Saturday, October 14, 2017

When an owl calls your name


Then in the last of the dusk, with bats silently on the wing, the icy wind stilled, the traffic on the main road that is the peninsula's spine lessened, we walked home in the descended peace alongside the demure lagoon.

I'd missed the last train back to the city and would spend the night here. In a house filled with passionate art, unfinished canvasses on easels, candles and books.

Muizenburg has not an uptight nor pretentious bone to it, although that's not always been the case. Yet, even while I'm told that danger lurks in its streets, I don't feel even slightly threatened, nor at risk. Perhaps it's the heady combination of red wine and the joys of an old and robust friendship that flood my veins, arteries, making me more unhindered than I should, perhaps, be.

I'm excited for the change in my routine that this welcome but unanticipated night in Muizenburg will afford me: other smells, sights, sounds; the moon too is different; another bed; foreign coffee.

While I'd left Vladimir Nabokov's 'Lolita' at my bedside, I had brought along his 'Speak, Memory' for the train ride (I'd finally gotten to Nabokov). Even so, once in the house, Kleinboer's 'Midnight Missionary' grabbed my attention and although I'd been resistant to reading it for years now, I took it to bed.

Also Ryk Hattingh's 'Huilboek'. Hattingh had died earlier in the day of a heart attack, in New Zealand where he and family had relocated to. Merely two week's ago he'd visited SA to collect an award and prize money for this, his latest novel. The novel, in Afrikaans, he had written in-between working as a cobbler and locksmith in Auckland.

My friend, she'd worked with him, recounted stories from his life, their life moments together; this was in-between fielding calls from the small circle of friends who were also recounting shared tales in-between expressing their grief, their loss.

This as my lids slid lower and bed beckoned.

When an owl calls your name...

Friday, October 13, 2017

Salt spray

With a water bottle, my notebook, pen, and my day pack hugging my back I took the southern line train to Kalk Bay late on Tuesday afternoon.

I read for most of the almost hour-long journey, a relaxing and favourite train ride of mine, despite the bad, sad state of our railways

Cappuccino and a slab of carrot cake over my notebook. This while sitting right up against Olympia Cafe's shopfront window. I was avoiding the icy chill of the cold front, which had dumped snow on the mountains in the country's interior.

To sporadically look up from my notebook and cake - with cappuccino foam on my upper lip or nostrils - at the colourful fishing boats in today's quite and docile harbour is another priceless joy.

Then, the only person in the shop other than the bespectacled manageress who peered over the top of her frame when I greeted her,  I wondered around Kalk Bay Books; they've normally got an array of unusual and difficult to find fiction and non-fiction carefully chosen and exhibited on the handful of tables on the shop floor.

On my last visit there were at least six titles I had scribbled on my list and would loved to have purchased. But I didn't have enough money with me for even one. This time, with money in my pocket, there wasn't a single edition of anything that caught my eager eye. That was a first for me.

Then, taking the coastal path between the ocean and the railway line, I walked the approximately four kilometres to Muizenburg: I needed the change of scenery, the tangy saltiness of the Indian Ocean in my nostrils and lungs, also to feel the adolescent summer sun on my skin. Also, the time to process things, me and my life, which walking briskly always seems to coax.

It was good to unwind and to consciously shrug off the anxiety that has been dogging my ankles like a persistent street dog for days now.

I was walking towards a carafe of red wine with old friends in a bohemian bistro/bar in quiet but for the skateboarders York Street: Oroboros. Friends of many years and much water under the bridge; another of life's priceless gifts.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Relatively speaking

How do two-and-almost-a-half months pass without me putting down a single word here? I shy away from here; the desire to remain invisible usurps my desire to be creative, to celebrate life via words and photos: a terrible and constant tension exists within.

I'm long-time returned from Uganda, it was an enormous success on countless levels; I've not written a word about it. Neither here nor anywhere else. Nor have I written a word since in terms of the story ideas that were flourishing in me and my notebooks while I was there, and on the flights back.

