I’m at the Vida Cafe, love the music they play here…
You’re lucky to have me back actually after my stint in freezing Sutherland this past weekend.
Sutherland is a place in the Northern Cape Karoo region, for those of you who do not know, and it’s the coldest place in South Africa. The lowest recorded temperature was -16.4°C sometime in 2003 and when we were there the temp was close to -5°C!!
For more information on Sutherland in general, click here.
Sutherland has also been of interest to me for ages and I’m really glad I finally got to go there, because of the SALT telescope, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, a third of which was paid for and is owned by South Africa, did you know that? I knew we had some hand in it but I never knew we owned it. We went on a tour that was led by a very interesting man who was clearly a scientist of some kind but who had that gift – unusual for intellectual giants – of being able to make his audience understand complex matters of science and astronomy with complete ease. I never knew, for example, that all of astronomy that is of any interest to the astronomers is spectroscopy; without which the science of astronomy would be operating literally and metaphorically in the dark.
The tour started at the visitors centre and then we went up to the SALT telescope by car. Snow was falling by this time, to our immense delight, so we travelled across a deserted, icy cold landscape populated with smaller telescopes dotted here and there. The feeling was definitely lunar. All of these telescopes are operated by computer, the smaller ones.
Then we went up to the SALT telescope:
At this stage the temperature was dropping, people! Sjoe!
This telescope’s mirror is based on a new design, there are 91 pieces of mirror comprising the single Primary Mirror (the thing that looks like a patchwork quilt below):
Apart from the phenomenal ingenuity of the telescope itself (which is based on the design of the famous HET telescope in Texas) one has to admire the engineering that went into the building of the telescope. Amazing. truly amazing what the human mind can conceive and build! The reason the mirrors on the Primary mirror look like a patchwork quilt is that some are cleaner than others. They clean them with some regularity but the cleaning job itself can take three days, one whole day to get two pieces of mirror out at a time! While we were there, two pieces were out for cleaning, so we actually only saw 89 of the 91 mirrors.
[While all this was going on my eye had been caught by a James Spader lookalike, more about him to follow]
Once we left the SALT telescope we walked into a blizzard! I was so thrilled to be in a blizzard! It meant more snow was falling than I had ever seen in my life!
haahahaaa most likely my American friends who have had to shovel their cars out of snow laden driveways more times than they can count are phoning around for white-walled places for me to spend some restful time in, but, ja, in Africa when we have seen snow, we’ve seen it already on the ground (in 1981 in some quantity) and never falling. Well .. that is to say, I’ve never seen it falling…
me in blizzard (all the while plotting how to get this JS fella’s number, I was walking behind him, he’s in pic 1 below here closest to camera):
I had seven layers on! I was fucking freeeeezing but having the time of my life….
Anyway I decided I couldn’t let the JS lookalike fade out of my hemisphere without at least trying to talk to him. He was with two older men, so in this blizzard I struck up a convo with one of the older men, while JS posed in the snow asking the bloke to take a portrait pic of him. We managed to insert ourselves firmly into the proceedings cos the older man didn’t understand what he meant by portrait and kept holding the camera the wrong way but I understood he meant the opposite of landscape so I cleared up the matter and got a cute smile from JS for my troubles…..
Long story short, we found out that JS is an organist and music teacher and when I said I’d like to hear him play he told me I was in luck cos he was playing the organ the following morning in St Michael’s church in Observatory, they were doing a Mozart High Mass piece and we were welcome to come.
We did! and more on that later.
All in all I really enjoyed the Sutherland trip. On Friday when we arrived in town the skies were low, grey and black and as the night pulled in the place became more and more eerie and mysterious, and of course, increasingly frigid. We met some people at dinner and they advised us to drive up to the Observatory‘s gate and see some stars, which we did. On the road there we switched our lights off. The darkness was a thick heavy blanket and the stars that appeared briefly out of the cloud cover could not be called stars, so dense and many they really struck awe into my heart. We got out of the car at the gate, the night was pitch, pitch black and I mean, I run out of adjectives when I try to describe the cold. Icy, frigid, freezing, none of these words quite cover it .. I’m off to check the Thesaurus…hold on…
Icy gives us this (arctic might be the closest description for the air at the gate that night):
||algific, antarctic, arctic, biting, bitter, chill, chilled to the bone, chilling, chilly, cold, freezing, frigid, frigorific, frost-bound, frosty, frozen over, gelid, glacial, glaring, iced, polar, raw, refrigerated, rimy, shivering, shivery, sleeted, smooth as glass
Another thing that struck me about Sutherland was the eeriness I referred to above. Perfect setting for a film noir thriller…. I think I need to get back there… and write one, or at least a short story.
And did you know the poet N P van Wyk Louw was born there?
here’s his poem Ballade van die Nagtelike Ure:
Ons liefde het uitgeblom
tussen elfuur en kwart oor twee –
hier sit ek onder die dagbreek
half-nugter en verlee
op koel stoeptreetjies êrens
waar ek ‘n blink waterkraan sien
in die ure van die donker dors
tussen twaalfuur en smôrens om tien.
Om elfuur was jou liggaam
die honger en dors in my,
as jou skewe papier-kalot
ver deur die danssaal gly.
Om twaalfuur was jy ‘n ligte brug,
‘n hoë, gevaarlike gang
bo my klein verwildering
tussen pyn en sterwe gehang.
Om eenuur was jou hare
vir my vingers ‘n bose strik,
en jou lyf soos swart stil water
en jou asem soos ‘n snik.
En nou het die môre my
oor die rand van sy glas gemors
op die stoep by die kraan wat blink
in die uur van die donker dors.
Beautiful piece of work – how’s that line: “en jou lyf soos swart stil water..”! Sjoe!!
well, the entire thing actually took my breath away. Like the night air in Sutherland.