Howard in the yellow flowers

Why We Travel … A Year in Darling

Canola fields in the Spring
Canola fields in the Spring

Following my #1 rule – to always do things I’ve never done before – Howard and I are spending a year in the small village of Darling on the West Coast of South Africa, about an hour north of Cape Town depending on rush hour traffic and seemingly endless road work.

After six months, it’s time to list some reasons we (or at least I) love Darling:

Much to our surprise, Darling is a lot like Hastings-on-Hudson, where we live back home. (We will let you, who know Hastings, draw the comparisons.)

Let me set the scene … Darling is a many-generation farm village – growing wheat, canola, grapes, orchids, olives. Still, lots of farmers, and hipsters escaping the city, and a bunch of retirees. Also commuters – trading an awesome city view of Table Mountain for the view from the R27.

Trains go through a few times a day and night taking iron ore and steel back and forth to the city.

There are about one thousand white people living (or staying, as they say here) on our side of the tracks; on the other, about nine thousand coloreds (the term for people of mixed race used by all here) and blacks.

Downtown Darling on a Friday
Downtown Darling on a Friday

The first language is Afrikaans for 85% of the residents. White people are all bilingual though, and most people of color are at least trilingual.

In the morning, birds sing “who who/who who who who who” and in the afternoon, just tweet tweet tweet. Trees never lose their leaves and blossom year round – now orange, red, blue flowers – at other times, red, orange and blue. Our walkway is lined with lavender – more intense aroma now that winter approaches, more lavender color in the spring.

Fields are brown now from drought, harvest or both; vines are green-yellow after the last grapes have been picked. In spring, many fields are bright yellow with canola.

On Main Street, people from both sides of the tracks frequent the shops, especially on payday Friday afternoons. At other times, you can walk down the middle of the street and not see a soul.

But Darling is people:

Simeon and Lee, who began teaching us the ropes even before we arrived and have gotten us out of a myriad of scrapes since we’ve been here, even when it turned out the insurance we wanted to buy from them wasn’t right for us.

Alfred, retired German bank senior exec and his wife Jutta. They began the Darling Music Experience, a classical music festival with a local twist, eleven years ago. They are our cultural gurus here; Alfred introduced us to our composer/artist neighbors. He took us and our visitors on a Cape Town art tour, including a visit to the home and studio of Tyrone Appollis, a nearly 60 year old icon of apartheid era artists with a global reputation.

Nicholaas Maritz, the talented South African artist and electronic composer lives across the street. He is so generous with his designs for many events in and around Darling. We still need to visit his gallery down the street.

The Duckitts, who seem to be everywhere … at the church lecture, in line at our Standard Bank branch, named on bottles of Darling Cellar wines.

And Darling is entrepreneurs:

Aleks shines ... serving us breakfast at the Pig
Aleks shines … serving us breakfast at the Pig

Aleks arrived from Poland 12 years ago. She is still a Cape Town consulting accountant – and together with her husband Gil, saucisson maker par excellence – started the Flying Pig. Gil’s motto: If you don’t like bacon, you’re wrong! They bring in bagels daily from Cape Town.

Anesia at Chicory Cheese makes the best organic breakfasts and lunches. “The Cheese,” where I buy my crunchy peanut butter, granola, whole grain rusks (think Italian biscotti), and Chai Rooibos, grown not far from here.

Cara, the cheese maker, lives around the corner. I still haven’t had time to visit her cheese kitchen but we eat lots of her cheese. No matter how many orders from her distributors, she still had time to make a platter for the special anniversary party we never had when we were flattened by flower and farm allergies.

Prince, Renate, and the others help owner Sandy at the (Marmalade) Cat, where you can have bake-while-you-wait breakfast croissants; and if you book a table enough in advance, thin-crusted pizzas baked in the wood-fired oven on Friday nights.

Friday night pizza at the Cat
Friday night pizza at the Cat

Omnia, artist by day and restauranteur by night “give ‘em meat” in their pasta primavera Tuesday at Briggs. Howard and I are now accepted as regulars.

Charles and wife Janet, Main Street wine sellers, will always suggest the best local wine for any occasion. Charles provides his own label at Omnia’s on Tuesday nights, famously below his cost.

Our favorite South African brew
Our favorite South African brew

Felix, master brewer at the new Darling Brew, holds 3-course food and beer tastings a couple times a month. Can’t wait to find time to go!

