Tag Archives: photography

The photographs of a life in motion

20170418_153836

At last count, my trusty Canon EOS-M2 had produced 9099 images for me.

The last two months have been chockablock with professional and personal activities.  As a result, I have neglected my blog!  I know what my next post will address, and I have plenty left to say on other topics, too.  I will return to writing posts when I can sneak in some extra time (late June?).

In the meanwhile, I hope you will enjoy these albums of photographs that I took during the busy travels of 2016 and early 2017.  Looking back at that period, it is amazing to me that I traveled so much!

Inside South Africa

Date Blog Post Images
20161221 Table Mountain Google Photos
20161216 Cape Point Google Photos
20161213 Robben Island Google Photos
20160908 Kimberley Google Photos
20160702 Northern Cape Google Photos
20160319 Eastern Cape Google Photos
20160312 Cape Agulhas Google Photos

Outside South Africa

Date Blog Post Images
20170113 Prague Google Photos
20161019 Warsaw Google Photos
20161015 Berlin Google Photos
20160926 Shanghai Google Photos
20160917 Beijing Google Photos
20160611 London (no post) Google Photos
20160416 Ghent Google Photos

A tortoise for Turtle House

“Why do you call it Turtle House, Dave?”  When I am at the entrance to my complex, I can see it! The braai area pokes to the east as a head, and the gray tile roof arches over it all like a shell.  Do other people see it?  Not so much.  This week, though, I am happy to unveil a special addition to my home that will clarify its identity!

This adventure started in September of 2016, just before I left for China.  I had a lovely tree beside my driveway.  It had plenty of charm, with gnarled roots, a dense network of twigs, and a leafy canopy that the birds adored.  They loved the little berries from the tree, too, as evidenced by the splash pattern on my driveway.  That tree, though, produced very invasive roots, and it had forced a ripple in the sidewalk that was a serious tripping hazard.  Its next extension would push it under my garage wall, and my neighbor’s garage was also under threat.  I bowed to practicalities and contacted the “body corporate” (the homeowners’ association).  Within the month, the tree had been removed, and soon thereafter the bricks in my front walk had been reset after the removal of the root.  Nice work, body corporate!

img_7442

Turtle House with stump

The problem, of course, was the sight that greeted me as I pulled into my driveway.  I should explain that some members of my family feel the same way about trees that most people do about their cats and dogs.  On one road trip I took when I was a kid, I distinctly remember my dad surreptitiously planting seedlings at a rest area.  Sure, I had practical reasons why this tree had to go, but that stump made me feel guilty every time my eyes fell upon it.

Happily, my friend Philomene had a solution for me!  She introduced me to Robin Hauptle, a young entrepreneur and artist who runs a succulent nursery called “Cape Cacti” in an area called Zeekoevlei (“Hippopotamus Marsh”).  We started a good conversation about carving the stump into a turtle.  We had a humorous misunderstanding when I sent him a photo of a yardstick against the stump since he thought the markings were centimeters rather than inches!  I felt embarrassed that I didn’t even know what kind of tree it had been.  Robin argued in favor of the Brazilian Pepper, while Natasha thought Chinaberry was much more likely.  Robin soon sent me some carved turtle images he thought might be good prototypes, and he laid out a work plan that called for four full days to complete the work.  I looked at the total quote, gulped a bit, and then said to myself, “this is art!”  My feedback on the prototypes was that I wanted the turtle to be lifelike rather than cartoonish, and I did not want to scandalize my neighbors (some turtle statues are quite… well, suggestive).  He also clarified that I meant a tortoise rather than a sea turtle.  With those questions resolved, I agreed to start the project, paying one-quarter up front.

img_7817

Robin shifts to the chisel from the chainsaw.

