Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Memories of Irma Stern

Memories Of Irma Stern
                                                   1894 - 1966                                         

This is a story of a time long past, when my world was younger and I had the incredible good luck to meet  the fantastic Irma Stern.  These are some of my memories of that amazing lady.   I do hope that you will travel back in time with me and enjoy the memoir.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Martha's Vineyard

The New England Diaries

Eugene and I had only ever heard of Martha's Vineyard as a summer playground of the rich and very famous.  So many tales of happenings that have made newspaper headlines.  But we were going to learn more about this extraordinary place.  Robin would share his knowledge and be our guide on a fascinating exploration of 'The  Vineyard'.   His treasure trove of detail and anecdotes would make this adventure all the more remarkable.

He rounded us up for an early start for the drive to New Bedford, a city in Bristol County, Massachusetts.  Here we booked our tickets on a ferry to Martha's Vineyard.  It all seemed so normal for people to be taking a short sea voyage to their jobs or their homes.  Apparently 'The Vineyard' is only accessible by sea or air.  We enjoyed the journey on the calm waters of the Nantucket Sound and landed at Oak Bluffs, a town located in Dukes County, Massachusetts.   Eugene and I were never going to get used to the rapidity and ease with which we changed states,counties,cities and towns. Robin hired a car and off we went to explore this quite extraordinary place.  What a treat lay in store!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gerald Cubitt - Wild Life, Travel and Natural History Photographer - His African Odyssey

In the Merriam - Webster dictionary, odyssey is defined as 'an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest.'  Gerald Cubitt has spent more than half his life wandering the earth, photographing the wondrous creatures and natural wonders that he has encountered.   In his latest book, 'Evocative Africa: Ventures of Discovery', he presents a compilation of sublime images of sub-Saharan Africa from his vast photographic library.   Images gathered over many years of exploring and travelling with his wife, Janet, who shares his quests and his adventures.  Images he considers his personal best and a book that has taken four and a half years to bring to fruition.
  
Gerald Cubitt is a very English gentleman.  Beautifully spoken, vastly educated and with a gentle tone of voice and phrase, one might be forgiven for mistaking him for an Oxbridge don who had spent a cloistered life in academia.  It takes a moment or two to recognise the adventurer behind the donnish image, the man that loves the wilderness and is happiest when camping in the bush.   I have come to interview the man behind the book, and to tell his tale.   The tale of one of the world's leading natural history photographers.

Educated at Ampleforth College in England and then at Trinity College in Dublin where he read Modern History and Political Science, he developed a passion for photography while still a student.  Holidays were spent travelling extensively about the Middle East, indulging his fascination with Byzantine and Islamic architecture capturing images with his Zeiss Ikon camera, a pre-war model camera given to him by his father.   He graduated to a Rolleiflex camera that he had bought from his brother and then, in the early 70's, the apotheosis of camera possession , a Hasselblad Camera System.  He tells me of this amazing Swedish camera with German lenses that was the first to record images of the moon.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Café Society at the Long Street Café

One lovely, sunny early Spring day, Eugene and I strolled along Long Street to the iconic Long Street Café. The brightly lit and unapologetically brash cafe sign winked boldly at us as we approached.   It blends so perfectly with this street that is a melting pot of all the cultures past and present that have inhabited it.  Life here hums and buzzes with alacrity.

Walking through the marvellous Art Deco wooden portals, one finds a mellow, laid back scene that belies the energy and pulse that drives the LSC.  We chose to sit inside as the pavement heat was too intense.   Immediately, a friendly face sprang forward to welcome us and show us to a table.  The menus are large laminated single sheets. We settled down to study them and to make a choice in a reasonable space of time.  We are great ditherers
.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Newport Mansions, Robber Barons and the Best Clam Chowder in Town.

 The New England Diaries

Each day in New England brought a new adventure.   Robin and James had a treasure trove of surprises and wonders that they revealed to us like wizards conjuring up magic.   This day we would drive to Newport, Rhode Island and visit one of the mansions of the 'Gilded Age' and then, having feasted our eyes and minds on the excesses of that extraordinary period, we would lunch at 'The Black Pearl Restaurant'.  The legendary Black Pearl Restaurant, where clam chowder is an art form and where the feast would be gastronomic and most certainly excessive.

Our numbers at Seekonk had swelled with the arrival of cousins Michele and Barry from North Carolina.  The beautiful house opened up its arms and welcomed them.  We were a happy brood and James' cooking pots got bigger and busier.   But now we were off to Newport.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Overture And Bertus Basson

Perched high in the Helderberg Mountains on the Hidden Valley Wine Estate near Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, there is a special place.  To reach this place requires one to motor up a not too steep winding road  Suddenly, around one of the bends in the road, is the sight of a building of stone, glass and steel which appears to rise miraculously from a magnificent flurry of fynbos   This is the mountain home of Overture Restaurant and the lair of the man that inhabits it, Chef Bertus Basson.

