In the Ossala: Regardless of bells chiming every hour/Ongeag of ek is, of nie is nie.

In the Ossala: Regardless of bells chiming every hour/Ongeag of ek is, of nie is nie.

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How could one sleep after a day filled with beauty? The incomparable natural beauty with mountains, rivers and valleys, ancient villages with their churches, ringing bells, rich culture and history of the Ossala region in Italy is overwhelming.

This was our second visit to the Minetti family in their airbnb in Bannio Anzino – in an old traditional house in the stone village. (See previous blog: Festa Polenta) Matteo maintained contact and we simply had to return to the Minetti family with their Italian warmth and hospitality. (And in the process we followed Matteo’s career as actor, director, musician and impressario – a young, energetic operator).

After a delicious breakfast with Matteo and his mother, Maria-Paola, we started off to the pearl of all the Italian lakes, Lago d’Orta. The 30km mountain road from their home high in the mountains to “civilisation” remains an experience with the winding road running above the twisting clear green river, forests and other mountain villages.

Lago d’Orta lies near Lago Maggiore. Just as with the other lakes it lies at the foot of mountains and forests. But this one, the pearl, also known as La Cenerentola, is much smaller, more intimate and with an unassuming beauty that trumps Como, Maggiore and the other lakes. Here there are no traffic jams and crowded boulevards. The peacefulness, mountains and silence keep everything in balance here.

Sacro Monte d’Orta is our first stop – a sacred mountain above the lake with its 20 little chapels dating from the early 1600s. Three dimensional figures present tableaux depicting the life of the holy Francis and appear to be moving out of the painted cyclorama walls and you are standing in the midst of the happenings. The morning became a time of silence and contemplation as we walked under lime and chestnut trees from chapel to chapel. We became intensely aware of the pilgrim’s route we were walking through stirring incidents in the life of the saint. Sometimes bells rang and we stopped to listen.

Nearby, through the trees, we could see the little island of Isola San Giulio with its basilica and convent where 70 nuns live in isolation and are never allowed to leave the island. It looks like a tiny floating medieval city on water. The tower of the Basilica di San Giulio and the large building of the convent stand over the island like sacred guardians.

Lunch was at a lovely restaurant under trees at the water’s edge. We had traditional regional risotto with shrimps and flavoured with mint. A few days before we had actually ridden through the rice paddies of Piedmont where these large round grains are farmed. Matteo’s knowledge is impressive. We listened to folklore, history, culture and more.

A small wooden boat took us to the island. Matteo is an old acquaintance and every few metres we ran into priests he knew – dressed in their long, elegant cassocks – and he chatted to them before continuing.

We first walked the Via del Silenzio – Route of Silence and Contemplation. It is a street running between the buildings with notice boards that compel you to become quiet and think.

Listen to the silence
Listen to the water, the wind, your footsteps
Silence is the language of love
Silence is music and harmony

Matteo told us more about the life of the nuns on the island – a life of total dedication and fulfillment. The cemetery on the island is already full and the only way to leave the island is after death. Then the remains’ short voyage across to the medieval harbour village of Orta San Giulio with its atmospheric narrow streets, that has enchanted writers and poets for centuries. A rather gripping thought, the body of a nun on a boat that leaves the island and crosses over the water to the other world she once left behind.

Between the buildings, and also from the restaurant where we drank coffee, lies the mainland with its architecture and mountains like a mystical vision on the other side of the lake.

We had to wait for an hour or so to meet one of the nuns, an acquaintance of Matteo’s. We utilised the time to visit the basilika. Again Matteo pointed out the details like a well-informed guide. There is an impressive 15th Century fresco painted by the renaissance painter Gaudenzio Ferrari. A beautiful marble pulpit from the 12th Century and the bell tower built in the 11th Century. According to a centuries old legend the church was established by San Giulio after he had driven out the many snakes on the island.

At last sister Lucia could receive us after the midday prayers. A cheerful and enthusiastic woman overflowing with love and affection. She heads up the most important source of income for the convent, the restoration of priceless fabrics like antique altar cloths and vestments. She explained in detail how scientifically they approach their work of treating the fabrics and Matteo told us that they are considered to be the best restorers in Italy. But, we were not allowed to visit the laboratories where they work. She was also very excited about the election of the new mother superior after the recent death of the previous one.

On taking our leave after the visit she embraced me out of the blue and I received two cheek kisses. I said no, I usually do it with four kisses. And I embraced her and gave her two more. And there, in the sacred convent, in the presence of old dark heavy furniture, and light falling through the windows, sister Lucia jumped up and down and called out laughingly: Quatro! Quatro! The lovely nun with the smiling open face.

Satisfied, we sailed back to Orta San Giulio with its convivial Piazza Motta and I wished I could see it in autumn, or even in winter. We lost tack. Didn’t really want to leave the place. I took one last photo of the Palazzotto.

We had to return to Bannio Anzino along the mountain road. Fortunately there was a bus ahead of us and Matteo couldn’t drive back like an Italian racing driver – another of his talents.

After a brief rest we were back on the road. I was afraid of the bends by car further up the valley to Macugnaca where we were to spend the evening. I rode the 25km alone and sedately on Silver, through more old villages with their old churches. Past residents sitting outside in the early evening coolness. To the foot of Monte Rosa (4634m and the second highest Alpine peak after Mont Blanc) – the highest peak in the Italian Alps and part of the massif which forms the border between the Swiss Valais and the Pennine Alps. It’s an overwhelming feeling standing below the mountain with mist swirling about the heights and the peaks peeping through every now and then.

Matteo and his collaborator, Adriano from Domodossola,  had to test the piano and the organ in the big church in Macugnaga for a performance of Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle which was to take place on the Sunday evening – and which we would sadly miss. At one stage Matteo also took his place behind the large organ. The rich range of sound bounced off the old walls and echoed past the ornamental paintings and sculptures onwards to an outer space. We just sat and listened. Allowed the beauty of the sounds to transport us as well.

After a pizza supper in a local restaurant it was just Silver and I in the moonlight back to Bannio Anzino. Slowly. It became a magical night. I stopped periodically to look and listen. Far below me was the rushing of the river. Above me was an ink blue night and mist rolling over the peaks. Then there was the call of a night bird. A rustling as a small creature scurried away. I rode slowly onwards. Past the light falling through windows. Across the squares of the villages with their fountains that run day and night. Later up the sharp and dark tornantes winding upwards through the forest to where we were staying. Then I stuck out my leg to maintain my balance.

Irrespective of whether I am or am not. Regardless of bells chiming every hour of this day. Regardless of the island floating on water. Regardless of the saintly Francis. Regardless of sister Lucia’s bright eyes and bubbly laugh. Regardless of the organ sounds still floating through the furthest outer regions. Regardless of this night, regardless of everything … this day, one of the loveliest in my life, keeps rolling over and through me. And I know, nevertheless, that I am.

Read more about Bannio Anzino and our previous visit: https://gerardscholtz.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/festa-polenta-in-anzino/

Ongeag of ek is, of nie is nie.

Hoe kon ‘n mens slaap na ‘n dag vol skoonheid? Die ongekende natuurskoon met berge, riviere en valleie, klipoue dorpies met hulle kerke, klokke wat lui, die ryk kultuur en geskiedenis van die Ossala-streek van Italië is oorrompelend.

Dit is ons tweede besoek aan die Minetti-familie in hulle airbnb in Bannio Anzino – in ‘n ou tradisionele huis in die klipdorpie. (Sien vorige blog: Festa Polenta) Matteo het kontak gehou en ons moes net eenvoudig terug na die Minetti-familie met hulle Italiaanse hartlikheid en gasvryheid. (En in die proses het ons Matteo se loopbaan as akteur, regisseur, musikant en impressario gevolg – ‘n jong energieke operator).

Ons het na ‘n heerlike onbyt met Matteo en sy ma, Maria-Paola, in die pad geval na die pêrel van al die Italiaanse mere, Lago d’Orta. Die 30 kilometer lange bergpad van hulle huis hoog in die berge tot in die ‘beskawing’ bly ‘n belewenis met die slingerpad al bokant die kronkelende heldergroen rivier, woude en ander bergdorpies.

Lago d’ Orta lê naby Lago Maggiore. Net soos die ander mere lê dit aan die voet van berge en woude. Maar hierdie een, die pêrel, of ook La Cenerentola, is baie kleiner, intiemer en met ‘n beskeie skoonheid wat Como, Maggiore en die ander mere oortref. Hier is geen verkeerverstoppings en oorvolle boulevards nie. Die rustigheid, berge en stilte hou alles hier in balans.

Sacro Monte d’Orta wag eerste op ons – ‘n heilige berg bokant die meer met sy 20 kappelletjies van die vroeë 1600’s. Driedimensionele beelde in tablo’s beeld die lewe van die heilige Franciskus uit en dit lyk asof hulle lewendig uit die beskilderde sikloramamure stap en jy te midde van al die gebeure staan. Die oggend word ‘n tyd van stilte en oordenking soos ons onder linde- en kastaiingbome van kapel tot kapel stap. Ons is ook diep onder die indruk van die pelgrimsroete wat ons deur aangrypende insidente uit die lewe van die heilige stap. Soms lui daar klokke, dan staan ons stil en luister.

Naby ons, deur die bome, sien ons die eilandjie Isola San Giulio met sy basilika en klooster waar daar 70 nonne in afsondering woon en nooit die eiland mag verlaat nie. Dit lyk soos ‘n klein drywende middeleeuse stadjie op water. Die toring van die Basilica di San Giulio en die groot gebou van die klooster troon oor die eiland soos heilige bewakers.

Middagete is by ‘n lieflike restourant onder bome aan die water. Ons eet tradisionele streeksrisotto met garnale en met kruisement gegeur. ‘n Paar dae gelede het ons juis deur die rysvelde van Piedmont gery waar die groot ronde ryskorrels gekweek word. Matteo se kennis is indrukwekkend. Ons luister na folklore, geskiedenis, kultuur, noem maar op.

‘n Klein houtbootjie neem ons na die eiland. Matteo is ‘n ou bekende en dit is asof hy elke paar tree priesters in hulle lang en deftige soutanes raakloop en eers ‘n geselsie aanknoop.

Ons stap eers die Via del Silenzio – Roete van Stilte en Oordenking. Dit is ‘n pad deur die geboue met borde wat hang en jou tot stilte en oordenking dwing.

Listen to the silence
Listen to the water, the wind, your footsteps
Silence is the language of love
Silence is music and harmony

Matteo vertel ons meer omtrent die lewe van die nonne op die eiland – ‘n lewe van totale toewyding en vervulling. Die begraafplaas op die eiland is alreeds vol en die enigste manier om die eiland te verlaat is na hulle dood. Dan die oorskot se kort bootrit tot in die middeleeuse hawedorpie, Orta San Giulio, met sy sfeervolle smal straatjies wat skrywers en digters al eeue lank betower. Nogal ‘n aangrypende gedagte, die oorskot van ‘n non op ‘n boot wat die eiland verlaat en die water oorsteek na die ander wêreld wat sy eens agtergelaat het.

Deur die geboue, en ook vanaf die restourant waar ons koffie drink, lê die vasteland met sy argitektuur en berge soos ‘n mistieke vergesig aan die oorkant van die meer.

Ons moet ‘n uur of wat wag om een van die nonne, ‘n kennis van Matteo, te ontmoet. Ons gebruik die tyd om die basilika te besoek. Weer wys Matteo die detail uit soos ‘n goed ingeligte toergids. Daar is ‘n indrukwekkende 15de eeuse fresco wat deur die renaissanceskilder Gaudenzio Ferrari geskilder is. ‘n Pragtige marmerpreekstoel van die 12de eeue en die kloktoring is in die 11de eeu gebou. Volgens ‘n eeue oue legende is die kerk deur San Giulio gestig nadat hy die talryke slange op die eiland verjaag het.

Uiteindelik kan suster Lucia ons te woord staan na die middagoordenking. ‘n Vrolike en entoesiastiese mens wat oorloop van liefde en geneëntheid. Sy staan aan die hoof van die belangrikste bron van inkomste van die klooster, die restourasie van kosbare materiaal soos antieke kanselklede en bekleedsels. Sy verduidelik in detail hoe wetenskaplik hulle te werk moet gaan met die behandeling van die materiale en word hulle as die beste restoureerders in Italië beskou. Ons mag egter nie die laboratoriums waar hulle werk besoek nie. Sy is ook baie opgewonde oor die nuwe moederowerste wat pas aangewys is na die afsterwe van die vorige.

Toe ons na die kuier groet gryp sy my uit die bloute en kry ek en twee wangkusse. Ek sê toe nee, ek doen dit gewoonlik met vier kusse. En gryp ek haar en gee haar nog twee kusse. En daar, in die heilige klooster, in die teenwoordigheid van swaar ou en donker meubels, en lig wat deur die vensters val, spring suster Lucia op en af en roep sy laggend uit: Quatro! Quatro! Die mooi non met die laggende oop gesig.

Dit is met genoegdoening dat ons terugvaar na Orta San Giulio met sy gesellige Piazza Motta en ek wens ek kan sien hoe lyk dit in die herfs, of selfs in die winter. Ons kry nie rigting nie. Wil nie eintlik die plek verlaat nie. Ek neem vir oulaas ‘n foto van die Palazzotto.

Ons moet terug na Bannio Anzino met die bergpad. Gelukkig is daar ‘n bus voor ons in die bergpad en kan Matteo nie soos ‘n Italiaanse resiesjaer terug jaag nie. Na ‘n kort rustyd is ons weer in die pad.

Ek is bang vir die draaie per motor verder op in die vallei na Macugnaga waar ons die aand moet wees. Ek ry toe alleen en rustig met Silwer die 25 kilometer deur dorpies met ou kerke. Verby inwoners wat buite in die vroegaandkoelte buite sit. Tot aan die voet van Monte Rosa (4634m en tweede hoogste Alpepiek naas Mont Blanc) – die hoogste piek in die Italiaanse Alpe en deel is van die massief wat die grens tussen die Switzerse Valais en die Penniniese Alpe vorm. Dit is ‘n oorweldigende gevoel om so onder die berg te staan met mis wat in die hoogtes rol en kort-kort die pieke laat uitsteek.

Matteo en sy vennoot moet die orrel en die klavier van die groot kerk in Macugnaga toets vir Rossini se Petite messe solennelle wat die Sondagaand daar uitgevoer gaan word – en wat ons jammerlik gaan mis. Op ‘n stadium skuif Matteo ook agter die groot orrel in. Die magtige kleurryke klanke slaan teen die ou mure vas en eggo verby die sierlike skilderye en beelde na ‘n buitenste ruimte. Ons sit net en luister. Laat die skoonheid van die klanke ons ook wegvoer.

Na ‘n pizza-ete in ‘n plaaslike restourant is dit ek en Silwer in die maanlig terug na Bannio Anzino. Stadig. Dit word ‘n towernag. Ek hou kort-kort stil om te kyk en te luister. Ver onder my is die gedruis van die rivier. Bokant my is ‘n inkblounag en mis wat oor die pieke rol. Dan is daar ‘n nagvoël se fluit. ‘n Ritseling as ‘n diertjie wegskarrel. Ek ry stadig verder. Verby lig wat deur vensters skyn. Oor die pleine van die dorpies met hulle fonteine wat dag en nag spuit. Later die skerp en donker serpentinas wat deur die woud opkrul na bo waar ons bly. Dan steek ek my been uit om balans te hou.

Ongeag of ek is, of nie is nie. Ongeag van klokke wat elke uur van hierdie dag afgelui het. Ongeag van die eiland wat op water dryf. Ongeag van die heilige Franciskus. Ongeag van suster Lucia se helder oë en borrelende lag. Ongeag van die orrelklanke wat steeds deur die verste buitenste ruimte trek. Ongeag van hierdie nag, ongeag alles… rol hierdie dag, een van die mooistes in my lewe, aanmekaar oor en deur my. En weet ek tog, ek is.

Lees meer oor Bannio Anzino en ons vorige besoek:
https://gerardscholtz.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/festa-polenta-in-anzino/

Bannio Anzino

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The Loce River runs through the Ossola Valley. During WW11 it was the seat of a small partisan republic. It lasted only 40 days.

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One of the mountain villages on our way to Bannio Anzino

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The familiar alley leading up to Casa Quaroni

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We were accommodated in the Minettis’ guest house Casa Quaroni. A renovated very old Ossala stone and wood house dating from 1641 in which the last of the illustrious Quaroni descendants lived till recently. Everything five star quality. The bed was made up with the most beautiful old linen and one couldn’t resist the luxury of the linen between your fingers.

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Visits to the Minettis in the tiny village of Anzino in Ossala became the culmination of our Italian visits. Mountains, medieval villages, bells, rivers, wonderful food, stone streets, churches, history, saints, sincere joyfulness, unpretentious warm-hearted people… All under the watchful eye of a Mother Mary and the village’s patron saint, Anthony of Padua.

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Today there are only 60 inhabitants remaining who live in ancient stone and wood houses, with the odd villas in between which lend a little colour.

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Meet the Minetti Family

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“Welcome those who see, bless those who go.”

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An exceptional Italian family from the Ossala: Antonio who sees to only the best wines from Italy, Maria-Paula sees to to the best Italian food (we had a nother Festa Polenta cooked over an open fire), her sister Clara who came all the way from Novara to see us, and Matteo who took the photo.

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Some more family came. Uncle Natale (Nino) who is a doctor in San Remo, and cousin Nicolò from Amsterdam – where he is busy with a PhD in Latin. (on the use of Latin in Fascist Italy)

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A happy family!

