Category: South Africa

View from top of Darling renosterveld hill

Roads Less Travelled: Why Darling?

When Howard and I reluctantly departed the small village of Darling in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, near the end of September 2016, we knew, after 14 months there, our first task was to answer the question everyone asked us: “Why Darling?” When we decided to live in South Africa for a year to celebrate our 50th anniversary, why did we choose Darling rather than the gorgeous, but certainly less personal, Cape Town?

We knew both Darling and Cape Town. Our first two visits to Darling occurred on two of our three earlier visits to South Africa, during which we drove more than 15,000 kilometers (say 9,000 miles) through much of the country. On these visits, we went in search for spring wildflowers and Pieter-Dirk Uys’ satire. We stayed at Darling Lodge (thanks to Beryl at the Perron!). During relaxed “what if?” chats in the lodge parlor (voorkamer in Afrikaans) with owners Oliver and Stefan, we began thinking, “what if we lived here?” When we decided to actually do it, Oliver helped us find a self-catering holiday house to rent on the Darling Tourism website.

When we weren’t just enjoying life in our house in Darling, gathering answers to “Why Darling?” we drove to Cape Town often, travelled throughout Southern Africa, and welcomed many wonderful guests.

Keep scrolling for just some of our answers to “Why Darling?” If you want to experience them yourself, come visit us the next time we are in residence.

A special note about photos in this blog: All our photos are snapshots using our iPhone 6’s (so blame Apple, good or bad.) In Darling alone, there are so many photos we wanted to show you, that we turned them into a series of slideshows. The slideshows move quite rapidly. Depending on what device you are using, you will be able to pause on a photo. You may need to refresh to move forward again. Enjoy!

Darling is hills, fields and flowers as far as you can see. And beyond is the sea.

Our neighbor, famed artist Nicolaas Maritz described the hills this way:

Darling hills in Nicolaas's gallery
Darling hills in Nicolaas’s gallery

“...In summer the hills are barren and the vineyards green, and in winter it is the other way round. Rows of blue-gum trees planted as wind-breaks make interesting horizons, especially at dawn, or silhouetted against the orange and purple gloaming of sunset. There are still enough dust roads to make it feel like a real countryside. Spring brings astonishing mass displays of veld flowers. At night the skies are dappled with countless stars as if studded with confetti…”


Below are a few of our ”hills, fields, flowers and the sea” photos, before we gave up taking them. No photo (at least from an iPhone) can capture the “as far as you can see” vistas that are just about everywhere you look.

Darling is music!

Darling Music Experience (DME), classical music with a twist, has been fantastically and tirelessly run by founder Alfred Legner for more than 12 years. Did I hear it will become part of the new Taste of Darling?


Hendrik Hofmeyr
Composer Hendrik Hofmeyr

Voorkamerfest, the performance festival in Darling living rooms, has taken a hiatus – but plans call for its return after a break – for its 18th year.

Both festivals showcase incredible musicians, even works by former resident and composer Hendrik Hofmeyr, who composed a piece for us before we left. Thank you Hendrik, and thanks to Alfred and wife Jutta for making this happen!

Hendrik Hofmeyr, Composer

Last year, there were DME performances at the awesome new Darling Brewery, Evita se Perron (Pieter-Dirk Uys’ theater in the old railway station), !Khwa Ttu San Cultural Center, the wine cellar at Ormonde wine farm, local churches and even Stellenbosch. Voorkamerfest is always held in living rooms (called lounges in South Africa) throughout the village.

African music demo at Voorkamerfest
Dizu Plaatjies at Voorkamerfest
Abavuki at Voorkamerfest
Abavuki at Voorkamerfest
Darling Focus Community Center
Darling Focus Community Center

A favorite spot for young musicians is the Darling Focus Community Center. Saturday mornings it hosts DME’s Darling Music for All (DMA). Aden, the youngest member of saintly John Fevrier’s percussion group, often manages to show up; after percussion class, dedicated musician, composer and cheerleader Marius Vlotman leads weekly Djembe drumming, even when only dedicated star student Griffin shows up. And exciting news – Howard and I are helping DMA start a band (to evolve into an orchestra as it grows). Its first performance was a smash.


Across the road, at the Darling Trust preschool “R” classroom, tireless Judy Wood teaches 58 students of all ages after the 60 little ones go home.

Darling Trust preschool
Darling Trust preschool

Thanks to Tasha St. John-Reid of the Darling Trust and Alfred Legner of DME/Darling Music for All, and so many more – you all help make Darling such a special place.

Darling is art.

Darling will never be boring with neighbor Nicolaas Maritz in the room … He was always there when we needed him; he is never afraid to say what he thinks.

Nicolaas just happens to be one of the best artists in South Africa. If you want to be happy, look for anything he creates – a painting, graphic design, sculpture, ceramic, poetry, music, or even an essay (see excerpt from his “Darling Hills,” above). We love his paintings so much we took home six.

In Darling, there is art on all sides of town…

Art is on both sides of the tracks

And of course, many out of town artists like to visit Darling, too!

Below is a painting of the Darling Hills we bought from well known Cape Town artist Tyrone Appollis. An artist of many talents, Tyrone played his penny whistle for us before the opening of his exhibit at the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town.

