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."

Friday, July 14, 2017


The walks out of the town at the end of the day without my phone, forced to be alone with my mind and whatever was offered up by Nature, in its winter beauty, provided both clarity and vision. Especially at this, the halfway mark of the year.

A year that has sped past. I'm regretfully preparing for an even speedier second half. Again, mostly alone I slammed on the brakes - reading, gardening, bathing, watching the birds in the fountain, sitting by the fire - at my humble place in Mpumalanga province.

I'm back in Cape Town, which despite being greener than when I left here almost three weeks ago, is still limping along drought stricken. It's the rainy winter season here and there's hardly been any rain. I've noticed that the narrative has changed: at first, it was about when the winter rains arrive, now it's about the fact that this is our new reality - our climate has changed, ours is a drier, bleaker future. What frightens me is the pace at which our winters have been transformed: in the four years here I've watched the tap being closed, tighter every year so far.

Monday I'm back at university and who knows what the next few months hold; I'm slightly apprehensive, anxious. I'm well rested though. But apprehensive, anxious. For the last two years we 'lost' the fourth quarter to student protests for free education. I'm on the students' side. But the violence unsettles me, also the incredible pressure it puts on the lecturers and the students themselves. It's a time spent treading water and feeling helpless and overwhelmed.

This afternoon I'm in limbo: on my bed surrounded by books, which I hop between - "hither and thither, restless as mosquito larvae swimming across a stagnant" pond (Derek Jarman in Modern Nature) - and coffee cups, a french press, my laptop too. I'd like to get out into the bright winter sunshine before tomorrow's cold-front arrives, although at the same time I'm reticent at the thought of showering (we're allowed 87 litres of water each daily) and dressing and bussing.

To go where to achieve what?

I must resist my negative state of mind; I must remind myself of all that I have, of how blessed my life is. My heart is wide open to life.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

My Western Front

From the promenade at Queen's Beach, Seapoint.
I was at my desk and feeling guilty for, mostly, being at it and indoors for the whole of that day. 

At 4 pm I couldn't anymore. 

I showered and then took the bus at 16h30 to the far side of Seapoint: Queen's Beach to be exact. 

From there, hugging the coastline, I walked with a bounce in my stride all of the way to Camps Bay. 

From just before its main drag, I watched the sunset, which was showing itself off. Then, dunk, it was gone.

Had fish 'n chips, grilled calamari and a carafe of white wine at Ocean Basket while scribbling in my notebook; this while intermittently observing the Camps Bay Saturday evening strip get busier as people, many of them tourists, emerged for drinks, cocktails, dinner. This as the clammy but exhilarating reek of the icy Atlantic seeped upwards from the beach, then crossed Victoria road, leaking into the restaurants and shopfronts. 

Then, away from the lights and madding crowds, I decided to walk back to town,  this time over Kloof Nek. Out of breath from the climb and over the saddle that separates Table Mountain and Lion's Head apart, straight into the bright lights and rowdiness of the city bowl. This sudden transition, not unlike flicking a light switch, from the relative darkness, silence, and obscurity above Camps Bay in the lee of the Twelve Apostles. It was like walking onto a brightly-lit stage before a packed to the gills auditorium.

Strode down Kloof Street, a fast-flowing steam of raucosness for its pulsating length, where my instincts warned me to be alert and on guard.

Just in time, I managed to catch the last 102 home to Salt River from Darling Street at 21h20. Alighting from the bus at Salt River Circle and into the hushed darkness among the softly catcalling prostitutes on Lower Main, before walking the last stretch home in the metallic light along the facade of the Biscuit Mill, still disgorging restaurant goers, still on gaurd and scanning the road, before a quick right into Mill Street, an even quicker sh'rt right into Bromwell.

The Three Feathers was already in darkness with its gates bolted, my contentious back Street quiet, me the only one on its length, before bathing in the bright security lights at the back of my apartment block. Elevator upwards, then the darkness and familiar homely scent and silence of my apartment. With its, always, jaw-dropping view over Woodstock, with Devil's Peak almost invisible as a mute hunchbacked backdrop.

Clinging to the edge of Bantry Bay, just after Seapoint, the view that most miss.

To bed with Adam Feinstein's biography of Pablo Neruda, wherein I'm approaching the end of his life and the first signs of the prostate cancer that took him from it. 

Just over 16,000 steps, my muscles strained with exercise and tiredness, almost exactly 11 km later, all's quiet on my Western Front.