After six months in South Africa, here are some of the reasons we love Darling: the local people, its entrepreneurial spirit, and its cultural activities.
Well, so much for trying to do what we don’t do at home – we’ve actually had a pretty normal month.
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?
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…
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?
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.
It’s the end of two months in Darling. Our goal in living here for a year (in addition to some Burkat Global planning) is to live like locals. To me, that means having a routine. To Howard, that means none. So, “How’s it going?” as they ask in South Africa.
Let’s look at what’s become routine (and later – what hasn’t).
Every day everywhere is beautiful. Jaw-droppingly. Throw open the shutters of our little holiday house at the top of the hill every morning and from every window we see farmer’s fields on opposite hills and more fields stretching out toward the sea.
Our little house is beginning to feel routine. I find I’m no longer looking at what it lacks, but looking at what it is; a beautifully designed Greek-style, not typical of Darling at all and perfect for easy living with one great room and bedrooms wrapping around a patio with braai and pool – all positioned to maximize the views.
I found Monday, Wednesday and Friday Pilates and yoga classes at 8 AM right in our village. Blessed with fantastic teachers, and totally fit and supportive classmates. I can even walk to class, so Howard can take the car to the big new Virgin gym near Cape Town. By the way, walking down our hill is easy (confession … I’m still struggling back up!).
I’m routinely messing up on hikes. Getting to the first one, I donned my new hiking boots and skipping down the hill to the meeting place, tripped on my untied shoelace! I arrived bleeding to the Spar parking lot, only to learn I should have been at the Spar lot in the next town. So much for hike #1.
I dropped out of the second, too, before I even went. Someone who knows me well already told me I was unfit for a 16k up-and-down challenge. Ella, our leader, offered to train me – I’ve yet to establish enough of a routine to seize her wonderful offer.
Now I’m told it is snake season. I hate snakes! Do I want to hike badly enough to do battle with a puffader or a cobra?
There’s always the gorgeous Yzerfontein 18k beach. It’s only 15 minutes away, and we can hear the waves break all the way to Petunia Street where we live.
Spring is festival heaven – and if not festival, a market at least. Weekly visits are routine. Everyone is so relieved to have gotten through winter. Did I forget to say there’s no central heating? And yes, we can now make good South African fires to warm up, just like the locals.
Festivals are my time to routinely track down local treats … why wait for visitors? Wonderful local products – all carrying the Darling name, of course! Olives. Wines. Beer. Cheese. Yogurt Milk. Granola. Locally roasted coffee. Roibos chai. Flying Pig Saucisson. Fresh mussels. Toffee. Pomegranate juices.
Even bumping into Darling’s most famous resident and benefactor Pieter-Dirk Uys is becoming routine. We see him as often as possible at his world-famous Evita Se Perron dinner theater down the street (even though we sometimes miss an Afrikaans punch line he throws into an English show).
Wine is definitely routine with 6 local wineries! Darling vineyards are everywhere. And served everywhere. Even in the morning! Darling Brewery has an uphill battle, no matter how good. Darling has long way to go before becoming Williamsburg.
Routinely, complaints are made about the government – how the ruling ANC is messing everything up. But ah, our land is beautiful. Just hoping it won’t get too messed up.
Routinely, I greet my growing number of friends in Darling. So glad officer Satie’s family will be coming from the eastern cape soon! So thankful for the help from the Engen station team who help me buy more data and select our daily newspapers. (No paper delivery in Darling! And SA papers on not yet much online. Hey, this is a real small farm town – it took us six weeks to learn that the PO is inside that very Engen gas station we go to nearly every day.)
Weekly drives to Cape Town are part of our routine. And we’re initiating occasional overnights – just like if we were tourists! We look for reasons to go – anything new, locally written and produced. Operas. Musicals. Traditional bands. African. Jazz. No Cape Town Symphony yet, but some classical chamber – and a West Side Story that was better than Broadway! And thanks to Susan Werbe’s coaxing, we got off our butts yesterday and bought front row tickets for Rodriguez!
Meeting our new community is so easy. We just show up at a local event like Sunday’s classical guitar concert at the San Cultural Center to raise money for the music outreach program that keeps kids off the streets. People know us right away. We’re the Americans. The ones with the accents. Hey, I thought they were the ones with the accents.
Routine are my regular visits to the Darling butcher! What should I braai tonight? Sirloin Steak for 4 for $6. Rosemary fed Lamb? Beef boerwors? What kind of Biltong? Kudu, Springbok, others we’ve never heard of. Why not sample them all?
And we’ve found the Best Pastrami in Cape Town! On homemade rye yet. And in the next block, the best chocolate store – chocolate and caramel covered pretzels with sea-salt.
And we even know the routines for the local restaurants … Most are closed in the evenings, with one per day staying open for a special and very social evening meal. Briggs on Tuesday for local Afrikaans comfort food; Friday at the Marmalade Cat for oven baked thin-crusted pizzas – banana and bacon anyone? Or would we prefer the awesome Four Seasons?
We’ve welcomed our first guests and hope we passed the hospitality test. We’ve already got 10 more couples booked in through May!