Overture presides over the Stellenbosch valley, glancing this way and that and where, on a fine day, you can see forever.   Parking one's car is a simple matter, as the parking area has been levelled.  A short walk up a gentle, paved slope and one is at the entrance of the restaurant.   A spacious cool interior with high ceilings
and huge windows draws one in.   Immediately one is struck by the efficiency and courtesy of the staff.    How lovely to be greeted by a friendly welcoming smile and none of the cold hauteur of reception staff that has become the signature of so many restaurants and eateries. 
We were shown to our table outside under a pergola-covered extension of the restaurant.  The space is beautifully arranged so as to allow everyone access to the breathtaking view and a feeling of intimacy within one's own space.  The chairs are spacious and comfortably upholstered and the tables, beautifully dressed, with gold cloths sweeping the ground and sparkling white embossed linen covers.   Wooden rectangles serve as side plates, covered for the moment, with large embossed linen napkins.  Shining glasses standing to attention tease one with the promise of  the wines to come.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The New England Diaries


Eugene and I spent 3 glorious weeks savouring the delights of New England, this north eastern corner of the United States.  We ate the most superb clam chowder, enjoyed the delights of lobster in all its incarnations and, of course, homemade blueberry pie.

We visited quaint seaside villages and huge bustling modern cities with such tall skyscrapers that one fears that they will topple over.  We saw houses built hundreds of years ago and museums and galleries with art that made one weep with joy.

Join Back Chat's New England Romp and experience the wondrous sights and sounds of the cities and the villages; the mouth-watering tastes of food in dockside restaurants and grand food in grand establishments.  Love it as much as we did. 


This first story is about our introduction to New England, Massachusetts to be precise.  I tell of our visit to the home of the poet Emily Dickinson in Amherst and of course our immediate love affair with the food of New England.

I would love to know how you enjoyed your first taste of New England.  Do write to me at les@leslieback.co.za or leave a comment on the blog.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lunch In The Library At The Cape Grace


Entering the elegant and gracious Cape Grace Hotel at the V&A waterfront in Cape Town is a gloriously soothing experience.  The doorman's welcome has the quality of old fashioned courtesy and the cool and peaceful interior further enhances the moment.  Beautiful furniture, exquisite flower arrangements and  friendly smiles gently command one's attention
.
Eugene and I love lunching in the Library at the Cape Grace Hotel.   This lovely room, full of antique Cape furniture and marvellously overstuffed sofas and chairs that almost enfold you, provides a perfect place to escape the vagaries of a Cape winter or the trials of a steamy summer.   We flop back into the softest sofa and allow the ambiance to embrace us.

The waiting staff appear almost noiselessly bearing menus and warm greetings.  Drinks are offered and the  spacious coffee table in front of each seating area is set with huge crisp linen napkins, silver cutlery and water  and wine glasses.  We order our drinks and take a while to peruse the menu.  One is never hurried at the Cape Grace.   A charming manageress, Quanita, "just call me Q, " eased our way through the experience.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Interview With A Freedom Fighter.

In Sea Point , a suburb of Cape Town, there is a promenade that hugs the twists and turns of the ocean.   It was along this walkway that I regularly passed a blind man, sitting on a bench.  Always the same bench.  What struck me particularly was the innate dignity of this man.  Always neatly dressed, he sat quietly opposite the ocean he could not see.  A slow drawn out 'Thank you' or 'Bless you' if I dropped a coin into his white cup or proffered cap and I would be on my way, relieved that he was alive and well.

One day he was no longer there.   I wondered and worried.  Then a series of events unfolded. I learned  that brother and sister angels, Jonno and Nicole Sherwin, had rescued him from penury and beggarhood.  They had set wheels in motion that would lead him to learn a trade and thus, ultimately to a better life.    Within days, photographer extraordinaire, Mia Feinstein and I were on our way to the South African Society for the Blind to meet, interview and photograph Everson Ngwenya, Liberation War Hero.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Barney's Version

Barney's Version
 Directed by Richard J. Lewis
 Cast:  Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver

We went to see 'Barney's Version', without any expectations other than we knew that it was based on a novel by the late Mordechai Richler.   We had not been seduced by any splashy publicity and were frankly unprepared for the impact it would have on us when, for the next two hours, we were held captive by this remarkable piece of cinematic theatre.

Join Back Chat as we relive this story.  I hope that you feel what we felt.  I would would love to know how you reacted to this extraordinary experience.  Do write to me at les@leslieback.co.za or leave a comment on the blog.   I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mario's - It's so nice to have you back where you belong.

