Tag: food

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.

iris-and-man-alex

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.

stop-sign

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.

closeup-2-tablemtn

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!
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.

Guns:

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.

Democracy?

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.

Why We Travel … Observations about Lives in South Africa

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

It’s the end of three months in Darling. Our goal in living here for a year (in addition to some Burkat Global planning) is to LIVE as close to the lives of locals as foreigners can. To me, that means having a routine. To Howard, that means having none. So, “How’s it going?” as everyone asks in South Africa.

Our last month was anything but routine.

We were both treated for allergies to all the plants – 600 of the 6000 plant species in the province of Western Cape grow during August and September in Darling. Who knew? After antibiotics, nose sprays, cough meds, and visits to the physiotherapist, and two weeks away, we are back and mostly recovered but coughing again. Allergy season supposedly ends in December … but with the drought, anything can happen.

And not-routine but pre-planned, the owners of our rental house arrived from Holland for two weeks (which they will do again before Christmas). So we began a two-week road trip (not to be confused with the two weeks on the road when we first arrived from New York) … adding maybe 5000 ks to the 16,000 ks we covered on our last three trips.

With that, here are some observations about people’s lives here, including ours.

When we returned to the house after two weeks away (thankfully there were no security issues), of course we ran out of data again – so I’m not sure if running out of data now belongs in the routine or the non-routine category. What makes it not routine is that Standard Bank, our local bank, has decided to follow new government regulations barring foreigners from using online banking, which for some reason includes buying data at the ATM …

So routine or not, yesterday we drove 30 k/18 miles to Malmsbury to the Vodacom store to buy more data … and while we were there, on to Riebeek Kasteel to buy coffee (hey, it’s only an hour away, and there’s a place there that roasts its own beans, and grinds them for us for the French Press, which we are slowly getting to use without spilling it all over the floor each time).

And while we were in Riebeek, we tried a place for lunch, which instead of hoped-for salads, served pork belly in a heavy plum sauce, with the yummiest potatoes, and thankfully, lots of fresh vegetables. The pork belly and potatoes were amazing, but can’t imagine how much cholesterol was contained in each.

To keep things simple, and reasonably accurate, let’s start our closer examination of our routine and lives as local South Africans …

The basics – housing, transportation, jobs – and divide our observations into two groups: whites and non-whites, which typically include blacks and colored. In apartheid days, colored also included Indians and a few Chinese – most Chinese having arrived since then.

Housing

We live in the cute little village, near one to two hundred year old cute historic houses, all occupied by whites … Non-whites live, literally, on the other side of the tracks, in relatively new, one or two room residences that look like railroad freight cars or shipping containers …

The white government moved non-whites to settlements around the country under the Native Areas Act during its time in power under apartheid. Later the ANC government (Mandela’s party) moved more people of color to places like Darling to influence voting before the first Democratic elections (1994).

There is finally electricity in the township (since we are at the top of a hill looking down, we can see the straight rows of street lights from our bedroom at night). If you’re lucky, there’s plumbing. Outside every town, village, or city we have passed through, there is a township like this. Typically, 10 times larger than the white portion of the town or city.

Transportation

Now, let’s talk about basic transportation … to get where one needs to go (of course over simplifying and generalizing to make the point)…

Whites drive – in new model cars and bakkies (the South African English and Afrikaans word for pickup truck); non-whites walk or drive old beat up cars.

Whites ride bicycles – mainly mountain bikes – or run … for sport or exercise. Non-whites walk, too – to get where they are going.

Non-whites hitchhike – or wait in groups for the ubiquitous vans that make pickups along the way. I’ve never seen a white person waiting for one of these.

Jobs

And let’s look at jobs – with a population of 5 million whites and 50 million non-whites, and of course I am simplifying … and many of the non-white jobs are in new positions in government, jobs which travelers rarely see …

Here goes:

Since the end of apartheid, and the ruling ANC, labor regulations favor non-whites in hiring. It’s called Black Empowerment here. This includes government, industry, and education. As a white person, it’s hard to get and keep a “normal” job. Many white people have become entrepreneurs in businesses like restaurants, technology, tourism or other services – opening guesthouses, wilderness game camps, or even becoming tour guides. Non-whites work for whites in these businesses. They are cleaning people (minimum wage about $1 per hour), housekeepers, waiters, cooks, dish washers, gas station attendants, bathroom cleaners (South Africa has the cleanest bathrooms we’ve ever seen anywhere, with even fresh flowers in some…), game trackers. Wages are so low, that even if twice as many non-whites are hired to do a job, it is still cheaper …

