Weeks 30 Blogging in a Busy Week


This could have been a spinner from Bethpage State Park Playground in 1963.

Do you remember those flat whirling discs that had a metal bar in the center and were key play equipment in the playgrounds of the 50’s and 60’s? These “spinners” were made of wood and metal, and powered by one or two kids who would grab onto the bar, and run around and around accelerating the disk until the 4-10 other kids who were already sitting on the disk would shriek with delight. At some point, the running kid would whip herself up on the disk or else fall and be dragged in the dirt for a few revolutions.   Got it? Super dangerous but super fun. Well that is what our last two weeks have been like.http://boingboing.net/2014/12/12/playground-equipment-welded-to.html

What drives our craziness?

  1. PICKING AND HARVESTING It is harvest season here and we are trying to get out to the groves and presses to gather as much first hand evidence of the olive harvest as possible. This is what the farm visits are like: early rises, farm clothing to protect from sun, wind, dirt (and Cape Cobras), climbing over terraced slopes or down from the 3 foot high steps out of the four wheel drive Land Rovers that have gotten us out to the remote fields, being with farm hands with no shared language but body language (we have always been welcome), sun, wind, and thirst. We love to accompany the olives to the press. At the olive factories: loud motors run machines which sort, wash, grind, beat, spin and then decant the oil from the waste paste, produce heavenly olive odors, and require long hours making sure that everything goes right. The millers will work until they are done. We go home at 5 or 6 o’clock exhausted and partially deaf.  (Why are we doing this?  see 2 and 3 below.)

    67533 Speedy Spinner.1

    These more fancy modern day spinners – no chance of splinters – seem to only be able to be powered by boys. Hmmmm…..

In our playground disk analogy, this is the running and running and getting dirty and dusty and pushing the disk as hard as we can. http://playandpark.com/products/additional-products/motion/67533/

  1. THE BOOK….We are trying very hard to finish a first draft our book: “Inside The Olive” (ITO) by the summer.   By May 1, we hope to have half of the chapters in draft form. As we write each chapter, we realize how much we don’t know and then it takes us many hours of reading and researching to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. As our book is to be understood by people without a science background, we also have to backfill in our readers understanding so they will know how to think about molecular properties and health benefits. With three Type A authors, setting up our shared goals and expectations and standard operating procedures was also critical.

We have to believe!

In our analogy, this is where we trust that we have put in enough effort, and we must hurl ourselves through space and trust that we will land. Scary, but necessary.

  1. EVERYTHING ELSE: We have just finished giving our first seminar in South Africa (12th overall) about Olive Oil Chemistry and Health Benefits and each time, the audience has forced us to be clearer and more focused in delivering our information. We hope through these talks to develop the networks that will help us create a team of advisors for ITO. We are attending seminars in Horticultural Science when we can, learning about xyllum and phloem and speaking with the grad students here. We want to include personal anecdotes that will connect readers to the men and women who have made the olive oil. We want to understand the differences and similarities in productions around the world.   We hope to build trust with the growers and factory owners by writing up our visits in the form of newsletters for each olive growing region we visit. We need also to be tracking down new contacts and setting up new appointments.

    Those of you who know me know that I like to get myself dizzy by gazing at the world spinning by (see girl in back) while Rich more athletically enjoys the ride.

    At this state, we are on the disc and all shrieking and hoping we don’t get flung off.http://www.upnorthhomeschool.com/image/003hannibal2.jpg

In fact, as crazy as it seems, we are only able to do it because we are on sabbatical, and released from our normal duties of classes, committees, departments, and other responsibilities.  Lest you think we are complaining, we do remember that we picked this playground, and are seeing some pretty amazing things while we spin around.

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Week 27-28 ….In and out of control

Our week was characterized by the long awaited arrival of our friends from the US, Dana and Terry Tarr from Amherst and Kathy and Larry Bame from Pennsylvania.   Living and working in South Africa has been wonderful, but since Rich and I have a job to do here, we actually have not gotten too far out of Stellenbosch. So, we were delighted at the opportunity to play tourist with our visitors and to find ourselves at various moments experiencing what it means to be in and out of control of what was happening.

