Friday, April 29, 2011

The Luck of the Draw

Its a long time since I have done a dot to dot puzzle. I was always rather fond of them and used them to teach my children how to count. They are such a good marriage of right and left brain, aren't they? A combination of numbers and art as the picture magically appears.

Art and Maths are the opposite ends of the scale and passion of my sons schooling - one being hated and one being loved. It was in the pursuit of the one that I took him and a fellow art student to visit a local artist the other day.
Here in the Garden Route are many dabblers in Art and a few famous names also, hidden as they mostly are amongst the mountains and dunes.

Beatrix Bosch lives on the ridge of the dunes of Wilderness and has had an open house for the month of April - an exhibition contained within her house - and so we popped in. We were on our way to George for Art classes and she was alone when we visited, and we spent longer than we intended and were late (although, of cause we did not miss anything really). We stayed longer because we were invited upstairs to her workroom - which we could not resist and lingered longer there, fingering her piles of skins and admiring her newest work in process.

I glimpsed her bedroom to one side and heard the radio for a moment before she clicked it off. I had willingly toured all the huge art works downstairs, and talked about them, felt them, smelt them - praised them.
But, I have to confess my eyes kept wandering to the huge panoramic views of the crashing sea and beach stretching the entire length of the house, visible through the wall of windows. I noted that her bed was placed so that she could see it - the crashing sea.
 I enjoyed the twinkle in her aging eye. The sadness too, was there, because of longing and missing and getting old and things ending, I think. I imagined the legendary parties  (she said with up to two hundred guests) that used to fill the place in the seventies...
I saw one photo of her in the sixties, so pretty and vital. I remember her comment of how her and her late beloved husband used to run down the wooden walkway to the beach, with bicycles, and haul up amazing and twisted lumps of drift wood, which he made up into sculptures..

It was she who interested me , almost more than her creations of leather (purple, red, orange, turquoise, black) and wool, hanging heavy on every wall. I thought of her strength in bone and muscle and mind as she created, letting the leather speak to her,  against that backdrop of sea and sand.

So I left late, but still sad not to stay longer. She seemed lonely, and would not deny it, because she is quite recently widowed and alone. After all, there is surely no way to separate the Creator from her Creation. The Artist from her Art.

In preparation for teaching Art I am lately swept away into the world of Artists. Enthralled by the stories of Gauguin, Modigliani, Kandinsky, Rousseau, Picasso and the rest. I think of Paris and poverty, of mistresses and madness, paint and passion, light and laughter.
The Creator and Creation, all jumbled up and impossible to separate.
Dots and numbers, dots and numbers..

I spend a lot of time these days thinking about the act of creation and how it starts with one dot.
 One number, or a lot of dots and how they are joined and become the numbers, the sequence, the picture...
And I think about Beatrix - on her duney hilltop, within her walls of bright and brilliant leather - looking out at the sea with her artists eye.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

You are sixteen, going on seventeen...

My son just turned seventeen.
As always, for me, a birthday brings with it a bittersweetness, especially when it is one of your children, getting older, moving on.
And now, its strangely winter, a sad and sudden end to summer, and I close my eyes and think of England...

My bonny bairn was born in the borders between England and Scotland. The Scottish nurses hailed him as the future President of South Africa, seeing as he was born on the cusp of our new democracy. They tucked him into the car, sheilding him from the icy North Sea wind. A lazy wind they called it, "Why go round ya, when it can go right through ya.."

That was all after the panicked removal of me and my belly on a dark night, in an ambulance, through the border hills to a 'proper' hospital where he would be born by emergency c-section. We were accompanied by our Scottish nurse in the back of the swaying ambulance who got herself high on the 'gas and air' which she repeatedly offered to me and then enjoyed herself.
 For most of the journey her face was covered by the large black rubber mask - I was attended by her halo of golden curls and her beautific (read stoned) smiling presence. She later visited me in the maternity ward and presented me with a knitted pink jumper for the babe - an honour she foisted on all the babies she accompanied in the ambulance.

With hindsight I think that what I was going through was pretty much like what was happening in the run up to the vote. A mad rush to rescue a life on the brink of tragedy, with a crazy angelic being in control, with a home knitted jumper as a reward at the end for the creature that had been born - a being that she was a little confused about - what was it?

Ten days later we travelled to Glasgow to vote for our exciting new country. I was nursing a baby and a hacked and black laced up wound and the air was icy and grey. The voting hall had an air of a party where hardly any guests had turned up, but those who had made it were determined to have fun nevertheless. A couple of women yululated and some elderly folk punched the air with their fists and muttered 'Amandla' I think.

Our Manchurian friend kept us laughing by peering hopefully out the doors in expectation of more exuberant voters, but to no avail - only a trail of bleak grey Glaswegians huddled or tottered by, ablivious. We were left to sit upstairs in our apartment , coaxing life into our sooty coal fire and had to be content to watch the scenes of sun beating down on those long snaking columns of queues in our home country
 I nursed my baby and sipped soup and sobbed with the missing of it. The loneliness of it - us mothers know the new baby tears and fears. And I had it for both those new babies then, mine and the other mine (that longed for country of jubilation and joy) .
I have never stopped regretting not being here, and being there...

