Saturday, February 24, 2007

Are you packed and ready for some more travelling?


I've taken you along the coast as far as St Francis several times, but the scenery changes quite a bit as you head on towards Capetown, so I thought it would be an idea to travel further this time, and show you part of one of the most lovely sections of our coastline, known as “The Garden Route”, which runs from the Storms River to Mossel Bay. This time we will be going as far as Knysna, which is the midpoint.

The area known as the Garden Route travels along the coast, with bays, beaches and rocky cliffs, and mountain ranges crowding close to the shoreline. It has rainfall all year round, and this gives rise to a rich abundance of plant life, including two very unique Floral kingdoms, the coastal fynbos, and the indigenous Coastal forests.
This time of the year is great for seeing it because the Ericas are in flower.
The proteas are also in full swing.
From Humansdorp, you start off travelling mostly through farm lands, but as you get near to Tsitsikamma, the road starts travelling through the stunning indigenous forest, which is famous for its giant yellowwood trees.
The bridge at Storms River , seen here from a wooden walkway which runs below it, spans an incredible gorge. This marks the beginning of the Garden Route.
Layers of sedimentary rocks were upended in some ancient upheaval, and the river has cut a v shaped valley through them. The softer rocks have eroded faster, leaving vertical blades of rock jutting into the breathtaking canyon.

Further downriver, it is famous for the white water rafting it offers, and there is a scary suspension bridge which you can wobble across at the coast.
Here we enter the forest, and as you drive along, the trees tower overhead. The traffic was heavy and the road is narrow here, so we couldn’t stop, and this was taken at 80 km/hr as we travelled through, so excuse the poor quality, and windscreen tint, but it should give you an idea of the lovely forests.
On the way there, we went on the new toll road, which crosses three bridges that were constructed in the early 80’s, and cut out the old winding passes that used to make traffic on the main road a nightmare.
The largest of these is the Bloukrans Bridge, and it is home to the world’s highest commercial bungee jump.
The road passes through The Crags, a fascinating little settlement where some “alternative” eco friendly homes have been built using cob (clay and straw) and straw bales.
You then come over a hill and down to the coast, where you pass Plettenberg Bay. It used to be a very cute village, but was discovered by the in crowd of Johannesberg yuppies, and boomed into a crowded holiday resort of “make the Joneses keep up with us” mansions, which stand empty for most of the year.
This is Beacon isle, which used to be a whaling station, but now has a hotel. This is an old picture, the bluff in the background is now built up.
Here again we get the typical 1st world/3rd world confluence that I have highlighted before.
The horses live better than some of the people! These are the stables of the Bitou Polo Club!!
But Plett is so yuppy, even the squatters have aspirations of grandeur, check out this double story shack!!

You then go through a lovely section of forest, full of quaint little craft shops, potters, restaurants and guest houses, before coming over the hill, and seeing the spectacular Knysna lagoon spread out before you.
The whole area around and including Knysna has become a collecting point for creative people, and wherever you look there are little cottage industries, art galore, it is great.

There was a community of woodcutters near Knysna who lived a completely isolated life deep in the forest (they even became a bit inbred, like the people on the island of Tristan de Cuhna in the Atlantic) and they used massive saws to cut through the ancient trees by hand. A small remnant of them remain to this day. A thriving timber industry grew up around there, and a unique Cape Cottage Style of handmade wooden furniture developed in the early days, using mostly a mixture of yellowwood, and stinkwood, which is now very costly, as the cutting of the forest is being strictly controlled.
The town is still renowned for this type of furniture that is made there, using the indigenous woods from the surrounding forests.
This rocking chair is an example, it is yellowwood, and I bought it for Max’s 30th birthday (I told him it was because he was now over the hill and would need to sit around and rock gently!!)
I used yellowwood in some of my designs when we had the shop,
my favourite is this dining table, which I kept for our boardroom, because I couldn’t bear to sell it!
And this server and mirror custom made for a client.
In keeping with the general creativity in the area, we couldn’t resist stopping to photograph this garden, the owner takes creativity to new and outlandish extremes!
The most famous feature of Knysna is the lagoon
, which enters the sea through a narrow channel between two rocky promontories known as The Heads.
The tide was exceptionally low when this was taken from Leisure Isle, which lies below the heads near the mouth of the lagoon.

