Thursday, 5 October 2017

Fogbound in Porto

A white impenetrable wall that we can walk through but remains enclosing us; always present,  permitting no vision of anything beyond.
The foghorn hoots mournfully and the huge cruise ships chug into the harbour, lights ablaze, and wait for the sun to reappear.
Our French friends set out in their small sail boat one evening when it was still bright, but we know there was fog out at sea so we are hoping to hear they have reached Lisbon safely. The sea is cruel, I never lose a threatened sense.
Here in the marina the fog presses silence on all activity.
David and I went for a walk along the front, where a couple of days ago people lay sunbathing on the sand. Now even the breakers seemed hushed. A few black shapes moved into view, cycling or walking, and then were gone again.
Here is our dear Stroemhella, waiting at the mouth of the Douro, for the mist to lift, a week ago.
Happily, the sun does return. So we could chug round the corner to Paco do Palmeira where, in a more down-market marina, we find all the heart could desire.
Now I have started writing a short story about two brothers at sea (ha ha, the metaphors are plenty!) trying to sail through the mist ...
When we were off the northwest Scottish coast (Outer Hebrides) many years ago, we encountered a mist like this. It makes everything quiet and mysterious.
Through that stillness we heard the melancholy sound of bagpipe music and slowly through the mist came a small yacht with the bagpipe player standing on board. We sounded our (also musical!) ship's horn. He responded. I plan to merge this unforgettable scene into my story...

Monday, 2 October 2017

Return to Porto and much feasting...

Each day on the Douro was a delight. We were overwhelmed by the peace...
No other boats were attempting this slightly tricky journey, except of course the huge cruisers whom we encountered at mooring places. In Pinhao we were lucky on our upward trip to find the only unoccupied pontoon. All the rest were bagged by the Biggies...
Here we are having a quiet night in Pinhao before we were joined by our Dutch friends, Harry and Ati.
The next few days were passed going deeper into the quiet, 'between walls of shadowy granite' (line from Tennyson's The Lotus Eaters) (actually the rock of which the soil is composed is apparently chist, although I am sure we encountered some black basalt...). It was utterly magnificent. We would sit silently absorbing the warmth of the hills. Every day sun. The rocky or the tree-filled slopes are coloured in intricate complexity. Here a pic!
Still waters sometimes, as here, but at the end of the day the wind could get up, whooshing down the river, urging us into a secure sheltered spot.
We cooked splendid suppers on the boat (our two-burner stove proving itself very good at subtle adjustments of temperature!).
And of course it is grape-harvest time, and often along the road bordering the river we would see the lorries loaded with fruit, being taken to the Quinta where it would be pressed, put into casks, later to be bottled...

This is a grape-laden lorry at one of the places where we moored on our way back down the Douro.
I would have liked to do a little grape-trampling but I suspect you have to arrange this in Portuguese, and so far I am limited to asking for beer or vinho verde (actually I'm slightly more fluent than this would suggest, which is proving very useful...).
Going down through the locks I spoke a mixture of English and Portuguese on the mariphone, and all went extremely smoothly.
It was marvellous to have Harry and Ati with us, helping with tying fast the boat when necessary, often doing the washing up (!) and to have their company during these days. David and Harry exchanged engineering talk, Ati and I shared a more artistic take on events...
Unforgettable days. Long hours in ever-changing light. Quiet evenings. We all slept deeply and untroubled. Stories for grey winter nights...

Monday, 18 September 2017

Halfway up the river Douro

Sitting in a riverside restaurant in Pinhao, halfway up the river Douro to the Spanish frontier.
Around me are voices speaking Portuguese with its distinctive intonation and "sh" sounds (every time an "s" occurs...).
I feel I have eaten too much fish for lunch, accompanied by the excellent local vinho branco (white wine), cool and delicious and far from costly!
Ever since we left Porto five days ago the sun has accompanied us, dispelling the early morning mists and urging us into shady places at midday.
Now we have moored Stroemhella at a convenient pontoon, where she bounces happily and is admired by the local fisherfolk.
I attempt a pic at this point:
Yes, this is our mast-less Stroemhella moored at the bouncing pontoon, beneath a verdant weeping willow. We are presently just with the two of us on the boat. We were accompanied from Porto marina by Ricardo, a young Portuguese student who proved indescribably helpful and also very entertaining and of course utterly indispensable when it came to speaking Portuguese with the lock-keepers. I am somewhat trepidatious (!) about my Portuguese on the return journey... but Ricardo has offered to help. (Long-distance telephoning...).