Tyrone Appollis, artist

Darling is writers, too!

pieter-dirk-uys-from-webKeeping us Americans laughing, especially when he compares South African President Zuma with Donald Trump, is Darling’s Pieter-Dirk Uys (PDU), South Africa’s legendary satirical writer/performer.

wendy Darling’s Hilary Prendini Toffoli is our favorite South African culture journalist. Hilary writes about all that’s happening in style, art, music, theater, film – not only in Darling but throughout the country.

Here’s a photo of Hilary with artist Nicolaas Maritz at the opening of his recent exhibit at the fabulous new Moor Gallery in Franschhoek. Read her recent blog Tastes Like Home in the SAA inflight magazine; her Mail & Guardian interview with the lead, “A Voice I Cannot Silence,” the biographical play about Alan Paton. Or just google her for more.


Visiting us in Darling was Alex Matthews. our favorite South African travel and social issues journalist. Alex writes for some of the most prestigious publications in South Africa.

We visited Mozambique and Swaziland soon after he made some of his many visits there, and related to his stories. I’m cheating by putting him in here, hoping it will tempt him to return and dig more into what makes Darling tick.


peter-hall-from-facebookCovering it all, Darling and beyond, is beloved Peter Hall who writes the very important “tell all” Darling Dorpskoerant (yes, Darling is indeed a rural village, or dorp). Peter holds occasional bring your own “Beer and Books” nights for the guys, which Howard says is usually more beer than books and lots of fun. Peter’s wife Cathy creates fantastic programs at the Darling Museum. Recent favorites were on San (bushman) rock art, and on security needs at diamond mines. Cathy also makes incredible pop-up meals if you ask her. Thank you, Cathy, for all you do!

5-happy-birthday-book-leagueBook League, our go-to bookstore, is truly the heartbeat of Darling. Owners Ann and Wendy know what you want to read before you know it yourself. They can tell you who else has read it and what they thought of it. Social directors extraordinaire, they introduce readers to writers eye-to-eye, without an internet-based Amazon style algorithm. They also know everything else you might need to know that Gil and Aleks Ferreira next door at the Flying Pig don’t.

Darling has the best treats anywhere, most within walking distance of each other.

I’m listing just a few found at the Flying Pig: Gil Ferreirra’s sauscisson sec, Darling olives, Rosemead artisanal breads, Darling Sweet toffees, dried pomegranates, fresh and dried mushrooms, freshly-baked rusks, Carla’s Udderly Delicious cheese, and locally grown organic greens. For yummy healthful everything, check out Chicory Cheese. And just outside of town, Groote Post Wine Farm holds its month-end Sunday markets, offering the farm’s wonderful rosé on special, and serving beautiful Hilde’s Kitchen lunches, indoors or out, depending on the weather.

Darling is breakfast lattes after yoga or Pilates

Crocodile cloth over Table Mountain… too tempting to pass up.

Thank you, Lisa, for discovering those almond croissants at The Pig! … and thanks to Rosemead for delivering weekly olive sticks, baguettes and sour dough bread. (Hmm… I’m beginning to get a picture of how I gained 5 kilos in one year!)

Come to think of it, proprietors Aleks and Gil were always happy to supply us with bagels when we were homesick (yes, South Africa has bagels!), scrumptious pig products, and pirogis when Aleks’ mother was visiting. Lest I forget, their brilliant young daughter was the first in Darling to place my funny accent as “American!” I always thought that South Africans were the ones who talked funny.

Darling is lunches, outdoors when the weather allows, which is pretty much all year round.


Little Darlings at lunchLunch time is a bit different for the 60 “Little Darlings” in the two classrooms run by The Darling Trust. Thank you Pieter-Dirk Uys, other donors, Tasha and the rest of The Trust’s creative, hard-working, and caring staff. Tasha says there is much need for another two preschool classrooms. I had no idea that public school doesn’t begin for South African children until age 7.

Darling is blessed to have the support of The Trust – not only for this preschool program, but for after-school art, music, athletics (I’m thinking of the pool) and more.

Darling is dinner out with friends, when there is a restaurant open!

On Tuesday nights, talented artist Omnia Grobler runs her pot luck club at Brigs Barn restaurant where town fathers and mothers regularly gather, and where Iris and Howard were made to feel so welcomed when we were in town.

Wednesdays (if you’re lucky) Charles Whittingham does one of his wine tastings. (Anesia Darné, please keep doing the Mexican you did for the wine tasting regularly at your Chicory Cheese!).

20 minutes drive to the dunes above Yzerfontein’s 16 Mile Beach is Thursday night gourmet pizza at Strandkombuis. On Sunday afternoons, they do an incredible seafood buffet.

Friday night is pizza, too, at Sandy’s always-jammed Marmalade Cat. Select from pies like Four Seasons and Banana Bacon, or design your own.

Finally, if you beg hard enough, “Herman the German” might talk his wife Antoinette into cooking you her famous schnitzel.


Darling is so many more amazing people. Push on if you can bear to keep reading, or scroll on past. We will love you anyway.

