We all have them. Places where we feel at peace with ourselves. Where we feel immediately at home.
This is how I feel about Stanford. And this how I felt when I first came to Stanford in March, 2008. Instantly at home. At one with the place, the people, the homes, the dogs, the whole beautiful vibe. Just like that.
But, in 2008, I had newspaper work beckoning me in Cape Town and I answered the call, leaving my dogs to revel in Stanfordian bliss in the loving, nurturing hands of dear friend Janika Dorland.
Before the year was out, however, I found myself on a work exchange at a Buddhist Retreat, Bodhi Khaya, near Stanford and the magnetism of this charming market village was again irresistible.
A scene of Stanfordian bliss... come Earth Hour this village green will be plunged into darkness, pinpricks of light illuminating happy, shiny faces
The warmth and easy friendliness of the locals in this village that time has almost forgotten made it easy for me to fit in and now I find myself once again nestling in Stanford’s roomy bosom.
I needed to forge new leads for freelance writing work in Cape Town and I have chosen to do that at a distance. The exact distance between the bustling, stimulating cultural metropolis that is Cape Town and the Western Cape’s largely undiscovered gem, just a relaxed two-hour drive away past Hermanus.
A local has gone on record as saying that “you don’t choose Stanford, Stanford chooses you”. Well, I must have done something to please the spiritual powers-that-be. I say that because, although I am not given to undue flakiness, this blessed village is certainly presided over by a celestial committee of kindred – and overwhelmingly kindly – spirits. In the physical world, it appears to run itself, nudged gently along by the nurturing minds of good folk who were chosen by Stanford’s guiding spirits to protect their legacy.
They (some locals) say that Stanford sits squarely on no fewer than seven ley lines. I must say that nobody has been able (yet) to give me exact GPS co-ordinates for them. But I can tell you that there have been times, golden moments, when I sense that I am tightly embraced by all of them.
This may be when I am walking the “wandelpad” along the edge of the beguiling Klein River, it may come as I stand on the village green (the last remaining one in South Africa) and stare at the blue-purple-green-grey Klein River mountains which semi-circle the village, while I savour a fine cappuccino on the stoep of the Arts Cafe, devour fine food on the vine-smothered verandah of Madre’s Kitchen or even as I sup a pint of locally-brewed Birkenhead ale at The Stanford Arms.
Landlord Jannie Boonzaier checks to ensure that the green light - the only traffic light in the village - is on, signalling that The Stanford Arms is open for boozeness
But, in trying to describe the specialness, the thoroughly unique vibe of Stanford, I know that I fail to do it justice. You simply have to be here, to experience it for yourself. To see whether you are lucky enough to be “chosen” by Stanford. Or temporarily entertained by its charms and then spat out, back from whence you came.
Stanford isn’t for everybody and you would be wrong to perceive any elitism in this. Many have come, been seduced by its allure… and then dumped by this ageless and graceful beauty after whom everybody lusts to have an affair.
The Stanford Galleries' Arts Cafe - the fulcrum of the village - is the best place for a coffee... and to start musing how to begin your passionate affair with the grand and elegant old lady in whose bosom you now sit
Many may find tranquil, becalming Stanford simply too small and sleepy for their tastes. And, indeed, it does appear that the village has fallen aslumber under the compelling spell of its rare natural beauty, if not the magical ley lines.
But, it falls to me to happily report, there are bright young minds working now and anew to change all of that. I have been fortunate to attend a couple of meetings in the two weeks I have been here and the torrent of ideas to pull together all of the glittering strands of Stanford’s charms and put it firmly on South Africa’s tourism must-see map is in full flood.
It is too early to divulge the plans to breathe new life into our old lady but, believe me, there will be compelling reason for people, especially those with children, to veer off their beaten track – if only for a weekend.
Stanford is stirring. Stanford is coming alive. And it starts with its annual celebration of Earth Hour on the Village Square on March 27. The village’s hour-long plunge into darkness on behalf of the environment has, in the past, been low-key, attended by locals and a few curious out-of-towners.
A highly committed woman by the name of Nadia Pheiffer has changed all of that. She and her helpers have called on some fine musicians to create a jazzy vibe around Earth Hour this year. Before they even grace the stages of the world-renowned Cape Town Jazz Festival, the likes of Geln Robertson, Chad Zerf, Piano Ben, saxophonist Les Witz and Johan Dowries will fill the dark night with their jazzy tunes. They will end the festivities with a free jazz jam session.
Much earlier, from 3pm, the High Street will be closed to traffic, allowing the traditional Sunset Market to get into full swing with Stanfords’ antiques shops and trading stores spilling their wares out into the street.
From 6pm onwards the Earth Hour picnickers will converge on the Village Green, eating and making merry until the church bells signal the onset of the hour during which a black darkness and a respectful hush will fall on the village.
I could go on. But I won’t. How much more do you want? Yes. That’s right. You’re sold, aren’t you? You should be. Earth Hour is a phenomenal opportunity for you to do your bit for our fragile environment. And allow Stanford the opportunity to choose you. Well. What are you waiting for?
In the fifth of my weekly interviews with interesting people living in Umdloti (on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, South Africa), I asked the Big Five questions of Germaine Horowitz, tireless founder and co-ordinator of The Kidz Clinic, which reaches out to and counsels children, living in and around Waterloo township, near Umdloti, who have been sexually abused.
FH:Please describe for us how you got into doing the work you are doing for the children of Waterloo township?
