Saturday, December 31, 2011

Penultimate. And man-on-a-rock

Mossel Bay, Western Cape: At the dusk of the penultimate day of the year, beneath the historical St Blaize lighthouse, I slated my thirst with a pint of draught.
It was as simple and as complicated as that.
Looking, again, for meaning in the ocean, I wondered about the Portuguese galleons that rounded this African coast over 500 years ago, searching here for fresh water, and planting their stone crosses on the coastline as they explored trade routes and underwrote paler sections of my nation's turbulent, angry, racial history. This mostly on the soft sand betwixt the crashing Indian Ocean waves and the hard, harsh and beautiful edge of the continent.
All this while a parallel, darker history was underwritten and bled into the land, but above the ocean, and thousands of kilometers inland.
I've just woken, before these words frothed and foamed through my brain, and down my neck, and along my arm, down through my thin fingers, and on to the screen.
Now that they free, and gone from me, I'm going back to sleep. If the truth be told, I'm burnt out and exhausted after a crazy, very hard-long-year.

Hole in the beach

I went to the beach yesterday to be alone, to stare into the ocean, to breathe in deep it's tangy-salt-air.
There I met a wonderfully crazy bunch of people, all communication students together at one time, now in the media world - tv, social media, blogging and even a magazine journalist.
Before I knew it I was in the deep end, literally, with sea sand everywhere, helping with the hole before the tide came in.
It was wonderful to relax and laugh with strangers, to be light and free and whimsical.
And the sea goes on...

Friday, December 30, 2011

First light

It's dawn, Graaf Reinet.
As the only petrol attendant, red dressed, hoses down and then sweeps the Total garage forecourt, I settle down in the driver's seat to sleep.
I cover my eyes with my soft, olive green sleep t-shirt which smells of me, in a good, cool-on-my-face way.

Lootsberg Pass (1787m above sea level)

The wind at the top of the Lootsberg Pass buffets the car.
I'm sitting at the look-out point; all I can see is a single pin prick, headlights, as an ant-car crawls upwards towards me; it's far away.
Beautiful Graaf Reinet is 60 or so km in front of me, ugly Middleburg lies 40 or so km behind me. Between me and one of my favourite Karoo towns, the magnificently restored and preserved Graaf Reinet, is the Plains of Camdeboo, one of the richest sources of dinosaur fossils on the planet.
Aeons ago this would have been a massive inland sea teeming with prehistoric plant and animal life.
Eve Palmer's 'The Plains of Camdeboo', a Karoo classic - about this region - which deeply influenced and impacted me, has been reprinted, and only last night did I finger a copy while prowling Sandton's bookshops.
But I've done 785km since leaving Jo'burg at 5pm, and it's now 3h31. I need some sleep, which I'll get in this car, 60km from here, while passing two gravel road turnoffs to Nieu Bethesda, and Helen Martin's Owl House.
A cold, choppy wind is blowing despite it being mid-summer. I know only too well how the temperatures can drop here in the winter.
Over there, and I bet you can't see it, is the peak of the Compassberg, he second highest peak.
Despite the cold and pitch black, I need to pee. And to then drive, so that I can sleep, in the car.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dark heart

It's about 100km still to Colesburg and I'm at a Checkpoint Charlie arbitrarily in the middle of nowhere.
It's a sickle moon above a flat, wonderfully bland landscape. All beneath a star studded sky.
I have a definite sense of traversing the very - dark - heart of my country.
Green light, and we go.