From the very start the trip was beautiful. The river gently curving first through houses and winding roads, further on between steep rocky hillsides.
Here we are leaving Porto and chugging upstream.

On the second day we had left the paved streets and on either side was woodland or huge rounded hills, often scorched by this summer's devastating fires.
And then came the rocky slopes, the huge boulders and the cracked stones, with the trees beginning to claim their autumn tones.

At the end of each day we found a quiet place to moor and David prepared us splendid meals so that we did not envy the guests in the five-star hotels. We would sit in the back cockpit until it grew too dark to see... And the nights were still and rocked us gently into bright dreams.
Sleep is deep and soft and holds no anguished moments.Unblemished.
Tomorrow we shall continue gently further.

This reminds me of:
Swete Themmes runne softley 
Till I end my song...

Ah, but today is very windy...

White wavelets across the river.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Another try for pix

Here is the monastery at Lece do Bilhao, where for four days there was a splendid costumed medieval fair, with music and jugglers and wondrous-tasting food cooked in wood-fired ovens. I have more jolly pix but as this one took over a minute to position here, I refrain from more until I've found an efficient manner to transfer them!
The weather continues sunny and friendly and helpful for outdoor activities.
The mast has now been taken down and the rigging extracted and washed and hung up to dry.
We have introduced ourselves to the staff here and practised Portuguese and are feeling very cheerful at the prospect of several months in this area.
But first the river Douro. So with lots of wishes for a Boa Viaje we plot our trip upstream and apply to the first locks that we'll need to negotiate.
We have asked a young Portuguese student to come with us : very useful as interpreter when my Portuguese becomes too Spanish (!) and very helpful for the moments when ropes need pulling, tying etc., since I still have considerable pain in my shoulders.
I plan to sing a lot as my contribution to the journey...

Monday, 11 September 2017

Wide horizons

Out there is only sea, unceasingly breaking in rushing foamy runnels, whooshing onto the sand. I have got used to its sound and now do not hear it all the time. But when we have stopped talking (or singing) there it is, unceasing, scarcely comforting, except in its familiarity.
It sucks away the sound of our voices, our words shrivel and there is only a huge wideness.
So how can I write when words become so trivial? All I need is the wind on my face and the sun on my back, and no aches in legs or shoulders. And off we go, at a good pace, across the wet sand and the bumpy hillocks and the uneven rocks.
This place is full of grace and cleanliness. Our small boat is moored at a pontoon (weathered slats of black wood, sometimes splitting, always rocking as we walk along it) ad our neighbours are boats of similar length, from other European countries, often waiting to cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean.
Not us: we have taken down our mast (quite a to-do) and in a few days will begin our trip up the river Douro to the Spanish frontier. Six locks to negotiate, many bends and day after day of quietness (at least, that's the idea).
We have also been entertained by some urban delights, in the centre of Porto, things like ancient buildings (churches and so forth) and fine meals in good restaurants (I never knew how excellent the Portuguese cuisine could be!) and medieval music at a beautifully organized Fayre in an old monastery nearby, which I have a charming picture of but the internet connection is so abysmally slow here on the boat that I will stick to words, not images.
In fact I'll try tomorrow when there's not such an overload!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

These autumn days...

I'm getting ready to return to the boat which is now in a marina in Porto (northern Portugal, on the Atlantic coast).
Change of life-style, no more space to twirl in but instead a rocking floor (!) and lullaby of the waves washing onto the sandy beach.
Bags packed, weight checked, should be just the right amount...
Too many thoughts chasing around in my head, stories friends have been telling me, tales of death and sickness, countered by the laughter of children playing in the street outside my window.
I must try to make a pic of me sitting typing at my long oak table, looking out across the narrow road, to where the roses climb up the brick wall of my neighbours' house.
Below: me looking from my balcony.
Last night I lay thinking about my life onland in contrast to my life on the boat. I still prefer a dry bed...
Something like this: how grand the sea viewed from the shore, how beautiful the clouds when not about to shower down and make the deck slippery ... and no space inside the boat to get dry...
(The painting above is of course by a Dutch master and presently hanging in Berlin.)
I love it, the soft colours, the huge sky, I feel the wind blowing, I hear it soughing in the sails (or it that only for the leaves of trees?). Very happy to be near the sea (where I was born, with the Rocky mountains on the other side).
We'll give it another try.
Seven weeks before the winter rains arrive in Porto.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Amazing urban peace...

