Monday, 7 December 2009

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


I suddenly realise I've spent the last week just waiting. And I liked it.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

14 months

Intercontinental flights punctuate my existence. I've been here for 14 months and two days now. Life progressing: laundry, trips to the greengrocer, fun in the kitchen. Work is relatively on schedule, some open questions that need answering, some thoughts that need thinking. I've spent 3 weeks back in SA, another 5 in Europe. 5 countries, apart from the two I call home.

Hmm. Interesting concept that: home. I suddenly wonder when it became so diluted. Tracing it back, my current migrant status was preceded by discontent, before that a wanderlust, before that displacement. Displacement a thread throughout. Before that the womb, probably. And it makes me wonder how the nomadic tribes thought of home. If you're packing your life onto a camel every day, where it go? Maybe the entire route becomes your space, that you are so firmly needed in the present, that everything is transient. Detachment must help a lot. Does the act of moving itself become safety?

I think I see a more connected space. That I'm nothing is ever left behind: I do not lose history when I change places, any more than you might lose your past by growing older. The idea of my books on multiple bookcases in houses across the world is comforting. Distance is not always easy, nor is the constant change, but I can't see myself doing anything else. And although my life is largely detached - there is a certain freedom in owning the minimum - the attachments are what make it worthwhile.

Tomorrow I'll migrate back for a few weeks. I will curl up in a safe space and rest for a while, then slowly start moving again. It will be good.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


I found a graveyard, not very far away. On the opposite bank of the Itchen, if you follow it towards St. Mary's, you will eventually reach it. Abandoned boats, silt swallowing them from below, while the water tries to eat the wood away. With lively happy boats still cavorting in the background.

The thin planks go first, leaving the more robust ribs to wait a while longer. And once fierce nails are now without a purpose.

The intriguing once lie further out, barely more than a shadow troubling the surface.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Great Britain

Still at the conference - it was strangely patriotic. I was caught completely off-guard by the nationalism.

Everyone is boasting about British technology, how many millions Britain is spending, what the industry is worth to Britain. A British sensor, a British subsystem, a British payload and especially a British astronaut. Again and again and again. It was the message I would have expected from the US, or a developing country with with threatening neighbours, or a teenager with self-image problems.

At first I thought it was simply to tell (British) students that there is a place for them, that they can contribute something, make a difference. But when a speaker highlighted the differences (and indifferences) in reporting about space here and in Europe, it started morphing into something darker. Us and them, agian. Pride? Or fear?

Yet, as soon as someone talks about the ideals, it is about the good of mankind.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Encountering old dreams

Yesterday I found myself at a conference, a meeting of students interested in or involved with space. There were talks by people from industry, a BBC man and scientists too. But it was definitely a student thing - the exhibition and recruitment by potential employers confirmed this. On a campus that felt overcrowded with buildings. Like a medieval walled city, but built in the 70s and 80s, in a largely inoffensive style. And then some modern redevelopments, from when a university's architecture again had to reflect it future-looking vision.

The attendees were young, mostly male, but not exclusively so. Generally bright, interested, but above all optimistic. And 99% of the room wanted to be astronauts once, at least 40% (those without glasses) still want to be.

And the optimism should have been contagious, but it mostly passed me by. Maybe I've become a cynic? Then I realised that the people around me were living the choices I did not make. The master's program I discovered too late, but still considered, the offer from the university I declined (the very university hosting the day), people staying in industry, or heading towards it with a mix of trepidation and excitement.

But they were interesting people, with interesting experiences, to the point where I felt distinct pangs of jealousy. I try to console myself: that I made my own decisions, they are being groomed into industrial bunnies, and that some might very well be jealous of me. But still. You're not supposed to be confronted with the roads you did not take.

I have to rush away from the dinner party, to catch my train. Suddenly it is dark, and raining fat cold drops. I make it, with 2 minutes to spare. As the train pulls away, I can see some late Guy Fawkes rockets explode in the sky.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


In Poprad they are taking apart the pleasingly decaying Soviet station, complete with marble floors, inspiring relief carvings against the wall, small liquor store and eatery, and windows stained brown by ears of industry. The replacement will probably be shiny, with lots of glass, to welcome tourists from rich countries to the Tatras.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Dragon's Teeth

It is a quiet time for vegetables. Most tasks are administrative: tidying up after a busy summer, or preparation for next year. Important yes, but not really spectacular. At least in a young garden.

