddled with all the problems intrinsic to such a place. As I continue to make this my home I’m sure I’ll find more insights and more pleasant little surprises.

07 August 2007

Living in a Small Space

Whenever I am in the Old World I’m always impressed by how much simpler people’s homes are. The socialist in me is filled with admiration that middle income people like me are quite happy with kitchens the size of my refrigerator and bathrooms that require you to tuck your tummy in and keep your arms pinned to your body. As I crabwalk from the kitchen to the living room of one of these homes I get huge pangs of guilt about complaining about my dining room in Santa Barbara that won’t comfortably seat 20 people. “We need to extend or get a new house,” I whine after hosting a large dinner party. Daryl’s response is, “You know, we can double the size of our house if we convert our garage and build on top of it.” I give him a disgusted look, followed by a self-righteous lecture on the importance of living simply and reducing our carbon footprints. And thus ends the discussion on an expanded dining room until the next dinner party.
When I’m in England or Italy or France I’m filled with admiration at how families with teenage kids (who, as we know are twice as big as adults and take up six times more space) can happily live in homes a fraction the size of mine. My admiration for these folks has trebled since I started living in a London flat.

I find I spend a large amount of time either making things fit into small spaces, or getting things out of crammed cabinets. The refrigerator is the biggest challenge. Come back with two items from the grocery store and you will have to rearrange the entire fridge to make room for them. Then, when you need milk for a cup of tea that you think you deserve after getting all your groceries packed, you have to choreograph a series of steps to accomplish this. First, there is the matter of opening the fridge door. No, it isn’t as simple as pulling a handle. You have to close the kitchen door, push out the mop and pail standing on the floor beside the fridge, then hold your hands in readiness for things that might/will tumble out as you eagerly pull the knob. It’s important that you prepare to catch falling items in such a way that your elbows don’t touch the spatulas and ladles hanging on the adjacent wall. Next is the matter of pushing back falling items and locating the milk. It ought to be standing up on a door rack, but being “Americans”, we buy milk in large containers. These containers don’t fit on the door rack of a tiny fridge. When said milk is located you’ll have to remove all the items around the milk, etc., etc., … you get the idea. Finally, be as quick as you can with the milk before someone else notices the vacant space in the fridge.

When I sit down on the well worn couch upon which many weary bottoms have rested, and sip that cup of strong, hot, milky tea, I savor every drop. There’s something more real about living in a way where you have to think about every move you make. You feel more a part of the world and you are reminded every moment of your impact on it.

03 August 2007

Sweet summer

Daryl and I are finally together and by ourselves in London.
The weather has been fantastic. We spend our days 'working'. Daryl's got the use of an office at Imperial College in Kensington and he's thrilled to have time to do research. I've been immersing myself in books and doing some writing in between reading all those blogs raving about revealing all in the latest and last Harry Potter book. Jesus, what an appalling death count! And this is supposed to be a children's book?

The long days allow for evening walks and picnic dinners at the nearby parks. We walked out to Primrose Hill a couple days ago. Two famous pubs - The Pembroke and the Queens, at either end of the very lively High Street, were packed, with people spilling out onto the pavements. Between the pubs are an assortment of fine restaurants, also quite crowded and atmospheric. A number of famous people live in this area (eg Gwyneth Paltrow). We walked into the park - a large green expanse - and found a spot at the top of a slope to sit and take in the amazing views of the London Skyline. This park is probably the best place for city views and judging by the vast numbers of picnickers this is definitely not a secret. With a clear sky and sultry temperatures it was quite delightful to just lie down and absorb the atmosphere.

Last night we had dinner with Jay, Angie, and a family friend, Dharam, at an Indian restaurant near Wembley. The restaurant, Papaya, served many unusual dishes, specializing in South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. Daryl and I had Avial - vegetables in a curry sauce made with coconut milk, tamarind, and various spices - and a kokkatum (?)- don't ask - something exotic, spicy, and very tasty!!!
Jay and Angie are great company, never at a loss for conversation. Dharam, a quiet, slender South African, has been in London for 6 years now. We aren't sure if he is related to us or not. Our grandfather and his grandfather came on the same boat from India and described themselves as brothers. He is the nephew of Uncle Bob and Sashma.

We talked about the old days and our families, the place of Indians in South Africa, and then got into a debate about Mahatma Gandhi and his role in South African politics.
I enjoyed getting to know Jayshree better.