On December 14th, Robin drove up to Turtle House for his first day.  The day was a complex one since I was writing a tutorial workshop from home and was also receiving Mango Cat from a friend at work; we hoped Mango would like Turtle House.  Her first experience of it, though, was a bit noisy since the first stage of carving took place by electric chainsaw.  Robin asked about turning the turtle’s head toward the driveway to reflect the shape of the stump, and I was content with that. Any worries I had about the project dissipated when Mango Cat arrived.  She liked Robin just fine, and she came to visit him each time he came into the house for a short break.  He knew just what to say to her, the sweet talker!  By the end of the first day, the rough cut was complete, and the shape of a turtle had begun to emerge, with a head, shell, and even leg bulges emerging from the stump.

img_7830

This worked okay… until the wind picked up.

December in South Africa can be tremendously hot, and the 15th was no exception.  We applied our imaginations to the task and built a complex canopy from my extension ladder, tarpaulins, some wires, and a bungee cord.  Robin was applying some serious sweat equity in the project, applying chisels of various sizes and a heavy mallet.  Jessie, a neighboring cat, came by the house to pay his respects to Mango (through the window), and he paused to eye the carving critically.  By the end of the second day, the thick form of the turtle was evident,  though I wondered if he would be cartoonish, after all.

img_7986

The sun and the air can do amazing things to freshly-cut wood.

Robin was next at the house on December 20th, and the carving had been transformed.  The light, freshly carved wood in the earlier photos had reddened quite strongly, and an odd wet patch had emerged at the crest of the shell.  At first, I thought a bird had perched atop the turtle for a while, but Robin explained that the stump was still getting water drawn into it from the earth, and the center of the stump was where those transport vessels (called xylem) were concentrated.  The red color of the wood reflected that it was oxidizing after being exposed to the elements.  I was pretty excited to see what this third day of carving would bring, and sure enough, Robin brought serious definition to the upper part of the shell (called the “carapace“), highlighting each intersection of “scutes” (which are made of keratin, like your fingernails).  The edges of the shell became well-defined, and he began experimenting with the feet, as well.

img_8114

This tortoise is no longer a block of wood.

On December 22nd, Robin began the fourth day of carving.  Would the newest addition to Turtle House be complete in time for Christmas?  Robin had left plenty of detailing for the fourth day, and the tortoise’s head and feet gained form relatively slowly.  Robin explained that as the days go by, the amount of wood he was removing was falling rapidly.  His smallest chisel was helping him to define the turtle’s face and legs.  The finish of the shell was also looking quite a lot nicer as he sanded the wood.  Even though day four finished without the completion of the tortoise, I felt really proud of how nicely he was shaping up.

img_8182

A man and his tortoise

As the silly season reached its peak, Robin and I each had responsibilities elsewhere, but he came quite close to finishing the project on December 28th.  Because he had quoted me four days of work, he did not charge me for the added days!  The photo above, from December 30th, shows the personable face that Robin created for the tortoise.

img_8197

Finishing touches

His final visit, on January 3rd, finished a bit of detail on a back leg.  Robin then applied a boiled linseed oil concoction that will penetrate the wood and make it more resistant to water damage.  I took a final photo of it the following morning after the linseed oil soaked into the wood overnight.  My tortoise is nearly finished!  The only remaining step requires time.  This stump is still trying to supply water to the absent tree, and it must dry out.  We will likely apply a chemical to forestall any further growth, as well.  After a month or two, Robin will be back at Turtle House once again, this time to apply a varnish to the carving.  Perhaps now my visitors will not need to ask why my home is Turtle House!

img_8215

This tortoise is happy to soak up the sun.

Three “Bergs” of Cape Town

Even though Cape Town starts at sea level, its altitude rapidly climbs to the majestic plateau of Table Mountain.  The central business district (CBD) for the city, in fact, lies in the city bowl, a massive circular sloping region.  If you enjoy mountains, though, Cape Town has many more surprises in store for you.  In this post I would like to take you on a tour of three “bergs” (the Afrikaans word for mountains) that can help orient you as you navigate the city.  We will start with Table Mountain (also known as Tafelberg),  move to the east to visit Simonsberg, and then return to the outskirts of Cape Town to visit Tygerberg.

mail

Table Mountain

IMG_2975

This sunset view of the Table Mountain shows Devil’s Peak at the left, the Table itself in the center, and Lion’s Head and Signal Hill off to the right.

