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Thanks so much to my friend, Hiroshi Miwa, who lives in Kyoto area of Japan, for sharing these wonderful comparison photos. What a change from winter to spring and its gorgeous cherry blossoms!

The local people call this “the cherry tree tunnel” and the temple associated with it. Taken in Maizuru, Kyoto.

Thanks Hiro!

The temple and its garden with cherry trees still looks gorgeous in the winter snow

The temple and its garden with cherry trees still looks gorgeous in the winter snow

The cherry trees in their winter garb

The cherry trees in their winter garb

Cherry tree tunnel in full bloom

Cherry tree tunnel in full bloom

The temple and gardens in spring

The temple and gardens in spring

 

Found in the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines, Iowa

All the sculptures in this park are remarkable and really interesting, but some seem to command more attention than others (for me, anyway). These 2 heads seem to beckon, and we want to look closer and find out more.

park

These faces by Swiss-born Ugo Rondinone (born 1963) are painted cast aluminium.

They are 2 from a series of 12 sculptures entitled MOONRISE. Each of the child-like faces has an exaggerated expression and is named after a month of the year.  Ugo Rondinone created the series as an homage to the moon, as he believes that our day-to-day reliance on the moon has waned and for many modern people its mythical significance has faded. He is drawn to the moon for its universal accessibility and continued significance as a marker of the passage of time.

MOONRISE. east. january (2005) has a mischievous appearance with its toothy grin, squinty eyes, and pointy nose (see below).

january

MOONRISE. east. august (2006) has a sympathetic look conveyed by the tilt of the head, hum-drum mouth, wide-open eyes and button nose. The texture, resembling finger marks in clay, adds to their youthful charm (see below).

august

Wonderful view out Squires window

Wonderful view out Squires window

Sculpture of 3 intertwined marlins at the hotel entrance

Sculpture of 3 intertwined marlins at the hotel entrance

We were staying for a few days in Port Edward this last trip to South Africa, so we could have some beach time. Unfortunately it rained a lot of the time, so not much beach opportunity, but it’s still an interesting part of the world. It’s called the Hibiscus Coast along here and is really lush and green, with rolling fields of bananas and sugar cane and, around Margate, a proliferation of huge beautiful hibiscus flowers.

One day we decided to drive a few miles south out of KwaZulu Natal into the Wild Coast Province (and the coast gets really wild south of here) to the Wild Coast Sun for lunch. It’s a huge hotel-casino complex, very opulent with lots of thatch and wooden beams, gold and glitter, golf courses, and of course multiple gaming areas. One of the decoration themes is fish and there are walls covered in metal relief fish of all types, and a lovely sculpture at the hotel entrance of three marlins.

The main room in Squires before it got full

The main room in Squires before it got full

In spite of the glitz, it’s all quite pretty and the setting is superb, right on the coast. It appears to be well used by some tour groups, and the casino was really humming—people of all ages, colors and shapes. For me, it’s always a rather sad sight to see so many people banging away at noisy colored keys and cranking handles, all in the hope of somehow getting more money.

Anyway, the food at the Squires Restaurant was good, and our server, Mavis, a slightly older, statuesque black lady, was amiable and pretty efficient. All the main meals come with onion rings and one type of potato—we opted for sweet potato slices (the white variety). We all had salads, then my husband had a biltong and avocado rump steak (only in Africa, I think!); my sister had a rump steak with mushroom sauce; and I had ostrich fillet with a blackberry sauce. All very professionally done, and I was very happy to have ostrich again, as obviously that it something that’s hard to find in USA. Washed down with a bottle of Darling sauvignon blanc wine, and ending with a coffee, it was a great meal. The total, with tip, was R765 (about US$72 at the time), which is remarkably good value.

Rump steak topped with avocado and pieces of biltong (plus some mayo). Yumm!

Rump steak topped with avocado and pieces of biltong (plus some mayo). Yumm!

The ostrich filet was delicious

The ostrich filet was delicious

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rather back-lit, but toasting the great view!

Rather back-lit, but toasting the great view!

 

 

Luckily we were early (it opens at noon) so we got a window table, overlooking the sea. It’s lovely, but you can’t open the doors out on to the verandah. We wondered why, but soon found out, as there are many vervet monkeys that come looking hopefully. They would cause a lot of mischievous trouble if they got in!

The start of the vervet parade!

The start of the vervet parade!

