Monday, 27 June 2011

On the slippery slopes of Sintra

Many moons ago, I accompanied my hubby when he attended a workshop in Portugal.

Oh, how I love Portugal!

We took the bus to Sintra, a fairytale village in the Serra de Sintra (Sintra Mountains). The village, which is about 30 kilometres from Lisbon, is on the Unesco World Heritage list for its Romantic 19th century architecture.

It was such a glorious summer day - quite hot and humid - but so pretty. We walked and walked and walked, exploring every last nook and cranny. At long last, when we could hardly walk anymore, we discovered a pretty alley consisting of a long flight of stairs.

Hubby decided that this was where he would play photographer and take pictures of his young wife traipsing down the stairs. Which is fine, but it was in the pre-digital age, where you didn't just shoot away. You had to plan, and be patient.

So with knees a bit wobbly after a long day's sightseeing, I ran up the stairs and lightly floated downwards, all the while smiling prettily at the colourful surroundings and pretending that I did not feel extremely awkward.

When I reached the bottom, hubby said: "Would you mind doing it again? I didn't get a picture."

So I turned around and scampered up the steps to the top. Merrily, I ambled down again.

"Uhm ... nope. Please try again."

Without much ado, I walked up again, to the top. And dooown I came again.

Hubby smiled patiently. "Lets try one last time, please?"

I marched back up, slowly and deliberately putting my feet on every step on the way down.

Only to be greeted with one of those puppy-eyed stares.

"I promise this will be the very last time."

Up I stomped, and halfway down I demanded: "Why don't you just take the damn picture? What is wrong?"

With the tact of the Dalai Lama, he declared: "Girl, you really look hot and bothered!"

Incredibly, it is 21 years later and we are still married!

After I did the painting of the chickens in Paris, I thought that it migt be fun to do chickens in places that have special meaning for me. I remembered Sintra, and those steps ...

Galhinas pintadas

(Painted chickens)

Incidently,  the chicken at the top of the stairs is my rendition of the famous Portuguese rooster, or  O Galo de Barcelos ("the rooster of Barcelos").

According to one version of the legend, a wealthy man had a big party. Afterwards, he noticed that his silver cutlery was missing, but to the alarm of the villagers, the culprit could not be found.

Then one day a stranger passed through town. He was immediately suspect, and was seized by the authorities. Despite all his protestations and explanations that he was on his way to worship a saint in a nearby town, St. Tiago,  he was sentenced to death by hanging.

His last request was to see the judge who had condemned him. He was taken to the house of the  magistrate, who was about to enjoy his supper.

The doomed pilgrim again proclaimed his innocence, and in desperation pointed to the roasted chicken on the table and blurted out:  "If I am innocent, this rooster will crow three times."

Of course everybody laughed at him, yet nobody dared to touch the dish on the table.

And so off to the gallows he went ... but just as the noose of the hangman's rope slipped over the poor pilgrim's head, the rooster stood up from the platter and crowed. The judge had no choice but to release the pilgrim.

Many years later the pilgrim returned to Barcelos and erected a monument in praise of St. Tiago and the Holy Virgin.

To this day, Galo de Barcelos, the symbol of honesty, integrity, trust and honor, still is the national symbol of Portugal.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

A new blog has hatched ...


Here I am, at long last!

Today is the first day of a new venture, which I shall share with those who care to follow.

Since childhood, I have always been rather creative. Like gazillions of other little girls, for sure. My creativity resume sounds a little bit like a beauty queen's bio: I love to draw and paint, I love photography, cooking, and sewing. Yeah. Right! I also love animals, reading, dancing, traveling and wish for world peace! So there!

So why blog?

For some time now, I have been painting pictures, which all end up in a tiny blue room that I use as my guest room. I am not overly fond of displaying my creations in my house, so I contain them in this itsy bity boudoir. Now, however, there are too many of them, and they start collecting on the floor, in stacks resting against the wall.

I have to get rid of them, while hopefully earning a few bucks as well. And being  completely commercially impaired, I hope that some big name art dealer will notice them and buy them for lots and lots of money!

Like that will ever happen!

No, what I want to do, is to research different avenues of marketing art online and share them with you. I know quite a number of very talented artists who are just as impaired as I am, and maybe my blog will help them as well. It would be nice if we could create a community of like-minded people and that we will be able to share ideas and encourage one another. Sometimes all we need is a little shove in the right direction ...

