Cyclists continue to amaze us – this is in an Abbey in Provence!

 

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Trouble in paradise.

 

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The Maldives president recently announced he was looking to evacuate his entire 350,000 people to either Sri Lanka or Indonesia because his entire country was going to disappear rather fast beneath the ocean. In some places the islands have been sandbagged to a height of two to three metres already!

All of you who suffered under your parents littering the garden of your home with garden gnomes and other Starke-Ayres inspired paraphernalia might enjoy this story coming out of Germany:

Ban the gnome. There’s a new Nazi crime trial heading for Nuremburg and the gnome is to blame. The city’s public prosecutor’s office is conducting an investigation into the legality of German artist Ottmar Hörl displaying a garden gnome in the window of his home. An anonymous letter complained about the golden little fellow giving a Hitleresque salute. Der Spiegel quotes spokesperson Wolfgang Träg as explaining to the German press agency DPA that the display of the symbols of organisations which are banned under Germany’s constitution — such as the Nazi party — is only lawful if the organisation is being overtly criticised. “We are currently deciding whether the case of the garden gnomes is as clear cut as placards with crossed-out swastikas.”

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Get a life.

Here’s a hilarious – but with a touch of pathos – account of what it’s like to live with a cyclist, particularly when Le Tour is on:

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The agony of the Tour de France (and middle-aged cyclists)

Margot Saville writes:

While Julius Caesar feared the Ides of March, for those of us lucky enough to live with a cyclist, it is the whole month of July that we dread. For that can only mean one thing; the agony of the Tour de France.

Although Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans have been getting all the attention, personally, I think the maillot jaune should be awarded to the person who has to share a house with one bloke, two children and ONE television, permanently tuned to SBS.

Here is the average July day in our household:

5.55pm. I pour large glass of wine.

6.00pm. Husband sprints home from work and displaces children from The Simpsons in order to watch Tour highlights on SBS. Fifteen minute screaming match ensues.

6.10pm. I pour second glass of wine.

6.30pm. All warring parties, none of whom is now speaking to the other, sit down for “family dinner.”

9.30pm to God knows when. Spouse watches live coverage of le Tour.

5.30am. Gets up to go cycling. (In training for something, is it World Masters’ Games? Round the Bay? Have actually forgotten…)

It is now Week Three, and the usual hideous transformation has taken place. Extreme sleep deprivation combined with adrenalin overload has turned him into a shuffling, red-eyed zombie, topped off with a consumptive cough.

I have tried to take an interest, I really have, but it’s hard to tell them all apart; let’s face it, all bicycles look the same, and, when the camera is shoved up their bony backsides, so do all the riders. And, sadly, the only element of sport I’m vaguely interested in — the beefcake factor — is quite low. I’ve seen Lance Armstrong in the flesh, and he is smaller than my 12-year-old. And as for pint-sized Cadel, I’m not sure why his voice is so squeaky, but 25 years of very tight lycra may have something to do with it.

If you want to check out the lean waxed calves of a few Euros, then head to the Italian café in Gouger St, Adelaide in January, where the Spanish team hangs out during the Tour Down Under. But after six hours sitting on a very narrow cycling saddle, do we really think they are capable of getting a leg over the podium girls? Why isn’t Mr Cycling Know-All Michael Tomalaris talking about that?

However, it appears I am not alone in my misery. Cycling is so popular in this country it’s been dubbed “The New Golf’”; it’s not hard to see why, as it is the perfect sport for middle-aged men. They can’t compete on performance (they’re too old) but they can compete on the thing that really counts, which is spending money. It is entirely possible to squander a fortune on kit and, get this, ONLY OTHER CYCLISTS WILL NOTICE. This means that you can spend up big without being caught out by the wife.

One of our friends owns several bikes, but his wife thinks there is only one, because she can’ t tell them apart. Another mate had a furious row with her husband when she discovered the invoice from the local bike boutique, not realising that it was only the deposit. And then there’s the clothes; the latest “it” brand is Rapha, which comes from the stable of high-profile British designer Paul Smith. I know the cost of a Paul Smith handbag, and it is chicken feed compared to his designer lycra (unbelievably, that is not an oxymoron). For instance, on the Rapha website there are Grand Tour Gloves, made from “African hair sheep leather.”

According to the copy, “African hair sheep live on the arid savannah of Eastern Africa. To cope with the heat and dry conditions, the hair sheep have extremely thin but strong skin.”

“A road rider using gloves made of hair sheep gets the confidence and feel of riding bare handed, but with the protection and comfort of the highest quality glove on the market.” All for just $US160.

You can see the attraction, can’t you? I think they just ride to Coluzzi, fondle each other’s gloves, drink three short blacks and ride home. Why bother doing any actual cycling?