It might be tempting to think of Table Mountain as a single entity, but in fact it is part of a large complex. The city bowl is shaped to the east south-east (left in the picture above) by Devil’s Peak and to the north-west by Lion’s Head and Signal Hill.  Suburbs like Green Point and Sea Point lie wrapped around Signal Hill.  While these sights should be familiar to anyone who visits Cape Town, the complex also extends quite far to the south, extending through a series of small peaks called the Twelve Apostles.

TableMountainApostles-HDR-Pano-2

This panoramic photograph of Table Mountain (left) and the Twelve Apostles (the line into the distance at the right) was contributed by my friend Gerard. He acquired it from Lion’s Head using HDR on his Nikon D90.

My photo at the top of this post was taken from a boat in the harbor between Mouille Point and Blouberg. One of my favorite snaps from this boat ride focused on just Devil’s Peak and the Table:

IMG_2967

When the setting sun is just right, Table Mountain comes to life!

As part of my job, I spent a fair amount of time at the University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences.  Happily, the campus is perched very close to Devil’s Peak.  The mountain is approximately a kilometer in height, just a shade lower than Table Mountain.  This is the view I get to see in the morning as I arrive at Anzio Road on the M4 (looking at Devil’s Peak from the northeast):

IMG_2763

Only the N2 highway comes closer to Devil’s Peak than the UCT medical school.

This close up, Devil’s Peak hides Table Mountain!  It provides yet another face if you are hiking on the lower slopes of Table Mountain:

IMG_2710

This view of Devil’s Peak from the west shows a lovely growth of protea flowers, a relative of the king protea (South Africa’s national flower).

It can be easier to get a perspective of the height of these peaks from a little further away.  During a recent performance by the Stadskoor Tygerberg, I snapped a photo of Devil’s peak from Bishops Diocesan College, approximately a kilometer from the base.

IMG_2916

The rugby fields at Bishops have an amazing view for the visitors.

Simonsberg

Off to the east, a taller peak (1399 meters) rises in the distance.  For those of us who live in the northeastern suburbs of the city, Simonsberg is a very handy point of reference; that’s east!  The mountain is part of the “Cape Fold” mountains, just like Table Mountain, but it is somewhat isolated from the others.  It is named after Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape Colony and the founder of the city of Stellenbosch.  It has a distinctive shape that helps it as a landmark:

IMG_1515

This view of Simonsberg from the west, at Meerlust Street near Old Paarl Road, is now occluded by a construction site.

When I travel to Stellenbosch, I can see the mountain from a much closer vantage.  Soon after I arrived in the city, a friend took me to the Delaire Graff Wine Farm, and the view of the mountain from the South was truly spectacular!

IMG_1325

Did I mention that you can enjoy a glass of wine with the view?

When I visited Paarl, I drove up to the Taal Monument, and the view of Simonsberg from the northeast almost made it seem a different mountain.

IMG_1745

Paarl gives one a glimpse of the “backside” of Simonsberg.

Tygerberg

The final “berg” I want to showcase is on a rather different scale.  Tygerberg is a district of Cape Town where I work and for which my choir is named.  It is also a range of hills.  While they are nowhere near the height of the mountains we have visited so far (topping out at 400 meters or so), their proximity to the northern part of the city amplifies their size.  When I was first planning my move to this area, I grew excited, thinking that a wildlife reserve would be right on my doorstep.  The name is rather more prosaic.  The early settlers of the area noticed that the hillsides become very spotty with darker and lighter vegetation, and they called them Tygerberg, mistakenly thinking tigers have spots.

IMG_1379

The southernmost of the Tygerberg hills is obvious from the Stellenbosch University med school parking lot.