31 July 2007

France - Paris and the French Riviera

Hey Folks, just got back from a most satisfying holiday. Went back to one of my favorite world cities - Paris - after five years. Stayed at Hotel Des Allies - a spotless, comfortable, budget place - right near Rue Mouffetard. This pedestrianized cobbled lane which hosts a daily market and is lined by lively cafes and fantastic restaurants, has to be the best street in all of Paris. I loved just taking in the atmosphere of a city that I've grown to know pretty well. Traipsed around the various neighborhoods, browsed the shops, sat at cafes and sipped coffee and wine, walked along the Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe down to the Tuileries Gardens. Paris was crowded, but the weather was as pleasant as could be. I spent a few exhausting hours at the Louvre. I'd been here once before about 15 years ago and thought I should revisit. Found it to be a disappointment. I guess its size and enormous collection makes it quite a challenge to tackle. Of course, I saw the Mona Lisa again, and the Venus de Milo, and then tried to take in as much as I could of the French collection over different periods.

My visit to the Pompidou Center's modern art collection was much more enjoyable. I relished the many works of Kandinsky, Chagall, and Matisse. This museum is open and airy and it's fun as you take the escalators up and get great views of the city.

Paris is truly a delightful city. Wish I spoke French. An amazing number of people speak English, though. I actually managed to meet people and have some conversations. Got a recommendation for a vegetarian restaurant from a woman I met at a cafe.

On Friday, July 20, I took the TGV down to Nice. Four of us were making our way to the Cote d'Azure from different places. Daryl was coming from Warwick, Glynis from Guernsey, Saffs from Bristol, and I was coming from Paris. Turned out to be the first day of heavy storms in England so their flights were all delayed. I spent a relaxing afternoon in Antibes, then checked in at the airport hotel where we'd be spending the first night. Since everyone arrived at different times, the last one, Saffs, arriving at 1:00 A.M., the airport hotel turned out to be a very convenient thing.

Our Cote d'Azure experience began on Saturday morning. We picked up a rental car and drove into the mountains behind Nice where we had our Gites. And what a pleasant surprise awaited us! The vacation rental was right at the foot of a stunning mountain with sheer cliff faces in a most charming village called St. Jeannett. The famous town of Vence where many artists lived because of 'the light' was not too far from where we were based. Our accommodation itself was a 3 bedroomed house with a huge garden. We had every convenience and comfort possible, including hammocks and outdoor furniture to enjoy the balmy evenings.

We spent our days exploring the various beach towns, swimming in the warm Med, gorging on soft, ripe cheeses, olives, and fresh juicy fruit, and driving along scenic roads. We did the Grande and Moyenne Corniches. We went into Monaco, but not to the casino in Monte Carlo - just looked at it from the outside. The weather was as magical as you would expect - azure blue, cloudless skies, and temperatures in the upper 20's. My favorite place in this region is Villefranche sur mer. This medieval village is just east of Nice along the coast. Pastel buildings cling onto steep cliffs and bright red and purple bougainvillea spill over the slopes. Yachts bob on the shimmering water and the coastline curves around making it all look quite stunning. The beaches here aren't bad either. We sat at a bar sipping wine while admiring the breathtaking views.

On one of the days we went inland to the Grand Canyon du Verdon. This is the largest canyon in Europe. It is 25 km long slicing through a limestone plateau. The canyon is 250 - 700 meters deep - carved by the Verdon River. It was lunchtime when we arrived at the beginnings of the canyon. We noticed a sign for Fromage and followed it. It took us to somebody's small farm where we bought their homemade goat cheese, then got permission to picnic on their grounds. With crusty baguette, the cheese, and cherries that we purchased en route, we had an amazing lunch.

We followed the canyon down to a large lake and stopped at the Provencal town beside it. Saffs and Glynis were curious about Provence and wanted to experience a bit of it. We strolled along the pedestrianized road and browsed at the numerous artisanal shops selling products of the region - lavender honey, pottery, table linen, wines, etc. Made the obligatory cafe stop - beside a fountain - and sampled local wine. We had ambitious hopes of stopping at a beach on the way home, but it was early evening by the time we got on the autoway, so we went straight home and ordered pizzas from a nearby pizzeria that churned out bubbling thin crusted gourmet specimens from a wood fired oven.

Every single day on the Cote d'Azure was packed with delightful experiences. There is so much to do here, and you have to realize you can't do it all, epecially if you want a holiday. For me, going to the markets and the beaches is enough to keep me happy. The markets in Nice and Antibes can keep me entertained for hours. All those acres of olives and tables of spices and the cheeses, the summer fruit, courgettes with their flowers still attached, glossy aubergines, ripe, juicy tomatoes, the olive oils, the wild mushrooms, (oh, the girolles!), fresh, pink garlic, etc., etc. What a treat for the senses. Having a selfcatering place makes it all the more fun because we can take back stuff for meals.

