Thursday, December 26, 2013

Twice shy.

My family is scattered, and it has been so for many years - since the death of my father - who was the glue that held us together. So I find myself celebrating Christmas on my own,
or with families who are not my own.

Someone once told me that the world is divided into two types of people. He said to me you have the pigs and you have the wolves. So it was that this Christmas, I found myself in the company of a clan of wolves. Tall, lean, long of limb, straight of nose.
Beautiful creatures.
A little boy popped up in the fig tree next door. He whistled and he growled. One socially challenged, medium sized pig longed for a time when things could be that simple.

Merry Christmas, belated.
And happy birthday to my Ouma Eva.
You are missed!

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Last night I lay awake listening to the curtains breathing in and out, in and out. Amplified, magnified: a flower unfurling. Or a woman's skirt from a long time ago.

When I was little, I'd hear the beating of my blood when I pushed my ear against the pillow. Even though my father explained to me about the workings of the heart, all I heard was footsteps.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fight shy.

It's been a week of fighting. Fighting the elements, fighting for enough money to do the job well, fighting with myself - searching really hard for the good things about this job that I do.

We danced an awkward ballet, trying to save sets in raging winds, napkins swept up into the gale and forever lost in the Maiden's Cove sea. Glasses and plates swept off tables and bursting upon impact with the lawn. Until the tables themselves went flying. Chairs shunted themselves from one side of a balcony to the other, palms were ripped from their pots.

Someone I hadn't seen in a long time, upon my question "how are you?", replied: "Calm as a land mine." The perfect analogy.

People regularly make remarks about my calmness, my "serenity", the fact that I don't sweat, my air of "mystery". 
But here's the truth, unfiltered: it's just a shell I've built. And sometimes it feels so transparently thin.
I sleep fitfully, if at all. Some mornings I get up and there's a stone where my heart should be.

In any spare moment of time I have, I read and I read. Better than any drug for escape from the world, I devour words. Right now, Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch". It's thick, densely written, and I don't want it to end. For her to write this way about loss… surely she has experienced things in her life that have torn her heart in two. 

I yearn for my own lost parent - to hear him say: "Everything will be alright my darling". I yearn for calm, uninterrupted sleep.

Then wake me gently, like on the north sea ferry.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Something this way comes.

Ten days in the desert felt like a month. Away from ringing telephones and television, newspapers and traffic, time passed in a different way. The days were long, and very, very hot. 45 Degrees Celsius is 113 degrees Fahrenheit. If this were the temperature outside, you could expect to be sweating profusely and almost baking. Indeed.

The late afternoons brought psychedelic sunsets - a few drops of rain evaporated before they hit the earth. At night, Venus shone like a burning torch and the Southern Cross was unmistakably bright. It was good to get away from the circus. Sometimes the Props Master and I would make a light supper and drink a cold beer. We'd sit on the deck listening to moths beating their wings against the cotton lamp shade.

At the end of every day, I'd be covered in a layer of dust so thick, that the first few moments in the shower brought the smell of rain hitting a dry red road.

This is leopard country. We found tracks on the sandy little path we walked every morning and night. Thinking about this one morning as I walked to breakfast, I heard the sound of scissors cutting fine sandpaper. Ahead of me on the path: an adult Black Spitting Cobra, hood spread, every little scale gleaming dully.
"Preys on puff adders, spits neuro-toxic venom up to 1,5m
with amazing accuracy."

I froze, but he didn't even look my way. Off he sailed through the sun-warmed rocks.

We drove vast distances on bad dirt roads. So rutted they make your teeth rattle and your fat jiggle. I had to stop one day to answer nature's call. As I hunkered down in the shade of the pick-up, I heard a rustle and looked up. A giraffe towered over me, looking at me curiously. He turned his head and called some friends over. Soon there were three.

I smiled, and then I laughed.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Desert bound.

I left a brooding Cape Town on Wednesday - dark clouds draped over the mountains.
On the way to the airport, the shuttle passed oak trees of an impossible green - their bright new leaves not yet turned leathery.

The familiar feelings of travel: trepidation, wonder about the unknown, flutters of excitement.

The tall man I have to leave behind. He sends me modern day love letters that need no words.

In the tiny embryo jet, surrounded by Namibians, I listened to their harsh German sliding easily into smooth Afrikaans. The large man next to me folded himself up like a buddha, resting his head against the seat in front of him for the entire bumpy flight.

From the air the earth looked scorched - shades of red and black and brown. Striations like long legged spiders and dried seaweed or the whorls inside ears.

At Upington International Airport, a sleepy little place, the plane drops you at the door. At 11 in the morning it's already 36C, a few ragged clouds far up in the sky.

Our schedule has been relentless - the Cape Town days passed in a whirl of ballrooms and war offices and apartments and hotel rooms - we dressed Berlin and Cairo and Mombasa.

Here in the desert we build African villages and tented camps. I have only one 8 ton truck to dip into and we packed it to the brim. In the nights preceding I had dreams of making forgotten things with cardboard and scissors.

