“Afspraak met Eergister”: Op reis in ou reisverhale

This post is in Afrikaans, but earlier this week I published a different one in English – so you don’t have to turn around if you don’t understand this one. Read here about the fun I’m having texting a novel. 

Ou reisverhale hou vir my ‘n besondere bekoring in. Kyk, natuurlik is daar iets te sê vir die gemoedsrus wat ‘n blink boek, of dingetjie op jou foon met splinternuwe inligting, verskaf wanneer jy natgereën in ‘n vreemde land ‘n slaapplek soek. Maar deesdae gaan ek ook swaar êrens heen sonder ‘n reisverhaal of ‘n roman wat afspeel by my bestemming. Vandag sal  Springbok round the Corner  jou kwalik die regte pad deur  sommige dele van Suid-Afrika kan beduie, maar, ai, jy sal nie spyt wees as jy deur die Vrystaat ry met ‘n paar van die dinge wat Basil Fuller daar te siene gekry het in jou voosgevatte notaboekie nie.

Betrand Westphal skryf in La Géocritique. Réel, fiction, espace (2007), hoe die belewenis van ‘n spesifieke plek verryk kan word deur daarna te kyk deur die oë van skrywers en karakters. In die volgende aanhaling vertel hy hoe Parys, byvoorbeeld, gelees kan word as ‘n reeks lae van “Paryse” deur verskeie skrywers se uitbeeldings van Parys bymekaar te sit:

Dans le Paris de Calvino et de Eco, il y a, comme autant de poupées gigognes, le Paris de Balzac, de Dumas ou de Outrillo. La géocritique permet de reconstituer le cheminement intertextuel qui mène à ce travail de représentation de l’espace. Le coefficient d’impact serait plus élevé encore si, plutôt que de percevoir ce qu’il y a de textuel dans un espace donné, on considérait le lieu comme un texte. –  bl. 247

[Binne die Parys van Calvino en Eco is daar, soos binne Russiese poppies, die Parys van Balzac, Duma of Outrillo. Die geokritiek maak dit moontlik om die intertekstuele weg wat lei na hierdie voorstelling van ruimte te herkonstrueer. Die koëffisiënt van die impak sal selfs hoër wees, indien die plek as ʼn teks bekou word, in plaas daarvan om die tekstuele elemente in ʼn bepaalde ruimte te beskou.]

Met ander woorde: elke beskrywing van ‘n plek voeg ‘n laag , of selfs ‘n paar lae, tot die bestemming. Dis wat my opgeval het in Berlyn destyds: hoe die geskiedenis in lae opgeslik lê teen mure vol koeëlgate en brokkies sementmuur – die elektriese geraas van ‘n wêreldstad in jou ore. Jy staan op een plek en draai stadig in die rondte: barok – Wêreldoorlog – Stasi – WiFi – soveel Berlyne van soveel eras. En dit is maar net wat in die strate te siene was: in my agterkop was die Berlyn van Goodbye Lenin, Berlin: Alexanderplatz… en voor my was die Alexanderplatz en die bolronde televisietoring. Wanneer ‘n mens, soos Westphal voorstel, ‘n plek as ‘n teks lees, bring die lees van ouer tekste die lae wat in die hedendaagse landskap onsigbaar geword het, na vore.

Die Afrikaanse skrwyer Abraham H. de Vries het vanjaar 80 geword en ons kan gerus ‘n slag gesels oor een van sy boeke.  Ek kom van die Klein-Karoo af en het onlangs met die deurryslag in Ladismith, dié plaaslike skrywer se Afspraak met eergister: Griekse reisjoernaal Oktober 1965 tot April 1966 (Tafelberg, 1966), in die hande gekry (Daar is ‘n tuisnywerheid by die vulstasie op linkerhand, soos jy Kaap se kant toe ry, wat altyd van sy boeke aanhou).

Met die intrapslag is dit reeds duidelik dat ek nooit as ek na Griekeland sou reis dieselfde land sal aantref as hy en sy vrou, Ri, nie. Inteenteendeel, die sestigerjare is eergister genoeg – laat staan nog die antieke tye. Maar geen generiese reisgids vir bekpekkers kan die Griekse landskap meet aan die Klein-Karoo se koppies nie. Die boek is ryk aan Suid-Afrikaanse verwysings en bied aan die leser ‘n eiesoortige toegang tot hierdie bestemming:

