Hennie Kok

Joined September 2016
  • Day14

    Narbonne - Capestang

    September 16, 2016 in France ⋅

    Collected the barge Saturday lunchtime and set off down the Canal de Robine towards Salleles D'Aude. First lock within 300m from departure, had to wait for the lock to prepare, then embarrassed myself by overshooting the entrance and had to perform a 12 point turn in a barge fairly reluctant to steer accurately in reverse. Or going astern, if any marine pedants ever read this. Other than that, the normal chaos of ascending a lock, ropes flying everywhere, but one soon settles into a routine.
    The recommended speed on the canals is six km/hr, very leisurely indeed. The world passes quietly. The great joy of barging in France is that one is allowed to moor anywhere, unless expressly prohibited. As the locks close at 7 pm we
    did this on a quiet stretch, just before Salleles, and just after the lock controlling the merging of the canal and the river Aude. This lock house is remarkable, of beautiful proportions it was built in 1789, fortunately daily life was still continuing as the Revolution started in Paris. The worn limestone steps all contain many fossils. Were the masons curious, cutting the stone and seeing these shapes 250 years ago?
    It's the immense sense of antiquity in daily objects that can be quite overwhelming at times. I constantly find myself wondering who built this building, how did they live, what tools did they use. More than ever I desire a time machine.

    Salleles d'Aude; a small, simple and lovely town with a very deep lock, lifting the barge a good four meters in one step.
    I found the boulangerie Sunday morning at seven. Friendly young man, dusted with flour, selling fresh croissants and bread. Long conversation in pidgin French and English.
    From here to the Canal du Midi the canal is lined with stone pines. These, warmed by the sun, lets one drift quietly through a fog of pine scent.

    Soon after leaving Salleles you find a pottery near the canal. Established during the first century AD by the Romans for the manufacture of amphorae, it has been in operation in some form or the other since then. Now a museum, amphora are still produced and fired in the reconstructed Roman kilns. A deeply satisfying shape, the amphora, and very practical.

    And on to the junction of the two canals.
    Heartbreak. Ten years ago the Canal du Midi was a long green tunnel, formed by giant plane trees meeting overhead, through which one moved gently, coolly. Now one moves through a wasteland of dying, dead and felled trees. All through a microscopic fungus called Ceratocystis platani, imported to France during WWII in wooden ammo boxes. Dormant till recently, fully 60% of those glorious trees have gone now, and probably none will be left in three year's time.
    The French changed the landscape during the 1600s, now Ceratocystis does it again. Fortunately replanting is in full swing, thousands of Turkish oak, maple and white poplar saplings already line the banks. For the grandchildren.
    And perhaps, to myself as a woodworker, the saddest point about this is that all the trees need to be burnt, cremated, to prevent the spreading of the disease. All that beautiful wood. Ai. That good Afrikaans word, what else can one say.
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  • Day11


    September 13, 2016 in France ⋅

    Flight from Edinburgh to Amsterdam, then onto Montpellier, then a train to Narbonne. Travel by train is great, it provides an impersonal view of other people's lives through backyards always looking onto the tracks. One is treated to a constant tableau of frayed knickers on washlines, assorted appliances that should have been sent to the dump, old Citroen cars on blocks and vegetable patches. This appears to be the form of gardening the French love, the remainder of the garden can be scrubland, but the tomatoes are immaculate.
    Also passed the vast oyster farms in the lagoons around Seté, all organic, or as it is referred to here, Bio.

    Narbonne, very old and beautiful city. Dating back to 118BC it was the Roman capital of Gaul. And a Roman bridge still exists in the town, in daily use. Great engineers they were. The city has not suffered gentrification, slightly delapidated houses with lovely wrought iron balconies and wooden shutters line narrow streets. Could be a set for a movie in the Twenties starring Belmondo in a white suit.
    Late at night glanced through open shutters, young couple kissing with great intent. They outdo themselves at being French at times.
    Very hot, day and night, and the locals seem to view sleep as optional, three in the morning and groups still sitting outside cafes, happily chatting away.

