Friday, May 5, 2017

Nietemin...Waarom Is Die Wereld so Faktap

Dit is nie elke dag dat artieste en musikante, wat taal daagliks gebruik om emosie, woede, blydskap, liefde, haat, geskiedenis, phychedelic idees, drome, redenasie, evangelisme, en ander stories te verkoop, hul taal vereer in ‘n liedjie nie. Stef Bos en Amanda Strijdom (Strydom) het.

Hier by ons en regtig orals oor Amerika is daar lokale radiostasies wat gewoonlik Klassieke Rock & Rock uitsaai. Afhangende van hoe jy Classic Rock definieer, sal jy by die een baie AC/DC, Led Zeppelin en ‘n horde van Amerikaanse “big hair bands” van die sewintigs en tagtiger jare hoor. By die ander een is Die Rollende Klippe (Rolling Stones), Pienk Vlooie (Pink Floyd), Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, en nog ‘n horde van Amerikaanse “big hair bands” te hoor. Maar elke nou en dan dan adverteer stasie nommer twee: “We are not ashamed to play this on our radio station” en dan hulle trek weg met ‘n obskure nommer een van die verlede of iets “folksy” of “countryside.”

As ek soms met mede Suid Afrikaners oor musiek praat en ek bring die name Amanda Strydom of Coenie De Villiers op of selfs Thys Nywerheid of Battery 9 dan kry ek so ‘n tweede kyk wat sê:

“Huh!...O ja…die kaberet sangers!” of "Wie's hulle?"

Opgeneem 25 September 2008 in die Koninklijk Theater in Amsterdam, Nederland. 

Miskien is ek van ‘n vorige tydperk en De la Rey is eintlik ‘n karakter uit die geskiedenis boeke en nie so seer die naam van ‘n gewilde liedjie nie. En Karlien van Jaarsveld...wel...nietemin...

Ek is nie skaam om te sê ek geniet Amanda en Coenie en selfs sekere van Karen Zoid en ander soortgelyke komposisies. Kaberet oftenot, wie het nou eintlik genres nodig? Dis die genot van die musiek wat tel.

Karen Zoid bly 'n gusteling. 

So gepraat van Thys Nywerheid, hulle het in Januarie 2017 hul nuutste album uitgereik. Die eerste in baie jare. Met hulle onlangse uitreiking Brekfis in Orania het hulle blykbaar ‘n bladsy uit die Heuwels Fantasties se boek geskeur. Alles klink ‘n bietjie te geprogrameerd en te Pop-py en te "Heuwels Fantasties". Dis ‘n jammerte want hulle Husse Met Lang Messe van jare gelede bly een van my gunsteling alternatiewe Afrikaanse albums. Hulle het hulle funk verloor. 

Wel, genoeg gesê voordat ek hierdie bladsye verder bemes met woordelike misstof.

Ietsie nuut van Thys Nywerheid en ook hedendaags toepaslik...

Monday, May 1, 2017

An Enchanted Day in Vaison-la-Romaine

From the parking garage next door to the Marché les Halles d’Avignon, the city’s marketplace near the Palace of the Popes, we zigzagged our way northward through the ancient narrow streets until we exited the city’s old ramparts through Porte du Rocher to join Boulevard de la Ligne (Route D225). Avignon is a maze and we would have been totally lost without a GPS. Running all along the mighty Rhone River, the boulevard later becomes the Route Touristique des Bords du Rhone, The Tourist Route of the Rhône (Route D907/D225). We followed the road until it swung away from the river and at the first major roundabout where the D907 heads north to Sorgues and the D225 heads to Carpentras, we went north. My clear intention was to avoid any major highways or autoroutes. I wanted to explore the backroads of Provence, from roundabout to roundabout, through lanes bordered by fields of fruit trees, vineyards and old stone farmhouses, and whenever we got to the outskirts of a town, the road was flanked by factories and warehouses, and filled with service trucks. No problem! There was no rush. We had time on our hands.  We were slow traveling France.

It may have been lunch time and shops were closed but the wares were still displayed outside in Vaison-la-Romaine

When I recently wrote about Spain and the magical day spent in Barcelona’s Bari Gotic I mentioned that another enthralled travel day was a visit to Vaison-la-Romaine in the Haut-Vaucluse region of France, loosely defined as the northern section of Provence.  It was our last day in Provence before returning to Paris for a further dose of enchantment.