Our evenings were quite memorable. We took turns to prepare meals. While dinner was being prepared we lay in hammocks and had apertifs - pastis, kir royale, or white wine and sampled the local olives. We ate out on the patio, the mountains providing stunning views. The evenings were balmy, sporadic cicada chirps interrupting the peace - wow! I wish I could turn back the clock and start the holiday all over again.

16 July 2007

Warwick Weekend

It was the weekend of birthday celebrations for David Epstein who turned 70 this year. A 2 week conference is being held as part of the celebrations. Daryl has been staying with the Epsteins the last two weeks, attending talks, working with colleagues, etc. On Friday I left a very muggy London on a coach for drizzly Coventry. Spent the afternoon with Rona in Kenilworth. We did some shopping errands then went to the castle. We tramped around the gorgeous ruins and ogled the views of rolling green fields. Back home we got dressed and went to the maths institute for the birthday barbecue. It was cool and drizzly so the event had to be indoors. A huge group - around 100 mathematicians - mainly topologists and geometric group theorists from all over the world - milled around and I was amazed at how many of the people were friends of ours. A significant number had stayed at our place in Santa Barbara multiple times over the years, so it was one of those great parties where you get to talk to friends you hadn't seen in a while. Long tables were covered with a sumptuous spread of pastas, salads, roasted veggies, etc. and of course whatever was barbecued (soya patties for us vegetarians) There was lots of wine and an impressive variety of beer from micro breweries. It was indeed a fantastic party.

The next morning I opened the curtains in our room and felt thoroughly uplifted (not just because of preceding activities!). The sun was shining and the sky was pale blue. We had a view of the Epstein's delightful, quaintly Englsih garden, and beyond that lush fields dotted with many grazing sheep. Clumps of low, broad trees bordered the fields. Very picturesque and very English. Daryl dashed off for the talks and he was a bit preoccupied because he was giving his talk today after lunch.
After breakfast Rona sent me out to the garden to pick berries. I'm so jealous of the huge, green lawns that English people have. The garden is well nurtured with many pretty flower beds and lots of fruit - 3 apple trees, a pear tree, a walnut tree, rhubarb, and berries of every kind. We picked huge bowlfuls of blackcurrants and plump raspberries. Rona was planning to make a berry crumble for dessert. They were going to be entertaining a large group for dinner.

We went back to the maths institute for a special luncheon as part of the celebrations. Again there was an amazing spread. The weather on Saturday was superb. A speech was given by Christopher Zeeman, David's advisor, and a well-known mathematician. Before Zeeman started his speech Marty Scharlemann related an anecdote to me: Hamish Short was in London a few days ago, sitting on a bench perusing some math papers. A person walking by, paused beside him and asked if he was a mathematician. Hamish said yes. The guy got out a postcard of the painting of Zeeman that hangs at the institute in Warwick, and asked if Hamish knew that man. Hamish said, "Yes. Acutally I'm on my way to the place where that painting hangs." The guy then said, "I'm the person who did the painting."

After Zeeman's speech, Daryl gave his talk.
Rona, Charity Hirsh, and I walked out to the lake on the attractively landscaped campus then returned home. I browsed a book - Diaries of Albie Sachs - and enjoyed it considerably. I'll have to add it to my library. Albie Sachs is a judge in South Africa and was actively involved in the Freedom Struggle. I enjoyed his insights about the past and present situation in SA.

Daryl and I had dinner with Stefan Tollman and his wife Brangwyn - Aussie pals of ours. They are renting an absolutely charming English cottage in Kenilworth. We sat in the little garden - an old stone church and a cemetery lie just beside the garden - enjoying the summery evening. We drank Aussie wine and ate tomato goat cheese pie with a cress salad. For dessert Brangwyn made an exquisite berry cobbler. Stefan told us about the conference he attended in China. He talked about how Beijing is rapidly changing - fewer bicycles, more traffic, greater pollution, much more built up - looking increasingly western, and after the mad drive to demolish the hutongs, now a move to preserve them.
It was a long, long day for Daryl.

