Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The perfect man: His boat is empty

Who can free himself of achievement and fame
Then descend and be lost
Amidst the masses of men?

He will flow like Tao, unseen…
He will go about like life itself,
With no name and no home.

Simple is he, without.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace.

He has no power.
He achieves nothing.
He has no reputation.

Since he judges no one,
No one judges him.

Such is the perfect man.
His boat is empty.

~Chuang Tzu, Zhuangzi

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday blue flower

Last night's storm battered this old house; pelting rain slashed against the windows and hard-dripped through rotten-soggy crevices in the wood. The middle of it saw the rain halted and an unexpectedly loud quietness; at the time I was not sure for how long it would last, not that I cared; I was relishing my cocoon. Instead I focused on the wind that shook and rattled the canopy of leaves that like an oversized pond surrounds the top floor of the house, that separates it from the bottom half. Briefly I could pretend that I was an island and needed nothing, nor anyone else. While the wind-leaf current rippled around me in a vaguely-strangely-soothing way, I listened even more carefully: My blood coursing through my arteries and eardrums; the ocean foaming over the rocks and on to the battered beach.

I spent most of the evening in the bath, reading and sipping on a squeaky clean white wine glass of sepia coloured sherry. I had run a deep bath of hot foamy water as protection against the storm that was raking and scratching at me through the open stuck window; flakey acid-brown rust had long ago frozen it halfway open-closed.

This not so old but dilapidated home has never shrunk from putting its long thin arms around me, not even from the first day that I set foot here. Little did I know at that time just how dilapidated I was, nor how close I was to breaking down; Rome was burning while I fiddled and faffed. Neither did I know that within months I would be living here too; in love, recuperating. Broken and jagged at my edges, I was a bloody manic mess of severed raw nerve-ends.

Seven months later, mended and rested, I leave here in the morning. I'm adamant it's temporary - a new chapter needs writing, but that's all I know. Not completely sure whether this home and Salt Rock will play a further role, I heap on prayers and blessings.

The pot plant in the entrance hall: A flower is fading and leaves are dying.

My heart knows no fear.

Friday, March 08, 2013

For Women - respect and admiration

The half pint of Castle Milk Stout has taken my edge off, has mellowed me.My mouth is blissfully on fire from the bright green slices of chilli in my full plate of "traditional Durban" chicken curry "packed with flavour & definitely the BEST in town !", yellow rice, and served with their trio of carrot salad, pickled carrot tomato and onion sambals (R55).It's a magnificent and very chilled - in Durban speak - Friday afternoon on the city's restaurant strip: it's Florida bloody wonderful road.I'm at the House of Curries; it was a great, affordable meal in a fantastic atmosphere.My best is that despite temperatures in the early thirties and honey-thick humidity, the Indian Ocean is very, easily, accessible. Beneath a cobalt African sky and bright Southern Hemisphere sunshine that reminds me of butter and orange juice.

"Hey dude I love my life, it's SO easy," I overhear the young and unshaven dark blond-and-lean guy at the table behind me utter over his draught. In that instant I envy him; mine still remains unduly complex. But I'm working on it... .

My day has unexpectedly been dedicated to International Woman's Day.It began with me finishing Eva Gabrielsson's 'Memories of my life with Stieg Larsson'. I loved the background details behind the journalist and writer Stieg, and his long suffering life partner Eva; and that his worldwide best seller Millennium Trilogy is a catalogue of all forms of violence and discrimination endured by women.

Eva, an architect and a writer in her own right, writes that in a book on honour crimes, Stieg wrote: "The cultural and anthropological models used to explain these tragedies speak to the form of oppression involved but do not explain it. And so in India, women are set on fire; they are murdered in he name of honour in Sicily; they are beaten up on Saturday night in Sweden.... Yet culture does not explain why women all over the world are murdered, mutilated, 'circumcised,' mistreated, and forced to submit to ritual behaviours by men. Neither does it explain why men in our patriarchal societies oppress women."And he adds, "Systematic violence against women - because this violence is indeed systematic - would be the description used if such violence were directed against union members, Jews or handicapped person."Imagine what Stieg Larsson would have to say about the unspeakably brutal horror inflicted upon women and children in contemporary South African society; I can but only cringe, and imagine.