On the first week after my move to South Africa, my friend Gerard took me to Kanonberg, which is a more northerly hill in the series.  A photo from its crest shows the extent to which the southernmost Tygerberg hill is encrusted with residential areas:

IMG_0945

In this image, we are looking nearly south at the tallest of the hills.

Perhaps they are not as grand as the other two “bergs,” but my commute takes me around the Tygerberg hills every day, and I admire the view.  I hope to enjoy the Nature Reserve one of these days.  You can be sure I will tell the tale here on the blog!

IMG_2554

The southernmost Tygerberg hill, as viewed from the Rhodes Memorial on the slopes of Devil’s Peak

Making digital images from 35mm slides

As a young man, my father was quite the technologist.  He bought a reel-to-reel tape audio recorder during his service in the U.S. Army, and so I can hear the voices of my grandparents during a long road trip in the 1960s or my parents during their vacation to the South in 1971.  Dad acquired a super-eight film movie camera during that time as well, and he shot movies with it up to the time I was a child.  He even became a camera buff, shooting more than one thousand photographs that were developed as 35mm slides.  As a result, I can draw on an unparalleled archive of images from my family’s history.

As a technologist of a different sort, I have tried to bring this archive into the digital age.  During my college years, I was able to produce an 8mm video camera recording for much of Dad’s movie footage, and I digitized that footage through a miniDV video camera and Firewire cable in later years.  During my graduate school years, I digitized the audio from a few hours of reel-to-reel tape to produce audio CDs.  Oddly, producing high-resolution scans of the 35mm slides has posed the biggest challenge.  Today I can report that we have finally found a way to digitize those amazing boxes of slides!

When I was in graduate school at Seattle (1996-2000), I performed my first experiments with slide scanners.  My friend Elizabeth allowed me to use her HP Photosmart slide scanner, and the resulting images were okay, for the time.  I tried buying an inexpensive slide scanner from another company, and yet the product from the hours of time I invested in using it was fairly disappointing.  In recent years, I purchased a Canon CanoScan 8600F, a flatbed scanner with a lid that can backlight transparent sources.  The images from this flatbed have been pretty nice, since it can operate at 4800 dpi, but scanning even a single slide at this resolution takes a fair amount of time.  I’ve never managed to scan the whole collection with scanners.  I have also found that scanners do not cope very well with the range of brightness that we encountered with the slides; many dark slides simply produced poor quality images in any scanner.

In 1999, I discovered that Canon had produced the FP-100 slide adapter for my Hi-8 video camera, and I acquired one for the princely sum of $120.  Essentially, the FP-100 was a low-temperature lamp, a bracket through which one could move a slide holder (with some wiggle room for positioning), and a ring to attach to the front of the camera.  I was glad that the cool lamp was bright enough to illuminate the darkest images from the collection, since the video camera could adjust its iris to the content of the slide.  Because the video camera could only resolve 480 lines in each image, though, the video images we produced through it were not quite what I wanted.

DSCF6710-crop-resize

The entire sandwich of equipment is unwieldy, but it works well enough!

In 2015, I found the missing ingredient.  My Canon EOS-M camera employs a prime (non-zoom) lens with an external fitting of 43 mm.  I asked my photographically talented friend Brad Melton for some assistance on how I would connect the 46 mm FP-100 to the prime lens, and he located a “stepup ring” for me.  Would a slide adapter intended for a video camera be usable with a modern mirrorless high-resolution still camera?  We quickly discovered that the camera was unable to focus on the slide images because the lens was too close to the CCD to focus on an image so near.  I compensated by adding a macro tube between the camera body and the lens.  The entire sandwich of equipment included these elements:

  1. Canon EOS-M2 mirrorless camera
  2. Meike MK-C-AF3B 10mm macro tube
  3. Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM prime lens
  4. HeavyStar Dedicated Metal Stepup Ring 43mm-46mm
  5. Canon FP-100 slide adapter.