Still its now seventeen years of democracy and boyhood. Seventeen seems to be nearly manhood, but the British have the  best word - a lad.
 Lads can be loutish, funny, irresponsible, adorable, sexy, hunky, sweet, violent ,maddening, charismatic,scary  unforgettable,loud, thoughtful and relentlessly cheerful.
A lot like our democracy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Timing is everything

Timing is everything.
I sms'ed that to a friend the other day, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

I remember a film I saw once, with Gwyneth Paltrow, called Sliding Doors. Basically, as I recall, it was about the difference a second or two can make. You get into a lift, or you don't because the doors slide shut. You meet the man of your dreams in that lift – or you miss him....and life is different evermore.

The other morning I wandered down to the Lagoon, like I often do. I had something on my mind, and needed to think it through. So I sat on a bench covered in mosaic (a Sedgefield thing) to do just that – a sort of think/pray/meditate thing.

What I heard was a distinct voice telling me to Pay Attention.
Check the details.
Stay in the moment.
So, I noticed people out on the muddy flats, pumping for prawns, and others joining them, and others leaving.

Two women, with rugsacks and prawn pumps were passing behind me. I turned to them and asked them what they were doing. They told me, stopping their long gumbooted strides, to smile, to unpack their rugsacks to show me their handlines, to explain how they pumped for bait, then moved over the lagoon to a fishing spot where, they assured me they would, some time that day, catch a fish.
For the pot, for supper, for the family, or the neighbour.

They greeted me and moved on, and I watched them till they entered the lagoon and waded out, maybe feeling my eyes on them.

The timing of fish and hook and bait.
Timing of seasons and currents and desultary conversation.

Sliding doors.
Chance encounters.
I went home grateful of meeting them, and their generosity for allowing me to glimpse for a second the pace of a lifestyle, probably generations old, and that it is still continuing.

There was nothing special about them or me that day – but the timing was never the less perfect. I think of them often at that time of the morning, and it is a comfort to know that they continue, most days, with their rhythm of life and me with mine.

And I remember, more and more these days, to pay attention.
Check the details.
Stay in the moment.

Timing is everything
Once outside Prince Albert, on the pass, we came upon a man, stumbling towards us, his face a mask of blood. We stopped. He staggered. Before us on the pass road was a car. There were three bodies. One flung against the cliff, where a smear of red paint showed me the car had ripped through. One was in the road. One was near the edge, where the road gave way to a deep and unforgiving ravine. The car was twisted and still.

I got out. L tried his cellphone. The children peered anxiously at me from the back window. I moved from one body to the next. Some were still, some moaning. Another three people were still in the car. The wandering, blood smeared man approached me again. He reeked of alcohol. The man on the cliff side also did – his trousers were down, and I noticed his Daffy Duck boxers. Another car stopped, another one drove on, shouting that there was no signal there, in that sweeping corner of huge mountain, grey road and green ravine. He would drive on to make the distress call.
I got back in, and we drove on.
There was a man with latex gloves, and a medical kit – and another now stopped, who were moving amongst the injured, tending, touching – in a way that I could not.

Sliding Doors.
A moment before we would have been facing that red out of control metal
coming careering towards us, from side to side, ripping along the cliffside and across, to be propelled back off barriers and rocks, to eventually be still.

How many avoided accidents have there been?

Timing is everything.
Be in the moment.
Pay attention.

So we are faithfully moving forward on this journey, trusting that no opportunities are being missed.
That danger, has been avoided.
That secret other life that could have been, but isn't.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I have just returned from being on retreat.
The retreat was held in a secluded place in the country. A silent, hidden place amidst mountains, with a stream, trees and an overgrown pathway to a beautiful waterfall.
To me all that was, neither here nor there.

Most, being city folk, hotfoot it out, retreating willingly and longingly from the madding crowd, towards the silence and serenity.

I, coming from the Garden Route, and very recently before that, coming from an even more hidden place, ran, full tilt, towards the city and my friends, tolerating the location, outside the city walls, for the greater good.

Four of us shared a room. Four maturing ladies, finding ourselves on single beds (me on the bottom bunk!), reverted very quickly to girlhood.

I have a favourite film - Out of Africa - and apart from the allure of Denys Finch-Hutton, it is Karen Blixon on her farm in Aafrika that delights me. Her story telling, whilst seated around a lace and crystal dressed table, on tapestry chairs, being waited upon by men wearing white the stuff of dreams.
She was a great weaver of tales, as Isak Dinesen or Karen, and to me, the greatest of all is the tale of Babette, and her feast.

It turned out that , this retreat, held on a kind of African Farm, contained within it many types of Babettes, for me.

There are some friends who live within a fearless abundance, that has nothing to do with money. During this weekend I was at the receiving end of some of that.

And , as weekends like this are meant to be a drawing closer to God by drawing away from worldly things, and drawing towards the spiritual, I found, like Babette,that the opposite proved to be true.