In the night it started to rain. Puddles appeared where there had been green grass. The sand could not absorb the downpour. Lots of happy ducks.
People donned rain capes and cycled off as usual. The day remained grey.
Amsterdam remains beautiful! Indeed, a quiet envelopes the streets. It is still August, holiday month, but almost over.
I walked down to the Town Hall (known as the Stopera, combined with the Opera House) and noticed a considerable decrease in tourists. But still met a couple from the region of Abruzzo, so could keep my Italian oiled. When we sailed down the east coast of Italy a few years ago we visited Abruzzo and admired its mountainous beauty. That was September 2014 (for the record!)
Today in Amsterdam there were still quite a few people out on foot, despite the rain. And of course, it did clear up.
Here some pix of a flotilla cycling through the Rijksmuseum, and nearby canals.
Returning home from my expedition I encountered a sad sight: on the corner of the street where the (historic monument) building has stood for several hundred years, the once French consulate, Maison Descartes, was being emptied. The building (a landmark monument) has been sold to a property developer and the French consulate is off to The Hague. No more lovely French films without subtitles (!), no more delicious meals (there used to be a real French cook who produced real French cuisine, not minimal!) and no more cultural activities (I once had the pleasure of hearing Tim Parks talk about his writing). Definitely the end of an era. Not yet clear what will happen with this building (presently in need of considerable t.l.c.): we wait to see. Happily it is a monument and thereby protected...
Here some pix:
taking boxes and furniture from an upper storey
Boxes being exited!
Yes, I think this counts as the end of an era ... or perhaps simply part of the ever-ongoing urbanization of the inner city. It seems that "ordinary" people are being pushed out, schools closing, and cities in Europe and elsewhere being taken over by hotels, restaurants and trinket shops. No, this is definitely not true of Amsterdam, though I do detect these tendencies ... But the Gymnasium (secondary school where you can learn Latin and Greek and many other subjects to a very high level before opting for university if you wish) which my kids attended is still round the corner from our house and still flourishing. However, the small bakers and butchers and flower shops have all gone; the supermarkets and "to-go" shops have taken over.
Yet this remains a fascinating city to live in; and on my visit to the Town Hall (the Stadhuis, donating its first two letters to the name Stopera: the Opera wins!) this morning I enjoyed a wonderful typically Amsterdam scene: two children, strangers to each other, a blonde three year old girl and a dark slightly older boy, played a  game circling one of the large pillars in the spacious waiting room. It was a kind of hide and seek... she found it hilarious and her delight was infectious: the little boy, more serious and shy to begin with, was soon sharing her giggles and whoops of delight. One of the many Dutch people watching, said how good it was to see this uninhibited pleasure (before the woes of the world overtake these children!).
Outside it is raining again. Here's a picture of the sky brightening. Beautiful city. Trees, and bikes, and water.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Golden late summer