Today, I weakly resist bleakness overcoming me... it's the same bleakness inherent in the photo, above, that I took on 27 May. It was the city hall, the side of the library, the autumn trees on a bleary winter's day when the days were drawing in.

Today: It's a magnificent sunny day and the roofs of Woodstock are bright with summery sunshine, there's - unusually - not a breath of air. A woman wearing taut shorts and sandals, her oiled hair glistening (noticeable from even from this far and from this high above) in the sunlight, walks languidly up off one of the roads off Lower Main. She has a plump child fast asleep on her back, tied to her in reverse-Kangaroo style by a bright and cheerful pink blanket. I long to be next to her and her child, feeling the warmth of the late-approaching summer on my face,  on my skin.

Instead, I'm indoors with winter and wearing pyjamas suited to the cold of the last long week; winter is in my heart: I'm again working from home because my university where I teach has been beset by violent student protests, a minority of a minority; there's been attempted arson and the cars of staff have been vandalised. Last night, in the darkness where deeds like these take place, the doors to my department were pulled off their hinges and offices broken into: stuff stolen, glass broken. I've been on campus only three times since 1 September, choosing instead to teach via means other than the luxury of a classroom.

Then there's Trump, Brexit, climate change, the oceans soggy and overwhelmed with plastic, greed, capitalism, consumerism, the extreme and strangling corruption that pervades swathes of our government: billions of rands that could be exchanged for free tertiary education, also that the lives of countless disadvantaged folk could be transformed. Not to mention our deep, cloying and hooded Drought, which stands behind us all with his shining, razor-sharp scythe.

Then, I look upwards so as to count my blessings: I've six buds on an orchid that I rescued from the side of a street dustbin two years ago; before me and up right up tight against my retinas is the magnificent and inspiring Devil's Peak; not to mention that I had an awesome night's sleep in a warm bed; also I'm most gratefully not in the likes of storm-torn Puerto Rico or earthquake-ravaged Mexico City and still have a roof over my head.

It's all relative.

I'm still capable of compassion, kindness and generosity to those less fortunate than me. I can still choose to smile.

Also to make the choice to immerse myself in the miracle of this very day... because the past does not exist and I sure as hell have not an iota of control of tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Meat Bomb




















Thursday last week: On a beautiful winter's day that feels as if I, with a tiny bit of effort, could climb up somewhere, high, I would see to the edge of the earth, even beyond; it's one of those champagne days where the very ozone bubbles and sparkles.

I had a 9h00 appointment at a travel clinic in town; I did not even feel the prick of the needle that was inoculating me against yellow fever, nor did the malaria tablet regime seem anything but straight forward.

That was followed by a quick breakfast and both excited and anxious thoughts about my upcoming trip.

Then a languid and stop-start minibus taxi ride along the Main Road vein to UCT. Then my favourite: the long, taxing but magnificent walk from where the taxi spat me out in Rosebank - across the street from the Baxter Theatre - all the way up The Mountain and to the doors of the library. It's in here, right now, and in peace, because it's still the vac, that I type these words. This is a calming space that motivates me to work, also to browse the shelves.

I've long wanted to read W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, which I've just searched for in the cool and windowless basement, which holds the dead quiet treasure chests of the literature section. Ironically, this is the one library section I have no reason to visit while currently studying what I am. But both my spirit and will are weak.

"In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work."

I had to put Sebald's book down after the titillating first paragraph; I have to work and can't be distracted, despite how much I desire right now to be just that.

I'll be leaving for Kampala, Uganda on the 15th or 16th of next month. That's where the winner of the non-fiction Koffi Addo Writivism prize for nonfiction will be announced during the course of the writer's festival. On the last night, Sunday the 17th. My story, Meat Bomb, is one of the three short-listed stories.

