Saturday, June 09, 2007

Ok, we're off to Graaff Reinet at last

Finally the day has dawned and the long promised trip to Graaff Reinet is about to happen! If you have not been following these journeys, you will be able to get some background to how it all came about and where we went here: African Images #4, more travels. and here: Graaff Reinet is a stunning historic town set in the Karroo, which is an arid area forming a large portion of the southern plateau in South Africa.

Here is a map, to help orientate you as we go along.
And a more detailed one of the town itself. As you can see it is in a sort of bowl surrounded by mountains (which were covered in snow last week, they are quite high.) and the town is mostly built in the curve formed as the Sundays River swings in a huge circle at the base of these.

We entered from the North, on our way back from Philippolis, and went to watch the sunset over the valley of desolation. That was so spectacular that I am going to devote a whole seperate post to it sometime soon.

Modern technology is so amazing, while we were up there on the mountain, Max went online on his cellphone and surfed for accomodation, as we were just winging it and hadn't booked anything because we didn't want to be tied down to time or place.

It was dark by the time we got into town, and we headed for the Obesa Lodge, (Named after a rare South African succulent plant, the name should have given us a clue...) We really hit the jackpot, what a fascinating place.... but this only really became apparent when we woke up the next morning, because in the daylight, a spectacular sight awaited us!
It turns out that the owner and her ex husband had the idea years ago of slowly buying up all the houses in the street where the famous Reinet House is situated (more about that later, it is now a museum) and turning them into a series of guesthouses.

They painted each one a bright colour, and he began to indulge his little hobby, which was collecting cacti and succulents from around the world. The arid climate in Graaff Reinet is perfect for this, and before long, as his wife put it "the hobby had got a little out of hand." What an understatement!! One entire side of the street is closely planted with the most amazing varied collection of HUGE cacti, i just wish i had remembered to photograph the whole lot, so you could get an idea of the scale of it, but i was so focussed on the individual plants that i forgot!
But this shot of Max in front of one small section should give you and idea.
Check these out....
After breakfast, and of course going moggy taking photos of the plants, we then set of for the more cultural part of our day! Graaff Reinet boasts some lovely art galleries, and 2 in particular were very exciting for me, and both within two blocks of where we were staying, so off we strolled.
The first is in an old Church hall.

It houses some of the work of Pierneef, who is an icon of South African art, even the least literate person artistically has usually heard of him and recognises his unique style. He was particularly famous for the commision he did to produce huge panels depicting typical South African scenery in the early 1930s, which were hung in the Johannesburg Railway Station. He developed a very simplified style, using flat colours and leaving out detail, so that the panels could be viewed from a great distance and still have an impact. It is hard to describe the awesome presence these paintings have when you are in a room full of them, I was gobsmacked by them!!
I find it impossible to settle on a favourite, but have included a couple here so you can see his style.

His ricketty old easel is also there, with his signature on the back, so it too is a collectors item.

I have included this biography for those who are interested to know more. it was behind glass so hard to get a clear photo, but i hope you will be able to read it if you click to enlarge it.

We then moved on to another gallery just round the corner, whose name escapes me right now, but it houses a wonderful collection of art by nearly all the top South African artists who became household names in the mid 20th Century. It is one thing to see their work in the art books, but quite another to see them in the flesh (so to speak!) and revel in the richness and texture and skill.
Here are just a few examples.

At the entrance was a bronze bust of Paul Kruger, one of the early political leaders, who seems to bear a striking resemblance to someone else we have all become familiar with....

Anyway i think we'll leave it there for today, tomorrow we will visit 2 fascinating museums, and next week the Valley of Desolation!


Sheila said...

Looks like a great road trip and so interesting to me because the landscape is so different to ours.
The artist Pierneef, I confess to not being familiar with him, but I love the examples you show. I really like those trees, they remind me of the ones Clarice Cliff used to paint on china, very 1930's.

Sheila said...

BTW..I love the photos you made into a mosaic, of the cacti..they are amazing..!

RUTH said...

Those cacti in flower are superb. Love that "resemblance" photo...LOL Looing forward to your next post. Happy Travelling!