It’s been a busy, busy few months in Adams, Massachusetts;
We painted walls, cleaned windows, prepared salads, mulched the soil, pulled out weeds, power-washed the deck and mowed the lawn. Well, let me rephrase that, we mowed the lawn until Stefan was banned from ever mowing the lawn again, after having brought the expensive ‘skag’ lawnmower to a standstill, not one, but twice.
“It’s because you drive it too fast. Everyone else takes six hours to mow the lawn, you take three,” I explained. I had watched him with awe (and horror) as he zapped around the lawn so fast, a blur on the landscape, only his weight preventing him from becoming airborne.
We visited Boston, Williamstown, Albany and North Adams. We watched a Red Sox baseball game and danced at a live Bruce Springsteen concert.
“I’ll buy the tickets,” said Stefan being a huge fan. But on arrival we discovered that he had not booked seats, but the standing room area in front of the stage.
“Aaghh no,” I sulked, I could not bear the thought of standing in a tight, sweating crowd for two-and-a-half hours. Our hosts, it transpired, were not actually fans, but had happily tagged along, and now they helped us to find seats before heading for the bar. And there they remained (almost) the entire show. After the concert we found them waiting in the back seat of the car, like two naughty school children, having seen little of the concert, but having enjoyed themselves none-the-less. Stefan was asked to drive home.
We walked in the woods and saw a black bear and a fox. We made boerewors, melktert and buttermilk rusks and even located some bottles of Cape Jazz Shiraz. It snowed and it rained, the sun has shone and it rained, the trees blossomed and it rained, the wind blew and it rained. It was called Summer.
But the task that took up the most time and mental energy was the design and construction of a birthday cake. This was not just any old garden variety birthday cake, oh-no, it was a hydraulically-operated TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) cake for a two-year-old who is convinced that he is Donatello or Donny for short.
When we were asked to plan and execute his birthday party, my idea for the cake was simple; a round cake decorated with a Ninja Turtle on the top. After all what two-year-old would not love that?
“But Stefan likes a bigger challenge and he decided he wanted to make a cake that would open up to reveal four Ninja-turtle cup-cakes inside. I was duly tasked with making said cup-cakes.
And he glued syringes to plastic piping, drilled holes, made false tops and wooden stands. He went to bed late and his sleep was disturbed. I think he was dreaming about Ninja Turtles. Possibly he imagined himself as Leonardo? Leonardo da Vinci, the inventor, of course.
ADAMS, MASSACHSETTS, UNITED STATES: 19-05-2014
The Bear and The Pixie set off round the world,
And nearly missed their first plane,
With lengthy adieus and heavy luggage for two,
All too soon they heard their own names.
The Bear looked down at the clouds below,
‘So next we will go by car,
O’ lovely Pixie, O’ Pixie my love,
We are going to be travelling so far,
We are going to be travelling so far!’
Pixie said to the Bear, ‘This is all a bit wild!
And aren’t we a little too old?
We’re not even married! And look what I’ve carried,
I’m not even sure I’m that bold!’
But they travelled away for a year and a day,
Round the world to the US of A,
And there in Las Vegas a licence was bought,
With Elvis to make their big day,
With Elvis to make their big day!
‘Dear Pixie are you willing to travel some more?’
Asked The Bear, said The Pixie ‘I will!’
So they sailed to islands and railed through towns,
All the way they put hand to the quill.
They saw wonderful places, did many new things,
And made friends with the people they stayed,
And hand in hand, on the white beach sand,
They imagined being back in SA,
They imagined being back in SA!
ADAMS, MASSACHUSETTS: 25-05-2014
We were lucky enough to be given tickets to a baseball game between the Boston Red Socks and New York Yankees, and if you know anything about anything, you would know that this is a big deal. It was also our first experience of a baseball game and it happened to be at the historic Fenway Park in Boston.
We followed the crowds into the stadium and found our seats, a tight squeeze between families and couples. We had been given strict instructions to support the Red Sox and, as this was their home ground and we were surrounded by Red Sox fans, we thought this was a pretty good idea.
There was already a buzz of activity out on the pitch when we arrived; sweeping, raking, painting lines and some impressive hosemen, seven of them, holding aloft one hose. They worked in unison to water the gravel without the hose ever touching the ground. This was real serious stuff. Now with every grain of sand and blade of grass in place and with three upside-down pizza boxes marking the bases, we were ready for some action.
