I looked over the Bospherus at the cityscape of Istanbul and I admit that it took some years after that before I understood more fully what it was that I had seen — one of the pivotal points of global history.  The Hagia Sophia mosque/museum was at the heart of it.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

This immense building was constructed from 532 to 537 c.e. under the rule of Justinian I. Designed by Greek architects, the Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in Europe for 1000 years.  Its dome, damaged by earthquakes through the years, but repaired, has been describing as changing the history of architecture.  In the year 1453, after historical upheavals, Hagia Sophia which had been a Greek Orthodox cathedral, now became a Muslim mosque.  In 1935 it was opened as a museum, though when I visited the place forty years later I saw people in prayerful activities with a few of the 3.3 million tourists per annum filing past.

Hagia Sophia interior

I stood in the vast encompassed space looking at the huge Koranic texts suspended from the high roof.  I believe that since 1935 Byzantine mosaics have been uncovered from certain walls.  These predate the mosque era from as early as 800 c.e.  and probably served as models for the mosaics at Ravenna.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Later I visited the Blue Mosque, another memorable experience.  It is Hagia Sophia though, that remains vivid for me.  I remember how the filtered light made the high roof of that dome seem slightly unreal, lending a sense of the sacred.

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Wikipedia:  Hagia Sophia



Hagia Sophia – lonelyplanet.com

Interior – avasofyanmuuzesi.gov.fr

Blue Mosque – source lost







Founded in 1089, the Melk Abbey or Stift had been a castle given to the Benedictine order by Leopold II.  The baroque character came in the early years of the 18th-century.   The Abbey, perched majestically on a high outcrop,  overlooks the Danube.  The onion spires on the twin towers are characteristic of many churches in Austria.

High up on a hill

In its history, we were told by the tour guide, there were serious threats to its continuation as an abbey in the Napoleonic wars and in World War Two.   It is known as one of the great monuments to baroque architecture.

An interior of magnificence

After the baroque splendour, the painting, the architecture, and Austrian baroque has a characteristic beauty,  I remember after many years the tour guide’s closing words to us.  He spoke with deep feeling, probably too, because this elderly man might well have been a child during the war:   “So much magnificent European patrimony was destroyed in the war.  I thank God that what I have shown you was preserved for us – the Melk Abbey.”

Melk Abbey and the Danube


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Wikipedia:  Melk Abbey



Abbey  –  themuseumtimes.com

Abbey interior  –  travelsfinders.com

Abbey and Danube  –  stiftmelk.at




HEIN WAGNER, a living legend


Hein Wagner

It defies expecations to look up the name Hein Wager on the internet to see the list of his incredible achievements.  He has climbed the ten highest mountains in the Western Cape, he has participated in many marathons, both in South Africa and abroad, and he has held the land speed world record.  And he was born blind.

I mention but a few things.  The list goes on, dwarfing what most sighted achievement-seekers have attained.  It makes him a living legend, one of the most remarkable South Africans and certainly one of the most remarkable blind people in the world.

I met him in the Drama Department at Tygerberg College, Panorama, Cape Town.  It was 2003 and, after stroking his guide dog, the most beautiful I have seen,  I was faced with a request that seemed impossible:  teach me to act, he said.

From a motivational speech by Hein

I pushed the impossibilities aside and together we devised ways for him to handle the space of a stage.  He would be barefooted and I laid lengths of twine across the floor.  There were knots in the twine which he could “read” — single, double, treble  — and this would tell him where he was.  The show was called “Bat Magic” and dealt with his life as man born blind.  It was unbelievably funny, and, as a consequence, deeply moving and inspiring.  That year it was the talk of the National Arts Festival at Grahamstown.

It is mind-boggling that a prominent computer company employed him where he worked for a number of years.  He sat with me when I had dysfunctions on my computer and fixed the problems.  He had memorized the software!

Poster for his motivational programmes

Once, I led him to a painting of a nude in my lounge.  I guided his finger-tips over its surface, saying, This is the forehead, this is the nipple, here is the hip and this is the foot.  I tried to “colour in” my words by referring to  natural phenomena like wind and cold, and sensations.

He was moved.  “Beautiful,” he said.

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Wikipedia Hein Wagner



Hein Wagner – all4women.co.za

Can’t Can – action4.org.za

Hein –  heinwagner.com






I return to the realm of music.  Some time ago I heard a snippet of The Final Countdown, the song by the Swedish group Europe released in 1986.  Looking it up on You-Tube, I was met with a surprise.  When I compared the Rolling Stones’ No Satisfaction  (38 million plus views) and the Beatles’ Yesterday  (10 million plus views, together with its number 1 slot in the world of covers – 2000 plus covers), I found them dwarfed by the views on The Final Countdown — a whopping 412 million plus.

Is it that, after an initial popularity (Countdown  reached number 1 in 25 countries),  there is a further groundswell over time?  The phenomenon prompts me to speculate.

Europe, the rock band

Is it the lyric?  It deals with the blast-off to Venus (of the last citizens on earth?) the return of which is questioned.  There is a sadness, perhaps regret.  Is this song a defiant lament?  Does it touch on hidden thoughts of death?  The word “final” could suggest this.  What are our unconscious associations here?

The song has a triumphant spirit — in those suspended chords, we are ecstatically suspended above the curve of the earth.  Could the millions who have bought the song and those listening to it on You-Tube find some kind of comfort against the dark inevitability of our fate?

Joey Tempest

The hypnotic vitality of Joey Tempest, the lead singer, swirling his long blond hair like a flag, helps me realise an interpretation of this song — an assertion of life with dionysiac passion.  Through his performance and the catchy apocalytptic trumpets,  our arms break the crust of death’s enervation and we reach beyond the petty finitude of life on earth.   Maybe the 412, 664, 405  and I feel that.

