The Lost Garden

All I ever wanted was a garden. My teenage years in the densely constructed part of Sunnyside in Pretoria presented no gardening opportunities or experience other than always being late for school because I stopped to smell the flowers or pick blooms from the gardens of the beautiful old historical houses en-route.

So when I moved into a tiny suburban house with a huge yard as a young wife and mother, I dug a big bed in the middle of the lawn, scattered packets of flower seeds into the rested fertile soil (not able to afford proper plants), and perceived the magic every day in the company of the eldest who assisted with a big spoon and a colourful plastic watering can wearing only nappies and a muddy smile – the mud would be soaked from his chubby body and blonde curls at dusk in deep bubble baths that lasted for hours in those fun, carefree days. (He is now 29).

The flower bed bloomed excessively for many years through all seasons even after it became lawn again (and I was responsible for weeding the stubborn flowers from the costly rolled lawn) in favour of a more grown-up garden with real serious plants that were positioned according to carefully designed diagrams.

My passion however continued in the backyard where an area was allocated to me for planting my curious variety of flowers, vegetables, herbs, trees and even maize. Whatever I planted grew wild and abundantly for no reason other than the addition of water and love and perhaps also the whispering of stories – which I only realized today after reading an excerpt on artist *Paula van Coller Louw’s website about her series of paintings titled ‘Nurturing Hive’.

One day the unmanageable beehive in the shed next to my garden was professionally removed by a team of spacemen who were curiously observed by my children from a safe distance behind closed windows. Afterwards, we ate some of the honey…..

Strangely, it was not long after this incident that the marriage ended bitterly in divorce and my beloved garden was forever lost.

*”… This cycle would not be possible without the industrious bee whose ability to see the secret UV light of pollen ensures that fertilization and regeneration take place. There is an ancient belief that telling one’s stories to the bees in one’s garden will keep them from leaving and sustain their nurturing presence. Painting is also a means to share one’s story: to use light and colour to share and capture a moment, however brief, and extend it forever. Through this creative bee-keeping act, the flowers of the artist’s own life-garden are perpetually fertilized and nurtured.”

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Lost in Translation

Most of the cooking in our home is done by my life-partner Aldo. I had become somewhat ‘cooked out’ after accidentally surviving a previous life that related to the subject, many years ago. 

 

Do not ever ask him to braai though. It interferes heavily with the way that he styles a kitchen – sexy shirt, apron, wine, utensils, shiny pots, the most amazing dishes in neat temperature controlled conditions, gorgeous bowls and plates and cutlery and not far from his beloved TV, which is the closest he comes to ‘enjoying’ a braai – with programs like ‘Laat die Potte Prut’ or ‘Kom Ons Braai’ or the likes of many others on the Afrikaans Dstv channel ‘Via’ – engagingly commenting on other people’s sweaty digging in hot smoky fires or god forbid their wiping the charred remnants of a previous attempt from the ‘rooster’ with rumpled pieces of newspaper.  

 

From the last tenants of a little cottage that we once rented in Franschhoek we inherited a ‘braai’ which is sometimes used on alluring days very similar to today, when the spring birds start singing early, the sun shines chirpily and ideas about where to pitch the pool this summer enter our conversations. Potato salad is made and the outside table laid out with early seasonal flowers from the garden and pastel coloured tableware. All very festive and pretty until the braaing part sets in, generally ending badly and tends to completely fall apart at the seams in the late afternoon with Aldo loudly cursing the fiery hell and burnt meat; dirty, angry and drunk. 

Unless of course somebody else is braaiing and his only involvement is to serve beautiful gin and tonics herbed up with twigs of rosemary and slices of lime that gets everybody happily intoxicated and the days end with laughter and dancing on the stoep.

 

As a direct result of fallow neglect, the iron legs of the gifted braai eventually rusted through and it was dumped in a scrap metal heap in the backyard. But as it goes when summer knocks and winter spirits lift with inspirations of renewal and positive change, I started thinking about a hip(py-ish) little braai area that could easily be re-constructed from the recycled drum of the braai and some big farmland rocks, encircled with log seats (also from the backyard dump) and large vibrant cushions to establish a beachy/bushveldy vibe. I imagined joyful balmy evenings around the fire when the kids are home for the holidays, their youthful bronzed bodies in loosely tied colourful kikois and their long student hair bleached from the sun after days spent surfing; the eldest on his guitar and the middle child braaiing…Aldo and the youngest serving up drinks and snacks and stories….

