Friday, August 17, 2018

The lines between: notes from a knife's edge


























Seven weeks ago, this morning, I was walking on a long sandy and wet beach. Nature's Valley.

The sand dune 'cliffs' in the distance was on a magnificent lagoon fed by the Groot River. It is the border between the Western and Eastern Cape provinces. Borders - transient, blurred - always draw me.

The Otter Hiking Trail more or less ends here. It's where, 43 km later, bedraggled but mostly enlightened hikers emerge after four-and-a-half days: Know thyself.

"The Ancient Greek aphorism 'know thyself" is one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek writer Pausanias. The phrase was later expounded upon by the philosopher Socrates who taught that:'The unexamined life is not worth living.'"

*

Seven weeks have passed, in a blur. Except for the first two weeks back on campus, it's not been a pleasant blur. Bewilderingly unpleasant.

A swathe of much-needed rain moves, now, across the city bowl. The first drops smatter my window. The gloom deepens.

Against the window, splattered, the still-fresh and bloodied corpses of two flies that had been the size of juicy-plump currants. I killed them earlier. I've still to wipe their bodies and gore off the glass.

*

Snapshot: Last year today, this week and weekend, I was in Kampala, at the Writivism festival.

*

I'm not sure if I'm depressed, or if I'm just totally empty from being poured out. In other words, the void and emptiness that (I think, as this is new territory) between having one's worldliness drained from you, before, He fills the void. 

I have less and less ambition, which is intricately linked to ego, but which terrifies me because it has been entwined with my very fibre for my lifetime. A gardening term comes to mind: Potbound? It's the process of being strangled in and by your own life. The void is all that appears to remain.

Naked. Empty. Unsure. But, knowing I cannot go back/wards, 'cos I've seen through all of that (the bling of it all).

However, when one peers more closely, that void is in fact filled with nutritious potting soil, compost. Spring is around the corner and new, exuberant growth is what's promised.

I'm reading HJM Nouwen and Andrew Murray and they are screwing me up big time.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Main Road, Obs

I got to Observatory just before The Night got there; we met on the unusually quiet Main Road. The streets, alleys, were more or less deserted and I knew that I had time enough to get in and out before the usual Friday night crowds ravaged the drag.

I was, other than the owner and his staff, the only patron in the venue. For now at least. Even the music was hardly audible when I walked in. Bliss.

Cafe Ganesh.

It's unique, off-beat and eccentric. A true melting pot that seamlessly blends all colours while ensuring that not a single soul loses its individuality.

Simple, sumptuous Afrocuisine. Fantastic music. Foreigners, and folk from all over the continent.

Took my usual candlelit table next to the tiny alcove that is the bar. It's the best vantage point from which to watch the passing parade; also the light from the bar, with my candle, provides enough light for me to write by. While, simultaneously, keeping me inconspicuous in the shadows.

I overheard a writer talking about another writer. Then he spoke, loudly, about himself: That he'd thrown up his university position because the institution stole his soul and the wasteful hours clashed with his writing time. Even so, it seems that his newfound freedom had come at a cost: I gathered that he was struggling. Of course, which now, he had all the time in the world to do.

This was overheard and gathered while I, myself, seemingly oblivious, was hunched over the page. Especially his haggling over the house wine prices was revealing. A sure giveaway. These additional insights into a man who's writing I deeply admire were indeed grist for another writer's mill.

I am most at home in this unpretentious establishment, drag (Main Road, Obs) and surrounding suburb.

*

However, what shook me the most last night while walking to Obs from Woodstock, was when I passed the home - where I've spent countless hours and shared as infinite conversations, meals and wine - of a now estranged and formerly best friend.

And his partner, we were all extremely close.

There was a 'sold' sign on the wall.

Seeing it there was like having a nail driven into my heart. I also knew then that there was no coming back from the edge of the abyss that was all that remained of our relationship.

The worst is that I still have no idea what happened to us, which is almost a year ago.

*

The days are getting longer. Despite the cold, summer is marching southwards, towards us.

Friday, August 03, 2018

“WRITE A SENTENCE AS CLEAN AS A BONE”


























Writer James Baldwin would have turned 94 yesterday if he was still alive. 

I've often turned to him for writing advice, he was very good at providing it via the countless interviews with him over the years.

He has taught me to 'use every experience':

"One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. 

"Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.

-from “Autobiographical Notes,” in the Collected Essays from Library of America

*

I took the photo last night while waiting for my bus in Darling Street, after my extremely good value chicken vindaloo curry at the Eastern Food Bazaar nearby. 

The main focus of my photo is the masterpiece of art deco building on the corner of Darling and Parliament streets: the Old Mutual Building (officially The Mutual Building). 