Road trip: Kroonstad

I'm sitting cross-legged with the false cold in the quietest part of the Steers on the side of the highway, just outside Kroonstad in the Free State.
203km into my road trip from Joburg to, indirectly, Cape Town.
I don't want to be distracted: not by people and the electric-sexual-nomadness of these crazy places that are so like border posts.
Transience and faces-from-other-places-that-I-don't-know has an inherent eroticness for me that I can explain, later.
Fuel. Coffee. Eat. Think.
I've had to be disciplined to sit down and write. I have two million excuses not to, the too-cold air conditioning is one of them.
I bathed deeply in preparation for this road trip. I always do. The anticipation of who knows what. Like, for example, I know that I want to be in Mossel Bay tomorrow morning sometime. But it's 1000km away. I will have to sleep; deliciously I wonder where.
In the bath I looked at my feet. I shaved my legs; every week I do that (it's a habit from my 'cycling' days).
I have packed light; this is a writer and photographer's trip, and the destination is irrelevant even though I have one.
I have a bag containing some clothes, some toiletries, a book, a gardening magazine and the last, but fat, Mail & Guardian for 2011. And, for old time's sake, an empty, brand new spiral bound A4 notebook with a charcoal cover. It's for my morning pages.
I also left my pc behind, and have only my cell phone, my iPad and my lean bag of camera equipment. Oh ja, and my fast-beating heart.
Leaving behind a dark, wet and moody Joburg, the sunny, bright and friendly Free State embraced me: mealies, grain silos, flat earth, sunflowers.
Large Afrikaans men sunburnt in their shorts, socks, paunches, mustaches, bald pates, ugly sunglasses and Mercedes Benz's.
I feel at home here. I was spent two years of my youth in the army here: Tempe, Bloemfontein.
I've read Denys Reitz's 'Commando', and anticipate volume two of his gripping Anglo Boer War trilogy. His true story. It's above the fireplace in my bedroom at home.
I also had an intense personal relationship (yes, my word choice gives it away) rooted in Senekal, a Free State village-town off the beaten track.
I love the flatness and the light, it's an unusual bright-pure-light that smacks of the surreal.
I've also read Zakes Mda's novel based on the Apartheid racial-barrier-blurring events that, unbelievably, took place in Excelsior, which I visited and explored during its drought in 2004. Fascination.
But now I must pay my bill, empty my bladder and head towards historical, practical Colesburg, across the Cape border. Then, where to sleep?
400km to that decision, and a fork in the road. Literally.

Falling out of me

I've sat with a few new people these Christmas holidays. Our paths have crossed, but I adamantly don't believe in coincidence. As random as it all seems, it's minutely orchestrated, every hair-thin-vein-and-quiver-of-the-butterfly's-wing-and-beat.
The key themes of these coffee times has been loneliness and aloneness, and pain.
They have my heart: I see their pain / I feel their loneliness / nothing is straight forward.
Trust me, life is not easy, and even having said that, I'm going to underline it - life is very hard.
I have done it all:
I've been to the edge and back.
I lived like a king, and thought I was.
I played the palace fool, which I was.
I trod on hearts, while numbing my own.
I thought the world was mine to do as I please/d with, when in fact I lived in hell: proclaiming without knowing it - "I'm the king of hell, bow before me". And hell it was. Mine.
The cars, the houses, the cash, the credit, the debt, the planes, the toys, the CDs, the noise, the 'friends', the filth, the porn, everything the king could wish for. And more. But much less.
The king would have done anything in his power to have avoided staring into his abyss.
His own abyss, the pain. The pain of the emptiness, and the meaninglessness, and of the pain of it all.
But all that time I thought I was alone, up until I fell out of me (because the bottom was gone).


I unexpectedly sold a car today. One I have owned for over 9 years; that I have travelled the country hither and thither in, 222 000km to be exact; a battery of countless road trips to some of the remotest places in the country.
I have driven out my broken heart in it. I have driven away from broken hearts in it. I have cried in it. I've had sex in it, also made love in it; in a previous lifetime. Hardbody.
Tonight I had coffee at my favourite Seattle, the one at Mandela Square, Sandton.
I walked around and through the square, soaking in the randomness, taking photos of my mood's projections and savourings, peering between Nelson's legs.
Paging through books at the other Exclusive's, I advised and directed a woman to Steve Biko's 'I write what I like', which she bought.
I then had dinner with Steffen at Ocean Basket. With a glass of dry white, and afterwards, an ice cream and chocolate syrup.
The deal with the car is that I need to drive it to Cape Town. I sold the car late this afternoon. I might drive it the 1490 km to the fairest Cape tomorrow.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas chili & "pretty little buttercup"

I've just walked to a Portuguese restaurant in Melville. I'm very grateful its open, nothing else is.
I'm starved...and I've ordered a large Black Label draught.
Despite being warned of the danger of walking, and alone, by a well meaning acquaintance, I was so marvelously alone in the streets...hardly even a car.
Freshly Ground - from 6 years ago in my memory - is playing loudly and a drunken, bloated-face man is singing along - Dooby Dooby Dooby. It's so marvelously Christmas for the drunken, and broken, like me.
A political conversation between two young black guys, one with out-the-box shiny spectacles, passionately and un-sporadically blasts me from the dimly lit corner (aaah they are in advertising I am able to easily eavesdrop) to my 'write'.
I have chosen to spend Christmas alone, not even with family. I am open, and free.
And despite all, I'm sitting in the light.

