St Peter Enthroned, Basilica, Rome

It is years since I saw St Peter’s foot in the Basilica of Rome.  The many things I saw have become a little vague in my memory, but this one remains graphic.

For a South African the baroque cathedrals of Europe may be a little overwhelming, probably because most of us have grown up with Protestant minimalism.  What has taken place with the bronze statue of St Peter Enthroned is perhaps an example of what we would find strange.

They speculate that this iconic statue is around seven hundred years old, fashioned by Arnolfo di Cambio.  It becomes part of any pilgrimage and pilgrims touch the right foot, the one a little off the pediment.  In these seven centuries the foot has been worn smooth.  The shape of the left foot shows some smoothing but not as much.  It is estimated that with the durability of bronze that only millions upon millions of hands would have had that effect.

      Pilgrim touches the foot

It left me emotional to see the pilgrims touching that foot. It felt a bit like humanity reaching again and again for something to reassure them, for something to believe in.  And the need wears what it touches smooth.  The passion does not relent.  In the Basilica of Rome, with the statue of St Peter, the worn bronze foot leaves us a profound image of that.

                   Longing that wears smooth

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



St Peters Basilica Info



St Peters Basilica








You hear the drum and the piano accordions some way off.  And then they’re there – the hubbub of kids with swinging lanterns, grownups, musicians and the dancers.  They form an arena on Place Charles Cros, the square below my apartment.  I canter down the steps with my camera.  This year I’m not missing this fête.

From a distance

The dancers, four couples, are splendid in traditional costume.  They’re ready.  And they’re off, with the music reminding me at a distance of “boeremusiek”, major-key folk dance music in South Africa.  The costumes seem to be Spanish, but they could also be Italian, but this is Occitan, the patois-culture of the Midi, southern France.  The men wore black, broad-rimmed cordobe hats, black waistcoats and trousers; the women, wide embroidered skirts with colourful scarves.

With marvelously complex steps, arms high, swinging circles, radiant faces, they had the crowd clapping and yelling their wonder and appreciation.  I looked on, drifting into ecstasy.

                        And they danced

What I was looking at is old, as the books will tell you, older than Christianity and probably celebrated by the ur-Celts and, who knows, those before them.  The Catholic Church, wary of anything heathen, soon appropriated the feast, naming it after John the Baptist who was born, according to tradition, six months before Christ.  It is then, a midsummers night festival.

                  She who dances

On either side of the arena of people two men held up flaming torches, a reminder of how the festival had been celebrated in centuries past – giant bonfires through which the dare-devils of the community would leap.  Next to the piano accordions and the lady beating the drum were two girls holding colourful maypoles which also have distant echoes in history.  This feast is celebrated each year in different ways from Eastern Europe to Ireland, and it is enormously popular in francophone Canada.

The maypole, echoing over             millennia

I think of other folk dancing that I have seen, of my intense joy, especially too, as this is an experience that is not mediated – the Klopse of the Western Cape, Bulgarian and Russian folk dancing, Zulu dancing and the sacred folk dances of Korea.   That stays with me.

                        Under the harvest moon

Can you believe it?  At the height of the festivity, the evening clouds thinned and a full harvest moon glowed over us.

©  Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

8th July, 2017


Wikipedia :  Feast of St John


Photographs and drawings – mine






THREE DAYS AT A TEMPLE – a visit to Yuongpyeongsa

[The third in a series of three postings]

The last morning I photographed the gardens, the temple, the main figure of the Buddha.

Buddha in leaves

The nun came to chat again and pointed out an old monk engrossed in a meditation on the periphery of the temple grounds.  He’s over ninety, she said.  I watched him and felt the centuries of Buddhism in the course of his meditation, a history from 300 a.d. when Buddhism was initially brought from India.

Meditation course for an old monk

Walking centuries

I came upon a Tao rock which belongs to a spiritual belief far older than Buddhism or Confucianism.  This kind of rock is a symbol of Chaos Becoming and is central to Taoism practised in China, probably from prehistoric times.