Daar word vertel dat Apollo in die hawetjie Krisa (Itea) voet aan wal gesit het, nadat hy van sy geboorte-eiland, Delos, af weg is om die hele Griekeland te verower. By hom het hy ʼn dolfyn as lyfwag gehad en hyself was vermom as ʼn ster. Van Krisa af het hy opgeklim tot by die skuilplek van die draak wat oor Delphi gewaak het, en nadat hy dié doodgemaak het, het hy aan al die gode verkondig dat dit wat sy oë kon sien, van toe af syne was. Wat hy gesien het, is wat besoekers aan die tempel in die ruïnegebied vandag nog sien – waarskynlik een van die mooiste vergesigte wat daar bestaan – vir wie nog nooit vantevore op Towerkop naby Ladismith in die Klein-Karoo gestaan het nie. – bl. 69

Saam met hom op reis is ook die werke van ander skrywers, onder andere antieke beskrywings en legendes, wat hy in Afrikaans laat saamvleg om skerp draaie en laat rondkyk in die straatkafees:

Links van ons speel die see wegkruipertjie agter lae rotsformasies in en regs kom die berg Olumpos stadig los uit die vroegoggendmistigheid. Vir die ou Grieke was daar geen twyfel dat dit die hoogste berg in die wêreld was nie. Daarom het hulle dit beskou as die woonplek van Zeus, die oppergod. ʼn Jakkals loop oor my graf terywl ek doen wat die Grieke van vroeër nie sou gewaag het nie – ek kyk na die pieke wat nog toe lê onder die mistigheid. Omdat die gasstofie (wat ek elke keer met ʼn gaatjiesoekende ritueel aanmekaar moet sit) stadig kook aan die water, kry ek kans om my sagtebanduitgawe van Homerus rustig te sit en deurblaai. – bl. 21

Sy vrou se, dikwels droë, kommentaar dra by tot die humor wat die toon aangee soos landskap, mitologie, filosofie en politiek mekaar afwissel tussen koppies koffie, tempels en eilande. Die kleurvolheid van die tonele word slegs oortref deur die kleurvolheid van die Afrikaans waarin dit beskryf word:

Links van ons sit ʼn boepens-Griek en eet met sy servet onder sy boordjie ingedruk. Sy vrou sit met haar hande op haar skoot en die dogtertjie tussen hulle hou vir die musikante tyd met haar witpuntskoentjies. Die eienaar van die kafee is ʼn maer man wat sonder enige emosie alles gadeslaan. Teen die muur het hy nagemaakte oudhede gehang, ʼn ou seemanspet en ʼn foto van sy vader.

“En as jy alles neerskryf soos iemand wat ʼn wasgoedlys maak; watter sin het dit?” vra Ri.

“Dit hoef nie sin te hê nie,” antwoord ek. Met my neus tussen die jasmynblare. “Tot nou toe was alles bont genoeg!” – bl. 40

Vroeg in die boek, dink ek aan ‘n episode van Vetkoekpaleis waar Spira vir Antie Poppie, “καλή μέρα ” gegroet het – en ek soos ‘n kind in ‘n speelgoedwinkel gevoel het. Gedurende my eerste gefaalde pogings om Grieks te leer, het ek die opwinding meegemaak ons twee reisigers ervaar met hulle ontsyfering van die Griekse alfabet:

Ons sit en spel soos kinders die woorde op die advertensies uit, want die Griekse alfabet het 24 letters, waarvan net 10 as hoofletters en 9 in gewone skrif ooreenstem met dié van ons. Die res is letterlik en figuurlik Grieks, totdat ʼn mens agterkom dat daar maar ongeveer ʼn dosyn letters oorbly om te leer en dat jy die vermoëns wat jy as ʼn tjokkertjie in die laerskool gehad het, nie kwyt is nie: dit duur hoogstens ʼn paar minute om hierdie letters te leer, en Grieks is daarna nie meer so Grieks nie, want die bewoording van byvoorbeeld advertensies is nou eenmaal internasionaal. Dan, op ʼn aand, laat ʼn Griek vir jou ʼn notatjie en begin die plesier van voor af, want hulle verwag dat jy nog ʼn handskrifdeskundige ook moet wees! – bl. 18

Die boek trek mens in by gesprekke en stories langs die pad: die avontuur van ‘n ander taal,’n dorpsbegrafnis, ‘n kerkie so klein dat daar net plek is vir ‘n kat, ‘n bakleiery op straat na ‘n motorbotsing.  En maak nie saak watter Griekeland daar is as ek dit die dag besoek nie, Afspraak met Eergister se oezoe en grotte en handgebare sit reeds daar vir my en wag.

Daar is sekere plekke, net soos mense, wat die vermoë het om al die brandnekels wat ʼn mens in jou het, te laat verwelk. Daphni is so ʼn plek. Toe ons daar wegry, pluk Ri ʼn paar lourierblare af en steek dit in my baadjie se bosak, soveel te sê: bly nou om hemelsnaam die res van die dag ook kalm. – bl. 60

Ook ‘n boek soos hierdie laat die brandnekels verwelk. Watter reisboek staan op jóu stowwerige rak?

