Diary of an Adventure

Tokyo Adventures

Senses reel. Ears assaulted by amplified, sing-song advertising. Eyes dazzled by neon signs, primary colour advertising, walking stick handles in sparkling crystals supporting bowed over ancients. Incense, jasmine and even cleanliness, the smell of Tokyo.

Have to love the spectacle ‘cleaning bath’ outside the optometrist! Extra special after Juba dust.

Our Japanese secret weapon, Chiba, was waiting when we came through customs at the airport. Her flight was late, and ours was early and so we didn’t even need to think as she negotiated the trains that lead us across the city to our hotel. She then took us to a local Japanese restaurant, Takewaka, Spice 2 building, in Ikebukuro, where we had an amazing meal of sushi, seaweed, tempura veggies and a fried chicken dish. The food was presented like a small Japanese garden and tasted incredible. From a root-type thing, our attentive waitress made us fresh wasabi, which doesn’t taste anything like the tube stuff. It’s still green, but rather than a uniform grunge colour, its a host of rich green, flecked with brown. The taste, as complex.

The restaurant has a large central pond full of the fish (Bonita that is only available in May) that we ate, and tables that looked to be inches from the ground, which did have me wondering how I was going to manage. However, under the table was a drop down section for those of us who can’t mange the upright, legs folded beneath them, position with which Japanese seem to be born. Excellent.

A group of ultra happy people waved us into their Buddhist temple, where we were guided through the basic prayer. My Japanese wasn’t good enough to enquire about the Zen of Air Travel and Chocolate. Amongst the bustle of this part of Tokyo, we found the tranquility of the Kishimojindo temple and its magnificent Ginko tree. A must visit for every traveling leprechaun. Pink azaleas are still flowering, and the maple trees are showing off their maroon leaves.

An exhibition of bonsai rhododendron trees. Every branch, a masterpiece. Every flower perfect. Too perfect?

For lunch, procchutto and tomato with anchovy sauce at a Spanish restaurant. Not at all Japanese, but it was the only place that didn’t have a queue a mile long outside. They also had draft beer, which after five hours of walking seemed important.

This jet lag stuff doesn’t make for easy days of concentration. Although, leaving my business cards behind can’t be blamed for that! Fortunately, the efficient system, facilitated by Chiba, ensured that I had cards for the meeting whirlwind. More difficult than I expected, with a host of issues to be resolved.

White shirt; chopsticks; noodles (called Ramen, with Ikebukuro a leading battleground, where people queue for hours for the latest taste indulgence) in broth. The Gods laugh at my coordination skills! The food hall in the depths of Seibu, a feast of wonder that rivals Harrods. We had scrumptious duck breast, some kind of dumplings filled with strange, exotic, tantalizing flavours. The white shirt, again, challenged.

The National Gardens are beautiful. A haven of calm after the continual senses assault of the city. We ordered our meal from a vending machine, matching the pictures and numbers. Maple trees like spun silk, with delicate leaves creating a shimmer of etherial maroon.

Colour, texture and form in perfect harmony. Walking around the gardens, I have total camera inadequacy. A bit like taking wet toilet paper to a gun fight. These guys are serious! I did get my ‘camera kick’ at Yodobashi, settling for a light stand weight, knowing that I have a serious camera I have yet to master. A dozen pictures waiting to be painted.

Being lost in the Tokyo metro is a sort of right-of-passage, and although we were actually where we needed to be, if not quite where we expected. I did manage to go the wrong way through the turn style, which raised the alarm and a few million Japanese eyebrows!

We were made to feel like kings at the school in Yokohama, were we talked about the contrast between a school student in Japan, and one in South Sudan. Chiba did a sensational job of connecting with the kids, with interactive questions and sitting at their level doing the translation of my bumbling. Quite humbling, for me, it was. There was a reporter from the second largest Japanese news paper to give us coverage. Stunning origami garlands, bouquets of flowers and a song from the kids.

The lecture at Tokyo University was over too soon. The expertise of the professors infectious. Delightful dinner (French cuisine that was a haven after the days of demanding taste sensations) with conversation filled with experience and knowledge. An amazing privilege.

Sleep still a mess with jet lag creating its own schedule. Up early to get to the fresh market that was colorful and organized. None of the chaos, or colour, of the Dar fish market. We watched the fruit auction, which could have been part of a stage show it was so animated. Dodging the motorized buggies, amongst the frenetic pace, is a skill swiftly mastered. Old men, a steaming kettle between them, their day finished before most of the city has even realized its a new day.

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Diary of an Adventure

Takewaka, Ikebukuro, Tokyo

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Takewaka, Spice 2 building, Metropolitan Ave, Ikebukuro, Tokyo

An amazing meal of sushi, seaweed, tempura veggies and a fried chicken dish. The food was presented like a small Japanese garden and tasted incredible. From a root, type thing, our attentive waitress made us fresh wasabi, which doesn’t taste anything like the tube stuff. It’s still green, but rather than a uniform grunge colour, its a host of rich green, flecked with brown. The taste, as complex.

