Wednesday, April 29, 2015

kindly mind your own business

They have their faces pointed toward me.


Didn’t realize this til I uploaded the shots to my laptop. Now I feel rude.


Not much to report on the elderberry buds. The leaves are getting leafy, though, spreading out.


Rhodies and azaleas: a small reminder that good things still happen, even with the various shit storms out in the world.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

daily life: mind-blowing.

And so it begins: the unfurling into riotous color, one bud at a time.


Does the bud know what it’s got in it?


Or is it just surprised as anyone else?

Spring is such a shattering relief this year. Who’s with me on this?



We have a lot of pieris here.



As for photography – some of the failures are just as interesting as the ones that turn out ‘right’.


I think so, at least.

As for the pieris? I still they they look like spider-infested barnacles, from the right angle.


It all depends on your perspective.

One last thing: did you know bees had tongues? Inside of a sheath? The tongue is the little Y-shaped thing at the end.


Daily life: mind-blowing.

Monday, April 27, 2015

verily, get thee out of doors on a gray day.

I need to post about Freedom Park, in Johannesburg – the antidote to the disturbing Voortrekker Monument I last wrote about – but spring has intervened. Briefly, then, allow us to consider the matter of focus. Two shots, same subject, different focus.


As for the buds, let’s go all in and have a look. They’ll be open before you know it. Today’s the day.


As if that’s not enough, consider the spirea: last year’s dried seed heads...


And this week’s leafies.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Voortrekker Monument

I’ve been procrastinating putting together this blog post for weeks now. It’s going to chronicle where Kevin and I were on March 1st. It was our last day in South Africa – we’d driven up to Johannesburg from our idyllic week in Lesotho the night before, and our flight back to JFK was scheduled for early evening. So we had several hours to kill, and we decided to visit two vastly different, distinct public monuments to South Africa’s history.

You could say that we wanted to pay our respects. But in the case of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, those aren’t quite the right words. I can’t say that I respect the worldview and sentiments embodied in this shrine, as perfectly as they are embodied in its siting and design.


To back up: the Voortrekkers are the Afrikaner emigrants – so, Dutch settlers – who left the Cape Colony – which their ancestors had founded, but which the British were now running – ostensibly in search of freedom from oppression from said Brits. It was a series of movements spanning from 1835 to 1854, in which a handful of leaders led long caravans of families inland, over mountain passes, battling Zulu and Ndebele tribes along the way. The Voortrekker Monument was built during the 1930s and ‘40s and was inaugurated in 1949 after the Nationalist Party took power.

To give you an idea of the setting, we are in Pretoria, just north of Johannesburg, up on a hill, as shown in the painting below – which was printed in mass quantities on postcards at the monument’s inauguration.


Such drama. Already you get the feeling that God Is In His Heaven and All Is As It Should Be. Cue the trumpets.

We began by circling the building, working up the courage to enter. Courage, because knowing that these are the people being honored by the architects of apartheid was making both of us morally and physically nauseated. The monument is surrounded by frieze of wagons, arranged in a defensive perimeter, as the Voortrekkers themselves would have arranged their wagons on their rest stops. As Kevin pointed out, this circling of the wagons motif is both literal and metaphorical. The wagons keep out such pesky and dangerous ideas as “all human beings are worthy of respect”.


Three of the four exterior corners of the monument feature statues of prominent leaders, while the fourth commemorates an all-purpose leader.


We finally entered the monument, which is essentially one, huge domed chamber – the Hall of Heroes – with a hole in the floor. More on that in a minute. Huge marble friezes on all four walls illustrate the whole migration, from packing up the wagons, to day to day journey scenes, battling Zulus, signing peace treaties, battling Zulus again, and so forth.




Signing of a peace treaty with Zulu king Dingane.



Dingane changed his mind. Bloodshed ensued. Eventually the Voortrekkers, greatly outnumbered, whupped the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838.

In the center of the room is a giant circular opening that overlooks a cenotaph – an empty grave – on the lower level. A stairway off to one side led downstairs, so down we went.


Cenotaph Hall.


The atmosphere downstairs was potentially hushed and reverent, if you had drunk the Nationalist Party Kool-Aid, or stale and oppressive, if you hadn’t. There was a definite lack of oxygen, either way. The walls were lined with paintings and tapestries depicting the Voortrekkers’ migration, and display cases filled with their stuff: wagons, plows, smaller tools, interpretive panels, and naturally, Bibles.


Can’t have enough Bibles. This one was easily six inches thick. Piet Retief is one of the biggies, who signed the ill-fated treaty with Dingane.

The interpretive panels were... interesting. They offered context, but not perspective. We had noticed on the signage on our way in to the complex from the main road that the site is not under government control: after apartheid was dismantled, there was apparently a scramble to raise money and bring the monument into private ownership. Its worldview can thus remain blessedly untouched by revisionists.

The paintings were admittedly beautiful, perhaps because we had just spent the previous days driving in and out of similar valleys and passes in Lesotho.


And now for the tapestry version:


Loading up.


Just another day in paradise.

Over and over I was struck by an eerie similarity to the little I know of the Mormon trek to Utah. Minus the carnage.



Thank God We’re Here Embodying Civilized Values, Angels Sing From On High, Yay Us.

After a while we ascended to the main level and then up a small circular stone stairway in the corner, up up up, to the balcony view of the Hall of Heroes. This included a detour along the outside perimeter of the monument.


That’s Kevin.

We breathed in a view of the normal world.


And then re-entered the monument, went up an additional level to the inner rim of the dome, and peered down into the Hall of Heroes, through the hole in the floor, to the Cenotaph far below.



Looking up into the dome, we noticed small hole in the very top ceiling.


...and learned that it is placed just so: on the anniversary of the Battle of the Blood River, in which as noted above, the greatly outnumbered Voortrekkers defeated the Zulus, the sun will shine through and illuminate the center of the cenotaph. This is very Raiders of the Lost Ark-like, and deliberately so – the monument’s designer had imbibed the Nazis’ love of all things Egyptian.

Dome and ceiling hole as seen from the ground floor:


By now we were as full up as can be of the Voortrekkers and we went down a different circular stairway – they were too small to permit two-way traffic – to the ground level and out into the sun. There was a restaurant/cafe and we were hungry, but the thought of eating in that setting – it wasn’t going to happen. We did stop and use the restrooms, however.

I have been to four continents, four continents just in the last year, and this is the first time I have ever seen such a sign.


Yeah. Time to go. As it were.

Next up: a refreshing antidote to all of the above.




Tuesday, April 21, 2015

quickie in the woods

When in doubt, get out of the house. Today in between various chores and gigs, I snuck into the woods, to a park in a neighboring town sandwiched between a development and a school. Better than nothing.

This late, or early, in the season, the beech leaves are almost transparent.

There were well-marked, blazed trails, one of which crossed a stream and then meandered up stream for a ways.

An old homestead, I suppose. Nothing but two chimney stacks and some stone walls left, by now.

I got bored of the trails and wandered around free-range for a while. I'll need to come back: here's a slew of trout lily leaves. I'll want to see the ensuing flowers!

Plenty of shelf mushrooms to amuse me, in various shades... russet...


...and cream.

I think it must have been while I was investigating the skunk cabbage that the tick found me.

I was in the kitchen an hour or two later, whipping up my patented nut and seed mix, when I felt something crawling around inside my shirt. I got to it before it latched on to me. So far, that's better than my track record last year and the year before that, when the first tick of the season landed me in the emergency room because I couldn't get all the body parts out by myself.  <<shudder>>

Happy spring!