Category Archives: Lifestyle

The subtle art of cigar smoking

Recently I ran into a cigar or two. Like so often in my life I realized that there are worlds around me I do not have any idea about.

A cigar became a mark of sophistication, authority, and good taste. By a process of carefully selected leaves, the process of drying and rolling; the cigar became an artisan item, equivalent to a work of art. In time it became a sign of greatness of important men to be accompanied by only the very best cigars. The following people have established themselves as true icons and champions of the cigar. 

With a background like this, where do we start to learn more? Where do I start looking for cigars?

If it is a male orientated hobby, let us start with size. Average would be a 7 x 38. That means 7 inches long. The ring size is measured as X times 1/64th of an inch. Thus the 38 would be 38 times 1/64. What does the size matter? The longer and wider the cigar, the cooler the smoke and that means your flavor will be fuller. The larger the cigar the more complex the taste.

Pajero is the standard type of cigar. It is a cylindrical shape, with a head (the front that will be lit), body and a foot. This side is neatly closed with the wrapper and will need to be cut before lighting. Other forms are grouped under Figurado’s. These are Pyramids, Bellicose, Torpedo’s and many more. Each will have its own champions that will tell you why that cigar form is better.

Of course the most important part is the tobacco. The most obvious to start with will be the wrappers, or the leaf used to cover the cigar. There are subtle differences in the appearance of wrapper leaves. They vary from cream to yellow through subtle green to darker brown and to almost black. They are named from Double Claro through Colorado to Maduro and any amount of combinations of these. The color depends on the amount of sunlight the leaves get up to the ripening and amount of fermentation allowed .Lighter leaves have a dryer taste, while darker ones would be sweeter.

Wrapper leaves are grown with care. The wrapper leaves will inform the content, 60-90% of taste and flavor is derived from the wrapper. Aesthetics play a role as well. There must be no blemishes. A single leaf must cover the whole cigar. Oils in the leaf will give it a slight sheen, and as we said the color is very important in creating expectation from your unlit cigar.

Cigar tobacco comes from the Caroga cultivar. Plants are usually harvested from bottom to top. The bottom leaves are those that ripen earlier and the bottom leaves being more flavor rich. A plant can be harvested up to eight times in a season.

When the tobacco is ripe it is harvested. Then follows a curing process. leaves are bound in bunches and dried. Light will be eliminated for hydrolysis and oxygenation to take place, and for the amount of chlorophyll to be removed. Then leaves are dried in air (wind) that ideally should take about 40-60 days. This process can also be accelerated by heat from a fire or in mass production in a kiln. The main indicator is to check the main vein on the leaf.

The leaves are then put through a first and second fermentation. Leaves are batched in bales, with stable heat and humidity and a decrease in air flow. Humidity and temperature is regulated.

After finishing the making process cigars are aged. This is a slow fermentation process. the larger the cigar, the better the aging process. On average aging is allowed for six to 12 months, but better handmade cigars are aged up to six years. After buying your cigar it can still age at home, provided that you have good storage with constant temperature and humidity.

Anatomy of a cigar

As already stated, a cigar consists of a head, body and a foot.

It is built up in 3 layers. The filler is the inside leaves. They are from top leaves, darker in color, more oily and they burn slower. The filler is covered by the binder. Binder is more course leaves that will hold the filler together. They tend to be lighter in color and flavor. The Wrapper is the outside leaf. Here the aesthetic look is very important. There should be no blemishes and should feel soothing to both hand and lips. The foot is covered with the same color leaf in one to three wrappings and should form three layers.

By now I know a little about a cigar. Later I will comment on the ritual of smoking one.


I love to travel.

I love the feeling of being anonymous that traveling gives me. This is enhanced by the knowledge that for the duration of my trip I am not responsible for anybody but myself and my travel partner, that is usually my wife, the most amazing partner anyone can have . Even flying is fun. The minute I pass through the airport gates I become almost invisible. Nobody knows me and I am not responsible for anyone. I become the observer. What a heavenly feeling. I am there to learn and experience.

Travelling three tines!

I always say that I travel three times. Months before a trip I will start reading. I want to know everything about the place I am going too. the place I visit becomes familiar even if I have never been there before.