 

So when old uncle Ernest came around last week – (he has this aptness to sporadically just arrive unannounced every few weeks from the local rural village where he lives not too far away, to help me around the house) – I excitedly shared my vision with him and asked him to assist and get things going with the project as I had other responsibilities away from home on that day. Aldo doesn’t ‘do’ outside unless it’s a beach so I could not wait to get home later to see his delighted surprise at my inventive plan to create a fun outdoor family recreation area for everybody to love! 

 

Unfortunately, as with many of my ambitious domestic and gardening imaginings, (also suddenly remembering the last pruning episode with the assistance of dear old uncle Ernest), I soon realized that the visual intrigue of the movie in my head, yet again, became lost in translation.

 

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Die Hospitaal Plan

As ‘n indiensnemings voorwaarde in die jare toe ek nog ’employable’ was in ‘n formele werksomgewing, of liewer in ‘n korporatiewe kopsmokkelary (in my geval), moes ek ‘n hospitaal-plan bewys of my werkgewer sou dit namens my uitneem, teen my salaris, as deel van die ‘groepsplan’ omskryf deur ‘n gesofistikeerde maatskappy, met dieselfde voordele as die meer ‘grassroots’ een wat ek teen halfprys  aangeskaf het nadat ek dit raakgesien het op ‘n omslagtige promosiefliek waarop ek gereageer het terwyl ek mindless voor die tv gesit het op ‘n afdag toe ek vermoedelik alreeds uitgebrand was.

Die addisionele voordeel vir begrafnisdekking was uit die aard van die saak op daardie stadium oorbodig omdat vriende en familie erg vervaag wanneer mens nie soos ‘n helder ster fokken skyn nie en ek het altyd geglo dat mens verniet in jou agterplaas onder ‘n boom ter ruste gelê kan word. Nou het ek ongelukkig nie meer my eie huis nie en wil nie noodwendig onder ‘n ander ou se boom lê nie, so hulle sal maar ‘n plan moet maak daar by die lykshuis.

Anyway, so het ek toe nou die hospitaal plan wat in al die jare nooit gebruik is nie want ek was te besig. En toe was ek te depressed en toe het ek opgehou betaal vir obvious redes. Vir drie maande het ek toegekyk hoe beep die onbetaalde aftrekorder op my foon en my net vererg oor al die kanse wat mens dan kan kry om te survive en die volgende oomblik laat die bank my weet dat hulle my rekening gevries het as gevolg van die hoppende fokken aftrekorder.

Nou moet ek verskeie dokumente en bewyse lewer om my rekening te ont-vries. Jirre. Eers was ek sad oor al die herinneringe want dit was my heel eerste bankrekening wat ek meer as 30 jaar gelede oopgemaak het by die Hatfield Standard Bank in Pretoria toe ek in Matriek was. Deur verskeie huwelike en naamsveranderings oor baie jare het ek aangehou om allerlei ekstra geld daarin te stort en is onbenullige goed soos hospitaalplanne daarvan afgtrek en selfs eenkeer geld vir ‘n ‘getaway’ huis wat ek gehuur het om te ontsnap van my tweede man, maar dit het maande gevat en erg geknaag aan die spaargeldjies – en toe weer om nog verder weg te kom na ‘n ander provinsie toe – maar tog mettertyd herstel en die ou rekeninkie het my nog menige male daarna uit die verknorsing gered en dan weer vir maande leeg gestaan, so VRIES is duidelik ‘n splinternuwe benadering om mense te forseer om hulle geld onder die matras te spaar.

Ek strip my moer en besluit dat hulle maar hulle rekening kan druk. En met die is ek sommer uit my depressie uit en reg vir baklei en skielik bekommerd oor my hospitaal plan. Ek bel en sê dat ek van rekening verander het en dat hulle asseblief voortaan die aftrekkings van my ander rekening moet maak  en sommer die agterstallige bedrag dadelik moet aftrek. Nee sê die man, dit werk nie so nie – ek het nou ongelukkig al die voordele verloor en moet ‘n nuwe plan uitneem en hy val weg met ‘n verduideliking dat mens nie meer verwys daarna as ‘n hospitaal plan nie, maar ‘n “Health Plan”, en dat ek op 65 die helfte van die premies kan terug kry indien ek nie eis nie. ‘So much for that then’ en ek lag want nou het ek sommer ook die duurste spaarplan ooit…maar ek sê dis reg.