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Wikipedia: The Final Countdown


My heart



Europe  –  spiegel.de

Joey Tempest – fanpop.com







PAUL KLEE – the otherness of art

Bern, Switzerland

I remember the clock tower in Bern, Switzerland, the trams and the almost Piedmontese arches in the architecture.  On the way to the Paul Klee Foundation, I grabbed a cup of coffee at a café where there was an unusually large photograph of Albert Einstein on the wall.  It is in Bern, the café owner informed me, that Einstein rounded off the Theory of Relativity.

Albert Einstein, 1904

In the Paul Klee Foundation I stood before the original paintings.  As a twelve-year-old I saw them in an art book, the beginning of a lifelong interest.

Blue Pyramid

A Swiss-German, Paul Klee was a musician, poet, academic and a philosopher in art theory.  His work has been linked with various art movements, but, as has often been said, his work resists any simplistic opinions.  His art is an otherness.


His book “On Modern Art” (1925) has been compared with the writings of Leonardo da Vinci.

“Senecio”, 1922

When his art was mocked, along with many other “decadent” artists in 1937 in Nazi Germany, Klee returned to Switzerland.  This rejection weighed heavily on his mind until his death in 1940 at the age of 61.

Paul Klee, 1911

With Klee’s paintings and especially his drawings you are never far from irony, even a playful spirit.  The captions of his canvases are cryptic, witty.  And for me — I’m supposed to be colour blind — he is a master of colour.  The calling to colour came to him during a reconnaissance in Tunisia.  He became a leading figure amongst modernists in the creative use of colour, breaking long traditions.  Picasso himself had great respect for what Klee did.

The Garden at Lu – , 1939

I sat for a long time looking at “The Garden at Lu – ”  The icon forms rising from dream blue is for me one of the most peaceful images in the storms of modern art.

Fire in the Evening, 1929

“I will not be understood in this world,” he said, probably depressed by the events of the late-1930s, the last years of his life.  But if appreciation and love of his work may be seen as understanding, then Paul Klee was, with respect, wrong.

Nocturnal Growth


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Werner Haftmann :  The Mind and Work of Paul Klee.  Faber and Faber. London, 1967.

Will Grohman :  Paul Klee.  Lund Humphries.  London, 1969.




Paintings by Klee from Will Grohman : Paul Klee

Bern – TourismSwiss

Albert Einstein – biographies.com






We see Buddha figures in the lotus position or even close-ups of their visages.  What often strikes me is the visages, always serene, are seldom weak.  The art of achieving this has evolved over many centuries.

So it was with the Buddha of Seokguram in the region of Bulguksa in the south-east of the Korean peninsula.  We took a two-hour trip on the highway from Daeso, where I was teaching, to reach this place of pilgrimage and history amongst hills and mountains.  Here, in the Three Kingdoms period (circa 500 c.e. to 1000 c.e.), the Korean culture went through a remarkable renaissance.  There is, for example, one of the world’s oldest observatories, amongst other things.

At Bulguksa itself there are temples and places of learning.  At the entrance of these temples there is, as with many sites in South Korea, the information board telling visitors that Bulguksa, established in 800 c.e., was razed to the ground by the invading Japanese in the 1590s and it was rebuilt in the 1700s.

Bulguksa entrance gate (Note Chinese, rather than Korean, inscription) 


Temple entrance with visiting students


Artwork in temple

Away from the tourists and the pilgrims, in a quiet hillside some kilometres further, we visited Seokguram.  It is an undramatic enclosure partly underground, having been strategically buried to hide the Buddha figure from the plundering invaders.

Unimposing entrance to Seokguram

The figure itself — the Buddha in a lotus position — is said to have been carved in the 600s c.e., the more remarkable as Buddhism had only reached Korea from India some three hundred years before.  Today it is one of the most revered in Asia, not least for its classic simplicity.

Sakyamuni Buddha, Seokguram

It is necessary, they said, to keep pilgrims and visitors away from the figure itself with glass panels.  The viewing walkway from which we could see the figure under the brick cupola was tightly packed with people.  The figure itself, three and a half metres of white granite, struck me as being simply conceived, unadorned and majestically pure.   On the lap lies the open hand of healing.

Buddha, the healer

I was moved seeing an old woman, wizened and bent, in the glow of her reverence for the imposing figure.  Tears fell over her smile.

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

Late-2007.  Written Dec, 2017



Ancient History encyclopedia online.



Entrance, temples, artwork – my photos

Seokguram images  –  sources lost



I visited the Washing Trough in the medieval quarter of Antibes — a large trough under a six-pole roof.  Here, women (men wouldn’t stoop so low) washed and scrubbed clothing for centuries, not far from the remains of a little stone-packed enclosure in the bay made by the Greeks in the centuries before the Romans came.

Washing Trough

The walls around the Washing Trough, rough and irregular, supported by modern cement,  seized my attention.  There, an artist had attached small, cement-moulded sculptures, not bigger than the length of a hand.  And the more I looked, the more I saw.

Moulded in cement


Gross and brooding

It is clear that these figures — portrait-type faces, amongst others — were done by a gifted hand.  They are detailed and evocative.

Wood nymph?




Battered by life

I have not been able to establish who this artist could be.  It seems likely that the artist is unknown, taking quixotic joy in placing these creations anonymously on stone walls off the beaten track.

Sad angel


Wizened king

Monsieur … Mademoiselle … qui que vous soyez, je vous honore!

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2017



My photographs






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