The next kind of traveling is being there. I need to see , taste, hear and experience everything. The third time I travel is on arriving home afterwards. Then I relive my visits in photo’s, memories and through my sketches and travel diaries. Now I start reading again. Often I re-read what ever I read before going, as being there gives one a totally different perception of the place. Very often I run into things and concepts I did not know before I left. This I need to explore on returning.


So what do I read up on before leaving? I usually start off with the history of the place. How did this nation come to be what and where they are and why. What are they now and what make them who they are. Lastly I want to know where they are going Their future is usually a political answer to which I unfortunately seldom give lots of time and dedication.

I also make sure I know where they are. The first page in my travel diary is then dedicated to a hand drawn map of the country with its neighbors. I need to see where they are in the bigger picture, to see the countries that surround them, sea’s and ports and the geography of the land. It tells me so much about the people living there and how the came to be.

On arriving in a new city.

First I need to orientate myself. I start with major sites or places. A river is a good start. Every city has its points of interest, that any local can direct you towards. Where do I live in relation to my travel beacons. This way it is easier not to get lost or to get disorientated. (Not that I have any problems with getting lost, I discovered the most amazing places in my life exactly because I got lost. But then you need to have enough time to enjoy being lost. This can not happen if you are only in a city for a few days.)

Do not be shy to talk to people. Often we try to understand a few rudimentary things about the language. I will not claim that I can speak or even understand the local language, but at least to be able to greet, to ask for the menu or the bill. If at least you tried, people will warm up to you and try to help you.

Slow living

I love the concept of “slow living”. Especially when traveling. I need to experience with all my senses. I need to observe and see how these people live, what they eat and do. I want to smell the aromas in their markets and restaurants, taste the food, hear the language and the sounds in the square.

I am an urban sketcher on holiday. I will sit in front of a church or building and try to render it on paper. This slows down time. It makes you really see what is in front of you. Often if I go back to a drawing I can remember smells and sights and even the cool afternoon air or the morning sun on my back. More often than not somebody will come and stand behind you to see what you are doing and start to have a conversation with you as well.

If you can choose between visiting ten cities or one, always choose only one. I know when traveling I always think that I might never see this or that city, but if I van see one place properly, it is often so mush more rewarding than to travel 10 cities and just seeing them through a bus window. Every time you move to a new place you loose at least half a day to move and settle down in new accommodation.

Try not to move in packs. Groups of people are always complicated. There are more preferences you need to consider, more people you must wait for, transport becomes cumbersome and logistics becomes a pain.

Maybe even more important is to know what you see. I need knowledge about a place I visit. Otherwise it just becomes an ABC tour: Another bloody Cathedral, another bloody Castle, another bloody church. Knowledge makes each place memorable and special. The more knowledge, the more each place will stand out.

If traveling remember to be open to new experiences. Try to experience everything new. Eat the local food (never the MacDonalds). Never compare. Each place will be special in its own right. Don’t buy. Traveling is not about having, but about experiencing. Most souvenirs were made in China in any case, and will only have meaning for you.

Make your journey an adventure, and enjoy every minute!

Living a Creative life

It is silly season again. Everybody is rushing, buying and running around. Hopefully soon we will start settling down and start thinking about the new year looming ahead. The dreaded time of new year’s resolutions!

Some years back I started to move away from new year’s resolutions. Gradually the idea of more intentional living started to take root. We see this trend in some self help programs as well lately. Set yourself few life goals.

In my own life I focus on three aspects. I think of healthy living, living more spiritually and living a more creative life. It is much broader than new years resolutions, but in the end easier to accomplish. With a resolution you might decide not to eat bread again, and this thought only lasts until you smell a lovely freshly baked bread. Once you had your lovely slice of bread the resolution is broken and you hardly ever think of it again.

With intentional living you decide to live a healthier life. The decision is not obsessive, it is not self abusive and it is not depriving you of the joys of life. It leads you to live more balanced. With my personality I never feels strong enough about anything to become fanatical about it. ( Over enthusiastic is a completely different matter.) This way of thinking will help you to decide, when you do need to make a decision, to maybe just choose the healthier option. and if you don’t, you did not break a resolution, and the next choice might be better.

My next option is to live a spiritually fulfilling life. Spirituality is a foreign idea these days. I do not intend this to be a specific religious idea either. With this I simply mean to live in the moment from time to time. Be aware of NOW. Experience the magic around you. See the clouds. Be part of the sunset. Enjoy and accept the heat of summer, accept it and experience it, rather than to complain about it.

