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An autumn day in the Overberg. I’m off to Kleinmond and Betty’s Bay to draw, but, despite the sunlight, things are hazy and I decide instead to go inland. I take the road up the Hemel en Aarde Valley. We wind gently upwards past fabled wine estates. I have my sketching stuff with me, and of course the company of the intrepid Africanis, ears straight up, watching for baboons and guinea- fowl. At the top of the valley there’s a dirt road with a sign saying Karwyderskraal. I take a left there. I noodle on down the road, eating the dust of urgent Toyota bakkies. Where are they going in such a rush? They have business on those wine estates. Or maybe they’re Karwydering things. I take a right up a pine tree avenue, the De Bos dam down below. I’m seeing a lot of stuff, but its just not composing itself. Out of the car, there’s a chill wind, and I can’t get the car facing the right direction. I close the door on my thumb. I feel badly dressed, cranky, and out of sorts. I need new shoes. The clock is ticking.

Back on the dam wall, I pull up alongside a large SUV, and we peek over the edge. Two men and a woman. Swimmers, one in a wet suit and two soaking in the morning light. Snatches of talk drift up, and there are tales of Iron Men and other endurances. I confess, dear reader, that for a moment, I envy their youth and their strength.

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After a while the woman comes up the embankment and she pats Lulu and tells me, by way of explanation, that they are Training. Three people in their productive prime whiling away a Tuesday morning sloshing around the De Bos dam. Training,eh? No wonder the economy’s gone to pot. Straightening my shoulders, I said to her “I am doing Aesthetic Research.” Nah, I didn’t say that. “I’m just knocking around” is what I told her.

We dawdle up the valley until we get to the Teslaarsdal road. At last, the dirt road I’m looking for! A kilometer down the road, I pull up and start a drawing. It is noon now and warming, and I’ve stopped the nonsense of looking for picturesque things to draw. There’s a craggy outcrop to my left, but I’m looking instead at some bland fields and a grey nondescript hill. After a while a car pulls up next to me, and dispenses a man and woman, who thank the driver for the lift. They wander off towards Teslaarsdal with nothing on the horizon. The man in the car next to me struggles for a while to start the engine, and I ignore him steadfastly. Eventually it splutters to life, and away he goes. It’s hot now and I need suntan lotion. I find some in the console of the car. It is cheap green allegedly zinc -based stuff targeted at surfers. Why did I buy it? I apply it first to the back of my neck, then to my arm. My forearm is now bright green and sticky as if dipped in nuclear slime. Yay!

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A few kilometres towards Teslaarsdal I see the man and woman trundling along the road. I stop to give them a ride. “Muli bwanji!” I say as they get into the car. The Malawian greeting is met with great surprise and mirth. Perhaps its just my bad pronounciation. I drop them at a farm gate further on down the road. Eventually I get to the metropolis of Teslaarsdal. Nothing more, perhaps, than a gradual expansion of smallholdings and two new (and ugly) facebrick shops. It merits another visit but for now I have one more drawing to do, so we get back onto the dirt, trustfully following signposts that give no indication of distance.

I go on through the agricultural wasteland. It is difficult to think of it as anything else. Rather like the world evoked by Andrew Wyeth’s great painting ” Christina’s world,” except more so.

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This is the world us bread -eaters have made. Scrubland – once the home of many small mammals and the raptors that lived off them –  makes way for wheat; our carb-craving knows no end. Outside of the odd sheep, there really is very little life here, although farmers are encouraging the blue cranes endemic to the area. And I saw a heron. And five egrets.

Its getting on, shadows are lengthening and the light yellowing. Despite these morbid thoughts, it looks beautiful. I stop the car on a hill and do my last drawing of the day, overlooking a cluster of bluegums and gentle hills marked through with giant scribbles and scrawls. And then its back around the Kleinrivier mountains to the suburban seaside.

