Thursday, December 31, 2009

Molen Rivier

I am , actually, a Langkloofer. My family, the Tautes, come from the Langkloof, having been granted Molen Rivier in the 1700's. My grandfather was born there, and my father told me many stories, when I was growing up, of him spending time under the old homesteads yellow wood ceilings in the 1950's when he working for a canning company ,and was well known in the Kloof as 'die Engelsman' that came in and bought fruit.

There are stories of a branch of the family who suffered from haemophilia and so there was a single spinster (she never married through fear of carrying the bleeder gene) called Babette who lived for many years in the old homestead in Molen Rivier.

My father has asked me many times if I have visited the homestead, and up to last week I had not, but had swished past on my way down the R62. Not much is visible from the road, but I had glimpsed a few whitewashed buildings beyond a grove of trees, an overgrown river and a church.

It was an extremely hot day, and we were on our way to an even hotter Oudshoorn when Lex and I decided to drive in and explore. I have two wonderful old photographs of my ancestors taken at Molen River. One shows a group of rather attractive ladies, mostly dressed in black, gathered in front of a window. I have always liked it, the women seeming rather less severe than most, in old pictures of a hundred years ago. Some look at the camera and some away, but they are relaxed, informal.
My favourite photograph, however, is the other one, showing a group of happy picnickers, down on the river banks, most dressed in white, some with palm fronds and bulrush leaves ringed round their straw hats. Some faces are blurred ( I guess they moved) others half smile into the lens. The subjects lean against each other, languishing in the shade of what was probably a very hot day. As a child I fancied I was one of them, a young girl, tendrils of hair escaping a large loose ribbon, a straw hat tossed back around my neck.

So, as we turned off onto the gravel I gazed down to the left, through the grove of cool trees to the river, fancying for a moment, I glimpsed them all there.

Before I left Cape Town I read a wonderful book in the rather special bookclub I used to belong to there. It was 'The Beadle" by Pauline Smith. I had somehow managed to get to this ripe old age without reading this South African classic, but I, together with many other ladies in the bookclub, adored it. When I arrived in the Langkloof I visited the Book Exchange ( what a lifesaver - the Joubertina Library is a sad affair!) and there, on a shelf, was a copy of 'The Beadle', which I promptly bought and re read.

When I next visited my parents they handed to me all the Taute family papers, seeing as I had, as it were, returned to my roots. They make very fascinating reading, as does the section in a book about the Langkloof written recently. However, the most glorious aspect of all this, in my opinion, was the information contained in a little yellowed newspaper article . In it was the wonderful fact that Pauline Smith had, in fact, written 'The Beadle' whilst staying for a few months at the Taute homestead in Molen Rivier.

Now I know that the setting for the book is the Karoo, but as I wondered around the little church and graveyard in Molen Rivier, I beleived that this was the churchyard Pauline Smith had gazed upon, when she wrote the book. Be that as it may, the graves were sad and unattended, just about all Tautes, and I stood and gazed upon them for a long while, and Lex wondered aloud if they had all been tall! Apparently yes, I have always been told that we have the genes of giants!

We eventually found the old homestead, but I had expected to find it unoccupied, having heard that Babette had died, and all the wonderful 18th century furniture had been auctioned off. Lex said, hopefully, that perhaps we could put in a land claim, seeing as how, it would appear, there are no more Tautes in the Kloof, except, that is, me! The house was, however, obviously occupied, with a mown lawn, some washing flapping on the line, and a gardener eyeing us over his spade.

I proudly announced that I was in fact a 'Taute,' and that I would like to walk around the old homestead. He informed us that the 'Meneer is daar bo by die stoor'. ( the owner is in the barn) - and so we set off to meet him.

We found the barn, rather empty, with one lonely man sitting tying up bunches of dried flowers. He looked like a labourer, and we could hear rather loud shouting coming from within. I sent Lex forward to ask about the 'Meneer' - thinking that maybe we had caught him at a bad time, shouting at his labour force!