Every visitor to Cape Town, South Africa is awed by the vista of a modern coastal city with skyscrapers, a bustling harbor, and a superdome nestled up against the Hottentot coastal range which itself is dominated by a towering 3500 foot mountain. The flat top of Table Mountain serves as a playground for the weather, with coastal south easterly breezes laden with moisture being pushed up the mountainside and meeting the cold temperatures of the summit.   The result is a magical cloud layer called the Table Cloth which forms and dissipates and blows and swirls, covering and uncovering the mountain several times a day. Our group of six caught a gondola up the side of the mountain late in the day, hoping to see a sunset from the top and taking advantage of the break in the cloud coverage that had played peek-a-boo with the summit for most of the day. The sheer rise of the gondola, the slow rotation so that each of the dozen occupants would get both the mountain and ocean vista, and the beauty spread out on all sides is enough of a reason to go, but it was our exploration of the table top itself that was magical. We had time to circumnavigate the top, pausing to play with several dassies, the resident guinea pig like mammals whose closest biological cousins are the elephants, the flowering fynbos and proteas, and jaw-dropping views, before the tablecloth dropped down on the mountaintop again. The clouds blew in quickly with mists swirling around us, covering our paths and making each of us an island onto ourselves. A horn signaled the park services desire for all of us to return to the visitors’ station for transport back down the mountain.

We wanted to explore the wild peninsula south of the City. We started with a stop at Boulders Beach on the eastern shore of False Bay, arriving unbeknownst to us during the peak in the mating season for the resident African penguins. Several videos we took might not pass censors but we really enjoyed our up close and personal with the private lives of these adorable creatures. They made each of us laugh with their ungainly ways on land and their grace and beauty in the ocean. We learned that “Jackass,” the common name for the penguins was quite appropriate as the males vied with each other by braying and flapping their stubby wings while sticking out their chests.

capepoint-lighthouse3 On to the Cape! At the Cape Point Lighthouse, we climbed the equivalent of 105 stories (two of us had pedometers) up to the lighthouse on top of the cliffs at the edge of the peninsula. There it was either the beautiful views or the constant winds of 40 knots (46 mph) with higher gusts that took our breaths away. We enjoyed watching a family of ostrich and a trio of eland graze side by side close to the walkway. Baboons made themselves scarce, which may have been due to the fires that had plagued the peninsula in the last few weeks (more on this below).

picstitch.CapeA brief ride further and we were at the Cape of Good Hope, “….known for the stormy weather and rough seas encountered there, the Cape is situated at the convergence of the warm Mozambique-Agulhas current from the Indian Ocean and the cool Benguela current from Antarctic waters.[1]”   We took the requisite photos next to the Cape sign and paused to admire the windsurfers in an adjacent bay with white sand – Rich caught one surfer in flight.


Wind surfer flying

Wind surfer flying

After a delicious lunch at “The Green Room” in the sleepy surfing village of Kummetjie, we headed north through Chapman’s Peak.   We were unprepared for the two thousand feet sheer drop off to the glorious bays and white sand beaches below and for the spectacle and beauty of this wilder more remote side of the peninsula. We also had not appreciated the scope of the damage done by the wildfires of the previous weeks (more on this below).


One of our most profound experiences was our visit to Robben Island, just offshore of the city of Cape Town, with a glorious view of Table Mountain. Scenic views, however, are not what the island is known for. Most Americans are aware that Robben Island was the site of incarceration of Nelson Mandela for most of the 27 years he was a political prisoner under Apartheid. But what we did not know was that the island had been used as a site for outcasts for at least 300 years. A 19th century writer wrote:  “Who can be unmoved on first hearing of its inhabitants – the lawbreakers, the lunatics, and the lepers! Few places so small and insignificant looking can boast of having played so important a part in the history of a vast multitude of people. I make no apology, therefore, for calling the attention of the reading public to the Island’s early history, I claim for it more than a momentary passing attention. I call for respectful and reverential regard.[2]”  And two centuries later yet another writer had this to say: “In its small wave beaten boundaries, Robben Island holds the memories of a nation and the legends of the greatest and weakest of South African leaders. It carries the scars of four centuries of human suffering and triumph.[3]

Our ferry rode some wild waves out to the island in the bright sunshine of a Sunday morning.   The mood was light. We started with a young guide, Gcobani, (translated from Xhosa to English as “be joyful”) who told us of the early history of the island as we toured by bus. Graveyards, hospitals, churches were all that were left as witness to the period when the island was home to men and women, characterized as outcast because of their mental or chronic illnesses such as leprosy, epilepsy, diabetes, or cancer, who were brought involuntarily to the island. We were driven past a bare, bleak, walled compound circled with barbed wire that was home to the criminals (murderers and thieves) brought to the island to serve out their sentences. We said goodbye to Joy as we arrived at the much more extensive compound – a maximum security prison – constructed to hold the most “dangerous” of men – those who were determined to end apartheid. Five towers each with an armed guard, an outer fence 15 feet high, an inner electrified fence, a pack of guard dogs who patrolled the 3 feet between the inner and outer fence, and a deliberate program set up to isolate, break down, and demean men – all this was not enough to contain the ideals of the men inside.   Our inside tour guide was former political prisoner 366-04-86, who had himself spent six years as a young man on the island. He was one of the many whose crime was to fight for a vision of the future for South Africa did not include the indignities to the non-white population of the country. Even at 22, he had felt he could not stand by and watch while black children were murdered in Soweto on their way home from school. He showed us his cell block, his bunk, and the list of his crimes and described his food and uniform and daily schedule, but what was perhaps most unsettling was his response to the question of why he would choose to spend his life here on the island that as a young man he had so desperately wanted to leave. “This is the last place I would ever want to be,” he said, “but it is the only place I can find employment.” For political prisoner 366-04-86, the ideological chains that bound him to Robben Island from 1986 to 1992 have been replaced by economic ones. The ferry ride back through even wilder seas was a quiet one.