A friend of mine who has lived in Amsterdam for around forty years claims that August is the best month to be here. I tend to agree (well, provided there's plenty of sunlight.) It's holiday time for schools and businesses, and the traffic is substantially diminished. Of course, over the past decade there have been increasing numbers of tourists, so that there are a few streets, like those round the Museum Plein and the Rijksmuseum, where it can grow pretty dense... But I have a soft spot for tourists, and just love practising my languages (presently I'm into Portuguese and have charming chats with visitors from both Portugal and Brazil). Yesterday in the Flower Market, buying Dutch cheese with a friend, I detected some vowel sounds that seemed unfamiliar, and indeed, our assistant told us she came from the Ukraine and had married a Dutchman. Kiev is one of the cities I haven't yet visited, although my son had a school-friend whose mother was Ukrainian and one summer the two boys went to Russia, as it then was, and adventured to the Crimea and swam in the Black Sea (or was it the Caspian...??). Things to do! We have a family from the Ukraine living in our street (employees of Google I believe) and contributing to the considerably multi-ethnic character of this neighbourhood. At our last street party I spoke to people, just from my block, of nine different nationalities. This is Amsterdam for you... 
Living right in the city centre, I am close to the Vondel Park, where once I took my small children to play in one of the sand pits, still there today. I watch the kids who are intently building sand structures, talking to themselves about, or with, their invisible heroes, making the necessary noises to enhance their story. So far they are not distracted by smartphones, headphones or such like and can create from their imaginations the adventures that they choose. I am relieved.
I saw an astounding performance under one of the bridges near the main entrance to the Vondelpark, by SK Thoth, whom I had never heard of but my younger companions had. We looked him up on Youtube when we got home and watched "the story of his life" made about fifteen years ago. Born in the US, here he was in the Netherlands, playing his violin (a very good musician),  dancing and rhythmically stamping his feet so that the small bells round his ankles chattered an accompaniment. He sang and the sound caused goose bumps, a rich full alto voice (I thought at first it was the young woman singing who accompanied him playing on her violin) and then a full bass tone, the words resembling Italian, or perhaps an Indian language. Amazing. Rich and tender, powerful and haunting.
The sun shone, people stood still to listen, scattered over the grass lay the young and old, relaxing in the warmth.
Here a pic of the light through the green...

Friday, 25 August 2017

Green cities. Amsterdam and Berlin

That title is a slight pun, since in the recent General Elections in the Netherlands, the Green Party gained the majority in the city of Amsterdam. But apart from that, it is the trees, in all their shimmering variety, that are so striking as one drives into either Amsterdam or Berlin, from one of their airports.
First, Berlin, where I spent a week in August. Interesting weather, I missed the heat wave and arrived to rain, and experienced torrential downpours at the end of my stay. In between, clouds, sun and warm wind; most pleasant. I stayed most of the time on Markgrafendamm and familiarized myself with U and S bahnen and the local buses. One sunny day I explored the nearby Trep Tower Park, with its huge monument to the Soviet heroes (!) who died fighting fascism, we are told by the inscription.
It was a warm Berlin summer day, people licked ice-cream cornets  as they strolled along, children ran and jumped in the pools of sparkling water gushing from the fountains, couples rented small paddle boats and disported (!) themselves on the lake, the huge trees spread dappled shadows on the paths, and the overall feeling was one of happy holidays. Forget briefly the craziness in Barcelona and elsewhere. Mourn and enjoy simultaneously...
Berlin has some of the most magnificent museums in Europe, and I spent some very happy days seeing excellent exhibitions. Unforgettable was the Kathe Kollwitz museum. Learned a lot about Berlin between the two world wars. Understand more...
I took quite a lot of pix of parks and sculptures and will attempt to fly them into my blog, who knows, it might work...

So this is a sculpture Kathe Kollwitz made, one of the few, which is displayed on the top floor of the museum dedicated to her life and work.
A place of memory and hope.

Here in Amsterdam it is sunny and green, the streets are packed with tourists round the centre, but it is easy to find quiet slipways! Many Amsterdammers go on holiday in August but there are also splendid activities such as the travelling "circus" known as The Parade. This is encamped on the grass of one of the green parks on the outskirts of the city, beside the river. It is a collections of small tents in which there are performances and videos and music and dancing while outside long tables stretch out to welcome the hungry. I saw an enthralling performance titled 100 degrees centigrade. Go see if you have time!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Lisbon in July

Warm and windy. Wonderful! So much to see and do.
We find the Portuguese people we meet extremely friendly and mostly speaking excellent English and eager to help us benighted travellers whose Portuguese comprehension remains slightly minimal!!

We are in a delightful marina, small and quiet, in the Parque do Nacoes. Splendidly located, there is a waterfront walk all through the Parque and nearby is one of the best Aquariums we have ever visited (a cut about Dubai and Valencia and Monterey!).
We make frequnst expeditions into the centre of Lisbon, visiting monuments and wandering up the black-and-white paved streets of the Alfama district (topped by the Castle of Saint George, Castelo Sao Jorge).
I need to devote an entire section to the fado music and museum; and another to the food...