 

Some of the craft stalls in Howick

Some of the craft stalls in Howick

Part 2: Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa

About an hour’s drive north from Durban, the world’s only monument to a criminal arrest—that of Nelson Mandela—can be found near the village of Howick. The village is also famous for its waterfall, one of the highest in Africa. Both are free, although there have been rumors about charging an entrance fee for the Mandela Capture Site.

I'm happy to pose in front of the amazing sculpture to Nelson Mandela

I’m happy to pose in front of the amazing sculpture to Nelson Mandela

While en route to the Southern Drakensberg Mountains for a family getaway, you can visit both the falls and the monument, plus the Midlands Meander, a special driving route in the Natal Midlands (see here for the Mandela Capture Site: http://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/nelson-mandela-capture-site-in-south-africa/ )

Howick Falls

Howick Falls

Howick Falls on the Umgeni River

The gorge of the falls is very deep and rocky (with many rock climbers and abseilers) and lined with green bushes. The actual falls are very long, but narrow, and can be disappointing if you go in winter when the volume of water is low. They are not so impressive if compared to other falls in the world.  But, they are pretty anyway, and the legends surrounding them are interesting.

The Legend of the Falls gives a fascinating glimpse into Zulu culture. These falls, known to the Zulus as kwaNogqaza (the tall one), are one of the major tourist attractions of the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands. Local Zulus believe the Falls to be the abode of spirits and a giant, eel-like creature known as inkanyamba. Zulu sangomas (witch doctors or diviners) come to the falls to pray and offer sacrifices of chickens and goats to inkulunkulu (the Great God), to the amathongo (spirits of the ancestors), and to the inkanyamba.

As good a place to do washing as any, I suppose!

As good a place to do washing as any, I suppose!

The falls viewing platform can get quite crowded, especially at weekends, and buskers may entertain you (the Sunday we were there, two young men were playing violins). Just above the falls, a black lady was doing her laundry in the river, seemingly unconcerned by all the people ogling her. It was fascinating to witness this one example of local life continuing in spite of modern development.

The falls are special too because they are so close to the center of Howick town—a few minutes walk at most. Along the road behind the falls are many craft shops, simple craft stalls, people selling big bowls of mangoes and lychees, a couple of restaurants and tea shops, and a well-stocked Tourist Information Office. The selection of crafts is reasonably good (just check that they are made in South Africa!), and prices are not bad, especially for the cloths and wall hangings with traditional African patterns and motifs. Note the shell shop, which has all kinds of shell articles, plus you can buy shells to make your own necklaces or craft items.

Beautiful shell items

Beautiful shell items

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When we were there, Yellowwood Café was a nice place to stop for a snack lunch, sitting outside under a huge flamboyant tree, soothed by the sound of falling water.

Lovely beaded butterflies for sale

Lovely beaded butterflies for sale



The Midlands Meander is a well-organized system of drives in this pretty countryside, its symbol the Butler butterfly, found only in the Karkloof region. It extends about 80 km between Pietermaritzburg and Mooi River and can be approached from many different points. It began in 1985 when several potters and weavers came together to create an arts and crafts route through the region. Today, the roads meander between small towns, with a focus on around 150 special craft shops, tearooms, restaurants, craft and potters’ stalls, art galleries and studios. For example, we noted a goat farm that makes goat cheese, called Swissland Cheese; and a German restaurant, called Bierfassl. But, shops come and go so check with the Tourist Information Office first. The Midlands Meander also offers active outdoor activities, like horse riding, hiking, tubing, swimming, biking, canopy tours, and fishing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is a pleasant gentle way to see a bit of this countryside—green, rolling, soft, pastoral, which some liken to parts of England. The names of the towns even sound a bit English—Tweedie, Lidgetton, Balgowan, Nottingham Road.

You can get a map either in Pietermaritzburg or Howick, and then follow the brown road signs. (But, note that the map isn’t 100% accurate and doesn’t mark all the small roads).

www.midlandsmeander.co.za

Faces. Portraits. People.

Why have I been seeing so many large outdoor sculptures of various kinds of faces and heads in the last year or so, in many different parts of the world?

People are inherently interesting, and large faces or heads are a lot easier to execute for an outdoor exhibit than a landscape scene, for example. Faces get people to stop and look, faces can make us think, faces can reflect a culture, and I’m sure we can come up with many more ideas.

Here is another delightful example found in Stellenbosch, a town in the South African Cape, not too far from Cape Town.

Caroline M  poses by the sculpture, showing how large it is

Caroline M poses by the sculpture, showing how large it is

It’s metal work and is entitled “Malay Girl”, by Lionel Smit. The artist is a South African, born in Pretoria in 1983 (we were living there at that time), who now lives and works in Cape Town. He has also exhibited at art fairs overseas, for example in Amsterdam, London, Miami and Hong Kong. He is best known for contemporary portraiture of everyday people in his life, working with huge canvases or sculptures.