Finally, I need to bring this long post to a close with a tragic yet inspiring story of how first Cape Town and now Stellenbosch, have suffered the past few weeks from voracious wild fires, and the men and women who brought them under control. Given the dryness of the season, the summer’s worth of heat that has parched the forests and brush, we are told that the fires are a normal part of the cycle of the land. While they are not welcomed, they are expected. The fires are fought by land with firefighters – many of whom are volunteers fighting in the >100oF heat, and by air with helicopters, whose pilots drop gallons and gallons of water on the infernos.  The fires around Cape Town and the south coast were extraordinary in their range and vigor.  After almost a week of burning, threatening not only brush and forest, but homes, resorts, and even the American Embassy outside of Cape Town. One helicopter pilot lost his life – and damage is estimated to be in the billions of Rand.   Please do watch this video (or click on this link), to view  “Cape Town on Fire”: https://vimeo.com/121350729

In downtown Cape Town, the trees are wrapped with red banners, in symbolic support of the men and women who are risking their lives. An international 60 km bike race was reduced to 40 km because the fires had made cycling through some parts of the tour unsafe. The 1000 professional riders dressed in red to support firefighters. One Norwegian team showed their support of the South African firefighters by finishing the abbreviated race, and then laying down their bicycles, putting on their running shoes, and running up and down Lion’s Head and finally–to ice the cake–then RUNNING up Table Mountain (3,500 ft).  In what is reported as the world’s largest solidarity ride, 34,000 local amateur bike riders rode to support the fire fighters. One could see a sea of red firefighter hats, with “thank you” written across the top.  As I write this, our local fire in Stellenbosch is still out of control. The fire is burning uphill in Jonkershoek, where Rich and hiked the waterfall trail several weeks ago (see blogpost Week 20). Three helicopters were firebombing the blaze, with 3000 hectares of forest already destroyed. An experimental farm was destroyed and the sports science institute evacuated but we were told all the animals in the farm were removed safely.


We wish to dedicate this blog to all the firefighters everywhere who, like my own brother Rob, put their lives on the line in a sacrifice that can never be measured in salary be it Dollars or Rand. You represent the best of us and we can’t thank you enough!

[1] Encyclopedia Brittanica (online)

[2] G.F.Gresley, Cape Illustrated Magazine, 1895

[3] C.Smith, Robben Island, 2005

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Week 26 Four Courses A Statesider Needs to Understand Life in Stellenbosch

Cultural Acclimation 101: Afrikaans for Beginners Afrikaans is one of the 11 languages spoken in South Africa and the dominant language spoken at Stellenbosch University.  This course is meant to equip you with some words that are part of the everyday Afrikaans language. These handy phrases will be part of exchanges with “waitrons” [1] in restaurants, store clerks in Spar groceries, guides at the wineries and olive groves, graduate students in the lab and random natives on the street. Boerefees“Baie dankie” – phonetically “buy a donkey” is a sincere “thank-you” for something delivered above and beyond expectations. When one has been served by clerks who are huffing and puffing from running back and forth, or by store owners who come to work 365 days a year or after such life changing events as their own marriage, or to young wine guides who are nervously trying out their English with excellent results, or from sidewalk vendors who stand for hours in the hot sun for a single sale. When we get extraordinary service, we wish to say, “baie danke.” It seems the least we can say to acknowledge their efforts.

Whenever a “baie dankie” is tended, the response will likely be “It’s my pleasure’ya.” The phrase deepens to a long e on the first syllable of pleasure and lingers on the last syllable with a light uptick at the end “…plee -SURE’ya. The intent might signal that the conversation need not necessarily end, and if one chooses to say something else, that will be just fine. It is said with eye contact and a smile, and it feels really heartfelt. It is said as from a person who has decided to give you something, not someone who has just delivered a service because of a contract or expectation. A miniature verbal present, this phrase is sure to make the recipient smile back and be grateful.  If there is time, we will explore some other lekker (translation difficult but close to “awesome”) words in Africaans .