On Sunday the good weather disappeared. It drizzled off and on all day. We went to Brian Sanderson's place out in the countryside outside of Coventry for Sunday lunch. Christine and Brian live in a farmhouse and are surrounded by large, lush fields on which graze fat dairy cows. They grow lots of fruit and veggies. They hate supermarkets and try to get everything either from their land or from neighboring farmers. We had an enjoyable walk around their enormous garden and out into the fields. They fed us moussaka, Greek salad, quinoa salad, and an assortment of cheeses. A dry burgundy accompanied this delicious meal. For dessert we had a homemade lemon curd tart, raspberries with heavy cream, and a berry fool (berries blended in yogurt and sweetened). After this huge feast I had to catch my coach back into London.

On Wednesay I leave for Paris, and then the Cote d'Azur. Oooh, so exciting. Can't wait to get into a swimsuit and jump into the Mediterranean.

12 July 2007

A Tourist

Since I'm technically on summer vacation I gave myself permission to spend the day sightseeing in Central London. First, I went to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The morning was grey and cool, but the weatherperson promised a pleasant afternoon. A museum is a fine way to escape drab weather. The National Gallery in my opinion is one of the best museums in the world with room after room of delightful paintings. I feasted my eyes on scenes of Venice by Canaletto and Guardi. I derive a lot of pleasure from seeing paintings of places I'd been to and adored. Then onto the English artists - Gainsborough and John Constable (can one ever tire of "The Haywain"?) -, the impressionists ( about a dozen Monets), the Van Goghs (Wheatfields among Cypresses, Sunflowers, Van Gogh's Chair), the Dutch painters, the list goes on. I love this place. I'll be here again in the very near future - that's for sure.

After the museum I walked into Soho for lunch. So many tempting places to choose from. Settled for crepes filled with asparagus, cheese, and a sauce. Perfect. Cruised Oxford Street and watched the mad shoppers, then turned into Charing Cross Road. Idled away an hour at Foyles, supposedly the most famous and largest privately owned bookstore. The sky now had large patches of blue and the temperature was pleasantly warm. I strolled into Covent Garden, watched the street performers, browsed the market stalls, then went into my favorite cafe. This cafe is in the courtyard of one of the market buildings and little groups of classical musicians entertain the crowds in 20 minute shifts. Quartets, Quintets, and duos will play popular pieces or sing opera arias and duets. It's really special. Daryl and I fell in love with opera right here in this cafe about ten years ago. Over a cup of tea - milky and piping hot - I was treated to songs from Don Giovanni and La Traviata.

Next I headed out to the South Bank where a literary festival was taking place. I wanted to look at the used books for sale on tables outside the Royal Festival Hall. I spotted a poster advertising free events at the National Theatre. At 6:00 a French quartet would be performing chansons. So I concluded my day as a tourist sitting at the bar of the National Theatre listening to a young, spirited French woman croon Edith Piaf songs. She also did one or two Billie Holliday songs. She had a fantastic voice and for a free event it was of excellent calibre. The place was crowded - evidently a popular London attraction.

As I made my way back to the bus stop I walked past crowded pubs and cafes. The sun was shining - it was a lovely summer evening. The air was alive, vibrant. What a great city this is in the summer!

11 July 2007

Loving London

This city delights every waking moment. What a joy to ramble through the neighboring areas, each with its distinct character. Spent Monday and Tuesday doing lots of reading and some writing/planning/thinking. Got quite an education about my history from C.G. Henning's THE INDENTURED INDIAN IN NATAL and Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie's FROM CANE FIELDS TO FREEDOM. Dhepelia, btw, is Gandhi's great granddaughter. I was surprised to learn that the first boat load of laborers from Madras were escaping famine. Poor Indians were lured by lofty promises of a great life in Natal. When they arrived a British Official sent to meet the people was astonished at how upbeat and excited they were. Of course, life for these people was anything but rosy and suicide rates were significant. Interesting too, to me, how after serving their term, Indians who chose to remain in Natal, quickly prospered as growers and hawkers living frugally and working hard. I also learned that every Indian upon arrival had their name recorded and these are still available in Durban. Of course, I would have no clue what names to look up to research my own ancestry.