Caesar Augustus statue high up on the stage's wall

Our first destination for the day was the town of Orange, a major Roman period town. Later it became a unique Dutch Principality (from 1544 to 1702) in the south of France before it was ceded to Louis IV of France. It was a popular Protestant destination during the French Wars of Religions (1562 - 1598). However, the Dutch, the House of Orange-Nassau, never ceded the title, Prince/Princess of Orange. For that matter, neither did the Kingdom of Prussia, the House of Hohenzollern, which also laid claim to the title. The Dutch continued to use the title for the heir apparent to the Dutch throne. Today, the thirteen year old Princess Catharina-Amelia, current heir apparent to the Dutch throne, is the first Princess of Orange to claim the title in her own right since 1417 when Mary of Baux-Orange, the last Princess of Orange, died.

 The back of the stage area of the Amphitheater.
The itinerary for Orange called for a visit to the weekly market, the ancient Roman amphitheater and the Triumphal Arch, the oldest complete structure in Orange, possibly built during the reign of Augustus (27 BC - AD 14). In the end we spent most of our 2 hours in Orange at the magnificent amphitheater and the adjacent museum, before a short walk through the market and never got to see the Triumphal Arch. But that’s the way travel days sometimes goes.

 From the top row of the seating area the people looks tiny near the stage.
The lonely figure in the first row on the right is M. 

The Amphitheater, still in use today as a musical venue, is ginormous, even by today’s standards, and a glorious testament to the skills of the builders of the Roman Empire. Started in the 1st century AD under Caesar Augustus, it is the most well preserved Roman amphitheater in Europe. It was extraordinary to see such an ancient building still in relative good condition. While M stayed on level ground near the stage I climbed all the way to the top of the seating area. The seats of the amphitheater rest against the side of St. Eutrope Hill, which dominates Orange. Below the hill’s summit is the St. Eutrope Park, this at one time housed the Chateau Nassau, but because of William III, the Prince of Orange’s protectionism of Protestants it was destroyed in 1672 on the command of Louis XIV, the sun king, in his effort to enforce Catholicism.   

 A Pink Floyd concert at the Theatre Antique L'Orange

From Orange we travelled along Route D977 passed the turn offs to classic Provençal villages, with names that flow off the tongue like liquid poetry: Gigondas (little brother of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region), Sablet, Segúret, and Rasteau until the road started to run more or less parallel to the Ouvèze River, which took us into the town of Vaison-la-Romaine.

The 1st century Roman bridge 

We parked our car just inside the new town on Avenue Cesar Geoffray about 200 meters from Pont Romaine de Vaison-la-Romaine, a bridge built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and which is still in used today.  We first explored the lower town or new town, where the ancient Roman settlement was located. We walked uphill along Grand Rue until it becomes Avenue General de Gaulle and at the tourism office next to the Musée Archéologique Théo Desplans we stopped. It was lunch time and in the south of France lunch time is sacred. There was nearly no one around. The place felt deserted. Shops we all closed. It felt like we had the place to ourselves. M and I annexed a bench that overlooked the city’s Roman ruins to eat our lunch that we brought along from our apartment while we waited for the museum to open again after lunch. Lunch consisted of some rustic black olive bread, sharp pale yellow cheese we bought at the Gordes market a few days ago, fruit and some “to die for” yogurt.

[Please let me indulge for a minute about French yogurt. If you haven’t eaten French yogurt yet, put it on your “foods I must try” list. I am not a big yogurt eater, or rather I never used to be, but I fell in love with their yogurts during my travels through France, especially the ones that come in tiny delicate glass jars with the clear fruit and fruit juices at the bottom and the thick, creamy yogurt on top. It is simply heaven in a jar.
The difference between American and French/European yogurt is a higher fat content. French yogurt contains nearly double the amount of fat than the American standard percentage. And fat means flavor. There is a French word vachement.
In Google it translates to: really, bloody or damned! If used as a superlative, it means “unbelievable”, or in American English “Oh my god, it’s frigging awesome.”]