But … NO … WAIT!
There is a whole series of proceedings that takes place before any game can begin, and all of this is shared on the big screen above the field:
First there is the green Elmo-like character with an orange nose who has his picture taken with some select people; special kids, blood donors, chosen season ticket holders and the USA Winter Olympic medal winners.
Then some State Troopers (?) with flags and banners held aloft, march onto the pitch and we all stand while a stirring rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” is performed. The crowd gives an extra loud cheer as the words “the land of the free and the home of the brave” are sung. By now the stadium has filled up, the lights are turned up and we are all set. But … there are still more formalities; someone needs to throw the first pitch – it’s the woman’s ice hockey team captain and finally, a small boy shouts the words we are all waiting for, “PLAY BALL!!” and we’re on …
On run the Red Sox to hearty cheers and waves. Then the Yankees make an appearance to bat and are unreservedly booed and insults are hurled.
“Get outta here!”
“Ellsbury you’re such a woman!”
“I wonder if his wrist has healed from being jelly.”
And then you get to eat … and eat … and eat … and drink; pretzels, beer, hot dogs, pizza, peanuts, clam chowder, candy floss, hot chocolate… A never ending stream of food and drinks comes directly to your seat, held aloft by sweating yellow-shirted runners.
Out on the field there is a little action; a good deal of strikes, balls and outs, a few home runs, a couple of brilliant catches and many change-overs. But what really gets the crowd most worked-up is when a ball is hit into the stands. There is much competitive diving and jumping as the lucky catcher gets to keep the ball.
In-between innings those efficient hoseman are back! Now they pull boards and push brooms in an impressive quick-paced, tight formation to compress and sweep up the disturbed gravel. Groups in the crowd try to draw attention to themselves so that they will be televised. A uniformed war hero is called up and is cheered loudly as he waves to the crowd and a young man kneels and proposes, all on the big screen. Baseball is a lot like American TV; a little bit of action in-between a lot of long entertaining, food-filled intervals.
Behind us sit two young couples; the guys talk about the players statistics, injuries and how much better they could hit the ball, the girls chat about IVF and weight-loss. An enthusiastic father has his three kids all dressed in Red Sox sweatshirts and caps and leads them in loud off-key cheering, “Let’s go Red Socks, Red Socks, Red Socks,” clap-clap, clap-clap-clap.
But it was not to be, Red Sox are going down. At the end of the 7th innings we hear behind us, “Are we going to take another hour of this *&^$## or go to the bar?” With the Red Sox down 12 -2, the decision was unanimous, they get up and head out, followed by half the crowd. We sit in the freezing cold wind a little longer. We have our fill of peanuts, hot dogs and pretzels, we sing along to Take me out to the Ball Game, we’ve seen the Red Sox play the Yankees in Fenway Park! This is one we can tick off our list, with a big fat YES!
BOSTON, USA: 29-04-2014
Even supporting the losing team can be fun (as long as there is lots of food)
When you think of Las Vegas, what immediately comes to mind? Gambling? Right? Well we did that at Ceasar’s Palace and I won $500 dollars on the Queen of the Nile machine … and promptly lost it all on the next #[email protected]@! money-grabbing machine.
And? The shows? Yes, we saw a show, The Blue Man Group. You would never think that drumming and eating a Twinkie bar could be entertaining, but when you add neon-coloured paint and regurgitate the Twinkie it makes for powerful entertainment.
What else? The lights, the nightlife, the buzz… yes, yes, yes, we saw all of that too, but you are not on quite the right track … think VEGAS.
No, NO! … not What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. (Well not all of it anyway) Come on now … Is it weddings? Yes! Yes! You’ve got it … WEDDINGS! And nothing says Vegas quite like a wedding featuring The King himself! – ELVIS! And this is exactly what we did!
It went something like this;
“Darling should we get married in Vegas next week?”
In just a few short days we had it all planned. We had a photographer, a chapel and a limousine to take us there. We found a shop that rented out tuxes and bridal gowns and with the assistance of a small Chinese lady, selected our attire the day before the wedding. We stood in line for ten minutes and picked up a marriage licence and, most importantly, we sourced an available Elvis to perform the ceremony. Then we quickly invited all our friends and family, making sure to leave n0-0ne out.