Ten days ago I planted my garlic. It seemed grey and grim enough, as if winter is solidly here. I didn't quite know how much I'll need: started with one bulb, then two, before finally adding another. About 30 cloves in all. Good plump ones too. I would have like to eat them. Is that too many? Maybe. But we're enough to absorb any excess produce. And really, even if they all deliver beautifully, a bulb every second week is not excessive? And that is without planning for the scapes, the roasted garlic, the pickled garlic, the chicken with 16 cloves, the lamb with 24, the baked potatoes with 127 cloves, or the garlic crisps. That last two still need some working on. They went in everywhere where I could find an open spot between the herbs. That is a lots of spots.

Then, today, they all appeared. I was quite surprised. An army of 5cm shoots marching on the thyme, with another flank cutting off the sage. Will they slow down enough to still make sense of spring? I really don't know. But I hope so.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


Detail of mural, Bratislava Hlavna Stanica. (1960)

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Newspaper clippings

My mother sends me random newspaper clippings. It's a way to keep in touch with more than just emails. It keeps me up to date on the current affairs back home, and conveys a bit of the world left behind. And I like receiving a real letter. In an envelope. With stamps. And a short handwritten note. Handwriting makes people so much more real.

But somehow I always find myself reading the backs of the clippings. Snippets of articles accidentally included: the last paragraphs of a corruption trail, a column of housing, a snippet of education. And advertisements. Boerewors. Metres of meat, at ridiculously low prices. Nappies and All Gold. The things you forget.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


I should have been expecting it, but the arrival of autumn still surprised me. Mild, sunny days quickly changed to days of solid rain. The world smells different. Wet. With the earthiness of decomposing leaves. Days are shorter, and shadows are longer. And the mushrooms appear, discreetly, very quietly.

So many of them: a city on the lawn.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


I got home after 23h, having started to Bratislava Hlavna Stanica at 6h, and in a different time zone too. A day punctuated by waiting, before continuing on the bus, bus, train, walk, metro, metro, bus, plane, bus, train, bus, train, bus, walk sequence I'd somehow thought would be a good way to spend the last day of my trip. At the airport I walked around for 30 minutes looking for something that will fit into my 720 forints. A beer was 730. Sigh. Just as I found I could afford a tiny glass of vermouth, an ex-Kiwi offered me the remains of his money. I was incredibly grateful.

At home, I put down my bag, greeted the others, walked straight on to the garden. Even in the dark I could see the green glow of the lawn, grass that had been but little hairs two weeks ago. I stroked it, like you would a dog. A long, flat green dog.

Further inspection the next day showed more happiness than I had ever imagined. The lawn is still a bit bumpy, but it's alive, and exuberantly so. I gave it a first, gentle trim over the weekend. I really need to decide what else should go in there.

On the herb side, the rocket was doing what rocket does. Enough to steal a fresh leaf or two. A gentle bite - it is still young.

Also more lettucey bits showing. I suppose that's what a packet of cut-and-cut-again leaves should give me? I can hear all slugs in the garden perk their tentacles as I type this.

And a forgotten garlic, stuffed into the ground a month ago. It was a sprouting bulb I'd taken from a friend's fridge, but the sprouts disappeared shortly after planting. Now two cloves seem to have changed their minds, and restarted the process. Should I eat it green or see what happens over winter?

Saturday, 12 September 2009

My hovercraft is full of eels

Packing, again. Somehow the amount of effort doesn't change whether I'm going away for 4 days, or a month.The rush of pre-trip anxiety is hitting me now. Do I have x? Did I tick y off without packing it? And has anyone seen z? I like the butterflies.

And when I'm done, there is a moment of silence. I finish my drink, look around - if I can't see anything I need, it must be in my bag. And I can go to bed.

Friday, 11 September 2009

5 days later

The first signs of life. This morning I couldn't see anything, perhaps I was too hasty. But this afternoon I detected a gentle green stubble. The beginning of the lawn. And looking further, I found more. Hundreds of young seedlings, with a definite preference for the sunny spots. Thin, almost wiry. Much like my face if I neglect to shave for a few days.

And on the herb side, the rocket will always be first. It might become "mixed greens for salads". But rocket is a good start.

Monday, 7 September 2009


When I was young, I would sometimes go for a drive with my father. Late spring, just after planting. We would drive for what seemed like a long time (today I know it wasn't very far), stop, then walk into the still empty maize field. He would crouch down in the red dust and gently scratch open a couple of seeds, see how many were germinating, whether they could escape the hard crust formed after a light shower , then close it up again. Wipe his hand, then walk a few meters further, then check again. I now find myself doing the same.