Lex speaks perfect Afrikaans and as the 'boere' (farmers) here are traditionally conservative (read rascist) we thought we would tread carefully. I was determined to see the homestead. Lex walked ahead, me a few steps behind, into the barn, asking the man if we could see 'die meneer." At this, up stood the man, tilting back his red cap, and told us that he was, in fact, the owner!

It was at about the same moment that I realized that the 'shouting' was in fact loud reading from the Koran! Interesting.

He was very friendly and invited us to immediately return to the house, walk around as much as we liked, and to even step inside if we so wished. He assured us that Sanna, the domestic worker, would show us around.

We returned to the homestead, rather embarassed, but still determined to do the tour. The building has National Monument status, and so is completely unaltered. It is a little forlorn, and I looked for sign of Babettes award winning roses, but there were none, although the garden was neat and tidy. There were a few old men leaning on rakes and spades, watching us from the shade. I did wander what they were thinking when I cheerily introduced myself as 'family of Babette" and they nodded and smiled.

Lex thought we shouldn't go inside, but I wanted too, announcing that my Grandfather had been born in one of these rooms, and so on. The interior was dim and just about completely bare. The lovely wide yellow wood floors still gleamed. the low ceiling was still made from the solid yellowood beams, the windows still set deep in the thick walls, with broad wooden windowledges. All the fixtures and fittings are all still there. But, the walls were bare, except for endless Koranic scripture, some laminated, some framed, hung around on every wall. In amongst them was a photo of a lady, shrouded in black against the backdrop of Mecca.

We left, walking across the long dry lawn in silence. I suppose I felt the same way I always feel when I visit the famous homes (museums) of Shakespeare, Austen, the Brontes. Disappointed. I wanted, of cause, to find them all still there, the ladies of the photograph, or the picnic children. Maybe to glimpse my grandfather, young, jodhpurred, hitting his riding crop against muddy boots.... Even my own father, in his twenties, tall and dark haired, dressing for dinner, in the style of the 50's, with a cravat, a tweed jacket...

There were, naturally, none of them there, but it was worse than that. Every memory was erased, and I felt no hope of ever finding even a shadow of the past.
We were even more silent as we drove away. Stunned, to be honest, even disorientated.
After a while, we left the gravel again, turning back onto the tar, and drove away.
"Oh well," said Lex," there goes our land claim!" and then, I laughed.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Purple Aliens

The Jacarandas in the Langkloof are blooming. Their Gentian Violet heads are visible from a distance, glowing amongst the various greens of the other trees. They lay their blossoms down in a carpet of purple around their feet. My husband remembers Pretoria, and when we drive over them they pop and he recalls his childhood.

We have a Syringa tree in front of our house. It is our outside room. Recently it was laden with berries, light lilac buds and green leaves. The buds held a most heady fragrance, especially released at night, and I often sat beneath it in the dark, and drank that sweet aroma in. But they don't belong here actually - like we don't. We are called 'inkomers'.

There are many of us, and Lex and I are getting to know this group that we - by force of circumstance - belong to. Firstly, there are the motley crew in Twee Riviere: The family up at Bethany, the seven singing children, bringing the cows in. The large, hearty Dad with a voice like an arch angel with sandy hands - forever in shorts - conceding to add army boots in the cold. The blonde, willowy Mom, dreaming up prose whilst stooped over steaming pots of berries, apricots, peaches...

Then there is the other family, with six children, all of various skin tones, who live together in a jolly yellow house. Their sweet faces appear from bushes, peek out from between floral curtains, skipping and jumping like their happy goats when I arrive to visit.

There are the two 'bushbillies' who emerge smiling from their low wooden house like two Tolkien characters, bearded and long haired, in the winter cloaked and hooded. They live in a wooded clearing and their home inside is fragrant with herbal essences, ground coffee and spices. The wooden walls are lime washed, cosy, the light dappled and at night lanterns and candles glow.

A family with five children moved into Twee Riviere years ago, and now live in a house made of river rocks. They are a group, tousled haired and blonde, carrying chickens, large bunches of vegetables from their garden, or a baby on their hip when they greet you.