A bit about me:

I am a happily married 49 year old mother of two: Nina (18) and Marco (15). Before Alf and I even got married, we decided that if we had children, I would stay at home, even if it meant that we had to sip porridge through a straw. So, after a brief career as a reporter at two large newspapers, followed by a stint as the editor of an environmentally minded youth magazine, I became a stay at home mom. Not a housewife. I suck at that.

But, being terminally curious, I soon had to claw my way out of what I call the "poef groef", which is the Afrikaans for "poop rut". You know, that place where you end up when your day consists of feeding Baby, cleaning Baby, burping Baby, cleaning Baby, feeding Baby ... all to the wonderfully stimulating strains of Barney the Dinosaur.

I started painting on silk. In was a huge challenge, but I must have been fairly good at that, for I managed to sell a few of those paintings ... mostly to members of my family, who insisted on paying me when I felt too bad to ask for money. However, I did manage to sell a few at craft markets and even a galery as well! But silk is rather expensive in this neck of the woods (South Africa). In fact, I could not buy it in Bloemfontein where we lived at the time, as it was simply not available.

Sargeant Major and Soldier Fish.

My last silk painting.
The badges are from the HMS Birkenhead, which sunk near Gansbaai.
The naval tradition of "women and children first"
originated during this tragedy.

So I stopped painting and started reading old books that my husband had collected in during his time in the army. I got intrigued by all things military, and even wrote a novel, which I chucked in a bottom drawer after receiving a couple of rejections from agents. Still have to finish that project, though ...

I continued this interest by first doing a Master's degree in journalism on propaganda, and eventually, after much pain and suffering, obtaining my PhD. 

During my studies, I took up painting again to relieve my stress. I thought it would go down better if I turned to paint rather than to pot.

I painted.

Red Umbrella

While driving to Stellenbosch one late afternoon in the summer,
I saw these three people huddled together under a singe red umbrella.
It was raining and the sky was almost threatening,
but it was such a happy and vibrant image
that I simply had to paint it!

And I painted.

Paternoster Moon

While staying at the deliciously stylish Afrikaans author Riana Scheepers's fisherman's cottage,
we strolled along the beach one afternoon.
Soon the sun set and the full moon rose over this scene,
painting the landscape in shades of pink, blue and purple

And I painted.

Then there were three

I adore the herring gulls found along our coast.
These three were visitors at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.
My mother-in-law simply told me that she was taking the painting,
and she did! Just like that!
I don't mind, though, as she means so much to me!

While I as writing a book on propaganda (yet another unfinished project), I got a very nice and simple idea for binding printed pages into a single volume, without using scissors, glue, staples, heavy files or punches, I decided to patent this, but to do it, I needed money. Rather a lot.

To make a long story short, I have sold one painting to my long-suffering sister, my husband forked out the money for the still pending patent and I still need someone willing to manufacture my idea.

And I have a room full of paintings to peddle.

So here we are. What does the future hold? I don't know; I hope the completion of all of my projects.

But I'll keep you posted.

Long roads, winding roads

Funny how very few things in my life happen in a purely binary fashion. Very seldom do I get confronted by a clear problem which has a clear solution. Noooo, "moi" has to travel long and winding roads to get to a maybe/sort-of answer.

My painting is one such an example.

I have told you how I have started painting (in recent years), but there is still another sub-plot, which I have to tell you about in order to describe my inspiration for a painting that SO many people like! Before I show it to you, I have to tell the story ...

While I was working on my PhD, there were loooooong times that nothing happened and that I had to wait and wait for people to respond. During one such an excessively frustrating lull - it was June or July - I attended a writing course presented by Riana Scheepers at the homestead of her stunning wine farm, called De Compagnie, in Wellington.

Never before in my life had I been so inspired! I loved it!

A few months later, Riana held a harvest festival on the farm, to which I was invited. It was such a memorable evening, with the incredibly talented Niel Rademan and Petronel Baard performing music.


Anyway, during one song, Petronel danced on the red tiled stoep of the homestead, with her long, dark hair, head thrown back, arms above her head, bare feet, and flowing red dress, enraptured by the music. I wanted to paint it.

As I am not too confident about figure studies, I browsed the internet for a picture which could serve as a model.