Cultural Acclimation 102 Afrikaans Road Signs A continuation of CA 101 extending to road signs that foreigners need to know are real and not to be taken as a joke….…..Kicjs y Pants…..Hellshoogte Pass….Drakensburg….Don’t feed the baboons….Please don’t hoot!……..Oom Samie Se Winkel.…..And our favorite….… Beware of Children!!! picstitch.signs Cultural Acclimation 201 Mountain Passes The course is an experiential learning course. Each class, students will explore one of the several dozen breath-taking mountain passes, write essays about what it must have been like for early inhabitants of the area to cross these on foot or with ox carts, and sing one verse from the classic John Denver song, “Rocky Mountain High.picstitch3

Cultural Acclimation 301 Cricket


Obviously, these children know more about cricket than we do.

As we travel around the world, we are presented with a number of different human activities which are foreign to us, which defy easy description, and whose existence seems to be inexplicable. This is a pretty normal part of travel, and one of the chief joys of visiting a different culture. However, as an activity which is foreign, complex and without apparent utility, cricket is our new champion.
It’s pretty big in SA. Turn on the television, and you are likely to stumble across a match (named for “let’s light a match to this whole thing”?). Drive by a big open field, and there often will be several contests. The newspapers carry the scores and stories of matches. It is a strange sport to encounter. A large group of players, often dressed in white, arrayed around the field watching with some interest an oddly dressed player with what appears to be a wooden rug beater or archaic torture instrument facing an opposing player who backs up about a quarter mile, runs at the first player for several minutes, then skips, hops, and ducks while swiveling his arm wildly, finally releasing a ball when they are about 20 feet apart. To fans of baseball and track and field, this looks like a combination of pitching, triple-jump and discus, with a very long in-run. Because the rug beater is about a foot wide, the first player usually hits the ball, sending it flying in a wide variety of directions. This causes some of the spectators on the field to suddenly burst into action, chasing the ball. The batter looks on in amusement, hardly moving at all, as the scoreboard adds a random number of “overs” to the batting team’s score.
Mixed in with the two important players and the on-field spectators is apparently a small group of retired army officers, who wear wide-brimmed hats and suit jackets in the blazing sun, and frequently wave their arms about, looking very stern. These activities go on for as long as we have had patience to watch, but apparently up to a day or more.
Needless to say, this sport has gripped the attention of the entire country.
I suppose I should say most of the country. We sat with a couple of friends while the husband was extolling the virtues of the old-fashioned cricket. “When I was young, these matches would last for days, with breaks for tea, meals and sleep. Those were the days!” he enthused. He did allow that an acquaintance of his, on viewing the first hour of a day-long match, decided his time was better spent lying down on a bench in the back to catch up on some sleep.
There is apparently some sort of strategy in this game. The pitcher/runner/jumper/gesticulator is actually trying to hit an easy-to-miss part of the field called the “wicket”. Perhaps covered with some adhesive, this is composed of three sticks stuck in the ground, with some bits of wood laid over the top. It looks a bit like that thing you put in your garden to hold up a pot, or a sprinkler, but it didn’t quite work, being so flimsy, but you never got around to taking it out and there it is all those years later looking a bit rickety. Cricketers have made an object of worship out of this. If the hurler manages to hit the wicket and knock off some of the wood, the batter is retired, and perhaps beaten with the rug beaters to atone for his shame. Since the wicket is very thin, and the batters are quite wide (made more so by large pads), it is quite rare for the hurler to hit the wicket.
Another way for the batter to take the walk of shame is for him to hit the ball right at one of the field spectators, for that spectator to notice, put down his newspaper and catch the ball. Despite our suspicion that this ball would make a nice souvenir, the field spectator seems to throw the ball back into play, out of a sense of duty, or of not having any idea what to do with a leather ball stuffed with feathers. Apparently, no-one in the cricket world owns cats.
We have to admit that there may be some finer points of cricket that we are missing. It could be in the fine points of the habidashery habits of people on the field (caps, wide-brimmed hats and the occasional helmet against damage during the walk of shame). It’s possible that there is one moment of exquisite excitement during the days of play. Perhaps there is a contest to see who can be the last to succumb to heat stroke, with the winner’s electric bill paid for the month. Given the attention cricket gets here, there must be something. http://www.thesouthafrican.com/twin-centuries-give-south-africa-a-nervy-win-against-zimbabwe/

  [1] Waitron is either a new word coined to represent either a waitress or a waiter

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Week 25 Working Really Hard… the Stellenbosch Way

With the sun shining brightly and temperatures here in South Africa hovering in the 80’s, Rich and I are feeling incredibly lucky – especially as we read about the snow and frigid temperatures at home.  We know we should feel embarrassed for our good fortune – and yet we also know that sometimes sharing it might bring you a bit of pleasure as well.   So here goes.