There are others who I know not so well, but are here, adding their shades of colour to the landscape. The artist who lives in Krakeel, with long, flowing greying hair, long dresses with gold brocade. She shares deep painterly thoughts whenever I meet her, often shrouded in smoke and also smiling.

Everyone knows the other artist, well known in art circles, now living deep in the Kouga. He paints Jesus with chalks and pigments taken from Khoi sites. He walks into town, like an old hobo, to share insights and have conversations about a past life surrounded by other artists and writers and South African characters now quite famous.

There is also the 'inkomer' Dominee and his wife and children who extend their home and hands in particular to outsiders, allowing themselves to be agents of change. They are a lighthouse to many, helping us to navigate  rough seas as we adapt to life here.

I have met other 'inkomers' too - from other parts of Africa. The Malawians are here, sought after for their labour, they are cheerful, hardworking and friendly. In town a Somalian woman sits cross legged and shrouded on a carpet of bags, bandannas, cheap underwear and headgear. 

In Joubertina there is a house just like Karen Blixens in 'Out of Africa'. Two other 'inkomers' live there. He is a true African, like a great white hunter, gravel voiced and leather hatted. She small and Dutch, trailing a little blonde child from one hand. We talk with them over black coffee, surrounded by cigarette smoke and they share their enthusiasms - the environment, the mountains, photography, art.

It is she who tells me about the wild orchids. Her eyes light up as she talks , first about the wonderful fynbos, and then, about the orchids, lying, contained in their bulbs beneath the soil, and then pushing up and revealing themselves in their abundant variety. Those who belong here are, of course, very beautiful.

But here now is my Syringa tree and over there I see two round Jacaranda heads. Next door are two oak trees that I adore, behind their stone wall. They don't belong here either.

More and more outsiders are coming - strangers fleeing the city, flying in on the wind like so many seeds, to find a better life. We are not always received with openness and friendship, but we are here to stay, and in the meantime , Langkloofers, why not enjoy the variety and colour that we bring.

 ....for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; .... Matthew 25:35

For the many in this beautiful Kloof that have blessed us so abundantly, Thank You. We are so looking forward to 2010. We are so grateful to be here, what a gift!
Have a Blessed Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Two Worlds

It is raining when we arrive . We pull up outside their house in Joubertina. Desmond and Garrie are gracious and friendly, inviting us in, out the rain.

We come at the invitation of Barnard, the dominee and his wife, Este. Lex and I have been reading Desmonds' letters from Krakeel, written in the early two thousands. They are written in Afrikaans, but even me, with my rather poor Afrikaans have appreciated the brilliance of the writing. Lex has explained subtle nuances, innuendos and word play that I otherwise might have missed.

We pause in the entrance room with Des. He is older now, a little shaky - and he fixes us beneath his gaze, with one particularly bright eye sparkling at us - we stand there and chat. We are surrounded by paintings, beautiful furniture, and soft carpets underfoot.

Garrie calls us in his soft Portuguese accented Afrikaans to join the party. We find them all in a busy kitchen and soon move through to another room, pink Camparis held high.

Here we settle and glancing round I take in a little of the art and artifacts that surround us. Garrie guides Desmond to a chair and he joins us, his conversation still bright, the twinkle in his eye winking at me. I feel totally somewhere else, here, under the high thatch, enclosed in other places. The world of Desmonds' travels and successes.

At table Garrie pads back and forth to the kitchen on bare feet, their two 'woefies' twirling round his feet like two large make-up brushes. The crystal glasses are heavy in my hand. The pink Camparis are followed by heady rose, the rose by vials of dry white wine that lingers on my tongue. We talk through mouthfuls of pancake mushroom starters, more pink in the maincourse ( what is it - delicious!). And end with berries and mousse ...

Through it all Garrie tenderly tends to Desmond, who shares of his life. On his other side is Este, Nordic, blonde Viking, beautifully assisting, bearing platters aloft. Sitting down she places a gentle hand on Desmonds arm. Desmond tells of the world of Peter Stuyvesant, and the Ruperts. And I think that he has surely lived his own byline - 'So much more to enjoy'.
And here we are, doing just that - in Joubertina.