Chaos Becomes

My visit to Yuongpyeongsa was a kind of farewell to my stay and teaching in South Korea.  This visit was in May when spring is rising and nature is at its most beautiful.  For Buddhists, nature is at the heart of their spirituality, the reconciliation of Earth and Spirit, of soul and body.  They see the world in a grain of sand and the universe in a drop of dew.  For this reason everything is sacred and part of the spirit, of healing and growth.

These days burgeon in me.  Years later.

The universe in a drop of dew


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017


My photographs








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







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 –





Inheritance, Identity and Korea



I stood watching the colourful Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Geongbokgung, Central Seoul, South Korea, the most important and extensive palace complex of the Joseon Dynasty (mid-medieval).  The deep, measured drumbeats, the “wry-nosed fife” (a kind of small trumpet) and punctuating cymbals in the swirl of yellow and blue costumes and flags all ushered me into a heightened frame of mind.  There was something ancient there, even primitive, elements which forge intense feeling in me.


A guard

Thirty-six years ago I sat in a Spanish pub, watching Spanish people eating their Spanish lunch and drinking Spanish wine.  And, without having to think about it, feeling Spanish.  I went away from that pub with a question that will probably never be fully answered:  Who am I? a question prompted by the complexity of my personal cultural history.

There is another question that has hidden in the wings: what is my inheritance?  I was born into a culture of facebrick and corrugated iron, one whose folk music never discovered the minor key.  Seldom, if ever, have I heard any white South African speaking with awe and respect about things cultural and historical as Koreans do.  Just mention Andong or in particular Hahoe Village (pr. Ha-where) near it, and the listener, young or old, quickens interest.  Mention the tragic conflagration of South Gate, Namdaemun, Seoul, in February 2008, South Korea’s National Treasure No. 1, and you see pain.

South Gate

Is there anything vaguely akin to that kind of historical-cultural involvement among white South Africans, and Afrikaners, in particular.  Some have told me that they felt a great deal as children exploring the Voortrekker Monument. Black people may feel emotion at Hector Petersen’s monument in Soweto.  But it’s political stuff.  Within a generation or two the passionate intensity will pass.

South Gate, gutted

The destruction by fire of South Gate, City Hall, Seoul, encapsulates an awareness of six hundred years, something far beyond the politics of a few decades.  This national icon is Joseon, part of the palatial complex, built in a time that itself drew on the remarkable achievements of the Three Kingdoms period, roughly 600 c.e. to 1000 c.e. It is even beyond the North-South split that has governed Korea since 1953.  Do I find that stature of mind and heart anywhere amongst my own people?  What is my inheritance?

What is clear is that the South Korean experience has changed me.

I open the container of bean paste, spoon a little onto each large warm ghimchi dumpling or mandu, so that it melts into the thin dough. I eat. The rich, slightly-burny savoury invasion of my tastebuds tells me that, whoever I am and whatever my inheritance, I’ll never be the same again.


M a n d u

 Will van der Walt ©

20 March 2008

 Image Source:  Photographs by Will  

Hacking and Healing

Hacking and Healing:  Aspects of Heritage Tourism

In recent BBC World television coverage, I watched devotees of Ansar Al Dine hacking away destructively at the tombs of Sufi Muslim saints in Timbuktu, Mali.


Destruction of Sufi tombs in Mali

In 2001, the Taliban dynamited the historical Buddhist statues of Bamiyan fashioned in the sixth century c.e.



During the “cultural revolution” in 1966, Mao’s Red Guards did incalculable damage to Buddhist temples and art.  In the 17th century Protestants scrubbed art off the walls of cathedrals in Europe.  Through the first millennium c.e. Christians hacked at the monuments of the pharaohs in Egypt.

The history of religious and ideological intolerance in relation to heritage around the world is long and tragic.  The destruction is irreversible; the loss, absolute.

For South Africans in tourism the problem has been discussed and to a large extent we are dealing with it.  Thus far it would seem that the spirit prevailing in 1994 – a momentous political transition without a war – also prevails in matters of heritage.