It started with a bonfire, about a month ago. The chicken coop was moved to the back of the garden and a heap of garden debris was burnt. Fire is strangely satisfying. And, happily, it freed up about half the garden for new horticultural experiments. And it was in dire need of attention. My primary need is for a usable space. Somewhere to sit, chat, have a glass of wine, read. Herbs. Wine. A flower too. Some bulbs maybe? And at the same time balancing the needs of the others with equal rights to the garden.

Brambles had to be tamed, the soil turned over and rubble removed, much of it looking as if it had been there since the war. My spade discovered the stump and roots of a forgotten tree: golden chips against the dark soil. And bulbs, probably bluebells. I perspired. The chaos slowly dissolved, eventually allowing us to move our current few meters of lawn from one side of the garden to the newly flattened earth. This will be where the table goes, at a future barbecue. So it makes sense to place the established grass here. The areas previously covered by grass will be have herbs and edible leaves. Maybe some veg too. It's been years since I last grew my own vegetables.

This weekend saw the latest instalment. The definite arrival of autumn encouraging me to at least get something in the ground before the winter shutdown begins. The last mound of debris was levelled, ground stamped firm, levelled again. A rake would have helped. And then I could dip my hand into a bag of seed, and scatter across the soon-to-be-lawn. Sowing by hand has an ancient rhythm, a calming one. Then, while soaking the ground, think about where to shrubbery should go, where to bulk up the hedge, where the sun shines and where people move.

Now I crouch down every day, discreetly scratch the top layer of dirt away, willing the dormant seeds to life.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

1 September

It is the first day of spring (somewhere else).

Spring 2008

Monday, 24 August 2009

Fig tree

Three months ago, just before I moved into the new house, we had a barbeque here. Outside, next to the quail, with 40 years of fig tree towering above us. It was filled with small green figs. I picked one the sticky milk, scratchy little hairs and above all the scent of fresh fig tree transported me to long summer afternoons on the Highveld.

We had two fig trees in our garden, three actually. An ancient tree, probably planted by the ancestors on the small irrigation gully that ran through the garden, was well past it's prime by the time I started noticing trees. The other two were planted later, when I was young, to catch the overflow from the dam. One rewarded us with sweet figs every year, the other grew faster, taller, with large leaves but very few fruit. Finding another tree, half a world away, was a good sign, it made me feel at home.

Sadly, the tree was rarely watered, resulting in tough leathery runts instead of proper figs. And, in the tradition of trees planted close to houses, it discovered our plumbing. So the landlord decided that it had to go.

Two men came this morning, with saws and ropes and tools, and removed it. I fled the house to avoid the trauma. By the time I returned there was a tree-shaped hole in the garden. Lots of new sunlight. But still a hole. And it smelled of fig everywhere.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Bayswater, London

(this was in July, still travelling)

Nobody lives here, people just spend a night, or two. Not more than a week, unless you're unlucky. The roads are filled with people, their luggage scurrying after them on routes from maps that don't make sense. Everyone is a visitor, most of them tourists. Just like us.

Our hotel feels like a thin veneer on a shady underworld of drug smuggling, human trafficking, illegal immigration, exploitation, organ harvesting (yes, I've seen Eastern Promises), mafia, Al Qaeda and the Vatican. We are checked in by young men of Middle-Eastern descent. And a blonde with the type of accent you can only cultivate in a former Soviet Republic. Very friendly, but you can sense that they're not in control.

They direct us to our apartment, it is far, we make complaining noises. So a friend from Turkey is summoned in his taxi to deliver us to a little square. "For you, no charge. But take my card". The stately Georgian facade now hides a warren of apartments, the originals having been stripped bare and sub-sub-subdivided. Small rooms with cheap, but shiny fittings, barely used but already falling apart. The elevator creaks, wobbles and takes 30 seconds to open its doors. Ominous in a building that is otherwise anonymous and silent.

But, late at night, as I'm lying on my uneven sleeper couch next to the open window, I can hear the humming of the city. For a long, special moment, it reminds me of all the other cities I have called home.

Saturday, 1 August 2009


It is raining gently. The soft wetness seems to envelope the town, leaving it quiet and peaceful. It is a productive Saturday. Not in terms of work, but measured by doing those little things that makes this life a better place.