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Don Stefano, Matteo’s best friend, came to meet us.

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Interesting conversations with the Don. And a lot of laughter.

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Everybody knows everybody in town. The man in the black t-shirt was Liz Taylor’s chef in Gstaad. He says she was a wonderful person.

Sacro Monte d’Orta

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The morning became a time of silence and contemplation as we walked under lime and chestnut trees from chapel to chapel. We became intensely aware of the pilgrim’s route we were walking through stirring incidents in the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Sometimes bells rang and we stopped to listen.

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These three-dimensional figures present tableaux depicting the life of the holy Francis and appear to be moving out of the painted cyclorama walls and you are standing in the midst of the happenings. The ordination of St Claire depicted here.

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Suddenly, a chariot of fire and horses appear and Elijah is swept up in a whirlwind. As Elijah is lifted up, his mantle falls to the ground and Elisha picks it up.

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Good example of the figures walking out of the syclorama – which gives it the three dimentional feel.

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Victory over the temptation of St Francis

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The wrought iron was made in 1653 by Pietro Ponti of Pettenasco.

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Isola San Giulio floats on the water.

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Good company, food and wine, and a view to die for.

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Risotto with shrimps and a bit of mint

Orta San Giulio

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In the narrow streets down to the harbour.

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Washed in earthy colours.

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The beautiful Piazza Motta surrounded by old buildings, trees, and the harbour. Wish I could see it in winter.

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What could be more Italian?

Isola San Giulio – aka the Island of Silence

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We went to the island on one of these small boats.

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The entrance from the harbour to the monastery

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There is only one alley between the buildings. It is called La via del silenzio.

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There are various notice boards along the Via encouraging contemplation.

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and oleanders in flower

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The harbour

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What is the boatsman dreaming?

Macugnaga

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For a moment I could see Monte Rosa (4634m and the second highest Alpine peak after Mont Blanc) – the highest peak in the Italian Alps and part of the massif which forms the border between the Swiss Valais and the Pennine Alps.

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I stopped and looked and looked. Mountains, forests and rivers enchanted me.

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Macugnaga lies at the foot of Mont Rosa.

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Chiesa Parrochia di Macugnaga

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Inside the sober building, pure baroque

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Impressive paintings. Can’t remember who the panter is, but Matteo knows it all.

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Very old benches

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Baroque. Baroque.

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Matteo plays the organ

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Anuta listens in awe.

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The organist

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Real edelweis

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The town square

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Mist and clouds roll over Monte Rosa – mesmerising.

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A unique WWI monument in one of the villages

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It became a magical night. I stopped periodically to look and listen. Far below me was the rushing of the river. Above me was an ink blue night and mist rolling over the peaks. Then there was the call of a night bird. A rustling as a small creature scurried away. I rode slowly onwards.

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Blou breek in die berge – an Italian opera in six acts

Blou breek in die berge – an Italian opera in six acts

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Overture

Terugflits: Hulle wou die roete net weer eenkeer in hulle lewens ry, want 10 jaar gelede ry hulle dit van die Franse kant af oor na Italië. Toe hulle destyds oor die kruin (1996m) kom om met die 20 tornantes af te daal, kom die donkerste wolke en blitse en ‘n gordyn van reën en rol dadelik oor hulle. Blitse kartets. Emmers water val uit die lug. Daar is geen skuiling, want hulle is bokant die boomlyn. Hulle kan niks voor hulle sien nie en voel-voel die pad om elke gevaarlike tornante na onder. Net een verkeerde oordeel, en hulle val teen ‘n afgrond af…

Bedryf 1

Groot Gee en Anuta staan met gesange in hulle harte op in Boves se Garibaldiplein waar hulle ‘n woonstel huur wat op die plein uitkyk. Op daardie Maandagoggend ry hulle met Silwer en Blou na die Colle de Maddalena met sy 20 gevaarlike tornantes – so 80 kilometer ver in Frankryk se rigting. By tornante nr. 20, ja, hulle word genommer, hou hulle stil om terug te kyk na die vreeslike kurktrekkerdraai waarmee hulle pas die hoogtes tot amper op 2000 meter uitgeklim het – dubbel so hoog as Tafelberg.

Hulle begin die pas klim. Dit is toe dat hulle by tornante nr. 20 stop. Bekyk die draaie en swaaie onder hulle en kan nie glo wat hulle in helder sonskyn onder hulle sien lê nie. Die pad krul bergaf soos ‘n lang gekronkelde slang in pyn. Nou nog net die laaste twee kilometer na die kruin. Daar piekniek en omdraai.

Bedryf 2

Hulle klim op die skoeters. Blou wil niks weet nie. Daar is net ‘n tiktiktik… wat ‘n pap battery beteken. Verstaan dit nie. Dis ‘n nuwerige battery. Blou het wel ‘n hik of twee vroeëer die oggend gegee en het Anuta gedink dit is ‘n vuiligheid in die gasoline. Die batterykabels word uitgepluk en toe is dit ‘n hele operasie om by die batterye te kom, dit te koppel, en Anuta glo aan kliphard revvvvv… Blou vat, maar vrek dadelik weer.

Daar is groot fout. Groot fout en hulle sit op die kaaltes van die Maddalenapas met Boves 80km ver. En die ergste, dis Maandag. Geen ordentlike Italianer werk op ‘n Maandag nie. Maar wat, hulle los Blou net eers daar en ry tot by die Colle, neem ‘n foto en hou net daar piekniek by die gletsermeer. Miskien wanneer hulle terug is by Blou sal die engele en die gesange in hulle harte die probleem oplos.

Maar nee, niks. Non. No. Nein. Enigste genade is dat Groot Gee op Blou moet klim en die tornantes se afdraendes glyend en swewend aandurf en sien wat gebeur. Vir seker 25 kilometer gly hy die steiltes met die dooie enjin af tot by die eerste gelykte en toe ‘n effense opdraend. Blou gaan stil stil soos ‘n steeks donkie. Al genade is om in daardie daardie hitte vir Blou te begin stoot tot daar weer ‘n afdraend is. Hy stoot en sweet galonne tot hy weer verder kan afgly.

Maar hy weet daar wag ‘n 850m lange tonnel verder aan op ‘n gelykte. Sien nie kans om Blou deur die tonnel te stoot nie en stop voor die tonnel. Drink ‘n bottel water leeg. Batterykabels uit. Revvvvv. En daar vat Blou en jaag hy deur die tonnel.

Daar wag ook drie dorpies met eenrigting verkeer wat met robotte gereguleer word. Hy begin paniek. As hy by ‘n rooi verkeerslig moet stop kry vrek Blou en is dit weer die hele operasie van vooraf. Masjiene oopmaak, batterye uithaal, charge, en hoop dit vat. Maar hulle kawalkade van vrolike engele is met hulle. As hy so naderkom, by al drie dorpies, dan slaan die lig oor na groen. Soos op bevel. Drie keer. Toe hulle die lang reguit vlaktes vat, vrek Blou weer.

Dis warm. Hulle sweet. Hulle paniek. Hulle is spyt dat hulle daardie oggend in so ‘n goeie bui opgestaan het. Charge weer. Anuta neem Blou oor by Groot Gee oor omdat sy vinniger kan jaag. Jy sien net haar helmet wip-wip en sy vat hier en daar grond. En so jaag hulle tot in die buurdorp, Borgo san Dalmazzo. Op die groot plein vrek Blou weer. In die son. In die hitte. Hulle hang aan hul seningvleise..

Bedryf 3

Hulle staan verwese op die dorpsplein. Ontwater. Deur die son verbrand. Verdwaas. Hulpeloos. Groot Gee gaan soek hulp. Nie een van die manne in hulle vests wat by die kroeg sit verstaan hom nie. Sy Italiaanse woordeskat bestaan wel uit buongiorno, moto, rotto, meccanico, pronto en arrivederci. Hy rammel alles af in ‘n dramatiese aria. Steeds verstaan hulle hom nie.

Hy sien ‘n mooi meisie met ‘n klein rugsakkie wat op haar moto klim. Sy het alreeds haar helmet op. Hy sien die vrees in haar oge toe die groot, natgeswete, vreemdeling met sy sandals en sokkies op haar afpeil. Maar sy versag toe sy sien die man soek hulp. Al wat hy toe deur sy uitgedroogde keel kan kry is: Moto meccanico! Sy wys met haar vinger daar is een aan die oorkant van die plein, maar dis gesluit. Dis Maandag. Maak miskien eers Dinsdag oop.

Groot Gee gaan haal vir Blou. Stoot haar oor die plein met die warm klippe, want sy gaan daar oornag. Vasgeketting voor die deur van die motowinkel. ‘n Vriendelike Italiaanse man staan nader.

Beide mans pluk Google Translate uit. Die onbekende man maak ‘n paar oproepe. Intussen het Anuta, wat teen daardie tyd soos ‘n uitgedroogde harder lyk nadergekom met Silwer. Sy neem oor – het mos Latyn in matriek gehad. Daar ís ‘n ander skoeterwinkel in die dorp. Kry die adres en hulle spring op Silwer en gaan soek.

Dis amper ‘n kilometer verder met ‘n effense opdraand. Klomp moto’s staan voor die meccanico se deur geparkeer. Dit lyk na besigheid. Klop aan sy deur. Niks. Langsaan is ‘n donker restourant. Groot Gee gaan deur die vlieëgordyn en begin roep. Dis toe dat ‘n maer ou vroutjie hom bevlieg en beginne skreeu en jaag hom skreeuend en jillend met ‘n geswaai van arms by haar restourant uit…

Bedryf 4

Druipstert verlaat Groot Gee die vieslike ou vrou se restourant. Hy sweer dit was vuil ook. Verstaan ook hoekom dit leeg is. Intussen het Anuta die meccanico opgespoor en staan hy daar met bril met modieuse raam en ‘n middeljarige gladde vel. Groot Gee trek los in nòg ‘n Italiaanse aria: Buongiorno. Due pomodori per favore. Una pane. Due caffè con latte caldo. Quanto costa? Vai merda. Carta o contanti …

Die meccanico antwoord in ‘n stortvloed Italiaans. Dis mos wanneer die grondboontjie rewolusie in ‘n mens losbreek. Dis wanneer jy totaal magteloos is. Dis wanneer jy voel jy word ontman en ontmens. Hy praat soos ‘n tsunami. Uiteindelik kom hulle agter hy sê nee, hy werk nie aan Hondas nie, net aan Kymco’s, wat benede hulle is. Hulle weet steeds nie wat met Blou verkeerd is nie. Na ‘n vreeslike gesukkel verstaan hy hulle vra om net die battery te toets.

Hulle moet terug na Blou om haar te ontketting. Toe begin Groot Gee haar stoot. Byna ‘n kilometer ver. Effense opdraend. In daardie middaghitte wat alles verskroei. Op die brandende klippad. Geen skadu’s. Met Anuta wat agter hom op Silwer aanry en aanmekaar vra of hy ok is. Groot Gee raak soos ‘n masjien op hitte. Daar is geen keer aan hom nie. Stop net eenkeer en drink nog ‘n bottel water uit.

Die meccanico toets die battery. Wel pap, maar geen fout nie. Anuta kom in met: Prova il regulatore. Die meccanico antwoord: Il regolatore è rotto. Soos in Vrot. Rotten. Stukkend. Wat nou? Hy haal sy skouers op….

Bedryf 5

Die meccanico kry tweede gedagte. Spring op die telefoon en bel rond en bont op ‘n Maandag. Hy beduie en beduie en al wat hulle verstaan is dat hulle drie dae moet wag. Tre giorni. Giovedi. Donderdag.

Krisis. Hulle kan nie langer op Garibaldiplein aanbly nie. Dit is vir ander gaste bespreek. Los maar vir Blou by die meccanico en sal na tre giorni terugkom.

Terug in Boves gaan sit hulle agter die kroeg se muurtjie waar hulle skelm internet kan kry. Bespreek ‘n woonstel binne stapafstand van daar.

Hulle neem die volgende oggend swaar afskeid van Garibaldiplein en van die tannetjie in die groen blommetjiesrok wat vir Groot Gee so van haar balkon oorkant die plein dophou. Dan staan sy en kyk vir hom waar hy soggens koffie op die balkon drink. Dan sit sy wanneer hy lees, en hou hom dop. Dan stap sy hoek toe om die nuutste doodskennisgewings te lees en om te sien of haar naam nie al opgeplak is nie. As sy tevrede terugstap kyk sy eers op na hom toe. Een oggend maak sy en ‘n ander man die fontein skoon waar die duiwe so mors. Kort-kort kyk sy op.

Hulle trek met drie vragte na ‘n ruim en koel woonstel by ‘n vrolike sangonderwyseres wat dadelik ‘n aria sing. Haar dogter Aurora kom later wat Engels kan praat. Bel die meccanico. Ja, hy kan die onderdeel van Milano kry teen die prys van ‘n retoervlug. Maar wat kan hulle doen? Al hulle vorentoeplanne en afsprake moet geherskeduleer word.

Bedryf 6:

Twee dae later, die Donderdag, bel die meccanico. Hulle moet nóg 5 dae wag. Hulle herskeduleer. Hulle gaan sien hom. Maak dit nog ‘n dag langer. Hulle herskeduleer. Gaan besoek Blou. Daar staan sy. Soos ‘n geraamte. Longe en hart hang uit. Olie afgetap. Buoni notize. Hulle kan haar die volgende dag kry. Maar hulle moet terugtrek Garibaldiplein toe omdat ander gaste in Aurora se airbnb gaan intrek. Die ou tante is steeds daar en Groot Gee knik sy kop vir haar…

Die middag laat gaan haal hulle vir Blou. Splinternuut.

Pas ingetrek gaan staan hulle op hul geliefde Garibaldiplein en hoor harde vrolike musiek wat naderkom. Saam met die musiek kom ‘n ou vervalle prossie aangestap met ‘n babapram. Lang witblond pruik wat tot by haar naeltjie krul. Aviator donkerbril. Skerp ken, lang neus en klein verkrimpe rooi mondjie. In ‘n wit uitgerekte baaibroek wat bollings by die laer ingewandes maak. Hoëhakskoene en die die maer uitgediende lyfie swaai en swaai op daai polfye. Groot Gee kry ‘n glimlag en loer by die pram in. En daar tussen die kombersies is haar blêrende radio half toegedraai. Groot Gee beginne lag. Sy beginne lag en swank verby. Die manne by die kroeg spring op. Asof sy die die Moeder van Garibaldiplein is..

Die laaste oggend word hulle om vyfuur wakker met ‘n flikkering in hulle oë en ‘n groot gerammel. ‘n Middeleeuse donderstorm kom nader. Hulle gaan staan op die balkon en kyk vir die wonder van blitse en weergalmende donder wat aangerol kom tot die reën op hulle begin val. Hulle besluit om in die reën te vertrek, want Bannio Anzino lê 300 kilomter ver weg. Om agtuur toe hulle vertrek hou dit eensklaps op met reën, asof op bevel van die engele. Die bakker kom uit sy winkel en wens hulle ‘n goeie reis toe. Buon viaggio!

Naspel

In die tien dae in Boves sonder Blou ry hulle elke dag met Silwer in ‘n ander vallei op. Die een dramatieser as die ander. Hulle leer ou klipdorpies ken. Ry tot op ongekende hoogtes. Ook op die oorlogspaaie in die berge en besoek ‘n hawe vir wolwe omdat Groot Gee altyd in sy diepste binneste geglo het hy is ‘n wolffluisteraar. Koop kaas by kaasmakers en brood by bakkers en pasta by pastamakers. Vleis by die slagter. Hulle leer die mense ken. Selfs die twee tantes by die naaste kroeg. Hulle word deel van die dorp se ritme. Ook die ritme van die baie klokke wat elke uur aftel. En weet daardie klokke sal altyd in hulle harte bly lui.

Blue’s breakdown in the mountains – an Italian opera in six acts

Overture

Flash back: They wanted to do the route just once more in their lives, because 10 years ago they rode over the pass from the French side into Italy. On that occasion, just as they crested the pass (1996m) and prepared to descend over those 20 tornantes, the darkest clouds and lightning a curtain of rain immediately descended over them. Lightning crashed. Buckets of water fell from the heavens. There was no shelter, because they were above the tree line. They couldn’t see anything ahead and had to feel their way around every dangerous tornante right to the bottom. Just one wrong judgement and they would have fallen down a precipice…

Act 1

Big G and Anuta got up with a song in their hearts on the Garibaldi square in Boves where they had rented a flat overlooking the square. On that Monday morning they were to ride 80 km in the direction of France on Silver and Blue to the Colle de Maddalena with its 20 dangerous tornantes. At tornante no. 20 – yes, they are actually numbered – they stopped to look back over the terrifying corkscrew bends along which they had just climbed to 2000 m – twice as high as Table Mountain.

They began to climb the pass. That was when they stopped at tornante no. 20. They studied the bends and turns below them and couldn’t believe what they saw in the bright sunlight. The road twisted downhill like a long, convoluting snake in pain. Only two kilometres to go to reach the crest. To picnic there and turn back.

Act 2

They mounted the scooters. Blue didn’t want to know. There was just a ticking sound … which means a flat battery. Didn’t understand why. It was a fairly new battery. Prior to this Blue had hiccupped once or twice and Anuta had thought it was some dirt in the gasoline. The jumper leads were pulled out and then the whole operation to get to the batteries, to connect them, and Anuta believes in revving hard… Blue kicked to life, but died again right away.