On the night of the16th June 2010, at the Cape Town Stadium, Italy had just lost to Paraguay in a soccer world cup match.  Across the road at 89 Main Road Green Point, Pina Marzagalli and her children, Marco and Marilena of Mario's Italian Restaurant, waited to feed the hordes.  That night they consoled the losers, serving plate after plate of Spagetti Aglio Olio.   The Italians who ate there that night were comforted by this home away from home.   A few hours later a fire ripped through this beloved family restaurant, breaking the hearts of the owners and of the legions of Mario's devoted supporters.  It was the also the 24th anniversary of Mario Marzagalli's death;   Mario who had given his name and much of his life to the family business.   The fates were testing Pina Marzagalli and her family cruelly.

Friday, April 8, 2011

'Oh To Be In England'

Eugene and I adore England.   The elegance and the eccentricity of the English, their wit and their whimsy.  We were overjoyed to be back in this 'green and pleasant land.'

 We had arrived in Winchester, an hour's drive from London.  This ancient and royal city of kings would be our first stop on a three week driving tour that would include Bath and Oxford with wonderful treats and  sights en route.

This is the first of a two part series.  So come along for the ride and I hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.

If there is anything that you would like to know, do contact me either by email at les@leslieback.co.za or leave a comment on the blog at http://www.leslieback.co.za.  I would love to hear from you.  And remember, that part two of this odyssey will follow soon. 

'Oh To Be In England' Part 2

Eugene and I adore England.   The elegance and eccentricity of the English, their wit and their whimsy.   We were overjoyed to be back in this 'green and pleasant land.

This is the 2nd of a two-part series describing our adventures on a three week driving tour that included Winchester, Bath and Oxford, with wonderful treats en route. 

At the end of the first part, we had decided to leave Glastonbury and drive on to Bath and the magnificent Royal Crescent Hotel.   I do hope that you will accompany us for the next part of the adventure

If you have any questions or would like to know more detail about any part of this tale, do contact me by email at les@leslieback.co.za or leave a comment on Back Chat at http://www.leslieback.co.za .  I would love to hear from you
  North on the A39 to Bath.  What wonders were in store

Monday, March 14, 2011

Casa Labia Café


For years and years, anybody driving through Muizenberg and onwards along the coast road towards Fish Hoek, would pass the magnificent Labia home, this temple to a past era of grandeur and elegance.   The years have been somewhat turbulent for this grand old lady.  Built in 1929 by Count Natale Labia as a private residence, it also served as an Italian Legation and Embassy.  It was designed to reflect the beauty and style of their Venetian palazzo.  Grand balls and receptions were held, life had a pace, grace and stateliness befitting the status of a grande dame.

After Count and Countess Labia died, the house lay silent and unattended for a time.   No wonderful parties, no glittering society affairs with men and women in all their finery dancing the night away in the elegant  Italianate ballroom.  The years passed.  Various foreign governments leased the villa and in1985, the Fort was handed over to the National Gallery, who restored and renovated it and opened it to the public as a museum.   It was called the Fort, as the land on which the house had been built had been the site of an old battery to protect False Bay from hostile invaders.  Today, the only hostile invaders are huge tourist buses and noisy visitors.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The King's Speech


The King's Speech

Writer: David Seidler
Director: Tom Hooper

Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon 

Thousands of words have been written about 'The King's Speech'.   Mostly raves, but also many decrying the fact that historical liberties have been taken.   But one thing everyone, without exception is agreed upon, is that Colin Firth's performance as the stammering Duke of York and then King George V1 is a tour de force.

Every time we watch a film, we are required to suspend belief.   Do we really believe that these are not actors, but real people?  Well, yes we do.   And in this superbly mounted English period piece, I for one  joyfully allowed myself to believe everything and to enjoy every moment of the meticulous craft and sublime skill demonstrated by the actors and the film's makers.

I would be most interested to know your opinion.    Do write to me at les@leslieback.co.za or leave a comment on the blog.  I look forward to hearing from you.   

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Back Chatter on Oysters

'Only another oyster would find an oyster beautiful' wrote Dr R.Hedeen in his definitive book on oysters.  But to the true afficionado oysters are a thing of beauty.  Savour the sheer delight of a succulent oyster feeling it slip, like silk, down your throat - bliss!!

It is overwhelmingly extolled for its alleged enhancement of the human libido.  Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, emerged from the sea in an oyster shell and the legend was born.   But is it a legend?   Casanova ate 50 raw oysters every morning.

Back Chat lifts the veil on the mysterious world of oysters.  This is for those who love oysters and for those who have yet to learn to love them.
Should your curiosity be aroused and should you wish to know more about these amazing molluscs, please contact me at Back Chat, http://www.leslieback.co.za or email me at les@leslieback.co.za .  I would love to hear from you.