GH: Waterloo was once a sugar farm which belonged to the Rey family. I was at school with one of the daughters of the farmer and I had horses at the Ottawa stables. I have great memories as a teenager of my visits and Bob Marley parties at the farm house which is actually today a magnificent but badly neglected registered National Monument now known as Ottawa House. I have held several meetings over the last six years with the eThekwini Mayors Office, the Department of Housing, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Arts and Culture to establish an Arts Community Centre at Ottawa House. So far no signatures but the community continues to manage hosting conferences, various theatrical rehearsals and three weeks ago a radio station playing on FM 94.7 started broadcasting there from 5am to 6am – I did an interview this morning. Now we have the task of raising the funds to have an independent radio station. Where was I? While I was running the Market Theatre Photography School for David Goldblatt in the late 1990s, I met up with people from Women and Men Against Child Abuse whose anti-child abuse demonstrations made great photographic material for our photography students. I eventually started campaigning for them and have remained in contact with them over the years… so when their main supporters Vodacom asked them to go national in 2008 they called me to research and set up a Kidz Clinic in Durban. With the help of Jacki Bruniquel, the fabulous Umdloti artist who you have already interviewed, and two Waterloo artists, Linda and Xolisis, helped me to open a beautiful “clinic” in the Waterloo Community Centre and we had our first case in June of 2008.
In the fourth of my weekly interviews with an interesting resident of Umdloti, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa – the idyllic seaside village in which I am blessed to live – I asked the Big Five questions of Andre Cronje, director of the Wild Touch programme on SABC.
Let’s have a quick look at him, shall we?
FH:You grew up in or near the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg, yet knew from a very early age that you wanted to be out in the bush and working with wildlife… how did that come about?
AC: You see, Jozi-city is one of the most hardcore jungles out there. If you look at any aerial shot of the place it’s striking how many trees there are, there are also some crazy animals lurking in the bushes. On a more serious note, most of my ancestors were hunters, farmers and fishermen. I guess a love and understanding for nature is in my blood.
FH:You have been involved with Wild Touch, SABC’s popular wildlife educational programme, since its inception and now direct the series. How did you get involved and what does working with the programme mean to you?
AC: I have been working in the television industry for 11 years now so you naturally get involved with the kind of projects that fits your profile. It’s important for me to believe in what I invest my time and effort in. Series Directing Wild Touch is very rewarding because I know that I’m involved with sharing something beautiful and important with the nation.
FH:We are constantly being alerted to horror stories related to the degradation of our environment. Working so closely with it, what is your experience of human abuse of the environment and what would your message be to the youth who are to inherit it?
AC: You said I must keep my answers short, this question might take days to answer! But I think if we look around us right now, you will see the answer. The abuse that’s visible in the environment is only a mirror of our abuse of ourselves. Just like the orangutang, we are also running out of living space and just like the fish in our rivers the polluted water will also kill us. If there is a message for the youth it would be to start a revolution! Don’t be as ignorant as me, your parents, your teachers or our world governments. Don’t accept the easy way out and do question what is going on around you. To this day we are pretending that we don’t know that we are killing the earth and ourselves.
FH: A group of foreign visitors to South Africa (let’s say, ahem, a gaggle of gorgeous Scandinavian environmental science students, shall we?) arrive on your doorstep and demand to be shown the finest wildlife attractions our country has to offer. Where would you take them? And why?
AC: It depends… the Scandinavian students can hang around my house for a week or so and they’ll get up close with vervet monkeys, various snakes, spiders, amphibians, whales, dolphins and the beautiful birds of prey that hang out here. If it’s a small group I’ll take them on a wilderness walk through the Umfolosi Game reserve. Am I allowed to punt any cool organisations on this blog? Check out www.wildernesstrails.org.za.
FH:Cool. OK. So, you’re often to be seen surfing off and skateboarding around our gem of a seaside village, Umdloti. And I happen to know that you live in a beautiful house hidden deep in the bush on a hill overlooking our bit of the Indian Ocean. How did you get to be such a lucky bugger? And, go on, make us all insanely jealous… please describe your paradisical living-in-Umdloti-vibe!
AC: Jeez, Hatman, you just blew my cover. I was put under a witness protection programme several years ago and they forgot about me. I’ve been trying to get out of this lifestyle for years! Jokes aside, if you let go of your fear, everything else happens naturally. I remember as a kid I dreamed that I was surfing some deserted island. Everyone around me always said that it’s a silly dream because I live in a city 600km away from the sea. So I thought F@*^ you all and I started imagining that my skateboard had no wheels and the concrete was water. The rest is history as I have since spent tmy life living my dreams. I do want to encourage everyone to live their dreams, however far your imagination runs… though it’s crucial that you never forget this: “Concrete is not water” and you will get hurt along the way. So to answer your question about how I got to be such a lucky bugger… “no matter how hard you fall if you get up and try again, you will succeed”. Oh, and by the way this doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt like hell either.
This weekend, in the second of my series of interviews with interesting Umdlotians, I ask the Big Five Questions of art photographer Jacki Bruniquel…
Jacki Bruniquel draws on a spiritual connection with the natural environment for her artworks Pic: Hatman
FH:What sparked your interest in art/photography? And how did your work first manifest itself?
JB: I have always been interested in art, some of my first memories involve drawing Enid Blyton characters on the great big faraway fig tree at the bottom of our garden. Perhaps it was something i was born with … it was also something that was also always encouraged by my parents. My interest in photography started when I began my fine art degree at Michaelis (Cape Town). On our first day we were told to make a pinhole camera from a box, a tin, some photographic paper and a piece of Prestik. I began a love affair with the dark room right there and then and found it much more enjoyable then sketching the crusty naked hobo types they got in for life drawing classes. From a pinhole camera i went on to a Pentax and then a Hasselblad. These days I have gone digital (and really really really regret selling the Hasselblad so I could buy a ticket to London!)