There was something seriously wrong. And they were sitting on the bare upper slopes of the Maddalena Pass with Boves 80km from there. And the worst was that it was a Monday. No self-respecting Italian works on a Monday. Plan B was to leave Blue right there and first ride to the top of the Colle, take a photo and enjoy a picnic at the glacier lake. Perhaps, when they returned to Blue, the angels and the songs in their hearts would have solved the problem.

But no, nothing. Non. No. Nein. The only thing to do was for Big G to take over Blue and free as far as he could and see what happened. For probably 25 kilometres he slipped down the hill with the dead engine to the first level bit, followed by a slight uphill. Blue refused like an obstinate donkey. No way out of it but to push Blue until the next downhill. He pushed and sweated gallons until he could free again.

But he knew that a level tunnel of 850m lay ahead. Couldn’t push Blue through the tunnel, so he stopped before it. Drank an entire bottle of water. Charger cables out. Revvvv. And there Blue took off and he raced through the tunnel.

Ahead also waited three villages with one way traffic controlled by robots. He began to panic. If he had to stop at a robot, Blue would die and then the whole operation all over again. Open machines, remove batteries, charge, and hope the engine took. But their cavalcade of happy angels were with them. As he approached a robot, in all three villages, the light changed to green. Almost by command. Three times. When they took on the flat plains, Blue died again.

It was hot. They were sweating. They were panicking. They regretted getting up in such a good mood that morning. Charged again, Anuta took over Blue from Big G because she rides faster. All you could see of her was her helmet bobbing up and down as she touched sides here and there. And in this way they rode hard right to the neighbouring town of Borgo san Dalmazzo. On the big square Blue died again. In the sun. In the heat. Their nerves were shot…

Act 3

Lost, they stood on the town square. Dehydrated. Burnt by the sun. Dazed. Helpless. Big G went in search of help. Not one of the men in their vests sitting at the bar understood him. His Italian vocabulary consisted of buongiorno, moto, rotto, meccanico, pronto and arrivederci. He blurted it all out in a dramatic aria. Still they didn’t understand them.

He spotted a pretty girl with a small rucksack getting onto her scooter. She already had her helmet on. He saw the fear in her eyes when the large, sweaty stranger in his sandals and socks descended on her. But she softened when she saw that the man sought help. All he managed to get out of his dehydrated throat was: Moto meccanico! She pointed to one across the square, but it was closed. It was Monday. Perhaps it would only open on Tuesday.

Both men pulled out Google Translate. The stranger made a couple of calls. In the meantime Anuta, who by that time looked like a dried harder, brought Silver closer. She took over – G believes it’s because she took Latin at school. There is another scooter shop in the town. Got the address and they jumped onto Silver to look for it.

It was almost a kilometre further up a slight incline. A whole bunch of motos were parked in front of the meccanico’s foor. This looked like business. Knocked at his door. Nothing. Next door was a dark restaurant. Big G entered through the fly strips and began calling. And then a thin little old woman climbed into him and began shouting and chased him out of her restaurant, screaming and performing with arms waving…

Act 4

Big G left her restaurant, tail between his legs. He swears it was dirty too. Could understand why the place was empty. In the meantime Anuta had found the meccanico and there he stood with fashionably framed glasses and a smooth middle-aged skin. Big G let rip with a powerful aria : Buongiorno. Due pomodori per favore. Una pane. Due caffè con latte caldo. Quanto costa? Vai merda. Carta o contanti …

The meccanico responded with a flood of Italian. That’s when the peanut revolution inside breaks out. That’s when you are totally powerless. It’s when you feel you are being stripped of your ability and humanity. He spoke like a tsunami. Eventually they realised that he was saying that he doesn’t work on Hondas, only Kymcos – which they consider inferior. They still didn’t know what was wrong with Blue. After a long battle he understood that they were asking him just to test the battery.

They had to return to Blue to unchain her. Then Big G began pushing her. For almost a kilometre. Slightly uphill. In that afternoon heat that scorches everything. Along the burning cobbled street. No shade. With Anuta following on Silver and continuously asking whether he was okay. Big G became a machine on heat. There was no stopping him. Stopped only once to drink another bottle of water.

The meccnico tested the battery. Flat, but nothing wrong with it. Anuta joined in with: Prova il regulatore. The meccanico replied: Il regolatore è rotto. As in rotten. Broken. What now? He shrugged his shoulders…

Act 5

The meccanico had another thought. Got on the telephone and called around on a Monday. He explained and explained and all they could gather was that they had to wait for three days. Tre giorni. Giovedi. Thursday.

Crisis. They couldn’t stay on Garibaldi Square any longer. Other guests had booked it. Left Blue with the meccanico to return after tre giorni.

Back in Boves they sat behind the wall of the bar where they could access the internet without buying coffee. Booked a flat within walking distance from there.

They took sad leave of Garibaldi Square the next morning and also of the little old lady in the green floral dress who watched Big G from her balcony across the square. Then she would stand and look at him drinking his coffee on his balcony. Then she would sit down and watch him as he read. Then she walked to the corner to read the latest death notices to check whether her name hadn’t appeared yet. Satisfied she would walk back after looking up to see him. One morning she and a man cleaned the fountain where the pigeons mess. Every now and then she looked up.

They moved across to a spacious and cool flat in three shifts on Silver. Owned by a jolly singing teacher who immediately launched into an aria. Her daughter Aurora who could speak English arrived later. Called the meccanico. Yes, he could get the part from Milan for the price of a return flight home. But what could they do? All their plans and appointments ahead had to be rescheduled.

Act 6

Two days later, on the Thursday, the meccanico called. They had to wait another 5 days. They rescheduled. They went to see him. Make it another day longer. They rescheduled. Went to visit Blue. There she stood. Like a skeleton. Lungs and heart dangling outside. Oil drained. Buoni notize. They could fetch her the following day. But they had to move back to Garibaldi Square as Aurora’s airbnb had been booked by other guests. The old lady was still there and Big G nodded in her direction…

That afternoon they fetched Blue. Brand new.

They had just moved back to their beloved Garibaldi Square when they heard jolly music approaching. Along with the music came an old worn-out prossie pushing a pram. Long white-blond hair curling down to her navel. Aviator sunglasses. Sharp chin, long nose and small shrivelled red mouth. In a white, perished swimming costume which formed bags around the nether regions. High heeled shoes and the skinny, used-up body swayed and swayed on those stilts. Big G gave a smile and peaked to see the baby in the pram. And there, nestled in the baby blankets, lay her blaring radio. Big G started to laugh. She began to laugh and swanked past him. The men sitting at the bar jumped up. As if she was the Mother of Garibaldi Square…

On the last morning they awoke at five o’clock with a flashing in their eyes followed by a great rumbling. A Medieval thunder storm was approaching. They stood on the balcony and watched the wonder of flashes and reverberating thunder which rolled closer until the raindrops began to fall. They decided they had to depart in the rain, because Bannio Anzino lay 300km away. At eight o’clock, when they were ready to depart, it suddenly stopped raining, as if at the command of the angels. The baker came out of his shop and wished them a good journey. Buon viaggio!

Sequel

Over the ten days in Boves without Blue they rode up a different valley every day on Silver. One more dramatic than the other. They got to know old stone villages. Rode to unfamiliar heights. Also along the war roads in the mountains and visited a sanctuary for wolves because Big G has always believed he is a wolf whisperer. Bought cheese from cheese makers and bread from bakers and pasta from pasta makers. Meat from the butcher. They got to know the people. Even the two ladies at the nearest bar. They became a part of the rhythm of the village. Also the rhythm of the many bells that chime the hours. And knew that those bells would always ring in their hearts.

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Dolceacqua on the Nervia River. North of San Remo.

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Gerard got a fright when he realised that the airbnb is somewhere in this dungeon. But is was cool!

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Isolabona turned out to be a wealth of medieval passages, houses and architecture. We strolled up and down the narrow alleys and couln’t get enough.

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Apricale, the first of dozens and dozens of Italian mountain villages.

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We didn’t visit Apricale, it was just to hot.

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How do you know that you are in Italy?

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Sunday lunch in a heat wave. We found a spot next to the road under trees.

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Wild forests and never ending valleys of the Maritime Alps. Here and there would be an old mountain village.

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Sometimes we just wanted to stop and take in the cool of the forests.

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We stayed over for a couple of days on this quiet estate with the most magnificent views to all sides. Luckily this was high in the mountains with a cooler breeze.

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The view to the one side. The chestnut trees were all in full bloom.

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The view of Montaldo di Mondovi. It is a pity that the mobile camera couldn’t capture the closeness and the beauty of this view. At night it lokked like a fairy tale. And then the bells, every half an hour.

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It was so hot. We actually didn’t want to eat. But when Anuta made this impromptu Pappa al Pomodoro we couldn’t resist. We took small coffee cups filled with water to make ice cubes.

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We visited other mountain villages in the coolness of the mornings. Pamparato.

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Limoncelo is just the medicine for the heat.

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The westerly balcony was the coolest place in the early mornings. here we sat and read, or just looked at the beauty.

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Next stop was a lovely apartment with balconies on the Garibaldi Square in Boves. We just love the place. You could hear the fountain day and night and watch the comings and goings of people all day. It was just behind the main square.

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Opsitbank! (Courting couch)

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The old lady who watched Gerard all day. Sometimes fron her chair on the pavement, or from her balcony.

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Main square of Boves. It became a familiar place.

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And the a thunderstorm and strong winds came to break the heat. On our way to buy our daily bread.

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Boves central square

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We started to explore the Maritime Alps from Boves. How many times we crossed this bridge over the Torrente Gesso…

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The mountain villages are very, very old.

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Not a good photo, but it gives an idea of the valleys  with the small villages and up to three churches per village.

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Sometimes the mountains are rugged.

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Baroque detail in a church

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Something new for us. Small pictures against church walls.

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When you order beer you get a plate of anti-pasta, included in the price.

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Another daytrip took us over the Tende Pass to the quaint village of Tende in France. We walked the steep streets and wondered how people could live here. How do older people carry their shopping? But they do it.

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Tende 1

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Tende 2

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Tende 3

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We had to negotiate the Tende Pass twice, with many other bikers. A magnificent pass, Unfortunately there was no time to stop as the traffic was regulated by traffic lights.

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The old Tende Pass we wanted to do, but luckily we couldn’t find the beginning… La Ca Çanelle. We met cyclists up there, not so young, who just did it. On a dirt road.

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The mountain border between France and Italy is scattered with old forts from various wars.

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Part of the barracks

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A picnic with this view. Unforgettable.

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The steep road with many many sharp tornantes down to Panice Soprano.

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What a day in the Tende mountains with an altutude of over 2000 m in glorious weather.

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We just couldn’t get enough of the majesty around us.

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And the beauty

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Something that we will surely miss. The freshness, the absence of plastic wrapping, the friendliness of the hawkers… The cheesemaker let us taste a couple of cheeses and gave us a whole background on each before we decided what to buy.

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Painted church 1

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Painted church 2

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An avenue of lime trees with their sweet aroma and the buzzing of bees.

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Through many many villages with narrow streets…

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Passing yet another old mountain village…

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And sometimes on dangerous roads…

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Through dark tunnels…

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Next to hanging cliffs…

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Washing hands and drinking ice cold fountain water…

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And sometimes an unexpected bridge

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The bridge at Dronero

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And the blue ivy on a balcony…

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And then tunnels like this one…

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Through narrow main roads…

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And sometime we went to inspect to determine whether it is true…

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Part of the Maddalena Pass

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And then, on a Monday we wanted to drive up to the Colle de Maddelena with its 20 sharp tornantes…

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And then, at tornante 20, the trouble started

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Gerard stands at the border beteween France and Italy. In France the Maddalena Pass is known as the Coll de Larche.

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While Blue stands about a kilometer away with the broken regulator, we are having a picnic at the glacier lake at the summit.

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A three tiered livestock truck delivering sheep and their dogs to a new pasture.

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An avenue of lime trees with their sweet aroma and the buzzing of bees.

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In Santuario S. Magno Castelmagno on the right. We travelled this road a second time to explore the beauty again.

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In Santuario S. Magno Castelmagno, built in 1457. Magnificent, just magnificent.

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The narrow road to Colle Fainiera is one of the most beatiful, but hairraising, roads we have ever travelled.

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Road 2

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At 2481m the coll is also called the Pass of Death.

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A monument for Italy’s cycling hero Marco Pantani

 

Côte d’Azur: Heatwave and artists/Hittegolf en kunstenaars

Côte d’Azur: Heatwave and artists/Hittegolf en kunstenaars

Scroll down for Afrikaans and photos

The worst heatwave in the history of Europe began for us with a shutter that Anuta wanted to close against the heat in Tourettes-sur-Loup. At that moment a bolt of lightning struck with an immediate crash tearing open heaven and earth and reverberating against everything. Anuta staggered backwards to the bed and Gerard thought she had been struck blind and paralysed. It was the beginning of the l’enfer diabolique, as they termed the heat in the local press.

Tourettes-sur-Loup, in the mountains above Nice and Cannes where we stopped over for a few days, is one of the most beautiful medieval villages you could imagine. Built on a huge rock where the houses drip down the precipice, making it one of the most photogenic villages in Provence. Because it’s situated higher up in the mountains, it’s cooler there. In the mornings our airbnb hosts, Raymond and Dominique, spoiled us silly with home produce and home bakes and lovely chats.

We made all kinds of plans to stay cool when heat from North Africa’s deserts descended on us and the quick silver rose to 45C in Paris. At night we had to put up with the mosquitoes in order to enable a draught through the room. To Anuta’s delight, Gerard drank gallons of water. Wet cloths on the feet and forehead. We were out early in the mornings to do things during the cooler hours. We sat or lay down under trees. Sat out on the terrace until as late as possible in the evenings until the mosquitoes came. And twice, once at Antibes and once in Menton, we just walked into the sea, clothes and shoes and all to float about in the cooler water. Then onto Silver and Blue in our wet clothes to cool down as we rode home.

And there was trouble, too. Silver’s battery finally gave up the ghost on a Sunday. On Mondays the French don’t work and the shops might open on Tuesdays again. We had to travel about 40km in killer heat and in busy and aggressive traffic on strange routes, to find a place that is open on a Monday. When you stop at a traffic light, you melt into the tar along with your scooter. And for the first time ever drivers shouted at us through open windows and with hooters blaring because we hadn’t done anything wrong. We have never seen such aggressive drivers as in the trinity of Cannes, Nice and Cagnes-sur-Mer.

In the coolness of the following morning we stood at the front of the queue at the Foundation Maeght. It had been a long time dream to see one of Europe’s biggest art collections of the 20th Century. Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, art dealers, approached their Catalan friend and architect, Josep Lluis Sert, to design a museum complex on a hill overlooking the artist village Saint Paul de Vence and where the white of mediterranean buildings, gardens, nature and art works should stand in perfect harmony. Artist friends were asked to collaborate and were asked to fill a space with their artwork.

And so we entered the gardens on a bright mediterranean morning, before the later heat. First there is the sculpture garden with green lawns and great stone pine trees, surrounded by a stone wall covered in stone mosaics by Pierre Tal-Coat which speak to you. These mosaics depict history and mythology of the region as if they have been there for thousands of years. Then you lose yourself between the sculptures standing on the cool lawn and the shade of trees. They are all there: Calder’s Stabile which seems to overshadow the surroundings, George Braque’s little fishpond where his Les Poissons swim. There is Miró… and there is… To the right is the little St Bernard chapel in memory of the Maeghts’ son who died from leukaemia aged 11. Simple and striking with the midnight blue glass windows by George Braque with a Spanish sculpture of the crucified Christ from the 12th Century which forces you to stop a while. The blue, the simple sculpture and the white, white walls stir the soul. In the courtyard there are typical Alberto Giacometti sculptures which include the well-known Homme qui marche. Then you stand before Marc Chagall’s mosaic against a wall. You are overwhelmed in the presence of these great artists.

There are two personal highlights, no, there are three. You lose yourself in your own world as you walk through the monumental Miró labirynth, filled with sculptures, white gravel, fountains, trees and ceramic. A white Ariadne line leads you through a dream world and you meet an egg, a lizard, a fork… Everything dominated by a gigantic arc de triomphe sculpture inspired by Greek and Catalan mythology.

The other highlight was to stand before Marc Chagall’s giant painting La Vie. In a large room dedicated to Chagall. It’s as if everything is moving. Events and dreams from the life of Chagall all come together here: his grandfather who was a rabbi, his marriage, the birth of his child, his flight from Russia on a horse. Musicians, acrobats and dancers accompany us all to the end of a road where you realise, along with Chagall, that his epic journey is also your journey. It was an overwhelming feeling that reduces one to tears. And the realisation of how good life is to me, to Anuta and I. On our journey. Above the painting is the Sun, everyone’s travel companion.

And then the building itself. A timeless work of art in its own right.

After the great experience of the visit we decided to walk downhill through the pine forest to Saint Paul de Vence. We needed to be quiet in the coolness and the mediterranean heat. Ah, no, the lovely old artists’ village has become a place stuffed with touristy chaos and most of the artwork didn’t appeal to us. We quickly got out of the busy and over-crowded place to walk back up the hill in the heat. Perspiring and thirsty. We couldn’t find an open supermarket, didn’t feel like restaurant food and went home hungry. Actually it was also too hot to eat and we took a nap.