The building (take a look at these photos) "is often used often for movie shoots and now fully converted into an apartment block, known as Mutual Heights, rather than as corporate offices (it’s like stepping into a little piece of New York)."

The original design of the building, according to Wikipedia, "is attributed to Louw & Louw (Cape Town architects), working with Fred Glennie (best known at the time as a mentor to architectural students) – Mr Glennie is personally credited with most of the detailed work but Ivan Mitford-Barberton was also involved with some internal details as well as with the external granite decorations."

Then, when home, I gratefully crashed into bed and finished the last (increasingly bleak) pages of Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Bloody moon, cold fronts and gluhwein


On Friday afternoon a coldfront arrived, which is still with us. It has, unfortunately, not brought much rain. I'm enjoying the moodiness though, and that I have had to pull my jacket close around me.

Also, as I left the library on Upper Campus at 6pm, I walked smack bang into the surreal spectre of the full moon (soon to be bloody) rising from a long iron-grey shelf of winter cloud.

The cloudbank stretched across the horizon, just above the Hottentot's Holland mountain range in the far distance, just the other side of the university town of Stellenbosch.

Of course, while still trying to get my breath, I fumbled with my phone in the hope of getting a decent picture of the vast Dutch cheese rising. Of course, it was impossible to do so, I already knew that in advance, and I deleted my sorry attempts.

While I walked back down the mountainside from UCT to Main Road I imagined that many hearths were lit and flourishing in Stellenbosch. That, also, red wine and gluhwein were flowing.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Morning smoke and green ink


I sat in a chair that sort of faced the sea, which is where the sun would set. The west coast. There I read in-between watching the ocean's mood swings and temper tantrums. Then read some more. Then dozed, warm winter sun on my face and chest and knees. Lambert's Bay; off the commercial and tourist beaten track: perfect.

Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir - a French writer, existentialist philosopher, political activist, intellectual, feminist and social theorist - fascinates me.

In her autobiography The Force of Circumstance, on Thursday, May 16, 1946, she wrote:

"Spring is coming. On my way to get cigarettes, I saw beautiful bunches of asparagus, wrapped in red paper and lying on the vegetable stall. Work. I have rarely felt so much pleasure writing, especially in the afternoon, when I come back at 4:30 pm in this room still full of the morning’s smoke. On my desk, sheets of paper covered in green ink. The touch of my cigarette and pen, at the tip of my fingers, feels nice. I really understand Marcel Duchamp when, asked whether he regretted having abandoned painting, he replied: “I miss the feeling of squeezing the paint tube and seeing the paint spilling on to the palette; I liked that.”

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Southern Tip: Zen and the art of road tripping


The Southern Cape coast has always powerfully and mysteriously fascinated me, thus drawn me to it.

It's big sky country: the southern ocean is expansive, never-ending. There's nada in your way, a definite sense that nothing stands between you and the world's end

It's the awesome, even overwhelming sense of being at Africa's tip: it is this far and no further.

The next stop, southwards, is Antarctica, about 6,900 km away.

To put that into perspective, bear in mind that the African continent measures about 8,000 km from north to south.

#

I had no idea where I was heading as I left Cape Town that midwinter's afternoon of my spontaneous road trip. It was the end of June. Merely days from the winter solstice, and this far south, the days were short.

There are only two main routes out of the city, the N1 or N2.

Thinking that I would head into the semi-desert Karoo - seeking breathing space and solitude - I began making my way towards the N1, which begins within sight of my bedroom window in Woodstock.

I was still uncomfortable in the hired car, also anxious. We were still strangers then. That would, naturally, change over the next ten days: The Zen of Hire Car Relationships.

I didn't get to the N1 - this national route runs from Cape Town in the south to the Beitbridge border post at Zimbabwe in the north over a distance of approximately 1937 km. Exactly when I saw a claustrophobic back-up of traffic en-route to the highway I shot awkwardly, abruptly down a side road. And decided to take my chances on the N2, whose source is also not too far away from home.

The N2, on the other hand, extends from Cape Town - along the Garden Route, through Knysna, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban - to Ermelo. It is the main highway along the Indian Ocean coast and languidly stretches for 2,255 kilometres. The longest numbered route in SA.

Far out of the city, or so it seemed for someone who mostly travels on foot, and on the N2, I hit another traffic snarl, just before Sir Lowry's Pass: freedom and expansiveness were so close, but the end of my patience was much closer. 

I saw it as further confirmation that I was due for a road trip, alone. 

Another spontaneous, sharp right turn off the beaten track at the Gordon's Bay sign. 