The Cape Malay people are a big part of the Cape culture and history, so this head seems very appropriate in this setting outside the Stellenbosch Public Library.

The descriptive plaque for "Malay Girl"

The descriptive plaque for “Malay Girl”

On the plaque below the sculpture, the artist’s statement reads: “The work transforms the stereotypical idea about a painting’s environment, in other words its display in a gallery space. It also explores the creation of a sculpture from a painting. The portrayal of a Malay Girl (a recurrent theme in my works) on two sides of the sculpture translates into the concepts of identity transformation and hybrid identity”.

Very interesting concept, here in South Africa, also known as the Rainbow Nation with its many peoples.

Below are links to other head sculptures we admired in 2013, in Krakow, Chicago, and Dijon.

http://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/finding-more-heads-a-huge-head-in-krakow-poland/

 http://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/flowering-or-sculpted-heads-in-chicago-and-dijon/

 

An unusual twist to commemoration. One of the World’s Only Monuments to a Criminal Arrest and a Remarkable Visual Illusion

Entrance road to the site

Entrance road to the site

 

A group of school kids visit the small Apartheid Museum on site

A group of school kids visit the small Apartheid Museum on site

Nelson Mandela, the revered South African statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, died recently in December 2013 at age 95. Many aspects of the life of this beloved figure are well-known, via the world media, through his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” and, more recently, the movie “Mandela” based on his life.

However, he was not always revered, at least not by the white Apartheid Government, who regarded him as an activist, a terrorist, a saboteur. In August 1962 he was returning from guerilla training in North Africa, having been on the run from the SA Security Police for 17 months. He was on his way from Durban to Johannesburg and was arrested on 5th August, 1962, at a point on the main R103 road near Lions River and a few kilometers from the town of Howick in Kwa-Zulu-Natal Province. Those were his last minutes as a free man and the first day of his 27 years imprisonment, most of them spent on Robben Island, 9km from the mainland near Cape Town.

In South Africa, and in other parts of the world, are many statues of Mandela—such as the huge new statue erected in the gardens of the Uni Gebou (Government Buildings) in Pretoria after his death, and one in Washington DC. His name also graces many streets, and schools, and in Johannesburg the locals are proud of the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Newtown.

Many people, however, do not know about another Mandela monument in South Africa. This is one of the world’s only monuments to a criminal arrest—a monument to the arrest of Nelson Mandela.

Original plaque, erected in 1996

Original plaque, erected in 1996

The original monument, in 2005

The original monument, in 2005

At the spot where Mandela was arrested, the Howick Town Council in 1996 erected a small, unassuming monument to honor that place and event. We knew about it, luckily, and visited in 2005. The Monument wasn’t too far from the village, along a side road. The Monument, although not grand or imposing, stimulated a lively discussion among the people in our van. They thought it was significant to have a monument to the capture of a person, and especially because that person was Nelson Mandela, who proved to be a wonderful person and who changed the face of South African (and the world’s) politics. So, in retrospect, his capture was an event to be marked, after his subsequent release and rise to fame and power.

At the old monument today

At the old monument today

Powerful New Capture Monument

On August 6, 2012, for the 50th anniversary of Mandela’s arrest, a new, much more impressive Monument was unveiled, and is now designated as the National Capture Monument. This new sculpture was made possible by funds and donations from many different departments and organizations in South Africa.  It has evolved from a small insignificant sight, to a major political pilgrimage for many. This seems fitting, as in those intervening 50 years much happened, to Mandela himself, to his image and legacy, and to the country.

We were able to visit this new monument in March this year, on a cool drizzly day.

The new monument across the road from the old---it's not what it seems

The new monument across the road from the old—it’s not what it seems

The new monument is just across the road from the original smaller one, which is still there, but the approach is further up the side road where you find parking, a shop, a theater, and a museum to Apartheid, with special reference to Mandela. After parking, you walk down a long paved path (like a Long Walk to Freedom), designed by architect Jeremy Rose, and ahead and below you see rolling green hills and a cluster of black steel poles. You might wonder what all the fuss is about but carry on walking and at a designated spot you’ll suddenly see the face of Mandela emerge from the poles.