This week we started reaching out beyond our initial contacts. Much of the time was spent on the computer, emailing grove owners, and occasionally calling people. We focused on farmers in nearby Franschhoeck, where we will be next week, and Australia, where we might be mid May if we can work it out. So, with our sights both near and far, we moved back and forth between real and virtual meetings all week long.

Our week’s work might be characterized by three very different “working” lunches. We’ll invite you to share them with us!

Early in the week, we were invited to have a science meeting lunch with Dr. Michael Schmeisser, our dynamic and generous host in the horticultural department at Stellenbosch. He suggested we go to Gino’s – a rustic place, well loved by the locals. We had driven past this gem several times, but never seen it – the simple sign on the main street just said “Gino’s” – nothing else. No restaurant or parking lot is visible from the road, you duck into a driveway and are ushered back behind a few buildings and — there it is! I doubt any tourist would ever be able to find it. Michael was greeted like a lost son and before we opened our menus, three pints of draught beer sere slapped down in front of us. “I’m German! It’s lunchtime!” Michael said in his own defense. Of course, we decided when in Rome …… so we toasted our good fortune and drank up.  Soon, we each had delicious pizzas served up with a side bowl of chopped garlic and a bottle of fresh chopped chili peppers in oil to go with our pints and conversation. We talked about the needs Rich and I had for our experiments, how best to get trained and where to get access to the equipment. We heard about other Michael’s other projects and the joys and challenges of working with the students at Stellenbosch. By Friday, both of us had contacts with the instrument people and are getting closer to starting experiments in the lab.

On Thursday, we were invited to share a “lunch” with olive grove owners Birgitta and Arend Hofmeyr of Portion 36 in Stellenbosch.  Arend is the retired engineer whom we had met at a local slow food market and his wife Birgitta is chef, educator, artist, and entrepreneurial partner.  Our lunch lasted almost seven hours – something only possible when there is a delicious compatibility of food and conversation.   Our far flung discussions ranged from irrigation systems for the grove, picking and pressing strategies, the use of plastic barrels with oak staves in wine production, and the Truth and Reconciliation Act that was part of the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994.  As wonderful as the conversation was, it was the incredible food prepared by Birgitta that was the star of the day.  She chose to highlight the different olive oils produced on the estate in each course.  We started with a creamy butternut soup with a fruity olive oil and a pickled kalamata olive/parsley garnish.  We could have stopped there and I would have been happy.  But we went on to a lovely green salad, a hearty potato salad, braised fresh garden vegetables and a selection of braai meats (boerwurst and lamb chops marinated in olive oil), and finally a dessert trio that was sublime.  This dessert included home made vanilla ice cream, lovely light sweet praline-like cookies, and catawba grapes picked 20 minutes before we ate them.  Most remarkably, the ice cream and cookie used only olive oil for the fat content – no cream and not even whole milk. Man that was hard work.

On Friday, we made a temporary move to Franschhoek, the next valley over from Stellenbosch. Like Stellenbosch, Franschhoek is better known for its wines, and most (but not all) olive growers also make wine. Our plan is to visit several olive farms whose oils have won awards or whose owners came highly recommended to us. We expect next week’s post will focus on Franschhoeck, but let me finish by reporting on our first grove visit – to Rupert and Rothschild Vignerons. Busy with their grape harvest, we hoped just to explore the grounds for ourselves, talk with anyone who might be interested about the olive oils, and while we were there, taste some wines. We decided to opt for a food and wine pairing (3 wines matched with a dish for each) and were just blown away by the quality of both. Our 2012 Chardonnay (Baroness de Rotschild) was matched with a small piece of hake filet nestled in a tiny bed of gnocchi with a pea velouté (heavenly), next was a 2012 Classique red (cabernet and merlot) paired with a cube of pork belly with squash foam and braised fennel (delicious!), and our final wine was a special 2011 Baron de Rothschild (mix of 45% cabernet, 50% merlot and 5% cabernet frank) paired with a grass fed beef filet with a root vegetable crème, glazed pearl onions and fried shallot strips (snapped our taste buds into attention!). The price tag?????? 135 R or about $12.00 each. We felt we were almost stealing the food so we left a big tip and bought two bottles to bring home. It was really hard digesting all the foods and thinking up olive questions to ask our waiter, but someone’s gotta do it.