Apart from some kids also waiting for the museum to open, there was no one on the streets.
After lunch we visited the archeology museum, walked along Rue Burrus and beheld the splendor of the Roman ruins. Through a public garden and along more Roman ruins we arrived at the Cathedral Notre Dame De Nazareth, a classic Romanesque-style church, the present building dates back to the 1200s, although some parts inside dates back to the Merovingian period, early 8th Century. It was by far the oldest church building I have ever been into. We lingered for a while, and then in a roundabout way, passed more Roman ruins, we arrived back on Rue Grand and made our way back to our car.

More Roman ruins, a tranquil garden and the cathedral in the distance 
The Cathedral Notre Dame De Nazareth
 Inside the Cathedral Notre Dame De Nazareth

And we nearly missed the magic of the day!

It was already late afternoon and had more than an hour’s drive back to Avignon ahead and I was ready to go in order to avoid driving in the dark. But then M suggested we took a quick walk through the old town on the other side of the river. Bless her soul for making the suggestion. Our “quick” walk turned into more than an hour of being transported back to a 14th Century “stone sanctuary.” What was so strange was that there were no tourists. We walked the ancient streets all by ourselves.

After visits to the charmed hilltop villages of Gordes and Roussillon, and spending time sipping wine in various historic Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines cellars, and watching the sun set over the Rhône River at Ponte d’Avignon, and finding some beautiful classic French copper kitchen utensils at a flea market on Place Pie in Avignon (the seller specially unpacking his wares again because we came to the market very late), I didn’t think anything could beat our Provençal experiences so far until we cross the Ouvèze River into the old medieval town on the left bank and entered a time machine, which transported us centuries back.

The old town, perfectly restored, or maintained, I am not sure, retained its ambiance of centuries ago. Steep narrow cobbled stone streets, flanked by ancient grey stone houses, gardens hidden behind iron gates and tall walls, multiple tiny plazas with water fountains, and here a house with blue and there one with green and further down the road a house with burgundy red and around a corner one with brown shutters. On one square a bed & breakfast hotel, around a corner an artisan’s shop. On top of the hill, very strategically placed and overlooking the new town and the valley behind the old town, the ruins of Chateau Comtal, the old castle of the Counts of Toulouse, which provided the town’s folk a safe haven during the Religious Wars. The pictures really tell the true story of the magic of those ancient streets in this enchanted hamlet with houses and gardens clinging to the steep hill like rock climbers ascending El Capitano in Yosemite National Park.

 Looking down from the top of the hill beyond the old town, farms and vineyards

The twilight hour was near when we eventually left Vaison-la-Romaine and we had to totally rely on Samantha, our trusted Garmin GPS to lead us back to Avignon and its narrow ancient streets. That evening as we walked back from the parking garage we didn’t directly went to our rented apartment, but meandered along the many quieter backstreets in the vicinity of our apartment, away from the small squares, populous and noisy, and the busy streets that house banks, neighborhood bars, a Carrafour supermarket, and other shops. On a quiet pedestrian-only street we came upon a tiny restaurant, a true mom-and-pop (actually a husband-and-wife) hole-in-the-wall, with space for only 5 or 6 el fresco tables. It had no diners occupying any of the tables and we were initially skeptical as we studied the menu on an easel near the entrance. A very friendly lady asked if we were Americans and in English explained that their food was traditional French.

A man standing nearby leaning against a wall, smoking a cigarette also chipped in and said the restaurant was a neighborhood favorite and that the food was very good. Between them they convinced us and we sat down and enjoyed a fabulous plat du jour; a mixed greens house salad, a creamy Normandy pork stew with vegetables (a la chicken pot pie style), presented in tiny Le Creuset-like pots, followed by a delightful local Provençal version of Tiramisu in tiny Mason jars. (It reminded me of those delicious yogurts in glass jars.) As the evening matured more diners filled the empty tables, lively conversation ensued and the quiet thoroughfare became a joyous celebration of that quintessential French pastime, dinner. It turned out to be one of our best open air dinners in France. It was quite late in the evening and after many glasses of Côtes du Rhône red wine we found our way back to Rue Carnot and our apartment. A perfect day to end a truly enchanted stay in Provence!