The restaurant has a large central pond full of the fish that we ate, and tables that looked to be inches from the ground, which did have me wondering how I was going to manage. However, under the table was a drop down section for those of us who can’t mange the upright, legs folded beneath them, position with which Japanese seem to be born.

Excellent.

Diary of an Adventure

Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF)

Among the many 'bucket list' experiences, attending the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF) should become a constant, and priority item. Irrespective of whether you are an artist, reader, writer, critic, tourist or resident. The FLF is exceptional and special. The craftsmanship, language, technique, tenacity, guts, inspirations, entertainment, humour, and fascination of being amongst those at the pinnacle of their abilities is heady.

Dinner with George, at the Salmon Bar did not disappoint. The service was attentive and intelligent. The food excellent. Polly was well looked after and I’m sure, the conversation unintelligible. As it should be after the amount of wine we drank.

Walking through the streets of Franschhoek on glorious autumn days, with skies Midi Blue (in the words of bestselling author Kate Mosse), and the leaves, golden, was unbelievably special. This between talks that challenged, enticed, entertained and stimulated.

On a quieter day, we had a very good late lunch at Le Quartier Francais where the food held attention. This within the glorious garden setting, while international bestselling artists strolled past. Rhubarb and goats cheese risottos. Squid in a light saffron, coconut and curry sauce. Beef short rib and bacon crumble. Tempura beans and a bottle of Môreson bubbles our menu choice. Simply sensational.

We visited the galleries, with the portraits by Luhanri Bekker arresting, and then surprisingly bumped into Lindsey, after seeing her work in the excellent The Yard Gallery space.

I even have a new book to read!

Alexander McCall Smith in Franschhoek

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Diary of an Adventure

Vineyard Diary

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Clear, sunny autumn weather enabled us to enjoy the Gugulethu Tenors, an Afro Pop Quartet, on the lawns at Zevenwacht. Hesta kept us a spot, a bottle of wine, as well as blankets to stop our bums from freezing. The music was great, the setting spectacular. The weber has had a good workout, with remote instructions from Coreta.

Looking out at the mist enveloping the vineyards, the wind chimes breaking the stillness, it’s difficult to believe that a few hours ago we were walking on the beach in brilliant sunshine. Polly, very happy to paddle and chase seaweed. Exercise that she now thinks justifies staying in bed long after we should have been out walking. That she was awake at midnight to ensure the security guards on their circuit knew that she was alert, thrown out as additional justification.

Not having spent much time at the cottage the past few trips back home, the chore list (haircut, computer, globes, tumble dryer, wine, visas) has dictated that we circuit daily through Stellies. Wild Peacock still a favourite breakfast, lunch or cappuccino stop.

Terry’s lamb shanks in three day stock, magnificent. Black Rock ’05, and the ’08 Radfordale Chardonnay excellent.

A golden grapevine waterfall bubbling from the dark arches of the modern winery at Saronsberg. On a green canvas, the lake, a reflecting pool for the mountains against which the statue a lady stands in contentment. The gallery is a superb space, the paintings by Paul du Toit stunning. The service was a tad disappointing with no effort made to entice a clearly keen bubbles drinker.

Not so at Rijks down the road, where we would still be if we hadn’t needed to get back to the cottage. Our lunch on the patio was uncomplicated, tasty, with the exact dose of autumn sunshine. We left with the mobi-kennel full of their Chardonnay which they are discontinuing.

Julia Child’s recipe of the classic French dish, Boeuf Bourguignon brought to life by Terry in the cottage kitchen. Despite the best intentions, it was impossible to have more than two servings. Another reason to ditch vegetables, as they take up too much room.

Diary of an Adventure

The Long Table

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The Long Table Restaurant and Cafe
Dombeya Winery Stellenbosch

Being at the end of the road, the only real issue with getting to Dombeya winery, and the Long Table Restaurant, is that you need to pass a dozen great estates and restaurants. Dombeya, is an indigenous tree that grows on the farm.

It’s autumn in the vineyards and while burgundy leaves still cling to the vines, and the oak trees are clad in a dozen hues of yellow brown, the sky is a blue canvas on which the Heldeberg Mountains preen. A perfect afternoon on which to sit out on the paved terrace and relax into the menu and wine list.

The Springbok shank sounded too good to resist, and they were happy to exchange the polenta for a saffron risotto, which was part of the oxtail dish. Despite this, I did have menu envy as Terry’s duck breast and pear, with a chocolate sauce looked amazing. While I’m not the most passionate vegetable lover the world has seen, the vegetables from their own kitchen garden were special.

