Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A little light and magic

(written mostly on Sunday)

It's been a funny old weekend, and I'm pleased to say that after the last post I've spent a lot of time walking around the city with less worry, but almost as much caution, as I had before.

Saturday was another spectacularly sunny day and I made my way towards town in one of the local mini-buses, packed in with 25 others, as the driver tore through the streets and his friend called out and whistled to passersby seeing if we couldn't shove another half a dozen people in the back. We passed an area that I'd heard of before, so I called and jumped off the bus, and started wondering Woodstock, a pretty rundown neighbourhood, but one which I'd heard had hidden treasures. It didn't take long to find the old biscuit mill, which now, every Saturday, plays host to a fantastic food market, with delicacies made freshly but originating from around the world. I tucked into a great smoked salmon in rice paper wrap and wonderful seared swordfish with passion fruit and avocado. I also got the first decent cup of coffee I've drunk whilst in Cape Town before tearing my way away from the food tents and walking around the extremely artsy-looking home-stores, clothes shops and photography galleries.

bread at the biscuit mill
veg at the biscuit mill
old buscuit mill under table mountain
I took another treacherous journey in a local minibus (here called taxis) into the centre of the city and wandered around the rather unappealing looking streets until I found a nice square to bask in the sun, read a book and work out my next move.

Though they may seem overly touristy, I've started using the open-topped bus tours as a way to get to know a city if given only a short time in it. The two hour tour took me through most of the important districts in the city, including the infamous District 6, up to the cable station of Table Mountain and on around the beaches to the West where the rich and famous sun themselves. I took this from round the corner of one of the most exclusive areas to live in Cape Town:
Cape Town sea and mountain views
Getting back to the small but rather historic guest house, I met the owner and her daughter, whose boyfriend was there with an old school friend of his and his girlfriend. Soon another guest arrived, and on inspection I found myself to be in the company of an international rugby star, a world famous paleontologist and a TV star/top model/DJ. We chatted for a while and watched the rugby which was being played down the road, before I headed off to get something to eat in one of the local restaurants. I didn't manage to explain my thoughts on the holographic principle to the model, though I have no doubt that she would have been fascinated!

Sunday I headed off for a walk in the forest at the foot of Table Mountain which boasts one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. It's a really stunning area with such a variety of ancient flora (mostly being made of of a plethora of ferns) that you seem to be moving from one continent to another as you walk through the undergrowth.

Getting out of the forest we headed to Montebello's, one of the areas famed lunch venues and sated our appetites on a strange sushi rice based concoction, wasabi'd to perfection, before heading back to the guest house. I spent the afternoon getting on with work and chilling into the evening.

The rest of the week so far has been a push on the project which has taken a few u-turns but we have some concrete calculations to look at for now. Today was a bit of a break as I gave my talk on atmospheric optics as a departmental colloquium. I had a good reception and the number of questions after and display of photos with a variety of cloud formations and optical effects which people quizzed me with was a great sign. I'll be happy to give this in other departments in the future and it looks like I have one lined up for Chile in August.

In fact the weather played its part today as we had a rather lovely solar halo over the campus through the morning (and now a fine lunar halo). I played my usual part and pointed it out to random passersby who gave me a much warmer reaction than that which I've received in any other country. It's not the greatest solar halo ever, but it is the best timed!
UCT halo
This on the other hand is a mystery to me. As I headed out of the department on Monday I was greeted with a strange light around the top of Table Mountain which stayed pretty stationary, though faded as the clouds moved swiftly across the peaks. Within five minutes it was gone, but I have a feeling it was as much to do with the position of the sun as the cloud formation. My only guess is that there may have been two layers of lenticular clouds which let through a perfect sliver of light. Any other suggestions would be gratefully received.
Mysterious light over UCT2
Mysterious light over UCT1
This, by the way, is the magnificent campus view of Table Mountain (actually Devil's peak) directly behind the main UCT hall.

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