We had breakfast at a delightful art galley/coffee shop there,
I just loved this amazing Cape Fig tree.
There is a narrow gauge railway line, which crosses the lagoon on a long bridge,
and there is a fascinating turntable at the end of the line, so that when the old steam train (the Outeniqua Choo-tjoe) arrives in Knysna, it is rotated back to face in the direction of George, and continues on its way. Sadly, the train is now trapped on the other side of the Kaaimans pass, leading to George, because the track was washed away in the floods we had last August.

Here, again 3rd world meets 1st,
these wooden squatter shacks have proliferated along the side of the road as you enter town,
and these Cape Cod style mansions have been put up on a new development on Thesen island. (Formerly an industrial zone, the heart of the timber industry in the area, it was recently sold and developed as an exclusive closed estate, the old sawmill is still a feature, you can see the chimneys in the background.)
Another seriously up-market development is Pezula Hotel, and the Sparrebos golfing estate, where it costs R2000 for a single round of golf!!!, and which commands spectacular views of the open sea and the lagoon. (Roger Federer has a new home there.)

Reluctantly leaving Knysna, on the way home we took the old road through the passes. I went into a quite a bit of detail about this road, in a meme I did on this post. It is so stunning, but is even better now that all the traffic uses the toll road, because now you can stop and enjoy the scenery, in the past it was too dangerous with trucks whizzing by.

This is where you see the fynbos and Garden Route at its best. Look at this stunning combination of mountains and plants! I wish I could convey the fresh smell of these plants, it is great standing amongst them and sniffing deeply!
Looking back, you see Natures Valley, an unspoilt holiday spot where the best of coast, river and forest meet.
As you enter the pass you drop steeply into a forested ravine, with magnificent old lichen encrusted yellowwoods towering over the other trees.

You also get to see the only grove of some extremely rare plants. Strelitzias are indigenous to the Esatern Cape, but are now popular around the world, with their orange and blue flowers which look like crowned cranes. (I believe they are particularly popular in California) Anyway another member of the Strelitzia family is the “Banana Strelitzia” which has blue and white flowers, and looks like a tall banana tree.
There is a variant of this, called Strelitzia Alba, and there is only 1 spot in the world where it occurs naturally. Here it is, this little grove, tucked away on the hillside as you enter the first pass. Unfortunately they were not flowering when we went through, so I can’t show you the flowers.
At the bottom of the pass, you cross what our family has always referred to as “The Coca-Cola River” because the water is stained with root extracts from the forest it runs through.

I hope you enjoyed the journey, I’m sure you will agree it is a unique and wonderful part of the world! (Libby and CJ, hope that was a nice blast from the past for you!)
This morning at 3.45 am, it was foggy so the city lights were reflecting in the mist and making the sky orange. (insomnia has its rewards, I also finished 2 new paintings!)

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Hi, just a quick touch-bases post. I am STILL sick, despite finishing a course of antibiotics and cortisone. Much as I enjoyed the trip to Knysna, it was exhausting, so I have finally admitted defeat and gone to bed for a couple more days. Thanks for all the recent comments, and I’m sure I’ll be back soon.

So, just a bit of an update about where I have arrived in my life……….
One thing about being in bed is you have lots of time to think. I have known for a while that I have been approaching a crossroad in my life, but have cunningly avoided actually arriving there, by keeping busy so I didn’t have too much time to think!

Recently a whole series of circumstances have conspired to bring me to the point where I could not procrastinate any longer.

For some time now, I have been feeling that Interior Design has lost much of its appeal for me, and wondering if this is what I want to be spending the rest of my life doing.

It used to be such fun, and I was really passionate about it, but the business has changed over the years. There is now so much less “design” and so much more admin, hassle with suppliers, tight deadlines, difficult clients etc. Add to that competition from home-ware stores who stock stunning, up-to-the-minute stuff at prices we cannot begin to compete with, magazines all over the place full of the latest ideas, so that it is getting quite stressful keeping a few jumps ahead, and quite honestly, it has reached the point where the hassles far outweigh the creative inspiring bits!

At the same time, my art seems to be taking off, and my paintings are selling steadily. I am not making a fortune on them, but then I don’t with the interior design either, the overheads seem to gobble up all the rewards for the stress and hard work!

And so much of my time is spent sorting out hassles at work that I have less and less time and energy to put into the painting.

Because I am so “locked in” with offices, money tied up in samples, phone and fax lines, staff relying on salaries etc, I have felt trapped for a while now.