Pru Davis, what would we have done without you? You are everywhere, even when you’re not! Keep up the great work with the DMA and everything else you do for Darling. And please keep up the drumming!

Lisa Katz, you know how much we loved your Pilates classes and your tales of wrestling kudus on the farm. Now that you are back in Cape Town, please don’t forget us.

Amy Watson, Darling is blessed to have you. You do anything and everything, with grace, whether its dancing, choreographing, getting me up in the morning, leading Pilates, cooking the yummiest meals (hurry up with Supper Darling!), even packing boxes.

Karen Korte, you are the calmest yoga teacher ever (thanks for your fabulous art at the 99th Darling Wild Flower Festival!)


Simeon Watson-Stoch (mother of Amy Watson, Lesa who has gone back to Tasmania, and the cats) is Leesure Agency’s in-house insurance and investments expert – and our fairy godmother for these fourteen months. Just a reminder that some day we walk-ins might even become clients. For now, we are content to just borrow your unbeatable office services and fill up on your bolognaise.

Lee Stoch, Simeon’s husband, is Leesure’s unmatchable outside expert and our fairy godfather. After long days explaining insurance and investment opportunities to clients throughout South Africa, he still had time and energy to criticize our security, light our wood burning braai, cook our steaks, lamb chops and boerewors, change our light bulbs, and always keep us laughing.


And more people who make Darling so wonderful:

Kevin, the best butcher (except of course, for your father and brother). You knew what our guests would like to eat before we even asked – and where to find our Thanksgiving turkey. Thanks, too, for the wood… without your great meat and wood for the fire, we wouldn’t have had so many awesome braais.

Irma and Gary, how will you and Kalimera ever get along without us? 🙂

And Ian and Lynn and your fab family – we know we could count on you for anything (and did).

Michelle and Innes, honorary citizens, social media marketing partners in Social Tulips. They always know the “how to’s” and answers to social media questions – is it the product or the marketing?

Our friends at the Engen station (that hides the post office inside) – how did you always know when we needed petrol, and when our windows needed washing (more trips on unpaved back roads)?      


Stefan HurterStefan Hurter is Darling’s sound and video expert extraordinaire, wherever needed, especially at the Perron.

Felix Magdziarz is the guy that makes that great Darling Brew. Congrats to his bosses Kevin and Phillipa Wood – what an awesome new brewery. Let my Oliver know when you think NY again.

Alfred and Jutta Legner did so much to make Darling and our experience there so awesome. We love you both and all you do. Thanks for introducing us to so many Darling treasures, including Michael and Izetta Rangasamy, who work so hard to help move Darling forward. (Michael, we look at our “honorary citizen” plaque every day in our NY apartment!)


Finally, to Beryl at the Perron, who helped get us to Darling the first time … Thanks for introducing us to Darling Lodge … and getting us all those great tables at the Perron!

Oops – time to stop. Forgive all I’ve left out – will be sure to include in “Why Darling 2.0”

Darling is historic …

I’ve included a bunch of snapshots of Darling, mostly some favorite buildings, but a few of happenings around town. The 99th Darling Wild Flower Show, for example, and the first ever Darling Collection.

For those of you who may not know – Darling is old. The Darling hills surround a small farm village first explored in 1682. Named for Charles Henry Darling, Lieutenant General of the Cape Colony, Darling was incorporated in 1853 on land down the street from us belonging to Langfontein Farm (now Ormonde Wine Farm). The village has a main street and some residential side streets, many still unpaved. A freight train runs through the middle of the village a few times a day.

Darling is not that far from wild animals. Remember, it’s Africa!

Happily, Darling is much nearer to Cape Town than most people think.

When you need a break from Darling, Cape Town is less than an hour away, depending on “stop/go’s”, South Africa’s unique and dreaded road works management system. Cape Town is so close that on a clear day, you can see Table Mountain from the Darling hills.


Here are a few more snapshots of Table Mountain and its Cape Town neighborhood, just because it’s hard not to snap them!

Finally, one of Nicolaas Maritz’s paintings that we particularly love (and bought) is “Crocodile Cloth over Table Mountain.” Leave it to Nicolaas to visualize the famed “table cloth” as a crocodile! No matter how many times we went to Cape Town (more than 100?), the mountain always looked different but I’m not sure it ever looked to me like it had a crocodile cover.


And in Grand Conclusion

We are so happy we chose to live in Darling (and not the big wonderful, but less personal, city of Cape Town!) In trying to answer “why?” I have actually written a love letter. Thanks to all for helping to make it such a great year plus. “Why Darling?” Darling is darling, as they say. We can’t wait to return.

P.S. If you want to read about some of our other adventures in and out of Darling, be sure to read my other South African blogs (all called “Roads Less Travelled”). They are right on this website.

And if you decide after reading my blogs that you want to do your own year in South Africa or anywhere elsewhere in the world, stay tuned for my next blog – Roads Less Travelled – A “How To” for a year away. It’s harder, and easier, than you think.

Thanks for an amazing 50th anniversary year!
Thanks for an amazing 50th anniversary year!
Howard sitting in front of Xhosa round hut at Bulungula, on the Eastern Cape

Roads Less Travelled… and some national highways too

As roads do, one led us to another during our year in South Africa.