Most important part in my life, is to live a creative life. Creativity is an essential part of being human. We create all day. You create the meal you will eat, friendships and relationships. Years ago I read the only self help book that really changed my life. It was The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. Even though I adapted it to suit my own needs, it is still part of my life.

The main part of this is a form of active meditation. She calls it Morning Pages. It means that you should write on paper with a pen 3 to 5 pages of thoughts that crosses your mind first thing in the morning. This helps you to plan your day, to identify things that bothers you, to set goals for the day and to put your day into perspective. The days that I do it is the days that is just so much more productive. It works for me.

To create we need to take something from out of ourselves. This will leave you with less original ideas. One need to put something back. This is called “filling the pond”. So treat yourself to something nice at least once a week. Go to a museum, walk in the park or go swimming somewhere in nature. You owe it to yourself!

The last part is regular walking. The action should be relaxed. The rhythm and repetitive motion will help you to relax and get creative thoughts flowing.

To really become creative you need to make time. Stop thinking that you need big blocks of time. Half an hour a day is plenty of time. That is just 2% of your day, but a 2% that might give you 80% of the joy of your day. Make time. Sacrifice television or social media. They are both time wasters, and I never hear anybody saying they do not have half an hour to do Facebook or Instagram, and it usually absorbs much more time than that.

Come on. You can do it! Live a more creative life.

The Joy of Mastering a new Craft

On Saturday I attended a leather work training course. It was presented by the Cape Leather Training Company. The presenters were Lourens and Marinda Brandt, a husband and wife team, that really works well together. They present the classes from their studio at home, a warm and welcoming space. We were just two pupils that ensures individual attention.

The products that we crafted were well designed and when we were finished, it looked like a professionally made product. I can hardly wait to make my first bag on my own to see if I can keep up the professional standards that the team insists on.

The Workspace

We worked in a neat and well lit area. We had all the instruments needed to work with at our disposal. What I liked most of all is that we used basic hand tools only. You do not need to buy a lot of expensive equipment to be able to replicate the same quality of work at home. This is handwork at its best.

Bag for shaving tools.

At this stage in my life I do not need new things. To be able to get an authentic experience is worth so much more. I shared the day with my son-in-law. We had an absolutely great time together. We gained a new skill, we bonded, and walked away with a feeling that we can still change the world.

My message is to go forth and change the world. Make your life a better place. Create chances for yourself to enrich your own life. This is one of those chances.

Daylight Robbery

Daylight robbery

With the building of the new house, or should I start again with: when planning to build a home, all sorts of interesting developments tend to crop up.

After plans were drawn up I was surprised to hear about the new law that prescribes the percentage of windows that is allowed in any specific room in a house, especially where western and eastern windows are concerned.This is to ensure optimal energy consumption in the home.

While this makes sense in an economic unit I think it should be my choice if I bought property that would enable me to have a home with an incredible view, I should be able to build the house of my dreams with the view of my dreams. Why should I be penalized because of a new law if all the houses in the area is not compliant, because they were built before the new law was written. I did take a lot of precautions already, but I don’t want to give up on having a great view.

While I was pondering this Frederika asked me an interesting question. “Where does the saying: Daylight robbery come from.” I had no idea.

Apparently in England people, in the late Middle Ages, were taxed for the amount of glass windows that they could afford to have in their homes. This forced many of them to have either very small windows or even no windows at all in some rooms. It led to very dark interiors even in daylight hours. Hence the term; Daylight Robbery.

This new law that prohibits bigger windows make me want to proclaim out loud that this is absolute daylight robbery! Is

The facades

After several meetings with the architect we are at a point where we can start talking about “our house” with a picture of what it might look like in my mind. I have a very visual brain. I tend to visualize things in images. I can only properly think of things if I can see what it should look like.

The first stage of planning was floor space and how to accommodate it in the slope of the land without too much excavation. Seeing that we had very specific needs it took us some time to get to the ideal. With great excitement we reached a step in the planning that we were happy with. It meant that we had to go back several times to “the drawing board “ and to start all over again. Especially the kitchen had great challenges as we have very specific needs there. Above all, we do not want to make the place too big.

