22 May 2014

Recensione: Il mappamondo con la Cina al centro (2007), di Margherita Redaelli, ****

Matteo Ricci in Cina
Sinossi

Confrontarsi con la Cina: una sfida dei nostri tempi? L'impresa non è nuova se già quattrocento anni fa Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), gesuita e missionario, vi riuscì con risultati sorprendenti, utilizzando tecniche di gestione della diversità culturale che hanno ancora oggi molto da insegnare.

Il libro analizza il contenuto di queste tecniche e la ragione del loro successo. Rintraccia le idee filosofiche e scientifiche della cultura occidentale che Ricci divulgò in Cina e mette a confronto per la prima volta i suoi scritti con i classici greci e latini ai quali faceva riferimento. Si fa chiaro, allora, che la cultura umanistica del Ricci, ricostruita qui attraverso nuove ricerche d'archivio, gli permise di farsi mediatore tra due grandi civiltà.

Tra i tanti contributi del gesuita alla società che lo ospitò, spicca quello geografico. Infatti Ricci produsse la prima carta geografica del mondo per l'imperatore Ming, ed in questa carta la Cina appariva, come è logico, al centro.

clicca qui pervedere il mappamondo in dimensione originale
Il mappamondo con la Cina al centro di Matteo Ricci
Recensione

Originalissimo libro di una studiosa italiana su uno dei più importanti contatti tra Europa e Cina al tempo della dinastia Ming. Ricci era un gesuita ma anche un uomo di scienza e come tale fu accolto ed apprezzato alla corte di Pechino. Curioso che, mentre Ricci insegnava geografia ed astronomia in Cina, a Roma Giordano Bruno veniva messo al rogo e Galileo obbligato a rinnegare la propria scienza.

La parte più interessante del libro è la seconda, che racconta del Ricci in Cina. La prima, forse troppo lunga (62 pagine) è sulla sua formazione in Italia.

Contributo centrale del Ricci è il metodo dell'inculturazione tramite il quale egli si integra culturalmente nelle alte sfere della civiltà cinese senza però cadere in trappole sincretistiche. Ricci non solo imparò il cinese, ma studiò il confucianesimo ed il buddismo per trovare punti di contatto tramite i quali perseguire l'opera di proselitismo.

Il libro contiene anche ricche appendici documentative. Quello che purtroppo manca è una descrizione più dettagliata della vita del Ricci in Cina, dei suoi problemi quotidiani, dei suoi contatti con la corte imperiale.




Trovi qui in questo blog la mia bibliografia sulla Cina.

You can read an English bio of matteo Ricci here.

05 May 2014

Book review: Journey to Yesterday (1950), by Silvia Baker, **

Muriel, by Silvia Baker
Synopsis


"One of the charms of travel" says Silvia Baker "is that you move in time as well as space. Weary of today, we can escape to half-mediaeval countries like Spain and Cyprus, or to enchanted islands in the Pacific or the Caribbean which are not spoilt as the tourists proclaime them to be."

Few are the fortunate people to whom the opportunity to sampre those charms is ever given. But to read about them is hardly, if at all, less satisfying, when the narrator is as observant, unconventional and witty as SIlvia Baker.

The two paragraphs above is what I read in the fron flap of the book's dust jacket while browsing the shelves of Daunt books, my favorite second hand travel book shop in London. I should have known better than trusting someone who can make such trite remarks but I decided to buy the book.


Polynesian girl drawn by the author
Review

Disappointing. She does provide lots of anecdotes about her trip to the Pacific, but her observations are mostly superficial and inconsequential. They are so disorganized that one is left with nothing in the end that helps understand those countries and peoples.

Anecdotes and personal experience of a writer are not interesting in and of themselves except perhaps to his mother, but they might be interesting to a broader public if they are placed in the right context and help understand the object of the narration. Well you won't understand much about the countries Ms. Baker visited by reading this book.

On p. 34 she writes that "Tahiti is a kind of convent. You escape appointments, situations, anxieties, panics. You relax." Then on p. 71 we are subjected to the tiring litany of "until ten years ago, Tahiti was an Earthly Paradise", as in ... it is no longer one now (she writes in 1940). Reminds me of Gauguin who about forty years earlier fled Tahiti for the Marquesas because he thought they were spoiled and overcrowded then. It was always better ten years ago, and even better twenty. Please give me a break!

We do learn a few tid bits of interesting in formation, such that in Tahiti when a woman has no children she can ask a friend or sister who has several to give her one, especially a daughter, as she can help with the house chores.

A few pretty drawings by the author complement this book.

Btw her name is spelled SIlvia in the book, not Sylvia.

My always growing list of books on Polynesia is in this blog.