Regarding Women's Day dedications, I visited the Albert Luthuli Museum in Groutville this morning, its not far from Salt Rock, but more about that later. In the end it seemed rather apt that I visited his house, and the museum dedicated to him, on International Woman's Day. His wife, always just visible in his background, raised her head a good number of times in my brief visit to their home and graves. And it turns out that she's a mother of our nation: Respect. In particular Luthuli paid homage to her, and her strength and faith, in his 1960 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo.

Then, when I searched out his grave, I found hers alongside his, and upon it's gravestone the following is inscribed:

In loving memory of Mother Nokukhanya Luthuli
03-03-1902 - 14-12-1996
An industrious woman eats no bread of idleness. 
Her husband and children praise and honour her. 
For a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. - Proverbs 31

It's been a wonderful day; I'm enjoying its journey; these are very much notes on-the-run and over curry, beer and phone calls. Not to mention the crowd watching - I'm blissfully aware of the wonderfully chilled people of Durban: t-shirts, vests, shorts, slip-slops or even bare feet. Not to mention buggies, vests, tattoos and the most beautiful profiles.

Information:House of Curries: 275 Florida Road, Durban 031 303 6076 (no disclaimer required!)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Night storm

It's thundering outside; not the big sky dramatic-shattering and transformative Highveld thunderstorms I grew up with in Johannesburg, but low-level background grumbling that wears a heavy coat of humidity, salt air against a 3D wallpaper of frog song and cricket chirriping, as if I'm perched on a log in a city-sized swamp.

Being a morning person, I'm on my bed at the centrepoint between the window and the cranky old plastic fan, preparing for sleep.

I'm also preparing myself for my Monday journey northwards to Johannesburg; while it's a temporary change of plans, I'm unsure of how long it will until I return, nor of the nature of my new adventure. Nevertheless my heart remains here.

In the interim my full-time is spent grappling with words. And with analysing fear. And self loathing.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Pliable heart; green light

I took this photo at the end of yesterday, as I walked alone along the deserted coastline seeking the inky, greasy dusk.

My heart was light; it was the most unburdened it has been in the last eight weeks.

I woke yesterday realising I had let my heart grow hard and hoary again (death sneaks up on you like that), that my life flow had been halted; that I was slowly strangling myself to dead.

The burst-then-gush of self awareness quicly freed my ice-trapped light.

At my uttered prayer for a pliable heart, as simply as that, my pause-button was un-cl-icked, the tension released, and the light turned green.

GO! Don't hold back, I urged myself. "What do you love - can you name it? Start there and follow the clues, you'll find your treasure along the way."

Monday, March 04, 2013

If you go down to the woods today... (A guided tour of Durban BotanicalGardens on 9 March)

So many of the people that I speak to in subtropical Durban take the city's 15 hectare botanic gardens for granted. I'm adamant and in everyone's face about this - it's a jewel to be cherished in both hands!

The Durban Botanic Gardens is not only the city's oldest public institution but is Africa's oldest surviving botanic gardens. Oh, did I mention that - on top of everything - this green and beautiful lung is free to enter; you've no excuse not to visit it.

According to one of my favourite local eco blogs Sprig (mulch love) there is one guided Garden Tour this Sunday, 9 March, which I'm intending to make:

Join experienced Botanic Gardens' guide Liz Ellis for a tour of the Durban Botanic Gardens, the theme of which will be a general garden tour with a focus on birds in the Gardens.

Meet at the Visitors Complex Info Centre. The tour starts at 09:15am at a fee of R35 per person or R25 for Friends of the Durban Botanic Gardens. Contact: or call 031 322 4021 / 031 322 4019 (Jennifer or Thami) for further information.

The photo I took in October 2012; it's of the trunk of a magnificent Ficus cotinifolius planted in 1934, which reminds me of an elephant's hide.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Three minutes to midnight

A small brown leave spirals down and plops on to the surface of the pool; I'm transfixed. For one second I experienced meditation.