I was reasonably pleased with the performance, on the whole, but there are certainly some drawbacks. The first is the problem of achieving good focus. Many of these slides now carry a fair amount of dust, and the camera was frequently inclined to auto-focus on the dust rather than the image. The second issue results from the image being so close to the lens; the edges of the slide are considerably farther from the lens than the center. Focusing on one part of the image generally meant that parts of the slide farthest from the focus point would be more than a little fuzzy. This photo gives an example of this behavior:

IMG_3747-8

In the left snapshot, I have selected my mother’s face as the focus point. In the right, I have selected my grandmother’s instead.

I also encountered some degenerate behavior in the focus.  I would occasionally flip the selector over to use manual focus rather than automatic.  After cranking the focus ring all the way to one end of the dial, I would sometimes discover that the camera thought it was being operated by a madman and would force the focus back in the other direction.  When I tried switching to a different macro tube thickness, I was entirely unable to focus, so I simply felt grateful that I could get these images to focus at all!

In some cases, the slide scanner had dealt very poorly with slide images that were quite dark overall or that featured a significant contrast between light and dark portions of a frame.  Happily, the Canon EOS-M2 seemed to handle these contrasts better because it was storing brightness levels in the 14-bit depth afforded by the CR2 raw file format.

IMG_3389

My older brother always wanted to play.

One of the most common claims about 35mm slides is that they are far more resilient to aging than are prints from the same negatives.  Did that hold up?  The image of my father on the mule at the top of this post dates from 1964, around fifty years before this blog post was written.  The hues may be somewhat less vibrant than they were originally, but I doubt very much that a print from 1964 would hold up as well.  In this case, I have cropped to approximately 40% of the original field of view.  The slide below this is from 1965, showing my mother during her graduation ceremony from Northeast Missouri State Teachers College.  Again, I have cropped to about 40% of the original slide (in part to strip away unfocused areas).

IMG_3213

These slides enable me to see my parents in the primes of their lives!

Of course, capturing the original CR2 files for each of a thousand slides is just the beginning.  From here, I will need to export each to a TIFF file, crop the image to a new dimension, possibly apply a noise reduction filter, and export to JPG (the images I included here have not been gone through noise reduction, though I did scale down the resolution considerably from the 18 megapixel originals).  That step will take considerable time, but I believe the result will be a far more useful archive for our family history.

I hope that this post will contribute some ideas for how to get your family archives in a more manageable condition!

IMG_3073

Our family

Picturing downtown Durbanville

I work in the outskirts of Cape Town, in a hospital campus between Bellville and Parow. I live a bit further out, though, in a suburb called Durbanville. It is named after governor Benjamin D’Urban rather than the city of Durban on the east coast. Today’s post will feature some of the sites that are at the heart of this town.

The town started around a Dutch Reformed church constructed in 1825 to serve a group of farmers in the Tygerberg area. That original church has been overhauled a few times since then, including an expansion in 1891, but the Durbanville Gemeente is still in operation today. It was named a National Monument in 1975. I had thought that a Sunday afternoon would be a fine time to visit, but the gates were padlocked when I arrived. In South Africa, even the churches have walls!

IMG_1629

Durbanville Gemeente

One might assume that an historic church might imply a more conservative congregation. A translation of their events calendar shows that tonight’s services will include the “Same Sex Relationships Discussion Series.” The constitution of South Africa prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The vision statement included on the website and the sign greeting people to the church is “Disciples of Jesus, together in the service of God’s kingdom.” To reach the church, one need only head south on Church Street!

If you head north on Church Street, you reach a rather different historic building.

IMG_1636

Durbanville Police Station

The police station was built in 1919, during a revival of the classic “Cape Dutch” architecture. The large, ornate, rounded gables are a good sign you are looking at a Cape Dutch building. Though the building is fairly old, you should not make the mistake of thinking it is merely ornamental. When I walked by the entrance, I saw that the line of people seeking to talk with the police stretched out the front door!