Buy the book in the US here




In the UK buy it here

01 May 2014

Books about Music around the world

I am proposing here a list of books about the music of the world. I hope these books can help a traveler understand the countries concerned.


Zhu Xiaomei: The Secret Piano (2012). A harrowing story of music and love in China during the first decades following the 1949 Communist Revolution.

10 January 2014

35. - 10 Jan.: Ending with a big bang, see you soon again South Africa

My last day in South Africa, at least for this trip. I am in love with this country, I am sure I'll be back ASAP.

Breakfast with smoked haddock, fresh fruits, omelette and cereals. My last hyper-protein full international breakfast this time around in South Africa. I am going to miss it. Petrus is free this morning, every one else went shopping at the Waterfront. He kindly offers to take me around town. So I have a 30-seater bus all for myself for one last round of exploration.

He has been much more than a good driver. He gave good advice and feedback and offered good insight into the new South Africa. He told me he remembers the days of apartheid, when he was brought up to look down upon his black and colored mates, it was normal then. What changed his views was service in the army, where he had a black sergeant giving him orders, and especially work, where he could see how white, black and colored drivers would work well together, support each other and really had much more that bound them together than a different skin color.

I ask him to go and see something that could give me a bit of a view of how ordinary Capetonians live. He proposes a couple of markets, which I think is a great idea. Whenever I travel I put markets at the top of my list of priorities.

We first head to the Greenmarket square. It's a huge square with many souvenir stands and some interesting flea market sellers. I am looking for a Springbok T-shirt and find a few that fit and are reasonably priced, but Petrus has a sharp eye and spots some defects in the shirts, better buy somewhere else.

We then move to Grand parade square, famous, among other reasons, for it is here that Mandela spoke to the crowds after his liberation in 1990. Many day laborers hang around hoping for a job. Unemployment in South Africa is high but somehow the country still need foreign labor for the most menial jobs. Unskilled workers from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and elsewhere keep making their way to this country in hope for a better future.

I later walk into a supermarket to look at local cost of living: 1 kg minced beef 50r, 1kg pork chops 45r, 500g pack of pasta 9 r, 1kg premium chicken 32 r, cheap for me, not so much for an average local salary.

I notice a pick-up truck with a trailer trailer full of glass, apparently there is money to be made in collecting empty glass bottles he sells for recycling.

Later to the Springbok experience, where fans can buy all kinds of paraphernalia of the famous rugby team.  A life-zide simulater even allows to simulate passes. This time I can shop for real green and yellow jerseys. Petrus confirm still true as before that rugby is mostly white and soccer mostly black. He says this is not because of any discrimination, but simply because whites are better at rugby while blacks are the best soccer players. The important thing should be that South Africe fields the best team in each sport, no matter the color of the players' skin. Other blacks I have talked to told me they think rugby still a racist sport and told me that the youth league has lots of blacks but rhen only whites selected for national team. Hard for me to verify.


At noon, Petrus is kind enough to drive me to the SIgnal Hill noon gun again, and this time I can prepare myself and get the perfect shot of the shot!

Sunny day for a farewell and it is time to drive to the airport. Petrus has a day off tomorrow.  He plans to spend it with his daughter who lives wirh hia ex wife. Perhaps he'll take her to Hermanus to see the colony of seals.He is going to spoil her, and I can see his eyes shining with anticipation.

Good bye South Africa, see you soon again!

09 January 2014

34. - 9 Jan.: Cape Town slaves, cannons and jazz

Wake up leisurly and after another my usual dose of fruits, eggs and toast at the hotel buffet I join the others on our bus for one more day of touring. First stop is the Cape Malay quarter, Bokaap. It's the former malay quarter, really, as it has now blended almost completely with the rest of the city. Only a couple of streets remain true to the original colorful patterns and a mosque testifies to the islamic background of the immigrants taken here by the Dutch from their colony in Indonesia.

Bokaap with cars
Debora is trying to take pictures without cars in them. I don't understand why. There are cars in Bokaap today, they are as much part of the landscape here as they are in Rome or New York. She is trying to take pictures of the way Bokaap was fifty, or perhaps one hundred years ago. Hard to do, and most importantly, why would you want to?

And then one should edit out power lines, water hydrants, paved roads, electric doorbells, TV antennas, and of course tourists. All tourists try to take pictures without tourists. Real photographers, who want to document the reality of the places they visit, do not try to paint a romanticized image of what those places might have looked like in the past, but try to convey their view of the current situation to their viewers.

I take a walk up a steep sloping street and find myself in an Islamic cemetery. It's the old Tana Baru cemetery, the first Islamic cemetery in Cape Town. The then governing Dutch granted religiuos freedom to the Muslims they had brought over in 1805, mostly because they needed to recruit their manpower to strengthen their wobbly forces in the face of a likely British invasion. In addition to several mosques, a cemetery was an obvious requirement.

