A city’s historical center

As casas do colonial

I sure hope you like the colonial Portuguese style of colorful, baroque houses as much as I do…because here are some more, and I suspect there will be months and months more of these confections.

As casas do colonial

We took the train into João Pessoa the other day, and walked around the city’s Centro Historico. This is where the city was founded in 1585…not at all near the beaches on the coast, overlooking the Atlantic ocean, but a good way inland, along the sleepy banks of the Rio Paraiba, where ships could dock and load up on sugar and extremely valuable brasil wood coming from the interior (hence the proximity of the railway to the Historical Center).

As casas do colonial

Unlike Olinda, with its very narrow streets and its air of a museum and residential area, the “wedding cake” buildings of João Pessoa are actively used as business premises.

As casas do colonial

At seeming variance with the vivid colour combinations, the frilly plaster mouldings, and the wrought iron balconies, the businesses housed in this area are mostly hardware and construction supplies, industrial spare parts, automobile parts and garages.

As casas do colonial

And while there are pockets in the area where the houses have been restored and done up to please the tourists and to live up to the bright images in the brochures, most of the buildings are succumbing to a slow decay. On some streets, entire house blocks have not been touched since the houses were built, 500 years ago. These houses are stripped to bare brickwork. The roofs are gone. The doors have been boarded up (sometimes the entire house has been filled in, with rubble and concrete, to discourage squatters). Trees grow inside the houses, vines creep up the once-ornate baroque facades.


And much as I love the candy-coloured houses restored by money from benevolent societies in Switzerland and the UNESCO, I am more affected by the untouched buildings that stand as they have since they were built.

As casas do colonial

As casas do colonial

I think of what glorious, grand homes for the wealthy Portuguese traders they must have once been, and what an amazing little city João Pessoa must have been at the height of its commercial and political eminence, when it was the “CBD” of the state, and not just a patchily preserved wreck, propped up by historical societies.

As casas do colonial

Suburbia, Johannesburg

Sunrise over Madagascar
The moment it first really hit me that I was going to be in Africa, was 7 hours after leaving Singapore, at dawn. As the first blush of rosy light crept up from behind the horizon, we were soaring over the huge, seemingly endless island of Madagascar. What a rush! I wanted to squeal like a pig at the sight, but the oh-so-cool, very handsome 16-year-old boy beside me prevented me from behaving like a silly old goose.
At the airport I was preceded by a distinguished looking gentleman in a silk suit, and his retinue of plump, corporate-styled women. As we emerged into the vast arrivals hallway, a brass band like a small army struck up some rousing music, and a hundred people in bright clothes, beaded jewelry, and head cloths, surged forward to greet the man. I was stuck, smiling politely, behind this mob for about 20 minutes before I found a way, in the opposite direction, around them and out of the airport. My taxi driver, Albert, told me the dude was some homecoming preacher. Welcome to Africa!
Suburbian Lodge
These next photos are taken from around the lodge I have been staying at. You can’t really tell I’m on the continent of Africa, by these pictures…The Suburbian Guest Lodge is, as the name promises, tucked away in a respectable (read “white”) neighborhood of manicured gardens, gorgeous flower beds, high walls topped by razor or electric wire, and remote-controlled gates festooned with notices of the various armed response security agencies employed by paranoid owners within.
Suburbian Lodge
underneath a fig tree
I never expected the air to be so chilly. I set off on foot for the nearest shopping centre, on a mission to buy a universal adapter for my various gadgets and gizmos, and also a South African sim card for my brick phone. My hostess—who seems a nice lady, otherwise, and very helpful—gave me a street map with highlighted areas that she said were “black areas”, and told me to avoid them. She also told me not to carry my camera openly on the streets because of “the blacks”. How do you use a camera when it’s in a backpack? I set off, and noticed right away that I was the only “non-black” walking.
Frederik Street, JoburgFriedlaan, Joburg
But everyone I came across said hello, and when I stopped to ask for directions people were gently friendly and helpful, and whole gangs of construction workers or ditch diggers called out “Good morning!” I never felt threatened or unsafe.
shopping center promenades
shopping center promenades
The air was so dry and cool, it was a pleasure to walk the 4.8 km. to Eastgate, except that half the walk consisted of a very long, very steep hill going UP, and the other half was a very long, very steep hill going DOWN, and my knees and feet were killing me! I stopped to rest often at many beautifully maintained parks and promenades along the way…the Agapanthus lily was EVERYWHERE.
At some point, I came upon Joburg’s Chinatown. I love Chinatown…it’s not a place, really, it’s a state of cultural being. No matter where one goes in the world, it seems, the Chinatown is essentially the same, and therefore a comforting, familiar place to be.
Joburg Chinatown

