Table Bay, etching 1683

For me Table Bay is a Cape Malay bredie* of images and thoughts.  Table Bay and, of course, the Table Rock, were what magnetized me from the rural landscape to become a Capetonian.  And this bredie … Table Bay calls up for me the desire for a bigger world, a refusal to settle for suburban answers.  These Westerners … was the bad they brought in equal measure to the good?  In the shimmer on Table Bay history clashes swords with the sun … Wolraad Woltemade and his horse in the curve of a wave; the postal stones; ships sinking, ships arriving; the noon cannon;  bearded sailors staring at the Table Rock; Adamastor that you hear in storms if you listen; the Castle, the Amsterdam battery, the Chavonnes battery; the pain and anger of the Flying Dutchman …

The Flying Dutchman, ghost ship

… the murmur of the beach-combers; gulls; Robben Island, smear on the ocean;  musicians on the deck of a ship full of freed slaves dancing and playing the banjo, bringing the blues back to Africa …

Then the second bay, the Bay of Angels.  This Bay, the Côte d’Azur in France, stretches from Menton, near the Italian border and ends near Cannes.  They tell me there were human beings here four-hundred thousand years ago.  I smile.  Where I come from, South Africa, we start at two million years.  Still, history hums in the Maritime Alps that guard the Bay.  Here the Celt-Ligurians, a civilization of thousands of years, erected their forts and grunted under monoliths.  In Antibes (then Antipolis), where I find myself, their remains from 600 b.c. have been brushed open from under the Cathedral with its proto-Christian history.

Nomade sculpture ponders the Bay of Angels

Then came colonial masters, the Phonecians.  For them, the Bay of Angels was a lesser part of the larger establishment of Massala (today Marseille).  The Greeks arrive with an It’s our turn.  Monaco, Nice and Antibes all had Greek names originally.  Whether there were epic battles after some hundreds of years when the Romans marched in is uncertain.  Another handful of centuries.

In this time Roman soldiers regarded the mists of Scottish mountains and the rivers of Northern Europe.  After the assassination of Julius Caesar the coastal town along the Bay, Fréjus (the Forum of Julius), was honoured with his name.  His descendant Augustus had La Trophée built, today a sad, proud ruin, above Monaco. He instituted a census in the Empire, even to the far-flung town of Bethlehem in the Middle East.

Trophée of Augustus at La Turbie

Antibes has a legend that Paul came to the city.  Not unlikely when one thinks that Rome is but two or three days by boat.  Somewhere in the hills here there is a cave, its entrance collapsed and hidden.  In that cave is the Letter to the People of Antipolis written by Paul.  How would that be, if it were true?

At Juan-Les-Pins, the coastal town adjoining Antibes, there are few waves.  Here the Bay of Angels, or the Mediterranean Sea, often feels like a lake.  Over the shimmer on the water you see two islands, Ste Marguerite and St Honoré.  These islands, closer to Cannes, were occupied by the Romans and four hundred years after Christ, St Honoré and his following landed here, to establish one of Europe’s first Christian cloisters.

The islands of St Honoré and Ste Marguerite

These whispers across the water, music from distant times; strange instruments, lyrics unknown … they move over the creased sea … Table Bay and the Bay of Angels, two worlds, people who went before me, some of whose genes I carry … they saw what I now see and, perhaps, felt what I now feel.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

April, 2017

 *bredie – A Cape Malay dish of spiced curry, dangerously addictive



Pierre Tosan (ed.) : Dictionnaire D’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins (Hepta, Antibes. 1998)


Flying Dutchman –

Table Bay – etching by Allain Mallet in 1683, from “Hoerikwaggo”

Nomade, sculpture on the ramparts of St Jaumes, Antibes –  my photo

Trophée d’August – Côte d’Azur Tourism 

View of islands – my photo






LA VIE EN ROSE – the vulnerable romantic

This song was composed by Edith Piaf in the final years of World War 2 and is far more than a hit.  It is honoured by some as the unofficial national anthem of the French.  And it is a single line in this love chanson that sets the tone in the lyric –the beloved is compared with an unretouched portrait, an affectionate ambiguity.

                     “the smile lost on his lips”

The title in relation to the lyric suggests a vulnerable romanticism – life in a rosy hue, or even, life in pink.  “Moonlight and roses” comes to mind as well as the ease with which life fractures it.

                            The orphan sparrow

La Vie en Rose cannot of course be seen apart from Edith Piaf.  As a child she was called la môme, the orphan sparrow, probably as a result of crippling poverty and the unpredictability of bohemian life once her talent had been discovered.  It is this pathos that we hear in Piaf’s voice, something which still touches people.  And she had endeared herself to the French public when accusations of collaboration with the German occupiers, calling her a collabo, were launched against her.  A close friend in the French Resistance set things straight.