There is no one around and a few dozen graves seem to be a bit neglected. I always like visiting cemeteries in foreign countries, they can tell a lot about the people. Here we fne From here it is possible to enjoy an awsome and unobstructed view of the city. I snap a few shots and walk down again to meet the others.

It may sound trite, and it probably is, but my favorite spot for the day is Signal Hill, where the noon gun salutes each midday in Cape Town. It's a sunny day and a crowd of about one hundred people begins to assemble around the site at about 11:30. An officer is at hand to explain all about the history of the gun, which has been in operation since 1902 and has been fired about 65,000 times. I position myself to try and get a shot of the gun just a split second after firing, so as to show the white smoke plume coming out of the barrel. In doing so I fail to notice that a number of people are getting ready to video the firing, and to my regret I block their view. I am punished by some African divinity when my pictures of the firing are not as sharp and well timed as I had hoped :(

My poor shot of the shot is followed by a pic nic on the higher grounds of Signal Hill. From here there is a great view of Cape Town, I think better than from the top of Table Mountain because one is not as far and it is possible to make out many more details and individual buildings. A conifer forest frames the view and provides a superb setting for our lunch break.

After lunch, I notice a group of colorful veils and dresses flapping near the railing of an observation platform:  some elegant women are taking pictures of each other and their guide. They look Somali and indeed, when I introduce myself and ask, the more loquacious of them confirms they are on holiday from Mogadishu. I think it's the first time I meet a Somali tourist. For some reason it's hard to imagine well-to-do Somali traveling the world while their country has been a shambles for most of the last half a century. Anyway they are happy to share pictures: I am particularly attracted by the henna on their hands. They are not on Facebook but agree to exchange Whatsapp contact numbers.

As we drive back to town on the Strand the driver explains this used to be the Cape Town Waterfront before reclaimed land pushed it further out where it is today. He points to two bridges, pedestrian overpasses to cross the busy road.  One is covered, protecting pedestrians from the elements, and one open. Petrus explains that until 1994 the first was reserved for whites and the second, you guessed, was for non whites to get wet during the rainy season.

Last afternnon in Cape Town, I decide to give my zebra skin hunting one more chance. Against all expectations I find the best price in a posh store at the Waterfront, 13,250 Rand including a springbok skin. It was not an easy negotiation. Betty, the (black) ebullient saleswoman hugs me when I strike a deal over the phone with the (white) cold sounding shop owner. The saleswoman makes   a good commission on her sales but is not authorized to give discounts except for small items. For that the owner wants her to call her at home or wherever she is to approve. Betty said January started well while December and the Xmas season were slow.

Betty is so happy, she can't stop repeating: "You made my day"! When I ask for directions to another store where I need to buy a trolley for the zebra skin she is more than happy to personally walk me there.

I always wanted a zebra skin. I find zebras not only beautiful but most intriguing and mysterious. They look all so similar at a superficial glance and yet each of their pattern is unique.  No two zebras are alike. This one, Betty explained, has some beige between the black and white stripes, indicating it comes from Namibia. I have no idea of course. In a way I am a bit sorry because I wanted one from South Africa. But on the other hand I have been to Namibia seventeen years ago and this will bring back memories, it will be a sign of continuity in my African experience. Also, I like the beige streaks in the blackand white pattern a lot.

I am not sure what I will do with it. Maybe I'll put it down on the floor, in my attic where I am usually alone or with few friends and no one is allowed to wear shoes.  But I don't like the idea of walking on this beautiful skin. Maybe I'll hang it on a wall. But I don't like the idea of just looking at it. I want to have it somewhere where I can communicate with it, by touching it, by smelling it, by turning it around. Maybe I'll put it on my dining table.  Not to use it as table cloth of course but as decoration when I am not dining on my dining table. But I feel it would be demeaning for the zebra to take it away from the table just when my friends and I are sitting down to make merry. Maybe I'll use it as a spread over my couch. But I am afraid it might be damaged by people constantly sitting and rubbing on it. No maybe I'll use it as a bed spread. That way I can be close to it without running any risk of damaging it.

Meet Sabelo again at 6:30 pm in my hotel's parking lot. Valentina and I are going for one more final township tour, this time to visit the home of Blackey Tempi, a well knows trumpetist who has become an iconic representative of local music.

Blackey Tempi and friend
On the way, Sabelo tells us a bit about music in South Africa. We learn about Toyi toyi protest music, used during apartheid but also later to protest against the current government's policies.