And then the road started wiiiinding again ...

I found some really nice pics, mostly of belly dancers. Yip, I became interested in belly dancing, and actually danced for two years. I still miss it.

Belly dancing is not a dirty thing done by strippers. Well, that is not what it was originally about, although it turned "dirty" in our Western hands. Originally, it was the dances performed by women in a harem to amuse themselves and also to prepare them for child birth, as it strengthens the abdominal muscles like you wouldn't believe!

Pretty, isn't it? Obviously, my level of skill wasn't even 1% of Viktoriya's. But what I lacked in skill, I made up for with enthusiasm.

By the way, a "harem" also is not at all what we were lead to believe.

"The word has been recorded in the English language since 1634, via Turkish harem, from Arabic ḥaram 'forbidden', originally implying 'women's quarters', literally 'something forbidden or kept safe', from the root of ḥarama 'to be forbidden; to exclude'. ... The 'harem' does not refer to a sanctuary for the wives of a polygynous person. It is simply a resting quarters for women. Female seclusion in Islam is emphasized to the extent that any unlawful breaking into that privacy is ḥarām "forbidden". A Muslim harem does not necessarily consist solely of women with whom the head of the household has sexual relations (wives and concubines), but also their young offspring, other female relatives, etc.; and it may either be a palatial complex, as in Romantic tales, in which case it includes staff (women and eunuchs), or simply their quarters, in the Ottoman tradition separated from the men's selamlık. It is being more commonly acknowledged today that the purpose of harems during the Ottoman Empire was for the royal upbringing of the future wives of noble and royal men. These women would be educated so that they were ready to appear in public as a royal wife."

Thus according to Wikipedia, (which  I will not quote in a thesis, but which does give a concise description of most things).

And so I danced. I even took along my daughter, who enjoyed it just as much as I did. It is such a girly thing, done by women for women. I loved spending time with women who love to dance and who, like me, did it without wondering what people would think of their less-than-perfect bodies. I loved the colourful costumes ... [sigh] ... I miss those days!

My husband quoted the South African entertainer Nataniël and said "I don't understand anything about it, but it is beautiful - just keep on doing what you are doing!" 

The snake in Paradise came in the form of a teeny tiny woman who made comments about me being a "big girl". It broke that safe bubble, where I could enjoy myself with other big girls, old girls, ugly girls, unco-ordinated girls, girls shaped like caterpillars, grubs or toothpicks. It was a sad day, and it was the beginning of the end of my belly dancing career.

Wow, now I am wandering along memory lanes that has very little to do with my painting!

Back to my painting ...

One photograph of a dancer captivated me: long, dark hair, head thrown back ...



One day, I'll paint that picture of the singer dancing under the vines ...

Heaven or Hell

It is winter here in South Africa. Our winters are generally not as harsh as those in the northern hemispere, as we consider -10 °C as very, VERY cold. My friends in Canada and northern Europe only smile knowingly about this.

Nevertheless, for us, this is cold. Very cold. Years ago, I lived in Bloemfontein, a small city slap bang in the middle of the country. Bloem has dry weather in winter and the cold is sharp and penetrating. It clamps onto your bones and dries your skin. It was not an unusual thing to still have frost in the shade by noon.

Here in the Western Cape where I live now, we do not have that kind of cold, because in the wintertime it rains. Were everything is dull and dead upcountry, the grass here is brilliant geen in wintertime. I call it "Hallelujah Green". And I LOVE it!

This kind of temperature is of course problematic to the hundreds of thousands of people living in "squatter camps" or informal settlements. Right next to the highway that we have to travel towards Cape Town, lies the sprawling township genreally referred to as Khayelitsha, where the dwellings consist of little boxes of houses built of corrugated iron and tar poles, and "waterproofed" with big sheets of plastic. It is a terrible and dismal place.

When it rains, everything gets wet. And it stays wet. My heart breaks for these people! When the wind wildly moans around the corner of my house and angrily pushes the rain against the windows, I often think of the children in those shacks, who are cold and wet and scared, and more often than not, also hungry and sick. 

I have read a lot about this township.

It has its roots firmly planted in the apartheid policies of decades ago, and the dire circumstances that are present there today are invariably placed at the door of the pre-Mandela government. I was surprised to learn that in the 1980's, Khayelitsha was actually not that bad.