Monday afternoon I ambled over to Camden Town, a chaotic, crowded area teaming with markets and shops. The Regents Canal runs through and a huge market with numerous stalls and eating places is beside Camden Lock. Asian food of every type is served here, but pizza and pasta, and Middle Eastern fare is available too. It was fun to walk around and browse and take in the lively atmosphere. The weather was gorgeous, bordering on hot. I had masala tea and Bhel Puri at an Indian cafe near the lock and started JM Coetzee's YOUTH. The book surprisingly, came out in 2002. I'd imagined it was an early book. It's an autobiography covering Coetzee's early 20's. It's written in the 3rd person which I found disconcerting at first, but quickly adjusted. I found myself pulled into Coetzee's life at once. I identified so much with his dissatisfaction and need to escape from family and provincial thinking. I hated to stop reading, so I headed back to Belsize Park, went into a pub - The George - ordered a pale ale and continued reading. I was quite comfy on a leather couch by the open doors which looked out to the street.
I hadn't expected most of the book to be about Coetzee's time in London. Imagine my surprise when I started a new chapter, sitting in this bar, and it opens with Coetzee waking up at his friend's bedsit in Belsize Park! In the next chapters he talks about doing things that are completely familiar to me - walking in Hampstead Heath, browsing bookstores in Charing Cross, going to the Everyman Theatre (Angie and I are about to go there to see a French movie), going to the Tate and British Museums, etc. But most surprisingly, he is in London to express the artist he thinks he is. In Cape Town he majored in math and had no passion for the sciences. He is extemely analytical and knows that he admires poets, writers, thinkers, and aspires to be one himself. So in London he has to get a job for survival, but his main goal is to find himself as a writer. He makes several failed attempts, first dabbling in poetry, then trying to write in the style of Henry James.
I'm so thrilled to be able to own my time, doing the things that I enjoy. I'm so lucky.

Yesterday Angie took me to the Neasden Temple. This temple is famous - built in a style almost identical to some famous temple in New Delhi. Its walls - wooden and marble - have intricate carvings. Marble sculptures of Indian gods and goddesses adorn the outside walls. The place had a spacious, airy feeling with skylights and large windows. Quite a breathtaking place, with no expense spared. We then shopped at the Indian grocery store across the street. Oh, we loved that. All those unusual lentils and legumes and dried snacks. The freezer had an assortment of delights too - samosas, patha, breads, Indian veggies - wow! Then there was the snack bar to order hot, freshly made food, and sweets. We bought semolina savory bread (what's it called - dokra, maybe?), samoosas, and some burfee like sweets. Angie gives me daggers - "You keep sabotaging my diet plans!"
Next stop was Ikea - just up from the temple- to buy wine glasses for everyday use. No need to elaborate here as all Ikeas around the world are identical.

As the weather was so pleasantly summery I insisted on a walk on the Heath when we got back home. The sky was mostly bue and the air quite warm. We did our loop up Parliament Hill (where you get the best views of the city), then around the cafe and back. We had Indian food for dinner which I washed down with Old Speckled Hen beer. Daryl, stop smiling!

09 July 2007

A Londoner

A week in this great city and I'm beginning to feel like a local. The weekend's big news items were LIVE EARTH, the start of the Tour de France, and the release of Alastair Campbell's book. The Guardian had a piece dripping with sarcasm about the Live Earth concert. The article highlighted how many tons of greenhouse gases it took to get people there, private jets performers used, and Madonna's carbon dioxide production to promote her new album. Given the Guardian's obsession with carbon footprints their stinging criticism is hardly surprising. Campbell's book caused quite a stir in yesterday's papers as well. Campbell used to be Tony Blair's chief spokesperson until 4 years ago. Angie can't wait to get her hands on the book. She's eager to read it not only to get juicy inside info about the Blairs, but also because Alastair Campbell lives here in the Hampstead area and she's seen him on the heath a few times.
Yesterday, Sunday, Angie and I took a train to Kent to visit friends of hers. David and Lorna live out in the countryside within commutable distance to London. They have a charming old brick house set on beautifully landscaped grounds. The house is an old, converted farmhouse with uneven floors and thick walls and lots of little coves and beams and things. Their garden is gorgeous with a large rolling lawn and beds of English flowers like hollyhocks and lavender and lilacs and roses. They also grow vegetables and berries of various types. David, a lanky, greying guy with the friendliest of smiles, is one of those traditional type Englishmen who uses words like jolly and stroppy. Lorna is very chatty and easy to be with. Lorna brought out a pitcher of Pimms and we sat in the shade of an oak, and chatted about this and that. David and Lorna put out a huge spread of salads at their poolside table for lunch. This went down with a very dry red wine. For dessert we had a homemade cheesecake covered with homegrown raspberries. After coffee and dark mint chocolate Angie and I got back on the train to London. The ride was pleasant. I stared out at the green fields and grazing sheep with a feeling of contentment. What a civilized way to spend a Sunday.