    Les Halles, the market is stupendous, a wonderland for anyone who loves food. And how they do, endlessly discussing the virtues of this cheese versus that, the aroma of today's melons and on. Very proud of their culinary heritage and rightfully so. Everything fresh, produced with pleasure and affection. Vast array of olives, garlic ; large pink globes fresh from the fields or barrels filled with pickled cloves to be munched by the handful. The common cold cannot possibly be common here.
    Bought some tiny black figs (figue de Toulouse), achingly sweet, flat white peaches and melons. Cheese and butter, this with tiny flakes of salt and a large farm chicken from a rotisserie where they turn, constantly dripping fat onto the potatoes in the tray below. Heaven.
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  • Day2

    Edinburgh 2

    September 4, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅

    A great joy this, being able to walk a beautiful city. A pleasure shared by many of the residents on a Sunday morning, the streets thronging with folk. An aside, Edinburgh appears to be the UK capital for Hen parties; curious phenomenon and the equivalent of bachelor parties, but far better organised. From early on parties of determined looking women emerge from the railway station, having traveled from all over the UK, dressed in regalia of their choice, the bride to be very much in evidence with bows, garters and ribbons. They then move from pub to pub to restaurant, eventually staggering back to the station, stiletto heels over cobbled streets, a sight which could probably have the prospective groom heading for the hills. .

    I struggle to define Edinburgh, it is far more European in look and feel than a UK city. Long curving streets, lined with granite buildings, little or no ostentatious decorating apart from the glorious window boxes. Thankfully they also have very stringent building regulations and no late 20th century horrors are visible,at least not in the city as such. Curiously, some of the pre-Victorian buildings are quite Dutch in appearance. Perhaps the shared Calvinism? Equally strange, the ubiquitous yellow paint one sees in Germany also makes a frequent appearance here.A verdant city, immense parks and pockets of trees virtually everywhere.

    Hein treated us to lunch at The Scran and Scallie on Sunday. This is Tom Kitchin's gastropub in Stockbridge. A holder of a Michelin star, he produces plain food that is very, very good.. I had the stargazy pie, but sadly without the little fish peering at the sky, presumably not to offend or upset sensitive customers. Waitress very Nordic in appearance, turns out to be from the Isle of Skye. Quite often come across Scots who seem to have just left the set of a Viking movie.

    Wandered through book and charity shops after lunch. Huge number of both of these and really makes one understand what poor bookshops and selections we have back home. I shall come back with a sack of books! And the charity shops have good quality clothing at silly prices, no shame in buying from them at all.

    In praise of leggings: the majority of young women here have wonderful legs, and this year they are all wearing leggings.Watching them stride about is like peeling onions. To be young again.

    Visited the National gallery on Monday, exhibition featuring Daubigny, Monet and van Gogh. Beautifully curated, showing Daubigny's influence on later Impressionists. In contrast I later walked past the Fruitmarket Gallery, exhibition by Damien Ortega featuring random lumps of clay. Much of abstract art seems to be fraudulent and cynical,a mere attempt to hoodwink the public to part with money for what is essentially rubbish.


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  • Day1

    Edinburgh September 3

    September 3, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅

    Started the day at the Farmer's Market on Castle Terrace. Lots of fresh produce, eggs, cheeses, fish and meat for sale, much of it organic, or at least claiming to be so. Surprisingly much of the beef sold is in fact water buffalo, probably as it is much lower in cholesterol or fat content. Bought lovely new potatoes, apples and cherries. The Scots are friendly, not unlike South Africans, constantly smiling and happy to chat. Of course the chatting can be quite meaningless till you begin to decipher the accents.

    Wandered through to Grassmarket from there, passing Maison de Moggy on the way. A tea shop with a resident cat population; you pay £7 to enter, another fiver for tea and you can wander around stroking cats for one hour, and all this for a mere R250. Strange. Or perhaps a sad reflection on our continuing estrangement from nature.

    Edinburgh is utterly charming, truly a small city. Bookshops and good food abound, nowhere appears to be crowded and everyone is very relaxed. A good place to live, Hein loves it here.

    Lunch was soba noodles from a stall in Grassmarket, then made the fatal mistake of going to Surgeon's Hall. Great museum but the pathology rooms are perhaps better visited before lunch. There was a wedding on at a reception room at the museum. Great delight, pipers skirling, men striding around looking very splendid in kilts and women in some very unfortunate frocks and hats.

    Found an absolute wonder on Candlemakers Row: Mr Fossil, a shop filled with fossils from all over the world at very reasonable prices. Thank the lord for Qatar Airways generous luggage allowance.

    Finally, dinner at a superb Vietnamese restaurant around the corner from Hein's flat. Beautiful Vietnamese waitress with just the tiniest beginning of a Scottish brogue. The mind boggles.
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