Joburg Chinatown

Joburg Chinatown
At the shopping center I found my adapter, but no luck with the sim card because I hadn’t thought to carry my passport with me, and you can’t buy a sim card without ID here.
I had a big breakfast and excellent coffee at a place called Nino’s. It was 8 in the morning and most of the shops in the mall were not even open yet, but the smoking area at Nino’s—a little glassed in room to one side—was packed with fat old Italian men. They were set out in twos and threes, at different tables ranged around the room, but were all engaged in the same conversation. I really had no choice but to eavesdrop, since they were shouting across the room at each other. The topic of conversation was one that fat old Italian men probably started in the 1600s, and have carried on with until the present: “Things just aren’t the way they used to be…back then, life was really good. Today’s world is shit, and nobody is doing anything about it. Italy, of course, is still the best country in the world…” I think someone should make a recording of this timeless, monotonous conversation, so that cafe’s everywhere in the world can play the track continuously, and save the fat old dons the trouble of opening their mouths.
I could not resist a few pieces of Zulu beadwork, for sale at the Bruma Lake flea market, and these were my only concession to the world of souvenir shopping.Zulu beadwork
Back to the lodge by 1pm, to shower, change, and share my lunch—a box of nectarines, some freshly baked loaves of dark bread, some nuts and dried fruit, a tin of sardines in olive oil—with this fine-looking fella here. He liked the sardines, of course, but also the roasted almonds. Lupo di delicatessen.
"Free wolf with every room"
After lunch, I drag a chair out into the courtyard, to sip a coffee and smoke underneath a small fig tree growing behind a garden gate that leads to the staff members’ quarters.
That brisk walk up and down a mountain (that’s how it felt to me!) has tired me out and I will happily fall into my huge, soft, clean, fluffy white bed, to sleep through the nightly torrential downpour and mighty thunderstorms that rake across Joburg at this time of year.

Tomorrow I am heading, very early in the morning, back to the O.R.Tambo airport, for the last day of my journey toward Kris: a flight to Capetown, and then a taxi to the Saldhana Bay Yacht Club.

Eats, shoots, and leaves a tremendous impression.

Had such an inspiring meet-up with the brilliant street photographer behind WordPress blog Malate, Elmer Valenzuela, last night. In a bar overlooking an urban crossroads, filled with young people in ridiculous hipster getup, throbbing with live music and strobed with laser lights, we sat over a dozen beers and a sizzling plate of that classic Filipino drinking snack known as sisig (it’s minced pig’s face, now doesn’t that sound lovely? Perfect foil for lots of booze.)

It was so great to finally meet Elmer Valenzuela in person, and to find him every bit as genuine, artistic, and nice as he seems on his blog. He’s incredibly modest, insisting that anybody could do what he does…the sign of real passion. “No, not everyone,” I assure him…my reluctance to pull a camera out of my bag, not to say point it at someone on the street, borders on neurosis. I carry my DSLR in a backpack everywhere…the streets of Singapore, the streets of Manila…but it’s pretty usual to come home having taken not a single shot. Terrified of street photography.

Back to Elmer’s blog, where he disses would-be street photographers who shoot from the safety of their cars (Eeep, that’s ME!) and worry about something happening to their cameras (Again, a raw nerve, goddamit). In his post Shadow Selfie: Overture to Street Photography, these words from Robert Frank sit, emphasized, centered, and pointing an accusing finger at me:

If an artist doesn’t take risks, then it’s not worth it.

We parted ways, but not before we aimed our cameras across the table at each other. I don’t know how his shots went, but mine were absolute crap in the low, low light, and I deleted them in disgust. I sped home through empty streets at 2 in the morning, stopping at a 7-Eleven to pick up a cheap pack of smokes and a couple of balut (fertilised and partially developed duck eggs) from an old lady out the front. Local wisdom says that balut gives you, er, staying power, stamina, or spunk. I’m running out of time in Manila, but if there’s one thing I would love to do before I go, it’s take Elmer up on his invitation to go for a street photography walk around Intramuros, the oldest district and historic core of the City of Manila. Maybe those duck eggs will work their magic, and I’ll master my fear of the fascinating, inscrutable street.