I have a garden now. My baby chives are slowly straightening themselves from the dirt. Rocket too, and hopefully the coriander will follow. It's late in the season, but I'm hoping they'll all provide something before pausing for the winter. I just need a few bright and sunny days.

The housemate (yes, I'm on BB now) and companion are slowly being swept up in the bread making obsession. So lesson number two today. I sit, reading, while they measure, mix and knead. I tell them to relax (Is this a teaspoon of salt? Isn't this too much?), later I poke at the well-kneaded dough, show them how to shape and let it rest. The bread came out well, was extremely gratifying to all involved.

And the radiator, the wall and the wardrobe. No magic adventures here though - a previous occupant thought it wise to "brighten" the room by adding frivolous, some might say arbitrary panels of paint(probably from small containers). So I have a violent blue radiator (yes, blue can be violent), limish yellow and the same stubborn blue on the doors of my wardrobe, and stars and blocks all along one wall. I think a large part of my aesthetic displeasure with the decor is that I need to appropriate the space, make friends with it. And a coat of clear white helps a lot.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

At the seaside

I grew up with a mental image of the British seaside, largely based on the first books I read, shortly after reinforced by Enid Blyton and equivalents. Promenades, piers, ice cream, beach chairs, hats, umbrellas, bright colours. Fun. Over the years it came to include images of sun-burnt Englishmen, slightly overweight yet under-dressed people, Pimms and G&T (in no particular order). And this is exactly what I found in Brighton. Thousands of people streaming down from London and everywhere else, filling the street cafés and tea rooms, side walks and parks. With large hats, underutilised sunblock, picnic baskets, tired children and that slightly manic "I am having fun"-mentality. There is another side to Brighton too, one with real people. I'll go looking for it one day. But for now, confirming a mental stereotype was quite satisfying.

We had sandwiches on the beach. Pebbly, but more comfortable than I had expected. And no scraping of sand out of various bodily bits for days afterwards. The beach goes on for miles (and miles (and miles)), with a uniform distribution of people until the cliffs of the Sussex coastline start. Then a walk on the Palace Pier. I love the old photos and especially the programmes here. The optimistic Art Nouveau structure is still filled with a collection of suitably kitsch and entertaining stalls - throwing coconuts at plastic teddy bears, fish and chips, obscene soft drinks, the amusement park, theatres, even a proud expat advertising his rooibos and biltong with a flag. More ice cream. Normally I'd be deeply irritated, but it suited the garish frivolity of the space, the season and the people.

Pretty pier.

Suitable entertainment.

Monday, 20 July 2009



As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them:
you' ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

- Konstantinos Kafavis, 1911

(In a yet to be filled travel journal presented to me by two friends. Sometimes people get me.)

Sunday, 12 July 2009

A short walk in the New Forest

The mother and the grandmother came to visit. One interpretation might be that they came to see whether I'm surviving, another is that I'm their excuse for exploring the castles and gardens of England in summer. Either way, it was comforting to have people from a previous life around.

My greatest fear was for the endurance of the grandmother - she is at an age where only one company will provide travel insurance. Luckily this corporation recently received a $170 billion bailout package, so they must have some cash for emergencies. And you need insurance when you're 87, or at least your family does. But she surprised us all with her tenacity and agility, and was (almost) always keen for more. Generally a very good tourist.

On the first day they were here we went to the New Forest. Saw the ponies with fresh fillies, the manor house at Beaulieu, bought fish and chips in Lymington. And stopped for a brief walk in the summer woods. 200 meters in we found a pretty pink flower. "What is this?" asked the mother, all of us keenly aware of the limits of only knowing plants from the southern hemisphere. The grandmother confidently reached out, caressed a leaf. "Foxglove of course. Digitalis."

That's when I realised we were going to be be just fine.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


Deadlines, vacation and moving should never coincide.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Summer solstice

The scent of jasmine fills my room.

Finished a report tonight, not a big one, but potentially important. Ok, maybe not finished, but the bit of smoothing that remains is relatively minor. I suspect I've been enlarging it in my mind, but it was frustrating nonetheless. I realized my extreme maloquance* when it comes to literature reviews of subjects I really don't know much about. Maybe it was the the way I've been reading - with more focus on understanding what I'm doing than where it fits it? Anyway, creating the grand overview was challenging.