Rod stands between the poles, showing their size, but not the inherent portrait

Rod stands between the poles, showing their size, but not the inherent portrait

This impressive sculpture by artist Marco Cianfanelli consists of 50 black steel poles between 8-10 meters (26-32 feet) tall. They are arranged in a special pattern that gives the viewer a flat image of the face of Nelson Mandela facing West, when approached from the foot path leading down towards it, at a marked point exactly 35 meters (113 feet) away. From that position the laser-cut steel poles line up to create the illusion of a perfectly flat image. The 50 steel columns represent the 50 years since his capture. They also portray the idea of many making a whole and of solidarity.

It’s incredible because, as you walk along the footpath, the seemingly random bunch of steel poles starts to change until you see a face emerge. See series of photos below to see the face emerge.

The site’s not difficult to find: While en route either to the Southern Drakensberg Mountains or between Durban and Johannesburg, you can detour off the N3, taking the Howick off-ramp in either direction. You can visit Howick to look at the famous Howick Falls, one of South Africa’s highest falls, and also to see the Mandela Monument. Both are free.

The falls, although narrow, have a deep, rocky gorge, and from the viewing platform you can watch intrepid rock climbers, and musicians will probably serenade you. If you have time, it’s also fun to drive along all, or part of, the Midlands Meander, a drive through pretty countryside with rolling green hills past many craft and artisanal food shops—all very tempting.

Walking down the long path---see the cluster of black poles on the far right

Walking down the long path—see the cluster of black poles on the far right

An extraordinary effect as we get closer

An extraordinary effect as we get closer

Mandela's portrait begins to emerge

Mandela’s portrait begins to emerge

The poles line up

The poles line up

An amazing visual feat!

An amazing visual feat!

 

 

Rescuing the Rhinos

Saving African Wildlife and a Plea for Rescuing the Rhinos

Game Park sign: note the rhino logo and the Big 6 sign on top right

Game Park sign: note the rhino logo and the Big 6 sign on top right

Two of these wonderful animals, quietly grazing

Two of these wonderful animals, quietly grazing

When we were in South Africa in 2013 we visited Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park in northern Natal. We stayed a week at Hilltop Camp in one of their chalets and had a wonderful time, driving on our own self-drive safaris daily and having the privilege of seeing up close so many of the famed African wildlife, many of them from the so-called “Big 5” or “Big 6” group. We were excited about them all, from the largest (elephants), to the tallest (giraffes), to the smallest (a tiny chameleon crossing the road). But, we were especially happy to see many elephants and many rhinos, often mothers with babies. Such magnificent beasts.

A mother rhino and her baby. Note the giraffe in the background

A mother rhino and her baby. Note the giraffe in the background

However, what was not a good experience was to come upon a large group of rangers and vehicles one day, all heavily armed, in a wild part of the park. We discovered later that they were investigating a rhino that had been poached the night before, killed and the body just left there after the poachers had taken the horn. Such vicious slaughter made all of the visitors to the park very sad, very angry, but we all also felt rather helpless as it seems that there is no solution in sight to this problem.

We read pamphlets and booklets about poaching, saw videos about where the horns and tusks are destined (Asia, through Vietnam), and editorials on suggestions of what could and should be done to stop this practice. For any idea to be implemented, money is needed—-lots of money—and there are donation boxes at Durban airport and other places, as one way of trying to raise some funds.

A Donation box, with a miniature "rhino on parade"

A Donation box, with a miniature “rhino on parade”

And another. Give your small change, anything will help

And another. Give your small change, anything will help

We meet a rhino on the road--like a tank, but that's no protection against sophisticated poachers

We meet a rhino on the road–like a tank, but that’s no protection against sophisticated poachers

Since that visit, I’ve wanted to write something about the plight of these animals, especially the rhinos, which are extremely vulnerable. My cousin, who works for World Wildlife Fund, quotes terrible statistics: South Africa has 80% of the world’s rhinos. In 2007, 13 were poached. By November 6, 2013, 825 had already been poached! The numbers this year are already horrendous.

But, what to write, and where?

Luckily, many well-known/famous people also think this is a huge disaster waiting to happen and they are willing and able to advocate for the animals. Very recently (February 8, 2014), Prince Charles and Prince William of Britain had a news conference and made a video, where they discuss this problem and make a plea to the rest of the world to save these endangered creatures before they are gone for good. It’s very interesting, as they make the plea in a number of languages: Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish, Swahili and Vietnamese.

The Princes give all the facts and figures far better than I could, so take a look here. At the beginning of the article is the video clip (about 6 minutes long—the pleas in the other languages are at the end), followed by the article.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26106137

Another mother and baby

Another mother and baby

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