Tourettes-sur-Mer is very near Vence. We wanted to visit the chapel designed and decorated by Henri Matisse again. There it still stood, unexpectedly and humbly around a bend in the road. A sacred place. An artistic treasure, and Matisse himself declared:

This work took four years of exclusive and diligent labour and it’s the result of my whole working life. I consider it despite all its imperfections as my masterpiece

I can remember how emotional we were during our first visit to see the reflections of the typical Matisse green, turquoise and yellow glass windows on the white marble floor tiles. The gigantic stations of the cross on wall tiles. The simplicity of the altar and candle sticks which he had designed. Even the simple white altar cloth and the chairs. And to think that when he began working on the project in 1947, he already designed minimalistically and with simple clean lines. That visit touched the soul.

There is a lovely story, in short: In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with cancer in Nice. A beautiful nurse, Monique Bourgeois, cared for him post-operatively and also served as model for his various drawings and face studies. In 1943 she joined the Dominican convent in Vence and became sister Jacques Marie. Later Matisse purchased a house near the convent. Dominique told him that the Dominicans wanted to build their own chapel and asked whether he would assist with the design. He had never done this before, but agreed. At the age of 77 Matisse began and worked on this, his last project, for four years. Sister Jacques Marie died in 2004 at the age of 84.

On another day we braved the heavy traffic again and rode through Cape d’Antibe to Cannes. Ah, no, it has also lost its glory. It became unbearably hot and somewhere we just stopped and went into the water with clothes, sandals and sunglasses to float about in the sea. Then, all wet, onto Silver and Blue and, refreshed, we continued our trip.

At Port Vauban, the yacht harbour of Cap d’Antibe, we stood in and around the gigantic sculpture by a Catalan artist, Le Nomad, which is made up of letters. A man on his haunches looks out over the harbour and the sea. In the sun and with the blue sea around us, we climbed into the white sculpture of letters. To be enfolded by letters and words…

Ugh, the roads. The roads of that dreadful place. They take incomprehensible turns and twists and the GPS is sometimes just too slow and we have to find other turn offs. Then everyone shouts at us again.

We ended our visit to France with a visit to the Chagall museum in Nice, after a terrible 9 kilometres of speeding and swerwing on a fast through road, between trucks, buses and the fastest bikers who weave and weave, scaring us.

Chagall, who was already aged, helped design the museum and even the gardens. He also had every painting hung in the right place. The permanent exhibition comprises his giant works covering the first two books of the Old Testament – and also the Song of Songs of Solomon which become a Biblical meditation on erotic, spiritual and sensual love in glorious colours.

On entering the great hall, you stagger backwards. The colours! Picasso said, of course, that when Matisse died, only Chagall would remain who understood colour and what colour really is. We moved slowly from painting to painting, fortunately with audiophones giving us insights into each in detail.

Then there is the large mosaic work in elegant colours reflected in a pool. Elijah faring up to heaven in his chariot of fire and surrounded by the constellations and the zodiac. A cosmic explosion in design, texture and colour. Under the mediterranean sun.

And then it was time for us to leave France. Which has always only ever been good to us.

Côte d’Azur: Hittegolf en kunstenaars

Die ergste hittegolf in Europa se geskiedenis het vir ons begin met ‘n hortjie wat Anuta in Tourettes-sur-Loup wou toemaak om die hitte buite te hou. Op daardie oomblik knak ‘n bliksemstraal teen die buitemuur met ‘n onmiddelikke knal wat aarde en hemel oopskeur en teen alles vasslaan. Anuta steier tot op die bed en ons dog sy is blind en lam raakgeslaan. Dit was die begin van die l’enfer diabolique, soos na die hitte verwys is.

Tourettes-sur-Loup, in die berge bokant Nice en Cannes waar ons vir ‘n paar dae oorstaan is een van die mooiste middeleeuse dorpies wat daar kan wees. Op ‘n groot rots gebou waar die troshuise steil die afgrond afrank en dit een van die mees fotogeniese dorpies in Provence maak. Omdat dit hoër op in die berge is, is dit koeler daar. Soggens word ons deur die airbnb gashere, Raymond en Dominique tot in die afgrond bederf met tuisgemaak en -gebak en lekker gesels.

Ons het allerhande planne bedink om ons koel te hou toe hitte van Noord-Afrika se woestyne op ons toesak en die kwik tot 45C in Parys laat styg. Snags moes ons maar die muskiete verdra om ‘n trek deur die kamer te kry. Gerard drink tot Anuta se plesier galonne water. Nat lappies op die voete en voorkop. Soggens vroeg is ons al uit om in die koelte dinge te doen. Ons het onder bome gesit of gelê. Saans so laat as moontlik op die terras gesit tot die muskiete kom. En dan tweekeer, eenkeer by Cap d’Antibe en weer by Menton, met klere en skoene en brille die see ingestap en net so in die see gedryf. Met nat klere en al op Silwer en Blou geklim en lekker verder afgekoel as ons wegry.

En toe is daar moeilikheid ook. Silwer se battery gee op ‘n Sondag finaal in. Maandae werk die Franse nie en miskién maak die winkels Dindae oop. So moes ons in bloedige hitte omtrent 40 ver kilometer ver in druk en agressiewe verkeer, en vreemde roetes, ry en ‘n plek soek wat op ‘n Maandag oop is. Stop jy by ‘n verkeerslig smelt jy en skoeter weg in die teer. En vir die eerste keer ooit skreeu bestuurders deur oop ruite en met blêrende toeters op ons omdat ons niks verkeerd doen nie. Nog nooit sulke agressiewe bestuurders gesien nie soos in die drie-eenheid, Cannes, Nice en Cagnes-sur-Mer.

In die koelte van die volgende oggend is ons voor in die ry by die Foundation Maeght. Lankal se droom om een van Europa se grootste kunsversamelings van die 20ste eeu te sien. Aimé en Marguerite Maeght, kunshandelaars, het hulle Katalaanse vriend en argitek, Josep Lluis Sert, gevra om ‘n museumkompleks op ‘n heuwel te ontwerp wat oor die kunstenaarsdorpie Saint Paul de Vence moet uitkyk waar die wit van meditereense geboue, tuine, natuur en kunswerke in perfekte harmonie moet wees. Kunstenaarsvriende is gevra om saam te werk en het elk ‘n gedeelte gekry om oor te neem vir hulle kunswerke.

So stap ons die tuine binne op ‘n skitterende meditireense oggend, voor die hitte later sou kom. Eers is daar die beeldhoutuin met groen grasperke en groot kroondenne, omring met ‘n klipmuur met klipmosaïek wat met jou praat deur Pierre Tal-Coat wat die geskiedenis en mitologie van die streek uitbeeld asof dit al duisende jaar daar is. Dan raak jy verdwaal tussen die beeldhouwerke op die koel grasperk en in die skadu’s van bome. Hulle is almal daar: Calder se Stabile wat die tuin en bome soort van oorheers, George Braque se dammetjie waar sy Les Poissons in kan swem. Daar is Miró… en daar is… Regs is daar die klein St Bernard kapelletjie ter ere aan die Maeghts se seun wat op 11 aan leukemia oorlede is. Eenvoudig en treffend met die blouselblou glasvensters van George Braque met daaronder ‘n Spaanse Christusbeeld van die 12de eeu wat jou dwing om stil te staan. Die blou, die eenvoudige beeld en die wit-wit mure ontroer. In die binnehof is daar die tipiese Alberto Giacometti-beelde wat die bekende Homme qui marche insluit. Dan staan ‘n mens stil voor Marc Chagall se mosaïekwerk teen ‘n muur. Jy word oorweldig in die teenwoordigheid van al die groot geeste.

Daar was twee persoonlike hoogtepunte, nee drie. Jy raak verdwaal in jou eie geesteswêreld as jy deur die monumentale Miró Labirint stap, gevul met beelde, wit gruis, fonteine, bome en keramiek. ‘n Wit Ariadnelyn lei jou deur ‘n droomwêreld en jy ontmoet ‘n eier, ‘n akkedis, ‘n vurk… Alles gedomineer deur ‘n reuse arc de triomphe beeld wat deur Griekse en Katalaanse mitologie geïnspireer is.

Die ander ander hoogtepunt was om voor Marc Chagall se reuse skildery La Vie te staan. In ‘n groot vertrek wat aan Chagall opgedra is. Dit lyk asof alles beweeg. Gebeurtenisse en drome uit die lewe van die Chagall kom alles hier bymekaar: sy oupa wat ‘n rabbi was, sy huwelik, die geboorte van sy kind, sy vlug uit Rusland te perd. Musikante, akrobate en dansers begelei ons almal na die einde van ‘n pad waar jy saam met Chagall besef sy epiese reis is ook jou reis. Dit was ‘n oorweldigende gevoel wat ‘n mens tot trane wou dwing. En die besef hoe goed die lewe vir my, vir ek en Anuta is. Op ons reis. Bokant die skildery is die Son, ons almal se reisgenoot.

En dan die gebou self. ‘n Tydlose kunswerk op sigself.

Ons besluit om na die grootsheid van die besoek deur die dennewoud afdraend na Saint Paul de Vence toe te stap. Om wou stil te wees in die koeltes en die meditereense hitte. Ag nee wat, die mooi ou kunstenaarsdorpie het verander in oorvol toeristiese chaos en die meeste kunswerke staan ons nie aan nie. Ons gee vinnig pad uit die drukte en bedruktheid om die berg in die hitte terug te stap. Swetend en dors. Ons kry nie ‘n oop supermark nie, is nie lus vir restourantkos nie, en gaan honger huis toe. Eintlik is dit ook te warm om te eet en ons gaan dut.

Tourettes-sur-Mer is digby Vence. Ons wou weer die kapel gaan besoek wat Henri Matisse ontwerp en versier het. Daar staan dit steeds net so onverwags en beskeie om ‘n draai. Die heilige plek. ‘n Kunsskat, en Matisse self het verklaar:
This work took four years of exclusive and diligent labour and it’s the result of my whole working life. I consider it despite all its imperfections as my masterpiece

Ek kan onthou met die eerste besoek hoe aangedaan ons was om die weerspieëlings van die tipiese Matisse groen, turkoois en geel glasvensters op die wit marmervloere te sien. Die stasies van die kruis reusagtig groot op muurteëls. Die eenvoud van die altaar en kershouers wat hy ontwerp het. Selfs die eenvoudige wit altaarkleed en die stoele. Om te dink toe hy in 1947 met die projek begin het, toe alreeds minimalisties en skoon eenvoudige lyne ontwerp het. Daardie besoek was ‘n beroering in die binneste.

Daar is ‘n mooi storie, in kort:  In 1941 word Matisse in Nice met kanker gediagnoseer. ‘n Mooi verpleegster, Monique Bourgeois, verpleeg hom en dien ook as model vir sy verskeie tekeninge en gesigstudies. In 1943 word sy ‘n non in die Dominikaanse klooster van Vence en word sy suster Jacques Marie. Matisse koop later ‘n huis naby die klooster. Dominique vertel hom dat die Dominikane ‘n kapel wil bou en of hy nie wil help met die ontwerp daarvan nie. Hy het dit nog nooit voorheen gedoen nie, maar hy stem in. Op die ouderdom van 77 begin Matisse met die projek en werk vier jaar aan sy laaste projek. Suster Jacques Marie is in 2004 op die ouderdom van 84 oorlede.
Op ‘n ander dag trotseer ons weer die erge verkeer en ry deur Cap d’Antibe na Cannes. Ag nee wat, ook sy glorie verloor. Dit raak onmenslik warm en iewers hou ons stil en stap met klere, sandale, brille en al die see in om rond te dryf. Klim net so met die nat klere op Silwer en Blou en ry verfris verder.

By Port Vauban, die seiljaghawe van Cap d’Antibe, gaan staan ons in en om die reuse beeld van die Katalaanse kunstenaar, Le Nomade, wat uit letters bestaan. ‘n Hurkende man wat oor die hawe en die see uitkyk. Om daar in die son, met die blou see binne die wit letterbeeld in te klim. Om met letters en woorde omvou te word….

Oe, die paaie. Die paaie van die verskriklike plek. Dit maak onverstaanbare kinkels en draaie en die GPS is soms net te laat en moet ons ander afdraaie soek. Dan skreeu almal weer op ons.

Ons sluit ons besoek af aan Frankryk af met ‘n besoek aan die Chagall-museum in Nice na ‘n verskriklike 9 kilometer se se gejaag en geswenk op ‘n ‘n vinnige deurpad, tussen vragmotors, busse en die vinnigste motorfietsryers deur wat vleg en vleg dat ons harte ysblokke word.

Chagall, toe alreeds bejaard, help om die museum te ontwerp, selfs die tuine. Hy het ook elke skildery op die regte plek laat hang. Die permanente uitstalling is sy reuse werke oor die eerste twee boeke van die Ou Testament – en die Hooglied van Salamo wat ‘n Bybelse meditasie word van seksuele-, spirituele- en sensuele liefdes in wonderbaarlike kleure.

Met die instap in die groot saal steier jy terug. Die kleure! Picasso het mos gesê wanneer Matisse doodgaan bly nog net Chagall oor wat kleur verstaan wat kleur werklik is. Ons het stadig van skildery tot skildery beweeg, gelukkig met oorfone wat elkeen in detail bespreek het.

Dan is daar die groot mosaiekwerk in elegante kleure wat in water weerkaats word. Elija wat in sy vuurwa opvaar hemel toe en dan met die konstellasies van die zodiac omring word. ‘n Kosmiese ontploffing in ontwerp, tekstuur en kleur. Onder die meditereense son.

Toe word dit tyd vir ons om Frankryk te verlaat. Wat altyd net goed is vir ons.

Please note that the photos were taken with my mobile as my camera is broken.

Gateway to Provence

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This rocky frame was symbolic of our approach to Provence.

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Provence is littered with small mountain villages.

Tourettes-sur-Loup

DCIM101MEDIADJI_0002.JPG Aerial photo of Tourettes-sur-Loup, situated on a rock. Copyright: Wikipedia

Our first view of Tourettes
One of the neatest, most well-maintained Medieval villages
More of Tourettes

Foundation Maeght

IMG_20190623_102501 On entering the gates you are overwhelmed by the artwork and the stone pines.

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IMG_20190623_102824 The magnificent stone mosaics depicting local mythology.IMG_20190623_103712 The simplicity of the St Bernard chapel[/caption]

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Bust with bird and nest

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Chagall’s mosaic created for the museum

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Typical 60’s sculpture

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Calder’s Stabile

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The building is also a work of art.

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Giaconetti’s famous sculpture

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The beginning of Miró’s labirynth

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Ariadne’s white lines are visible from above.

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The sculpture garden from above

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La Vie by Matisse

St Paul de Vence

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Artists’ village, Saint Paul de Vence

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Fun sculpture at the entrance to the village

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Intertwined

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The steep climb through the pine forest

The Rosary Chapel – Henri Matissela_chapelle_du_rosaire_

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Amazing reflections of Matisse’s designs on the white marble floor tiles. Copyright: Chapel website

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No photos allowed. Copyright: Chapel website

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The simplicity of the chapel. Copyright: Chapel website

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Every detail in the chapel was designed by Matisse. Copyright: Chapel website

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Stations of the cross are depicted on white tiles against the back wall. Copyright: Chapel website

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Photo of Matisse’s hotel room while he was working on the Stations of the Cross.

Vence

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Vence, across the valley from the chapel

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Beautiful Vence

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Modern cubist sculpture in front of the mairie’s office in Vence

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Cobble stones

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What better site for a market than under the lime trees?

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We first had to taste a selection of cheeses before deciding.

In the Mountains – Route de la Tinée

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Sandwiches, French style, for lunch

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What a setting for your sandwich!

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It was very hot and Gerard insisted that Silver be seen to in the reception area of the workshop.

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Somewhere down there is the campsite where we camped 20 years ago when the aggressive camp dog stole Gerard’s shoes from in front of our tent.

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We always wanted to return to Gilette where we climbed 500m to stay at a campsite that didn’t exist and had to cycle all the way down into the valley again.

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Gilette

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500m below is the Var River and the campsite

Cap d’Antibe and Nice

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Silver and Blue taking the sun of the Mediterranean

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The sculpture at Port Vauban

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Wonderful to stand inside the sculpture and look outwards through all the letters

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The iconic Carlton Hotel in Cannes

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Here we sat on the promenade in the heat

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Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko has built a luxury super yacht for a reported $450 million.
The vessel is expected to be one of the most advanced yachts of its kind and boasts three masts, all of which stand taller than Big Ben, the clock tower beside the Houses of Parliament in London. The boat itself is approximately 468 feet long – roughly the size of a standard American football field – dwarfing everything that surrounds it.
The yacht, named Super Yacht A, boasts eight decks while its keel includes one of the largest single pieces of curved glass ever made measuring 193 square feet. The three masts are more than 328ft tall each and stand above Big Ben, which by comparison, measures 298ft. They all carry sails that when places side by side are larger than a football pitch. There will be room for approximately 54 crewmembers and will also have a high-tech digital control system

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Afternoon traffic – we opted to ride in the cycling lane which was safer.

A visit to the Chagall Museum

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Chagall is all about colour and freedom.

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Old Testament scene I

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Moses and the burning bush

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Three angels on their visit

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Stained glass

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One of the paintings of the Song of Songs collection – all in passionate shades of red and pink

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Magnificent mosaic above a reflecting pool in a courtyard. Elijah on his fiery chariot surrounded by the constellations and zodiac

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Detail

A last glimpse

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Anuta cooling down, clothes and all, in the Mediterranean

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We really wanted to visit some of the other coastal towns, including Monaco, but they have become monsters with heavy traffic and over-development and we gave them a miss.