But I finished at 22h-ish. Better than the last few nights. Then I went outside, for a walk, trying to replace my inner rush with the tranquility of late dusk. I crossed the rail tracks:

Eventually I found myself outside Tesco. Thinking that I need something to sooth myself I went inside. Maybe a chocolate bar? I rarely buy chocolate (unless it's for cooking), so I really had no idea what I'd like. Then I saw the tonic water. The OED says:

tonic, a. and n. 2) Med., etc. Having the property of increasing or restoring the tone or healthy condition and activity of the system or organs; strengthening, invigorating, bracing.

So I bought a bottle. And a lime, just one. The gin was already waiting at home.

On the way back, I discovered a low, almost hidden jasmine shrub. It creeped into my nose from two houses away. And brought memories with it. We had an amazing one outside our door, in a small quad. It would fill the kitchen with its scent for most of spring. In Stellenbosch, I would start looking for leaves from early spring onwards, and plan my midnight walks accordingly. Hoping to find the find fresh blossoms, but also the last ones before the heat of summer set in. Later, when I had a garden (a real one, with earthworms and hadedas and bloody sorrel), I would take fragrant bunches along when invited to dinner. Even though no-one would call it courtship, it was appreciated enough for me to persist.

I surrepticiously plucked off a small bit over the hedge tonight, it is lying next to my bed right now.

* Yes, that is my new word for today.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Relative sexism

In essence, those who speculate on what the future will bring are, in bold imagination, embarking on a trip through time. Let us assume that in 1928 a 28-year old couple couple departed on a 30-year trip in which they traveled at 99.2 per cent of the speed of light. Let us further assume they left behind a one-year old daughter. While the clocks on Earth were ticking away the passage of 30 years, their clocks would indicate but three years of time had elapsed. The 28-year old couple would return and be 31 years old.

Every woman loves to hear the flattering remark when she is with her daughter that they almost look like sisters. If our people went out to dinner in 1958 with their daughter, then truly could the remark be made to the mother:
"Why you look like sisters, not like mother and daughter." Mother would be 31 years old, just the age of her daughter. This is one time flattery would not be empty. If the women are really serious about staying young, and what woman isn't, here may be the solution to this longing.

I.M. Levitt, 10 Steps into Space (1958)

Sunday, 24 May 2009


Piet Mondrian - Composition with two lines

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Peer review

I received the reviewer comments on my journal submission two weeks ago. In an attempt to remain motivated in my other work, I printed it, then ignored it . Now the time has come.

The first reviewer is quite gentle, almost kind. Most of his comments are valid without being destructive, some can even be deflected. I imagine him as a student, working hard, knowledgeable, but also timid. Or gentle, hoping to accumulate good karma. The second man (although there are no names, I know this is a man) has a different angle that he goes on about. Again, quite valid, a bit more forceful compared to the precious one, but his repeated insistence on citing papers from a specific group of authors, makes me think he's mostly harmless. And probably in that author list. The third reviewer feels stronger, however. This and that and that and that need changing. And that. And that. And so forth. I see him as a man with a roundish face with a slightly bulbous nose; reddish, uneven skin; wild hair, speckled with gray and a matching uncontrolled beard. Specks of spit flies when he speaks. And I suspect he's right too...

Now I need to combine their sometimes contrasting views. Without taking it personally. Because it's not, this is merely the academic system.

Friday, 15 May 2009

The end of spring

I think this might be the last magnolia in town. It certainly feels that way.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

How to stop a pandemic (in 3 easy steps)

When I got home today, I found the NHS had already been there:

I'm waiting for them to combine it with the war on terror.

Step 4: "Your neighbours are a source of infection. If you see someone sneezing, report it to your local health authorities."

Friday, 1 May 2009

The road to work

I almost felt like Rooikappie.

Monday, 23 March 2009

In transit

I lock my room and catch a bus as a grey wind blows the bright days away. I see blossoms and patches of daffodils, white and yellow, but I'm already thinking of late summer afternoons. I arrived at Heathrow six months ago, to the day. And today I'm flying back.

They keep us a shopping mall, cleverly disguised as a departure lounge. My flight has been rebooked, so I'm looking forward to 6 hours of spending pleasure. Or maybe not. I recognize a small toy black taxi my grandmother brought me years ago - I will probably do the same souvenir shopping here one day. Postcards of the Queen, Paddington on a key chain, tea in telephone booths. Whisky, all "fine", but in such volumes that I doubt their claim of "rare".