Right now: Spurts of rain slash my bedroom window as I work on my bed, as I mark assignments, as I re-read the above and berate myself for what feels to me like insipid and lifeless words. Despite the rain I know it's having no impact whatsoever on the terrible drought we're in the middle of, despite that this, Winter, is supposed to be our rainy season. We're each allowed 87 litres of water a day: I shower every second day and strive to wear my clothes for much longer so that I only put the washing machine on, once, every two weeks.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Shell of St. James


I've mostly secluded myself in the flat and my bedroom since getting back. It's in preparation for the onslaught of humanity that I'll be inundated by with for the next university term. There'll be no respite except at night, but that will be an anxious respite in the swirl that is lectures, preparation for those lectures, marking, one-on-one contact with people, endless admin, work on my doctorate. While I dread this now, I know that by tomorrow morning when I wake, I'll be straight back into the flow and rush of it all.

Late yesterday in the fast approaching and moody dusk I escaped my bed and pile of books, the growing pile of dishes littering the kitchen counter, to Nic and Mike in Obs: to drink wine with them, to sit by their fire, to enjoy the two needy dogs, some pages of my book, for a hot cooked and tasty meal, to disappear (down the rabbit hole) into their large-screen gateway into Netflix, Google Earth, YouTube, which is more than I ever allow myself at home.

After a quick walk in the park with Nic and the dogs, also to pick up some vegetables for supper at Obs Spar, the rain came down. It's been a week since the last downpour I'm told. It used to be the other way around: known as the Cape of Storms, I remember the rain coming down for - often - a week at an end, then a mere clear day or two betwixt the next onslaught sent from Antarctica. Now, we're most grateful for any crumbs we might have from Nature's table; last night's train hopefully filled a mug.

At 22h30 I slunk back home despite being offered the couch; I much prefer my own bed and to wake in my own space, alone, silent, centered. 

My body is rested after this three-week vacation, my mind not so much.

I've received two sets of related good news: firstly, a few weeks ago, I heard that a non-fiction short story I'd written was long-listed in a writing competition. As I got back to Cape Town, I heard that it had been short-listed, which came with an invitation to attend and speak at a writing festival in Uganda. Here, in late August, the winner will be announced. This was a welcome answer to two of my intentions I broadcast earlier this year; to travel more, in particular within my continent; to write much more as I feel a heart's urge to shift from a lifetime of journalism to nonfiction and fiction writing.

I'm alone again today, at my desk in silence, and in deep inner peace. The ticking of my pomodoro timer app, the aroma of dark blend Italian coffee and chocolate biscuits, the company of my silent but flourishing plants, the phone on airplane mode, Devil's Peak, Table Mountain and Woodstock bathed in bright winter sunshine whenever I lift my eyes from the keyboard.

Despite my anxiety at the busy-ness and stress of the next few months, I'm deeply grateful for my apartment, my warm bed, my hot shower, my job, my life in Cape Town, my handful of friends, my books, the opportunities to travel, to write, and the desire to strive towards constantly simplifying and streamlining my life in this the second and calmer half of my life journey.

Another intention I aim to broadcast is my determination to walk, alone (and to be open to whatever life puts across my path) the full length of the Camino des Santiago. This is an ancient 800 km (500 miles) pilgrimage between St. Jean Pied-du-Port in France - across the Pyrenees, and westwards across Spain approximately 100 km (60 miles) south of the coast - and the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. It'll mean passing through Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, and many smaller villages and towns. I've held this desire for a few years now, that is to walk this 'way of St James' as a personal spiritual retreat.

The sun, suddenly, is gone and there's a smattering of fat raindrops across the window at my desk; I can distinctly make out the sheet of rain that's heading across the city bowl and this way. I instinctively shiver and pull the heater closer.

The scallop shell (of St. James), often found on the shores in Galicia, is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago; it also acts as a metaphor: 

"The grooves in the shell, which meet at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim: As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up onto the shores of Galicia, God's hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago."