It’s Provence, not blerrie Prôôôvince ….

… where purple is the reigning colour, kind soft, nice smelling lavender purple! Thus you can see it can never be Prrrôôôvince as the Capetonians would so love it to be.

Rather try the correct Pgôwaañs pronunciation with your lips truly spouted for that French flair effect. And then clutch your baguette under your arm, whether you’re wearing a shirt or not, and munch on your early morning croissant (apply same pronunciation rules as above) with a good, small, strong coffee and just look, smell, drive, walk, photograph and discover the real Provence.

It’s so clichéd to try and write something extraordinary on topics such as Provence and the joys of sniffing out those little-town gems and little mountain roads since even old Julius, Brutus and the other Roman emperors spent their weekends enjoying the Provencal cuisine, baths, gladiator blood-sports, sights and sounds. Jip, this part of the world is truly part of old civilisation, which means there’s so much more to see than lavender. Don’t get me wrong on the lavender thing, though. If you plan to visit Provence, it will be worth your while to plan your visit for late in July, early August, as the spectacle of blooming lavender fields and the ripe wheat fields adjacent are right up there with the likes of Namaqualand, Cape fynbos and Overberg canola fields in springtime. IMG_1712

As with all quality tourist destinations, the big bugging factor is always the tourists! Here it’s obviously continuously present as well and it had me ponder the logic of a big bus tour-package rushing through rustic little roads with hordes of, …. well tourists being dropped off with a ‘be back here in 90 minutes cause there’s still plenty of places to see’ instruction from the guide with the little flag held up high. Provence is not a place for this kind of travel. Provence must be taken at leisure, with a glass of wine, something to chew on and with no fixed itinerary because you never know when you stumble onto that picnic spot that just needs to be tested with your baguette, Provencial sausages and cheeses, olives with herbs, salads and to be finished off with the local nougat for something sweet.

Arles rooftops from the top of the amphitheater
Arles rooftops from the top of the amphitheater

We were very fortunate to have the company of a sister and brother-in-law who accompanied us for a week of traveling Provence, likeminded travellers with very little emphasis on speed and plenty of focus on seeing, learning, tasting, and sipping the local stuff. This resulted in us very quickly becoming too slow and enthralled for our rough initial itinerary, so much so that I had to bully them out of a Paris and Aix-en-Provence stopover to ensure we see the rural area ‘must-sees’.

The Palais des Papes, where 7 French born Popes lived in the 1300's
The Palais des Papes, where 7 French born Popes lived in the 1300’s

When I grew up in the 70’s and South Africa started our television broadcasting, one of the household favourites was a French translated series ‘Die meisie van Avignon’ (La demoiselle d’Avignon). South Africa was in love with the series, and probably the ‘mademoiselle’, thus I simply had to see if we could find her in Avignon, and planned our Provence trip to start there. We did not find her, but what I did find was the immaculate walled town, stunning half bridge over the Rhône River and the incredible square and Palais de Papes. This is the papal palace where the Pope Clement V and his court settled when they fled Rome due to political turmoil. From 1309 to 1377 seven French-born Popes lived in Avignon, and even after Pope Martin V returned and settled in Rome, Avignon remained to be an important cultural centre.

The Roman gate still beautifully preserved outside Saint Remy de Provence
The Roman gate still beautifully preserved outside Saint Remy de Provence

But way before the 1300’s this was the playground of the Romans. Though further north in Gaul some little village famously held out against the forces of the Roman Empire (with a little help and nutrition of wild boar and their druid’s magic potion), here in the south the Romans reigned supreme and build roads, aqua ducts, theatres and even an amphitheatre where they quenched their blood thirst on Saturday afternoons before going out on the town for an evening meal. Magnificent remnants of those days are still widely visible with extraordinary views from the top of the amphitheatre over the rooftops of Arles, and a beautiful roman gate at the quaint town of Saint Remy de Provence.

Provence scenery
Provence scenery

Many years later, here, at Saint Remy de Provence, just over the main street from the roman gate is where Vincent van Gogh voluntarily booked himself into an asylum in May 1889, just after he cut off part of his left ear in some bout of ‘eccentricity’.