A tranquil garden space 

Another fountain. The old town is littered with fountains
M next to the Ouvèze River with the ancient Roman bridge in the background

 A last look at Vaison-la-Romaine at the twilight hour

Saturday, February 11, 2017

From the Prado to the Royal Palace

Our last days in Spain were a series of bus and train rides, excursions to the towns of Toledo and Segovia, and wandering through the streets of Madrid.

 La Cathédrale Santa María La Real de La Almudena  

We visited the Prado Museum, got there around ten o’clock in the morning and the line to enter was halfway around the building, so we left, took a bus ride through the modern part of Madrid and was terribly disappointed because it was not nearly as enchanted as the old part. We arrived back at the Prado two hours later and walked right in. For the next three and half hours M died and went to heaven. She was among the old masters of European painters and totally in her own universe. I was in total agony. The 4 hours standing of the previous evening watching the Semana Santa in Plaza Mayor rekindled an old hip injury and the slow walking and more standing in the museum took its toll on my hip. All I wanted to do was to sit somewhere comfortable to diminish the pain. And sat I did from time to time and just let M meander through the marbled-floor halls and appreciate the works of  her perennial favorites,  Rembrandt, Petrus Paulus Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, but we both got to know and like the works of  Goya too. At 5:30 pm I eventually dragged her out of there, she reluctantly agreed, and we paid a quick visit to the San Jerónimo el Real Church across the street from the Prado.        

 Puerta del Sol, Madrid's Time Square

We crossed the busy Paseo del Prado street, allowed ourselves to be swept away by the crowd of pedestrians towards Gran Via and down a quiet side street we found a quaint square and the restaurant La Plateria, named after the square. For the next two or three hours we sat al fresco under the heated umbrellas of the restaurant watching the comings and goings of people either heading home or on their way to the Friday night Holy Week procession through the neighborhood of Huertas just a block or two away from the square. We reflected on the day’s activities and savored Rioja wine and local Madrilène cuisine. The food was generous, the house wine above average, the service swift and the chairs comfortable to allow our tired feet a rest. 

The Royal Palace
On the Monday, our last day, we visited the Palacio Real, the Royal Palace, and the Cathedral Santa María La Real de La Almudena next door to the palace. In the Palace, just like in the Prado, I was sternly told that photography was not allowed. Spoilsports! Of course, I still snapped the secret photo here or there. See the selection of chandeliers in the video below. Afterwards he had a late lunch near the Opera House before we returned to our apartment for some rest and packing for the next morning’s departure to Munich, Chicago and then Lexington.   


Street scenes from Madrid and inside the Royal Palace

Early evening after the sun has set behind the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains and a hazy darkness has settled upon Madrid, I walked out on the apartment’s balcony for a cigarette before we went out for our last dinner at an Italian trattoria around the corner from our apartment. On the balcony next door a dog sniffled once or twice before an unseen male voice silenced it from behind the wall that divided the balconies. A star flooded sky could faintly be seen in the halo of the city’s lights. In the distance a communications tower’s red light flickered insistently. Somewhere a church bell rang and from the Rondo de Atocha, the main street that leads to Madrid’s major railway station, the high pitch of a motorbike going much faster than the speed limit pierce the tranquil twilight hour.           

 Entrance to Plaza Mayor

Personally I preferred Barcelona to Madrid. I don’t have any specific reason. Maybe it’s Barcelona’s location by the sea or its ancient origins from Roman times. Or maybe it was because our apartment was located where I felt more inclusive of the community with a small tienda de productos frescos, a fruit and vegetable shop, across the street and a community grocer, a butcher, a fishmonger and a panaderia, a bakery, just around the corner, which I paid a visit to every morning for croissants. Maybe it was because I found the Barcelonians friendlier than the Madrilenians and the food and service exceedingly better. But I have to admit Madrid is a very elegant city with beautiful architecture, wide boulevards and a regal attitude which rivals that of Paris, Rome and London. Well, maybe not Paris.