At that moment my mind was made-up; I'd take the quiet and less-travelled, much slower and spectacularly scenic R44 route along the coastline. Travelling beneath the Kogelberg, on the coast edge, towards Hermanus I'd see how far I got before dark before I felt content to stop. 

Rooi-Els, Pringle Bay, Betty's Bay, Kleinmond. 

Then another right turn on to the R43 past Fisherhaven, Hawston, Vermont, Onrus, Sandbaai, to Hermanus. 

#

I always pack books with me on my travels. Never too many though, as I want there to be a vacuum for the books that I'm sure to collect along the way.

I'd recently been gifted Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom (1996, Doubleday). I had not yet even opened the sun-bleached hardback. As always it was meant to be and proved to be, invaluable company, even now.

As always, when you get yourself out of your own way - by slowing down, stopping, also pausing to (truly) listen, began a journey within a journey:

Work Around Your Abyss

There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes. 

Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it.
 
There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.

- Henri Nouwen (p. 3)

#

I took the photo from Gearing's Point, over Hermanus's old historical harbour. It was shortly before the sun disappeared behind the mountains and few people were about in the sharp breeze. I pointed the lens in the direction I intended heading the next morning.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Travels: Fresh winds, a warmer sea, some snow and a battered novel


I've done some travelling. It's been good for my head. As a result, I've had my most energised and productive week, since getting back to campus on Monday, in years.

In my first week of vacation, I work up on the first Wednesday morning, went online, hired a car. I collected it at 12h00 the same day, then left Cape Town by three without a plan in place nor with an accommodation booking made. Liberating.

Ten days later after driving 2,500 km, I returned the car. I'd spent one night in Hermanus, two nights in Nature's Valley on the Western Cape's border with the Eastern Cape, before driving on to Grahamstown.

For three days I was at the 44th National Arts Festival and, just, in time to hear that the small frontier (at least still so in my mind) city's name had been changed. Then, just after a snowfall, I drove to Hogsback where I spent a few days before winding back home via Port Elizabeth, the Karoo, and a night in Roberston.

Winter cold; blazing hearths; lots of braaing of meals, almost every evening, and even quite a few mornings.

Despite the winter cold, interrupted weirdly by some balmy days, I relished my time in Grahamstown, the seat of my alma mater Rhodes University. Everywhere I walked I could tick off emotion-rich events that had taken place all over the city; it was also where I was intellectually emancipated, a process heightened by the fact that I'd just been vomited out of an involuntary two-year stint in the apartheid state's army.

I took the above photo one night, late, on my way back to my basic accommodation. It's the Anglican Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George at the intersection of High Street and Hill Street, Grahamstown.

Throughout the road trip, I was reading Travels: Collected Writings, 1950-93, by one of my favourite writers, Paul Bowles. I also picked up a battered 1973 Penguin edition of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent for a mere R10 at the Red Cafe in Grahamstown's High Street.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

'The trees are in their autumn beauty' - 2





































I've struggled, today, against all of the ghosts in my head so as to maintain an even keel. Lost. Confused. Out of kilter.

Despite it being a magnificent day, more than enough to lift almost anyone's spirits, I'm fighting a bleak and wintery outlook. I'm questioning where I am. I'm questioning what I'm doing. I'm seeing no alternatives. I'm uninspired.

To stay put at my desk is a fight to the death.

I've promised myself that if I make another two hours, I will take me out for a bite and glass of wine, preferably to somewhere with a clear and beautiful outlook. Like the top floor of my 'local', Jamaica Me Crazy, in Upper Woodstock, with its uninterrupted view across Table Bay

I took this photo on Friday afternoon. After emerging, blinking, from the Jagger Reading Room on Upper Campus at UCT. The weather had turned. Suddenly, t was cold, a cold front was striking the Peninsula. I savoured the moodiness, the fact that it was autumn-looking in winter. I was grateful for my jacket and leaned into the strong, icy breeze as I walked, briskly, back down the mountain.

On Friday afternoon, I knew where I was headed. Not today.

'The trees are in their autumn beauty'






































Hello Sailor Bistro, Obs: I watch a woman in the window seat who's, in turn, watching passersby in the street.

She carefully, methodically and with an iron discipline lifts her latte to her lips; this so as not to draw attention to her shaking, trembling hands.

She's in the late autumn of her life.

I instinctively know that she's a kind person. Feeling nothing but tenderness towards her, I extend peace and love from my mind to hers.