After an internationally successful life, the life style and encroaching health problems took their toll and she died at an early age in Grasse, in the south of France, in 1963.  She had still recorded her hit Non, je ne regrette rien in 1960, another chanson that recalls her vulnerable romanticism.  She was laid to rest in Paris.  There were 100,000 people at her funeral.  And, if you listen, you’ll hear her voice in every piano accordion on the Champs Elysées.

                        “… the beat of my heart …”


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

April, 2017



Wikipedia: biography and “La Vie en Rose »

You Tube, for the song



Roses on music sheet –

La môme  –

Edith Piaf  –




THE FRENCH LANGUAGE: the delights, the quirks

 Outsiders (I believe we are called les etrangers)  will know what I’m talking about – the ups, downs and the sideways.  Take the accents in this language, something seldom used in English.

Le bâtiment (building) has a nice little roof on it.

Célèbre has celebratory firecrackers over it.

La flèche (arrow) is somehow sharper than its English equivalent.

Déteste feels stronger that detest.

                    An angle on Angèle

I take the liberty of mentioning some of the delights of Claudie’s English.  She speaks more formally than I do and adds a touch of the literary, at times.  For her a window gives onto the place.  You push off the light and close the television.  And the baddie in the Policier aggresses someone.  If you’re uncertain then you don’t know what’s expecting you.

French, you soon discover, is an uncharted territory of false friends.  Or do I forgive the English language for evolving borrowed words in unexpected ways?

Je suis blessé does not mean “I am blessed”.  It means “I am wounded”.

Négligé is not black, sexy and made of silk.  It means “neglected”.

A woman (in English) who is petite is not merely short.  So too, in English, petty is not merely dimensionally challenged.

      Painting the Giraffe

Idioms in any language are fascinating, especially when they become a touch surreal.  In Afrikaans, for example, the die is cast is expressed as “the bullet has passed through the church”.

“A kettle of crabs” in French is something like a hornet’s nest and to be avoided.

“To paint the giraffe” is doing something that really does not have to be done.

“The marriage of carp and hare”  means to bring incompatibles together vainly

And the one that applies to me  − “To speak French like a Spanish cow”.  Enough said.

                Marriage of Carp and Hare


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

April, 2017



Claudie A. L. Mader

P.Desalmand, Y. Stalloni:  200 expressions expliquées (Chen, 2013)


Claudie by Ise La

200 expressions expliquées



As a post-WW2 baby boomer, I was familiar with songs that grew out of the war.  In France, the war is no longer merely stories for me, fragments from books, movies.  Now I’ve stood where Hitler stood, saw what he saw.  In Nice I’ve visited the streets where the heaviest fighting took place at its liberation.  The war, what is left from it, is closer and its agony, for me, is also distilled in four songs.

“…some sunny day …”

We’ll meet again composed by Ross Parker (music) and Hughie Charles (lyrics) and sung by Vera Lynn.

” …. it’s a long long way …”

It’s a long way to Tipperary was composed by Jack Judge in 1912.

” … Underneath the lamplight…”

Lili Marlene was inspired by an earlier poem, composed by Norbert Schulze in 1939 and sung by Marlene Dietrich.

                                   Herm Niel

Erika was composed by Herm Niel in 1939.  It is interesting that each of these songs is a love song.  Is it that men fighting a war are more motivated to hate when they think of their loved one?

In We’ll meet again, the hope is expressed in sadness, a longing for “some sunny day” from under the dark clouds of war.   Tipperary is closer to the battlefront.  I hear boots marching between the lines, with the recurring longing in the words “it’s a long, long way …”  Lili Marlene was popular on both sides of the enemy lines.  I remember 15 years after the war when our family was listening to a long-playing record for the first time, the track came up unexpectedly and my father who seldom, if ever, spoke of his experiences in the war, suddenly left the room, deeply emotional.  With Erika (“Auf der Heide blűht eine kleines Blűmelein”) I have different feelings.  The song was belted out as the German troops marched under the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs d’Elysées, jubilant conquerors.  Later it was lovingly translated into Afrikaans and sung by the tenor Gé Korsten in a movie in the 1960s.  As a German marching song, it struck a particular note with people whose parents regretted that the Nazis lost the war.  I feel a cold breeze when I hear it.

Music makes war easier

I can’t hear any of these songs without sensing words from the poet when he speaks of “the still sad music of humanity”.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2017



Quotation from William Wordsworth :  “Lines written above Tintern Abbey”

 Wikipedia, for biographical details.  


