Thursday, July 11, 2024

Durban, South Africa: Howick Falls and Ardmore Design Art House

Today, we travel to Howick Falls and Ardmore Ceramics. What has been lost to me until now is how big South Africa is. It’s about twice the size of Texas.  From Durban, it’s a 17-hour drive to Cape Town. Durban is Africa's largest container and the world's #10 container port.  Like many places in the world, this place is like no other, yet it can be the same. 

Our guide to Howick Falls is a member of the Zulu tribe. She lives in a township south of Durban and has given us great insight into life in South Africa from the black perspective.  Although apartheid has ended, there are still two South Africa’s, one white and one black.  Things are improving, however, slowly.  Most of the black populations still live in townships that lack basic necessities like running water and modern sanitation.  They also suffer a 30% unemployment rate.  Places like Durban, Capetown, and Port Elizabeth are modern cities with great infrastructure.   It is a country of competing contrasts. 

Howick Falls is an hour or so outside of Durban in the interior of South Africa.  It is much different here than in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.  Lush Vegetation with tall trees set upon rolling hills.  It is much more in line with what I had pictured Africa in my mind.  

I find Durban a modern city with suburbs full of middle-class houses and shopping centers.  We also pass Apartheid-era townships that reflect the racial disparities that still exist in South Africa. On our way to the falls, we climb into the mountains, the terrain becoming more rugged.


Howick Falls is a magnificent setting in the town of Harwick, which could be any small American town. Even now, the evidence of apartheid is still visible, with a black township right on the outskirts of town. The falls flowing over the escarpment scream Africa. After visiting the lookout area and the adjacent shops, we head to lunch. 


Great Lunch at Granny Mouse, a short drive into the countryside.  This area looks much like Tennessee, and they say the climate is about the same.  It feels like Tennessee during the first week of August, although in South Africa, it's January.  A thundershower came through during lunch that cooled things off, just like in Tennessee.  It was a very adorable restaurant set in a country resort with a wedding chapel. 


I was apprehensive about visiting Ardmore Design after the Falls and lunch. Going to a ceramic factory? What could this be all about? Sure, the wine at the table during lunch was to prepare us for the big high-pressure sales pitch.  Luckily, this was all in my mind. 


Admore is set on a country estate with a gallery and artist workshop.  It is an amazing, eclectic place. Although it started as a ceramic school, it has now become a Designer Art House, much like Gucci or Ralph Lauren. It started as a simple rural ceramic shop, but now, its art has inspired the design of clothing, furniture, fabric, wallpaper, jewelry, and handbags. Ardmore is a collaboration of artists.


So, after a couple of hours wandering the ground and the Galleries, we head back to the ship. South Africa is a marvelous, diverse country full of beauty and irony. On this trip, our five days ashore only scratched the surface of all the possibilities here.  We have all come so far to be here in this moment. The world is our oyster on this ship, the Queen Mary 2.


Friday, May 3, 2024

New York: The Tenement Museum

On our second full day in New York, we visited the New York Tenement Museum. It was a short walk from our hotel in Chinatown. On the way there, we stopped to get a couple of slices of Pizza. After that, we were ready to go. 

It was very interesting, and we had basically a private tour.  The Lower East Side tenement was originally built in 1888; it’s what’s called a prewar walk-up.  You see these tenements all the time in the movies and on television; it was fun to actually go inside and see them personally. 


The tour included profiles of two different families that lived here.  In this one Apartment: a Jewish Polish Holocaust survivor family and a Puerto Rican family who eventually moved in after them.  They both came to America for the promise of opportunity and Freedom.  It was an immigration story and a story of an ever-changing neighborhood.  

The first couple met in a refugee camp, married, then immigrated from eastern Germany.  They were the only surviving members of their entire families who were killed in the Holocaust.  They were from the same area of Prussia as my great-grandfather Skrofronic was from.  This area is now Poland.  It is such a small world.  In New York, they lived near their sponsor in the European Jewish Lower East Side building. 

This area of the Lower East Side eventually became a Spanish district. The inhabitants, mostly from Puerto Rico, worked in the garment industry. They worked in small, little factories that sewed together clothes. It was a hard, scrabble life. They raised families and chased the American dream. The children and Grandchildren of these two families now support the Museum.


The museum guide was very knowledgeable.  She described a lot of intimate details about the families,   We started the tour in the first-floor bookshop, then went outside to the tenement entrance and walked the stairs up to the Apartments.  At one time, the apartments did not have their own bathrooms. The four apartments on the floor shared a common bathroom. Eventually, by the time the Spanish family moved in, the apartments were renovated to include a bathroom. 

It was refreshing to hear the story of immigration. The struggles in life that make life worth living. The streets of New York were   the community thrived.  The Museum provide a picture of the American dream being played out. It reminds us how lucky we all have it in America. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The New York Museum of Modern Art


We are in New York getting ready to get on the Queen Mary 2 for a transatlantic crossing.  I have always wanted to go to the MoMA.  The Museum of Modern Art 

When I saw that they had a Picasso special exhibit, I had to go.  The Museum of Modern Art is one of the world's great museums.  It has a fantastic impressionist and surrealist collection, including Picasso, Dali, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Fredia, and many others.

Then, fast-forward six weeks.  I went to a lecture about the artist Salvador Dali on the Queen Mary 2. Dali, better known as Dali, pioneered the Surrealist movement.  

He once said that the only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad.  He was a very flamboyant individual who thought he was the reincarnation of his dead older brother, Salvador, who died before he was born.  He was a big fan of Sigmund Freud and was fascinated with what dreams meant to the psyche.  His paintings, to some extent, documented hallucinations and interpreted dreams. 

His major contribution to surrealism is the "paranoiac-critical method, a surrealist technique developed by Salvador DalĂ­ in the early 1930s.  He employed it in producing paintings and other artworks, especially those involving optical illusions and multiple images.  The technique consists of the artist invoking a paranoid state (fear that the self is being manipulated, targeted, or controlled by others).  The result is a deconstruction of the psychological concept of identity, such that subjectivity becomes the primary aspect of the artwork."

He met Pablo Picasso when he was young in the 1920s and was influenced by cubism.  He is commonly labeled a member of the lost generation.  At the lecture, we were all asked if anyone had seen his painting, The Persistence of Memory, at the MoMA.  We had just been to the Museum of Modern Art before we departed New York.  Included is a picture I took of it at the MoMA.

Our trip to the MoMA was an incredible experience.  It ranked up there with trips to the Louvre and the Prado.  If you are in New York for any length of time, it is well worth a visit.