South Africa, which we have renamed the "land of the clean bathrooms," even has fresh flowers in the gas station rest rooms along the highways. On the counter was a gorgeous vase of native fynbos. Jersey Turnpike stations have so much to learn...
South Africa, which we have renamed the “land of the clean bathrooms,” even has fresh flowers in the gas station rest rooms along the highways. On the counter was a gorgeous vase of native fynbos. Jersey Turnpike stations have so much to learn…

… and it’s cheaper to hire cheap labor than buy machines. Even at the famous stop and go’s at all the road work spots, rather than using a traffic light (or robot as it is called in SA), people are employed to hand-turn a sign back and forth from stop to go…

Many non-whites are beginning their own businesses … and hire other non-whites … it’s coming. An example, this month’s trendy House & Leisure Magazine writes about 100 up-and-coming young business stars – roughly one-third are non-white … that’s a good sign in a country where 90% of the population is non-white.

Who has a better life here, whites or non-whites?

Of course, now that non-whites are starting companies, getting hired by companies, thousands of non-profits, getting government jobs, many non-whites have moved into the middle and upper classes. They can afford big houses and expensive new cars, just like the whites. And if merit doesn’t help earnings, it is said that corruption does. The remote Kwa-Zulu Natal new house of President Zuma (said to have cost millions of rand) is actually a relatively inexpensive house that should have cost only thousands … where has the rest of the money gone?

Whites say they have a wonderful life – better than they could have anywhere else they can name. But ask a white person how long that great life will last? Most don’t answer … or if pushed, suggest maybe a generation or two.

Everyone is relieved that the country didn’t erupt in violence when President Mandela passed away. All are watching as non-whites begin to get equal education (during apartheid non-whites purposely received lesser education to prepare them for menial jobs), and continue taking over jobs that whites used to do. If people we talk with were really pushed to tell the truth, they would probably tell us they have their suitcases packed for when the time comes …

But no matter what white person you meet (and already we discover that person knows someone we know) and wherever you go … there are whites enjoying themselves.

Whites drink wine – and probably non-whites, too. It is affordable by all. And it doesn’t make sense to buy wine by the glass in a restaurant because a bottle is so inexpensive. Restaurants are used to replacing the cork for leftovers for the trip home. It’s almost sinful NOT to buy a bottle. And for far less than half of what you would pay for a glass at a NY restaurant, you get the absolutely best wine we’ve ever had.

By the way, there are tributes to the man who saved the country everywhere (Mandela). At the museums, the botanical garden, guest houses, village squares, the opera … I will start a list … remember when portraits of JFK were everywhere?

And moving beyond the basics … Granted we have been traveling in largely white areas, but here are some observations about lifestyles of whites vs. non-whites:

Restaurants

We almost never see non-whites in the restaurants we visit. And many of those are simple roadside establishments or local hangouts – the equivalent of the Long Island diner. That was true 10 years ago, and that’s still true today. Perhaps in Joburg, where there is a higher concentration of non-whites, we have seen a few more non-whites … but not many. Even in Darling, where the non-whites also make up 90% of the population, we have never seen a non-white in a restaurant we have visited. On a recent trip we had dinner with the former owner of 6 KFC franchises – that’s still where you will see the non-whites … practically every dorp (small town) throughout the country – except Darling – has a KFC … the place of choice for non-whites on Sundays, and throughout the week if funding is available.

We have been looking for non-whites in what we would classify as cultural places –

We saw only whites at Kirstenbosch Gardens, first planted in 1562 when the first Europeans came to the Cape

We saw no non-whites the other day at the galleries and workshops of a very hip Design Center in Cape Town.

We saw a hand-full of non-whites in a musical at the Fugard Theater called Orpheus in Africa, about a black singing group from the American South that toured South Africa in the late 1800’s.

We saw a few non-whites at Fugard’s Heart of Redness, a contemporary look at a famous 19th century Zulu legend.

We saw one non-white couple at West Side Story at Artscape, Cape Town’s Lincoln Center equivalent

We saw only a hand-full of non-whites attending Voorkamerfest, the three day performance festival of some of SA’s top professional performers in everything from opera to stand up in living rooms throughout the Darling community (even though more than half the living rooms were in the non-white section of the village … and the majority of performers were non-white).