The food was wholesome and unpretentious. The wines (Hakell Anvil, a single vineyard Chardonnay, and a Bordeaux blend, Dombeya Altus) excellent. The setting sensational.

Diary of an Adventure

Juba Adventures

9 May 13
Another storm over Juba Town, lightning flashing across the sky, the air charged with energy. Of course, the storms also bring the added complexity of how to carry out our programs amongst the mud and slush of a country that is two-thirds swamp. The misery for those in the camps unimaginable and not much better for those in the terrible corrugated iron buildings (not ours) for the returnees welcoming them to their new homes and country. Hideous.
My painting of kids playing in the Nile was a struggle, with no clear idea of what I wanted to achieve and a general feeling that I was fighting it the whole time. The low light levels (the lights in the apartment aren’t working) also made it difficult. Eventually I simply stopped and it will have to survive as it is.
Thunder and rain hammering on the roof woke me as a storm raged outside. I lifted the power strip off the floor and positioned a towel near the door in case the water came through the ceiling again. On my jog, a brilliant sunrise, the spectacular colours highlighting, again, how much work I still have to do on my painting.
Took a walk up to the bread shop, with Juba Town quiet. The sun shrugging off the blankets of clouds that made it a late riser as well. For now, the doors in the apartment are open. Cheese and honey, with Nespresso for breakfast.
I did manage to pour water all over the place in trying to fill the Nespresso water container. Didn’t watch where the top of the water bottle was before I started to pour. A mess.
Juba Skies Web
‘Juba Skies’. I used the smooth texture of the linen to increase the translucency of the sky, selecting colours and paint brands that had a high transparency index. The focus was on keeping the painting simple. The string of yellow-billed kites soaring on thermals created by the building storm clouds.
The parking at the apartment, terrible. Some sort of function being held across the road with vehicles everywhere. In Juba Town, if you want to have a function, you dig holes in the sand road for tent poles, erect a tent across the road and have a function. That this makes it impossible for everyone else doesn’t seem to matter at all.
A relaxed evening with Sheena next to the Nile, talking about new adventures.
A day running between meetings and sorting program issues. As expected, hardly anything went according to plan, including being rear-ended by some guy who was so busy talking on his phone that he didn’t see me stop. As he was from State Security there was a bit of an issue with the UNOPS security guys but all ended peacefully. Another of the UNOPS drivers arrived. I took his car and went to my meeting, while he took my car to the police station and garage. Back at the office, the drivers congratulated me on now being officially a resident of Juba Town.

Messing About with Paint

Juba Skies

Juba Skies Web

Juba Skies
Oil on Linen 35cmx50cm
I used the smooth texture of the linen to increase the translucency of the sky, selecting colours and paint brands that had a high transparency index.
The focus was on keeping the painting simple. The string of yellow-billed kites soaring on the thermals created by the building storm clouds.

Diary of an Adventure

Juba Adventures

A huge moon over Juba Town, the roads still wet from the evening shower. A bit concerned about the presence of military at the main intersections, certainly not helped by the firing of shots. I don’t think my running style is that bad?! Still, I turned off the main route, using side roads which are a tad more difficult to navigate, even with a head lamp. My knees seemed to have survived. 

In the section near the market, shapes huddle on the side of the road in the half-light, where they have been all night. The empty frames of the stalls above them. Women who work at the market waiting for the start of the workday.

‘Spring Dance’, my painting of Copenhagen, on a bright spring morning. Children dancing among the flowers from the spring bulbs that are starting to appear in the parks.ImageThe delicacy of their tutu inspired skirts, mirrored in their graceful movement.

The Dutch Embassy decorated Central Pub with orange and blue balloons to celebrate the new King and Queen. The Dutch moaned about the cuts to health care in Holland, while the state spent a fortune on a useless function. Perhaps that’s why they served lousy box wine?? I was happy with my sparkling mineral water.

Lots of lightning across the sky and with the rain starting I escaped as soon as the speeches finished and was only back at the apartment for a few minutes before the heavens went berserk. I sat with a glass of wine and some of the delicious cheese from Camphill Care in Hermanus, with the apartment doors open watching the storm rage. It also came through the roof so a bit of mopping up required before I crashed.

Our emergency project to get the runway built in Pibor hasn’t had a break from any direction. Rebels fighting; UN soldiers killed; early rain washing out roads; donors wanting to stop for reputation risk purposes; UN staff not wanting to work on weekends; equipment breaking down; convoys bogged down in the mud; helicopter airlifts cancelled; and more shooting between different parts of the armed forces. Despite this, my engineers on the ground are still optimistic that they can get the job done.

A restless night, awake in the early hours before heading out for my jog, the streets already busy with taxis and motorcycles. No military at least! Lots of joggers out and about, most on their way to soccer games. I passed my first female soccer player!