By the time the coffee comes we have touched on all of them - the Strydoms of Krakeel (meaning Quarrel - like the sound of the waters that used to busily run through it). Desmond knows them all , is one. And here they have settled, back in the Langkloof. And those Langkloof tales, the Kritzingers, the Ferreiras, the Oliviers, are too many to tell, and they mix here, under the thatch with images of Europe, the Americas, Egypt...

The wine has mixed it all up and in the end we are fingering pottery Picasso-esque Portuguese figures, as Garrie dreams of them both one day living in Portugal. But thats not happening now, as he tends to a now tired Desmond, and I hear about little snippets of my own ancestors, the Tautes, also from the Langkloof.

In a sense we have something in common then, me also returning - feeling at home here from the big wide world. The 'woefies' do their swirl dance around us when we leave. Desmond braves the cold for us - it has stopped raining - and anyway he says it does not rain in the Kloof like it used to.

I have promised Garrie a pot of Basil - we spoke of Salad Caprese - and I heard them both invite us again. I want to go back.
To step off the Joubertina street and back under that cool high roof.
So many stories still to be told, by Des the once politician ( historically a Smuts man - and yes, he has the beard too) who once lost to the ANC by three votes. So, beloved by the people here also, obviously. The man who has known many a Dominee, many slain by his pen, others (especially Barnard) - encouraged.

I wish I knew them all - the characters that march through the pages of his writing - that spring to life. But I also have a sense now of a measure of suffering, maybe harsh words not only from him but towards him - mostly about his orientatation. His love.
A courageous man, living a life, then and now on his own terms - another extraordinary Langkloofer. How many more are out there?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bleak Blog

I have just said goodbye to my children. They got on a bus in Storms River, headed for Cape Town. We sat and waited at the restaurant tables drinking chocochinos. I felt gripped by the desire to travel myself. I have often been a traveller myself, in my life. My husband even more so. Both of us felt the excitement of our daughter, the anxiousness of our son. Buses pulled in and out - but not theirs. We filled the time by looking up at the great span of the bridge, talking of how it was constructed, telling tales of tragic jumps, imagining how it was before....

Eventually their bus came and there was their Oupa, already on the bus, coming up from PE. He and I have always had a deep affection for each other, although his son and I separated and divorced over ten years ago. And then there they went, hands waving at windows, Oupa giving me the thumbs up. Everything is ok, everything is going to be ok...

This is for all of you reading this who are divorced, who have to do this thing. This separation thing.
So, there I suddenly stand on the desert of tar that is the petrol station, with cars pulling in and out around me. Lex stands next to me. His hands hang down. My hands hang down. I wear sunglasses, but I feel my eyes tearing up. He knows they are. I am making gulping soft sobs. My heart is constricting, tight, loose, tight, loose. He knows it is. Maybe his is too.

He speaks of another chocochino - he hugs me right there in the middle of the cars pulling round us. We don't do that, we drive home. It is not them going. I wave them cheerily off on many an adventure. It is the leaving, now we drive over the bridge - and thats what I feel - the leaving and crossing over to the other side.

It is a place where I have no place - the world of their biological father - a world where they are not always at ease. But most of all, it is not mine. I am not able always to reach them there. I am dereft.

We drive in silence, and my husband offers only to drive me any place I want, Jeffreys Bay, Kareedouw. I feel bleak. I feel bleak. I only want to go home.

So, we take the winding road between the hills. He drives slowly, his hand on my thigh, my hand on his neck. My mind is struggling to find that place of peace. It is running back and forth, dodging me - that peace. I am sort of praying for it, but even prayer, right now, is illusive.

But when we get there, so that the town is dotted before us, we don't want to go home after all. Lex says it out loud, and so we end up at the only restaurant in town, and sit outside with a plate of chips and toasted sandwiches. It is school holidays, and busier than I have ever seen it ( five tables). I feel comforted. My husband and I enjoy each others' company.

By the time we open our back door we have settled down. The house is totally silent, but thats ok. The bedrooms are a mess, abandoned in the excitement of the departure. That is also ok. I plan to tidy their rooms while they are away - fresh linen and fresh flowers when they get back. Tidy cupboards and piles of clean clothes. Its always like that when they go away. Sometimes gifts await them on their pillows.