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Kimberley. Not really known as an art epicentre. But wait, in the middle of town there’s the William Humphreys Gallery, one of the country’s finest public art institutions. Your blogger was there in July, showing off his latest work, and I tell you it was good. Under the hand of curator Ann Pretorius, the gallery has assembled a superb permanent collection. There’s a tea- room in a garden which is home to quite a few feral cats, as well as a statue of Queen Victoria. She stares determinedly at the palisade fence, a grandiose relic of a grandiose time. The passing students of Sol Plaatjie university pay Her not the slightest notice.

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a tot of Laudanum, anyone?

Approaching Kimberley from the south, you drive through bushveld with many beautiful thorn trees and historic battle sites. After just a little bit of semi- industrial stuff, you’re right in the town. A town that has a lot of history etched into it. This is where South Africa met Modernity. A vast onrushing money -grabbing multinational mob was unleashed right here on the arid plains, and the old pastoral country was dead and buried. Some of that mob did very well for themselves, leaving us some splendid homes to look at, like these in Carrington road.

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What is it about these houses? I think they’re marvellous, perfect in every way. So much better than the concrete bunkers favoured by today’s well-to-do. Glance downwards, and the paving stones are carved granite. There they are in the picture above. Hand carved granite paving stones! Not messing around then, your colonial-era road builders.They were in it for the long haul,  thinking Remain,  definitely. Near the CBD,  I found this architectural oddity:

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It comes complete with a trashed -out parking lot, and where are the windows? What would a future civilisation make of this edifice? Will they think it a temple to strange gods, the gods of small bright stones? A place where pale-skinned initiates peered for hours at the stones, in rooms without north-facing windows?

After the exhibition opening, we went to the Kimberley Club for a late and large supper. There are ghosts of a former world here, notably bad-hearted Cecil Rhodes. He lurks in the garden, warily keeping an eye on the door. These days, no doubt, new elites are hatching schemes and cutting deals at the same old bar, whiskies in hand. Coming out of the Club, I took a wrong turn and briefly went on a late-night drive through the CBD. For a little while I was lost and suddenly alone in the empty litter -strewn streets. I confess, a primal child- like tightening in the chest crept up on me. Then I came across a gang of black  men repairing the road outside the town hall.

Which way to Du ToitsPan road? I asked.

Ons praat nie Engels nie, praat Afrikaans! said they.

I passed a shebeen along the way. Loud and clear, the sounds of Elvis’s Blue Suede Shoes belted forth out of the darkness. I’m still trying to figure that out, that burst of rockabilly music where I never thought I’d find it.

 

 

The words “We want our land back” spray-painted on a wall in Worcester directed my attention to the matter at hand: I was on the road to hang our show called “Ons Land |Our Land.” Photographer Monique Pelser and I have a visual conversation about the land; how ‘old’ and ‘new’ media vary and concur in their representations of it. I spent the night in Hanover, and in the morning light I skirted the edge of town where dirt roads lure you into the interior. A road like this is hard to resist, but I had a date in Bloemfontein, so I headed back to the dreaded N1. For the first time, I noticed Ngunis on the arid land and the hardy beasts looked good to me.

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When approached by a person with a camera, a cow tends to offer the rear end. But if you sit among them with a pencil and sketchbook, their curiosity gets the better of them and they come up really close. Cows prefer representation by traditional media, clearly.

Monique and I got the show laid out and it was up on the walls in super quick time. The team at the Oliewenhuis were a pleasure to work with and we were treated like kings, housed and fed on the estate, our media and transport costs subsidised. All of this goes via the conduit of the National Museum in Bloemfontein, which is funded by the department of Arts and Culture. Think about that (rather than Nkandla) when filling in your IRP6 forms, fellow taxpayers. Professor Tony Ulyatt gave us a smart and insightful opening talk; asking questions like “What do we mean when we say OUR land, and who, exactly are WE to claim it?” You only have to drive past a cemetery to understand that the idea of us owning the land is illusory.