 The Ministry of Justice

Maybe it was because the day we spent in Barcelona’s Barri Gotic neighborhood was one of the best travel days I have ever experienced. I have walked the streets of many medieval cities or towns: Kyoto, Venice, Avignon, Gordes, and Les Baux-de-Provence to name a few, and among the ruins of several Roman settlements in Rome and Pompeii, but I never felt history as vibrant and alive as that day we spent in the Barri Gotic. I know the Barri Gotic was totally revamped and modernized during the early 20th century, but they kept the old world atmosphere and charm in the narrow streets and hidden squares and the buildings’ brownish patinas reflected the Middle Ages and allowed me to be transported back in time. No other travel day, except maybe that late afternoon we meandered through the streets of the Haute Ville of Vaison-la-Romaine in France with its extremely steep narrow passages, tiny squares, ancient fountains and ruined castle of the Counts of Toulouse, did I experience history so real that it left you melancholy with the thought of having to return to reality.

 The Church of San Manuel and San Benito 

I have no doubt that one day I will return to Spain. I just don’t know when. I have no interest in seeing the Costa del Sol or the islands of Majorca or Ibiza, but Seville, Córdoba, Granada will always beckon and the white hilltop towns of Andalusia in the south and the medieval villages in the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia in northern Spain must be as beautiful as the French villages of Provence, the Dordogne and northwestern Midi-Pyrénées between Limoges in the north and Cahors in the south.

As the old saying goes, dreams are ten a penny. Because I have so many and due to inflation travel dreams have become more expensive, so I will have to save more dollars to make those dreams come true.

The magnificent doors of the Cathedral Santa María La Real de La Almudena  

Adiós Espana o hasta pronto!

Spain in Summary


Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Holy Week Procession in Madrid

They call it a procession, a march, but it is more like a dance to the beat of a brass band. In a Spanish Semana Santa, a Holy Week procession, the candles and wooden crosses carriers in their penitential robes, capes and conical hats, and the accompanied women, mostly dressed in black and wearing the traditional Spanish mantilla head dress, do their best, to march to the band’s “militarized” music, as if it was playing Johann Strauss Sr.’s, Radetzky Marsch Opus 228, but the heavy pasos, the priceless religious floats of artwork, sway to the waltzing rhythm of the costaleros or “sack men”, the carriers of these floats, as if they are the upper class of the late 19th Century Vienna dancing to the music of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Blue Danube at an imperial ball in the Schönbrunn Palace. No wonder in some regions of Spain the pasos, procession, this waltzing dance, is called a bailadosto, a ballet.

(Watch the video at the end of the post and see what I am talking about.)

 At the beginning of the long wait
On a bright, sunny, but cool day, only a few hours after our arrival in Madrid from Barcelona, and after a visit to Mercado de San Miguel for tapas we discovered that the Semana Santa procession was to pass through the Plaza Mayor, which was adjacent to the Mercado (food market.) We exited the tapas marketplace at around 5:30 pm and by accident saw that police were preparing for the procession. We entered the Plaza and found a table at one of the restaurants inside the plaza to kill time. For the next hour or more I made a big deal out of drinking a glass or two of white wine and munching on a bowl of Manzanilla olives and M savoring a cup of tea to while away the time until the arrival of the procession. Because we were occupying prime table space the waiters constantly came around to ask if we wanted dinner. Even though we were satiated from the tapas, in hind sight we should have ordered a light “tourist” dinner, which is all that the restaurants on the plaza were good for, because it turned out to be a very, very long night. By 7:30 pm the police started to cordon off a small area inside the plaza in readiness for the procession but the whole path was not cordoned off. So we abandoned our table and joined the crowd right in front of the precession’s path in a prime standing location. And we waited!

As the evening grew older, a late winter coolness descended upon an ever increasing crowd, a full moon slowly rose above the Islesia Santa Cruz located just outside the historic plaza. We felt like pimento stuffed Spanish olives packed in a jar.

And we waited! Asking any one of the thousands around us what time the procession would come through the plaza was useless. We did. No one knew. No even the police, who was in communication with other police along the procession's path via cellphones and walkie-talkies did not know. They kept telling anyone who asked, “in one hour.” M and I couldn't quite understand this situation. How on earth could they not know? They have done these processions before, year after year, since around year 1530 AD, maybe skipping a few processions during wars or revolutions. And Spain has its fair share of those. I would find out later why no one knew the exact time.