Here some short poems to whet the appetite:

Lisbon heat
In the still heat of the southern afternoon
there remains nothing to be said 
Too hot to argue or pronounce
and certainly to sing.
But the wind chivvies, stirs up
the dry seeds sheltering in unseen corners
eddying them into life
and lifts the dry leaves from
their lodging places in gutters and
cracks of pavements...
Let the music begin

Fado songs 

I understood but could not catch the words
to hold them in my memory.
I watched the faces of the singers:
their eyes closed to hold inside the memories
of pain, of grief, of jealousy, of rage...
The translations into English
appeared on the screen below:
"I sing of life
and all its mysteries"

Vinho Branco

In the shade, on a hot afternoon
A glass jug and three beakers
The wine a palest gold
and cold, moisture gathers on the jug's outside
We drink...
The joy of coolness quenching a hot day

(Written on 2-7- 2017)

Our plan is to stay here several weeks on the boat in the marina, visiting Lisbon every other day. We have also booked a couple of nights in Sintra next week.
I record the sights on my smartphone and manage to transfer the pix onto this laptop (not always!) which makes life easier.
Not yet a mistress of the intangible ether, but progressing...

So much to tell, so many thoughts during the hours of waking, and of course there are also the bright dreams!!
Feeling good in this corner of the world.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The return of the words...

After all, some letter could always be retrieved ... but now at last, back in Amsterdam, and after a visit to the Apple shop, resplendent with a new keyboard, I can once more communicate with more than grunts and stutters.
But first the business matters, banking and suchlike... afterwards the pleasantries.

Lovely to be back, spring in full blossom, tulip fields vaunting many-coloured, and even if cold winds are blowing, the skies radiantly blue and white clouds scudding.

Portugal was fascinating, especially coming to grips with the language... And the Algarve and Alentejo are home to some of the most stunning uncorrupted (!) countryside I have ever seen.
Took many wonderful photographs.

Now for some tidying up.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Where have all the letters gone ...?

I frequently wonder this as I start to type on my beloved laptop and behold ... where I type a letter in the top row only a silence appears...
So I'm going to take up writing in a notebook, until better times (i.e. a Mac Apple shop. like in Amsterdam!)
This explains the blank pages; sorry friends.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Nada ...

Which is Pgs f "nhng" and an amp  xplan ha h p ln f m kebad s n spndng ... s n ns da fnds
Here the letters are beginning to return ... how we need our entire alphabet in order to communicate more than mere incoherent grunts!
Nada by the way, means "nothing" in Portuguese.
But now I must stop since we are off to a fado sing-song ... so ciao for now...
Let's hope the keyboard stays happy for tomorrow...

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

New language, new culture

The evening after my return to the boat, we found that the Cultural Centre in Lagos was holding a dance performance with music by the great Brazilian composer, Villa-Lobos. Lovely, we have definitely chosen the right place to spend the winter months... We joined the small audience in the theatre and waited expectantly. In the programme for the performance I found a delightful quote by Paul Binnerts, theatre director and drama teacher, working in Amsterdam and New York:
The intimate and delicate performance was like a dialogue between the dancer and the musician /guitar player, as if they were talking with each other about secrets only they knew about. But we understood them anyway.
The dancer was Simone Marcal (the "c" pronounced as "s") and the guitarist Josue Nunes. The choreography and stageing was by Tela Leao. I found it enthralling. The solo dancer took us through the centuries of Brazilian dance, changing costume on the stage, never losing our attention, occasionally calling out some words in Portuguese, holding a mimed dialogue with Josue the guitarist, who sat at the side of the stage performing with virtuosic skill, while Simone made breathtaking leaps, somersaults and thoughtful glissades, from time to time approaching the very edge of the stage and communicating with us the audience using her most expressive face!
Here a quote about the final section:
Etude no. 11 in E minor
This etude has a melodic line that sounds like the ritual dances of the Brazilian Indians during the Quarup ceremony honouring the dead. With this music we evoke and pay tribute to our own dead. The choreography ends with a reference to the first steps of The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky, choreographed by Nijinsky, which opened in 1913, the same year that Villa-Lobos's compositions were published.
I found that neatly pleasing. I notice there will be another performance on 4 March quite near Lagos and am wondering if we could attend it...
The dancing reminded me a little of my former tenant, the dancer Eilit Marom, now teaching in Haifa, I believe; she developed her special style of movement, combining lithe gymnastic-like use of the body, built upon what is clearly a structure of classical ballet steps. A joy to watch.
Having spent several years (pre-teens) enthralled by ballet and a devotee of the English magazine Dance and Dancers, I still find it entrancing to watch dance that has developed out of classical ballet, adding other less rigid movement and sometimes voice, yet retaining the discipline of the plies and the petits-battements... (sorry about the missing accents...).