It’s time to describe some of our 15,000 kms on secondary, tertiary and national highways… occasionally shortened by a few planes… always keeping to the left (and just a few times stealing a few pics from previous trips).

Here’s a look at a few of our favorites:

Ixopo, where Alan Paton set his first and most famous novel.

View of Ixopo Valley – from rocky outcropping at the Buddhist Retreat Center
View of Ixopo Valley – from rocky outcropping at the Buddhist Retreat Center

“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa.”

These words are the opening words from Paton’s 1948 Cry the Beloved Country. They inspired us to make a two thousand kilometer drive to see the valley he wrote about, sharing the narrow road with taxi vans carrying way too many passengers way too fast; and only after traveling half-way on a 24 hour Greyhound to Umtata with much appreciated frequent Super Shell pit-stops …. I suppose this idiotic idea for a trip is like our visit to Cochin that led to 3000 Years of Jewish India.

At the end of our most difficult journey, we spent a week in a boma in the former Transkei, near Nelson Mandela’s childhood village.

Howard sitting in front of Xhosa round hut at Bulungula, on the Eastern Cape
Howard sitting in front of Xhosa round hut at Bulungula, on the Eastern Cape.

In his Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela writes: “I was born on 18 July, 1918 at Mvezo, a tiny village on the banks of the Mbashe River in the district of Umtata, the capital of the Transkei…” From there, Mandela, son of a Xhosa chief, took a road less traveled…

We never made it to Mvezo (the potholes were too deep), but did spend a week in a boma overlooking the Indian Ocean in the Xhosa village of Bulungula, about 30 kms from there, four hours from Umtata, the nearest city and near where he grew up. With the time saved on the aborted drive to Mvezo, I helped a village woman prepare her family’s daily meal by gathering fire wood, fetching water, and chopping cabbage.

We visited Inanda, a township near Durban, where Madiba cast his first vote.

Poster of Nelson Mandela voting
Poster of Nelson Mandela voting.

Invited to visit Durban and not knowing more about it than its fame for curry, we phoned Dr. Lindy Stiebel who had introduced us to Alan Paton’s Pietermaritzburg on a previous trip.

A professor of South African literature of international reputation, and creator of KZN (KwaZulu Natal) Literary Tourism, Lindy took us on rarely traveled-by-tourists roads, beyond those leading most visitors only to uShaka Marine World and Water Park.

A highlight was the place Nelson Mandela selected in 1994 to cast his first vote. The voting took place in a school founded by John Dube, who wrote the first isiZulu novel, Jeqe, The Body-Servant of King Shaka, and founded the ANC, the political party led by Mandela – still governing South Africa today.

Interestingly, Dube’s theories on equality were formed while visiting Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute, and his conversations on frequent walks with his Durban neighbor Mahatma Gandhi. (For more, see granddaughter Sita’s Memoirs of Sita Gandhi about growing up on the Gandhi farm in what is now suburban Durban, Phoenix Settlement.)

Howard’s dream was to go to the real southern most point in Africa…

Where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean!
Cape Agulhas, where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic.

To set the record straight, the Cape of Good Hope is not the southernmost point in Africa (nor is it the place where the Atlantic and the Indian meet). The southernmost point in Africa is a forlorn coastline town called Cape Agulhas, about four hours south and east of the Cape Point site on the Cape Town tourist maps. There’s nothing much in Cape Agulhas but a plaque, a few other tourists, the southernmost bar, the southernmost restaurant, and hundreds of ship-wrecks.

Of course, we followed many roads to experience awesome natural beauty.

Iris at the braai fire with head lamp cooking dinner
Iris at the braai fire with head lamp cooking dinner.

We spent a week in Swaziland in a self-catering cottage at the end of a gravel road up a steep hill below execution rock, in Swaziland’s first nature reserve. From the mountain above, ancient warriors threw criminals to their deaths.

We made sure we behaved since we were staying very close to the king’s palace and I didn’t qualify as a virgin maiden for his annual Reed Dance when he chooses a new wife. Really.

Coastal Mozambique roads are sandy – often impassable without a 4×4.

Inhambane Province – Mozambique boats and sand bars
Inhambane Province – Mozambique boats and sand bars

Dhow sail boats serve as fishing boats and transport women from the villages to trade in town. Tides along the coast come in quickly, so it’s a good thing that local women know how to carry their goods the traditional way, on their heads.

We drove across many deserts…

Red very high sand dune
Very high red sand dune.

The road to the Sossusvlei sand dunes in Namibia is about 10 hours from the capital city of Windhoek. We wish we had known before we went about our friend Janine Hobbs’ grandfather Israel Goldblatt’s Building Bridges (not roads). Incredible tales of his experiences with the Namibian nationalist movement. (Must ask Ann and Wendy in the Darling book store to track it down.)

Roads in Namibia are so pot-holed that all drivers are warned to drive with two spares…and the roads so remote that vehicles carry spare petrol, too… To get to the dunes, we rented a bakkie (pickup truck in South African usage) but discovered it had only one spare. We had no choice but to depart Windhoek with only the one. We made it to our lodge without even one flat… and much to our delight and surprise, a plane arrived the next morning with that second spare.

