Ietsie van alles vir enige iemand wat tyd maak om dit te lees...

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Kitchen Garden (and the general sense of a loss of magic in the world)

My name is Autumn Leave.  I am an investigative journalist working for The Alternative News and Interesting Facts Daily.  I have been working for them for the last 20 years.  I used to cover cutting edge investigative cases such as truth about toothpaste and other everyday products we use, a study determining how many people yawn when they see other people yawn, and investigating why squirrels forget where they put their nuts 50% of the time. But in recent years, as I have moved closer to a retirement age I have been moved to the Obituary and Melancholic Memories section of the paper.

My writing has lost a bit of magic, they told me. I guess it has a lot to do with dealing with everyday life.  People don’t give me a lot of reason to believe in any magic or wonder or true beauty.  If you look around you, most of the time you see the opposite of that.  People say that I am a sceptic and a pessimist, but I just think I am realistic and logical – qualities I thought made me good at my job.  But I was assigned to the very last page of the newspaper.

That is until now.  I was requested for a specific article – investigative in nature called “The healing aspects of a Kitchen Garden relating to the layout and type of plants in the garden. This might not sound very interesting to you, but kitchen gardens have resurfaced in the last few months as a major topic of discussion after the Potager Phenomena of Basil Brown.  

She claims to have made some extraordinary discoveries while working in her kitchen garden.  Basil Brown suffers from an acute type of depression and paranoia, mixed with an extreme phobia of crawling insects.  

In the last few years, it affected her so much that she hardly ever left her home.  The technology of today makes staying at home much easier than in the olden days, with online shopping and chat rooms designed for specific groups of people.  She was quite content with having no contact with the outside world except for one very old and reliable exterminator who she met online on a site for “The frequently disheartened and doubtful of mind”.

John Cricket was as disheartened and doubtful as Basil in his younger days, but was able to overcome some of his sadness and loss of confidence and trust in the world, by focussing all of these emotions on killing bugs.  It was a known fact that many people with this specific mixture of depression and paranoia went hand in hand with a fear of crawling insects.  Mr Cricket therefore had a full-time job as a counselling exterminator.  He was well-known as the best in his line of work.  He would usually visit a person on a weekly basis, but some severe phobias required fumigating up to three times a week. 
It was Mr Cricket who told Basil Brown about some of the pest-repelling benefits of many plants and herbs and who suggested that she designs a kitchen garden or potager as known in French circles.  

Basil Brown started putting all her time into creating the perfect potager.  She researched everything thoroughly and spent days planning her design and structure.  In the end she decided on 5 specific plants to use and she would plant them in a specific way that made a lot of sense to her. 
She planted a Basil plant in the middle her little garden.  Basil was a known repellent of the Asparagus beetle.  This plant would represent her off course, carrying the same name and with a smell that she really found very comforting. 

She then planted two Venus Fly-traps and two Pitcher Plants to act as guards, trapping and digesting any insect that would come close to her special basil plant in the middle.  She then added some decorations in the form of Petunias – beautiful, but deadly to a variety of beetles, leafhoppers and some other crawling bugs.  Lastly she scattered Catnip all over the little garden, in between the rest of the plants to repel ants, a selection of beetles, including the colourful Japanese beetle and then of course Basil’s biggest fear – cockroaches.  

She attended to her garden on a daily basis, staying outside the house for longer periods of time.  Her garden started growing and blooming and becoming more beautiful to her every day.  She started inviting some people over – other disheartened and doubtful people who were not as confined to their homes as she was.  The therapeutic effects of the garden soon became very evident to Basil and her friends that visited felt an immense change in their mood and general sense of trust in the world, while in the garden.  They also realized the longer they stayed in it, the longer their new-found cheerfulness lasted.  Quoting Basil Brown”  “It is as if our hearts have been touched by some sort of magical power inside the garden.”

Now, many other people have kitchen gardens, myself included and even though there is some therapeutic value in being in a garden for some people, nobody else have claimed to experience the amount of happiness in their gardens that Basil and her friends experienced.  If there was any truth in this, you could deduct that it had to be the specific selection of plants she used as well as the very specific way in which she planted it.  

My assignment is to find out whether there is any truth in this story, to interview Basil and spend some time in her garden.  I am the only journalist she agreed to talk to – as she previously only read the Obituary and other Melancholic Memories section of the newspaper and therefore knew my name.  