Gordes, a town on a hill
Gordes, a town on a hill

Though he was obviously in despair, he continued to be extremely productive, producing more than 200 paintings in a year while living in Arles.

I get itchy for the rural areas and small roads very quickly and thus misused my position as driver cunningly by turning north-east and heading for the quieter Vaucluse area where the lavender fields were in full bloom, in abundance and surrounding age old towns of Gordes, Venasque and the amazing Abbey de Senanque. We pitched base camp in the gorgeous Malemort du Comtat. Malemort is slightly of the beaten track which means you can enjoy time away from the tour-bus tourists jumping into the frame of each and every photo opportunity, fiddling there hair into place, making themselves big into some Alexander the Great type pose just to run off to the next photo shoot, not even taking a look at what exactly was their background in the photo just snapped of them. Here we could spent two long evenings at two different venues amongst locals coming back from a hard days work and sitting down for a semi communal beer drinking evening, observing and interacting with them while enjoying the local herbs and flavours on olives, pizzas and hams (somehow I prefer the term jambon over ham for these local delicacies).

Abbey de Senanque
Abbey de Senanque

Before heading back north after a hugely enjoyable week in Provence, we had to stop in Carpentras for the weekly market day. Maybe here a tourbus dropping you off and picking you up would not have been such a bad idea due to the parking problem; such is the popularity of the market. From clothes, fish, fresh produce, meats, nougat (extremely expensive if you don’t bargain properly to the amusement of Heleen) to antique tools, baskets and even bunches of lavender are on display in huge quantities.Portfolio

It was a great week, though a tiring week of traveling roughly 3000km, listening to 355 songs (trust me, I set-up the iPod playlist, it was 355 songs), having a beer or two, scratching many mosquito megabytes, blowing up matrasses, chatting in cafés, awing the lavender, following the Romans, celebrating van Gogh, dipping our toes in the Mediterranean, enjoying pizza and Provencial tastes over a glass of wine or two or six. It was a successful trip.IMG_1793

It was only the western part of Provence and a week was not enough.

We’ll be back.

The Provence route we did
The Provence route we did

He’s great, he’s feared ….

… and yes, he’s got a cool beard, Hashim Amlaaaaa.

He's great He's feared He's got a cool beard Hashim Amlaaaaaaa
He’s great
He’s feared
He’s got a cool beard
Hashim Amlaaaaaaa

But greater than he’s beard was the Proteas’ visit to Amsterdam to prepare for the ICC Champions Trophy and their preparation included an ODI against the Netherlands. This provided the opportunity for many Saffas to see ‘their boytjies’ up close and live. Kitman says in 45 years it’s his first live match attendance of his team, and in Amsterdam nogal!

What an exciting and unique outing to be part of the small crowd at VRA Cricket ground in Amstelveen, in Het Amsterdamse Bos.

VRA Cricket grounds, Amstelveen
VRA Cricket grounds, Amstelveen

Sitting on the small stand (the ground has a capacity of just 4500 spectators), in this beautiful cricket setting felt like watching international cricket at the Irene Oval or some rural venue like, say Bergville or Himeville. There were obviously plenty of South African flags and colours, though most of us (yes, me too) had to wear our Springbok attire, as we don’t own Proteas clothes. Maybe, just maybe the boys will deliver in the final and bring home (err sorry, I mean take home) a trophy, which will force my hand. IMG_0288However, what was more enjoyable than seeing the many Saffas around the stadium was the actual Dutch support for their team in this perceived foreign game. And how the Saffas grouped their neutral friends to be South Africans for a day. In front of us sat a group of international students of which two were South African. There they were, a Swede, two Canadians, two Americans, IMG_0290some-one else and even a Britt, al ‘proudly’ wearing their SA flags on their cheeks. It did take explanation on the nuances of this odd game for the entire day to the Canadians and Americans but on their support for South Africa there were absolutely no doubt.