Sitting shirtless and dusty in my secret, dark and cool corner of the garden I'm watching my tea steep. I'm resting from my garden work.

The house is on show this afternoon; in essence it's been for sale since three seconds to midnight on 31 December.

Barefoot I've swept mostly dead leaves into papery rustling piles. I''ve just heard the distinct cry of a fish eagle; I almost didn't notice, but when I did I really did; I'm suddenly conscious again. Fully.

My best though has been peacefully shuffling around - in the sun and on my backside - pulling weeds from between the pool paving. Also very therapeutic. And exacting in its focus.

My mind's stream of conscious trickled down an explainable (well, to me at least) gully to mulching, both mentally and in the horticultural sense; it then sloppily gurgled to London's Hampstead Heath, in particular the untamed,  wild western heath of which I have countless memories, and experiences from when I lived and dreamed in London; I imagine that my imagination has been triggered by Theroux's novel 'My Other Life', which so far seems to largely be about his London writing life. And the fact that winter's eeking into spring in the far north and that soon the Heath will be transformed too. From the delicious and rotted history of centuries, new and abundant life will spring forth from its coffee-thick-mucky mulch that so intrigues me, and that contains the seed of so many men.

The truth that has set this family free oozed from this cracked suburban surface three seconds before midnight. Painful. Very. But a clean break at such an important pinnacle on everyone's calendar.

The emasculated alpha male was forced out at the dawn, of the first, with his poison. He went across the road. A year for change and truth. Time to sell the house.

I am merely, and most happily, a traveller; albeit my pack is still weighty.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Flaneur; my back to the wall

It's with my back to the wall that I can watch the world. While remaining as unnoticeable as possible. To blend in. I'm not one for attracting attention. But I'm rather tall. That's why the wall.

It is the most perfect day to have chosen to leave the house.

Driving up the road instead of down, even though it's slightly longer and uphill, I choose it for the momentary glimpse of the Ocean. Looking down while swinging right my breath is taken away in wonder. Every time. I live here!

It's the same reason that I take the M4 to Umhlanga, then Durban, instead of the much speedier freeway that cuts through happy-making swathes of sugarcane. The slower drive with windows wide open and endless glimpses of the mighty Indian. Whether reduced rain sky vision, or universe-wide cobalt skies that suck my very eyeballs out of their sockets and to the end-and-over-the-very-edge of my earth.

I love this subtropical city of sunshine, shorts and slip-slops no matter the time of year.

Gateway is Saturday packed, and airconditioning cool. Just below the ridge Umhlanga 'village' simmers on the Ocean edge; it's all that's between me and the containered ships awaiting entry to Durban harbour before heading back up Africa's eastern coast to Europe through Suez or striking out towards India, China and Japan.

With my back against the wall sipping coffee and typing notes, I can see as far as I want.  My only limitation is me. Me.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Home alone

I've not left the house for a few days now.
The black cat sits on a pile of books by the window; she's tightly hunched against the coolness and the greyness of the day. She's black-smooth-velvet against the deep-dark green of the tree that reaches, grabs more closely daily for my window.
My tea steeps on the bedside table; the fat Penguin edition Paul Theroux I'm currently reading - My Other Life: A Novel - is a little further away, right under the desk fan, I'd have to reach out of my way for it. Its contents, what I've read so far, are coursing through my veins, deliciously steeping in my brain juices. 
I bought the handsome secondhand copy for a mere R20 at the Ballito SPCA charity shop from a faded but bright and chirpy older woman; she blossomed beneath the genuine downpour of my praise for the large book section, it's varied amd fascinating contents, and low prices. 
Midmorning yesterday the heatwave unexpectedly broke: Gale force winds drove a cold front, much lower temperatures and eventually, late last night, rain, up the coast from the Eastern Cape.
The storm seemed to gather and rage around my wooden upstairs room battering the walls and windows, but not flustering the cats. I'm still held captive here, reluctant to leave. My warden, kindly and generous, allows me to pretend that here in the eye of my storm reality no longer exists.
While in reality my cheese has moved, I'm resisting change, and will soon starve...despite the kindness of strangers.