Saturday, March 29, 2014

Playing solitaire under a lucky star.

I have an early memory of playing beneath some looming shasta daisies in our Eastern Cape garden - I must have been four or five, and my mother saying to her friend: such a funny little girl - she's always happy to amuse herself.

Some crying was allowed on the night that he left, but after that, I slipped easily into solitary habits: things that are self-indulgent, selfish even, when someone else is with you. Working in the garden in my pyjamas, feeling the loamy soil between my toes. Having a long bubble bath in the afternoon - soaking muddy knees, then back into pyjamas. A bowl of rice and avocado pear for supper, spoon in one hand/pencil in the other - drawing while I eat. Reading until three in the morning. Waking sprawled over the entire bed.

In eight days time, I will be surrounded by people for six days of every week. I will miss this time of quietude.

There are endless things to do in an autumn garden.
My small friend, the lizard under the tomato plants, has moved now to better cover in the parsley jungle.
He has lost a piece of his tail (Hadeda! says the long-legged man from a hotel room in Beverly Hills), but I think he'll be okay.

As the weather turns, the tomatoes ripen hesitantly and are blighted by rain. These are the tomatoes of my childhood - misshapen, fragrant, thick-skinned and covered in a fine, peach-like fuzz. Time to make chutney for winter meals by the fireside. I am alone but not lonely. Letters arrive, and messages from foreign places. I have true-hearted friends. I have my grandmother's knife, Aida's kitchen scale, old family recipes. And I am safe in this cocoon - this thoughtfully spun place that belongs to a tall man.
He is far, far away, but only in miles.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Hemingway was here.

From the plane window, early that morning, I saw the Bosphorus for the first time. We flew over it, so low that I could see into the small fishing boats. People waking and taking care of their morning rituals. Small pots of water boiling... lanterns burning and mist on the water. Red tail lights streaming over the Galata Bridge.

Later that day, I had my first freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. And I wandered around ancient small streets, up and down.

Towards the end of September, 1922, the twenty-three-year-old Ernest Hemingway spent a month in Istanbul. He was there to write about the war, but his recollections of life in Beyoglu still ring eerily true. He was yet to write a novel.

We were staying at the Pera Palas, mere steps away from Hemingway's haunt - the Buyuk Londres.
Our burgundy clad doorman sniffed and pointed a white gloved finger in the opposite direction. He offered me an umbrella and wanted to know: But why, Bayan?

Posing as lovers looking for a place to stay, we convinced the moustachioed proprietor to take us up to a room - the one where the Golden Horn can be glimpsed through peach coloured lace curtains.

On each landing, there is an old painted metal trousseau chest. Downstairs we peeked into the Orient Bar, lush with bird cages and plants. Yes, Hemingway drank his whiskey there...

Istanbul, where a you can ask a rabbit to choose your fortune, where people still hang garlic over doorways to fend off evil, where the muezzin calls and everything stops.

I thought I would have been back there by now.

Tomorrow night my tall man leaves for a very long time. We both have mountains of work ahead of us. Call me a coward, but I just can't face taking him to the airport and coming back to the house alone. I'd rather stand at the gate and wave.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Blood is thicker.

I am so incredibly fortunate to have had a happy childhood. My father did not. His parents were separated when he was very young. He didn't speak much of his father, but one day he showed me some small scars on his arms and legs. Cigarette burns, he said - from when he did something or other that made his father angry.

His mother found that she couldn't take care of him and his younger brother Albert on her own, so she sent my dad to live with his grandparents. They took him in grudgingly. From what I gathered, they were very poor and old and in no way warm and loving. But fortunately there was no more physical abuse. He told us about the dung and peach pit floor in the kitchen and having to walk barefoot to school, even in winter. Again, luckily, my father was bright and able to skip some years in school, so that he applied for a bursary and started studying medicine in Cape Town when he was sixteen. Another saga follows - one of heartbreak and betrayal. But in the end, he found my mother, presented her with his four children and himself, and she said yes.
It was a great love.

My father lost contact with his brother for many years, but by the time I was born, they had found each other again and spoke regularly. I remember going to Potchefstroom to visit Uncle Albert and Auntie Katie. The jacarandas were in full bloom everywhere and their house was wonderful. So different to our own - it had a museum of curiosity feel to it. Glass cases full of interesting things to look at: Boer war memorabilia and tartans and thistles, as we are descended from the highland clan of Lamont. I think he gave us the Lamont crest which hung in our house for ever and ever. A Dexter hand, coupled at the wrist. Ne Parcus nec Spernas.  Neither Spare, nor Dispose.

Albert Turner passed away this week. In this old photograph, he looks so much like my father. My sister and I had our own private nickname for Uncle Bert... we were big Magnum PI fans.

RIP Uncle Higgy-baby.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hello darkness my old friend.

I remember regular power cuts in the Eastern Cape as a small child. My mother was always prepared - lamps, cooked food. It was exciting going to bed with a candle, not having to bath. That feeling lingers a little with the blackouts we've been having here over the past few days. I'll never forget walking through the quiet streets of Tamboerskloof some years ago and looking up at the apartment blocks with candles burning in the windows. No street lights, no music. Just the soft yellow glow and the murmuring of voices.

On Eskom's website you can look up the rolling blackout schedule for your suburb or village. I type in Fish Hoek and it charitably suggests, for two separate days: load shedding will occur between 06h30-22h30.
"Wet coal" they say. This is Africa you know.
The magic eight ball knows all.

Maybe if I was the one with the chest freezer full of ice cream for a commercial in the morning I'd be more upset. The city seems so far away here. Only forty minutes if there's no traffic, but I have to steel myself when I need to go there - plan ahead, pack a special bag.

Where I lived before, on the third and fourth floors of a city bowl apartment block, there were hardly any insects.
Birds sang in the trees, but I never saw them.
Here I have a partner in insomnia - the owl between one and four. There is a palm tree brimful of jabbering starlings and there are bats at dusk. Rock pigeons duckwalk down the hip to look at me hanging up the washing. I see their comical pink feet through the sheer roof sheets of the lean-to. They cock their heads and look at me with a beady eye, always hopeful for more chico mix under the tree. Hadedas poke holes in the potted plants with their long beaks. When I go out the back door, they look up at me - affronted that I dare to intrude. Goggas! Spiders, crickets and bugs everywhere. Caterpillars turn a deaf ear to the shriek of a woman - they scorn garlic spray and nibble green tomatoes. (Cameo appearance by striped lizard.)

What I thought was an electrical fault - the driveway gate repeatedly opening by itself - turns out to be the work of geckos on the circuit board.

"And if the world went to hell in a handbasket - as it seemed to be doing - you could say good bye to everyone and retreat to your land, hunkering down and living off it."
- Jeanette Walls, Half Broke Horses

Monday, March 3, 2014

The bare bones.

When I started writing here in February of 2010, I didn't even have the tiniest inkling of how it would change my life. It has brought kindred spirits together, seemingly out of the blue. It has brought encouragement from far-flung corners of the world, humour and delight.

For that I thank you.

My plan was that I would write about the boot sale in Milnerton, and the incredible things I've found there over the years. It would be a once-weekly report of what I had bought, with photographs.
But, as with all things in life, it slowly evolved into something else entirely.
It is a place where I feel free to be myself and it is a constant in an inconsistent world.

I still go to the boot sale regularly, and another thing that has become dear to my heart are the dogs I meet there. This is Mr Bones, taking a little break from the mayhem.