So many more deserted desert roads!

Pickup truck stuck at the side of an empty road
Pickup truck stuck at the side of an empty road
Quiver trees that look like people in the desert – Richtersveld Transnational Park on the Orange River
Quiver trees that look like people in the desert – Richtersveld Transnational Park on the Orange River

Namaqualand, the Karoo and the Kalahari… Once again we were often the only car on the road. They were much as I imagine the American mid- west before McDonalds – vast, empty plains, nothing but sheep and goats and an occasional windmill, and from time to time strange rock formations and distant mountains. (I just read Recipe of Food and Murder by Sally Andrew; set in the Klein Karoo, it’s a knock off of Alex McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, set in Gabarone, Botswana… but still lots of fun.)

On some trips there were no roads at all!

Occasionally there was a hike or flight in a four passenger planes above animal highways – Blyde River Canyon offered easy walks to waterfalls.

In the Okavango Delta, hippos blocked our mokoro’s channel. In Chobe’s Savuti Swamp there were so many zebras, elephants, giraffes and wildebeests grazing together, the scene made me think of early American painter Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom.

Victoria Falls is an easy flight from Joburg, and soon (we hope) Cape Town. Once we arrived, we hired a guide to drive us across the small border bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia, past dare-devil bungee-jumpers who didn’t seem to care where they were. The roaring falls rained on us and formed rainbows in the mist. Raincoats were the order of the day, unless you were 10, then getting soaked was part of the fun.

Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls


Diamonds and Gold!

Big hole in Kimberly where diamonds are still mined
Big hole in Kimberly where diamonds are still mined.

It’s well worth a four hour drive from Joburg in any direction to learn the story of diamonds and gold …diamonds in Kimberly and gold in Joburg’s Witwatersrand and remote Barberton and Pilgrim’s Rest. Howard is reading Martin Meredith’s Diamonds and Gold and Wars. Essentially, it’s the story of South Africa.

And if you are really adventuresome (who knew we were?), drive over the nearly impassable pass to Swaziland or plan a visit to a DeBeers mine in Port Nolloth in northwest Namaqualand… We visited the diamond mine on our first visit to South Africa – and learned so much, and won’t ever forget how hard it is to find a diamond.

3 people at table overlooking Franschhoek Valley
A delicious luncheon overlooking Franschhoek Valley.

And ah, just ordinary everyday landscape is so beautiful!

Protea, the national flower of South Africa
Protea, the national flower of South Africa.

Everywhere, past newly planted wheat, oats and canola, grape vines after harvest, and even in winter, flowers …

White roses, pink Proteas, red and yellow spiked aloes, blue phlox-like stems, bright orange Birds of Paradise and soon, if there has been enough winter rain, carpets of wildflowers everywhere.

And the most beautiful site yesterday, snow at the top of the mountains to the east as we drove through cow pastures and winter wild flowers on the side of the back road to Cape Town.

Finally, the most awesome sight of all, Table Mountain.

Table Mountain
Table Mountain

Always on view – unless occasional clouds – from just about any road within 60 kms of Cape Town. Yesterday, we weren’t disappointed.

Field of canola blooms

Why We Travel … Ah, but both our lands are beautiful …

Oliver on top of Table Mountain, South Africa's Empire State Building.
Oliver on top of Table Mountain, South Africa’s Empire State Building.

It was finally cool enough this week to hold my laptop in, yes, my lap. Love your comments and questions … keep ’em coming … by email please.

First, a bit of common histories between the Republic of South Africa (SA) and the United States of America (US):

Europeans – namely Portuguese – discovered both the southern tip of South Africa and the southern island of America while looking for a way to spices of India in the late 15th century.

Bartholomew Diaz rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1487, looking for India.

Christopher Columbus landed on the Bahamian Long Island (a great SCUBA destination, if you prefer great grey groupers to great white sharks), looking for India.

Vasco da Gama actually got to India not long after… Howard and I can show you where he landed, where he was buried, and immerse you in spices and tales of ancient Jews who pursued the spice trade an incredible 2500 years earlier – details here.

Europeans nearly wiped out the aboriginal San people; Europeans did that to the Native Americans, too.

Two weeks ago, Aenki Kassie, one of the last three people to speak the oldest surviving San language, died of chicken pox in Upington in the north of South Africa at the age of 71. She was of the Khomani people of the Kalahari Desert. Her N/uu language is the last of the !Ui language family, which was aboriginal to South Africa, and is represented by the Xam language used on the national motto: ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke (diverse people unite.)

Jessie Little Doe, a Cape Cod social worker and member of the Wampanoag tribe has been working recently at MIT to reclaim her ancestors’ extinct and until recently incomprehensible language. (See documentary “We Still Live Here” for her amazing story.)

In the mid-17th century, the Dutch sent their ships around the world looking for spices and treasure, and established what were to be enduring settlements at the southern tip of Manhattan and the southern tip of Africa.

Both settlements “employed” and traded slaves. Slavery was abolished in South Africa in 1834 but not until 1865 in the US. In some ways, it still continues in both places.