 

Gorges du Verdon: Glory of Creation/Grootsheid van die skepping

Gorges du Verdon: Glory of Creation/Grootsheid van die skepping

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Scroll down for photos and Afrikaans

1999
On that visit we sat in front of our little Coleman tent in the lovely Moustiers de Sainte Marie in France for two whole days and looked at the entrance to the Gorges du Verdon, gathering the strength to take on the challenging pass on our bicycles. It waited for us like a lion with yawning jaws. Cruel and teasing. We kept eating bananas and sucking at tubes of condensed milk to build up our strength.

At six in the morning of the third day we were in the pedals and began cycling the neverending uphill with trepidation. Rested somewhere and made tea. The views provided further energy to just keep going.

It’s as if the mighty limestone mountains burst open and left a deep ravine behind through which a bright turquoise river twists far below. It went so well that we pitched our camp in La Palud at ten o’clock. And we had enough energy left to cycle the dream of every cyclist – the dangerous, but breathtaking 24 kilometre Route des Crêtes. Route of the Peaks. They say only Disneyland’s rollercoasters are more exciting.

2019
We wanted to experience and see it again. But this time on our comfortable Silver and Blue. We travelled from St Pierre de Chartreuse, first through the quiet Sunday morning outskirts of Grenoble. We anticipated the smell of the Haute Provence. And then a beautiful and unknown region waited upon us and we were just fed-up that we weren’t staying over in the Vercors. A lovely region with ravines, mountains and an abundant green landscape.

I was still weeping for my broken camera and the stupid cellphone photos that I now had to take. Can’t zoom in at all, too much detail is lost.

With all the twists, losing our way, many turns and sheer drops, across passes and valleys we were already a little tired when we reached the Col du Rousset – along with many, many bikers – and stood there and tried to follow the road downhill with its tortuous tornantes. And the descent to Die. There the afternoon aromas hit us: broom, thyme, pine and rosemary. After more than 300 kilometres we arrived at our next accommodation, slightly knackered.

A fairy-like little woman waved us in at The Garden of Energies, along with 11 cats and two absent dogs. With Vesna everything is about natural and energies. Her hay grass doesn’t get cut, because it disturbs the energies of the plants. No fridge, because it isn’t natural. The cats walk across the table while you eat. There are crystals and stones in the guest suite for good energies. We really enjoyed the stay and she liked our positive energies. She prepared meals. Baked bread and crèpes. Her husband is the local reverend who drives out demons and she sees visions.

In the night we woke. There were sounds in the house. The next morning we met a stressed out Vesna. Her dogs hadn’t returned from their usual afternoon outing into the wild. She went in search of them and found the old dog which led her to a hole in the ground. The younger dog, Princess, had gone after some animal in the hole and had become stuck somewhere in the underground tunnels. The pompiers (firemen) had spent three hours until one a.m. trying to find the dog, but without success. The mairie (mayor) came. Neighbours she had never met. Now a farmer with a front end digger was coming to dig out the dog. And that is exactly what happened.

From there we walked in the mountains, did a day trip to Lac de Serre-Ponçon and in the evenings Vesna cooked for us in her chaotic kitchen. We began to fall into a pleasant rhythm.

1999 again: On the Sunday morning early we departed fom the beautiul Castellane, in Provence. Half way up the mountain my bicycle pedal broke. The only thing to do was to turn back and freewheel down the mountain with our cavalcade of happy angels flapping behind. Someone fetched the owner of the only cycling shop from his bed. Accompanied by garlic and alcohol fumes. And right there, on the pavement of the narrow little street outside his shop, my bicycle was fitted with a new set of pedals.

Twenty years later: We went in search of the little shop for a photo. Found the place easily, but it’s not the same. Suddenly the whole town began to vibrate. Thunder came rolling in. Reverberated against the walls of the old buildings. Everything started shaking. It was like Armageddon. Then they came around the bend. Four men on revolting, huge Harleys. Four riders from the apocalypse. Studded. Tattooed. Plaits. Bandanas. Long beards. Wrap-around mirror glasses. horns on helmets. Flapping flags. Leather fringes rippling. Grimy. The leader had a fox skin, including its tail, draped over his luggage. The machines shook and growled and emitted and snorted. They conquered the town square. The rulers took control. Shouted orders in low Flemish. The leaves of the plane trees fluttered. I caught the eye of a Frenchman. Maybe he only knew one English word. “Stupid.” Nothing is the same anymore.

Comps-sur-Artuby awaited us. Our little flat was located scarcely 50 metres from the village square of this old medieval village which was built on a rock in ancient times and where you can still follow the paths of the knights templar. We began immersing ourselves in the surrounds. Everything is old. The worn sandstone mountains, stones, deep ravines, bridges, roads weaving up and down mountains, forests and archaic churches towering over little villages. Comps has three old churches and through the night I lay and counted every hour three times as the bells rang the hours.

We visited neighbouring mountain villages. One more lovely than the other. We spent a long time in Bargemon with its fountains and the sound of running water everywhere, monuments, gay town square, passages and old buildings and trees. We also slowly climbed the Col du Bell Homme (915m) which offers a magnificent panorama from there to the Mediterranean. We stood amazed at the cyclists who climb that steep road with so much power and ease, standing in their pedals.

Comps on the Artuby River is also another gateway to the Gorges du Verdon. Early one morning we took to the road on Silver and Blue and along with many other motorcyclists. It also became one of the most beautiful days in our lives with its heights, deep gorges, rivers twisting far below, cliffs reaching above you. All part of a mighty, mighty landscape.

We took four slow hours to cover the approximately 70 kilometres, stopping and absorbing it all. The exquisite Lac Sainte Croix blue hurts your eyes. We still cannot believe that we rode those steep and demanding routes. Moustiers Sainte Marie was a huge disappointment with hundreds and hundreds of tourists who have descended on the place. Fortunately we remember it differently, and got out of there fast.

We re-lived the cycling trip up to La Palud. Also different. One biker after the other was on a kamakazi trip and swept past at close quarters. But the majesty remained. We rode the circle route again, the Route des Crêtes. I remembered what I had written all those years ago: Mine eyes hath seen the glory of creation!

At one of the belvederes Anuta’s knees gave way. Suddenly she had no strength. Ready to collapse whenever she stood up. She couldn’t remain there, because the sun was merciless. She had to move on to where there was some shade. I helped her to reach Blue. But, try and find shade when you need it… We progressed slowly. Tornante after tornante. To add the the stress, the road had been given a topping of loose stone gravel. One slip and you can fall 800 meters into the depths.

We realised we were tired – we weren’t letting up on ourselves. Perhaps also the altitude. The heat. The excitement. The grandeur of everything about you which leaves you drunk in a way. After we had descended a little way, she began to feel better…

We got home late after a big day. But we still had the strength to climb up the mountain, following the templar road to the old church from the 12th Century to take in the view from there. And to wait there for the three churches’ bells to begin ringing.

Gorges du Verdon:  Die grootsheid van die skepping

1999

Ons sit destyds twee dae in die mooie Moustiers de Sainte Marie voor ons Colemantentjie en kyk vir die ingang tot die Gorges du Verdon in Frankryk om moed bymekaar te skraap om die uitdagende pas per fiets uit te trap. Dit wag op ons soos ‘n leeu met oopgesperde kake. Wreed en tergend. Ons eet aanmekaar piesangs en suig buisies kondensmelk om ons kragte op te bou.

Sesuur die oggend van die derde dag is ons in die pedale en begin met bewing die nimmereindigende opdraende te trap. Rus iewers en maak tee. Die uitsigte gee ons verdere krag om net aan te hou.

Dit is asof die magtige kalksteenberge oopgekraak het en ‘n diep skeur gelaat het waar ‘n helderturkoois rivier ver onder jou kronkel. Dit gaan toe so goed dat ons teen tienuur bo by La Palud kamp opslaan. En het ons nog genoeg energie om die droom van elke fietser te trap – die gevaarlike, maar asemsnakkende 24 kilometer Route des Crêtes. Roete van die Pieke. Hulle sê dis net Disneyland se rollercoasters wat opwindender is.

2019

Ons wil dit weer beleef en sien. Maar hierdie keer op gemaklike Silwer en Blou. Ons reis van St Pierre de Chartreuse eers deur die Sondagoggendse stil buitewyke van Grenoble en ons wil-wil die Haute Provence beginne ruik. Toe wag ‘n mooi en onbekende streek op ons en is sommer vies dat ons nie in die Vercors oorbly nie. ‘n Pragtige streek met klowe, berge, en ‘n malse groen landskap.

Ek huil steeds oor my stukkende kamera en die simpel selfoonfototjies wat ek nou moet neem. Kan glad nie zoom nie, verloor te veel detail.

Met kronkels, verdwaal, baie draaie en klowe, oor passe en leegtes is ons al bietjie moeg toe ons by die Col du Rousset aankom, saam met baie, baie bikers en daar staan en die pad na benede probeer peil met sy uitdagende tornantes. En die afdaal na Die. Daar slaan die middagruike ons: besembos, tiemie, denne en roosmaryn. Na meer as 300 kilometer daag ons effens gehawend by ons volgende tuiste op.

By The Garden of Energies wuif ‘n feëtjieagtige fyn vroutjie ons nader met 11 katte en twee afwesige honde. Alles by Vesna gaan oor natural and energies. Haar grasperke word nie gesny nie, want dit versteur die plante se energie. Geen yskas, want dit is nie natural nie. Die katte loop oor die tafel terwyl jy eet. In die gastesuite is kristalle vir good energies. Ons kuier heerlik en sy hou van ons positive energies. Sy maak etes. Bak brood en crèpes. Haar man is die plaaslike reverend en dryf demone uit en sy sien visioene.

In die nag word ons wakker. Daar is geluide in die huis. Die volgende oggend vind ons ‘n uitgestresde Vesna. Haar honde het nie teruggekom na hulle gewoonlike middagstappie nie. Sy gaan soek en vind die ou hond wat haar na ‘n gat in die grond neem. Die jonger hond, Prinses, het agter ‘n dier in die gat gekruip en sit iewers in die ondergrondse tonnels vas. Die pompiers (brandweer) is in die nag ingeroep en het tot eenuur gegrou, met geen sukses. Die burgemeester het gekom. Bure wat sy nie eens ken nie. Nou gaan ‘n boer met ‘n voorlaaier kom en die hond uitgrou. Wat toe ook gebeur het.

Van daar gaan stap ons in die berge, ons doen ‘n dagrit na Lac de Serre-Ponçon en saans kook Vesna vir ons in haar deurmekaar kombuis. Ons begin in ‘n heerlike ritme val.

Weer 1999: Sondagoggend vroeg vertrek ons uit die mooie Castellane, in Provence. Halfpad die berg uit breek my fiets se pedaal. Al genade is omdraai en sweef ons bergaf met ons kawalkade van vrolike engele agterna. Iemand gaan sleep die enigste fietswinkel se eienaar uit sy bed. Knoffel- en drankwalms kom saam. En sommer net daar op die sypaadjie van die nou straatjie buite sy winkel kry my fiets ‘n nuwe stel pedale.

Twintig jaar later: Ons gaan soek die winkeltjie vir ‘n foto. Kry die plek maklik maar dis nie meer dieselfde nie. Skielik begin die hele dorp tril. ‘n Gebrul kom aangerol. Slaan teen die mure van die ou geboue vas. Alles begin bewe. Dis soos Armageddon. Toe kom hulle om die draai. Vier manne op walglike groot Harleys. Vier ruiters vir ‘n apokalips. Gestud. Getatoeëer. Vlegsels. Bandanas. Lang baarde. Wraparound spieëlbrille. Horings op die helmets. Vlae wapper. Toutjies warrel. Die leier het ‘n jakkalsvel met stert oor sy bagasie gedrapeer. Die masjiene skud en brul en spoeg en ruk en snork. Hulle oorwin die dorpsplein. Die heersers neem oor. Skreeu bevele op plat Vlaams. Die plataanbome se blare fladder. Ek vang die oog van ‘n Fransman. Miskien ken hy net een Engelse woord. “Stupid.” Niks is meer dieselfde nie.

Comps-sur-Artuby wag op ons. Ons woonstel is skaars 50 meter van die dorpsplein van hierdie ou middeleeuse dorpie wat in die voorwêreld op ‘n rots gebou is en waar die voetpaaie van die templierridders nog te sien is. Ons begin wegsak in die omgewing . Alles is oud. Die verweerde sandsteenberge, klippe, diep ravyne, brûe, paaie wat berg op en af vleg, woude en argaïse kerke wat bokant dorpies troon. Comps het drie ou kerkies en deur die nag lê ek en tel elke uur drie keer waneer die klokke dit aftel.

Ons besoek die naburige bergdorpies. Die een mooier as die ander. Ons vertoef lank in Bargemon met sy fonteine en oral die klank van water wat loop, monumente, vrolike dorpsplein, gangetjies en ou geboue en bome. Ons ry ook stadig die paar honderd meter op na Col du Bel Homme (915m) vanwaar jy ‘n manjefieke panorama het van daar tot die middellandse see. Ons is verstom oor die fietsryers wat daardie steil pad met soveel krag en gemak staande in die pedale uit trap.

Comps op die Artubyrivier is ook ‘n ander poort tot die Gorges du Verdon. Vroeg een oggend val ons met Silwer en Blou en baie ander motorfietsryers in die pad. Dit word ook weer een van die mooiste dae van ons lewens met hoogtes, diep klowe, riviere wat ver onder jou kronkel, kranse wat bokant jou oprank. Alles deel van ‘n magtige, magtige landskap.

Ons ry vier ure lank stadig aan die sowat 70 kilometer soos ons stop en inneem. Die pragrige Lac de Sainte Croix se blou maak steeds jou oë seer. Ons kan wéér nie glo ons het hierdie steil en stywe roetes gery nie. Moustiers Saint Marie is ‘n yslike teleurstelling met die honderde en honderde toeriste wat op die plek toegesak het. Gelukkig onthou ons dit anders, en gee vinnig pad.

Ons herleef die traprit op na La Palud. Ook anders. Die een na die ander motorfietsryer is op ‘n kamakazitrip en skuur skeef en skuins by ons verby. Maar die grootsheid bly. Ons ry weer die sirkelroete, die Route des Crêtes. Ek onthou hoe ek destyds geskryf het: Mine eyes hath seen the glory of creation!

By een van die belvederes knak Anuta se knieë. Skielik het sy geen krag nie. Wil net inmekaarsak wanneer sy opstaan. Sy kan nie daar bly nie, want die son is genadeloos. Ons moet aanskuif tot waar daar koelte is. Ek help haar tot op Blou. Maar vind nou koelte wanneer jy koelte soek… Ons kruie voort. Tornante na tornante. Om tot die spanning by te voeg is die pad pas my fyn klipgruis bedek. Een gly en jy val 800 meter die dieptes in…

Ons besef ons is moeg – ons spaar onsself nie. Miskien ook die hoogte bo seespieël. Die hitte. Die opwinding. Die grootsheid van alles om jou wat jou op ‘n manier dronk maak. Nadat ons effens gesak het begin sy beter voel…

Ons kom laat tuis na ‘n grootse dag. Maar ons het nog krag om hier teen vroegaand die berg uit klim met die templierpad na die ou kerk uit die 12de eeu om die wêreld van daar te bespied. En daar te wag vir die drie kerke se klokke om te begin lui.

Take note: The pictures are not in sequence and taken with my mobile phone.

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The Verdon River with its turquoise water

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Standing at a belvedere and looking down into one of the gorges

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Moustiers Sainte Marie. What a disappointment with the masses of tourists

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Like a turquoise snake

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Check the road winding up the right hand side. A continuous climb all the way to the top

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The river feeding the Sainte Croix lake looks like turquoise glass.

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The markets of Provence with excellent fresh produce

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One of the ravines in the Vercors

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They call these roads the balcony roads. Also in the Vercors

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Vercors

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The lovely pastoral landscapes of Vercors.I

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II. We were upset with ourselves for not staying longer.

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Sunday lunch with market food – somewhere alongside the road

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Hungry, we stopped right there and prepared our lunch.

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Col du Rousset which we had to share with hundreds of kamikazi bikers

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An old sign in Die

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Bread baskets in a tiny remote bakery in the mountains

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Bread inspection before selling it to us. The culture of good bread is still very important in France.

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The abundance of spring flowers kept on enchanting us.

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No amount of paint techniques can replicate the real thing…

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The Garden of Energies

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Lovely banana and apple tart and cats for breakfast. His Master’s Voice was still recovering from being dug out of a tunnel 3m below the surface.

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Lac de Serre-Ponçon. St Michael’s chapel

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Lunch picnic

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Descending to the lake

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By default we landed on one of the most amazing roads near the Durance River.

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Our fairy hostess, Vesna. Anuta had kept a shell from the northern coast of Spain in her cubby hole – gifted to Vesna.

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Céüse mountain. From the air, it is a circular outcrop. We took a walk of a couple of kilometres around its base. Another source of good energy, according to Vesna.

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Re-visiting villages from our cycling days

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Another mountain road. Another amazing view

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This where the bicycle shop stood in 1999.

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The plane trees were just beginning to sprout on the square of beautiful Castellane.

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In front of our flat, 50m from the square in Comps sur Artuby (door and window on the right)

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On the way to the shop in Comps

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To the left is the hotel terrace where we could access wifi. Comps is tiny, but pretty.

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On the way  to the Gorges du Verdon – from the south

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The Flemish Harley squad

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The Route des Crêtes lies across the Var River, near the top. This is where Anuta felt the heat and altitude…

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Biker graffiti at the entrance to a tunnel

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The wild roses were at their peak – just everywhere, white and pink.