Standing there with time to think aplenty, I also found it rather strange why the procession’s path was cleared so many hours ahead of time without them actually putting up any form of physical barriers like they do in New York for the many parades that that city hosts. The result was really hilarious. The police would clear a piece of road through the plaza and once the 2 or 3 policeman moved on people would cross the opened path constantly and over a short period of time the masses would encroach upon the clearing and then the police would come along again and push the crowd back. And this snaking path and concertina movement would continue for at least 2 hours or more. Simple mobile steel barriers could have kept the clearing open and they would have had to do it only once. I could only guess that in case of a sudden frightful event the lack of barriers could prevent people from being squashed and injured against a ridged object. Or the fact that once the procession passed there was no cleanup to be done.

Eventually, shortly after 9 pm we heard the first sounds of a marching band nearing the plaza. Ten to fifteen minutes later and with a great sigh of relief, the procession entered Plaza Mayor through the Calle Cdad. Rodrigo entrance. Leading the procession were the Nazarenos, the ones wearing the penitential robes with conical hats (in America you would associate this outfit with the Ku Klux Klan, but in this case they were all in purple.) They were followed by a marching band which tried their best, but was sometimes out of tune. Then came a group of women dressed in black and wearing the familiar Spanish mantilla head dress, then more Nazarenos carrying wooden crosses, followed by the candle carriers in white robes and purple capes. Shortly after 10 pm the “Pasos” Jesus Nazareno “El Pobre” (The Procession of Our Father Jesus of Nazarene, the Poor) appeared.

It was then that I understood why no one knew the exact time the floats would arrive. The procession was not marching to anyone’s clock. It was marching to its own rhythm. The portion of the procession leading the first float took an hour to pass us. It took another half hour for the first float to move 200 feet and the whole procession took more than 2 hours to go through the plaza. The costaleros, the float carriers, often rested and the floats were accompanied by medical staff. It was obvious that these floats were very heavy. Each float that passed us was carried by about 60 men. The first float was followed by another band, more Nazarenos, more ladies in black and then came the second float, the María Santísima del Dulce Nombre, (The Holy Mary with the sweet name) which was followed by a third band.

 The entrance of the Holy Mary's float 

The whole procession was an unbelievable spectacle! It is not easy to describe a Semana Santa because it really is something that needs to be experienced, visually and physically. The scene could not have been more dramatic. Inside Plaza Mayor, encircled by the historic red buildings with hundreds of white framed windows and an illuminated colonnade below, a transparent ceiling of a blackened sky, watched over by a full moon, and surrounded by thousands of spectators, the procession was absolutely amazing and we felt very privileged to have been part of this celebrated cultural festival. The visually striking and physically exhausting extravaganza was worth the long wait. It is seldom that when  one travels to foreign places and happens upon a festival and see something extraordinary one knows that what is being experienced at that moment is a once in a life time experience. This was one of those times.  

“Pasos” Jesus Nazareno “El Pobre” (The Procession of Our Father Jesus of Nazarene, the Poor)

It was way after midnight and we were totally exhausted. Cold, with stiff joints and on swollen feet we staggered our way toward Puerta del Sol’s metro station.  The place was packed with people, but luckily there was a metro worker at the ticket vending machine to expedite the process and the next train for us came soon thereafter. Sol was thankfully only three metro stops away from our destination, the Atocha metro station.


Close by the Atocha station we found an open-till-late fast food place that looked dodgy with napkins and other trash lying in the floor, but its la fresco tables were still packed with youngsters. African street vendors and half-drunken beggars were standing around outside, but we took a gamble because we were thirsty! Behind a long serving bar counter a large fellow with a greasy ponytail and a wild beard greeted us in a friendly smiley manner. We ordered two café con leches. We savored the coffee sip after sip and we both agreed it was quite a good cup o’Joe. Satisfied we took the short walk from there to our rented apartment. 

The next day was supposed to be one of the highlights of our trip, as if the Semana Santa was not already a major highlight.

The next day we would be going to the Prado Museum, not just Spain’s but one of Europe’s premier art museums, to have our visual senses overwhelmed by the likes of Diego Valazques, El Greco, Goya, Pieter Paul Rubens, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Hieronymus Bosch and many more.  

But tomorrow was another day. Tonight we needed to crash and get some sleep. It was a very long and eventful day.  (Also see the post Madrid and the Pickpockets.)          


María Santísima del Dulce Nombre, (The Holy Mary with the sweet name)