I think we also tend to define ourselves by what we do, and to suddenly turn away from the thing by which one has been defined for many years is scary, it leaves a vacuum! I will no longer be “interior designer” which is a label I wear with confidence, having established a good name in the industry over many years, but “artist”, which I am much less confident about. Even a look at my present blog profile reveals a lot! I guess I will have to change that too! Anyway, it has been a factor in the procrastination!

But I had some moments of clarity recently, and realised that it is crazy to waste the rest of my life hating what I am doing, because of the inertia of extricating myself from the structure I have created. So I made the decision to wind up the business, and concentrate on my painting full time. If any of my old favourite clients want work done, I will tackle the odd project on a freelance basis, as long as I have time to keep painting too.

It is amazing how, as soon as the decision is made, things start falling rapidly into place! I was asked to design the entrance and stage for an upcoming Homemakers Fair, which is a trade show that has events around the country, and in return, will receive a place on the stage to display and sell my art work.

And a local gallery, which is great about supporting local artists, has offered me a solo exhibition in May! So that just seemed like confirmation. The other confirmation came in the form of fabric that I had reserved, and the client had paid for, being stolen from the supplier! It is discontinued and there is no more available in the country, …. aaaaargggh! I was asked to consult with a 2 new clients, and for the first time ever, turned them down, and recommended someone else for the job. I then later heard that both are “very difficult customers”, so I heaved a great sigh of relief and felt I had made the right choice!

Karen is so organised, and has come up with good ways of wrapping things up, so we shall proceed on the new path and see how it goes! Only time will tell, but for now I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I am really excited as I venture on tiptoe into the new world of full time art!

And now for something completely different….
I can FINALLY show you the finished bathroom! After the basin was broken, it was a nightmare trying to get it all together with a replacement, and all plumbed in etc, and I finally only managed it on Monday. Just in time because my 88 year old father arrived on Tuesday for a month’s visit, and it would have been a bit tricky with just a hole in the wall where the basin was meant to be!

Here, to remind you, is how it was…
Ugly blank wall and pedestal basin at the end of the passage
…with yucky surface mounted pipes everywhere… and then the builder broke the basin...
And now, with new window and basin, and pipes removed to outside wall.

(ir) regular photos!
I am so behind with daily photos, but so ahead if you look at the average number of pictures I put in most posts, so let’s call it quits for now, and I’ll give you a couple from my files, to keep the wolf from the door until I am up and running again!

Looking out my front door, week 8, and the cooler weather after the heat-wave seems to have fooled the Maples in the park into thinking that autumn has arrived, the leaves are all brown and ready to fall! (Because we never have really cold winter weather, most of our autumn leaves do not go the stunning colours you get in colder climates, they just go a sort of dingy amber/brown colour!)

Friday, February 16, 2007

red herring # 2800 and ?

Hi, well I had about 20 things I wanted to blog about today, and then I had to go see about a design job for a Trade Show that is coming up.... and the rest, as they say, is history.... you are about to get another tour of old Central in Port Elizabeth.

But this time, not just me being enthusiastic because I am passionate about it. There is another side to the story, and I only think it is fair that I give you a more balanced picture of it.
Large parts of Central have been bought up by slum lords, and left to deteriorate terribly. They have been literally over-run by squatters, drug dealers (mostly Nigerian illegal immigrants) and prostitutes.

Naturally, because I am a "glass half full" sort of girl, I have to start off with one of the beautiful sights I saw ......
The sun was glinting over the harbour, as i looked downhill. The old church in this pic was featured close up towards the end of This post.

This old Art Deco stunner has luckily been maintained, the building next to it down the hill has been another that has fallen victim to fire and neglect.

A very disturbing expose appeared on TV the other night, following up on promises made by our city council, Police, Members of Parliament, and the main offender amongst the negligent property owners, and it seems very little progress has been made, and this lovely historic part of the second oldest city in South Africa is under serious threat.
The man most Port Elizabethans love to hate is an Irish businessman named Ken Denton. He owns many of the most beautiful and historic buildings in the city, and has let them go to the point where some will not be able to be saved, even though they are under the protection of the Historic Buildings Commission.
I realise for those of you in Europe who count your history in Milllenia rather than Centuries, this might all seem a bit feeble, after all, these buildings are only about 180 years old, but they are the oldest we have, and if we don't fight to preserve them, we will have even less sense of history and heritage than we already do. Another thing that makes them interesting is that they contain influences from many parts of the world and different eras, so that you can have a Victorian beauty next to an art deco classic with an American Gothic nearby!
This brings us back to Ken Denton, and his buildings.
One of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in port Elizabeth is the old Post Office Building.
It is an example of American Gothic architecture, and the care and attention to detail is stunning. Sadly it has fallen into his sticky hands, and therefore into a sad state of neglect.