This is a really big opportunity for me.  It will be my last chance to prove people wrong and show them that there is no more magic left in the world and that you can a sort of contentment in accepting what is real instead of longing for something more.  So today, I will expose Basil and her silly depression club and tell the truth.  That a bunch of nutty people have a sort of mad-hatters party in a kitchen garden once a week and that they probably all are as much on a trip as Lewis Carol when he wrote Alice in Wonderland.  

I knock on the the door…

*Story inspired by a very interesting topic: "The Kitchen Garden" for my monthly writers group.  You can read more about a kitchen garden over here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Paris in Black and White - Part 3

Our very last day in Paris...  We got off to an early start and decided to skip breakfast from the little restaurant with the menu we didn't understand, but went to the local supermarket and got some breakfast from there and some snacks for the day.  We also bought a few little last minute presents.  Then we had some coffee (and wi-fi) time at McDonald's and we were ready for the day!

First stop: Versailles.  It was a rainy day - perfect weather to visit a palace I guess.. We had an interesting train trip on the way with some super intelligent British kids keeping us entertained.  And I saw the Statue of Liberty again. So soon after our New York trip :) A little bit smaller off course... Here is some interesting facts about this one:

Pont de Grenelle
This second Statue of Liberty in Paris is near the Grenelle Bridge on the Ile Aux Cygnes, a man-made island in the river Seine, 11.50 metres (37 feet 9 inches) high.  Inaugurated on July 4, 1889, it looks southwest, downriver along the Seine.  It's tablet bears two dates:  July 4th, 1776: the United States Declaration of Independence like the New York statue, and July 14, 1789: the storming of the Bastille. This statue is shown in the movie National Treasure:  Book of Secrets as one of the historic locations. *

Eventually we arrived at Versailles after about an hour on the train.  I didn't know that much about Versailles except that it is where Marie Antoinette stayed and where she said "Let them eat cake!" And something about the French Revolution....

On our way to the palace in the rain... 

At the golden gate (which would be more visible if the photo wasn't black and white)

It was difficult to get a picture without someone else trying to get a picture.

A look back at the suburb...

Some interesting information on the Palace of Versailles before we continue:

As copied directly from Wikipedia, because the first sentence is so funny :)

"Versailles" redirects here. For the city, see Versailles (city). For the Japanese metal band, see Versailles (band). For other uses, see Versailles (disambiguation).

The Palace of Versailles (English /vɛərˈs/ vair-SY or /vərˈs/ vər-SY; French: [vɛʁˈsɑj]), or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. In French it is the Château de Versailles.
When the château was built, Versailles was a country village; today, however, it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 20 kilometres southwest of the French capital. The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.

Here follows my experience of the palace.  I was completely overstimulated by the excessive extravagance of it all, so I focused on my favourite thing:  lamps.

Chandeliers count as lamps don't they?

That is mostly what I can remember of the palace... lots and lots of lamps :) 

 We had a quick visit in the beautiful garden grounds before we had to head back to central Paris for some last minute sightseeing.  

A last look at the Palace..

and back in Paris...

 to the famous The Avenue des Champs-Elysees (series in Sepia)

There was an awesome energy on this street. Lots of people walking up and down with many little market shops next to the road where you can buy souvenirs and some sugary goodies. We had some delicious sweet sticks (can't remember the real name).  

Some Christmas decorations left on the street... 

The rest of the street was mostly expensive designer shops.  This is definitely a good street to walk and do some window shopping.  

Here's a cute song that I love about Paris and Champs Elysees :) 

The Arc de Triomphe.  It was quite beautiful and definitely worth putting into our busy schedule...

Some extra information as usual:

 The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. It stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle (originally named Place de l'Étoile), at the western end of the Champs-Élysées.[3] It should not be confused with a smaller arch, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which stands west of the Louvre. The Arc de Triomphe (in English: "Triumphal Arch") honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. *

Another postcard moment...

I cannot remember where this was, but I think it was on our way to Rue St Antoine.  That is the problem when you put up photos a year and a half after the actual trip. All I can remember is that I needed a bathroom at some point and that I had to wait in a very long line. This made me think of another Paris bathroom moment, where I had to use one of those fancy street ones that are automatic and that cleans the whole thing when your done.  I kept on going in and just as I was about to take my pants off, the door would open.  It was very funny - although not so much at the moment. 

The Marais Walking Tour which we attempted to do on our own.  On this tour we were supposed to see:  the city's medieval roots, explore quiet passageways and grand squares, admire Parisian mansions or hotels particuliers, and see Paris' lively historic Jewish quarter, where gastronomic treats call from all corners.  

Unfortunately we didn't see most of that, and we definitely did not see the Jewish quarter which we really wanted to find, but it was still a nice experience for people who did not have enough time left to do the a tour with a tour guide, but chose to be adventurous on their own...