Not very far from the police station, one can see a few other buildings from the Edwardian period (the first ten years of the 20th century). This house, for example, has enough room for rows of rocking chairs on its two floors of veranda!

IMG_1637

Kings Court 4

Sadly, what most people see of Durbanville is the main highway running through town. The R302 Regional Route runs 54km from Bellville to Malmesbury, so it is a prime route for commuters to head north from the N1 highway. Happily, it was not very busy on a Sunday afternoon. I snapped a photo of my grocery store from the pavement on the opposite side of the road.

IMG_1638

The R302 in the heart of Durbanville

Just a couple of blocks behind the shopping area, though, one can find the city hall and the library. This afternoon the buildings largely seemed to provide shade for people who had no particular place to be.

IMG_1643

Durbanville Municipality

I really like the colors of the playground adjoining the library. I’d like to see more libraries with a play area next door!

IMG_1640

The Durbanville Library playground

The map below shows where each of the photos for today was taken. My dream is that some day the online maps for South Africa will be as detailed as the ones I am accustomed to in the States!

durbanville-downtown

Do chickens roam your campus?

I have been living on the Tygerberg campus of Stellenbosch University since December 7th.  Today, I’d like to give you an in-person tour of our campus!  To start things off, here’s a partial map of the campus to help with orientation.

20160102-Map

For a few more days, I am living in the “Mankadan Lodge” on an upper floor of the Student Center (building 10 above).  During the school year, which will start in a couple of weeks, this building stays quite busy, since it houses a bookstore, a gymnasium, a couple of restaurants, and a cafeteria.  At present, just a few of the rooms at the Lodge are occupied.

20160102-Student-Center

The Student Center on the Tygerberg campus

A swimming pool is just to the South of the Center.  To its north, students take advantage of four tennis courts.

20160102-Tennis-court-and-tree-roots

See the roots hanging down from the branches?

As is true with many places in South Africa, access to the campus is controlled.  The only way to drive onto campus is by a gate at the west side.  The road splits to two lanes heading out and three lanes heading in.  If you don’t have card access to come in, the guards will write down a wide variety of data about your car and your license before you enter.

20160102-SUN-Security-gate

This is the inner security gate; the outer security hut is used for napping.

When you arrive at the main entrance to the medical school, you are at the North end of the Clinical Building (#3 on the map).  During business hours you can pop through the revolving door and then use your key card to go through the turnstiles.  Things get a bit more complex after business hours.  At that time, the revolving door becomes an airlock.  You use the card to open the lock, step inside (staying back from the other door), and when the exit light goes green, you step out on the other side.

20160102-Clinical-Entrance

The main entrance at the Clinical Building

As should be apparent from the map, the Tygerberg campus bridges several different facilities.  Behind the Clinical Building, the massive Education Building (#2 on the map), and its attached auditorium, becomes a busy beehive during the school year.

20160102-Education-Building

The wording on the new Education Building auditorium reflects Stellenbosch University’s effort to be accessible in many languages.

If you pass through another security gate to the south, you reach the Faculty of Dentistry for the University of the Western Cape (UWC).  This faculty was transferred to UWC because the campus was not allowed to have a professional school in Apartheid times.

20160102-Dental-school

UWC Dental Hospital sits between Stellenbosch Faculty of Medicine and the Tygerberg Hospital.

If we return to the Stellenbosch University Faculty of Medicine, though, we can move to the FISAN Building at the Eastern edge (#1 on the map).  FISAN is a contraction for Physiology and Anatomy, the original purpose of the building.  It also houses most of the Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, where I work.20160102-FISAN-Entry-with-Bantams

The FISAN building is home to much of the biomedical research on the campus.

You have probably noticed something unusual about the photo.  We have chickens living on our campus!  These free-range chickens make their presence felt throughout the day, as the roosters crow the hours (here’s a video).  They’re a distinctive breed, with feathers running down their legs.  My friend Gerard reports that they’re probably “bantams.”

20160102-Courtyard-landscaping

This courtyard is nestled between the FISAN and Clinical Buildings.