At 6pm on the 29th of March we were met at The Wee Kirk o’ the Heather (which in Scottish means The Little Chapel of the Lucky Flowers) by our friendly wedding co-ordinator and introduced to our Elvis, a 70’s sequined jumpsuit Elvis. Our brief from Elvis was to have fun and enjoy ourselves and we did just that.
We chose the Burning Love package, which meant that, besides performing the marriage ceremony, Elvis would walk me down the aisle and also sing us three songs. We danced to his songs and sang along, we smiled and we laughed and we enthusiastically repeated our marriage vows after him, some of us more accurately than others.
Stefan got so carried away in the moment that he decided to finish some of the sentences in his own way;
“ … and make sweet memories together … “ said Elvis.
“ … and make sweet love together … “ repeated Stefan.
There was a few seconds of stunned silence as Elvis digested this departure from the usual wording.
“Okay … umm … that too,” said Elvis laughing.
So a very good time was had by all and we celebrated in-style at The Top of the World restaurant with French champagne and a four-course meal.
LAS VEGAS, USA: 29-03-2014
There’s nothing more special than marrying your best friend.
There was huge excitement when Stefan found out that the annual Electric Universe Conference (EU 2014) was being held in Albuquerque at the time (with some tweaking) that we would be in the area. You see he had been following this movement closely for some time and is a firm believer in all things electric.
Over the last couple of years Stefan had taken the time to patiently explain some of it to me. But, for some inexplicable reason, most of these discussions happened late at night and I tended to fall asleep mid-sentence. However, I thought that I had grasped some of the basic concepts. I do not think I would go as far as saying I was a ‘believer’ too, but when I saw how his eyes ‘lit up’ as he spoke about the conference, his excitement was contagious, and I knew that we could not miss this.
The presenters were an impressive group of scientists and innovators, experts in a wide variety of fields. They were fighting in the heavy-weight category of multiple degrees and above-average intellect. Here, at last, were the alumni who could provide the answers to all my lingering questions about life, the universe and everything. My excitement, however, was short-lived; as before the conference even began I met some of the delegates and realised that I must have fallen asleep at the most crucial moments of our late night talks. I had read neither ‘The Big Bang Never Happened’ nor ‘World’s in Collision’. I could not comprehend the details of ‘Our Electric Earth in an Electrified Heliosphere’, or come up with the calculations to explain the ‘Validity of Kirchoff’s Law of Thermal Emission’. So after an initial courteous introduction, I was kind of at a loss.
Blah, blah … plasmoids … blah … magnetic fields … simulations … blah … plasma formations … blahbee, blahbee blah. I did however perfect the art of nodding knowingly and repeating the last words agreeably “… mmm, yes of course, the electric sun …” I knew to look grim at the mention of the Big Bang and shake my head despairingly at the thought of Dark Matter and Black Holes.
As the conference progressed so my participation declined. I did attend a movie about fractals (that made me feel terribly nauseous), chat briefly to a long-haired Irish man about how the electric universe could affect spirituality (he did all the talking) and empathise deeply with an American wanting valuable research funds to be spent on finding those Aliens so that we could make use their technology, as he was certain that this would benefit all of mankind.
There were more than 250 delegates attending this conference, apparently the biggest and best one yet. And there was a palpable air of excitement about the progress that had been made. We both came away from the conference refreshed and stimulated. Stefan had made some electrifying connections and added more insights to his already formidable body of knowledge which I am sure he will gladly share with me late at night. And I had enjoyed sleeping-in, room-service, catching-up with the latest episodes of Bachelorette and long, hot showers.
ALBUQUERQUE, USA : 22-03-2014
Whether the universe is electric or not is neither here nor there for me. I will save this concern for my relationship.
Crossing the vast Pacific Ocean from Malaysia to the USA we decided to stop off at Hawaii. There is a twelve-hour time difference between South Africa and Hawaii. I remember my mother telling me, as a young girl, that if she were to stick her knitting needle from South Africa through the centre of a world globe it would pop out at the Hawaii islands on the other side of the world. I have never tried this, but it certainly felt very far away indeed.