We move about , we plan our week. We wait. We resolve to enjoy ourselves. We resolve to work, to write, to work the garden, to eat what we like when we like. We wait. We wait.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Tale of Three Cakes

My birthday falls the day before my daughters'. Pretty bad planning really, as it is normally spent getting everything sorted for her. But this year was different. Everything is different in the Langkloof.

I had a full house. A family of seven arrived for a week, and the walls of our house stretched to accomodate them all. Thoughtfully they brought their bread machine, and their popcorn machine(!) and we generally all mucked in and produced meals three times a day. But when my birthday arrived, I was not allowed into the kitchen.

My husband believes in birthdays, and on them being a day off, if possible, for the birthday girl/boy. So, no kitchen duties for me. I was ordered out, to sit under the Syringa tree to await breakfast. It duly arrived and was delicious. By the time Lex was done his was stone cold (its quite something to cook for 9 big ones and a couple of littlies.)

After breakfast the first cake arrived. Our neighbour up the gravel road made it. She lives with her very old, invalid mother, in a house filled with the aroma of potpourri. She spends a few months every year in England, and for the rest brings England to the Langkloof for us all to enjoy. Hers is a land of thin china and crystal. A world of ironed and starched linen and lace, patchwork and tapestry. We all love the teas she hosts, delicate plates of frothy lemon meringue served with little silver folks, washed down with tea. Not surprising then that the first cake of the day arrived under a glass dome, a carrot cake, with lemon icing poured over and with a single pink rose as decoration in the centre.

The second cake of the day arrived while I was out in town. We have a friend who has a history of restaurants and coffee shops. Her cakes were known far and wide and she has blessed me with a cake before. Years ago it was she who baked the moist, chokkablok carrot cake, decorated with sprigs of lavender that was our wedding cake in Greyton.
This cake, however, was altogether different. A chocolate cake, sculpted in the form of a rose, with a thick chocolate sauce poured over and running down. Decoration was sprigs of mint leaves and delicate purple flowers dancing around the rim. Stunning!

I decided that these cakes could not be eaten in my cobwebbed, sagging ceiling kitchen, but only outside someplace, under the (cloudy) big sky.
Of cause the Kouga. I love the Kouga - so named for the range of slanting mountains it is in, the long gravel road that takes you through them. A place we venture into often, keeping on, down the slightly hair raising pass, down, down, to the river.

Georgia also loves the Kouga, especially the river. We pull off the road at the bridge, ignore the private property signs (how can a river really belong...) and often, with a group, find the bend, the cliffs soaring up and from a high point, the young at heart, jump shrieking into icy depths.

But not today. Today, my birthday, we paddle at the bridge. Our friends are nervous city folk, but Jethro takes off up the steep mountains that cradle us and before long is just a high speck. I shout and order him down from a cliffs edge - because it is my birthday - and I want to relax.

Relax and eat cake. We all have a slice of each, carrot and chocolate and have to lick our fingers because I have brought no forks or spoons to eat with. And then we drive home.

Lex has planned a fire, and rolls of boerewors lie coiled in wait, when the third cake arrives. It arrives singing, with the seven children family, on the back of a bakkie, bumping over our grass. Hair streaming, smiles (laughter), they unload, guitar to the fore, and the cake emmerges from inside the cab. The wind has picked up and the cake is chocolate and covered entirely in pink rose petals. It is handed to me and we rush to protect it, petals are flying, being lifted up in the wind as I rush inside.

So, my house is full, full, full, as I am given presents. The cake is cut and nothing remains, everyone has a slice. We chat and laugh and they all leave again - the wind has whipped up the fire outside.

While I later await my wors roll I gather my gifts and cards. Cards, here in the Langkloof are handmade, often collaged with hand written poetry, bible verses or heartfelt messages. All is beautiful. All is abundance, lightness and joy.

I sleep soundly. Georgias day is already planned for tomorrow, and I am not worried. It is a day filled with promises of picnics in orchards, and burgers at restaurants, all circled round with friends.