Hopefully, we’ve wetted your appetite for a trip to the tip of Africa. We are hoping our good fortune does not result in a gain of 20 pounds. Once we get back to Stellenbosch and we’re in our own kitchen, we’ve been thinking about starting the Banting diet together. More on that another time.

Meanwhile, enjoy our photo of the week, taken less than a mile from our home in Stellenbosch.



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Week 24: Moving Things Along

Even though we are studying olives, not grapes, here we are in the premier wine country of South Africa – surrounded by vineyards, and now at the beginning of the harvest, the wonderful aroma of fermenting grape juice. Each morning, we share the roads to work with farm vehicles like the one below hauling the early mornings pickings off to the wine press. As the trailers bump along, the mounds of grapes jump with them. I feel that I can almost reach out the window of the car and grab a bunch. We are told the harvesters start in the dead of night to take advantage of the natural “refrigeration” of the cool nights. By mid-morning, the more fragile grapes have been harvested and the pickers move on to the heartier cultivars. The larger vineyards work nearly 24/7 to bring this most bountiful harvest in. The valley bustles with the activity. We are told 2015 will be a very good year for the vintners.


On Wednesday, we visited Fairview Vineyard – owned by Charles Back, cousin of Robin Back, a UMass Professor we met at a South African wine tasting event last spring. The Fairview Winery is close to Stellenbosch, in the nearby town of Paarl (Dutch “Paarl” = “Pearl” in English – named for two round white granite outcrops that project 1000 feet above the surrounding farmlands.) In the US, many may be familiar with the delicious “Goats do Roam” red wine made on this vineyard and responsible for the largest proportion of Fairview’s International Market.  Despite his incredibly busy schedule, Charles gave us a tour of the vineyard while it was in full swing harvest time – with pickers in the field, workers unloading crates of grapes into the press, others handpicking out stems of the more expensive grapes before pressing,  welders fixing new holding tanks, bottlers making labels and packaging up the products, and wine stewards guiding tasters in the tasting room. Charles’s grapes are his first agricultural priority– and the largest part of his 1600 hectares (4,000 acres) farm. Yet social equity issues, carbon neutral agricultural practices, and ecological restoration share space in his brain with promoting local artisanal productions (chocolate, beer, cheese, bread, preserves). It was only afterwards that we learned this man is an international wine celebrity – with lifetime achievement awards from International Wine Growers Associations and a listing as the second most influential person (after Nelson Mandela) to promote South African wine business. We were so grateful that he spent 2 hours of his time with us personally before writing his phone number down on a piece of paper and telling us to call him if there is ANYTHING we need. We will certainly return for a more luxurious visit at a less hectic time.

Meanwhile, we are making slow but sure progress in contacting local olive farmers, and setting up a tour of six or seven groves while we re-locate to Franschhoek (French Corner) for two weeks. In the gaps inherent in setting up transcontinental housing arrangements, our Cottage in Stellenbosch was inadvertently rented to another couple for the two weeks starting Feb 19th. So we decided to take advantage and pick ourselves up and move to the next valley just 30 minutes away for those two weeks. We will still be able to get in to the University but we will start each day with an exploration of that valley’s olive groves. This is pre-harvest, but we thought it would be a good time to begin conversations there. Also, our Franschhoek rental has a pool!

 IMG_2677For Valentine’s Day, we are taking it slow, having a lovely lazy start to the day (complete with a load-shedding (planned power outage) that shared our morning with us from 10:00-12:00.) We have heart shaped chocolate truffles to enjoy from the Spice Route shop we visited on Wednesday.  We visited Spier Winery – just a few minutes from us down the R310 for a late afternoon tasting, picked up a picnic dinner, and have tickets for a Delft Big Band concert under the African skies at the Oulde Libertas amphitheater for tonight.

delft band

We wanted to expand on the Delft Big Band, after having heard the concert.  We went to the concert without knowing the back story, and were very impressed with the music.  We did notice that the band was very young (most looked about 20), under the direction of a older (read, our age) director who also played the trumpet, sang and generally joked around introducing people.  There were two extremely talented vocalists, and several of the band members soloed well.  After we had heard a bit of the story, and found the link to the band’s website, we realized that the music, as good as it was, fades in significance against their origin.  The band leader had said that 5 years ago, none of the members of this group had touched an instrument, much less had lessons.  They learned to play at band rehearsals, in a school classroom at night.  Even more significantly, they did this in Delft, a rough township plagued with gang violence and drugs.  This is a ticket to some respect, a job and a future, and they worked incredibly hard for it.  It will be worth checking out the link above.