Darling Music Experience (classical music with a South African twist) in its 11th year, we are guessing attracts only whites … even though heavily promoted throughout the village and throughout the entire Western Cape.

Actually a good sign – We did see some non-whites on the historical tour to Robben Island where President Mandela and his associates were locked up for 18 years.

Needless to say, we saw no non-whites in three museums we visited recently, the historical Darling, Outdsthoor, and Swellendam Museums.

We didn’t even see non-whites at the southernmost tip of Africa, Cap Agulhas, where we went last week – just to say we had been there.

What we did see, was mainly only non-whites working in all these venues.

 

Searching for whales in Walker Bay near Hermanus. Howard's favorite saying was "thar she blows" for days.
Searching for whales in Walker Bay near Hermanus. Howard’s favorite saying was “thar she blows” for days.

Sports

Rugby is for whites, and football (or soccer as we would call it in the US) for non-whites.

Mandela used a big rugby game against Australia to unify the country … even though rugby had been a whites-only game. If you saw the World Cup Rugby finals last month in London, third place South Africa finally had a few blacks on its team. My guess is you won’t see many non-whites abseiling, shark cage diving, bungee-jumping, surfing … or even hiking, one of the biggest sports in South Africa. And we already spoke about biking – mountain or motor – big sports here.

Language

13 official languages here, including sign language. The majority of non-whites speak Xhosa or Zulu as their first languages. Whites speak only English or Afrikaans, although some schools teach whites a tribal language … like American schools used to teach French, and now Spanish or Chinese. The majority second language for non-whites is Afrikaans, although everyone agrees that English is what will help move people ahead economically.

Friends

I’m afraid to date they are all white, and with our allergy attack, we haven’t had much time yet to reach out to more. We’re blessed to have Simeon and Lee Stoch, who watch out for us every day, even when we don’t know we need it; Barbara and John up the street from Durban, who delivered us Durban Curry while we were sick; and Alfred and Jutta Legner, who are our main connections to Darling’s cultural life; and soon we hope, our just discovered across-the-street neighbors, Hendrik Hofmeyr, perhaps the most famous classical music composer in South Africa and his partner, a wonderful painter. And then there are my new yoga and Pilates friends, with whom I really haven’t had time to make playdates with but will soon. And my walking buddies, whom I also never followed up with since I learned about the snakes … AND jUDDE, originally FROM BROOKLYN, who teaches yoga at the nearby beach, and is THE ONLY OTHER AMERICAN HERE.

Travel

Sorry there have not been a lot of non-whites wherever we’ve gone. In Kimberly there was a business group talking about emulating WASPS, at the Big Hole, the Great Karoo, the West Coast, Namaqualand, Hermanus, Agulhas, Wilderness, Oudtshoorn, Swellendam – non-white service people, white tourists.

TV – eh, we haven’t been watching much …

Before I forget – 3000 Years of Jewish India 2017 tour page is now fully updated. And you’ll find this blog (and much more) on my Facebook page.

Hope you will let me know what you think … and Share it with your friends if you like it.

Thanks so much to Richard Schaye, Howard’s pal since grade school, for inspiring our “routine vs not routine” theme. Please email us with more questions and comments – to inspire future themes, posts, even South Africa tour planning for 2017 – iburkat@burkatglobal.com

Relatively new and only remaining visible shipwreck at southern most point in Africa, L'Agulhas. Hundreds of ships were lost up and down the South African Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts over hundreds of years, the worst being the Arniston, where 375 perished in 1815. If only the ships had been using GPS!
Relatively new and only remaining visible shipwreck at southern most point in Africa, L’Agulhas. Hundreds of ships were lost up and down the South African Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts over hundreds of years, the worst being the Arniston, where 375 perished in 1815. If only the ships had been using GPS!

Why We Travel … Life in SA … Routine or Not?

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.

A view of the veld above Petunia Street.
A view of the veld above Petunia Street.

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.

Our house on Petunia Street, Darling, Cape Town, SA
Our house on Petunia Street, Darling.

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.

Our anniversary lunch at a favorite winery in Franschoek.
Our anniversary lunch at a favorite winery in Franschoek.

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.)

Our favorite viewpoint on the road to Cape Town!
Our favorite viewpoint on the road to Cape Town!

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.

Our first braii on Petunia Street!
Our first braii on Petunia Street!

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.

Our celebratory first picnic at the beach upon arrival!
Our celebratory first picnic at the beach upon arrival!

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!