According to a report on research done at Brown University in the US, The Khayelitsha that was established in the 1980s "is defined by formal houses on relatively decent sized plots, with wide streets and some amenities ... Schools are abundant in the neighbourhood – driving around we would often happen upon another concrete (1980s apartheid special) block with spacious, but hard to maintain, grounds. ... Ultimately, T1 V2 appears to be a 'normalised' township neighbourhood in a superficial sense: it has formal houses, planned streets, plotted yards, piped water, bulk sanitation, electricity, schools, shops (debatable), churches, playgrounds and parks, some street lights, etc. It has all the basics and is established, with 25 years of history."

But that is not the Khayelitsha the world knows.

The world only knows the miserable face that it has turned towards the Cape Town International Airport and the N2 highway: colourful boxes containing the lives of close to a million souls - a number which presently grows at a rate of  100 000 per year, as citizens of the breathtakingly beautiful and fertile - yet heartbreakingly poor Eastern Cape flee to this, a latterday promised land ... 

Every time we drive past this sea of quaint boxes, with its vibrand washing flapping merrily against sapphire blue skies, goats tippytoeing through emerald fields and barefooted children gleefully kicking brightly coloured soccer balls, I wonder what life is like in the squattercamps.

Of course it is extremely hard, unbareably hard, with everybody poor and many sick. But is it JUST hell? If it is, why do the people stay? Why don't they return to the fertile fields of the Eastern Cape? Because maybe, relatively speaking, the hell that they experience here, is heaven compared to what they had left behind?

On the blog Reaching Cape Town (, Sinoxolo Rasimeni, a resident, says:

"As with every township, Khayelitsha is faced with many challenges. There is a lot of crime due to poverty, poor educational resources, and alcohol and drug abuse. Children who attend schools in the townships often struggle to speak or understand English, because they are taught in their home language, isiXhosa. This becomes a problem as good job opportunities pass them by, because they cannot communicate well in English. There are also many teenage pregnancies, and a lot of the youth become infected with HIV/AIDS. Sadly, there is also a lot of gang violence. But all these things do not defeat the amazing vibe and energy Khayelitsha has. The locations with poor housing, water, and sanitation still push forward, still have hope that one day their living situation will get better. Khayelitsha is a diverse township, with many different things to offer. New homes continue to be established in Khayelitsha, keeping the spirit of life and energy of this township alive."

Somehow, despite the hellish circumstances, there indeed seems to be the belief that maybe someday, they will catch a glimpse of the Angel of Hope ...

Heaven or Hell

I had so many conflicting thoughs while painting this picture:
The beauty of the landscape with Table Mountain in the background
 vs. the squallor of the township in the foreground
Is the goat "evil"? Or is it a source of nourishment?
Is the angel "good", or is she the harbinger of sadness
 in this HIV/Aids and TB infested settlement?
It is a bright painting, about a painful subject...

Thursday, 09 June 2011

Nixi's chix pix - how it all began

A while back, I painted a scene of a woman in a fisherman's cottage, looking out the door. I painted a rooster on the steps ... and this rooster started me on my current path.

Colleen, my sweet mother-in-law, nagged me until I gave her the picture for her birthday. She hung it in her apartment and apparently it was a great hit with her friends. She asked me to paint another rooster for one of her friends who oved the painting, which I did. I felt sorry for the poor lonely rooster, so I painted a hen on a separate canvas. The friend loved it.

After a few months, the friend phoned me and said that HER friends love my chickens, and if I still painted chickens. Well, I never actually and intentionally painted chickens, so I thought that it might be a way to earn a little pocket money.

So I painted four ...

Then I got bored.

Although it took me ages to get it "just right", I felt ... well ... a chicken is a chicken is a chicken. It is sort of crafty, rather than arty, me thinks.

However, in the process, I looked at masses of chix pix on the internet. Some of them struck me as appearing kind of human. I could just picture the chickens strolling down Rue St Dominique in Paris, sightseeing, while others simply did whatever ordinary chix ... uh ... people would do. Maybe they would be enjoy something to peck at Le Recrutement Cafe, or just went their own merry way ...

So I painted it.

It took a lot of research and a lot of time, but I think I nailed it. It surely is not "mere craft", but mostly, it still makes me smile!

THAT is what I like!