I could go on and on — there’s the weight obsession, weird eating habits (Lance weighs his food before he eats it), hair removal techniques, supplements and pharmaceuticals (joke), not to mention a brand of Swiss clothing called Assos — who says the Swiss don’t have a sense of humour?

But come July 26, when some tiny, hairless teenager hurtles through the base of the Arc de Triomphe and dons a retina-burning yellow jersey, I will be raising a glass to the end of Dry July (as if) and the Tour de France and the resumption of normal family life.

In the final verse of Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Bicycles, he says:

I thought about evening when the boys wash up, sing, eat, raise a cup of wine in honor of love and life, and waiting at the door, the bicycle, stilled,?because?only moving?does it have a soul, and fallen there?it isn’t a translucent insect humming?through summer but a cold skeleton that will return to life only when it’s needed,?when it’s light,?that is, with?the resurrection?of each day.

Amen to that.

[thanks, Crikey]

Reproduced from the International Herald Tribune (21 July) – an uplifting tale and one which can only happen in Africa:

The author is Mark Gevisser..

Earlier this year, I went to the Edenvale Home Affairs office, on a strip of auto-repair shops and scrap yards northeast of Johannesburg, to book my marriage. “Same sex or opposite sex?” barked the young black woman, gold hoops in her ears to match her attitude.

It took me a moment to respond. “Same sex,” I said, a little too loudly, looking around to see if any of the other clerks would look up in shock, or perhaps just interest. They did not.

“The marriage officer likes to do the same-sexes early in the morning,” the woman said briskly, consulting her book. “Too much paperwork, you people. You’ve made our lives much more difficult.”

Three years previously, the South African Parliament passed a law permitting gay marriage, upon injunction from the highest court in the land. My partner and I had been together for nearly two decades. We decided to marry now because it would facilitate our move to France, where he had been offered a job. It was, we told each other, just an administrative matter.

We could have done it more easily — through a gay judge I know, for example — but I wanted to see the system work for us. And so far I was not encouraged. Like all Home Affairs offices, Edenvale was grimy and arcane, contemptuous and chaotic — the last place on earth you would want to marry. In the old days, Home Affairs was the processing room of apartheid: it told you who you were and where you could be. These days, it was still a place of a million frustrations and rages a day. And I was about to have one of them.

But the woman pre-empted my lecture on public service by shoving a form across to me, noting the time and date of our appointment. With a green highlighter she underlined a reminder that at least two witnesses were required. “We have room for 20,” she said, “so bring all your friends and family.” “No, no,” I protested. “It’ll be just two. We don’t want to make a fuss.”

She arched her eyebrows disapprovingly and pulled out a pink highlighter to underline another injunction: “If you have rings, please bring them with you.”

We were not planning on rings, I said.

“Why not?” She answered her own question: “Ah, you don’t want to make a fuss!” And then, in counselling mode: “Do you think you are a second-class citizen because you are gay? You have full rights in this new South Africa. You have the right to make a fuss.”

Here I was, an entirely empowered middle-class white man being lectured to by a young woman from the townships about my rights. And here we were, three weeks later, with rings but alas only two witnesses, being ushered up the stairs and into Room 8: Marriages.

We entered a parallel universe. Porcelain swans swam between arrangements of orange and brown dried flowers, and on every available surface there were cascades of what turned out on closer inspection to be empty ring boxes. It was inexplicable at first, then comical, then unexpectedly moving.

“You like it?” trilled a voice behind us. An Afrikaner woman, probably in her early 60s, had entered. She introduced herself as Mrs. Austin: she was actually in finance, but she loved marrying people so much that she had applied for a license and now did it two mornings a week. She explained that each couple was invited to leave its ring boxes to contribute to her installation.

Our actual marriage was a sideshow. The main event was Mrs. Austin herself, who regaled us with stories of the marriages she had performed. She had to “go on a training” to learn how to marry gay people, she told us, but it had been worth it. She was proud to have done almost 200 already, more than anyone else in the region. But she made no secret of her disappointment at our lack of campery. Where were the feathers, the Champagne? After presiding over the swapping of rings, she extracted a red heart-shaped ring box from her installation and balanced it on our joined hands for a photograph.

Even though Mrs. Austin kept on referring to us as “same-sex” and heterosexuals as “normal,” we were swept out of Room 8 on a tide of hilarity. Even the fact that she could not furnish us with a marriage certificate — the computers had been down for six weeks because someone had stolen the cables — did not tamp down the good feelings. We were a white man and a black man, free to be together in the country of our birth, treated with dignity and humanity by a system that had denied both for so long. Well worth the fuss.

Mark Gevisser is the author of “A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream.”

Soon after we landed in driving rain, Cape Town’s weather decided to change. And, what a glorious change it has proved to be: still days, bright sunshine and the Atlantic Ocean in all its finery.