Cricket is not big in The Netherlands, though they have played cricket at this specific venue since 1939. The die-hard Dutch enthusiasts that were there are all huge cricket fans, passionately supporting their team and seriously hoping for another upset, as they have done in 1994 when they beat South Africa in an ODI. And while pondering this stunning event with my Dutch neighbour on the stands over a large local brew (reminder, the venue is set in AMSTELveen) in the very welcome and long overdue European sun, my said neighbour (to my shame I forgot his name) introduces me to a Dutch cricket legend Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk. So there I am, chatting away (as if I’m a Robin Jackman of some sorts) on the tactics, strengths and weaknesses of the 22 players in action with a guy who has scored a 4 off Allan Donald and who has gotten rid of Brian McMillan through a catch on his day. Klaas-Jan is certainly a cricketer of note; still holding the Netherlands’ individual highest score of 134 not out in the 2003 World Cup and being remembered for his 64 against England in the 1996 World Cup and obviously still a hero in the local cricketing fraternity as was evident in how often he is stopped for a few words where-ever he goes.

The waving flags
The waving flags
and missing a few things from home
and missing a few things from home
Ek en Vlag
Foto courtesy of Amanda Weideman

As with all sport, cricket can be such a cruel reality, as I am sure Dutch number 2 batsman Eric Szwarczynski (ironically born in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa) will still be thinking in weeks to come. After a brilliant spell of 98 against the current number 1 team in the world to then be run out from an excellent straight drive from your batting partner unfortunately through the fingers of Behardien, the bowler, onto the wickets to catch you out of the crease is probably the cruellest way to get your marching orders; a chance in a lifetime gone begging.

Hup Hup Holland
Hup Hup Holland

In my humble opinion (I’m not really on the Robin Jackman level of cricket knowledge) I am however worried that, though they won on the day, the Proteas are not where they should be. Thanx to JP Dumminy, who stood tall for his 150 not out the win ended as fairly comfortable, yet not too convincing. For us, however, the result was academic, as the outing, the sun, the sights and the pure delight was what made the day. This is what needs to be enjoyed when presented, results can be fixed.

JP en route to his 150 not out
JP en route to his 150 not out

While living in Europe, every opportunity must be utilised, and this was no different. We had the opportunity to buy some real Boerewors from http://www.boerewors.nl and chucked in a couple packs of ‘karnemelk beskuit’ from www.beskuitblik.nl too. Can’t leave Amsterdam with just satisfaction and a cricket win under the belt; you need something tangible too even if I clearly know it will not last very long.

Support from far away places
Support from far away places

My sincere thanx to the Proteas for playing this game, getting amongst the fans who don’t often have the opportunity to see them other than on the telly, but who never lose the urge to support and appreciate Proteas cricket. Now, boys, go ahead and grab that trophy, even if your current warm-up against Pakistan doesn’t look too good.

Not a nice picture, but its only a warm-up
Not a nice picture, but its only a warm-up

I mean, after all, …. ‘he’s got a cool beard’, you boys are feared.

Poster also courtesy Amanda Weideman www.amsterdam-photo-art.nl
Poster also courtesy Amanda Weideman
http://www.amsterdam-photo-art.nl

‘And I think to myself ….’

I love music. I listen to music and it makes me think. I hear the words, I link it to real life issues and happenings and I get inspiration, motivation or sometimes simply a smile. Most songs actually have a useable message in there somewhere; think of the profound life lessons in classics such as ‘Oops, I did it again’, ‘Papparazi’ or ‘Daar onder lê drie pikkewyne’ (Down there lies three penguins) and ‘Baby Tjoklits’.

Me? I tend to prefer the real stuff. The Linkin Park, REM, Jan Blohm, Valiant Swart and of course Meatloaf type of stuff that is simply the inspiring uplifting songs with meaning, questions or philosophy entrenched in deep rhythm, rock, blues ……….. and ‘time’. I can’t stop wondering about some mystic ‘boer’, what I’ve done, in the end, a Van Goch touched canvass, those local odd-fellows behind the firehouse and how terrible it is to waste a kiss!

And that is the one song that I often refer back to when I’m hesitant to jump on a new opportunity, ‘A kiss is a terrible thing to waste’, as performed by Meatloaf and written by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman. This song is about letting the future in, and not allowing the things you leave behind to drag you back.