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I postponed the search for the Maluti site and got on the road home. On the N1 I noticed grimy people, absolute down and outers, tramping along, eyes fixed on the side of the road, voices in their heads driving them on. How do they survive out here without food and water? There were many stoppages for roadworks, much jostling for position amongst big trucks, and some pretty bad driving. I saw burnt out car wrecks, vervet monkeys, and crows circling overhead. Plastic bags dotted the scrublands where secretary birds once roamed.

Coming around a long slow uphill curve, there was a truck pulling off to the left of the road. As I drove past, I noticed a small troop of baboons on the right, and in my rear view mirror I saw them dashing across the road towards the stationary truck. I thought perhaps the truck driver had a thing for the baboons, that perhaps once a week he stopped at that nondescript place and had his lunch and fed the baboons, which broke the tedium and loneliness of the long haul south. And then I thought he was feeding them because he wanted to kill one to sell to a sangoma for muti. Strange thoughts one has on the open road. Strange land.

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Yes, my friends. The show at Stellenbosch opened two weeks ago. We had a good turnout and some sales. Sean o’ Toole gave us a charming opening. He read from his short story about an artist searching for Pierneef sites. The ghost of Pierneef appears to scoff at the idea, to scoff at his own paintings even. I enjoyed that. Several times, alone, quasi lost and staying in dubious lodgings, I too have felt the sniggering of Oom Henk over my shoulder.

the marathon, day 2

Hanging this show was gruelling, with a lot of archaic twiddling of fishing line and a good deal of hammering. It took Monique and I, ably assisted by one Anton Chapman, a full four days to get it looking right. After the flutter of the opening I went through to Stellies several more times and then tuned out. With my frozen shoulder hurting like hell, and clutching a copy of James Whyle’s The Book of War, we headed to the nether reaches of the Overberg.

On the pont at Malgas

Two days under the big sky at De Hoop was good medicine, but I still needed to get further away. We went across the pont at Malgas and on dirt through stony farmland to Witsand. There were jackal buzzards and blue cranes. The farmhouses were neat and well kept. Aside from a crazed Telkom van narrowly missing us at high speed, there was no one about. We could have been in the 1970s. We went on past Vermaaklikheid to the remote outpost of Puntjie, which has cottages dating from the 1890s. The fynbos was broken by tall aloes as we ascended the last hill and got to a firmly locked farm gate. Clever bastards, keeping Nirvana to themselves. Cathy and I took a picnic lunch of bread, cheese and cold wors and then turned back home…

the mythical kingdom of Puntjie

And so to Parys, resting quietly on the banks of the mighty Vaal river. For those of you who always wondered, it was named by the town engineer, a survivor of the Franco Prussian war of 1870. The main road in Parys is gentrified, with eateries and antique shops dotted around. But the old CBD has succumbed to a severe dose of Potholemia. And there was a lot of rubbish strewn around the streets: a little bit of Lagos on the highveld. I headed for the river clutching the usual photostat from NJ Coetzee’s Pierneef book. Some locals were enjoying a late afternoon joint on the riverbank and were keen to talk, but I scurried off intent on my quest.

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Pierneef could have been anywhere here: the basic ingredients of river, rocks and willow trees are everywhere. Coetzee however has suggested the site is at a picnic spot to the North of the town, close to a weir on the river and near to the town’s railway station. I suspended the search till the next day, and settled into my B&B closely watch by a gang of vervet monkeys intent on raiding the outdoor kitchen. There was no running water in the room the next morning. I told the owner on my way out and he wearily suggested I wash my face in his swimming pool – water floweth along the riverbank but not too often in the town’s piping, it seems.

J H Pierneef, Vaal Rivier, Parys. Oil on canvas

Pierneef’s technique on the panels was simple and highly effective. Field sketches were blocked off and enlarged onto the canvas. Dark outlines of forms were then drawn in, followed by flat swathes of colour. A cartoonist would use exactly the same method, and sometimes Pierneef leans strongly into the land of his American contemporary Walt Disney. Indeed, I met a cowboy or two at the old Plesieroord, but they were more Cormac McCarthy than Disney, fishing for lunch whilst breakfasting on white rolls and beer.