The distances are relentless, cellphone reception is scanty. Water and ice are paramount. Often I am alone when things need to be done. At dawn one morning, I taught myself how to operate the tail lift of the truck. The farmer's son said to me later: My mother always says, "if you can read, you can go to the moon."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Chronicles of a Thief.

Monday, 14 October
Mr Owl loves Lindt chocolate. Specifically: Red Lindor balls. So Mr Owl buys himself the bumper pack (750g). He gives one to the Sourcerer, proving he is not a true chocoholic, as we don't share, and eats one himself. He leaves on a recce to the desert.

Wednesday, 16 October
Mr Owl returns from the desert. He reaches into his drawer to find.... a large, empty box. He accuses his wife of being a prankster. He asks the Sourcerer if she took them. Even though she didn't, she feels guilty and gazes at the floor. He suspects other co-workers. Mr Owl and the Sourcerer talk about locks for the office doors. The Props Master gives Mr Owl some chocolate and immediately regrets it - she fears she is now suspect number 1.

Thursday, 17 October
Suspicion. Insults. A lot of swearing. The Sourcerer eats a slab of organic white chocolate with vanilla seeds on her lonesome.

Friday, 18 October
Mr Owl finds a small scrap of red foil in the lower drawer of his desk. He follows a trail to the garden shed. The following i-Message exchange takes place.

Mr Owl:
High Class Mouse Nest

The Sourcerer:

Mr Owl:
I have started washing them off and eating them!

The Sourcerer:
Eek! Bleach!

Mr Owl:
Actually they are fine. This guy was just hoarding them. The ones he bit into I have thrown away, but I just can't bring myself to throw away the ones that have hardly been touched, just dragged off one by one into his lair!

The Sourcerer:
I understand.

Mr Owl:
Don't lie, you are disgusted

The Sourcerer:
No. My name is Lily and I am a chocoholic.

Saturday, 19 October
Mr Owl:
The Lindor thief is dead.

The Sourcerer:
Long live the thief...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

This little dog.

Stitch caught my eye this morning at the market.
So much world weariness for one small dog.
Behind him lies Twilight, who couldn't be bothered.

Friday, October 11, 2013


I have always felt very lucky to have my birthday in the spring. Born in a different hemisphere - an autumn baby, I would be someone else.

Imagine spring in one of the most beautiful places in the world, the West Coast of South Africa. The dunes and the meadows swell and ripple in purple, orange and yellow.

The rustling in the bush behind you is, invariably, a tortoise.

Although we were far away from the city, a birthday cake appeared, as if by magic. Chocolate and beet, all the way from a town called Darling.

And a leaning tower of gifts from my darling. Cold shivers as I opened the pages of Vivian Maier's Out of the Shadows.  Books, wonderful books. Ancient plant lore. Antique bottles...

And yet, at night, I lie awake.
I toss, I turn, I fidget and I fret.
I am a bad bedfellow.
Sleep would turn me into a well behaved stranger.

I heard a lone owl hoot. And finally, when a cool lagoon breeze slipped through the window, bringing with it the perfume of the wet veldt, I drifted away for a scant hour.

At Verlorenvlei, I lay inhaling deep breaths of the balmy thatched roof. Outside, the sweet chirruping of koots. Far away, the mournful toot of a long train carrying iron ore from Sischen to Saldanha. The melodious trilling of a fiery-necked nightjar, awake like me, but singing about it.

Splashes in the dark.

In the pale morning light, I cast a sleepy eye at the pelicans bobbing past. Bright flashes of red - bishops dancing through the reeds.

And I thanked the universe, for coffee in particular.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Food for jackals.

Harveya Squamosa. Jakkalskos, katnaels, snail flower, inkblom and a host of other charming nicknames. We saw these furry blooms everywhere on the West Coast, even the shy yellow variety. One day in Churchaven, poking about on my own and without my renegade camera, I also came across the other one for the first time - Hydnora Afrikana.
The one that our own Julia Child, C. Louis Leipoldt talks about in his wonderful book about food and life in the old Cape: Polfyntjies vir die Proe. These photographs via plantzafrica.

They are most unusual to look at - like fleshy geodes. Foul smelling parasites they are, and insect-eaters. Not on the endangered list, yet I wouldn't have the heart to dig around for the underground fruit, for fear of hurting something so bizarrely beautiful. With some sadness, I left them for the monkeys, the porcupines and the jackal.

There are so many things I have never eaten, it fills me with a particular melancholy.
Cloud berries.
A shiso leaf.

Leipoldt receives a request from his food connoisseur friend from the Congo: to surprise him with something completely indigenous and original. Leipoldt thinks long and hard and decides upon a Jakkalskos Soufflé.

His friend tries to guess...
"With medlars I would never add cinnamon."
Leipoldt merely teases him a little.
"But with guavas I always add some Maraschino - in this case it would have been better!", the friend tries again.

Leipoldt goes on to say that it is impossible to describe the taste - as impossible as trying to describe the flavour of a pineapple. He recommends a small glass of Muscadel wine as accompaniment.
Back in those days you could buy Jakkalskos fruit at the big fish and vegetable market on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town, now sadly an African curio market. Only the cobbles remain.