Kevin and Stephen with their father Pollard, our butchers at Darling Meat, not only select the best boerwors (think South African hot dog) and steaks, but arrange our wood delivery when we run out for the braai/barbeque.

Frits and Hentie, who make addictive Darling Sweets honey and salt toffee, and 7 other local flavors. Not sufficient to be talented chefs and artists, they promised to explain Strauss Opera Salome after managing the Passion Play production in the Darling township.

Michelle and Innes, of social media marketing company Social Tulips … If Facebook sends you teasers about 3000 Years of Jewish India, our India tour, blame them – but please still help spread the word.

Lisa, our Pilates teacher, lives on nearby Groote Post Wine Farm. We are so lucky; she just moved her equipment from Cape Town into Ian’s new gym in the old video store. Howard and I get to take private lessons.

I forgot to tell you about Ian, our private security provider, gym entrepreneur, and former police chief in Darling. Ian is everywhere – knows everything before you even realize it’s happening. He’s number one on my speed dial list.

Karen, our yoga teacher, holds class above the newly restored Victorian toffee factory – roosters crow during savasana.

Irma, our house manager, runs a sand mine with 58 workers as her main job. She is also wife and mother of two teens on the side. Not sure which of her many roles is most demanding.

Pieter Dirk-Uys, the best known entertainer in all of South Africa, has his own theater right here in town. We love his shows and running into him in the village. He made me laugh yesterday at the Pig quipping, “Not sure who is worse, our Julius Malema (expelled from the ANC for hate speech) or your Donald.”

Ann and Wendy, Darling book store owners, order us any crazy book we request … ”Did the book ever arrive about anthropologist Dr. Shalva Weil and her quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant?”

And the folks who help us through our everyday necessities:

The guys at the Engen gas station, who greet Howard by name when he buys gas … they are getting good at blowing up my exercise ball for Pilates class, too.

The cashiers at the Spar, who always ask if we want a baggie for our groceries … we’re happy to pay the extra 3 cents per bag when we forget to bring our own.

Groote Post wine farm on market day
Groote Post wine farm on market day

The pharmacist who wants to be sure she knows when we plan to travel so she can remind us to take our malaria pills.

And our Standard banker … whose son is a star rugby player.  It’s not her fault we can’t use internet banking; the government has decided to ban use by foreigners because we may be money-launderers. (Hey, I can’t even turn on the washing machine without help!)

And the Darling police, who never seem too busy, no matter what. Howard and I are regulars after one break in and one stolen car charger – both no doubt our fault.

And more on Darling’s special cultural activities:

Darling Music Experience’s Music for All. Aden loves his drum lesson.
Darling Music Experience’s Music for All. Aden loves his drum lesson.

Darling Music Experience’s Music for All, delivering free music lessons to nearly one hundred children in the township – and especially to six year old Aden, our favorite little drummer.

Voorkamerfest, its performers, and especially the families on both sides of the tracks. Township homeowners were so proud to welcome attendees into their living rooms.

99th Darling flower show volunteers – with this drought, we hope there are flowers this year! We heard it rained 17 millimeters the other day – first time in 6 months. Is that enough?

!Khwa Ttu San cultural center, and Castro, the intern from Kimberly who taught our guests about his ancient culture while we enjoyed sundowners and traditional platters of eland and cheese.

Peter, the Dorpskoerant e-newsletter writer/ publisher, who started Boys, Beer and Books. Howard says there’s much more beer than books.

A music demo at Voorkamerfest
A music demo at Voorkamerfest

Finally, Darling Museum in the old Village Hall, which actually has a binder filled with articles about the Jews of Darling, including the late psychiatrist Belle Stoch, who moved to Scarsdale with her nine sons.

And Stefan and Oliver, proprietors of the Darling Lodge, who helped us find our place here and Beryl of Evita Se Perron who referred us to the lodge many years ago.

If anyone is still with me…

A view from our bedroom
A view from our bedroom

Let me just close by announcing … there are so many reasons to love Darling still to be discovered … that we need more time here. So we have extended our stay.

We’ll be home to Hastings at the end of September, after stopping in Ethiopia, then Paris to hear Howard’s favorite Jimmy Buffett.

Meet us in Paris, or visit us here near Cape Town – there’s still time.