We first visited the island of Hawaii itself, or as it is commonly called, Big Island. Big Island is the home of the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. It is also, as its name suggests, big … and wet. Unlike many of the other islands we have visited (and there have been many) you cannot criss-cross it on a scooter in a couple of hours but have to plan your outings. And it rained, boy did it rain, almost every day, making it one of the wettest places we had visited so far. It is said that the soil is so fertile and damp here that anything will grow; even the signposts sprout and take root. Here too hippie culture is still in full-swing, and hippies, young and old, abound with their long dreadlocked-hair, unwashed clothes, woven bangles and dirty sandled-feet. Clothing on these beaches is ‘optional’ and breaking into spontaneous (dope-induced) music circles on the beach at weekends is a common-place.
We rented a car and on the long and winding road to our accommodation we ended up giving a lift to the same hippie couple twice. The second time around they had a lot more ‘equipment’ with them. They told us they were going to have a bath in the sea and had packed up their ‘kitchen’ in one box, as they were moving. There was also an assortment of other suspicious-looking, strange-smelling sacks and bags that they loaded into our car. When they alighted, leaving behind a waft of hippie-odour, we hoped that there would be no sniffer dogs about when we handed back the rental car.
Next we flew to Honolulu on the island of O’ahu for, as luck would have it, I had a First-Cousin-Once-Removed living here. We were welcomed at the airport with sweet-smelling lei’s, a traditional Hawaiian greeting. This wonderful gesture, however, in no way prepared us for what they had in store for us; we did more in the one week on O’ahu than we had in the entire six weeks in Malaysia.
Wanting to reciprocate for their wonderful hospitality, Stefan offered to make dinner one night, his speciality, sushi. First-cousin-Once-Removed took Stefan shopping to obtain all the goodies needed. And for the most part they were successful. But they could not locate one essential item, the sushi mat, needed to compress and roll the sushi into neat bite-sized rounds. After perusing the shops in the immediate vicinity without success they decided to try their luck at a sushi restaurant.
Anticipating the awkwardness of the request, First-Cousin-Once-Removed immediately confused matters by telling the man behind the counter that they intended to compete with him and could he help them out with a sushi mat?
The man looked at them, “For when?” he asked confused.
“Tonight,” they replied smiling.
“What about the ingredients?” he asked.
“Oh we have all the ingredients,” they replied, pleased with the morning’s successful purchases.
“For what time?” he asked.
“Right now,” they stated in unison.
He gave them a wary look and said he would go and ask the boss.
The boss came out from the back and looked at them up and down in a guarded way.
“I don’t have anyone available tonight.” He said.
“But surely you have a mat to spare?” they pleaded.
“Oh a MAT, a sushi mat! I thought you were looking for a sushi MAN,” said the boss relieved.
What must have been going on in this man’s mind when these two audacious men entered the store telling him they were going to go into competition with him and wanted a sushi man to help them right away?
The pair of them arrived home late and slightly hysterical. They boasted to us womenfolk about their exploits and that they had nearly brought home a sushi man. We were unimpressed, the fact of the matter was that they had neither man nor mat.
BIG ISLAND AND O’AHU, HAWAII: 11-03-2014
Take a woman with you if you really want a sushi mat for dinner. (Or man of course)
For South Africans, Malaysia is a very convenient country to visit. There is no visa necessary and their Immigration is very efficient; no arrival form to fill in, just a quick scan of your thumbprints and you are given a three-month visa stamp in your passport.
We have visited two islands since we have been here; Penang and Langkawi. Langkawi, where the Andaman Sea meets the Straits of Malacca, is somewhat more laidback; there are white beaches, rice paddies, palm trees, hotels and a slow pace of life. The infrastructure is fairly run down, but it is clean and the Malaysians, generally, speak very good English.
We are staying in a small cottage in a village outside one of the main touristy areas, Pantai Cenang. The villagers, water buffalos and chicken have been surprised to see a western couple jogging along the narrow roads between rice paddies and rain forest, and although they laugh and shake their heads, they are friendly lot and seem supportive of our efforts. The main form of entertainment here for youngsters is kite-flying, which takes place most afternoons when they gather in the paddies and send elaborate kites hundreds of meters up into the sky.