Christian Louis Leipoldt
Poet, Doctor, Journalist, Cook, Lekkerbek, Traveller,
Buddhist, Mensch.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The way we live.

Somewhere in my twenties, I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Museum, near Munich. It was only then that the true horror of this period in history became painfully clear to me.
Although what happened there was hideous - and I remember feeling nauseated, what finally made me break down and weep was the full wall of photographs of the survivors, on the day that they were finally set free. The emaciation, the look in their eyes.

It has happened in the past that I have worked on historical dramas where we have had to do research on the war and dress Nazi offices, or U-Boats. You are surrounded by the colours, the flags, the swastika, the SS logos. It is not something I can get used to and it feels... forbidden, uncomfortable.

Yesterday we went to see a collector about using some of his memorabilia as props and dressing on our current project. In the corridor, a tall woman with a fine paintbrush was doing a trompe l'oeil mural of exposed brickwork and distressed plaster.
The collector received us in his outer office, where there is a considerable amount of Boer War memorabilia - paintings, documents, uniforms and weapons. I found this interesting.

We then started talking about the items we needed to dress a Nazi Colonel's office. I noticed that the collector was wearing a silver SS death head ring on his slim, tanned middle finger.

Tall, suave, a smooth talker. Son of a Dutch Reformed minister. He led us into his inner sanctum, where a large, spot-lit oil portrait of Adolph Hitler presides over his desk. A bronze bust of that man atop a filing cabinet. The deco armchairs, he assures us, are from the Führer's apartment in Vienna. He has sixteen different copies of Mein Kampf. The SS typewriter's s-key reads SS.
"No photographs please", he says with a smile. He chain smokes, holding his cigarette in the underhanded way of a soldier at war.
There are cases filled with medals and weapons. The walls are adorned with portraits and flags. Also, stacked against the wall: portraits of nude, sculpted women.

He lets his hand linger on my shoulder blade when he motions for me to pass.

I think I will make do with what I can rent from the prop houses.

A German evening bag from the 1930's. I found it in Simonstown, at an antique shop. Beautiful at first glance, but hidden amongst the roses...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

When my left eye jumps...

In Buddy Guy's song from 1962, When My Left Eye Jumps, he sings about a condition to do with love and voodoo and his woman's black cat bone... an altogether more interesting situation than the one I'm dealing with.

When my left eye jumps, I know that I'm stressed, overworked and spending too much time in front of a computer screen. We came back from a week on the wild West Coast and I jumped straight into the 1930's, a story about a German woman pilot. Issues with budget and crew, too little time and too little money.

The good thing about exhaustion, however, is that it eventually overrides my insomnia, and I get some good sleep, interwoven with whopping dreams.

(Rain Dog)
The new puppies at work definitely brought this one on:

A thin man in a pale linen suit approached me as I was walking along. He doffed his hat and said to me:
"I'm a spin genie. I can grant you two wishes, but I get to choose them. Interested?"
"The first one is this: when you touch someone just below their chin, they fall into a deep sleep. Very handy for boring people who won't stop talking OR for when you are feeling threatened.
The second is this: you now speak DOG."

We walked on and I had a few conversations with dogs. Very enlightening - dogs are so clever!
But then I noticed that I was also able to converse in excellent German.
"What's up with that?", I asked the spin genie.
"Oh - I forgot to mention, it's a language package deal - DOG comes with German and ahhhhhh," here he consulted his iPhone for a second, "Urdu."
Brilliant! I couldn't believe my luck.

Pity I didn't get to talk to the puppies. I have many questions for them.

(Harold's mid-morning slump.)
(Rain Dog's mid-morning slump. They do everything together.)
And this morning at the market, I wondered what this poodle in dalmatian livery was trying to tell me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Yellow is the colour.

I write this with fingers stained yellow from cutting fresh turmeric root for a curry. I think of Aida, who found some long ago and gave me a piece to plant. Her number is still on my phone and sometimes I wish I could just talk to her for a while.

It's nice to have her kitchen scale, her ice cream maker, the black taffeta skirt I remember her wearing with a saffron coloured shirt and chunky bangles. But better still are the things she said, her understated way of putting life together. That very important thing she taught me about big decisions: to take a step back, for there is no rush. You'll know, she said.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Keepsake #7.

During my recent move, I came across my grandmother's
autograph album, circa 1922.

Still wrapped in a yellowing, brittle piece of tissue paper.
Considered the "arty" one in the family, I have ended up with these fantastic bits of history.

The foxed pages are filled with sweet, old-fashioned messages and drawings and paintings by her friends...

Something about the drawing below caught our fancy - my sister and I copied it again and again.

This one we found hi-la-rious!

(behind the flap: now turn back again)

And, of course, the fine India Ink drawings of my grandfather. I still have his old dip pens and nibs, though I missed meeting him. It is one of my life's biggest regrets.

A million little things bind us together.