Vera Lynn –

Jack Judge – History of Oldbury

Marlene Dietrich  –

Herm Niel – You Tube

Marschlieder –






Walloped awake by a window bursting open and the shutter flaying in a to-and-fro struggle, I am shocked from late-night sleep and battling with clenched teeth, blinding wind, to hook my fingertips around the edge of the shutter, to pull … to pull it back so that … so that I can control what wrenches from my grip.  The catch isn’t working.  I have a piece of twine to tie … to tie onto the flapping shutter.  And I manage, while the Enemy of the Night, the Mistral, lashes this shutter, my face, this apartment block, this town, region, the west Mediterranean, wreaking an old vengeful violence.


The Mistral as a wild night cannon

The shutter keeps.  I lie back on the pillow, wide-eyed, and listen to the wind, as I have never heard it. I know wind.  I come from the Cape.  But this … Is it Ligeti voices trying, like demons, to haunt their way through everything?  The high-intensity screaming like a bandsaw at my cheek … I’m scared.  Are these hexed angels?  Will the bashing shutter shower cold glass shards onto my face?  I think of flood waters.  I think of earthquakes.  I hear through the choir of lost souls in the lifeless thrashing of shutters outside against the walls of the apartment block.

Then, silence.

It’s an uncanny silence, this.  It feels as if it’s rising past my ears and slowly filling the room, like light.  The sky turns blue.  It’s day.

The day like silence comes

The day like silence comes

I’ve had this experience a number of times and throw in a thunderstorm that scared me witless.  And I know about the Mistral.  My first youthful contact was the description in Roy Campbell’s Horses on the Camargue.  He compares the wild horses of these deserted plains as wind over the sea. For me this is the most passionate poem in the language.

The spirit of the Mistral

The spirit of the Mistral

Then, there is André Brink’s Midi where he offers the mythology of the wind which bears a name in each of the southern patois.  This wind was formerly revered as a god, much as people have thought volcanoes to be gods.  And I’ve wondered how Frederic Mistral came to his surname, the Provencal poet who received the Nobel prize in 1905.

"He blows me here, he blows me there, he messes up my hair..."

“He blows me here, he blows me there, he messes up my hair…”

I think of the South-Easter – Sedoos in the patois – which tumbles Table Mountain’s tablecloth over the crags and which, as “The Cape Doctor”, blows away the germs.  It’s all so cosy until you wander around the Diaz monument on the Foreshore and experience the channeled force of the South-Easter, just as the Mistral channels its force through the Rhône valley at 100 kms/h.  Then you hold on, body and soul.

I, Mistral, am not the heavenly child"

“I, Mistral, am not the heavenly child”


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2017


André P. Brink :  Midi. Op reis deur Suid-Frankryk. Human & Rousseau, Cape Town.  1969.

Roy Campbell: Horses on the Camargue


 Refer for interest:  György Ligeti (1923-2006), the Hungarian composer’s work “Atmospheres” (1961), amongst others.  


Night tree branches –

Trees in the wind –

Cape Town Wind  –  source lost

Trees in the wind – source lost















It always does things to me to walk where they walked, the ones who changed history.  To see what they saw, perhaps with similar feelings.  The Trocadéro in Paris, overwhelmed by the Eiffel Tower, the specific place where Hitler and his colleagues had the well-known (or infamous) photographs taken, to stand in Picasso’s studio where in the Provencal summer he painted barechested.  Then too, there is a legend that St Paul himself walked these streets, something not unlikely at all.  Somewhere in the back of my head is the possibility that in this region, in a caved-in grotto, yet to be discovered, is the Letter to the People of Antipolis (later Antibes), written by St Paul.   What a shake-up that find would be.

"Le Maitre de l'Europe"

                   “Le Maitre de l’Europe”

Now it’s Napoleon Bonaparte, barely 223 years ago, that strolled these street as I do, saw what I see, but without doubt not with the same thoughts and feelings.

He came from an aristocratic family in Corsica and was trained in the military before the Revolution of 1789.  But he picked up serious problems with a political leader in Corsica and fled with his mother, brothers and sisters.  In Corsica there is a tradition of solving problems in a non-verbal way.  In Nissa (later Nice) he impressed Massena who led the army.  In the meantime his mother and the small tribe of siblings arrived at the Château Salé and this ushers in a time of joy for Napoleon, especially in the meeting of Pauline, the Borghese princess.

Chateau Salé, Antibes, today

                Château Salé, Antibes, today

The young captain was imposing with his Corsican accent, slim, almost thin, stiffly attired in the dark blue uniform of the artillery regiment.  The sharp intensity was channeled into energy.  He was briefed to reinforce the coastline from Nice to Marseilles against attacks.  On the Île de Lerins in the bay of Cannes I came upon Napoleon’s cannon supports in the forest, steps against royalist or other enemies, especially the English.

Cannon support, Ile de Lerins

                  Cannon support, Ile de Lerins

In Antibes itself he had the battery Graillon on the cap d’Antibes and considered it as a solid defence point.