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There were signs of a vanished civilisation here, one that has recently retreated. The many bungalows and braai spaces have fallen into disrepair. Strange structures adorn the riverbank, their purpose no longer clear. The volk have surrendered the public spaces and retreated to their game ranches. I ended up doing a watercolour downriver, but in the late afternoon I went back and there were the manne, sitting around a fire, clutching a quart of Black Label. They were blacker than before, and they were listening to kwaito music as the river flowed on by….

Boeredisney in Parys

November 2011. I’m on my way to find the mythical forest of Houtbos. That’s a long way north of Hermanus, and a lot empty space ahead.

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I stopped over in that little known centre of culinary excellence called Hopetown. Following a tip-off from the locals, I went looking for supper at the cafe at the BP garage, where they were well stocked in vetkoek, cold hard boiled eggs and pink viennas. But I chose one of these for R12. It was superb.

What to eat in Hopetown

In the morning I went through grasslands and thorn trees to Kimberley. I have an obscure route through the mieliefields and dorpies to Gauteng. Beyond Boshoff, I start hitting potholes, about 200 kilometres worth of them. I have to watch the road carefully now, and can’t look away as much as I like to. Resenting this, I start thinking bad thoughts about our democracy. I’m going to Parys, the first stopoff on my way to finding several sites I haven’t been to yet. The Jeep suspension is getting hammered, but at least I have Pierneefian trees to make me feel better…

Ah, so much better than fynbos!

Mr Miles

Deep in the hinterland of the Overberg there is a hamlet called Baardskeerdersbos. Every Autumn and Spring, the resident artists open their doors for the B’bos Art Route. The visitor will see a mixed bag of creativity, from woodworking to pottery and quilting. The kingpins, however, are Joshua Miles and Niël Jonker, and I always look forward to seeing what they’ve been up to. Joshua Miles is now recognised as one of our best exponents of the woodcut. His colour prints of landscape and pastoral life are alluring little gems. Recently he has moved to a more monochrome spectrum. The work seems to suggest a dialogue between a very old printmaking technique and its modern cousin, the digital image, where the old medium is simply far more intriguing than the new. (Pierneef, a brilliant printmaker, would have been interested.)

the tonal woodcut

B’bos has been in existence for many years, for no obvious reason as far as I can tell. In the late 1600s a party of sleeping explorers had their beards trimmed by scary looking spiders – hence the name. Since the artists moved in and yuppie art buyers followed, property prices have risen. There’s a division of sorts between the new and old inhabitants, who can still be seen around town on their donkey carts. They looked friendly, but I moved quickly on because as a teenager I saw Deliverance and I know how nasty those hillbillies can be .

the moment captured

Niël Jonker has been painting the Overberg region for a few years now. He paints outside, on the spot. This takes some courage. Once you’ve found your site and set up your kit, you find your subject changing with the light. You have to work fast, there are flies buzzing around you, it’s hot, and the wind keeps blowing sand into your palette. Strange then, that this difficult and noble business has come to be seen as the domain of the amateur. (What serious young art student would be caught en plein air with brush in hand? Uncool!) Mr Jonker, who makes a mean loaf of ciabatta bread, has recently turned his hand to sculpting. The bronzes in his garden suggest a significant talent there too.

Mr Jonker

In an artworld full of hype and commercialism, the B’bos Art Route offers a glimpse into a rare authenticity. These artists are committed to place and practice – and their homes and families are evidence that they are thriving. Vorentoe, B’bos kêrels!

Early Autumn is harvest time in the Western Cape. We set off to the Solms-Delta Oesfees in Franschhoek. We went around the big mountains with young Lulu on the back seat. As we pulled into the Tokara wine estate for a snack, Lulu spewed up her breakfast. Hoping to find a dustbin nearby, I headed off past the well heeled diners on the patio, carrying a Checkers packet full of dog vomit. There was no dustbin outside or in the hyper chic interior. I ordered a muffin from the sleek haired waitress, unable to ask for assistance. Clutching a heated muffin and the Checkers bag I wandered back outside to Cathy and Lulu, who were huddled amongst the olive trees, near our battered old Polo. Talk about lowering the tone, ekse.