All our traveling finally caught up with an unexpected complication to Rich’s digestive system. His intestinal flora set up a work action – refusing to process foods but rather just sending them along. We are sympathetic to the work demands of his bacterial microbiome – it is difficult moving into new territories where you don’t speak the local dialect and work conditions are challenging and stressful (read the heavy focus on red meats, boerwurst, and delicious Cape Malay spices). We think they have finally acclimatized, but we are taking it slow and easy. We picked up some delicious locally made yogurt at Fairview and are hoping the addressing his biomic needs with first class probiotics will prove sufficient.

We have put together our initial impressions of the olive production landscape in our first World Olive Press newsletter from Africa.  It features the visits we had with John Scrimgeour, Arend and Brigitta Hofmeyr’s Olive Grove “Portion 36”, and the info we have gleaned from a multitude of on-line books and resources.  Those interested can follow that aspect of our journey by checking out our Olive Odyssey at  http://worldolivepress.blogspot.com.tr

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Week 23 Stellenbosch First Impressions

About Stellenbosch week 1 stellie wines

  •  The beauty of this valley – mountains, vineyards, cloudscapes, and constantly changing shadows and illuminated valleys – cannot be overstated
  • Farmland seems so fertile despite dry climate, yet scorched earth in certain places tells a story of dangerous sparks having their way with the grasslands
  • Stellenbosch University reminds us of Stanford University in Palo Alto CA (on steroids) and the town seems like Palo Alto (tree lined with upscale shops), though some clear differences (Dutch rather than Spanish influence) and much more dramatic hills
  • Gorgeous new underground library with modern facilities.  Inner sanctum for grad students with Star Trek chairs and computers.  Free coffee, casual seating.  Big and bright, despite being underground.
  • Pea hens running happily through vineyards
  • Fynbos (native flowers that resemble cactus flowers) everywhere
  • Hooked bill birds in our garden (we think it’s a Hadeda Ibis)
  • Large old trees like eucalyptus everywhere
  • Very shy neighborhood cats in abundance–no bold Istanbul type cats.
  • Maybe it’s the dogs?  Lots of people have large dogs, like German Shepherds.
  • Flowers everywhere, bright pink, blue, yellow, white

About the People

  • So many barefoot folks in town, on the hiking trails (!!!), in grocery stores
  • All are hospitable, helpful, friendly.  Store employees to a person seem friendly and helpful.  The phrase:  “Thank you” is followed by “It’s a pleasure”, with a luxurious pronunciation of the last word.
  • Our friendly waiter at “Deli” restaurant with pet spider monkey on his shoulder
  • Neighbors
    • Neighbor 1 shirtless, barefoot, toothless – kindly helping
    • Neighbor 2 shirtless, barefoot, gives us good-hearted grief about asking for a match to light our braii (bbq)
    • Neighbors 3a and 3b  (husband and wife) waving hello through their passel of kids.
  • Co-worker who grew up in Zulu land in a missionary settlement
  • Construction worker (barefoot) ran full speed after a farm trailer filled with fresh picked grapes – grabbed a large handful, walked back to his job with huge smile on his face and popping grapes into his mouth.
  • Being called “Mama” and “Dadda” (which we were told were terms of respect) by a young black college student asking directions and Rich being called “Master” by our office cleaning staff.
  • Strong opinions delivered with a understanding that you don’t need to agree but this is the way I think
  • More different body types than we have ever seen in one spot
  • Africaans love their meat.  We were told of one Africaan friend who considered chicken his salad, picked anything green out of his food, and the only vegetable he would eat was a potato.

What’s left

week 1 dark and light

  • Regular (almost daily) power outages called “load shedding” because country’s electric power grid is insufficient for country’s needs (see our response above- candles and BBQ)
  • Church Service in 3 languages – English, Afrikaan, and Xhosa
  • Fear of violence pervades daily life.
    • We have 11 locks plus a garage door opener for our house
    • Each door at the campus is secured with ID cards that need to be swiped.
    • Everyone has a tale of being threatened or robbed, often told that those who rob are very polite others not so
  • Inequity index (GINI) 0.67 – highest of any country (US is 0.48)
  • The black/white/colored distinctions are painfully obviously deeply deeply felt in this post-Mandela corner of South Africa
    • Here in Stellenbosch, nearly all the domestic and mechanical jobs are black/colored
    • Here in Stellenbosch, nearly all the restaurant/shop/professors/business owners are white
    • Minister who grew up in South Africa speaks from the pulpit of how, despite a strong effort to expunge this, he “loathes” the part of him that still responds in apartheid-like ways to the people who surround him.
  • It seems very inexpensive here:  Rich got a haircut at the hair salon in the student center.  Wash, conditioner, cut, and a rinse after (with conditioner to prevent the stray cut hairs from flying out).  Cost?  R120, or about $10.  With tips (20 for stylist, and 10 for woman who washed my hair), came to maybe $13.
  • It seems very expensive here:  The house came with 2GB of internet access that was supposed to last us the month.  Four days later, it was gone.  The cost of our usual months usage would be about R2000 (almost $200).  Fortunately, it’s a lot less expensive at the University.

photoDid we mention that it’s gorgeous here?