How do people of colour in South Africa feel about the monuments of the past, set up by an authoritarian government during the apartheid era, an extension of a grossly unequal history?  Are these statues, buildings, memorabilia and sites part of their heritage?  The answer is, of course, yes.  But in what way?

Groot Constantia

Does a visit to Groot Constantia serve as a homage to Simon van der Stel or as a reminder of slavery?  For people of colour, probably the latter.  The owners of Groot Constantia have a permanent exhibition depicting aspects of the history of slaves.  It would seem that there is sensitivity about these matters, both from the government and from the side of those whose predecessors were represented by these inheritances.  One of most magnanimous gestures in recent times has been the subsidy for the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria which will help to preserve it as part of Freedom Park, a development that stimulates thought and feeling to all who visit it.

It is significant that township tourism has been the sector of the industry showing substantial growth.  With this growth is the recognition of sites, buildings and memorabilia that are deeply meaningful to black people.  The question remains:  to what extent can there now be a confluence of the two histories, often in painful conflict?


Church Square, Cape Town

When I stand on Church Square in Cape Town, I see the confluence of the two streams, one turbulent.  The statue of Onze Jan (Our Jan) has hitherto dominated that space, a man instrumental in the recognition of Afrikaans as a language.  He now shares that space with several marble blocks bearing names of slaves imported from other parts of Africa, Indonesia and Madagascar.  It is almost as if he stands amongst them, the two forming a single image.  Across the street is the Slave Lodge with ongoing exhibitions and depictions of history. The Prestwich Museum points us to a dark strain of our history – the mass grave for paupers and slaves uncovered at Green Point.  Cape Town and its tourist industry have in the past decade and a half become well and truly aware of a history  which includes the inequities, the injustice and the cruelty.

Will tolerance of the two histories prevail?  Or will there come at some future point extremist hackers with their hammers?  Are we developing a consciousness that can philosophically bring the two histories together and make them one?  The need to do this is founded on the value of preserving monuments from the past no matter what cruelty they imply, no matter how much pain they caused.


Val de los Caidos, Spain

The Valle de los Caidos near Madrid in Spain is an instructive example for us.  It was erected by the dictator Franco who held sway almost forty years, a monument to those who died in the bitter Civil War in the 1930s, 47,000 lives at the outset of that war.  It is said that this large edifice was in part erected by convicts and that many in Spain still do not accept the place as a monument to reconciliation as it was intended by Franco.  Should the Spanish break it down?  No.  The Spanish and we who tour there view it through an expanded consciousness.



Perhaps the most horrifying of such sites is that of Auschwitz in Poland where hundreds of thousands of people were systematically murdered.  It is an international monument with streams of tourists passing through it.  It is easy to see why it has been preserved as a tourist site and not destroyed:  we may not forget what we are capable of doing.


Bust of Dr H.F. Verwoerd

Though I am not sure of the details, I have heard that the statue of Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, often called the architect of apartheid, was removed from its public place in Bloemfontein.  I would imagine that part of the reason was to guarantee its safety.  In recent times there has been a call by a group of San descendants to remove the statue of Jan van Riebeeck from Adderley Street in Cape Town, seen as a symbol of white colonialism.  This is open to debate, I imagine, and I would argue that colonialism, for all its negativity, also brought benefits to the colonies that these very San descendants would be loath to part from.

There will be debates, but I feel confident that with the spirit that we have seen from 1994 to the present we will work it out.  I conclude with the transformation of Vlakplaas.



Vlakplaas, twenty kilometres west of Pretoria, was a farm housing the headquarters of the counterinsurgency unit in the apartheid era.  Opponents of the regime were “re-educated” or executed.  In August 2007, the South African Department of Science and Technology announced that the farm was to become a centre for healing where traditional medicines would collaborate with western forms of medicine.  This site deserves to have a respected place in a tourist heritage itinerary, the more so for being on a continent racked with pain on every conceivable level.

Will van der Walt ©

4 July 2012

Image Sources:

Destruction in Mali – source not traced

Bamiyan Buddhas –

Constantia –

Church Square –

Auschwitz –

Verwoerd –

Vlakplaas – 

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