In Franschhoek we stayed with our painter friend Kerri Evans. She first showed at the Everard Read in Jo’burg about 15 years ago, when she was living in India.  Her portraits of Indian people were beautifully rendered, exotic and very appealing. The Johannesburgers voted with their cheque books and Evans was on her way.

Le atelier de Evans

Evans has concentrated on portraiture and the figure. What draws you into her work is the sheer painterliness of it. One knows, looking at an Evans portrait, that this is a likeness – often meticulously rendered – but at the same time there’s a looseness, a revelling in the brushwork and the sheer possibilities of paint. The human figure and face are a pretext, a point of departure for Evans’ real concerns, which are not unlike those of abstract painters. In abstract painting, the ‘subject’ of the work is often the process of painting itself. Scrutinise an Evans painting and you will see any number of glazes, blurrings and overpaintings: you will be looking at a record of how the thing was arrived at.

Whereas a lot of us painters make use of a grid or an overhead projector to transfer our original image onto the canvas, Evans does no preliminary drawing. Using flat brushes, the forms are laid in loosely in thin washes: after many alterations and additions the image is arrived at. For those who think Evans is a methodical kind of painter who knows a trick or two about covering her tracks, the reverse is true. She says she starts every painting not knowing how she did the last one and if she can do it again. Evans has never been comfortable working on canvas – she prefers the super smooth surface of prepared masonite and has recently discovered working onto unprimed metal sheets – a highly stable surface if ever there was one.

what, no canvas?

There is an awful lot of bad painting in the world, a lot of it given more importance than it deserves. Evans works in the long tradition of figurative painting. But within those confines, she is pushing back boundaries. Her work deserves to last.

Ja. Sunday morning and I’m off to take a pic of the summer morning light on the old harbour in Hermanus.  The shadows in Pierneef’s painting of the harbour tell us that is when he did his sketches. It’s a beautiful day and there are bright yellow kayaks paddling across a placid sea.

spot the kayak

What is on my mind, however, is that I need to do a blog posting, and I’m expecting a call any moment from my blog coach, who lashes me if I don’t do a weekly posting. What should I write about? My recent sortie to Cape Town and the elusive Cape sites? The almost-getting-to-find the Stellenbosch site? A detour into Bellville and its period piece houses? Or should I write about an old trip to Louis Trichardt? Which way to jump?

meanwhile in Bellville...

Coach, I need a bit more time to think about this. A bit of time on the couch with the Sunday papers might help to ease the blogger’s block.

the blogger,blocked

That there is my new best friend, Lulu. Hoping the old bastard will go for a walk.

Over the hill and through the deserted Pelindaba parking lot.

Nature creeping into the cracks in the tarmac left by retreating Nuclear geeks. In his book “Of warriors, lovers and prophets,” Max du Preez tells us that the name Pelindaba means the debate (or problem) is finished. An atom bomb would be a good way of closing an argument, it’s true. But for now the argument is kind of shut down while we work on new Nationalisms and new debates. Across the Hartebeespoort Dam wall there are a whole lot of interesting businesses on the go. Next to the curio, fruit and sunglass vendors, large African animals proliferate.

try sawing off this horn

Kind of better than a stuffed rhino, I guess. Nevertheless there is something a bit post nuclear meltdown about these beasties. I put them into a modified version of Pierneef’s Hartebeespoort Dam painting and called it “Pelindabadiere.”

"pelindabdiere" Gouache. 20 x25 cm

Pierneef parking out on the stoep with Gustav Preller, sometime in the 30’s. I stopped off at Preller house on the way to find the Hartbeespoort Dam site. Preller, a pioneer of Afrikaans, edited Ons Vaderland and wrote a book on Piet Retief and other volumes on the Voortrekkers. His house is on a sunlit koppie with views of the Magaliesberg to the North. The use of nearby stone, slate and thatch makes a dwelling that perfectly fits its surroundings.

preller se plek

The place is a bit run down and there’s no-one else around. Around the back there’s a courtyard and some rondavels.