However, last night on my way to my German lesson, as part of letting my future in, I was rudely taken back to the past and I realised again that we couldn’t ignore nor forget the past. We have to learn and improve from it. As I stepped off the bus at Sülzburger Gurtel a small little plaque in the pavement caught my eye. It was the commemorative plaque of Benedikt and Lina Juhl, plastered into the pavement tar and which simply stated that this is where the couple lived, before they fled to Holland, were imprisoned to Westerbork (see my blog posting Hup Hup Holland) and then deported to Sobibor, Poland in 1943. There they died on 21 May 1943, next week 70 years ago.

Here lived Benedikt and Lina Juhl
Here lived Benedikt and Lina Juhl

And then I sat in the class, sharing the confusion whether its ‘die, der or das kugelschreiber’ and how funny it looks when you write out 999 in German (pretty much in Afrikaans too) as ‘neunhundertneunundneunzig’, with an American, an Aussie, two French, three Spaniards, a Cameroon, a Romanian, a Bulgarian, two Italians, two Greeks, two Zimbabweans and a Pole and I thought to myself ‘what a wonderful world!’

The above paragraph-long sentence at least shows that my German lessons are working.

 

‘Johan is ook weg’ (Johan too has gone away), ….

…the simple words of a father laconically stating the obvious.

 When I decided to start this blog, it was about the excitement of a new life, living and traveling in Europe. And most of my posts so far focused exactly on that, so much so that I believe I actually lose readers as each story is about ‘yet another De Wet trip somewhere’. However, living in Europe also has its normality and mundane day-to-day tasks which need to be done to ensure a sane living environment. I do believe most people embarking on expat living realise this and prepare for it, maybe even going to the extreme of taking ironing lessons before packing your bags.

 However, it’s not always easy going. Distance in times of sickness is a very difficult thing and though the modern era of Skype, email, flat rate telephony and all the other methods of communication available, it still is no substitute for that personal touch often needed to console emotions.

Johan in Sorgfontein ‘walk with the lions’

And that is what this one is about. Its my tribute to my brother Johan, a 46 year loving father, husband, brother, child and friend who last week lost his fight against cancer, and the emotional dilemmas one experiences when you’re so far from loved ones.

 Johan was aware that he had stomach pains for quite a while, and have been at the doctors for a couple of visits. Bacteria, hernia, spicy food were some of the prognoses, but then suddenly in January it was diagnosed as cancer, and quite progressed already! That was the start of a scary and tough, though also in a sense fulfilling 10 months which followed. I have learned in the past 10 months how the grace of God works through adversity to bring comfort and peace. I have also seen how friends and family come closer and closer and the good in people come to the fore when someone is in distress. I have seen how my friends, not having met my brother, stand up in support and going out of their way to comfort us as a family. AND, I have seen how he, Johan, the sick and dying one amongst us became the strong one, keeping his smile and positive attitude and even, on his deathbed comforting and praying for those around his bed.

 I got the message three weeks ago, though not explicitly that Johan was dying, but that he was getting very weak. He has lost in excess of 30kg in the past 10 months and had very little strength left. At that point he was taken to hospital again and I had to make a call of visiting him.

 My dilemma to myself was that by going to SA to visit him; was I admitting that he was dying and that I must go and greet my younger brother? And by not going and not seeing him I will have to go and attend a funeral without any last words later!

 I chose to go and will forever be thankful to my wife, Heleen for convincing me to do so. I had 10 days of stunning time with my brother before he passed away on 22 October 2012. I had the privilege of braaiing with him, even watching an episode of Dallas (figure that!) with him and having deep serious conversations about life’s regrets and opportunities while we even solved the Springbok coache’s problems in those 10 days. Heyneke should now just listen!

And then, yesterday when I phoned home, speaking to my Dad as my Mom was not home, I asked him about the quietness of the house after the two weeks of many feet entering and leaving their house and his answer was simply: ‘yes its quiet. Everyone’s gone home, and ‘Johan is ook weg!’ (Johan too has gone).

 So, Johan, I know you’re sitting smiling at our grief in heaven and I know it’s a much better place to be. I also know we will see each other again, and I know how great and comforting God’s grace is. But still it hurts, it hurts with a burning heavy pain in the chest type hurt and we miss you.

 I do whish we had more time.

 Rest in peace Broer.

Rus in vrede Broer

‘(9) And He said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefor will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.(10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distress for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.’

                                                                                                – 2 Corinthians 12 : 9-10