There was a Narnia moment when I was tempted, like Edmund, by the indulgence of Turkish Delight, and I , like him, could not resist!

An abundance of them had been tossed to me, where I lay on my bunk bed, while we chatted and laughed, pretty hysterically , before we slept.

My last waking memories are of a friend spraying me with Issy perfume, so that my crumpled down sleeping bag released that heady fragrance at every restless turn, throughout the long night!

There was an exploration of deep matters of a spiritual nature which I participated in, in a manner of speaking.

But the greater thing was just Being.
Just being with all of those Babettes who shared with me their passion for shoes - sixty three pairs! (What have I being doing with my life? Obviously not shopping nearly enough!) and their passion for books and their husbands and dancing and wine and food and music and smoking cigars and Italy and laughing (rude and crude) and our children and each other and thinking ....and God.

So, even though Edmund was tempted and indulged, it all turned out alright in the end. All safe and happy because Aslan dealt a final blow!

And Babette blew every last penny of her winnings on the greatest indulgent feast for all her friends, and they ate food they never even knew existed and despite a resolve not to, they enjoyed themselves and laughed and drank and ate and found that by doing all that they could, finally, love each other.

I was so sorry to leave them all.
To say goodbye.
What fun it was!
What a treat!
Thank you

Friday, April 1, 2011

Someday Sunday

Its Sunday as I write this and it is striking me again how much Sundays have always been hard work to me.

Maybe its because I grew up in the Suburbs during the Apartheid years. On a Sunday everything was closed. Everything. Even the Portuguese shop down the road only opened long enough to dispense the Sunday Papers and other essentials before closing down. And the afternoon would descend like a heavy blanket. Of silence.

Those days are over, but like a hangover lingers, that dread of Sunday afternoons lingers. I like to try and con myself that it is in fact not Sunday - to trick myself into weekday activity. But that defeats the purpose. The day of rest will not be fooled, or take it, as it were, lying down.

That is, after all, what Sunday afternoons are for. As a little girl I knew that, with heavy lidded parents dozing over the piles of crumpled newspapers scattered on carpet and couch, we were not going to be doing anything exciting in the near future. A quiet game of Barbies on the floor in our room with my sister was about as interesting as it was going to get !The entire suburb dozed...

I lived in England for years and felt it still, and although not as many shops closed, and hardly any one went to church, Sunday still refused, on the whole, to do very much at all.
The thing is, Sundays, to me, are relentlessly and achingly lonely. And silent.
Where is everyone?
Resting, I guess, on this special day, especially put aside for it.

I can't help thinking that Sundays are incorrectly named, not being very 'sunny' in my opinion. They should be called Saturday, seeing that a lot of 'sitting' is done.

Which brings me to the Sabbath question. For a while we considered swapping the days - in terms of rest anyway. In those days we were still pinning 'rest' in the Biblical sense to a particular day. All that has changed now, and anyway, Saturday refuses to rest, just as Sunday, well, refuses to do anything else.

Even beaches seem to be melancholy on Sundays, with beach umbrellas, even, bowed in sombreness. My favourite records pulse out through the tepid Sunday air, with hushed tones.

It is a dilemma I really have tried to beat back in a variety of ways.
There was the busyness of church for a time. The morning rush, the hour or so filled with singing preaching fellowship, filled up an hour or two.
Driving back to a lonely lunch was even harder then, for me. And the thing is, even being with loads of people does not dispel the gloom. Sunday invites her dreary self to come on in and sits herself down amidst the happy throng.

Even the solution of water does not work. I am like a kind of pill that dissolves in water, it being medicine of a sort for me, but somehow, the water beneath the surface of the pool, when I dive in on a Sunday, is more silent, even still, than on other days.
Ho hum. Glum.

I need to shrug it off.
I have a memory of my father mowing the lawn on a Sunday morning in a string vest. Or him and my mother pushing the long blue pole of the pool vacuum, which I could see over the wall surrounding it when I skipped home from Sunday School.
He would sit in the cool shade later, and drink a cold beer (letting me sip the foam) and tell my mother, again, of the little suited man, Bible under arm, who would pause on the pavement to shake his head at my perspiring father, hard at work.

We work often on a Sunday, behind our computers, with music playing and maybe a braai fire beginning to smoke. No matter what we do, the Sunday afternoon settles down eventually.
Its with a sigh of relief that I notice the sun going down, marking the end of another Sunday.
It feels disloyal to dislike Sundays though.

It also feels unfair to think that Sundays are forever old, when the obvious desire is to be forever young. But thats just how it is to me. And old, even as I am closer to it myself now, than to youth anymore, has never been the most desired thing.

I have worked many a Sunday during my motley career, and even a working Sunday felt different from every other day, its true.

Rest, of cause, is important. Maybe I could take my day off on a Monday instead.
But I've got a feeling that days of the week are like children in a family, where birth order somehow defines something of who you are.
And so the world turns round, to a count of seven, and Sunday has no intention of changing who she is, for me, any time soon.