Then we had to rush back to Montmarte and the Sacre-Coeur Basilica to end our Paris trip where we started it.  With one of the most amazing views of Paris, some crepe's and a whole lot of fridge magnets to take back home... 

Paris - the city of light...

This was one of the most amazing experiences ever and I will always remember this beautiful city and how it made me feel. I hope to return back there very soon.

So, that is item number 1 on on my very-long-to-do-list done.  I completed my Paris in Black and White (well most of the time) series.  I have about a hundred things left to do.  But let's take it one day at a time.  

Today was a good day... 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Paris in Black and White - Part 2

So here we go, as part of my finishing all unfinished projects in my life project... Paris in Black and White - Part 2. 

Previously on Ditjies en Datjies:

#It was a cold cold winters night, with temperatures falling to the minus degrees.  Jaco and Charlene had an old mattress to sleep on in what used to be a beautiful home, but was now a student flat with old food and dirt everywhere.  Problem number 1: they could not find the geyser to switch on the hot water.  Problem number 2:  they could not get the internal heating system to work.  With 2 dirty blankets and one plastic bottle filled with hot water from the kettle (no coffee or tea or milk) they go to bed for the last night of Charlene's 27 year old life...  

Like sand through the hourglass... Just kidding...

The story goes like this.  You know how some people tell you that you survive the cold European winters because of the excellent internal heat systems that are in place everywhere.  Some people even say that you get hot when you are inside buildings and restaurants and that you take your millions layers of clothes off.  This is all true... And we would have been completely fine in the not-so-glamorous-student-flat we were staying in, if only we could find the switch...  Disaster!!!!  First of all, there was no hot water and we felt cold and dirty and tired, but that we eventually discovered underneath the flat somewhere in a dodgy little room.  But we could not find the switch to the internal heating system.  We were already pretty late to start our sightseeing that first night, so we decided we will just  find the stupid switch when we came back.  We didn't...  

It was the coldest night of our lives.  I was a cuddler (not really a word I know) that night and I am never a cuddling person. We woke up, stiff from coldness and barely able to move after struggling to keep warm and fall asleep in the first place.  We then decided to scout out the students rooms and find some more blankets.  We eventually had a mountain on top of us.  Now, we were slowly starting to heat up our bodies.  I remember waking up a few times that night with my body sweating from the heat we created with all the blankets, but my face ice, ice cold.  So, it was not a surprise that Jaco woke up with a terrible cold... And I woke up feeling cold and very lonely without family and loved ones, but only a husband who had no sleep and a cold to try and sing to me on my 28th birthday... 

We took a quick (at least semi-hot) bath and got dressed and ready for the day.  When we walked out the front door, we realized that it was literally colder inside the house than it was outside the house. As we walked the few kilometers into town we started feeling a bit more normal again.  We went to the pharmacy to get Jaco some medicine for his cold.  The pharmacist looked at us trying to explain to her what was wrong in English and got an expression on her face I did not like and walked away without even a nod or a finger pointing us in the right direction.  A young little girl came from the back and was a bit more friendly and after many hand signals and some charades, she finally understood what kind of medicine we needed.  What kind of place is this where people don't understand English, or sometimes pretend to not understand English?  People warned us before and said we should first speak Afrikaans when we need something and then try it in English, but I thought they were just being silly... But no, I would really recommend any person going to Paris or around Paris to speak any language but English and hopefully receive a much warmer welcome than we did.  My birthday was not looking too bright.  We went to a little cafe and ordered something off the menu that we did not understand and the waiter could not help us (off course) and we had some sort of breakfast and at least a cup of strong coffee to start of the day... Jaco had his medicine and was starting to feel a little bit better.  And the cafe had wi-fi, so at least I got a few messages on Facebook from family and friends for my birthday that made me feel much better about everything.  Maybe my birthday would not be so bad after all :)  

Here we go:

This was taken just outside the little house we spent our first (dreadful) night.  I loved the look of the rain (or maybe just water from the cold) drops on the branches...

The day was starting to turn around:  Notre Dame Cathedral and the Seine river in the background.  I had my lucky beanie on, my new red jacket, a warm scarf and I was ready to have the best day ever in what people call "The most beautiful city in the world." 

One of my favourite photos I took in Paris, because there is a lamp, a beautiful cathedral and a bird :) 

A zoomed-in look at some of the sculptures on the cathedral.  I tried to find some information specifically about this one I took, but I did not find anything... But you can read some interesting information about the building and history of Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) at this link.  
Interesting fact of the day:  There is a little village called Notre Dame in Mauritius and they have a little chapel that I guess can count as a mini-cathedral around here.  I didn't see any gargoyles though..