Trees are even taking root in the walls, opening terrible cracks,
and the ceilings are collapsing.

I am sparing you pictures of the really horrible bits, shown in the documentary. Squatters are all over these buildings, and the fittings have been stripped out, walls and floors burnt from fires made of materials stripped from the buildings, prostitutes lie around in drug induced trances, and the film crew literally had to pick their way through the heaps of human excrement all over the floors.

This is another of his buildings, up on the hill with spectacular views of the harbour, and right next to 7 Castle Hill Museum, (seen on the right of it down the hill) which is a Georgian house, built in 1827, and is one of our prime tourist attractions. (It is the oldest residence in town preserved in its original state, complete with furniture, old kitchen appliances etc.)

As you can see, Denton's building had been burned out, and I cannot describe the stench as you drive past it. After the expose, he issued a statement to assure us that his buildings were being cleaned up and sealed against further squatting, well I drove past yesterday and today, and both times the front door was just hanging open, with no sign of cleaners anywhere.
Another of our prime tourist attractions used to be the Donkin Terrace, a very pretty terrace running down a steep hill overlooking the city centre and harbour (it is in the same street as the church I showed you first, but lower down the hill. At one time about 15 years ago, these had all been restored with great pride by their owners, the original old yellowood rafters fixed up, and they were all in pristine condition, with an emphasis on preserving original fittings as much as possible. They are now way worse than in this photo (which was taken about 2 years ago). Balconies and gutters are sagging, trellis details missing, paint peeling, wallls crumbling, and you do not dare walk past if you don't want to be mugged or worse!

The man (and others like him) have a lot to answer for, and so far it seems our authorities are so bound up in legal red tape that they have been rendered toothless in the extreme, and the slum lords keep raping our beautiful town with impunity!

Ok , but there are still some awesome ones which are being looked after, not least of all the one I visited to measure up today. But first....
DETOUR! This is our lovely old city hall., opposite the building we are heading for (and by the way it literally was like this today, I had to drive around the block to find parking, and I kept getting sidetracked and stopping to photograph things along the way, I nearly missed my meeting!)
Outside the Old Post Office I spotted this statue, and its rather intruiging inscription. I checked out who Prester john was, apparently he was a legendary figure believed to live in India or Ethiopia, and sought by many sailors from the 12th Century to the 1700s, before it was realised he may not exist!
And FINALLY that brings us to the actual destination, seen behind the monument. It is the old Feathermarket Hall, which was built in the glory days of the ostrich feather industry, and was used for the feather auctions. It is straight, not curved, btw, but it distorted when I stitched 3 pix together to show you most of the facade.

As you continue down the hill from the burnt out house and 7 Castle Hill, this is the view of it on the left, large and barnlike (it extends far to the left) but pretty unprepossesing from outside.... but wait!
It is quite hard to convey a sense of how big the hall is in photos, but these stitched together ones may help, those arched windows look tall when you see the building coming down the hill, but when you see them against the whole height of the end wall from inside, they are dwarfed. But if you look at the man on the ground floor (the little white blob next to the right hand pillar), you can see how huge and magnificent the hall is,
that vaulted roof is breathtaking .
here is the spectacular main hall from the back, looking towards the stage, with its beuatifully restored pipe organ (I wish I could tell you what the organ and the ostrich auctions have in common, but one day I will find the time to look up a bit of history...)
And this is the sweeping stairway in the downstairs entrance area.
So at least we can end our drive around town on a positive note!

Latest Paintings
Since we are on a roll with old buildings, here are really terrible photos of 2 of my new paintings, snapped in a great hurry, that are currently at a "Celebrating the Karoo" exhibition at a local Gallery.
The old water Mill at Nieu Bethesda (another delightful place I just HAVE to take you to sometime!!)
Reinett House in Graaff Reinett, oh dear, that reminds me, it is another fascinating place I promised AGES ago to share with you, hope you are patient...........
Week 7, looking out my front door, at 5.30 this morning, the sun was just trying to emerge enough to tinge the clouds pink, but it was cold and very windy.
Anyway I will be scarce for the next few days because we are off to Knysna to visit family.
Have a great weekend, catch ya later!