Beautiful, gracious woman what, if I may ask, are your thoughts?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

My road to Mecca






















While I was gone only one plant died.
The rest survived the thirteen days without supervision.
Every day since returning I've watered, checked and prodded at the sandstone plant pot on my kitchen counter.
Ever hopeful.
Today, two tiny and fragile green shoots.
At last!
The drought, the death is over.
Life again.

I'd given up hope. Was wondering what my purpose was.
I don't believe that I've written a meaningful word since Meat Bomb last year.
Even my empty-feeling and sporadic blog posts petered out in January.
Right now I'm so filled with words and emotions that I'll explode: there'll be meat, gore and unfulfillment splattered everywhere as if I'd taken a pistol to my brain.
An exploded hand grenade of words; the most dangerous hand grenade of them all.

Last night, at the Fugard, I watched Athol Fugard's (how apt) The Road to Mecca. It unfolded on a one- and simple-set stage: Helen Martin's house in Nieu Bethesda, in my beloved Karoo.
Last night, in the gallery at the theatre, was my turning point: always keep lighting candles against The Darkness, which even leaks and oozes into us from the chimney.
Also, paint and paste your life full of colour and glitter, even if your hands are ruined and are made arthritic during the process of grinding multi-coloured shards of beer bottle glass. That's before then crushing them fine in an old-fashioned coffee grinder because you have nothing else.
Let your light and your freedom shine, despite how dark and constricting your jail cell might appear to be.

Also. I've fallen in love over the last three weeks. In the most unexpected way.
Not only does he guard his emotions to the point of expressionlessness, but he landed back in Bangkok three hours ago.
He's petrified of being hurt, again. I'm petrified of not risking to fall in love. Because life is short and love doesn't come around that often.
Perhaps our paths will never cross again, even though this country is his home.
Perhaps I'll never know how he truly feels, if he even feels. But, that's not the point: I loved when I could, and - in the moment - gave fully, freely and passionately of myself.

Getting older doesn't necessarily by any means mean less pain. But, I have - at least - learned to let someone walk across the open palms of my widespread hands. That as opposed to clenching them shut and trying desperately to control and to hold on. At all cost. Like I used to do. When younger and less alive.

He is free. I am free. My heart is wide open to life.

Again, exactly because my nerve ends are bloody raw and jagged, I know that I Alive.
Alive with a capital A.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Bosham






















Sunday morning. I'm sitting with my first coffee. After having completed my Pages. My notebook is on my lap and I'm in my favourite place: on my old and comfortable wicker chair that's thrust up between my sunbed and against the full-length window, my plants.

My gaze: Over Woodstock and Devil's Peak, along with The Mountain, all of the way over the City Bowl and to Lion's Head, which just makes it inside of the far right edge of my vision's frame.

Blue sky and bright-golden sunshine; I should get out today. And take the bus to Hout Bay. So as to walk, barefoot, the sandy length of one of Cape Town's less populated, and least pretentious beaches. To feel sea sand and ocean between my toes, against my skin.

Against the peace and stillness of this morning, which is the same quiet and contentment that overfills me, BBC3 is playing; it's the least intrusive of the bouquet of radio stations that I allow, quietly, into my space.

Yesterday, despite the south-easter doing its utmost to put me off leaving the flat, I made it out and in-between things ended up walking 10 km; I also made it to the 6pm mass at St. Micheal's in Rondebosch and took communion. It caught my attention that there was neither a black or brown face in the entire congregation, very few youths too.

By chance, and as I'm typing these words a bell is chiming. I believe that it belongs to Woodstock's St Agnes's Catholic Church.

**

Every day, for inspiration, I read a short chapter of Natalie Goldberg's 'Writing Down the Bones'; the words are what pierced my consciousness today, especially since the concept of 'freedom' emerged strongly in my morning pages:

'There is freedom in being a writer and writing. It is fulfilling your function. It means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it. It is not getting sidetracked, thinking you shouldn't write any more [about whatever your writing obsessions are].'

It feels like I've not written a single meaningful word since returning from Uganda in September. Nor, I believe, a single meaningful blog post, which are in any case rare. My toxic perfectionism gets so badly in the way. Of many things.

**

The bell is still tolling and it's piercing me in a wonderful way that I cherish.

**

Despite the sunshine's warmth and brightness, also the cobalt sky, my heart yearns today for the far north, which is where I spent three precious weeks spread around Christmas and New Year.

The moodiness, moisture, cold were in stark contrast to the drought and tinderbox dryness of home; in the last week it has finally hit home to everyone: it's almost a guarantee that Cape Town will be the first major city globally to run out of water.