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The Var River. You can see the roads on the left and the right of this valley which we rode that day. Route des Crêtes on the right

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Silver and Blue had to compete with bikers continuously.

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The Var River widening as it approaches the Sainte Croix lake near Moustiers

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Our first glimpse of the lake.

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Village on the lake

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One cannot imagine an entire lake this colour…

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The barrage at the end of one of the arms of the lake

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We managed to find the last table in semi-shade for lunch.

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A last glimpse between the trees. This is where we had to re-trace a sheer drop down to the village after making an error with our cycling route in 1999. On reaching this point, we collapsed under a tree to rest and recuperate.

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Just a week too early to see the lavande in full flower…

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In 1999 cycling this road was hell. The optical illusion is one of downhill, but actually a steady climb over a number of kilometres.

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Imagine these fields in full bloom.

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After Moustiers, the steep climb to the mouth of the lion begins.

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Looking back to where we began this climb

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On the Route des Crêtes where we saw rock climbers scaling these rock faces in 1999.

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Anuta had to hang on as she was feeling unsteady…

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One can see the half tunnel on the opposite side which we rode through earlier that morning.

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Slowly negotiating loose gravel

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The impressive gorges

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Heading home after a full day of riding the gorges

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Back home in Comps

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One of the three ancient churches in Comps

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Following the Templar way

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The second church – a fortified church

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“Our” Comps from above

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The climb to the top church is fairly steep

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The third church in Comps

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Fortunately this dark tunnel was short

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The mighty landscape of the gorges

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Between the arrows lies the mouth of the lion.

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Just because it was lovely. On the way to Bargemon

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Bargemon with its many fountains. A quaint medieval mountain village

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Bargemon

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Bargemon’s wonderful vibrant square

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One of the lovely fountains

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And another

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Beautiful patina

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The Mairie’s office in Bargemon with yet another fountain in the foreground

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Comps as seen from the south. The clouds were so beautiful!

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Detail I

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Detail II

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Another mountain village. Trigance. We don’t understand why trees always have to be trimmed to this degree, just to sprout again in profusion. Surely the greater shade would be welcome in summer?

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Trigance

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Detail III

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Detail IV

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This part of the world needs a bicycle monument…

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Detail V

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Approaching another dark tunnel

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The gateway to a new adventure

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Another jewel

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We could watch the farmers harvesting while we had a hasty lunch – rain was threatening.

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Tourettes sur Loup – our home for a couple of days

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Grande Chartreuse: Third Time Lucky/Die derde keer gelukkig

Grande Chartreuse: Third Time Lucky/Die derde keer gelukkig

Scroll down for Afrikaans and photos

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Third time lucky. On our first visit to the Grande Chartreuse Monastery on bicycles the rain poured down and we turned around at the gates. That was twenty years ago. Ten years later we tried again on Silver and Blue. Again it poured. We turned around. But, a visit to this monastery in the French Alps north of Grenoble remained a dream. Especially after we saw the gripping film, Into Great Silence, in the Labia in Cape Town.

Into Great Silence (Die große Stille) (2005) was also a dream of the German filmmaker Philip Gröning. He had to wait for sixteen years to obtain permission from the Carthusian monks before he was allowed inside the monastery walls for six months with his camera. So, on that day we sat in the Labia and watched the documentary on the intimate lives of the silent monks in impressive imagery. No music. Natural light. Great silence. The monks in prayer and contemplation, day and night. No talking.

It took Gröning two years to edit the film. There is no spoken word. No sound effects or lighting. Just the rhythm, images and sounds of monastic life. And the strict discipline of silence.

It was a hard day’s ride to Chartreuse. Familiar to us, because it was one of our hardest cycling days at that time. Cycling up the Col de Granier in freezing cold and rain. We resorted to wrapping our feet in plastic shopping bags to prevent the worst of the cold. This time everything seemed familiar: every stone wall, tree, little stream along the way. Silver and Blue climbed and climbed and the weather looked threatening.

Our airbnb in St Pierre de Chartreuse is a strange experience. Still made final arrangements with the owner the day before about keys. She would be waiting for us. We found the place, a large old traditional house on numerous levels. Opened up and found ourselves in the dark kitchen and immediately her two cats joined us. There was no note. Everything felt strange and dark. From the kitchen a very steep staircase led to an attic room. A double bed stood in a huge, stripped room with a scrubbed wooden floor. Obviously our room.

The search for the bathroom and toilet took us along dark stairs, little passages and cul-de-sacs. Eventually, through a study and a workroom we found the guest bathroom. I kept opening the wrong door to get to the toilet – which was on yet another level. Later I had to keep calling to Anuta to establish on which level I was, because my head started spinning and I was afraid of tumbling down.

Finally: the hostess never arrived. We fed the two beautiful cats for three days and they slept with us.

It rained through the night with cheeky lighting bolts that cracked against the mountains and around us. Then the sound would roll down the ravines before the heavens opened. Oh, no, not again. But the next morning was a sparkling, cold day. We rode slowly through the damp forests and past rushing rivers to the monastery.

No cars, or any noise, are allowed near the monastery. We walked along avenues of old trees lining a winding road up to the monastery. Two kilometres. It felt like a sacred place. A via Magnificat. Une voie sacrée.


We spotted the first buildings between the trees. Like a small walled city. Just imagine, only around 30 monks live there who have almost no contact with the world outside. Who dedicate their lives to silence and prayer. Who are self-sufficient with their vegetable gardens and the making of honey, cheese and bread baking. The famous Chartreuse liqueur made of 130 different herbs, plants and flowers has been made since 1737 according to a recipe dating from 1603 is now made in Voiron, not far from there.

The position of the monastery places man and nature in harmony. The synergy of renaissance architecture in the foreground with mighty mountains and forests all around, is perfection. Mist rolls over the peaks into the hollows like soft madigrals. At last we were here, and what a gift.

The closer we got, the more of a reality the greatness of the monastery became. Tall, thick walls. Everything impenetrably enclosed. Nowhere a little opening to peep through. Every gate, wooden door doesn’t allow even a sound or a breath to penetrate. Somewhere I tried to peep through a window, but even that was spun over with spider webs.

Next to one of the walls stood a flock of sheep in a small encampment. Also calm, as if they have also been sworn to silence. We walked halfway around the walls. There was the main entrance. The novices entered here to embark on their first year. After that year the older monks decide whether novices are able to adapt to the isolation, the strict discipline, the dedication and the laying down of their own wills and lives.

The oak trees outside the walls are full of new growth and their trunks and branches are covered with thick layers of moss. Is it the purpose of the moss to also absorb the birdsong?

Behind the monastery, topping a little hill, is a statue. We struggled to get to the top in the hope of seeing more of the monastery from above. But the complex remained reclusive. We saw a little piece of a formal garden at the main entrance. More than that, it was only towers and roofs.

And then it was twelve o’clock and another big gift was the ringing of the bells that reverberated against walls and cliffs to return to us. Just after that we heard a noise of angelic song and bells. Hahaha! It was the sheep getting very excited to be moving to new pastures. Bleating and bells ringing.

We walked the two kilometres back to the museum. In silence.

The visit to the monastery museum was informative. There are replicas of the monks’ cells. They don’t even partake of meals together. Their food is passed through a service hatch in every cell. In the cell itself there is a wash basin inside a cupboard for ablutions. Above that, only a bed and a desk with books, and a prie dieu. That’s all.

We rode back slowly. Images of the black and white grainy film flooded back. An old monk dies and is buried within the monastery walls. (Not even in death may he leave the monastery.) Another breaking the frozen ground with a pick to start preparing the garden for spring. Hours on their knees. Singing Madrigals during Sunday mass. Listening to the bells…

We went to sit on the town square of St Pierre de Chartreuse and drank a beer. The thunder and lightning was with us again. We walked back to the strange, confusing house in the rain to where the cats waited for us. And to the silence of that odd house.

Grande Chartreuse: Derde keer gelukkig

Ons is die derde keer gelukkig. Die eerste besoek aan die Grande Chartreuseklooster op fietse het ons uitgereën en by die hekke omgedraai. Dit was twintig jaar gelede. Tien jaar gelede probeer ons weer met Silwer en Blou. Dit sousreën weer. Ons draai om. Maar ‘n besoek aan dié klooster in die Franse Alpe noord van Grenoble bly ‘n droom. Veral nadat ons die aangrypende film, Into Great Silence, in die Labia gesien het.

Into Great Silence (Die große Stille) (2005) was ook die droom van die Duitse filmmaker Philip Gröning. Vir 16 jaar moes hy wag vir toestemming van die Kartuisiese monnike voor hy alleen met sy kamera vir ses maande binne die mure van die klooster toegelaat is. Ons sit toe daardie dag in die Labia en kyk na die dokumentasie van die intieme lewe van die swygende monnike in indrukwekkende beelde. Geen musiek. Natuurlike lig. Groot stiltes. Die monnike dag en nag in gebed en oordenking. Praat nie.

Dit neem Gröning twee jaar om die film te redigeer. Daar is geen gesproke woord nie. Geen klankeffekte of beligting nie. Net die ritme, beelde en klanke van die kloosterlewe. En die streng dissipline van stilte.

Dit was ‘n harde dag se ry na Chartreuse. Vir ons ‘n bekende pad, want dit was een van die moeilikste fietsrydae destyds. In ysige koue en reën die Col de Granier uitgetrap. Later het ons plastieksakke om ons voete en hande gedraai om die koue te keer. Met hierdie besoek voel dit asof elke klipmuur, boom, stroompie water bekend is. Silwer en Blou klim en klim en die weer lyk weer dreigend.

Die Airbnb in St Pierre de Chartreuse waar ons tuisgaan is ‘n vreemde ondervinding. Nog die vorige dag met die eienaar finale reëlings oor sleutels getref. Sy wag ons in. Vind die plek, ‘n reuse ou tradisionele huis op menige vlakke. Sluit oop en land in die donker kombuis en dadelik is haar twee katte by. Daar is geen nota nie. Alles voel vreemd en donker. Vanuit die kombuis is ‘n skerp wenteltrap na ‘n solderkamer. Daar staan ‘n bed in ‘n groot bar vertrek met ‘n geskropte houtvloer. Duidelik ons kamer.

Die soeke na die badkamer en toilet neem ons deur donker trappe, gangetjies, en doodloopstrate. Ek raak paniekerig toe ek met die hulp van ‘n tou my na nog en nog ‘n vlak moet optrek teen die steil trappe uit. My kop begin draai en ‘n vertigo aanval dreig. Uiteindelik, deur ‘n studeerkamer èn ‘n werkskamer kry ons die familiebadkamer. Ek maak ook aanmekaar die verkeerde deur oop om by die toilet uit te kom – wat weer op ‘n ander vlak is. Later moet ek aanmekaar vir Anuta roep en vra op watter vlak ek nou is, want my kop tol en is ek bang ek stort benede.

Uiteinde: die gasvrou het nooit opgedaag nie. Ons voer die twee mooi katte vir drie dae en hulle slaap by ons.

Deur die nag reën dit met astrante bliksems wat teen die berge en om ons knal. Dan rol dit teen die kranse af voor die hemele oopmaak. Ag nee, nie weer nie. Maar die volgende oggend is dit ‘n skitterkoue dag. Ons ry stadig deur die klam woude en bruisende riviere na die klooster.

Motors, geen geraas, mag naby die klooster kom nie. In daardie fris oggendlug stap ons deur lanings ou bome met ‘n kronkelpad op na die klooster. Twee kilometer ver. Dit voel soos ‘n heiligheid. ‘n Via Magnificat. Une voie sacrée.   

Deur die bome sien ons die eerste geboue. Soos ‘n klein ommuurde stadjie. Om te dink daar woon slegs sowat 30 monnike wat byna geen kontak met die buitewêreld het nie. Wat hulle lewens toewy aan stilte en gebed. Wat selfonderhoudend is met groentetuine en die maak van heuning, kaas en bak van brood. Die beroemde Chartreuselikeur wat van 130 verskillende kruie, plante en blomme al sedert 1737 gemaak word volgens ‘n resep van 1603 word nou in Voiron daar naby gemaak.

Die plasing van die klooster plaas die mens en natuur in harmonie. Die sinergie van renaissance argitektuur in die voorgrond met magtige berge en woude alom word volmaak. Mis rol oor die pieke tot in die laagtes soos sagte madrigale. Uiteindelik is ons hier en wat ‘n geskenk.

Hoe nader ons stap word die grootsheid van die klooster ‘n werklikheid. Hoë dik mure. Alles ondeurdringbaar dig. Nêrens eers ‘n klein opening om deur te loer nie. Elke poort, houtdeur laat nie eens ‘n geluid of ‘n asem deur nie. Iewers probeer ek deur ‘n venster loer, maar selfs dit is toegeweef met spinnerakke.

Langs een van die mure staan ‘n klomp skape in ‘n klein kampie. Ook rustig, asof ook hulle voorgeskryf is om nie ‘n geluid te maak nie. Ons stap halfpad om die mure. Daar is ‘n hoofingang. Daar moet die gevestigde monnike besluit of die nuwelinge (novices) na hulle proeftydperk van meer as ‘n jaar of die gaan inpas by die afsondering, die ysere dissipline, die toewyding, en die aflê van ‘n eie wil en lewe.

Die akkerbome buite die mure is vol nuwe groei met dik lae mos al om die stamme en op die takke. Is die mos daar om selfs ook die voëls se sang te demp?

Agter die klooster teen ‘n hoogte staan ‘n beeld. Ons sukkel om tot bo te kom met die hoop dat ons meer kan sien. Maar die kompleks bly sku. Ons sien ‘n stukkie van ‘n formele tuin by die hoofingang. Verder net torings en dakke. Toe is dit twaalfuur en nog ‘n groot geskenk is die klokkespel wat teen mure en kranse vasslaan en terugkom na ons toe. Net daarna hoor ons ‘n gedruis van engelesang en klokke. Hahaha! Dis toe al die tyd die skape wat opgewonde na ‘n nuwe weiveld geneem word. Blêrend en klokkend.

Ons stap die twee kilometer terug. Ons is stil.

Die besoek aan die kloostermuseum is leersaam. Daar is replikas van die monnike se selle. Selfs hulle kos geniet hulle nie saam met ander nie. Dit word deur ‘n deurtjie vir hulle aangegee. Agter ‘n ander deurtjie wat jy oopvou is ‘n wasbak vir afwas. Verder net ‘n bed en ‘n lessenaar met boeke, en ‘n bidstoel – ‘n pre dieu. Dis al.

Ons ry stadig terug. Beelde van die swart en wit greinerige film kom terug. ‘n Ou monnik wat sterf en binne die kloostermure begrawe word. (Nie eens in sy dood mag hy die plek verlaat nie.) ‘n Ander een wat in die winter die ys met ‘n pik breek om solank die tuin vir die lente voor te berei. Ure op hulle knieë. Madrigale sing wanneer hulle Sondae ‘n diens hou. Luister na die klokke…

Ons gaan sit op die dorpsplein van St Pierre de Chartreuse en drink ‘n bier. Die donder en bliksems kom weer. Ons stap in die reën na die vreemde huis wat my so deurmekaar maak en waar die katte op ons wag. En die vreemde huis se stilte.

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Twenty years ago we did the Col du Granier on bicycles and heavy luggage. It was so cold and rainy that day, we wrapped plastic bags around our feet and hands.

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Higher than Table Mountain.

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One of the neighbouring houses in St Pierre de Chartreuse

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The kitchen of the strange house

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We walked for two kilometres along the avenue of trees to the monastery.

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Along the way. Is it here where the monks play soccer on a Sunday?

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First view of the monastery

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And still the trees

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The first wall

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Even the sheep were quiet

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Mist, mountains and gables

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The road to the entrance is steep

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We tried to get a glimpse of the inside, but all is closed.

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The trees form a good barrier against inquisitive eyes.

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We could see a small section of a formal French garden in the huge complex.

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All doors were locked.

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A chapel was built in 1703.

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Lace flowers everywhere

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The 1703 chapel forms part of the outer wall.

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A wide angle shot of the huge complex

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Just roofs and spires

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We climbed up to the monument for the monk who started the monastery in 1084 – Saint Bruno

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A closer look over the roofs of the renaissance buildings

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Thick moss covers the trees. For more silence?

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A double door to an entrance

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Patina 1

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Patina 2

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Trees and walls

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Nearby forests

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Roof structures

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Timber roof. Rot and moss

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We were silent on our our way back.

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Pastoral surroundings

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A cross at the end of an avenue of trees

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What a setting for a picnic

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Pure French: Camembert, tomatoes and a baguette

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In silence, study, prayer and manual work…

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A model of the extensive complex where only 30 monks live in silence, prayer, study and manual labour.

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A bare monk’s room

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Simplicity

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Bed, habit and desk

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Gardens at the museum

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After a brilliant day dark clouds are rolling in.

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A black madonna

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Gardens

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The road to the monastery

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A much-deserved beer after an intense day

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Back home, in the cold with the two cats

 

 

Following Hannibal across the Alps/Met Hannibal oor die Alpe

Following Hannibal across the Alps/Met Hannibal oor die Alpe

The new route took us through the 11 km Mont Blanc Tunnel – with our history of fear of tunnels. The road to the entrance wound upwards above Chamonix and we took chances to overtake cambions slowly grinding their way up the mountain in the rain. (In European mythology cambions are half-human demons, and now I call the trucks or camions, by the name of cambions. A terror on the roads.)