Snapshots of the Northern Territory

Kakadu wildflowers

I got very little in the way of creative work done this past weekend. I took my bicycle to town for serious repairs. From there I walked to the optometrist to get my eyesight checked (and she confirmed that my perfect vision is, alas, a thing of the past) SO I then got fitted for my very first pair of glasses…the cheapest frames they had, and still the bill came to 350 smackeroos…which stung, I tell you…OUCH!!!). On another day there were trips—on foot—to post offices, to the bank, and an all-day lunch with a friend…

Tomorrow, it’s off on foot again to pick up my bike, and another visit to the bank…don’t forget that I must take the tides into account, and this week the lowest tides are smack in the middle of the day, so if I want to be ashore anytime before 3 p.m., I have to leave the boat at 11:30 a.m., and find ways to kill all that time. *sigh* Where did my weekend go?

BUT! Look what I found in my flickr sets! Never-before-seen photos of a trip Kris and I took to Kakadu in late July, some years ago. Can’t believe I never posted about the trip, or shared these. Some gorgeous wild country out there…and lots of small wildflowers, as I discovered once I started looking for them.

a prehistoric home overlooking the wetlands





Kakadu wildflowers

Kakadu wildflowers


Here I am…

heron on the roof

Stop Press!

I heard this crane (egret?) walking around on the roof of our boat just as I was about to start this post. Not impressed, it seems, by rumors of a fierce and fat orange cat aboard? I climbed halfway out the window, camera at the ready, looking for the animal walking overhead…when this long neck snakes out from behind a pile of plastic tarpaulin, and I got this clean shot against that gorgeous wall of sky. Yessss!


I was up late last night, reassigning new categories to my posts, and then making a rather overfull menu to replace my lost widgets.
I am so sorry if your feed readers are swamped with several dozen ‘UPDATED’ posts that—apart from the way they’re categorized—haven’t changed one bit.

Wish I could say it’s all done, now, and I certainly thought I was doing very well—bleary-eyed and squinting till 3 a.m.—but I’ve just worked out that there are some 200 posts left to sort! Blarghhh

And yet I can’t just leave them…it’ll drive me nuts knowing the posts aren’t under their correct headings! So please, please just bear with me another week!


What else has happened? I have a new camera; my lovely little Finepix S7000 had one fall too many and broke into 5 (“Plastic? No wonder!”) pieces. I’d been talking about getting myself a grownup’s camera for years…the time had finally come. The Nikon that I’ve bought is my very first DSLR: can you believe it’s taken me this long to get one? I’ve been grappling with it for three weeks, now, feverishly studying how to use it and trying to get comfortable with all its buttons, dials, and functions. I really miss the familiar feel of my old Finepix, and I’m desperate to build a similar relationship with my new one.

evoking the sea

So I took the Nikon for a walk last Saturday to the Parap morning markets, where I very shyly and self-consciously took a couple of shots of my friend Jan’s market stall—her own gorgeous photographs (which made me very embarrassed to be holding a camera), as well as jewelry, gifts, and novelty items, all centered around the theme of the sea—and then met up with Darwin’s happiest painter, Marita Albers, and her daughter, Ginger. They took me to their home.

I love artists’ homes, don’t you? Paintings EVERYWHERE, shelves groaning under the weight of art and children’s books, stuffed and painted pillow creatures crowded on the lounge, homemade toys, little sculptures, and installations sitting on every available surface; mobiles of color, light and sound hanging from the porch roof. Marita’s playfulness suffuses the rooms and garden of her home; there is none of the sterile, minimalist interior decorating you might see in magazines and, importantly, no television in this creative home. It was a large playhouse for mother and daughter and their friends. It was so personal and unaffected, I didn’t even ask Marita if I could take pictures; I didn’t want to invade that fun-filled privacy.

Ginger was happy to have her picture taken, though, with Mrs. Feather, one of her pet chickens. Ginger LOVES chickens, and the chicken theme is everywhere in her drawings and paintings. Hurrah! for precocious and ferocious little girls who read, and paint, and build pink cities in the garden for chickens, and love to travel overseas, and think eating is better than television, which is “boring”.

Ginger and Mrs. Feather

alleyway bullion

Remnants of a great old sign, in a forgotten corner of Darwin CBD