Topic Tuesday: A Haiku or two

Flowers shake raindrops

thrilled to feel cool mud again

happy as wet dogs

 

I was chatting to Jade Herriman the other day about writing haiku when there’s little time for writing. That got me thinking again about all the things I use my little haikus for (yes, I like adding the s). When I started writing poems as a kid, I loved trying out the structured forms like limericks and the different kinds of sonnets. The old Japanese haiku (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables) also got a turn, but it was only in 2010 that I really started writing them as a habit. I love telling the story of how I travelled to Namibia with friends at a time when my friend Pat and I were trying to do a 100 consecutive days of writing a daily haiku. At first it was about the challenge and the fun of coming up with images to fit into these little forms.

But we discovered something amazing after the trip: those daily haikus made a wonderful travel journal. With minimal effort we had created a day-by-day log of our trip: vivid, memorable and condensed. Since then, I’ve made a habit of writing haiku on trips, look at how this one captures the kind of trip another friend and I recently made to Hogsback:

Icy waterfall

glittering under bent ferns

Here we had to stop

Recognise the picture at the top of the post? It gets better. Even the most mundane work day was given some meaning by documenting it with a haiku. And they aren’t always beautiful or happy, but they often were funny and made everything better. I’m the world’s worst diary keeper and journal writer, but suddenly I could read back over my days and recall them vividly! It is like having a photo album of words, of even seemingly mundane things like the weather. Last week it was very hot:

Slowly the night bakes

till the sound of cicadas

quiver out the sun

And then it started to rain:

Sharp drumming raindrops

swaddle the heat with a roar

in a white blanket

Turns out documenting was only part of it. We started sending our haikus to friends via email, SMS, WhatsApp and Social Media and not only do you have an instant audience and travel companion; it turns out these little poems are contagious! More friends joined in, added lines when we got stuck, made up their own. It was also a wonderful way to get people who don’t normally write poetry or who thought that writing poetry wasn’t for them, to stick a foot into the water. Here are two fun ones we all slapped up together at the Afrikaans Leeskring (reading circle) in Empangeni:

Bol poedel sit en wag
Bol rol en rol en rol en
poedel is gebol
Hygend op die mat
ogies wag vir beter dae
stertjie bly vol hoop

During times when I feel I have no time or energy for writing or anything creative, a little haiku is an easy way out. But turns out that writing them is like putting a bucket under a leaking tap. Sooner or later those little drops make a bucket full of water! They’re like oil for that engine, a kind of low effort maintenance.  And after a while I noticed how the constant squeezing of images into these little poems improved and sharpened my writing in other genres too – even my academic writing!

Fietsspeke knetter

langs die gras wat wakkerword

en ruik na oop pad

Do you write haiku? Would you like to try it? You can go Google all the rules and conventions and traditions that go with this art form, it’s fascinating. But I generally stick to the 5-7-5 and biedem the rest.

Leave me your haiku in your comment on this post and I’ll feature all the ones I get by Friday in a post!

Dusty Roads #2: Umlalazi just beyond the front stoep

2015-11-18 08.48.16So we’re still on the topic of expeditions down the old familiar roads close by. Toe besluit ek laasweek om weer ‘n slag onder by die krappe te gaan kuier. Destyds toe ek Zululand toe getrek het, was een van die vele stukkies raad wat my uit die bekender Kaap na die Ooskus gevolg het: “Daa’s krappe daar!”

I headed down to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve a couple of times during the past few weeks to go see what the little creatures of the lagoon, beach and forest are up to. It’s been really dry in KZN this year and the forest floor had been an ominous light brown crackle the last time I had ventured there. But the past few weeks rain soaked the red soil of Zululand again.

Prinses patiently waits at the parking lot each time, looking out over the Mlalazi river close to the sign that warns against crocodiles – ek mis die prentjie van die seekoei wat altyd daarby was. 2015-10-31 08.58.53But it’s not hippos and crocs we’re after in the mangrove swamp. Poking from their assorted holes below the mangrove trees, the crabs retract their jolly red selves away from the camera. They’re always sitting there, each in front of a hole, sometimes scuttling back a little bit more slowly, so you can catch a glimpse of an altercation or of a leaf being dragged. Hierdie twee was te besig met ‘n huismoles of ‘n “hies-jou-kesj” om ons raak te sien:

krappe

Mangliete is mos nie ‘n naam wat lekker sê nie, maar hierdie goed is iets besonders. Onder langs die lagoon staan ‘n moeras vol van hulle. See that long peg-like thing on the picture here below? It’s a seed than pegs like a rocket into the ground when the time is right and shoot out some roots before the tide can wash it away again. And those yellow leaves are full of extra salt, because these incredible plants grow in thick mud in the salty coastal water. Bits of roots stick up like snorkels between the crab tunnels. There are different kinds of mangrove trees here and when you walk on the little wooden path winding through them to John Dunn’s Bath, the sounds of the lagoon parking lot become slightly muted. Like when snow starts falling – if you can imagine snow in this sweltering humidity. Onwillekeurig kyk ‘n mens altyd boontoe om te sien of die visvanger nie dalk hier iewers sit nie. The Mangrove Kingfisher is not showing himself today but in the distance the Fish Eagles are squealing and fish are plopping in the lagoon as the path winds around the corner. Red claws disappear into holes and maybe if someone is walking with you when you visit here, point out the magrove snails on the trunks of the trees.