So here we are in a quiet corner of the Algarve, the pounding sea across the street, watching and listening to a performance that transported us to the far forests of Brazil, another culture and a new language of rhythm and movement .
Each morning as light gleams across the water I look out of my cabin porthole into the openness outside and if I could, I'd do a grand-jete (yes, accents missing!) off the boat, onto the bouncing pontoon and on and on...
It is a long time since I've done that!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Back on the boat (in Lagos marina)

We arrived here last September. Delighted with our decision to overwinter in the Algarve: the countryside is more beautiful than I had realized. (This is where I should fly over a few pix, showing the rolling vine slopes, the rugged rocky cliffs, the ancient hilltop cities -- some dating back to pre-Roman times, and the endless fields filled with olive trees or covered with the cork oaks for which Portugal is famous).
But first words, then pix! As soon as we crossed the river Guadiana that forms the boundary between Spain and Portugal, running south into the Atlantic (west of Gibraltar), we noticed the difference.
Well, of course, the language: we really thought we were hearing Russian until our ears grew acclimatized! I am used to languages where much is swallowed (think of English!) and where the final syllable is dropped. But Portuguese really excels.  I hastily looked up a Centro de Linguas within walking distance of our boat ,and enrolled for ten private lessons, which cost two (people) for the price of one! So David came along too. We had an excellent teacher who soon picked up our love for words, though she couldn't always answer our questions. But her pronunciation was beautiful and still, several months later, in my head I hear her clear diction: moeite bom!
Just before we left in December I enrolled for a follow-up course, more intensive, 15 lessons of two hours ... looking forward to this: starting on Monday.
The weather now is a joy... clear skies and sunshine, occasionally a soft wind, rocking the boat gently, the ropes creaking as they pull. Sounds that rustle through the background and play through my dreams.
How quickly one adjusts to climate change and cramped space: I think I have far too many clothes and shoes on this boat, but of course with somewhat variable weather conditions one does need to be prepared. As soon as I feel my elbows are becoming squashed, I hop off onto the wobbly pontoon and plod cormorant-like to where the ground is steady!
I will also try to fly over a pic of the cormorants, our determined neighbours, who dry their shining wings at the end of our pontoon, diving from time to time into the grey waters, and returning with a fat fish.
I calculate we spent about three months here last year, though with visits to Lisboa and the Alentejo province for olive harvesting. (More pix available!) The plan now is a couple of months in Portugal, maybe a week in Seville, and then back to Amsterdam in April. By which time I aim to be dreaming in Portuguese. At present the dreams are in other languages: in French, Italian and Spanish. English and Dutch are always there, day and night:
fragments of poems, dialogues, songs... The pic is of David and me in trekking gear: I just love the expression on David's face... I suspect he was feeling sleepy!
The pic was actually taken in Malaysia, waiting at a small airport before returning to Brunei.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

More thoughts from Borneo...

Here is an illegal fire in the jungle: we don't know who lit it, or why. Our guide regarded it sternly and remarked sadly how many people (especially those from cities) do not know how to respect Nature. He had grown up in Temburong and learnt about the jungle from his father. He knew an astonishing amount about the plants, the trees, the ways of the water, and the geology of the area.