Some ice-skating in front of the Hotel de Ville  (city hall).  I was amazed how much different I experienced Paris form the previous night.  I was definitely starting to get swept up in the wonder...

In front of the Louvre - the largest museum I have ever seen!  I love this photo, because it is so typical of tourist photos.  You cannot control the people in the back and you hardly ever get a photo without other tourists taking over :) 

 A photo of Jaco taking a photo.  My favourite kinds of photos... Look at that magnificent building - and that is just one wing of the Louvre.  

The famous glass pyramid in at the entrance of the Louvre.  Here is some extra information on it.  
In 1983, French President François Mitterrand proposed, as one of his Grands Projets, the Grand Louvre plan to renovate the building and relocate the Finance Ministry, allowing displays throughout the building. Architect I. M. Pei was awarded the project and proposed a glass pyramid to stand over a new entrance in the main court, the Cour Napoléon.[34] The pyramid and its underground lobby were inaugurated on 15 October 1988; the pyramid was completed in 1989. The second phase of the Grand Louvre plan, La Pyramide Inversée (The Inverted Pyramid), was completed in 1993. As of 2002, attendance had doubled since completion.[35]

Spot the lovebirds under the some of the great French academics and scholars outside the Louvre...

We walked so much and we felt a little lost most of the time, but we saw some beautiful things along the way.

Chaos at the Mona Lisa.  I did make it to the front though.  I can be very sneaky if need to be :)  

Some of the more interesting pieces we observed along the way.

The Louvre was a great experience, but it is way too much too take in at one go.  There are so many different things to see and you cannot appreciate the beauty and wonder of some of the pieces if you are rushed off to all the other parts.  Some of my favourite things to see in the museum was some of Monet's work, some Johannes Vermeer and many beautiful sculptures.  The Mona Lisa was not my favourite part of the tour, probably because trying to appreciate a portrait while feeling like you are in a mosh pit does not...mesh?

When we finally escaped from this magnificent museum, the city had turned into a magical wonderland... If there was anything in me that still wondered why people fell in love with this city so much, it soon became very clear to me during the magic hour at dusk.


The Eiffel Tower slowly started lighting up in the mist....  

 Street lamps soon transformed the streets of Paris into a fairytale setting...

Jaco admiring the amazing view over the Seine river...

 I have to go back to colour for a few photos to share with you just how amazing this truly was....

The city of love - unfortunately we had no-one that could take photos of us walking around looking in love, but I did manage to take a photo of another loving couple :)

Magnificent view over the river.  The picture doesn't do it justice at all.  I remember thinking that it looked exactly as though we were part of a painting ourselves.  I was mesmerized by how unreal it felt...

City ligths in colour

City ligths in black and white

It was official:  I was in love with Paris.  I could see myself writing novels here, the most beautiful poems. Sonnets singing about the beauty of it all...  And this from a person, who really does not like cities.  

When we could finally tear ourselves away from it all, we rushed back to the train station, to Antony, to the little cold flat to get ready for our night on the town.  It was my birthday and our last night in Paris and we were going to go all out.  A trip up the Eiffel tower with a sip of champagne at the top was what we had in mind and to eat something nice (and not too expensive) in a restaurant afterwards...

Ready for action.  I got a birthday dress from Jaco that day (in between our busy schedule) and I was determined to wear it, no matter how cold it was.  Thanks to leg warmers, awesome boots and a thermal underneath it all and off course my red jacket over everything, I was ready for action.

I can probably do a blog post just on the amount of photos I took of the Eiffel tower.  This has to be one of the most amazing man-made structures ever.  Especially how it lights up at night.  But the architecture is just out of this world.  

Interesting fact:  The Eiffel tower is 6 inches bigger in summer than it is in winter. 

So here follows my Eiffel Tower Series:

 View from the bottom...

And the view from the top...


 Not sure if I will be able to beat this birthday view soon or ever in my life...  It was spectacular.  We didn't mind the cold this time and the shared (very small and not so cheap) glass of champagne helped. 

Last photo of the evening, just as proof that I really was at the Eiffel tower on this magical night.  

We struggled to find an open restaurant, but we did find one eventually.  We ordered something that we thought was steak and salad and that turned out to be stew and salad, but we were hungry and it tasted very good.  Then we were on our way back.  

Oh yes, very important event I forgot to mention.  We managed to contact the owner of the house's sister to come and show us how the internal heating system was working.  We slept much better that night...