One of the most interesting places to visit here are the mangrove forests and limestone formations in the Kilim Geoforest Park, north-east of the island. You can take a boat tour through the extensive waterways and see not only the unusual mangroves, but the wildlife of the area; fish, monkeys, bats, snakes, eagles and kites.
The creatures on this route must be the most well-fed creatures in all of Malaysia; first you feed the stripy fish (bread) in a sheltered sea cove where they act a bit like ferocious piranhas, then it is the Macaque monkeys (bread and bananas) and finally the Sea Eagles and kites (chicken), who dive and skim the water for their food.
Some of the monkeys even swim out and climb onto the boats. Babies attached to their mothers have learnt to hold their breath and cling on for dear life. The monkeys can even “duck-dive” disappearing completely under the water for some seconds to retrieve a sinking banana.
You CAN teach an old monkey new tricks.
LANGKAWI, MALAYSIA: 20-02-2014
Thailand, a country of ancient culture, the longest reigning monarch, golden Buddha’s, white beaches, massages, full-moon beach parties and sex tourism.
In Phuket tourism is booming, and we found ourselves right in the thick of it; within walking distance of Patong beach. We hired scooters, the most convenient way of exploring the island and its many beaches and restaurants during the day.
But it’s at night that the island truly comes alive. This is when the clubs and bars open and the girls emerge; girls on poles, girls dancing on the tables, girls in dark doorways, girls ready to massage, girls in sex shows and the girls that are not girls, the ladyboys. And all these scantily clad girls attract Western men in their hoards.
We decided to see two shows; a Ladyboy show and a Ping Pong show. All these shows are advertised as free entry, but that’s just to get you inside. Once they have you, you are charged exorbitant prices for your drinks. Well the Ladyboy Show was entertainment and worth the price of the drinks. But I have to say, although the ladyboys can look very attractive, they just cannot move like a girl.
Next it was onto a Ping Pong Show. We had heard all about the women’s prowess and were ready to be impressed. Somehow the price of a drink now increased three-fold; I mean it really was expensive, even for Ping Pong. So we were going to be choosy. After looking-in at three shows (you are allowed a quick look-see) we realised that the women’s abilities were far less spectacular than the stories we had heard of them hitting a target from a distance. It was quite simply more ping than pong. So we gave up and watched a street magician instead.
We should have believed that sign that said “No Ping Pong Bullshit Here”
PHUKET, THAILAND: 14-01-2013
The first thing we noticed was the continual crowing of a large number of cocks, the second the many baskets standing outside homes and on the streets, each with a single cock inside.
“What are those cocks doing there?” We asked our host Ketut. “Are they for sale?”
“Oh no, those cocks are for fighting.”
He explained to us how cock-fighting happens daily in Bali. And even though officially it’s illegal, the police tend to turn a blind eye.
“People have lost money, their motor bikes, their cars and even their land through cock-fighting,” he said.
Cocks are expensive, especially the ones that fly up and fight in the air, they can cost more than R1500 for a single bird. These fighting cocks are trained and given a special diet, which can even include meat, before they fight.
Sometimes a man is so obsessed with his cock, “he will dream about it and take it out at night and stroke it,” said Ketut.
This story had a familiar ring to it.
Men are the same all over the world.
SERAYA, BALI: 09-12-2014
So we went off the beaten track, away from Kuta beach, away from other tourists, away from the hustle and bustle, the traffic, the pubs, the noise … a solitary guest cottage in an isolated, rural Bali village; how tranquil, how quiet … Oh no, no, NO!
Here your ears are assailed with different kinds of noises, some identifiable, many not. And in the dark of the night and early hours of the morning these noises seem abnormally loud and nearby. Against a backdrop of continuous shrill humming of cicadas, there’s squealing pigs, barking dogs, mooing cows, the curious clicking call of the gecko, unusual bird whistles, repetitive hollow melodies from a Bali xylophone, the rumblings of motorbikes and shouts of children. Not to mention the call of the holy man on his loudspeaker, and three days of prayer for a death in the village.
But there is one creature, found in abundance in Bali, that outperforms them all, from morning to night and throughout the night too. It’s the crow of the cock. Somehow the brief about only crowing at dawn missed these cocks on the island of Bali.
Don’t kid yourself; the countryside is not necessarily quieter than the city.
SERAYA, BALI: 01-12-2014