Bosham, which I spent an afternoon exploring, for the first time, is a coastal village about 2 miles west of Chichester. In West Sussex. Inhabited since Roman times and, like much of the area around Chichester, it is believed to have played a significant role way back in A.D. 43 when the Romans invaded England.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Quote / unquote: We have reached a point no return


Captain's Log: 93 days to Day Zero

It's 20h25. Thursday night. I'm on my second tumbler of a fine Chenin Blanc that was on promotion at the supermarket. 

My brow is clammy, my body sticky. It was, apparently. 29 degrees centigrade today, but to me, felt much hotter, much more unpleasant than that.

An interesting day for me today: It's the first time that I've considered beginning to buy water and to hoard it in my flat. For Day Zero. It's, also, the first time I've felt fear about our water running out.

It's still light, although the sun set at about eight. On the other side of The Mountain. 

It's particularly beautiful outside; despite the south-easter is howling, which means that I can't - without risk - open my sixth-floor sliding door with its awesome views over Woodstock, Devil's Peak and, then to the right, Table Mountain. It's so beautiful that, for a brief moment, I force open the door against the howling, whipping, shredding wind and take some photos as quickly as possible with my phone. Because everything is being blown to smithereens  It's not for nothing that I nickname my adopted suburb 'Windsock':- ask me, the south-easter - can hand down - beat the living shit out of a grown man.

My context is important (north/south, dry/wet): A week ago I returned to Cape Town from the UK, where I'd spent three weeks; an intense, wonderful, Christmas with my ageing mother. 

A week later I'm listening to The Wind. And, on YouTube, to Bach's Preludes and Fugues (BWV 869 & 894). Which I find relaxing. While a beaten up old Chinese-made fan does it's best to sporadically caress my bare back, and between my sips of wine from the blue glass.

When I got back last week, my first commitment was to get to the gym with the aim of working off, despite my many miles of walking, the three pasty and Christmassy kilograms I'd unevenly plastered to my frame, but mostly around my waist. 

The changes at the gym were immediately obvious: there was a man-size poster loitering at the entrance to the male change rooms making it clear that the city was no confronting Level 6 water restrictions. Also, after my exercise, when I made it to the shower there was a noisy, obvious timer measuring two minutes before bleating like a stuck sheep. Not only was a grey bucket in the shower cubicle to collect the grey water, but you had only two short minutes to shower. Not to mention that months ago already, the sauna and steam room were switched off and closed, that the two pools were no longer being topped up.

It's now serious. Also, the tone has changed in this onslaught against the city, where we are being crippled by the worst drought in a century. Even worse is the uncertainty that there will ever again be enough water; it's called climate change. No-one, not even the scientists at the city's university knows anything for certain; predictions no longer work, nor can they be relied upon; this is a new and pretty scorching territory for all of us.

Also, now, before sitting down at my desk to write this, I read an article posted on The Guardian today: 2017 was the hottest year on record without the El Nino boost, also that data shows that it was one of the hottest years ever recorded; 'scientists' are warning that the 'climate tide is rising fast'. 

Fuck. 

As I said above, today was an interesting one for me; it's left my stress levels severely raised and has me questioning my priorities. For example, is it worth even chasing a doctorate? What really does matter anymore? Genuine question.

This same day the City of Cape Town hosted a press conference. Day Zero, an ominously shifting date that increases or decreases according to a variety of factors, like daily water consumption and, among others, evaporation at the less than handful of dams that feed Cape Town, is - at this very moment pegged at 21 April, this year; that's when the taps are predicted to run dry.

Cape Town will be moving to Level 6b water restrictions from 1 February, further curbing water usage by some 30-odd litres per person per day, with the city warning citizens Day Zero on 21 April was “now very likely”.

Today I also read a WWF advisory (issued yesterday - 17 January) on my city's water situation, which made for chilling reading:

"At present, Day Zero is calculated to be about three months away on 21 April. This day is calculated based on knowing how much water is in the big 6 dams that feed Cape Town and the Western Cape Water Supply System and knowing how much water is being used by the city’s residents, by agriculture and what is evaporating out of the dam. 

"Day Zero is a worst-case scenario but it has been inching closer since the City of Cape Town began predicting it. As of 15 January, the dams were 28% full and if we continue using water at the current rate we will run out of water on 21 April. 

"This calculation assumes that we can’t use the last 13.5% of water in the dams and that there are no new sources of water available by this date. Substantial new water sources are not likely to come on line before April, so the only thing that can really push out Day Zero is if YOU and I use less water and save water NOW!"

This was, also, the week I experimented with not showering for three days despite that it's the height of summer and that this (was a) winter rainfall/Mediterranean climatic zone; in other words if there is rain to come, it will only be in the winter.

Nevertheless, I continue listening to Bach's Preludes and Fugues. While Rome burns.