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.