Britain colonized the Cape beginning in 1795. (She needed to replace tax revenues after losing the American colonies in 1783.) On arrival, Britain drove the Dutch out of New York and the Boers out of the Cape. So we both survived British colonial bullying.

In the 19th century the Boers trekked east and north while American pioneers trekked west.

The Zulus defeated the British in the last quarter of the 19th century, while a century earlier, the French helped the Americans defeat the British.

The British defeated the Boers (local white SA farmers), winning important mineral rights, among others in the early 20th century.

Back in the mid-19th century, both countries saw mineral rushes – gold and diamonds financed the development of SA – gold provided riches for many in the US. The US dollar has replaced the gold standard; the rand is still in SA today, but no longer backed by gold.

And some cultural comparisons:

Main language in SA is English – but there is a surprising amount of Afrikaans at home. English is the main language in the US, too, but a surprising amount of Spanish is spoken at home. Most South Africans are bi or tri lingual – 11 official, plus signing. If some have their way, Zulu or Xhosa (extra credit for the click!) will replace Afrikaans as number two. Some say Spanish will be the official US language before long.

Racism lives everywhere in both places – in SA it seems to be more openly discussed. In the just-ended “festive season,” alleged racist talk was reported on the front pages of SA newspapers – about the beaches, in bank economic presentations, and on SABC news casts. And in our (granted) still-limited experience, segregation still lives. In the sports events, theater performances, restaurants, farmers markets, and outdoor festivals that we have attended, non-whites are rarely seen. Some would say it’s economically induced… There’s a free opening concert for the Darling music festival this Friday night – I will report to you next month who was there and what excuse was used this time by those who were not.


Everyone asks us … Aren’t we afraid to travel in South Africa, let alone live here?

Fact: the highest gun ownership by far in the world at 113 per 100 homes is in the US; there are fewer than 8 per 100 in South Africa. Why the bad rep for South Africa? Enough said.

Good news for both countries (and Trevor Noah!)

Trevor’s Daily Show ratings are increasing. Now Americans can finally learn something about South Africa; South Africans already know much more about America. (For a fabulous insiders’ South African reading list, we might have to charge you.)

Festive season vs holiday season:

To begin, it’s a 4 week work holiday in SA vs 3 days in US. In SA, there are far fewer decorations and significantly less gift giving, thank goodness.

I know that the festive season falls in the SA summer, which explains long holidays, but come on – government regulation requires at least 2 weeks paid vacation – how much does the US government guarantee?

Year-end holiday traffic:

We’ve both got it! Americans go to FL vs SA’s going to Mozambique on two-lane highways with speed limits that slow you down from 100k’s to 40 k’s within about 100 yards, complete with camera-triggered police stops writing tickets for huge pay on the spot fines (and unofficial lower rates if you can get along without a receipt) when you miss one.

Ah, but our land is beautiful.
Ah, but this land is beautiful.

Ah, but our lands are beautiful.

Endless open roads, awesome mountains, two ocean coastlines and uninterrupted white sand beaches, straight highways across plains that go on forever before finally a curve … Some day we will actually get to drive across the US the way we have driven four times across SA.

Here in SA, water is lacking everywhere …

It is the driest year in SA in recorded history. Insects and snakes are invading houses looking for water and food. There is no water to grow corn and wheat and other staples, or to feed the animals. Food must now be imported at ever higher prices, impacting mainly on the poor who spend 50% + of their income on food already.


Both our constitutional democracies started with revolutions; both cry for good leaders to keep them going?

“I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville

In Democracy in America, de Tocqueville based his US travels upon the year 1831. Change United States to South Africa … change the date to 2016! And, add good women candidates in both, too! I wonder what would de Tocqueville have written had he visited SA?

SA has its Zulu-loving Zuma and the US has its anti-humanity Republicans.

Both constitutions support “free speech,” but how is that defined? What’s acceptable to our societies? Are people in SA freer to speak their minds? Will it jail people for homophobic, racist speech?

Both have a two party system. SA has two major parties – the ANC and the Democratic Alliance. In US, of course, we have Republicans and Democrats. It’s ironic that the ANC, the original freedom fighters (and sometimes communists), are now behaving like Republicans, who behave like the SA pre-1994 Nationalists. We won’t get into Republican goals now – we know them well. People say the ANC keeps all SA tax receipts for its members through inflated cronyism and corruption – and is the reason SA isn’t making sufficient progress in education, housing, infrastructure, and the overall economy. President Mandela hired a purposely diverse staff – Zuma hires Zulus.

On human rights …

Happily, two abortion foes were indicted recently (1.25.16) in the US – the beginning of the end of using malicious misleading media to change public opinion? “These people broke the law to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood in order to advance their extreme anti-abortion political agenda,”  Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said.

SA was the first to allow gay marriage. All people are protected by its 20 year old constitution. Sometimes, the US treats human rights like driving rights – every jurisdiction decides who can make a right had turn, who can pass on the left, who on the right … who will die by electric chair, who will spend a life in jail. Nothing much has changed – states’ rights rule.