He also explains tu us the meaning of the 2  January carnival: when slavery was the law of the land, slave owners would celebrate New year on 1 January like the rest of the world, but would allow the following day free to their slaves, so as to let steam off. This music has had strong influence in South Africa jazz.

Paradoxically, Sabelo laments that there was more jazz during apartheid because jazz venues were used as surrogate for political protest. Sympathetic owners would let artists use them for free. Now they want payment and fewer and fewer musicians can afford it. For most clubs, it is cheaper to hire a dj than musicians.

We also learn the incredible story of Tiyo Soga who in the 1880s started music schools for black. That's where most black musicians learned music and it was a milestone in the country's musical heritage. Tiyo is alive and kicking a century and a half later.

I also learn about the life of the composer of South African national anthem "God bless Africa". Enoch Sontonga was an obscure musician born sometime around 1873. He composed "Nkosi Sikelele Afrika" and no one would remember him had the ANC not chose to adopt his composition as its anthme as far back as 1925. Since 1994 it is part of the multilingual national anthem of South Africa.We also learn about the Cape jazz tradition and its analogies with the much more well know American kind.

Much of the musical tradition developed in the Shebeens, unlicensed Irish pubs where musicians could gather more or less undisturbed. Often musicians would end up stayin all night because curfew laws did not allow them return home and they had to wait for dawn.

When we arrive at  Blackey's we are welcomed at door by him, a friend and his wife Sheila. The house is simple and small but dignified. All windows and the door are pretty heavily protected from intruders. Blackey plays initially with mute.  Then without the mute, and the sound comes out full and powerful. His friend accompanies with a guitar. At some point, after dinner, an exhuberant lady, Zami, a niece of Blackey, pops in and joins the duo with her explosive voice to provide a perfect ending to a memorable performance.

For dinner Blackey's wife Sheila prepares gratin potatoes cabbage, spinach, beans and chicken "à la sheila". How do you do it? I dare to ask... It's a secret recipe, she says with a smile... We drink home made a kind of alcohol-free ginger beer. And some good South Africa Shiraz which goes very well with Sheila's secret chicken!

Before leaving, as Valentina breaks out in tears for the warm welcome we have been honored to receive, I buy Blackey's CD, 120 Rand well spent. It's been an unforgettable human experience first, and a musical one as well, and the evening is only half-way through.

But the musical night is not over: next stop in no less than St. George's Cathedral, in downtown Cape Town. The mythical church from where Desmond Tutu preached against apartheid. But the old priest is not around tonight. In fact the church is closed. So why are we going there? To walk a few steps down to the Crypt!

Sabelo explains that the church needed money and could not raise enough from donations and public subsidies. So they decided to put their basement to work for profit. Churches are supposed to always have their doors oped for pilgrims and the poor, and the Crypt does too, but they offer cocktails, wine, beer and a wide variety of food, for a price.

Here we are welcomed by Mtehetho, a smiling waiter in his early twenties who leads Sabelo, Valentina and me to share a table with another couple. An American sax player is on the stage and fills the air with a mellow tune from the sixties, accompanied by a pianist who sits discretely in a corner. The Crypt is dark, as a crypt should be, and the spotlight make for a true jazz bar experience.

After a while they take a brake but the stage does not remain empty for long. Mteheto takes a position behind the microphone and starts singing Italian opera! Afterwords, I ask him and he says he always had this passion, is largely selftaught but would like an opportunity to study and become a professional singer. I am very happy to put a couple of bills in his tip money glass on the counter. This guy can go places if he gets a chance.


Mtehetho in Italian

08 January 2014

33. - 8 Jan.: Cape Town wine tasting and Langa, Khayelitsha and Gugulethu townships

Morning drive to Hout Bay. It is windy and drizzling, but the view of the costline is impressive nonetheless. In a somber, austere way.

On the way the driver stops at a viewpoint and I notice, not far away, a crew of about 15 workers, about half men and half women, huddling under the roof of a delapidated house. It looks like it has been hit by the weather for years, abandoned and now filled with sand.  Wet sand now: it looks like it's been soaking rain for a few hours at least.

It's an eerie but somehow attractive scene, it could be the stage for a movie by Sergio Leone, were it not for the fact that it does not rain much in his movies. I approach and ask them what they are up to and if I can photograph. They are there to cleare the scene of sand and debris, but can't work under the rain. The light rain is not so intimidating to me but they have no raincoats. We chat for a while, I snap a few shots of their green overalls against the red bricks of the house and the white sand, and off I go.

On the way back to Cape Town it occurs to me that we are close to the Groot Constantia winery, the oldest in South Africa. We have to stop and go for a tasting. As we approach, we drive by the Pollsmoor prison, where Mandela was held after his Robben island years until he was finally freed in 1990.