The second picture is one I took as we returned down the river Temburong, back to Bandar Seri Begawan. As we zoomed onward the sky darkened and the clouds burst, pouring down a fierce deluge, accompanied by rumbles of thunder. Terrific. I managed to make a video of part of this. Might even manage to transport that from my photo collection to FB. Life really is a question of continual learning!
Writing now in Amsterdam where spring is appearing after a weekend of wondrous snow (crunching through whiteness, snowballs and sledges for the kiddies, even a snowman with a carrot for a nose). I did manage to fly the snowman pic onto my FB for those who are interested! Still need to practise some photo-flying techniques in order to lighten my pages of pulsating prose ... (ah how I love a little alliteration).
Now back to packing because in a couple of days I'm off to Portugal to join David on the boat. Looking forward to this, and the course I've enrolled myself on, fifteen lessons of Portuguese, intermediate level, at the end of which I shall/should be able to say a little more than chamo-me Wendie (and guess what that means...). Added to which are the beauties of the Algarve countryside and coast, Moeite bom... (and not sure I've spelled that correctly, oh oh!)

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Goodbye Borneo...

A strange feeling, leaving a place with the almost certain knowledge that you'll never be there again.
It's definitely the rainy season, we awoke in the dark to downpour and saw the children off to school splashing through warm puddles before getting into the car. Who cares if you get soaked, it soon dries, and it's as enjoyable as a warm shower.
And the birds are wildly enthusiastic (do I detect a blackbird's trill?)
The stillness hangs over the house; I pack the large suitcase into which David and I fit everything we've needed during this month.
I will miss the quality of silence here; the trees hug the air inside their densely-matted spaces and do not speak. I only walked along careful paths carved for me so I could briefly turn my back on paved roads and systems of civilization.   
I understand now why people quit the built constructions we call towns and cities. But ambivalence remains: I do love Mozart and sushi!
The rain has stopped and through the dense green come sounds of twittering birds and chirping of crickets. Sometimes we have been visited by a few monkeys, delicately treading along the top of the back fence. They gather behind the stores nearby, scrounging leftovers from the little cafes (Starbucks and other multi-nationals).
Speaking of which, now for our final expedition down the hill to the little supermarket and handy local stores (run mainly by Chinese Malays).
Here comes the sun.

In Praise of the Jungle

Do you remember those small books published in the UK fifty or so years ago, part of a series titled In Praise of... and then something like Music, or Gardens, or Shakespeare? I was reminded of that as I pondered what to write about Borneo. Yes, In Praise of the Jungle. What do I find most striking about this phenomenon? First, the immense silence, then the endless green, then the incessant undersound of unseen creatures: birds, crickets, frogs chirping and insects buzzing, rustling of snakes and small creatures in the dense undergrowth. And often hidden streaming water from the many rivulets or waterfalls. But stand still, and you are overwhelmed by a ground bass of deep silence. Curious. Enormously restful.
We went for long walks (usually accompanied by a most knowledgeable guide) climbing into the caves (at Mulu) or along the slippery wooden board walks created for the urban explorers who wanted to rediscover a world their ancestors might have known.
In Temburong we canoed down the curving river, rushing over shallows where the white waves stood like tiny hillocks, and zooming around bends sometimes under the low hanging branches of the huge trees that throng the banks.
Now to try some pix:
This is what we're going back to tomorrow: that's my back garden in snowy Amsterdam! Well, not sure about the snow right now but certainly cold-ish. Such a contrast to here where the heat makes me need a shower every day (though I don't indulge).
I have put a selection of fine pix taken in Borneo on my FB page, but have decided for the time being to eschew all written comments on FB, awaiting a better global climate! Meanwhile here I shall blog about the beauties of the world (!) and try to record little stories about the things I see and think about from day to day.
Well, it's going to be a big leap tomorrow, from a place here where the warm air caresses the bare skin, to a country where one requires scarf and gloves and woollen-lined boots. But I'm looking forward to seeing friends and neighbours and all that the Netherlands has to offer of a cultural nature (music, films, museums ...).
Tomorrow the flight in the late afternoon, in three stages: BSB to KL, then after a four-hour wait, KL to Dubai, then Dubai to Amsterdam.
No more jungle except in the memory...
And the photo at the beginning of this blog shows me steering Stroemhella through the Straits of Messina, which is one of my finest memories!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