Trips away from Darling have always been part of our planned routine. Exploratory excursions to the surrounding area are a reason we’re here, too. In four trips to South Africa (totaling 6 months over 10 years), we’ve now driven 20,000 kms. There’s so much to do – as much as we would like to stay every day in Darling, we just can’t … because there is too much to see!
Washing dishes by hand is now routine. And I finally learned how to turn on the washer and dryer. I may be the only one on the hill without daily help. Maybe I’m really not a princess after all.
And we make fires to keep warm, although spring really is on the way.
Patio braais to cook our food are fantastic, but we must remember to start early – wood fires take an hour to burn down low enough for cooking. Haven’t figured out how to turn on the oven yet.
Closing the latches are important activities in our daily lives. We’ve got 7 windowed double doors, 5 double shutters and at least 10 windows. Every door has a different key and multiple latches. Windows have latches, too.
Early to bed and rise. Good news is it’s light earlier now, and later. The primary schoolyard across street fills by 6:30 am. Rush hour to Cape Town begins before 6. This is a country without much electricity until now (and because it’s so new, there are continuing threats of load shedding and blackouts.) Another sign that people are up early is the church bells ringing loud and long beginning on Sundays at 8. Birds and animals begin squawking just before sunrise.
Soaking up sunsets. On Sunday afternoon, up on the hill at the San Center, there was not a cloud in the skyway; yet overlooking wildflower fields and the distant ocean, the sky was pure blue. Later back home, I looked up to check for the sunset – it’s actually raining! But storms pass quickly. And there is a huge drought – driest season since 1910 when recordkeeping began – crops are dying. Farmers can’t feed their animals.
Routine in Darling is volunteerism. Our interest now is to get sponsors for the local music festival, largely supported by old white people on our side of the tracks, who in turn run the free music school for the kids on the other side of the tracks. Also beginning to nose into Planned Parenthood needs here – although we aren’t even sure if it will exist in the US before long! Anyway, it’s easy to be involved.
I’ve discovered Anna at the bookstore, who will order anything and already knows my name. How great that we still have a bookstore here … better than Scarsdale. And she doesn’t make me cry (like owner Wallace did). I finally ordered a paperback version of Long Walk to Freedom to take on our upcoming mini holiday.
Routine … emails with friends. When there is time.
And we are all set for the next India tour, January 2017. Excited that we just decided to return to Brunton Boatyard again. It will add a few more dollars to the price, but it’s our favorite hotel in India (except perhaps Lake Palace, 30 years ago). Updating the web page and will announce soon.
So what’s left that breaks our routine?
We’ve had a break-in. Two guys broke in to house 10:30 at night while we were upstairs. We heard them and they ran away with my computer and Howard’s bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label scotch. Didn’t touch all our Darling wine! A private detective offered 1000 rand reward and got a tip that my computer was being offered on the street for 300 rand. Police caught the guys, who are now in jail. We’re waiting for the magistrate to release my recovered computer pre trial – I do have visitation rights. By the way, the break-in was the 8th in our neighborhood in week (very rare that it happens at all). But hey, two laptops were just stolen in our old neighborhood in Scarsdale, too. I’m typing with one thumb on my iPhone until I get my computer back– and/or get the new one working right.
Data black outs are the worst. “Sorry. Your prepaid Vodacom account is at zero left.” It’s a long story, but we don’t have unlimited internet here like at home – we’re renters … only here for a year.
Load shedding is no longer routine. (In case you don’t know, load shedding is an action to reduce the load on something, ie, the interruption of an electricity supply to avoid excessive load on the generating plant). Will there be more candle light dinners (like we had in the Oppenheim dining room in Kimberly on our road trip to Darling?) … Tune in to find out.
Falling on my face in the road in front of the old people’s home down the street? I know the old ladies were all watching from the windows. This will not become routine (these things are only allowed once).
Discovering that my local Standard Bank limits my use of services? Somehow, they think foreigners are money launderers. Me? Every time I go to the ATM, I pray I can still buy more data for my iPhone and WiFi router … now that I have finally figured out how to do it.
Not routine will be when all our guests learn that South Africa is a jungle! People are amazed when they see the awesome vast veld landscapes with colors changing with the seasons. No, it’s not a green jungle here. No Tarzan.
Never routine are walks on the beach … and picnics in the nearby national park on the rocks along the ocean. Lunch at a local winery. Returning home with the leftovers of the best $5 bottles of wine we’ve ever had.
This is important and not routine: Discovering the other side of the tracks. Where 90% of Darling residents live. Formerly “the township”. And learning how hard it is to integrate with folks in the hill! But efforts are always ongoing. At least half of the venues at the not-to-be-missed Voorkamerfest (South Africa’s annual multicultural event) were in homes across the tracks. Hosts are so proud and welcoming into their living rooms.
Will our uncontrollable coughing and runny nose every stop this week? Too many flowers. Can you believe we’ve developed allergies to Darling? It seems it is actually going around.
My new friend made chicken soup. She brings me fresh flowers from her garden and checks in with me in the morning to see if I need anything from her office at 6 AM! And she persuaded us to use her fantastic guest house after our break-in … before all the doors and windows got new invisible bars and all the latches were checked. I will never ever see this as routine, just thankful.
So much more to share!