Once again, I am impressed with how much thinking goes into simplicity. We have such set ideas of what things should be like, that it takes imagination to change ideas in your head. At last our floor plan was finished. We are satisfied with traffic flow through the more public spaces, enough light, cross ventilation, sun angles summer and winter, views, wind direction not to talk about things like storage space privacy in certain areas and a thousand other small concerns important to us. That includes studio space for me, a home office for Frederika and even a small place for woodwork and a tinkering place for me to play in.

Even with the house spread over ( technically) four levels, we still planned it that we would need to use the stairs in our direct living space as little as possible, as we plan to live there into old age if we are fortunate enough to have that luxury. It means that living area, main bedroom and garages are on one level. (I am not going to carry groceries up and down flights of stairs if I can help it!)

So far so good! The next step was the design of the facades. What a shock to see that the perfect house looks just like all the other new houses in the area. I do not really know what I expected, but always having lived in older houses in Worcester this modern monster did not fit into my picture of home. I brooded for 24 hours before I accepted that I actually opted for something totally new ( that might also be translated as modern).

I sat down thinking about what upset me and then started to redesign the look by lining up windows and creating unified lines and areas of contrast in color and texture. Fortunately the architect is a patient man. The next set of plans were perfect.

The Saga Continues

Weekly meetings with our architect seems to become a highlight in our busy weeks. The first meeting was to establish our basic needs, what exactly we need in our new house, which land surveyor we want to use as we need to know the exact contours of the stand. We want to use the contours of the land as closely as possible so that we can minimize excavation.

With the second meeting Wilhelm had a basic floor plan. It was very exciting and extremely disappointing at the same time. The ideas were brilliant, I must confess, but it was not what we had in mind. Well, not exactly… So we brooded over the plans. We could not respond immediately as the next day I was part of an art exhibition opening in Wellington, and the Monday morning the exams of our post graduate Ethics course started in Stellenbosch.

On Monday night we tackled the problem. Poor Wilhelm got a detailed e-mail discussing every detail on the plans. Changes were made to just about every square meter. Like a true professional Wilhelm said, on my enquiry if he received the mail, that he got the mail, and that he might even read it at some stage!

Saturday was our follow up meeting. With his usual smile he listened attentively to our lamentations. On Sunday evening, as we were about to leave for our second week of Ethics classes, he handed the second set of plans to me, this time hand drawn. This time the response is great. We still need a few changes to it, but it was already closer to our ideal.

An added problem so far is that it is difficult to envisage the results as we do not have any idea of aesthetics so far. We do not really know even what style he has in mind. That would most likely be another struggle waiting to be fought. So far we are still very excited.

The saga continues.

Finding the right Architect

Finding the right architect

I always wonder why people, when they make the biggest investment in their lives, they believe , they should do it without any professional input. If you have toothache you consult a dentist, if you want a haircut, you seek the best hairdresser in town, but if you design a new house, your biggest single investment you will likely make in your life, you do it yourself or ask somebody that can draw to do it for you.

A lot of friends frown when I say that I am going to have an architect design the new house. The first question I usually get is: “ Do you know what those guys cost?” or “Why, don’t you know what you want?”

In my experience, whenever I walk into a house, or even if I just see one from street level, I can immediately see which one was designed and which one was just drawn by somebody. But like most things in life it is a personal choice.

My personal choice this time around is Wilhelm Sadie. We worked together before and the result is an incredible little holiday home that always feel like a piece of heaven. I know he listens to what I say and tries to accommodate our whims, but he is hard headed enough to be stubborn if we want something that will not work.

The first step he did, that really impressed me, was that he made a house call. He said he needed to see our furniture and art collection before he could start thinking about the house. We , like anybody else I suppose, have furniture that has meaning for us. Pieces of furniture we grew up with and that we collected at specific times in our life together that says who we are.

Our art is more of a problem than a collection. We have lots of it. When Frederika and I got married we each already had a collection. Unfortunately our art is not bought for investments. We buy art because we love it, the paintings tell a story of who we are, where we were and what is important to us. A lot of the friends we made in Worcester are friends. The art we collect of them tell their as well as our story. A story of growth, pain, progress, life and friendship. If I show you our art I show you fragments of my life.

I can hardly wait to be able to exhibit our lives on the walls of our future home.

At the outset we have three main objectives and needs for our new our home: Big open living space, views and big walls to accommodate our art.