Batterie du Graillon, Cap d'Antibes

                 Batterie du Graillon, Cap d’Antibes

But the Revolution in Paris had begun to devour its own and Robespierre was guillotined.  Since Napoleon had had considerable contact with Robespierre and his brother, he was suspected of conspiracy and arrested.

Steel engraving (1879) of Napoleon in Nice prison,

Steel engraving (1879) of Napoleon in Nice prison,

Wikipedia has it that he was detained in Nice.  The historian De la Souchére says it was in Fort Carée in Antibes, a moment in history that the Antibois are rather proud of.  The tour guide at the Fort smiled wryly at me when I asked him.  To tell you the truth, he said, we don’t really know.  The incarceration lasted all of two weeks.

Fort Carée, above Port Vauban, built 1580

        Fort Carée, above Port Vauban, built 1580

His life, one historian has said, was “stuff of legend”.  His legacy is, according to the same historian, the attempt to reconcile right and left with a Bonapartist thread that runs through the politics of the 19th-century to the leaders of 21st-century France.   Even if he met his Waterloo after astounding military success in Europe, he had established the secular state, amongst other things – the list is long – not only in France, but it took root elsewhere as well.  The impact was immense.

The Exile, by J.M.W. Turner

                   The Exile, by J.M.W. Turner

He died in 1821 on St Helena, where he had been incarcerated for almost six years.  After his death the legend, some say apotheosis, about him began to escalate and his tomb at Les Invalides in Paris is one of the biggest in the world.  It’s interesting for me to think that he and I had something in common, well, while he was on St Helena – Constantia wine from the Cape.  And fascinating for me is that Napoleon had a sort of court jester on the Island amongst his entourage.  After Napoleon had died, this man went to the Cape and settled there.  His descendant was my neighbour when I lived in Stellenbosch.



 © Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2017



Elena Dor de la Souchère :  Antibes 2500 ans d’histoire.  Maisonneuve & Larose, Ville d’Antibes. 2006.

Cecil Jenkins :  A Brief History of France.  Running Press, Philadelphia. 2011.



“Le maitre de l’Europe”  –  napoleonbonaparte.pagespersa –

Chateau Salé  –  plus;

Cannon support – my photo

Batterie du Graillon  –

Napoleon in prison  –

Fort Carée  –  my photo

“The Exile”  by Turner  –

Bonaparte  –







ANTHEMS and the burning in the nose

The new dispensation in South Africa in 1994 made for a combo-national anthem, an unusual and thoughtful arrangement.  It has been satisfactory, as far as I know, for most people.

C. J. Langenhoven

           C. J. Langenhoven

“Die Stem van Suid-Afrika”/ “The Voice” was written by C.J. Langenhoven (lyric) and M. de Villiers (music) between 1919 and 1921.  The lyric is a poetic description of the vast beauty of the country, becoming, in a subsequent stanza a hymn of dedication.  The pain of the Anglo-Boer war, less than 20 years before, was fresh in their minds.

Enoch Sontonga

               Enoch Sontonga

“Nkosi Sikelel’ Afrika” was written by Enoch Sontonga in 1897 and is a hymnal prayer embracing the entire continent, asking for blessing and for the “war and suffering” of African people to cease.  It came after a bloody 19th-century and 500 years of slavery.

Rouget de Lisle

                        Rouget de Lisle

“La Marseillaise” was written by Rouget de Lisle during the time of the French Revolution in 1792.  It is a marching song for soldiers.   The lyric is bracing  ̶   “The bloody flag is hoisted”.  Then it goes darker.  “They (the enemy) … cut the throats of our sons and comrades … May their impure blood irrigate our fields.”  And this is against a nameless “tyranny”.

South African flag

                                 South African flag

If the lyrical tones of these three anthems diverge, the music stirs me, yes, burns in my nose.  I heard and sang “The Voice” once a week for many years in the school where I taught and it is part of the seams in my brain.  “Nkosi” I first heard as a schoolboy when the principal bid the working staff to sing it for the school, an experience that I have never forgotten.  The three-to-four-part harmony remains with me.

Impression of the French flag

                      Impression of the French flag

These days the “Marseillaise” is sung more frequently, spontaneously, in public.  It was moving to see the entire French parliament rising to their feet to sing it, something which had not, I believe, happened since World War 1.  It was January, 2015, after the terror attacks in Paris.

A peculiar fate it is to be touched by three national anthems.  Perhaps I should get done and sing “La Internationale”, except that the melody was pilfered in the 1920s in South Africa and the lyrics, in Afrikaans, praise, in a heart-felt way a place of birth, a beautiful farm  ̶  rather different from the original lyrics.  (See “O Boereplaas”)


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016






Enoch Sontongo –

C.J. Langenhoven –

Rouget de Lisle –

South African flag  –  getty

French flag –


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