I need a life

There was a storm.
Cool breeze on my nakedness woke me with ice-cold.
Listening, now, again, to the wind through branches and leaves...and through the branches, twigs, leaves of my mind.
Then I remembered the yellow flowers I photographed this afternoon in the tired-sadness of my self-imposed self-exile-from-self.
I need to get a life.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Madeira breeze

Rumbling, rumble-thunder, sprinkler irrigation, doves in the weeping willow.
The 'quiet' before the/my storm.
Black eyes teeming with sugar cane, fishing nets, Atlantic storms/sunsets, and an ancient, battered-but-beautiful coastline.
Soft, dark and fascinating face hair, much softer than mine.
You look like my picture of Allen Ginsberg; but Allen is dead.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Open Letter to Naspers about the closure of The Boekehuis in Jozi

Dear fellow writers, publishers, readers and buyers of books, and Boekehuis fans and supporters
Naspers has informed Corina van der Spoel, the manager of the Boekehuis, that it plans to close the shop at the end of January, because it is not profitable. For the reasons outlined in the open letter to Koos Bekker below, we are very distressed about this, and we plan to publish an open letter to Mr Bekker in the Mail&Guardian next week. Would you consider signing it? If so, please respond to today, Monday 5 December. Please send this on to others whom you think might wish to sign the letter too.
Thank you!
Mark Gevisser
Maggie Davey
Michael Titlestad
Open Letter to Koos Bekker, CEO, Naspers 
Dear Mr Bekker
As writers, publishers, readers, and buyers of books, we are deeply distressed that Naspers is considering shutting down the Boekehuis in Auckland Park. While we understand Naspers' financial considerations, we cannot emphasise enough the importance of the unique space it has created for cultural and intellectual activity in Johannesburg. 
Firstly, the Boekehuis public readings and discussions have become among the most important gatherings in the Johannesburg literary calendar. As such, they have done much to promote not only literary talent and ideas, but the profile of both the bookshop itself and Naspers. There are no comparable forums in Johannesburg, and the loss of Boekehuis is a blow against the culture of reading and debate, which is so crucial to the well-being of our democracy, particularly given the steady erosion of book culture in South Africa.
Secondly, in the era of on-line commerce, the Boekehuis staff have set the bar for selecting publications of quality and worth for South African readers. Bookshops, where people of all ages who care about reading can gather and browse - and buy books too, of course -  are at the core of the kind of civil, deliberative culture that we believe South Africa so urgently needs. And when they are as beautiful and welcoming as the Boekehuis, all the more so. 
For these reasons, we would urge you to reconsider your decision.
BOEKEHUIS Bookshop* PO Box 563, Auckland Park, Johannesburg 2006 South Africa  Tel: 011 482 3609 *Voted in 2006 by the Independent Booksellers Federation one of 50 unique bookshops in the world

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Verbatim: exciting possibilities for new life and freedom

In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in "muchness" and "manyness," he will rest satisfied. Psychiatrist C. G. Jung once remarked, "Hurry is not of the Devil, it is the Devil."
If we hope to move beyond the superficialities of our culture - including our religious culture - we must be willing to get down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation. In their writings, all of the masters of meditation strive to awaken us to the fact that the universe is much larger than we know, that there are vast unexplored inner regions that are just as real as the physical world we know so well. They tell us of exciting possibilities for new life and freedom. They call us to adventure, to be pioneers in this frontier of the Spirit. Though it may sound strange to modern ears, we should without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer.

The above is taken, verbatim, from my battered 1984 copy of Richard Foster's 'Celebration of Discipline,' which I'm re-reading for the umpteenth time.

Morning. Ink. Blood

I'm sitting by the window with a fat black cat on my lap.
A dog, as always, is yelping in another street, and birds (assorted) are also tweeting, twittering. All against a background of deep Sunday morning silence...and sporadically the shriek of my neighbour's grinder. But because he's a good man, I can find it in me to forgive him.
It's heading towards year end, I carry an annual amount of heaviness, tiredness and black rings beneath my already dark eyes. I'm heavy and slow. But next week this time I expect to be done, to be on summer holidays, and to be resting. The anticipation is what drives me.
In the meantime though I need to oversee the birth of one final edition of the paper for 2011. In particular there are three stories weighing heavily on me as they percolate in my mind's storm eye.
I live this newspaper, we are intertwined, we are inseparable. Ink runs in my veins, blood is with which the words are printed on the paper.
I am growing intensely: as human being, as writer, as journalist, as photographer. Growing too, I pray, in humility, simplicity, kindness, love. My needs are less.
What more can a man ask for? Except, perhaps, to know God much better, more intimately?
This, more than anything, do I seek (no full stop)