The tasting is fun: for a small fee you can taste five of their wines, and for a little extra cash you get a small cheese platter, nicely served on a small wooden board with a small wooden knife. A white lady and a black man operate two serving stations in the huge tasting room. Lots of tables in the middle allow wine lovers to mingle and take their time as they get the various wines poured into their glasses.

We take our time but I keep an eye on my watch: it's not far from town but we don't want to be late to what promises to be the highlight of the day: a township tour with Sabelo, the bright young tour leader who took me and Yan for a music evening last month. I called him yesterday to organize another musical evening (we'll do that tomorrow) and mentioned in passing whether he also organized some visit of townships surrounding the Cape Town. Of course!

He is at our hotel at 14:00 hours, punctual as a Swiss watch, with a small van and Daniel, a jovial driver who will be at the wheel for the afternoon while Sabelo explains and shares his vast knowledge of the townhips.  He actually does not live here but in another township, which however he does not think is safe to visit, even in his company.

The first townships we visit is Langa. It means "Sun" and was built in the 1920s to host blacks evicted from other neighborhoods such as Ndabeni that were too close to rich white areas for comfort. All this decades before apartheid was even formally the law of the land.

First stop at Cape Town tourism center in Langa, this township is not as well known as Soweto but it is trying to find its way in the tourism business. Some artists display their paintings and sculptures, musicians who demonstrate traditional music, students study in a reading room.  We are kindly offered a music lesson by a drummer.

Ladies by the gate, not particularly busy with anything, fun to talk to anyway.I snap some pics of a lady by a wall mosaic and she seems to appreciate the attention. With them, a security guard is listening to some music from the radio. He wears a loose khaki uniform and a red tie, with a badge on his arm that reads "Security - Distinctive Choice". Somehow I find myself in agreement with the general thrust of the idea.

Just by the entrance two men in their thirties are exchanging banter and I join them for a few minutes. After the usual questions about Italian football, Totti etc, they tell me a bit about their life. In a nutshell, their message is that they have a normal life, Langa is a normal place with its good and bad, dos and don'ts, happy and sad. Maybe that is the main point I will come away with at the end of the day. Townships are becoming "normal" places, normal for South Africa anyway.


Self-portrait at the hairdresser


Lots of kids play music of some sort, and I am attracted to an especially photogenic girl with a drum, who plays on the sidewalk surrounded by a couple of dozen children.  It's still the school holidays so they are free even though it is a weekday.

Street music in Langa


Outside the visitor center a man with no feet sits quietly in a wheelchair. He does not beg for money, does not reciprocate my greetings and does not bat an eyelid when I ask him to take a photograph. He hardly seems alive. Maybe that is the saddest condition of all, having lost the desire to live.

On the contrary, the people I meet as we proceed to walk around the township are anything but. At first I am a bit hesitant, I do feel some emotional pressure as this is the first "real" township I visit, it's not tourist-filled Soweto. But the ice is easily broken. Most people are happy to chat and all kids are elated to have their pictures taken.



After a half hour of walking I run into a team of ladies who are busy cooking a whole pile of sheep heads. Yes sheep heads. They sit on a chair and each have a not-so-small fire next to them. They protect the skin of their faces from the heat with some special cream,  The heads are cooked and then placed on a large table by the roadside, presumably for sale though I am the only one who comes forward and buys one. I have to try! Well it's good, tender meat, the cheeks expecially. No one else wants to try. Too bad (for them).

Some adolescent girls are clearly flattered and after a polite invitation offer flirting poses to my lens. One in particular, whom I approach at the gate of her house, gets very much into the model mode. She is a fine interpereter of "moods": as if your boyfriend just sent you flowers, as if your boyfriend just made you mad, as if you want to seduce a boy...



Next stop is Khayelitsha, a large township of 400.000 people that lies 22 kilometers to the East down the N2 road. The first place we visit is the rather grandly named "Department of Coffee" coffee shop, just next to the large railway station. A micro enterprise by Wongama, a former fire guard and two friends of his who decided to open this shop when they realized there was no place to get a warm drink for the thousands of people using the railway every day and saw an opportunity. They say at first people were sceptical but now business is briks and they are thinking of opening another shop. "CAPPUCCINO" for 8.5 Rand is at the top of their red menu board hanging from the wall of their small bar.

Our second stop in the township is at the Velokhaya cycling academy. The word Velokhaya is derived from the French word for cycling (velo) and the Xhosa word for home (khaya) – as such, we’re regarded as the ‘home of cycling’ in Khayelitsha. A school of cycling but also of life, where kids from the townships are offered a chance to develop a skill but also, and perhaps more importantly, personal discipline and a sense of purpose. Co-founder Glyn Broomberg explains in this video. And the other co-founder Amos Ziqubu gives his story. Unfortunately we are still in school holidays so there are no kids training here.

You can understand more about Khayelitsha township in the video "My mother built this house" on housing problems here. See a trailer for the film "A wooden camera" on this township here.

No vegetarians at Mzoli's
The third and final township of the day is Gugulethu. Here out target is Mzoli's, a butcher who had the idea of not only selling meat but also setting up a huge grill and serving his streaks and sausages to customers who wanted to eat there. His humble restaurant has become increasingly popular with locals and increasingly with tourists, both South African and foreign. Prices are cheap, the meat is excellent and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.

Bye bye Gugulethu
Music is loud but pleasant in the terrace next to the shop where simple tables are continuously filled with trays of hot meat, but no cutlery or napkins, so I am soon in dire straits trying to juggle sausages and lenses without making a mess of either. No alcohol can be served but Mr. Mzoli has no objections if we buy it next door and take it in. After a while most locals, seeminly regular patrons, are dancing, soon to be joined by the ladies in my group!

After such an intense day, what would otherwise have been a pleasant walk and dinner becomes a pretty insignificant evening at the Waterfront.

07 January 2014

32. - 7 Jan.: Hermanus to Cape Town via Boulders Park and Good Hope

First stop of the day is at the penguins colony of Boulders Park. Home of the small endemic South African penguin. A small animal, not really much bigger than a large chicken or perhaps a small turkey. It's a chilly and windy day, and thousands of them huddle together to share body heat. It's a curious and intriguing sight, if not really an awsome one. But worth a brief stopover on the way to the Cape.



Ours ends up not being so brief actually, because our bus has broken down again. This time it is apparently a problem with the electric system, and Petrus has called headquarters to try and summon a mechanic.

Things are sorted out by the early afternoon and we drive without further inconvenience to the Cape of Good Hope, which we reach by four o'clock or so. Petrus idles the bus at the bottom of the long stairway that leads from the parking lot to the rock that Bartolomeu Dias doubled from west to east in 1488, undoubtedly with great anxiety and for the uncertain waters that opened in front of him.

He must have had lots of hope to keep going against all odds, but it was not him who called this rock "Good Hope". Rather it was King John II of Portugal who did, as beyond the Cape lied his hopes to reach India, and history would prove him right. To Bartolomeu this was just the "Cape of Storms", and just looking out into the blue today it is not hard to imagine why.

It it really very very windy, it is even hard to take pictures as I must hold on to my hat with both hands to prevent it from flying off to Anctartica.

Holding my cap at the Cape

Evening at Cape Town, dinner at a pub by the Waterfront. Very English, dark wood paneling and fish and chips.

06 January 2014

31. - 6 Jan.: Mossel Bay to Hermanus

In the morning I realize that yesterday I forgot my kangaroo leather hat at the Bartolomeu Dias museum. It would sadden me highly to lose it, I have grown very accustomed to it, it fits my head perfectly, it folds easily in any backpack and it contributes considerably to building up my image of an Indiana Jones lookalike. However the museum is in town, going east from out hotel, and today we have to drive to Cape Town, to the west. I am not sure I can reasonably expect everyone to delay the day's program for a hat. Luckily, Paola suggests I would be very sad to lose the hat, as it is a gift from my girlfriend. It is not, and I am not sure where she got the idea, maybe he made it up to help. But I don't contradict her as this strengthen my negotiation powers considerably, at least with the ladies, and it is swiftly agreed that we will go and pick it up, assuming it's still there. Stefano laughs and says surely some cleaner found it and took it home. Or found it and gave it to the ticket lady at the entrance, who surely took it to her home for her husband, her son, her brother, whoever. Well,quite to the contrary,  as soon as we get there it looked as if the museum staff were waiting for me: the hat is there! Some cleaner did find it and did leave it at the ticket office for me. But the lady there shoved it under the counter. Phew...! My Indiana Jones look is saved. My sense of guilt for making everyone waste at least half an hour is for all this is alleviated when everyone decides to visit the museum after all. 

It's still grey and drizzling when we finally move west at around 11:00 am. Our next stop is Cape Agulhas the tip of Africa, where the Indian ocean we have seen so far meets the Atlantic. It's nothing much really, but one does feel the mightiness of the two great masses of water clashing in what has been a nightmare for mariners ever since Bartolomeu Dias got here.
Between two oceans

At our hotel the view is somber: dark grey clouds merge at the horizon with big foamy waves of the same color. The hotel's walls are crowded with paitings and photographs of whales: from May through December, the humpbacks come right here in good numbers and the hotel is a prime position from which to spot them. We are late, by several weeks.

I ask the young bell boy for a recommendation for a good restaurant. He has no hesitation: "Lapeentoula! Good food, especially fresh fish." So come evening we'll have dinner at "La Pentola" a fusion Italian restaurant about a kilometer away. The owner's wife is of Italian descent which explains the origins of the establishment's name but the food is not really Italian. I tried the springbok carpaccio and fillet of ostrich flambé, either of which you would be hard pressed to find in an Italian restaurant. Both very good though!

Springbok carpaccio
 It's pitch black tonight, windy and raining after dinner. The walk back to the hotel is an opportunity to lit up one of my cigars. A small one tonight, a Toscanello, but it's enough to create the illusion of being a sea-wolf in port, waiting for the ship to be resupplied of fresh water before setting sail again looking for India to the east, around Cape Agulhas, into the unknown.

I am thinking that Dias did not have cigars on his ship, tobacco had not yet been imported from the Americas. I find myself feeling sorry for him, having to fight nature and a reluctant crew with no cigars. Or maybe I just had one glass of South African Chardonnay too many.

05 January 2014

30. - 5 Jan.: Bartolomeu Dias, Indian food and vintage music at Mossel Bay

Authorized copy
In the morning we head down to town. It's a grey, cloudy Sunday morning, and Mossel Bay is virtually deserted. It is drizzling at times,  and not a little windy. Not a great time for walking around. A few shops that sell souvenirs for tourists are sadly lacking visitors. To me this is ideal museum time: happily, the Bartolomeu Dias is at hand.

We all know the history of Bartolomeu Dias, the Portuguese explorer who was the first European to sail beyond the southernmost tip of Africa in 1488. He landed at Mossel bay to load water and move on but before long he was persuaded by an exhausted crew that enough was enough and returned to Lisbon.


Main mast of caravel
What I did not know, and discover today, is that exactly 500 years later the Portuguese decided to celebrate Bartolomeu's feat by replicating his adventure on an exact copy of his ship. Well, almost exact, the new ship had electric power, a galley and toilets! It was the Portuguese community of South Africa that financed the trip. In the late eighties Portugal had just lost its last colonies and, with them, the dream of a worldwide community of Portuguese-speaking countries. This was a welcome effort to revive the old glory of Portugues exploration and the government supported it wholeheartedly.

The ship itself is housed in a building that was partially built around it. All around, artifacts from the glorious time of exploration, maps, paintings and pictures. A Chinese girl and her mother walk around the nearly empty museum with me and are surprised when I greet them in Chinese. The girl wants to take a picture with me.

It's lunch time by the time I am done with the Dias, but I am not so hungry. Look for a snack and run into an eatery of real Punjabi food, which is certified by the fact that I am welcomed by the owner who wears a white Sikh turban. I am the only patron and when I tell him that I like his wife's pakhora he sits down with me for a chat. I ask him how did he come all the way from Punjab to open a restaurant in South Africa. He replies he didn't.

His grandfather was a railway engineer in India in the 1870s and was asked by the British to go and build a railroad in China. He was offered a good fee and a British passport. That seemed like a good deal and off he went. As soon as he was done with that, the Brits thought to make another railroad in British Columbia, in Canada, which was then a British colony, so he went there.

The next rail project was in British ruled Kenya. Granpa was getting on with age and decided it was time to sink roots somwhere and so ended up settling in Kenya where dad was born and he in his turn. The Indian community in east Africa is a large one.

Then in 2006 he was vacationing in South Africa with his family. They liked it, especially the weather, much more pleasantly temperate than the hot tropical climate of Kenya, and decided to move. So now he sells Punjabi food (but also pizza) to the visitors of the museum.

After lunch I walk around a bit: it's still rather cool and grey. I stumble upon a shop of bric a brac. Military helmets, a bunch of carpenter's planes and assorted tea pots of various styles keep company to a pile of LPs and countless tableware strewn around in no particular order. The owner sits in a corner, silent, not even a nod to people walking in and out of his shop. This could be the den of a child of the flowers, or the pad of a single middle aged man who inherited his dad's collection and does not what to do with them. Maybe it is. Very fittingly, 1970s rock music plays in the background.I am always tempted to buy something in this kind of shop. I almost feel I have to. So much of this stuff would look great in my own home. Which is why I hardly have any room left in my home. This time I am strong, and resist. I walk out empty handed, though am must make a special effort not to buy a collection of big old iron keys, maybe half a kilo each, that are laying invitingly by the door.

04 January 2014

29. - 4 Jan.: Knysna township

Easy drive to Knysna. As we get closer, I remember how my first impression of the town was its township on 13 December. This time I'd really like to go there: it does not make sense to spend a month and a half in South Africa and not go to a township. However our driver, predictably, does not want to get anywhwere near there. He says it's not safe and he is responsible for us, for the bus, as well as of course for his own good health. I am quite disappointed, but what to do?