It was in one of these that the poet and naturalist Eugene Marais, worn down by decades of morphine addiction, spent his last days. The scale, shape and colour of the dwellings is deep South African, the work of people  in touch with their landscape. There’s a modesty of scale here that reflects early Afrikaner Nationalism, if you like. And just over the hill is the nuclear research facility of Pelindaba – the love child of a rampant lust for power.

Back down the N9, through Aberdeen and heading for the coast. I stop to take a look at one of those karoo dammetjies, the kind that Kobus Kloppers paints so beautifully:

bel vir kobus

Left at Uniondale and to Knysna via the fabled Prince Alfred pass. Another one of Uberpassbuilder Thomas Bain’s creations, the pass was built in 1867 and is 80k of dirt snaking through the majestic Outeniqua Mountains. I don’t know if Oom Henk took this path on his way to paint the Knysna Heads, but he should have. It’s wild, in an Alpine kind of way. Very…um….German.

Germanicus Africana

Pierneef was the son of a Dutch immigrant to Paul Kruger’s Transvaal Republic. He spent some of his school years in Holland, and visited Europe again in 1925. He was influenced by Art Nouveau and there are links to Piet Mondrian in the flatness and simplification of planes (and the obsessive renderings of trees). You can place him in the tradition of Northern European Romanicism. While the Francophone painters of the South sought to capture the passing moment, the depressed Northern painters looked to the landscape for something lasting and transcendental. This often involved intense almost scientific study of botany and geology.

Mondrian 'The Blue Tree" 1910

Pierneef, Boomstudies, Waterberg. 1915

After an hour of driving in honeyed afternoon light, you get into the belt of Knysna forest and the tall trees loom. I’m dozing now, tired out by all this beauty. Right at the end of the pass, some wit has left a message:

ja boet, loer is my job

A little trip up to Jo’burg is one of the reasons why I haven’t been posting. The other is that while I was there I got a rash from hell that drove me to distraction. Apparently it’s common practice for bloggers to post their rashes, but I’ll spare you that. In Jo’burg I met a photographer called Monique Pelser, and she too has been photographing the Pierneef sites. Which goes to prove that if you have an idea, you can be sure someone else is having it at exactly the same time. Monique tells me the Pierneef museum is moving to Stellenbosch. I’m trying to confirm.

If you are ever in Graaff Reinet, the taxidermist across the way from the Pierneef Museum is worth a look. They keep the main door closed though, as if to discourage casual enquiries or bunny huggers:

standing room only

I also encountered this bloke, who makes finely crafted greeting cards out of beads and wire.

He has a congratulatory sales technique: “Well done, I’m proud of you,” he says when you buy a card. He asked me “Are you the Big Man, the one who is going to place a Big Order?” No, actually china I’m looking for the Big Man myself .

Valley of Desolation oil on canvas 20x20cm

About ten years ago Hermann, Cathy and I were going up to Jo’burg when Hermann spotted this little beastie on the right hand side of the road

The legendary Tafernaki

Made out of stone, cement and broken glass, in the manner of Helen Martin of the Owl House,  it has some names inscribed on its chest, and next to it the word “Tafirnaki’. (Actually Tabirnaki.) It is situated on a nondescript stretch of road about 45ks south of Aberdeen.

bustling Aberdeen

Those who are in the habit of asking questions like “what is it” and “why?” will not be happy here. Better rather to make a cultish object of it and be sure to send the other initiates an sms whenever driving past.

c2001: Herr Niebuhr I presume?

Double click on photos to get them full screen size, dear reader, and you will see it does actually have FINS….

I’m leaving the volstruisdorpie for Graaf Reinet to check out the Pierneef Museum and the Valley of Desolation.  Its about 270 kms, which could take 3 hours, or maybe the whole day.  The road to Willowmore takes me through some wide open country with hills and aloes in bright sunlight.

No one else on the road….

ah...kudu country!