The jungle at Temburong, Brunei

Just returned from the most amazing and unforgettable day: sorry abut the cliches, but it really was!
Also rather exhausted (climbed about 1,000 steps from the level of the river to the heights where you can feel as if you're above the clouds...)
The wooden steps of the upward-leading stairs were very wet and slippery, so movement went at a slow pace. Some of our fellow adventurers gave up before reaching the top. I must say, although David and I are fairly fit for our ages (77 and 73) we had to pause for puffs from time to time. But we made it.
Took some fine photos which I shall attempt to publish.
But now weariness overcomes me, so the write-up will have to be postponed.
Tomorrow is our final day here, and I would not be surprised if this is the last time we visit Brunei.
It is a long journey from Europe and the climate does not entice me. However, the landscape is truly stunning and the culture (like all cultures!) is fascinating and I have loved being here.
More of this soon, I hope, before I become embroiled in Portuguese...
Terimah kasih all our Malaysian and Bruneian friends.

These pictures are of the Water Village at Bandar Seri Begawan.

Seen from the river Brunei, as we proceeded towards Temburong. That's a proboscis monkey... and the birds are egrets.

Friday, 3 February 2017

From the jungle of Borneo

Friday evening, 3 February, sitting in the house in Bandar Seri Begawan after supper, the children now getting ready for bed, all quiet and dark outside, save for the occasional hoot of a night bird.
This is the time of day I love here in Brunei. The oppressive heat is past (the day's work is done!) and since it is Friday we enjoyed a glass or two of Gewurztraminer legally smuggled into this Muslim country. We being Europeans and Christians are allowed wine for special occasions (!!).  Though my daughter just told me that at their afternoon party to celebrate the Chinese New Year they were offered champagne by their hostess. I love that.  Mingling of cultures...

Now I hear the frogs croaking outside and the gentle patter of the friendly geckos as the scamper up the walls. Inside or out. I guess soon there will be the customary evening downpour, splendid luscious drops of rain pounding down onto the shingle roofs and concrete of the front yard.

We have been here almost a month now; soon back to that other world in Europe. Every day has been full (I feel like misquoting: I have measured out my days in streams of sweat, not coffee-spoons).
Didn't get very far speaking Malay (though could recognize some expressions because of familiarity with Indonesian) but managed to produce Terimah Kasih (Thank you) at appropriate moments.
Shades of the colonial world do more than linger. I am still addressed as Ma'am in a deferential tone. Don't like this. I suppose I should say: My name is Wendie, please call me that. But not sure if that might offend, and it would require me to be here longer: time always too brief...

Tomorrow the last jungle adventure is planned, into Temburong. Untouched and uncorrupted, this area of Brunei boasts the best example of primary rainforest in the world (so the guidebook tells me).
So equipped with camera and a quantity of dried apricots, rucksacks packed, we set the alarm on our smartphone for six a.m.
A domani... (till tomorrow)

Pictures of the river at Bandar Seri Begawan

Thursday, 2 February 2017

January 2017... Back to blogging, and searching for Spring

Something like Herbert's poem The flower: After so many deaths, I live and write...

I am sitting in the Malaysian tropical jungle and around me is silence. It is hot and humid and I cannot say I feel really comfortable. But full of peace and far from the madding crowd. Occasionally the voices of my grandchildren break the silence. They are watching a video of Pokemon with the sound turned low, in consideration of the adults! Well-behaved children quite often (tone not too ironic...)
David is working on his laptop doing calculations of an intricate mathematical nature, in his attempt to establish the ultimate number of Magic Squares it is possible to create, or something in that realm but I'm afraid I cannot exactly grasp it; but I so see the sheer beauty of pages of neat symbols, equations in a language I do not comprehend but admire (somewhat like my reaction to Arabic script: beautiful and how I wish I could understand it). I am never quite sure if this work is really making him happy (he's been at it for years, writing, scrapping, re-writing, cursing, undoing, gleefully uttering noises of triumph, then once more undoing, deleting ... and so it goes on. He has the notion that having once begun he needs must finish. Well, OK, I respect that!
Now we are off to celebrate Chinese New Year here in Bandar Seri Begawan with Malaysian Chinese Christians. Life is nothing if traditions are not maintained!
Have lots of beautiful pix of this jungle, must try to fly some over. But pause now...