Monday, July 14, 2014

Animal, mineral, vegetable.

Natal, place of a thousand hills, I have left behind. My suitcases were heavy with honey, old patterned enamel plates and wax resist fabrics from Nigeria. On the set dressing truck, a few days later, were three ancient Zulu grinding bowls. They sit in the driveway now, waiting placement, but that doesn't stop the birds from visiting.

Natal, dark at five in the afternoon, after a sunset the colour of papayas, fleshy and bruised. A richly atmospheric place: smoke on the hills, the strangled cries of strange birds high up in the trees. Talk to someone for a while and you discover that they don't just own a junk shop, they also breed polo ponies and speak fluent Zulu. All the farmers there do. It made me smile when they answered their cell phones. And it made me envious, for the majority of Zulu people I met don't speak much English at all.

It was a tough time - clashing egos, unspoken grievances - and you know what happens to those, eventually. But what people say about the generosity of the people there is true. We experienced it time and again. One day we drove to Verulam to buy some green bananas for a set. After showing us around, the young farmer refused to take money. As we were driving off, the pick-up full, he ran after us with a bunch of special bananas for us to eat - the good stuff, he smiled.
And they were.

Days spent in Durban, in Grey Street.
A curious mixture of Indian and Zulu.
We stopped for maize grilled over a brazier and the girl handed the hot ears to us wrapped in a bit of the husk. The ladies at Ennen's Sarree Shop said that we should have lunch at Patel's Refreshment Room. Bunny chow - half a loaf of white bread filled with a rich stew of broad beans and curry leaves, eaten with the fingers of the right hand. An old crone shuffled in and the young wallahs at the counter brought her a free plate of food. She ordered them around - bring me this, bring me that, and good-naturedly they did. She said sage things to us in Zulu and we nodded, when we left we gave her our change and she gave us a big toothless smile.

The street vendors were selling foraged produce that day: huge creamy avocado pears, madumbis, strange beans and peas, rolled up leaves for steamed parcels of fish, tiny green guavas, macadamia nuts and bunches of juicy clover - purple on the underside of the leaf. I felt awkward trying to take photos - the avocado seller ran down the road screaming after she saw my phone.

We ordered what we needed for our set at the meat market: sheep's and goat's heads, entrails, chicken feet...

when we went back a few days later to pick up our gory load, we went to the Victoria Market for henna and newspaper wrapped parcels of spices, and attar of roses.

At Moodleys we bought Nag Champa incense - scent of the sixties. In the shop are small altars to Ganesh and Hanuman, and pictures of Sai Baba, all draped with sandalwood beads and crinkle paper marigolds. The shop lady, beautiful in her sari with golden threads, took us to the doorway to show us how to get to Little Gujarat, for another vegetarian lunch.  We washed at the basin with the sign that said:
No Gargling!
And then we sat down to roti's, pea curry and small crispy chunks of chilli-dusted potatoes... delicious.

After lunch we went to the massive Muti market on the bridge. You enter underneath the flyover - passing rails of ready-to-wear frilly shwe shwe outfits, young guys playing cards, people singing and rocking from side to side while watching a religious ceremony on an outdoor tv. Then you start walking up a spiral - past dark doorways hung with snake skins, animal parts and plant matter. The actual market is on a network of pedestrian bridges about a kilometre long. Hundreds of small stalls with things you have never seen before - neatly boxed shelves of various tree barks, roots, dried jelly fish, starfish, snakes in bottles of liquid, bottles of fat and blood, entire dried monkeys, bone, horn... the air is filled with smells and sounds, men chopping bark into chips with pangas, women with various coloured clays smeared on their faces. I wished with all of my heart that I could take out my camera, but we had heard that the taking of pictures would be regarded as disrespectful. When we left, my heart was beating very loudly and I was filled with wonder - that this culture is so big and thriving, so dark and unfamiliar. It was an extraordinary experience and I would love to go back and spend some time there with a Zulu speaker.

As I write this, my love is on a plane somewhere over Africa, flying home. It has been a long, long separation. I want to take him to these places one day, perhaps in the summer, when the rains come. 


Marie said...


David Gimpel said...

Your writing is sublime. So tactile, bold, present, and acute that it's surreal. You write movies with short sentences - and our minds do the rest. Respect.

dinahmow said...

You wring beauty from the harsh...

Rosie said...

What he said. Lily, your writing is so beautiful it makes my heart ache.

the sourcerer said...

Thank you all, very much. :-)

Leslie said...

Another marvelous post. Your writing evokes the feel of the place so well, a place I'll never see for myself. I always read your posts a few times, gleaning different things each time. Thank you for a really special blog.

the sourcerer said...

Thank you Leslie - that makes me happy!