Before long we were under cover at the toll gate of the famous tunnel. The well-illuminated 11.6 km swallowed up a full day’s budget. But what awaited us on the other side? Sunshine? A view of Mont Blanc? What we didn’t expect and weren’t prepared for was that we were now in Italy. Our GPSs began turning in circles and wouldn’t read the routes because we hadn’t downloaded the maps for Italy. We stood looking around for a little while and watched the dramatic massing clouds over Mont Blanc. The sharp pinnacles piercing the mist. The drama.

We were still sitting in the weak sun at a street café in the lovely Chamonix when it began raining again. We were already tired of rain all morning on our route. Across two mountain passes in pouring rain. We decided right there to adapt and to take a short cut which would reduce our distance for the day on Silver and Blue by 100 km. Easy, and we would arrive at our next stop early.

And then the heavens opened. Now we had to rely on our noses and find our way through a labyrinth of narrow alleys and little villages while we could scarcely see in front of our scooters.

The road immediately began climbing through dark forests. One sharp tormento followed the other and it’s difficult to maintain your balance in rain. Your attention is needed everywhere, because right next to you are misty steep drops and the road doesn’t have railings and shoulders. One wrong judgement…

I always ride with my visor open and my face catches every cold raindrop. I like feeling the freshness and cold against my face. Sometimes the rain is too hard and I have to close it, but then it mists over immediately. Rather push open the visor again with my face in the rain.

And there, through the veils of rain and mist is the sign: Col de Petit St Bernard. It couldn’t be right. In our planning we would only cross the pass two days later. We couldn’t understand it and didn’t know where in the world we were.

This is the famous route which Hannibal of Carthage (Tunisia) most probably took in 218 BC across the Alps in order to attack Rome from the north. The historians Polybius and Livy documented reports on this frightening journey. Hannibal’s forces at that stage consisted of  30 000 men, 37 elephants and 15 000 horses. We had read quite a bit about it all and there we were in the rain on Silver and Blue on that famous route, in Hannibal’s footsteps.

Around three o’clock we found a picnic spot with a little building with a picnic bench under cover. We were already famished, not having had breakfast as we often do while travelling. The wood fire baked baguette with its crisp crust, rillette (pork spread) and tomatoes were just the thing to still the hunger. It was freezing and we added another layer of clothing. We suspected that we were at 1900 m. In fact, this was confirmed just a little way further up the mountain on a sign for the Colle San Carlo.

That was where we encountered our first snow next to the road. First had to take photos and then we rode further. Then there was more and even more snow. Later we found ourselves in a magical world of white that reached up the high mountains. The wet black tarred road gleamed and reflected and everything became a dramatic spectacle of black and white. Later on the snow became white walls on either side of us and we stopped every now and then to absorb the surreality and majesty around us. We had never before experienced something like this.

How would Hannibal and his men have been able to survive here. The cold. There is no food here. No firewood. There was no road. The poor horses and elephants? It’s too much to comprehend.

On the crest there were one or two lonely little restaurants and we could smell wood fires. We stumbled into one of them, dripping, and first warmed our hands at a little crackling wood oven. A lovely young Italian chap explained where we were on his map. And, yes, it was the famous Piccolo St Bernardo we would have sought out later. And, yes, the French border was just a few hundred metres further. And, yes, we were now about 26 km from Bourg Saint Maurice which was near our next accommodation. A hot chocolate drink rounded off the conversation and visit.

Some distance from there stood a giant monument of the saintly Bernard. With one arm extended.

What we didn’t know was that the 26 km would last an eternity. It was a slow, twisting road with one sharp serpentina following on another. The mist was really thick and it was raining hard. We began to feel damp, perhaps also because of fear. We could barely see the road ahead.

Tired and after only 140 km, but eight hours in the saddle, we finally arrived at our airbnb and the rain cleared. We had a lovely flat with Lydia and her husband who, right there and then, repaired an unwilling screw to the cover of Blue’s exhaust that kept coming loose. We fell into bed early with the knowledge that we had actually had a wonderful day. The heights and snow along with the mountains remained in our heads.

A day or two later it was a bright, sunny day without a cloud. We were going to do the Col de Petit Saint Bernard again. We took almost all day to do the 52 km there and back. We rode and stopped, rode and stopped. Stood amazed at the wild flowers, waterfalls, mountain peaks, valleys, mountain villages, roads twisting up the mountainsides. We had a picnic surrounded by snow. Stood and looked at Mont Blanc that towered above us at 4808 m. We looked at the iced-over lake where it is thought that Hannibal had camped with his men before descending into Italy.

That night we knew that we had experienced the best of Europe. But, little did we know what awaited us the following day. We got up early to pack because a daunting 240 km to Saint Pierre de Chartreuse lay ahead of us.

Met Hannibal oor die Alpe

Ons sit nog so in ‘n trae sonnetjie by ‘n straatkafee in die mooie Montreaux toe dit weer begin reën. Ons is al moeg vir die hele oggend se reën op die pad. Twee bergpasse in gietende reën oor. Net daar en dan besluit ons om aan te pas en die kortpad te volg wat ons roete vir die dag met Silwer en Blou met omtrent 100 kilometer korter gaan maak. Net so, en dan is ons vroeg by ons volgende oorstaanplek.

Die nuwe roete neem ons deur die 11 kilometer lange Mont Blanctonnel – met ons geskiedenis van tonnelvrees. Die pad na die ingang kronkel bo Montreaux uit en ons steek gewaagd om blinde draaie die stadige cambions wat die berg in die reën uitkruie verby. (In die Europese mitologie is half-menslike demone cambions, nou noem ek die lorries, camions, sommer cambions. ‘n Verskrikking op die paaie.)

Kort voor lank is ons onderdak by die tolhek van die geroemde tonnel. Die goedbeligte 11.6 kilometer sluk ons hele dag se begroting in. Maar wat wag aan die anderkant? Sonskyn? ‘n Blik op Mont Blanc? Wat ons nie verwag het nie en waarop ons nie voorbereid is nie, is dat ons toe onverwags in Italië is. Ons GPS’e begin tol en wil nie roetes lees nie omdat ons nie die Italiaanse kaarte afgelaai het nie. Ons staan vir ‘n rukkie rond en kyk na die dramatiese wolkemassas oor Mont Blanc. Die skerp bergspitse wat in die mis deurslaan. Die drama.

Toe maak die hemele oop. Nou moet ons op ons neuse staatmaak en deur swaar reën en ‘n labirint van nou paadjies en klein dorpies ons pad vind en jy kan skaars voor jou kan sien. Dit voel later ons ry deur agterplase en net as jy dink die pad loop teen ‘n houthuis dood sien jy die klein bordjie:  Pré-Saint-Didier. Die rigting waarheen ons mik.
Die pad begin onmiddellik deur donker woude klim. Die een skerp tormento volg die ander en dit is moeilik om jou balans in die reën te hou. Jou aandag moet oral wees, want hier langs jou is mistige afgronde en die pad is sonder relings en skouers. Een verkeerde oordeel….

Ek ry altyd met my visor oop en my gesig vang elke koue reëndruppel. Ek hou daarvan, om die varsheid en koue so teen my gesig te voel. Soms is die reën te hard en moet ek dit toemaak, maar dan stoom dit dadelik toe. Ry dan maar weer so met my gesig in die reën.
En daar deur die vlae reën en die mis staan die bord: Col de Petit St Bernard.

Dit kan nie wees nie. In ons beplanning sou ons die pas eers oor twee dae ry. Ons verstaan nie, en weet nie waar in die wêreld ons is nie.

Dit is die beroemde pad wat Hannibal van Carthago (Tunisië) in 218 VC heel waarskynlik binne 16 dae oor die Alpe gevolg het om Rome aan te val. Die geskiedskrywers Polybius en Livy het verslae oor hierdie angswekkende tog gedokumenteer. Hannibal se mag het uit 30 000 soldate, 37 olifante en 15 000 perde bestaan. Hieroor het ons baie opgelees, en hier is ons in die reën op Silwer en Blou op die geskiedkundige roete, in Hannibal se voetspore.

Hier teen drie-uur kry ons ‘n piekniekplek met ‘n huisie met sitplek onder dak. Ons is al rasend van die honger, want ons eet nie ontbyt wanneer ons reis nie. Die houtoondgebakte baguette met sy harde kors, rillette (varksmeer) en tamaties is net die ding om die honger te stil. Dit is nou baie koud en ons trek nog ‘n laag warm klere aan. Ons vermoed ons is op 1900 meter. Inderdaad ook so, want die Colle San Carlo se bordjie staan ‘n ent verder teen die berg op.

Dis waar ons die eerste sneeu langs die pad kry. Neem eers foto’s en ry aan. Toe raak dit meer sneeu, en nog meer. Later is ons in ‘n towerwêreld van wit om ons wat opslaan teen die hoë berge. Die swart teerpad glim en weerkaats en alles word ‘n dramatiese skouspel van swart en wit. Die sneeu raak later wit mure om ons en hou ons kort-kort stil om die onwerklikheid en magtigheid om ons in te neem. So-iets het ons nog nooit beleef nie.

Hoe sou Hannibal en sy manskappe hier kon oorleef. Die koue. Hier is geen kos nie. Geen vuurmaakhout nie. Daar sou geen pad gewees het nie. Die arme perde en olifante? Dit is te veel om aan te dink.

Op die kruin is daar een of twee eensame restaurantjies en ons ruik die reuk van houtvure. Ons val een binne, druppend, en warm eers ons hande op by ‘n stofie wat knetter. ‘n Gawe jong Italianer verduidelik vir ons op ‘n kaart waar ons is. En ja, dit is die beroemde Piccolo St Bernardo waarna ons sou kom soek het. En ja, die Franse grens is sommer ‘n paar honderd meter verder. En ja, ons is nou sowat 26 kilometer van Bourg Saint Maurice wat naby ons volgende blyplek is. ‘n Warm sjokoladedrankie rond die gesprek en kuier af.

‘n Ent verder staan daar ‘n reuse monument van die heilige Bernard. Met sy een arm uitgestrek.

Wat ons nie weet nie, is dat die 26 kilometer ‘n ewigheid duur. Dit is ‘n stadige kronkelpad met die een skerp serpentina op die ander. Die mis is dik en dit reën kliphard. Ons begin klam voel, miskien ook van vrees. Jy kan skaars voor jou sien.

Moeg en na net 140 kilometer, maar agt ure in die saals, kom ons uiteindelik by ons tuiste en klaar die reën op. Ons het ‘n heerlike woonstel by Lydia en haar man wat sommer dadelik ‘n weerstandige skroef aan Blou se uitlaat regmaak wat aanmekaar loskom. Ons val ook sommer vroeg in die bed met die wete dat ons eintlik ‘n wonderlike dag beleef het. Die hoogtes en sneeu met die berge bly in ons koppe draai.

‘n Dag of twee later is dit ‘n helder oop dag sonder ‘n wolkie. Ons gaan weer die Col de Petit Saint Bernard doen. Die 52 kilometer heen en weer neem ons byna die hele dag. Ons ry en stop, ry en stop. Verkyk ons aan die wilde veldblomme, watervalle, die bergpieke, die valleie, bergdorpies, paaie wat teen die berge uitkronkel. Ons hou piekniek in die sneeu. Staan en kyk na Mont Blanc wat 4808 meter bokant ons uittroon. Ons kyk na die ysmeer waar daar opgeskryf is dat die Hannibal en sy mag daar kamp opgeslaan het

Daardie aand weet ons, ons het die beste van Europa belewe. Maar min weet ons toe wat die volgende dag op ons wag. Ons staan vroeg op om in te pak, want ‘n allemintige 240 kilometer tot by Saint Pierre de Chartreuse wag op ons.

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The weather looked fine from the balcony in Bagne.
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Then the rain started.
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Pastoral Switzerland
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Geared up against the rain and cold
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Bitterly cold at 1527m, but many cyclists did the pass in usual cycling gear.
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A pretty mountain village
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A long-time dream: Chamonix
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Hot chocolate and dreams in Chamonix
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Beautiful Chamonix with its Belle Epoque, Victorian and Art Noveau architecture
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Mont Blanc lies there!
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Somewhere the rain stopped at 3pm for breakfast and lunch…
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The first snow came as a surprise. We had to stop for a picture.
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And then this!
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Some more hot chocolate and heat from a fire, please
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Not good – rain and snow
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A little chapel
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The rain just never stopped
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At last. Welcome!
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Lydia’s lovely Airbnb apartment in Mâcot-la-Plagne awaited for us for a couple of days.
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The view, and some cherry trees with lots of delicious red cherries.
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The traditional village of Mâcot-la-Plagne
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A walk in the forest
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The Isère
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Cherry trees all over
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One of the villages scattered along the valley
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Pensive mood along the Isère
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Flowering hay 1
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Flowering hay 2
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Mountain church

A daytrip return in glorious sunlight

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Scary, the switchbacks on the St Bernard Pass.
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Where elephants plodded
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We stopped at every turn to take it all in.
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Mount Pourri (3779m) and Aquille Rouge (3226m) towering over the valleys where Hannibal led his elephants and horses
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Could that be Mont Blanc?
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Valley and heights 1
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Valley and heights 2
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Little villages and churches
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Pastorality
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This is St Bernard country.
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Higher up
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And then the snow again. In sunlight
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Layers of snow
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Monument for St Bernard
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Roads and lakes, with a chapel
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The ice blue
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St Bernard’s monument and the hotel
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Vivid spring gentians
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Picnic in the snow
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The monument again
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Cyclists and bikers
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The highest point
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And there is Mont Blanc! 4810m
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And again!
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Watching marmots
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The lake where Hannibal camped and where the elephants drank water
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WW2 fortifications
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A last glimpse of Mont Blanc
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A real wild violet
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Where we stood two days ago in rain
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Going home
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Bikers and chapel
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A marmot
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Ice and water
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On top of the world
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Ski village
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Irises
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And lupins
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Church along the way
Lake Malawi: Call of the fish eagle

Lake Malawi: Call of the fish eagle

Rol af vir Afrikaans
Scroll down for pictures

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Boatsman Nixson gives one long whistle. Throws a fish across the water in an arch. It floats because a hollow reed has been pushed through its mouth into the length of its body. A fish eagle answers. The sound of Africa. High-pitched long followed by two shorts. That mystic sound cleaves open the water, forests and heavens.

From the trees there is movement. A fish eagle leaves its nest in the tallest baobab tree against the densely forested hill on the island, spreads its wings and begins to sweep closer. For a moment I can see every black feather as they spread open and curl upwards. The proud white head and breast maintains the course at a high speed. Eyes glow. There is the rush of wings. Feathers bursting through air. Then the spread claws clutch at the fish. One mighty swoop. Like a swing dropping down and barely touching the water.

Then everything freezes. Dreams, imagination, wishes, photos in magazines, TV programmes. That single moment is etched into the membranes of my brain forever. Clearer than a photograph.

Yesterday we arrived at Lake Malawi at Monkey Bay. Blessings waited for us at the Zambian border. We were a little startled. He stood next to a shiny black station wagon, much like a hearse. Some or other new Toyota that we have never seen before. He is a skilled driver and drove us quickly and safely between goats, dogs, cycles heavily loaded with bags of flour, pedestrians and broken down cars. At two or three of the ten police road blocks (yes, I counted them, and Blessings laughed at me) we had to present our passports. The officials are all efficient and friendly and asked how we were. The young ladies in uniform are all slim and well turned-out.

We drove via busy Lilongwe and were amazed at the Saturday morning busyness with markets and masses of people manning little stalls on pavements. Everything from coffins and gravestones under corrugated iron stands, to sugar cane and animal skins in the open. Now and then the traffic came to a halt and we saw the poverty and struggle for survival close up. Everyone here tries to make a living. It’s surprising that the city is clean, without rubbish, in spite of the numbers of people.

After six hours of driving through villages and pastoral landscape we crossed a mountain range along a slow, twisting mountain pass. On the other side awaited a different world. Isolated and primitive and a poverty-driven existence. Mostly mud huts surrounded by clean-swept erven under large wild fig or baobab trees that tower over everything. Small fields. Stony hills.

The black hearse turned into our destination behind a reed fence – Funky Cichlid. For the following five days we became a part of a hedonistic existence on the lodge’s wonderful wide veranda which literally hangs over the edge of the lake. We were prompty levelled with other hedonists from here and all over the world: a British woman, born here, who returned after her husband’s death to work in poverty relief here. Muscled ones, tattooed ones. Guys with dreadlocks and lost in the music on their headphones. Intellectuals who sit alone in studied singleness with cigarettes that are never smoked. Skinny ones and fat ones. Young ones on honeymoon and keen to display their new shiny rings. Backpackers. A giant rambo-style individual from Durban who has lived here in the bush for years and still speaks Zulu and Afrikaans. Disgusting old South African men hanging about with hip local little girls and take cellphone photos of each other. A pleasant New Yorker who works for UNICEF joins us and we click immediately. He provides hours of good company. A lovely tall, slim girl of Kenyan heritage who grew up in California, is here to retrace her African roots. All of them and more.

In the evenings a big bonfire is made on the beach. Drummers come. Africa stirs.

On our first morning we went out on a boat. Hugging the coast of the mainland at first, we were amazed at the size of the fishing industry here. Acres of little fish spread out on racks to dry in the sun. The skipper turned away towards a forested island which rises high above the lake. 15 Fish eagles live there. There it was that we floated about and fed the birds.

Afterwards followed a snorkelling session to swim between the famous turquoise, wite, yellow and dappled cichlids. (There are 850 fish species in the lake, the riches fresh water collection in the world.)