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Week 22 Blogging our way (back) into another hemisphere

SpiralsThis sense of doubling back on ourselves in time and space captured the essence of this week. On Wednesday, we left our now dear Istanbul – a city which prior to our 2014 stay we had barely known, having spent only five days there with our friend in 2010. We headed south to Stellenbosch – a city we knew only from the 6 hours we had spent here in 2012 with our daughter.

Leaving Istanbul – Just a week ago, on a crisp but sunny Sunday afternoon, we finally garnered our courage to trust the sea gods and ride the tiny 15 foot feisty sea taxi across the Bosphorus. For many months, we had watched with fascination as passengers leapt across the sea wake into the tiny boat or waited to the exact right moment to catch the up pitch of the boat to secure their landing. The “dock” was a set of crumbling cement steps that led down to the waterway with no railing or rope. The boat was protected against smashing into the wall at high seas by a half dozen tires lashed against the sea wall – but there were no pilings or pins to tie up to. Once, we had seen 20 Istanbulites unbelievably cram themselves one by one into the tiny taxi, which then with an inch or two of bow clearance, set out to cross the major shipping lanes. The taxi was a David to the Goliaths that carried oil, lumber, and containers from the Black Sea to the rest of the world. Our fifteen minute journey took us from the European town of Emirgan directly across to the Asian town of Kanlıca.  Sharing the trip with an infant in a stroller and a toddler with a scooter didn’t make me feel any less brave. Once in Kanlıca, we did what was expected of us with great relish: a fish lunch at one of the many restaurants close to the harbor (with Rakı of course), a walk uphill to a park with a view spot looking south on the two bridges, and a dish of the famous Kanlıca yogurt piled high with powdered sugar (Rich) or honey (Pat). We returned home as the sun set and the bridge lights came on. The taxi played chicken with a 400 foot container ship and won, crossing what seemed to me way to closely across the bow of the giant. At last, we checked the last Istanbul “must – do” off our list. We were done!

 Monday – Tuesday – packing, cleaning, laundry and mailing packages, and then a plane ride out on Wednesday.

Interlude:  On the Air France flight to Cape Town from Paris, we watched, with some trepidation, a couple move into the center 4 seats with their 2 year-old and 3 month old children.  Let’s just run the numbers for a minute:  

12 hours.  3 month old.  38,000 feet.  11pm to 11am.

Fortunately, the parents had come armed for the struggle, and the airline came through with the truly magical bulkhead bassinet.  The 3-month old was quiet the entire flight (thanks largely to mom’s attentiveness and the bassinet), and the 2-year old slept for most of the night.  We were reminded of both the worried looks that greeted our arrival with Sarah 25 years ago on a trans-atlantic flight, and the grateful looks at the end, as the same style bassinet soothed Sarah into her longest sleep ever.

Thursday 2 PM — We have arrived in Stellenbosch!

We will always think of this town as our daughter Becca’s domain because of her study abroad semester here in 2012. While older daughter Sarah was the first Blatchly to visit and fall in love with Capetown and Stellenbosch in 2011 in a post graduation extravaganza, we hadn’t been able to join her. During our visit in 2012, Becca had shown us all over the Cape, but we visited Stellenbosch and ended up at an amazing  restaurant at Tokara Winery. We were so impressed with the imaginative food on that visit – that we vowed we had to return. It was that visit that inaugurated our collection of sayings entitled “Things We Never Thought We Would Ever Say.” The comment that started it all was Rich’s question to the waiter at Tokara “Which wine would you recommend with the springbok?

You will all be happy to hear that we just returned from Tokara where we celebrated Rich’s 60th birthday, and yes, he did have the springbok, again.   It was even better than he remembered – and we ordered a bottle of the same wine we had had two years ago and it was delicious, again. In an amazing coincidence, the winery – perched just east of the city on a pass over the mountains with a sweeping western view over Stellenbosch and on out to False Bay, Table Mountain and Cape Town – is on the same road as our new Cottage in Stellenbosch.


So we travel in circles, rediscovering places and people, opening up to new places and people, knowing that our journey will never be linear or unidirectional. No re-visited place is ever the same because we change, as do the places. No friend left in one spot is the same when we return or even when we leave. No stranger remains one the second after we meet them.  Our challenge will be to learn from the present, and prepare for the future.

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