The photos of sketches at the top is whrer i had to give measurements of every single important piece of furniture in the house. The story continues…

The New landowners

  • There is an incredible freedom if you can start looking for property without any pressure. We want to sell our house for several reasons that I already touched on. In the circumstances your available choices are almost too many. You can go for the small plot cut-off from a large older property in a settled neighbourhood, this is usually a panhandle type of property with the advantage of being safe, but with limited space and usually a area difficult to accommodate in the building process. In a area still being laid out, you can select the best position but you will be surrounded by builders and unfinished houses surrounding you for the next ten years. Building in an estate set-up means your building style and even the colour you paint your house is prescribed to you. I am much to individualistic to settle for that. Maybe I will settle for that when I move to a retirement village.

    The View of the plot from street level

    In the end we settled for the piece of land that stole our hearts, or is it our eyes. It was an emotional buy, and had nothing to do with rationality. We bought the view to die for. Maybe that is a bad choice of words. Let’s rather say we bought the view I would not mind waking up to every morning. Beautiful mountains in all directions, protected nature area within walking distance and the Karoo botanical gardens within sight

    I can hear you thinking: there must be a catch! Well, there is. The plot slopes with exactly ten meters from the highest to the lowest point. I am sure we will still cry a lot of tears ( and pay many a rand on construction and earth moving) before we can start building there.

    If we can say perfect happiness is the most important part of any purchase, I promise that this was a good buy. To add to the attractiveness of the buy I can say that it is bordered by a area that is public open space, that makes it appear twice as big, the plot is covered by local fynbos and succulents ( that I hope I can protect from too much damage from the building process) and that it is situated on the corner of two streets that means it is unlikely to feel boxed in by other houses later.

    So far so good.

  • The story of finding a new house.

    Change is part of our daily lives. I realized that last year when I closed down my practice to join the wonderfull group of doctors at Worcester hospital. Two years ago I would have laughed at anybody who would have said that I would even consider doing it. But today I can say that I feel very much at home with my new hospital family.

    Our family was so fortunate to live in the house we bought at 24 Sutherland street more than rwenty years ago. It is a wonderfull family home that could expand to accomodate any number of people, without ever feeling crowded. Except for our own kids we had many exchange students, especially from Germany and Poland that joined us for a year. All of them enriched our lives tremendously. We had several family members and friends that stayed with us for longer or shorter times as well, and the house accomodated us all.

    But, as I said, things change. Kids grow up and go to university, but even though Wilhelmina moved back we know that it would only be short term. As we do not have children at home any more I am not prone to take any more students in, as our own kids are out of the house which makes it more difficult for foreign kids to adapt.

    …so, suddenly our beautiful house feels utterly empty. We do not need to stay across from the school anymore, as there are no more kids in school. I do not need to stay close to work many more as I seldom have to rush out at night for an emergency.

    Except for the change in the family and work circumstances, we, as people, change with time too. We need different things. The rolls of our lives change, our needs change. Suddenly I feel a need for n different way of living. We do not need separate entertainment area where kids can make their own noises anymore. These days they join us as grown ups in their own right, a fase of our lives that I thoroughly enjoy.

    As my favourite architect, Mies van der Rohe said: “Less is more”. For now we need less (and more). I need less rooms. Rather give me one big living area than a lot of separate rooms. I want to be able to talk to my wife and friends while I am busy in the kitchen. I need a living area to live in. Not a kitchen, a lounge, a diningroom, a family room and a separate outside area and braai area. There must be one area to do it all.

    So before we could really even decide about selling the house, at the drop of a hat, we spontaneously started looking for a new home. We quickly realized that what we were looking for does not exist. Not yet anyway. We saw countless variations of the same kind of place, in different areas of Worcester. Houses comes with standerd features: gararge, kitchen , bathrooms (usually two and a half of them?), lounge and other usual features.

    All houses are built to resemble something else. It is either supposed to look like something in the Tuscan style (that is not found in Tuscany) or it should be built in the style of an African farm house or Cape rural style (that I havent seen on a real farm either) or it should look like something else. Is it really that difficult to just built something origional with contemporary building materials?

    But after all was said and done, we saw nothing that Goldilocks would call “just right”.

    The shock of that was: We will have to do it ourselves!

    Where do you begin? With Julie Andrews we will sing: “Lets start at the very beginning”.

    We need to get a piece of land to build on. We need a plot.

    Now we have a whole new dilemma. What, where and how. But that is the next episode