For the rest we indulged in blissfulness. Sat on the veranda for hours with its incomparable view. Followed young people swimming or rowing to the nearest island. We chatted about. Read and wrote. Took walks in the traditional village with a train of hawkers and children following us. Walked back along the beach where washing and bodies are washed. Teeth are brushed right there. Naked children play and swim in the water.

The days are lazy. The sun sets early. We eat various delicious curries, goat and fish, with the aromatic local rice. Here in the warmth of Africa where drums soothe us to sleep at night.

But all is not right in paradise. On our last morning we discovered that Kenya Air had brought our flight forward without notifying us. We had already missed the flight. Drama in many acts. Fortunately Nathan, the lodge’s manager, was there and he took over. We had to re-book and they managed to make an even bigger mess of everything. Once again we had to book with great effort and slow internet. Guesthouses and hotels had to be cancelled. Car hire had to be cancelled. Plans had to be adapted. Blessings’ hearse had to be re-booked… But, here we go! In spite of travels and disasters!

Malawi: Die roep van ‘n visarend

Die bootsman Nixson gee een lang fluit. Gooi ‘n vis hoog en ver oor die water. Dit dryf, want ‘n riet is deur die bek van die dooie vis se bek gedruk. ‘n Visarend antwoord. Die klank van Afrika. Skerp, met een lang fluit en twee kortes. Die mistieke klank kloof water, woude en hemele oop.

Uit die bome is daar ‘n roering. ‘n Visarend verlaat sy nes uit die hoogste kremetartboom teen die digte koppie van die eilandjie, span sy vlerke en begin nader sweef. Ek sien vir ‘n oomblik elke swart veer soos dit verder oopvlerk en teen die punte opkrul. Die trotse wit kop en bors hou teen ‘n vinnige spoed rigting. Oë gloei. Daar is ‘n geruis van vlerke. Vere wat lug oopklief. Dan gryp die oopgesperde pote die vis. Een magtige swaaibeweging. Soos ‘n skoppelmaai wat vinnig verbyswaai en net rakelings water raak.

Dan stol alles. Drome, verbeelding, wense, foto’s in tydskrifte, tv-programme. Daardie een oomblik word vir ewig onder al die membrane in my brein vasgebrand. Duideliker as ‘n foto.

Ons het gister by Monkey Bay aan die Malawimeer aangekom. Blessings het ons by die Zambiese grens ingewag. Ons skrik. Hy staan by ‘n glimswart stasiewa, soos ‘n lykswa. Een of ander nuwe Toyota wat ons nog nooit voorheen gesien het nie. Hy is ‘n behendige bestuurder en stuur ons vinnig en veilig deur bokke, honde, fietsers wat swaar gelaai is met sakke meelsakke, voetgangers en stukkende motors. By twee of drie van die tien polisie padblokades (ja, ek het hulle getel, en Blessings lag vir my…) moet ons paspoorte uithaal. Die amptenare is almal flink en vriendelik en vra hoe dit met ons gaan. Die jong dames in uniform is slank en mooi.

Ons ry via besige Lilongwe en verkyk ons aan die Saterdagoggendrukte met markte en massas mense wat stalletjies op sypaadjies beman. Daar is van doodskiste en grafstene onder sinkdakkies, tot suikeriet en diervelle in die ooptes. Nou en dan kom die verkeer tot stilstand en kan ons armoede en ‘n sukkelbestaan van nader sien. Elkeen hier probeer ‘n lewe maak. Verrassend is die stad skoon en sonder vullis, ten spyte van die baie mense.

Na ses ure se ry deur dorpies en landelikheid steek ons ‘n bergreeks oor met ‘n stadige en kronkelende bergpas. Aan die anderkant wag ‘n ander wêreld. Afgesonderd en primitief met ‘n armoedige sukkelbestaan. Modderhuisies meestal, en skoongebesemde werwe onder groot wildevye- of kremetartbome wat oor alles uittroon. Klein landerytjies. Klipperige koppies.

Die swart lykswa draai in by ons bestemming agter ‘n rietheining – Funky Cichlid. Vir die volgende vyf dae word ons deel van ‘n hedonistiese bestaan op die oord se heerlike wye stoep wat as’t ware oor die meer hang. Ons word baie gou gelykgemaak met lewensgenieters van hier en oor die hele wêreld: ‘n Britsevrou wat hier gebore en wat teruggekom het na haar man se dood om hier armsorg te doen. Gespierdes. Getatooëerdes. Manne met dreadlocks en verlore in hulle musiek op oorfone. Intellektueles wat alleen en bestudeerd sit met ‘n sigaret waaraan nie juis gesuig word nie. Maeres en dikkes. Jonges op wittebrood wat graag hulle trouringe wys. Rugsakdraers. ‘n Rambo-agtige reus van Durban wat al jare hier in die bosse bly en wat nog Afrikaans kan praat. Walglike ou Suid-Afrikaanse mans wat rondhang met hip plaaslike meisietjies en selfoonfoto’s van mekaar neem. ‘n Aangename New Yorker wat vir UNICEF werk sluit by ons aan en ons kliek dadelik en hy sorg vir ure se goeie geselskap. ‘n Mooi lang en maer meisie van Karribiese herkoms, wat in Californië grootgeword het wat haar Afrika wortels kom opsoek. Almal en nog meer.

Saans word vuur op die strand gemaak. Tromslaners kom. Afrika in beroering.

Die eerste oggend is ons uit op ‘n boot. Eers kuslangs. Staan verstom oor hoe groot die kleinvissiebedryf hier is. Morge en morge se vissies lê op stellasies om uit te droog. Die skipper swenk na ‘n bosbegroeide eilandjie wat hoog uitstaan. Daar woon 15 visarende. Dit is waar ons ronddryf en die voëls voer.

Daarna volg ‘n snorkelsessie om tussen die geroemde turkoois, wit, geel en bont cichlids te swem. (Daar is 850 visspesies in die meer, die rykste vaswater versameling ter wêreld.)

Verder gee ons onsself oor aan die saligheid. Sit vir ure op die stoep met ‘n onverbeterlike uitsig. Volg jongmense wat na die naaste eiland swem of roei. Ons gesels rond. Lees en skryf. Gaan stap in die tradisionele dorpie met ‘n hele trein van venters en kinders agterna. Kom strandlangs terug waar wasgoed en lywe gewas word. Tande word ook sommer net daar geborsel. Kaal kindertjies speel en swem in die water.

Die dae is lui. Die son sak vroeg. Ons eet verskillende soorte heerlike kerries, bok en vis, met die aromatiese plaaslike rys. Hier in die warmte van Afrika waar tromme ons snags aan die slaap sus.

Maar alles is nie wel in die paradys nie.Op ons laaste oggend moet ons ontdek Air Kenya het ons vlug vervroeg sonder om ons in kennis te stel, en ons het dit alreeds verpas. Drama in vele bedrywe. Gelukkig is Nathan daar, die oord se bestuurder, en hy neem oor. Ons moet herbespreek en hulle maak ‘n nog groter gemors daarvan. Weer ‘n keer met groot beslommernis en stadige internet bespreek. Gastehuise en hotelle moet gekanseleer word. Motorhuur is in die gedrang. Planne moet aangepas word. Blessings se lykswa moet herbespreek word… Maar hier gaat ons! Reise en rampe ten spyt!

Border post between Zambia and Malawi

Blessings waited for us in a shiny hearse-like vehicle for the 250 km trip to Lake Malawi

Small villages dotted all along the way

I counted 10 police check points along the way.

Taxi rank

Some villages are vibrant and busy.

Bicycles are main means of transportation

Take your goats for a walk…

Piles and piles of cheap clothes

Our home for the next few days. Funky Cichlid [siklit]  – named after the fish in the lake. It is the hub of all socialising in the area. We spent many, many hours chatting to all on the bar deck.

We became friends with the hawkers of this beach stand.

The golden hour

Drums and a bonfire

A neat yard and a huge frangipani tree

A typical house, on the main street of Cape Maclear

Restraunt

Morning chores – washing of clothes and cooking utensils in the lake

Our guide for the day is a well-informed Nixson.

A magnificent wild fig tree

Beach meeting

Drying racks for fish

While the mothers work, the boys catch fish

The beach view is of a factory

Hamerkops and egrets

Fishermen

Fishermen and their makoros

The fishing village of Cape Maclear is never-ending

No fish today, but firewood

On our way to Thumbi West Island

The ever present nature conservation officers – collecting park fees

Nixson preparing fresh fish to lure the fish eagles

Ready for action

Nixson, the fish eagle whisperer

And here it comes!

Perfect!

What a magnificent moment which one will never forget

Picnic on the rocks after a snorkelling session

The famous blue cichlid

Another golden hour
Like an impressionist painting
Baobab trees everywhere
The main street of Cape Maclear
How do you transport six bags of maize?
No mosquito repellent…
Serene
Welcome!
A communal kitchen
Admiring fresh produce
Fixing fishing nets
Washing pots and pans
Drying of fish
Venturing on the outskirts
We want to play!
In the maze of mud and grass houses
Wild fig tree
Broken leg
Fishing village
Only unmarried men are allowed to wash in the lake
Freedom
Constructing a fishing net
Young men
The beauty of the lake
Drinking fresh passion fruit juice at one of the other lodges
Drying baobab fruit- cream of tartar
Discussing serious matters
The only drinking water in town is available at scattered water points
Baobab street
Familiar face – child walking with fish in a basket
Last sunset
Blessings, our transfer guy with whom we spent many hours on the road
Lake Malawi: Market day and the little girl

Lake Malawi: Market day and the little girl

Two motorcycle taxis took us slowly between little mud and reed houses to the local market. At the far end of the little village of Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi. There we found an Africa we are insulated against with our shopping mall culture and Woolworths packaging.

On arrival we were a little disorentated and overwhelmed at first, like when you arrive at a completely strange and incomprehensible place and you can’t find your direction. The noise of tinny African Bob Marley music from all sides exacerbated my loss of balance. Also the smell of ash and wood fires, old meat, old oil, old rubbish. An old existence.

Friendly guys approached us because they wanted to escort us. It’s very nice of you, but we want to explore the market ourselves, because we knew they were going to cling to us and push us in directions and places where we didn’t want to be. This is something we have learned.

We walked in the direction of an open piece of land. An earthy informal square of bare sand. Piles of clothes lay about like great bundles of dirty washing. Women stood bent over rummaging through and picking out items, throwing to one side, lifting it up and stirring it through. We didn’t feel like the crowded narrow, dark market alleys as well.

A very small runny-nosed little girl came and took Anuta’s hand and held on. We began to walk and the little girl happily went wherever we did and wouldn’t let go. We asked some folks if they knew the child and where her house was. Would Anuta be accused of child trafficking? No-one seemed at all concerned. She would find her home again, they said. We twisted and turned away from the market, through a labyrinth of mud and reed houses, looking for the fish market. The little girl held on.

Later we reached the outskirts almost on the beach, but her little hand remained quietly and completely at ease in Anuta’s. At a tiny shop we bought her a lollipop. Immediately, as if by magic, a horde of wild little children surrounded us, also wanting a lollipop. When she had the sweet in her hand, she took off at speed and disappeared behind the first grass screen. About two years old and already so streetwise…

There is another kind of activity where the little fish are dried next to the lake, supplying protein to the country. The night’s catch is boiled briefly in woven baskets in salt water and then spread out on the drying racks. There are little fish wherever you look and we wonder what will happen one day when there isn’t a single fish left in the lake.

Anuta didn’t feel like entering the steamy half-light of the narrow market passages where bodies and smells become one. I braved it, looking carefully where to tread as I moved with the slow flow of humanity. Music blared from every stall. Reggae. African Beat. Bongo Flava. Owners guarding their stalls, sometimes behind chicken wire to protect their goods. Sweets, cooldrink, oil, sugar and salt. Fresh produce originating from the small fields surrounding the village is sold at open stalls. Mostly sweet potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, chillies, leaves, eggs. Dried beans, maize and rice form the staple diet. Scooped up in your hands and sold by measure or weight.

On the edge of the market are the eateries with their black kitchens – Sheila Cussons’ poem comes to mind. ((Die swart kombuis het balke/die mure is berook/in ‘n groot gekraakte erdebeker/woon bedags die nagskof-spook)(The black kitchen has beams/the walls are smoked/in a large cracked earthen jar/by day lives the night shift ghost) The walls have a patina of smoke, ash, fat, oil and evil spirits. Piles of meat lie on dirty wooden blocks covered by a veil of flies and wait to be either sold or fried in old oil. Also thick slices of sweet potato – the only bright spots in the darkness.

Here everything is about existence. About survival. About food in the stomach.

Our taxi guys stood waiting unhurriedly by their motorcycles to take us back. We climbed onto the seats and they steered the bikes deftly along the dirt roads. Back to Funky Cichlid where we were staying for a couple of days. Where coffee and crunchies awaited us. Served on a nice clean tablecloth.

Malawi: Markdag en die dogtertjie

Twee motorfietstaxi’s ry ons stadig tussen die modder- en riethuisies deur na die plaaslike mark toe. Aan die heel anderkant van die dorpie Cape Maclear aan die Malawimeer. Daar waar ons ‘n Afrika vind waarteen ons met ons shopping mall-ingesteldheid en Woolworthsverpakkings beskut is.

Eers is ons met die aankoms ‘n bietjie verward en oorweldig, soos wanneer jy op ‘n heel vreemde en onverstaanbare plek aankom en jy nie jou rigting kan kry nie. Die geraas van blikkerige Afrika-Bob Marleymusiek van alle kante gooi my verder van balans. Ook die reuk van as en houtvure, ou vleis, ou olie, ou vullis. ‘n Ou lewe.

Vriendelike manne nader ons, they want to escort us. It is very nice of you, but we want to explore the market ourselves, want ons weet hulle gaan aan ons klou en in rigtings en dwing waar ons nie wil wees nie. Het ons geleer.

Ons mik na ‘n oopte. ‘n Aardse informele plein van sand. Hope klere lê oral soos groot bondels vuil wasgoed. Vrouens staan gebukkend en soek uit, gooi eenkant, lig dit op en krap deurmekaar. Ons sien nog nie kans vir die drukte van die nou en donker markgangetjies nie.

‘n Baie klein vuil snotneus dogtertjie kom vat aan Anuta se hand en klou. Ons begin stap en die dogtertjie tou saam en wil glad nie haar hand los nie. Ons vra rond, is die kind verdwaal? Gaan sy ooit weer haar huis vind? Gaan Anuta van kinderontvoering aangekla word? Niemand is gesteur nie, sy sal weer haar huis vind, sê hulle. Ons kronkel later weg van die mark, deur ‘n labirint van modder en riethuise, opsoek na die vismark. Die dogtertjie klou.

Later is ons aan die buitewyke en byna op die strand, maar haar hand bly heel rustig en ongestoord in Anuta s’n. By ‘n winkeltjie koop ons vir haar ‘n suiglekker. Dadelik is daar ‘n skare wilde kindertjies by wat ook wil hê. Toe die kleintjie die lekker in haar hand het, trek sy weg met ‘n spoed en verdwyn om die eerste grasheining. Omtrent twee jaar oud, en alreeds streetwise…

Waar die kleinvissies aan die meer uitgedroog word is dit ‘n ander bedrywigheid wat proteïne aan die hele land verskaf. Die nag se vangs word in mandjies in baddens in soutwater gekook en dan op die droogstellasies gesorteer. Daar is vissies net waar jy kyk en ons wonder wat die dag sal gebeur wanneer daar nie meer ‘n enkele vis in die meer oor is nie.

Anuta sien nie kans vir die bedompigheid en skemerte van die nou markgangetjies nie, waar lywe en reuke teen mekaar skuur. Ek durf dit aan, kyk mooi waar ek trap terwyl ek in ‘n tydsame stroom beland. Uit elke stalletjie blêr musiek. Reggae. African Beat. Bongo Flava. Eienaars wat waak by hulle stalletjies – soms agter ‘n sifdraad om sy ware te beskerm. Soetgoed, tandepasta, koeldrank, olie, suiker en sout. Daar word handel gedryf in vars produkte wat op die klein lappies grond buite die dorp gekweek word. Baie geelpatats, tamaties, avokado’s, rissies, blare, eiers, en ek sien selfs eiervrug. Bone, mielies en rys is stapelvoedsel. Dit skep jy handevol en word dit per maat verkoop. In houers of met ‘n ou weegskaal afgemeet.

 

Aan die soom van die mark is die eetplekke met hulle swart kombuise – gedagtig aan Sheila Cussons se gedig. (Die swart kombuis het balke/die mure is berook/in ‘n groot gekraakte erdebeker/woon bedags die nagskof-spook) Die mure het ‘n patina van rook, as, vet, olie en bose geeste. Daar lê hompe vleis op ou vuil houtblokke met ‘n sluier vliëe en wag om gekoop of in ou olie gebraai te word. Ook groot dik skywe geelpatats – die enigste helderheid in die donkerte.

Hier gaan alles oor bestaan. Oor oorlewing. Oor kos in die maag.

Ons taximanne staan rustig om ons met die motorfietse terug te neem. Ons klim agterop en hulle stuur die motorfietse behendig oor sandpaaie. Terug na Funky Cichlid toe waar ons vir ‘n paar dae tuis is. Waar koffie en koekies op ons wag. Bedien op ‘n mooi skoon tafeldoek.

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Motorbike taxis!

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There Anuta goes!

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The nightshift ghost lives in a black kitchen…

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At first we were a bit disorientated.

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Deep fried sweet potatoes

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Would you booze here?

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Like dirty washing

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Welcome!