Several images hit the mark in our first week back here:

A trip to the SARS (South African Revenue Service) building in central Cape Town to have car papers stamped was an education. The only thing missing was live chickens. However, we made it – papers stamped and now we wait once again for the Customs/Pickfords to decide when the Z3 will be released from custody.

A trip with Crooksie (plus new lady) to Volkskombuis in Stellenbosch for Friday lunch was a trip back down memory lane – we courted there! Meraai’s chicken pie is still on the menu and time has not diminished its taste nor quality.

A short trip at about 180kmph (Crooksie was driving) to Bilton farm saw us being invited to join a KLM crew in a wine and chocolate tasting. Quite why people have to describe wines in flavours of peaches, bananas and truffles (another way of saying that it smelt like the inside of a Shoprite cooler bag) – however, the Dutch air crew bought all the bullshit and were suitably impressed.

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[It was a good lunch and great wine tasting]

A trip down Voortrekker Road, Maitland will reveal a new squatter camp – amongst the graves in the Wolraad Woltemade Cemetery. The squatter are enjoying the fresh flowers, freshly mowed lawns and convenient marble pillars on which to affix their sunshade clothes.

Saturday was family day and a lunch with the Mother and Thor at Heaven in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley. Great day but Somerset West is now so crowded with hawkers that it takes you two hours to get there. Items on sale are the usual motley selection of phone chargers, bugles, maps (of the world and RSA), hats, caps, scarves, paintings, ‘how to make money’ brochures and a new range of replica Springbok rugby jumpers.

Sunday was a great day out in Noordhoek with the boys and girls at Cafe Roux. Quite a social shift is happening with the young upwardly mobile moving to Kommetjie, Noordhoek and Scarborough. Very festive.

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[Burgers, beer, curry and rose – Cafe Roux!]

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[Not a shabby little winter sunset from the Safehouse]

Sien julle

Lovonne and Simon

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[with apologies to American friends and thanks to Jenny W]

Our wonderful gardener, Gilles, has supplied these pics of his completion planting around the pool house and the car park.

Merci, Gilles!

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             Au bientot

            Lovonne and Simon

Our move back to Camps Bay for high summer in Provence would not be complete without some reflection on the events of the past 17 weeks.

The Restaurants –

Top of the list has to be Maison Gouin in Coustellet. Housed in a nondescript building in an equally nondescript village, MG is a deli/butchery during normal trading hours and restaurant for lunch and dinner. Ron’s birthday lunch was memorable.

Patrice and Patricia in Cuceron run a close second. Restaurant L’Etang is a must for anyone visiting the area. Sitting under the trees, feast on the Beef Daube Provencal and there’s a guarantee you would never have tasted mashed potato like that – ever.

On the ‘cheap and cheerful’ side it’s Cafe de la Poste in Goult by a short head from the newcomer to Menerbes – Le P’tit Bouchon. After that, for sheer ambience and fun, Le Petit Jardin in Isle sur l’Sorgue. And, let’s not forget Robion’s finest – Lou Luberon!

Here’s Jenny with her small-ish dessert at Cafe de la Poste.

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The Markets –

The big Mama of them all has to be Isle sur l’Sorgue. Even though you have to wade through tons of clutter that no-one else wants, the fabrics, fashion, food and flowers are all overwhelming. And, let’s not forget Cafe de France and Le Petit Jardin.

Hard on the heels is St Remy de Provence with Coustellet being a great little ‘paysan’ market. For those prepared to leave the Valley (gasp!), Vaison de Romaine is worth a visit.

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Till the next market………. shoulders now have a break from lugging all those baskets.

The artisans, macons, support staff –

The names of Jose, Nikola, Manu, Gerard, Giles, Guillorme, Jacques, Julian (and many more to mention) are imprinted in our souls for the rest of our lives. Their sheer dedication, hard work, skill and, most importantly, humour are a lesson for us all. How can we ever forget you? Their artistry is a legacy for future generations. The only thing we won’t miss is having to move the car out of the driveway early in the morning because ‘perhaps’ the camion will arrive.

The language, the phrases, the fun –

Our attempts at torturing the French language have been hilarious. None more so than lapsing into Afrikaans when the French word has failed us.

However, there have been some wonderful phrases we have learnt – often given to us by friends and those we have been working alongside:

– perhaps

– normallement

– the money has gone to sleep

– the bricolage

– the quest for cream, baking powder, marmite, pastry

– the advent of the tartiflette

The friends –

The past months have been an amazing re-discovery of old friends (some after 20 years!), new friends, new cultures, new languages and a new life.

We wouldn’t have swapped it for anything. We can’t mention you all because if we left someone out, you’d be pissed off.

To you all, thank you for enriching our lives.

Now, it’s Camps Bay and another adventure – African style.

Au bientot

Lovonne and Simon

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