Mangroves

Some other time I might tell you the story of John Dunn, one of the characters from the region’s colourful past. But this thing over here between the Mangrove Swamp and the Umlalazi river is not just a muddy puddle. It was a pool, dug for John’s wives to take a bath a safe distance away from the crocodiles and hippo’s. It’s a story all by itself, but today I’m here for the mudskippers. I don’t always see them, but few things can cheer me up like watching one of these prehistoric-looking little creatures skip across the surface of the water leaving tracks of tiny spiraling waves like heavy raindrops. Look carefully where this one is making a stop on the mud:

mudskipper1

Their funny little fins and bulging eyes can hush the shaky photographer, squatting in the squelching mud into the kind of awe that makes the world beyond the mangrove tops fade away for a few moments. Later, cutting through the forest on the  way to the beach, the big ferns flicker in the same quiet light. Die klein pilduisendpoot wat in ‘n bolletjie opkrul wanneer mens aan hom raak en die rooi duiker met die wikkelende stertjie bly hier in die duinewoud. Our man pill millipede over here curls up into a perfect little ball when you disturb his slow crawl across his buffet of forest detritus. And that wagging little red tail disappearing between the trees and elk ferns is a red duiker.

Pilduisendpoot

On the other side of the forested dunes, the Indian Ocean is roaring. Next time, we’ll go there.

 

Dusty Roads #1

As die paaie jou roep, is die beste begin soms jou eie agterplaas. Vanoggend ry ek weer onder ‘n tonnel Raffia palms en boomvarings op ‘n nou teerpaadjie werk toe. Ons vergeet maar gou dat ons leef op ander mense se veraf droompaaie. Dit was baie droog gewees die afgelope tyd in Zululand en die welkome buie wat die laaste paar dae geval het, maak dat die grond in die woud weer ruik soos dit moet. Die see was vaal en omgekook vanoggend na gisteraand se donderbui. Maar hy sal weer reg wees vir daardie swem wanneer jy hier uitklim na die lang, stowwerige paaie.

When you drive up the North East coast of South Africa, starting at Durban on the N2, you may think that there is not much more to this landscape than the suffocating green of the sugar cane –  sometimes wafting purple plumes, sometimes ablaze in a thick smoke of candy floss – and the blue flits of the Indian Ocean to your right and the bridges over the Tugela and the other rivers that make your tyres go gnk-gnk.

You bet that was a long sentence.  It is because there’s that stretch of the road that you just want to get over and done with in one breath. The blue gum plantation flickering to your right as the road sign says it’s 16km more to Mtunzini Plaza – the toll gate where you turn off.

Turn off that road anywhere and the cane fields pull away. Suddenly there are bits of bush between the patchy hills of cabbages and mealies and palm trees. Those same banana trees that looked so frayed on the middle man of the N2, suddenly heavy with fruit and vervet monkeys. Coral trees hang their orange flowers over your way from their bare, grey branches. And when you roll down your window you still smell the ocean, but the hot dampness from the drooping grass blades hit you in the face. Welcome to Zululand.

The turn off to Mtunzini is to your right, about 140km North from where you started. The little village appears from underneath the biggest overhanging canopies of fever trees and umzimbeets you’ve ever seen. A lourie’s red wings disappear up the branches of a tree full of flowers. And you smell the wet earth and remember that you were here to write about nature.

Suddenly you find your feet sinking into the tunnel of that mole that poked it’s confused little nose out next to my exploding pot plant. A stripy flash of a tail turns a lizard into a snake, just for those few seconds when you glimpse its little feet with relief. There where you grabbed the trunk of a tree a little orchid is hanging on for dear life and you wonder why it did not pick the hole between the branches like the tumbling fern.

In this humidity everything grows faster and bigger. If you stay here until it gets dark and the drunken loops of bats flutter past your ear, you’ll swat away the kind of mosquitoes that used to ride the dinosaurs between these ferns. And if you’re lucky you’ll see one of those huge moths as big as your hand. mesmerizing the clicking gecko plastered below the ceiling.

Just put down your fan and sink into the heat that buzzes under the stars where the dark leaves cut the moon into bits of gleaming white. You’ll hear the owl calling.