And our economies …

SA and US are both first world and third world, with extreme class and economic disparities. US has a dwindling middle class – SA’s is hopefully growing. Will the US be reduced to developing world status? I’m not sure of the definition but it could happen. Anyway, what’s in a label?

Trade subsidies by US to SA nearly came to a halt because some negotiator in SA didn’t want SA to be known as a developing or third world nation. Third world status is required by the US to grant certain trade subsidies. Just think if this immense pride causes all that wonderful South African wine to go up in price in the US! Horrors.

The US government prefers to hide its economic problems – in SA, threat of recession makes government-released headlines seemingly daily.

We both measure job creation. Are new SA subsistence-paying jobs at MacDonald’s, Walmart or newly arrived Starbucks any better than the same in the US? None can support a family.

Good news, perhaps, SA farm workers have just had a minimum wage increase – to something like $1 per hour – bad news – wine may have to be more expensive, here, too!

What happens if illegal farm labor in the US become legal? Who will pay the increased cost of labor – and our food supply? What will cost more – legal pay for legal work or border fences? The cost of our NY and California wines just might go up. More horrors.

China …

Both economies depend on it. The Chinese buy half of SA’s wine exports; Americans would have nothing to buy (well, I’m exaggerating a bit) if China stopped producing cheap goods. And with the Chinese economy slow down (if you can call 8% slow growth), it may stop buying all that wine – and natural resources – from SA. (Actually, if you ever saw all the grapes growing up near the Orange River near Upington, you would realize that grapes are a natural resource, too, sold by the huge cardboard containers for who knows what use? Remember Gallo?)

And a few random social issues:

Both countries have unfortunate “no child left behind” curricula leading to sub-standard education programs in many geographic areas. Both countries are playing catch up from its racist pasts and presents. De-facto segregation leading to inferior education still exists in both. Is it any surprise that the most successful schools are in the wealthy zip and postal codes and not in the inner city neighborhoods and townships?

Prisons – do we both lock up politicians or only criminals? Perhaps the US doesn’t have a history of jailing as many people for treason or revolution …

One interesting difference – Trials are decided by judges in SA rather than by juries. Might it stem from the relatively small number of available jurists in a country that until recently only allowed non-whites to vote? Can it be judges and juries might be racially biased, regardless?

Sexual inequality? Lots of that in both places – I’m actually not sure which country provides more opportunity, or lack thereof, for women. A recent study by PwC in SA reports that SA women earn 28% lower reportable income that men; I leave it to Catalyst to do the same reporting in the US. The numbers are probably very similar.

And on a lighter note:

Let's eat! ... New York or Cape Town? The food looks just as good.
New York or Cape Town?

Both SA and US have their share of foodies – not sure where there are more. Cape Town seems to open a new restaurant every week.

And both have their share of hipsters. They don’t dress up much here – but they do love their pork pie hats … baristas, mixologists, craft beers and, of course, local wines.

And since we’re talking food – both countries have bagels, pastrami, coca cola, good local gin and Schweppes tonic – only in South Africa, they all cost us Americans only half as much.

Iris's fabulous South African blonde Pilates instructor at Stellenberg Gardens, Cape Town.
My fabulous South African blonde Pilates instructor at Stellenberg Gardens, Cape Town.

Women in SA have the healthiest looking bodies and the most gorgeous long blonde hair I have ever seen, anywhere.

Even with Pilates and yoga 4 times a week, and the wonderful hairdresser I discovered in Cape Town, I will never ever catch up.

And finally, a reminder of the weekend that just ended – when the US has snow blizzards, SA has blizzards of heat and wind.

Dear friends, when you finish digging out, come see for yourselves. It takes less time than you think – perhaps even less time than it took to read my blog.

Oliver teaching in the Darling township.

Why We Travel – more from SA, where it’s not all that different…

Well, so much for trying to do what we don’t do at home – we’ve actually had a pretty normal month.

View from the Robben Island boat. Usually back before sunset, but the captain decided to chase whales on the way. Fine with everyone but us ... we had reservations at Mama Afrika to hear my favorite Abavuki. 
View from the Robben Island boat. Usually back before sunset, but the captain decided to chase whales on the way. Fine with everyone but us … we had reservations at Mama Afrika to hear my favorite Abavuki.

Spent a morning buying tickets to the 11th Darling Music Experience – classical music with a twist… 2 weeks in late January/February… kind of like the Voorkamerfest we attended in early September. Interesting music in interesting venues… the local toffee (yes toffee) shop, a 200 year-old local winery, the local San Cultural center, the new brewery, a tent on the beachfront above the Atlantic Ocean… even doing a new version of a Mozart opera at Evita Se Perron, home of Pieter-Dirk Uys.

We were invited to a pop-up lunch last Sunday a few blocks away at the home of our local news publisher, the Darling Dorpskoerant. Among those attending: a senior official of the Municipality of which Darling is a part and his wife, Indians, here in SA for many generations, originally from Gujarat State in India. Their families were targets of apartheid… removed from District Six in central Cape Town as young children by the authorities that wanted the area for white people. Much of the talk at lunch was about how to get people on both sides of the tracks to come together over music of the Darling Music Experience. It’s still very much a ‘we vs they’… Is it really that they can’t afford to pay for the events, or is it something else?