Right, what CAN you do? Well, you can read a good guidebook and browse the web, that's what you can do. And that's what Valentina and I start doing. She hands me a copy of the Lonely Planet guidebook, which makes reference to an association that organizes tours of the township. It's called Emzini and there is a phone number. One minute later I am talking to Penny, who at first sounds a bit surprised to hear me asking for a tour of the township in the afternoon. She asks if she can call me back in five minutes. Five minutes later she is back on the phone and, much to the surprise of our driver, we are on. I tell her I'd like to add some food: I am always interested in eating local food and never tried township delicacies yet. Assuming there is such a thing as a township delicacy. We agree to meet at noon by the big clock tower at the Knysna waterfront.

Penny is with Ella, a young black lady who lives in the township and is behind the idea of Emzini. She grew up without much education during apartheid and later thought that she could start a business by making it possible for tourists to become acquainted with the reality of the townships. She met Penny in church and together they started Emzini.

Ella tells us that until recently this was mostly an area of "informal" housing (slum) with no toilets, no running water or electric power. Now there are real homes in the township people get a free house from the government if they meet three conditions: a) be South African citizen; b) have children and c) earn less 4000 Rand per month.


With 20,000 inhabitants, this is one of smallest townships in the country. Most residents are Xhosa and colored. In addition, several thousand dogs call this home, says Ella with a smile. She had a difficult childhood and could not afford to go to college. She found the way of her life in church and it is there she met Penny. When she started to think of making a business out of township tourism, she realized administration was not her forte, and this is where Penny came in for a mutually beneficial partnership.

It's a pretty exceptional day today: there is a "manhood ceremony" going on. These usually take place in December and January and mark the rite of passage of young boys to adulthood. Men and women celebrate in different rooms of the house. We are told to separate our boys and girls but in the end this does not seem to be such a hard and fast rule. The boy in question is under a blanket in a corner.

He is a man now
Everybody is in a state of excitement but it seems that it's the ladies who are especially taken into dances and liquor.

Celebrating his manhood


Ella makes Umphokoqo
Then we move to Ella's home. We have an opportunity to learn some Xhosa, though the challenges of the clicks in this language are beyond what most of us can confidently muster. Much easier to go for some food and music. She makes fried cakes with cheese and jam. The I ask her to show me how to make Umphokoqo, a staple food here made with white corn flour and hot milk.There are also a number of drums around the house for anyone to try some African rythms.

We can taste the food and drinks it while sitting around her living room and meeting her adopted children. One boy, the youngest, is sleeping, while the others play with us. Grandma manages to sleep in the same bedroom as the little boy, totally oblivious to what is going on.

Some of the kids play with us, others are busy with their smart phones. A young teenager lady seems flattered when Stefano, our pro photo man, tells her she could be a model.

On the way out we walk along one street of the township. A horse strolls slowly along: odd to see a horse here, among so many dogs and chicken, but there it is.

It's three o'clock and 30 degrees. I am quite thirsty. There is a drink seller working out of a container with a small cut out window protected by a strong metal grid. It looks more like a bunker than a bar. A large (440cl) can of Coke costs only 7 Rand, just 50 euro cents. But maybe here the "just" would not apply to the locals. They don't serve alcohol at all though. Not that is would be difficult to find, but it's hot and there is no need for it really. Anyway I don't need to celebrate my manhood today!


Very few people in the streets, but quite a number of dogs. At some point a donkey appears, trots down the street and vanishes behind a row of houses. Reluctantly, we board our bus again and head to the watefront. We still have quite a way to drive today.

It's been an intense few hours in the township, but it's time to move on. We bid farewell to Ella and Penny under the same clock tower where we met, and we are back on our big bus, where Petrus has been patiently waiting for us. It's a balmy afternoon in Knysna, we are tempted to stop and have a beer by the waterfront. Tourists and locals blend in a polished environment of boutiques, restaurants and souvenir shops. The contrast could not be starker between here and the rugged houses of the township we just left.

Drive to Mossel bay. This time we stay at a rather posh hotel near a big casino. In the evening we drive to town for dinner, again at the "Ocean Basket". Usual noisy and crowded place, like all other Ocean Basket restaurants, but very popular and we have to wait over half an hour to get a table. Stefano, Stefania and I go for a beer at a nearby bar, and kill time chatting with the bartender about beer in South Africa. When we head back to the restaurant our table is ready: my kinglip fish is very good. It and beer get along very well and after a while fatigue begins to make itself felt. Time to hit the sack, no energy even for a Toscanello. It's been another long day to remember.