07 July 2007

07/07/07

So, I've been undisciplined about daily blogging. Today, however, I wanted an excuse to write the date - triple 7 - so I'm making an entry. It's the anniversary of the tube bombing - so a solemness is present. I woke up to bright sunshine and felt very uplifted. Angie yanked me out of the flat to walk on the heath. "We have to be out all today," she said. "It's too gorgeous to be in." Hampstead Heath wasn't as quiet as during the week. People were out walking their dogs, flying kites, jogging, strolling. I hear people talking and assume they're talking a foreign language. Then I recognize English words and realize my ears are still adjusting to the English cadence.

Yesterday I walked across the heath from Hampstead to Highgate. The path was quite gorgeous with an avenue of towering trees on either side. You quickly get a feeling of being in the wilderness. About halfway into the park the scenery changes and you are in open, grassy meadows. And then I came to a series of lakes and bathing ponds. People sat on benches beside the largest of the lakes and watched the ducks. Curious about Highgate I walked up the lane outside the heath. I was astonished to see rows of expensive looking homes behind imposing gates. The houses looked new but the designs were period - Edwardian or Victorian - I need some education on recognizing architectural styles!! I knew there was a famous cemetery further up the hill, but wasn't in the mood for this. Famous people like Karl Marx and George Eliot (not her real name, of course!) are buried at Highgate Cemetery. Back on the heath I meandered a bit then found a well positioned bench among a grove of massive oaks on which to sit. In front of me was an open meadow, then further away was a forest of trees of different kinds. The weather was pleasant - comfortable temperature, no threat of rain, and a breeze. A fair number of people were around - young couples were walking their dogs, old people were strolling, and others doing whatever. It was quiet, peaceful, birdsong and the wind swishing through the trees the ony noticeable sounds. The air was sweet, clean. What a treasure this park is. After a few minutes of taking in the peace I ambled on uphill and came to a less wild area where I found a cluster of tourists fussing with their cameras. I looked around and noticed the views of London's skyline. The buildings of 'The City' London's financial district, loomed on the horizon. I could see St. Paul's Cathedral, then the London Eye. It was quite a lovely view. This area is the highest part of London and the best place for views, I learned.

I spent Friday thinking about my memoir and reading my assigned books. After assaulting my mind with a few more chapters of HOUSE OF PEACE I decided to stop punishing myself. There are too many good books out there and it's a crime to waste one's time reading crap. I then started Ronnie Govender's SONG OF THE ATMAN. Ronnie Govender is well known by the Indian community in South Africa because of his many popular plays that played at theatres all over hthe country. I was pleased to find his writing a lot stronger and more enjoyable. Setting the story at a time that isn't well known to me makes the book appealing. Govender brings in a lot of the history of Indians in SA into the story and does it in a nonintrusive way. the main character is interesting and likable. One of Govender's strengths is dialogue - capturing Indian English quite accurately. However, his style of writing does have problems. For one thing he uses the omniscient POV but does it in a rather disconcerting way. I think if he stuck with telling the story entirely from Chin's POV it would be a much stronger book. The plot, though decent, moves along sluggishly and I found myself skipping pages. So far, it hasn't yet helped me with my own writing. Good books inspire me - writers like Zadie Smith and Ian McKewan. They make me think about crafting sentences and they awaken ideas. I'm going to have to read Coetzee's BOYHOOD and YOUTH, copies of which I have with me,
for inspiration.

Saturday (07/07/07) - after the morning walk on the heath Angie and I went into central London. We got off the bus at the end of the Waterloo Bridge and went down to the National Theatre where there was a performance outside the building. A group of cyclists were dancing to a piece of classical music, using their bicycles in a ballet type dance. It was quite fascinating. We then walked along the South Bank to the Old Globe where I bought tickets for the "Merchant of Venice". Tickets cost £5 each, standing only - in the style of how it was done during the time of Shakespeare. Daryl and I will see this in mid August. We then walked across the Millenium Bridge, took in the views around us, then got a bus from St. Paul's to Soho. We went into China Town, shopped at the grocery stores for Asian noodles, veggies, and spices, then lunched at a Chinese Restaurant. I had a Singapore Stirfry - yummy. We walked along Charing Cross Road, poked into a few second hand bookstores, bought a few books, then headed out to Leicester Square. We seemed to be walking through walls of people. Blue skies prevailed and we were so thrilled at the summery weather. People were friendly, smiling. Pubs were full with people spilling out, on the pavements outside, beer in hand and animated chatter. From here we went to Oxford Street in hopes of shopping, but the city bustle was getting to us. Around 5:00 we got on a bus and returned to the sanity of Belsize Park.