You go through the mountains at Buyspoort and you’re out of the Klein Karoo. As the landscape simplifies, the man-made mark on it seems more distinct. In Willowmore, a carefully put together but symbolically obscure piece:

draai of braai

But as I get into the Great Karoo I start to notice an array of enigmatic structures and curiosities that look like the interventions of a contemporary artist…

I’m padding through to the kitchen to make my morning tea and under the kitchen table there’s a heaving and a slithering thing heading away from me towards the bathroom door where it thrashes for a bit before finding its way underneath. I calmly seal the door before noticing I’m sweating. Then I go looking for the town’s snake catcher. A guy called Gerhard offers to shoot it. I still don’t know exactly what type of snake this is, so I head to my painter friend Diane McLean who tells me what to look for. And then I get a good look at it through the bathroom window.

gooie more suid afrika!

After quite a few calls and a flurry of sms to Hermann (there’s a cobra in the bathroom! Qrtrfgtr! Sit tight! Don’t let those fuckers kill that snake!) I get through to the Oudtshoorn Fire Department and half an hour later the okes arrive and deftly remove the snake: “Jy moet kalm wees. As jy woel, dan begin die slang ook woel .” They released it on the way back.

In the afternoon instead of going to the Poort I head out on a farm road and find myself in a kraal with some slightly haughty goats.

what's HE doing here?

Snakes. Goats. What the hell am I doing here? Get me to a shopping mall!

The famille Niehbuhr takes their leave and I’m alone in the old karoo house. If you go to the front stoep in the morning, you’re likely to find its lunchtime before you know it.

Hermann se plek

I head straight for the Poort. The road follows the river beneath giant crumpled cliffs. In summer the heat will knock you down, but in early winter there’s a clarity and stillness to this place that astounds me.

cowboy country?

Way down there in Hermanus the rain and cold is coming in and on the R62 it’s light and warm and cloudless and I can feel my winter coastal depression lifting as the road winds ahead.

is daaie die swart of blouberge?

In De Rust in the late afternoon there’s a donkey cart clattering down the main road. A tiny khoisan woman bearing a large pumpkin comes down the hill and tries to sell it to me. She’s lurching a bit, not only from the weight of the pumpkin. There’s a bloke hovering in the background. The pumpkin is the best thing that’s happened for some time, and its probably going to end badly. Slightly unsettled by this reminder of the abject state of our first people, I meet Hermann’s son Thomas and his American grandparents. They like the Klein Karoo, are puzzled by the ‘German speaking brown people’, and have an unnecessary fear of encountering a Cape Cobra.

rustic nirvana

(Double clicking on any photograph gets you an enlarged version)

Pierneef’s depopulated harbour in the 1920s:

 

Gutting those fish.

 

A regular hive of activity. OK. So maybe he did the drawing on a Sunday morning when everyone was in church. Today the action is above the harbour, the Euro and $ the catch. (note trained tracker dogs sniffing for Euro’s)

 

Op soek na die Euro

 

The harbour from above: Pierneef took his view sitting  near the milkwood on the right. The rocky overhang below that is also a great place to draw from. My friend Harry Kalmer didn’t like the soporific watercolours I did down there – he said I needed to get back to Joburg!

 

overlooking the harbour

 

We took the Jeep over the mountains to Franschoek to check out the Solms Delta Oesfees, where we heard some really good local music. I wanted to see my chinas in the Radio Kalahari Orkes, who I haven’t heard for a long time. They drove down from Jo’burg in a 1973 Kombi and played a blistering hot set that was an explosion of joy. The biggest figure in their musical heritage is a guy called Dawie de Lange, a 1930’s rebel boeremusikant who was banned from the airwaves by the Afrikaner establishment. I wonder if Pierneef ever heard him?

 

Die Orkes skop gat!

 

J H Pierneef’s Station Panels are cornerstones of South African landscape painting. They were placed in the old Johannesburg Station as adverts to travel the country.

But did these alluring places ever really exist? And how have they changed?

Taking up the invitation to travel 80 years later, Carl Becker set off to find out.

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