Oliver teaching in the Darling township.
Oliver teaching in the Darling township.

And a highlight of the past month – we attended a concert by students of Music for All, sponsored by the Darling Music Experience. At the performance, the astoundingly good percussion group was missing its youngest drummer – a six-year-old who was in the hospital recovering from a serious dog bite.

Our son Oliver, also a drummer, went to the boy’s house in the township (the local word for an area of a town whose residents are not white – an apartheid remnant term) twice and gave him a lesson – and a new snare drum. What smiles on so many faces! The group will be performing at the opening of the Darling Music Experience – the 6 year old as well.

Thanksgiving in Cape Town

Thanksgiving was about as close to American as we could get, given the limited time we had to get Oliver a turkey. Instead of traveling 40 miles each way to Cape Town to buy a turkey (and then worrying that the gas that fuels our oven would run out just as the bird was in the oven the next day), I gave up on cooking and had fun with Oliver, who was visiting from Brooklyn.

A highlight (besides Thanksgiving) was Oliver’s day in the rain on Fancourt’s Gary Player-designed Links course… with a caddy who taught him to speak English with a proper Afrikaans accent. The course is said to be the best course in the country.

After golf, we raced to Cape Town for the 18th annual expat Thanksgiving dinner… at a great restaurant, Savoy Cabbage… Turkey was much easier there than schlepping to Cape Town from Darling to buy the bird, and then taking a whole day to roast it – and the pumpkin flan was more than yummy…

We went on a wine tour- and all we saw was this silly goat! Only kidding... This winery also makes cheese ... and a wine named Goats Do Roam. Very popular in the U.S., where we always laugh at the obvious takeoff on Cotes du Rhone. 
We went on a wine tour- and all we saw was this silly goat! Only kidding… This winery also makes cheese … and a wine named Goats Do Roam. Very popular in the U.S., where we always laugh at the obvious takeoff on Cotes du Rhone.

Also with Oliver, we checked out the new Darling Brew tasting room and bottling equipment. The “Best in South Africa” local craft beer just opened an awesome new brewery here in Darling.

Bought the not-quite-live Met Opera video tix to Lulu for a Saturday at 5… Drove an hour to Cape Town – only to discover that the huge stadium near the theater (built for the World Cup 2010 and hardly ever used since) was hosting all-day international rugby – with 55,000 fans all making their way to the stadium. We couldn’t drive anywhere near the theater. So much for fabulous Lulu that we were so looking forward to – hadn’t seen it since Santa Fe in the late 70’s – and this production directed by a South African, William Kentridge, whose Nose we saw at the Met in NY last year – it will be repeated, certainly.

South African art is growing on us – first Kentridge, and now Stephen Hobbs, a young artist from Joburg – who likes to create art that helps revive rust belts… like Joburg… like Detroit, where he lectured recently. We bought at his gallery, David Krut, last year during the NYC South African arts festival his “100 Ladies,” based on a derelict billboard in a street near his studio. Hung it in a stairwell for our renters to see every day to remind them where we are.

And we promised ourselves we would only do South African music and theater while we’re here – but hard to resist – attended a concert of Sinatra-ish songs recently in a Tanglewood-like setting at a winery in Stellenbosch – really lovely.

And next month, we’ve bought tickets to the Broadway musical (originally film) Singing in the Rain… close enough to the stage to get wet, we are warned. An SA production which has toured to Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Australia, and Joburg, and has finally arrived in Cape Town.

In February, we’re hearing a good old-fashioned big band play in the aforementioned winery theater, with Howard’s favorite meatballs and spaghetti at a place named Gino’s, that we learned about while visiting small Annandale winery, owned by a former Springbok Rugby star who sells his wines only there.

Yay! I’ve just booked a weekly private Pilates class in Cape Town. (Do I hear echoes of NY? Only difference is that I can’t afford it in NY!)

So, as our good friend observed when he arrived… where’s the jungle? We’re living about like we lived at home – except the seasons are reversed. Tomorrow, our across-the-street neighbors will join us for G&T… and maybe some wine. Best known composer in South Africa… head of composition at UCT – and writing just the kind of music we love to hear at the NY Phil or BSO at home.

So, you might ask, why do we travel? To learn that much of the world is just like home.

Helps us understand that we’re not all that different.

Hey, even the Chinese are moving in here, just like Scarsdale! The other day, the cable car driver taking a group up Table Mountain welcomed everyone in Chinese… Should we expect the same on the commuter railroad from Scarsdale to NYC soon too? Or the NYC subway?

A Thanksgiving toast at Savoy Cabbage. People are so nice here! A family sent us drinks because we agreed to change our reservation time to make room for them. 
A Thanksgiving toast at Savoy Cabbage. People are so nice here! A family sent us drinks because we agreed to change our reservation time to make room for them.

Well, happy New Year to everyone… Enjoy all your year-end holidays. We’ll be in Mozambique while the owners of our rented house are here. Will attend Friday night services at the synagogue in Maputo – more in our quest to prove that the world isn’t such a different place after all.