Happily, the campus offers a variety of places for wildlife to call home.  A few cats certainly take advantage of them, and water bowls appear near the parking areas.  We also see some of the characteristic birds of the Western Cape.  Each morning I am awoken by laughing doves, and the campus is also home to hadidas, which earned their names from their distinctive calls.

20160102-Hadidas-at-SUN

Hadidas are a type of ibis.

I hope you have enjoyed this visit to the grounds of the Tygerberg campus for Stellenbosch University!

My first week in Cape Town

One week ago, I arrived at the Cape Town airport after four flights starting in Nashville, Tennessee.  I thought it might be a good moment to consider what’s been accomplished and what needs more time.

Let’s start with my new employer.  I made my first appearance at Stellenbosch University Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences on Tuesday, November 24th, the morning after arriving in the city.  I vaguely remember that first day.  Gerhard, my mentor in the Tuberculosis center, gave a rapid tour of the fourth floor, and I met an amazing array of hard-working people who like each other.  Since that tour, I have taken up residence in my office (shared with two other staff members), gotten my computer’s MAC address recognized by the network, completed my staff information sheet for submission to the university hierarchy, enjoyed an “induction” (orientation) chat with my friend in human resources, received an employee number from main campus, and today completed my badge, which allows me access to the campus and the buildings.  I officially belong there!

I imagined a sprint upon arrival to find myself a new home while I stayed at a hotel or in university housing.  Instead, I have enjoyed the guest room of Gerard, a friend who also recently moved here from the United States.  Because he grew up in South Africa, he has been an unfailing guide to the flora, fauna, pronunciation, history, and geography of his native land.  His wife Helena has kept me fed and supplied with a cup of rooibos tea at all times.  Saturday evening they even assembled an amazing braai in their backyard.  On Monday, I will shift to university student housing for a month.  That will be quite the change as I will be on my own for meals and company.  The campus will become quite inert for the week between Christmas and New Years.  I will strive to manage with my room’s kitchenette.  My hope is that my next stop is a home of my own, and I have aggressively sought out responsive estate agents (not a widespread trait for all such agents) to help me find the right place.  I have been told that transferring titles can take as long as two months, but I hope to cut that down to six weeks.

IMG_0994

The backyard landscaping for our braai

Money has also been surprisingly complex.  Following Gerard’s advice, I established an account through Absa Private Bank.  Absa is a really large bank here, associated with Barclay’s in the U.K.  What, then, is a private bank?  It’s a bank for professionals with either A) a salary above a certain level or B) a particular position title, so that the bank is unconcerned about credit risk.  By paying a monthly fee, I am able to circumvent certain bureaucratic hassles that would be encountered by someone with an ordinary job.  For example, I don’t have to navigate a two-month gantlet of paperwork to satisfy United States FICA regulations and establish my identity beyond doubt.  The University vouches for me, and Absa accepts that information as valid.  With that account established, I was able to set up my account for direct deposit of my salary and deposit the extra currency I had been carrying on the plane.

The car situation continues to daunt me.  South Africa, like several other countries, drives on the left.  Because I am thinking about it, I rarely attempt to get into the driver’s seat of Gerard’s car anymore.  The intersections make more sense at a glance than they did when I first arrived.  Am I ready to get a car of my own?  No, there’s quite a barrier in the way.  I must first acquire a Traffic Register Number.  This document will act as a form of identification for me here, and having one will grant me the ability to use my American driver’s license for a while here.  After that period, I will either have to surrender my driver’s license to get a South African one or take the challenging and confusing South African driving test to acquire a local one.  I am saving that challenge for another day!

I think my highlight for the week was our visit to the top of Kanonberg (Cannon Mountain), a tall hill at the northern edge of the Cape Town metropolitan area.  This is my panoramic photo of the mountains near Stellenbosch from its lofty vantage point!

20151128-Kanonberg-Stellenbosch-Mtns-down50-crop