The place that really draws my attention is Caviar House & Prunier. I'm not prepared to pay the £100 for a tin of budget Beluga from Kazakhstan, but they do have slivers of divine salmon available for tasting. I'm waiting for the shift to change, then I'll go again. They also have foie gras, Gentleman's Relish, expensive Stilton and tiny bottles of vodka, but I'll leave that for another day. When I'm employed again. And rich of course.

Passenger Yusuf flying to Khartoum via Beirut should go to his gate now.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Good Omens

1) A week of spectacular sunshine and mild weather, sometimes slightly hazy because of the sea. It felt just like Cape Town on a those clear days that would miraculously interrupt the winter rain.

2) We had a barbeque last night. A more restrained, quieter, British one. But it involved some Fairtrade wine from Du Toitskloof, burger patties and general happiness.

3) More wine. In the supermarket, I overhear a man telling is son "This wine is from South Africa. From the Cape of Good Hope." The son gurgles happily. It's something red from Douglas Green. A cabernet perhaps?

4) Branston pickles are on the bottom shelf. As I crouch down to take one, a tall, thin bottle of Mrs Ball's peers out from the darkness at the back of the other pickles.

My flight is on Monday.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Sir Norman Foster

Great Court, British Museum

Thursday, 12 March 2009


An overcast day on the Highveld.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


There is a woman I sometimes see on the bus. She has a talkative girl in a bright Barbie pink pushcart, who also wears an anorak of the same colour. She looks as if she might be from West Africa - exactly where I cannot tell. There is a tiny scar on each of her cheeks, just below the eyes. Almost like teardrops.

I always wonder how she came to be here - I suspect her story would be much more interesting than mine.

Friday, 6 March 2009


At dinner a few nights ago, we suddenly had one of those unplanned silent moments, where all conversation, clinging of cutlery and chair scraping fades away to leave us with only the purr of the refrigerator.

"It must be 20 minutes before or after the hour", said the engineer. It was 20h32. "Well, that's what we say Greece, even though it's never accurate".

"When I was in France, the people said an angel passes through the room", says the Erasmus student. "And in Russia we say a policeman is born."

What does this tell us about the respective cultures?

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Nasionale Braaidag

Even if you're not fasting for Lent, many people still enjoy the celebrations that precede it. Germany has Fetter Donnerstag, Mardi Gras is not limited to France, Rio goes crazy and Venice dons her masks for carnival. In Greece, they have Tsiknopempti. From tskino, the smell of barbecuing meat, and Pempti, Thursday. So literally - Barbecue Thursday. And everyone joins in.

It feels very similar to braais back home - everyone is keen, but only three people know how to do it ("Kom ons braai! Ja! Ja! Wie kan braai? hmmm..."). It starts very late and only ends when security asks us to go home. Even then we just move indoors and have more wine.

Vast quantities of meat (kreas) are consumed. Mostly pork with a bit of chicken. Everything is eaten directly from the fire, sprinkled with oregano and drizzled with lots of fresh lemon juice. Apparently every Greek keeps a couple of lemons available at all times.

I can get along with this culture.

Saturday, 28 February 2009


The first shoots appeared this week. Signs of life, shyly bursting into green. Excited, active plants always make me happy.

It's only now I realize that I never had a summer this year.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Today I feel far away again. Usually, in the rush of to-ing and fro-ing, in publications, buses, graphs and snow, I'm too busy to really think about it. Today the distance is palpably present in every email and conversation and piece of paper I come across.

This is home. After good rains, about a year ago. With dusty sky, rusty fences, limping gates, the smell of acacias, prickly katbosse, guinea fowl, screeching windpompe, the co-op's grain silos in the distance. And the rich red soil that can, at times, seem so harsh.

I miss it.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Monday, 2 February 2009


I wake up, check my email and find:

"The [seminar] tomorrow will run from 10:00-12:00 rather than 09:00-12:00. However, keep watching your emails in case the weather gets worse and we reschedule."

Bad weather?

I open my curtains, it takes a moment or two to realize the high contrast world outside is covered by snow. Not much, 5-8cm. But enough to make everything thoroughly white. Or at least monochrome.

I pull my boots on and run/slip off to the Itchen. A wide open expanse of more whiteness, skirted by the dark water of the river. On the football fields, a battle is being fought with snowballs, while an army of snowmen is born in the background.

Away from the excitement, in the quieter parts of the park, some unspoilt snow can still be found. The silence always surprises me: the noise of the city is swallowed, leaving you with only the scrunching of your footsteps.

At some point, I turn around and see how easily my tracks scarred the soft snow. I realize again how apt the phrase "virgin snow" is.