“Wait” sê hy, “we have to update your information first” en so word nog ‘n uur van my lewe gemors op administrasie oor die foon. By ‘beneficiary in case of death’ vra hy of dit dieselfde bly en ek sê eers ja maar toe nee want ek kon nie onthou nie en vra wie…”rêrig?!”…en ek’s vir die eerste keer in ‘n lang tyd bly dat ek survive het anders het die dooies wat my uitgelaat het my bloedgeld gekry. “So who do you want me to enter as the new beneficiary ma’m?” En ek dink…ek dink aan my lewensmaat en ek wonder of die geld vir hom vryheid kan koop en ek dink aan die oudste en ek wonder of die geld vir hom sukses kan koop en ek dink aan die middelkind en wonder of dit vir hom vrede kan koop en ek dink aan die jongste en ek wonder wat sy pa met die geld sal maak en ek wonder en ek wonder…”ma’m?”

“I want to invest in the funeral plan please. Yes, the most expensive one – with a tent among the fynbos and a stunning mountain view to strew the ashes and lots of festive food and loads of flowers and Orchids and the best wine and a dance floor and a DJ and a disco ball and a big party bus to transport my family and friends safely. Everybody will be welcome. And then, if there is any money left, (which I hope not), you can divide it by 4”

Retrieved

I read an interesting article this morning about ‘bromance’ – ‘The Greatest Bromances in Art History’ by Rachel Lebowitz (Artsy Editorial), which included a reference to the close friendship that developed between Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia after they met in Paris in 1911 when Marcel was 25 years old.

Not only did their friendship  “..come with an added dimension of collaboration or mentorship..” that motivated both their careers, it also impacted positively on their personal lives with “…shared experiences ranging from a night at the theater that was influential for Duchamp’s art-making, to a long car trip to retrieve Picabia’s wife from the eastern Jura Mountains.”

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Now here is the difference between real bro-love and a ‘let the bitch die’ kind of Saturday-night-at-the-braai friendship fueled often by alcohol and a display of assumed macho narratives that support massive ego’s which interestingly often accomplishes the downfall of many and not their development, and maybe even inspires a backwards kind of progress.

Imagine being ‘retrieved’! Going off on your own adventure while your hubby advances his career and intellect in the company of his bro, who is then also first in line to assist when ‘retrieving’ becomes necessary, even willing to go the extra mile to assert the friendship by defending its extended relationships through ‘retrieving’ and not ‘trashing’….

I was married twice and had many adventures which sometimes expired in a prerequisite for retrieval but sadly I somehow always ended up having to save myself while being trashed by the bro’s for doing things that do not resemble their ideals of power and control over their woman and the women of their bro’s…and which concluded badly for all involved.

And in a kind of divine test, three sons were born from those marriages and I now have the responsibility to teach them about being a bro who ‘retrieves’ and not a bro who ‘trashes’.

Tripping

In a most pleasant intervention, I was accompanied by a friend on a trip to Hermanus. A gallery that I am involved with in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley requires a new website – expert advice really – on all media applications. So off we went on a mission that involved much chatting and catching up along the way.

The friend is a skilful sightseer with knowledge of the most intriguing places, as well as a professional graphic designer and the research/work part of the day was accomplished in a jiffy. We took the scenic Route 44 home. I have never stopped in Pringle Bay and always rush past thinking that I know enough from my boys’ surf stories….

The light of the setting sun basked the town in a golden glow that reflected from the rocky surface of ‘Hangklip’ and surrounds and I felt great joy from the beauty.

Unfortunately, the ‘Plankies’ bar at the Hangklip Hotel was closed and no celebratory sundowners could be had. As we travelled on, the “predikants-dogter” side of my friend transpired and it turns out that she knows everything about everybody on that route and what happens in every pub right down to Gordons Bay (where she lives).

We stopped at a number of places but decided to reserve our sundowners for somewhere closer to her home, but by that time all the good places were so full that we ended up in a small neighborhood bar that has an adjacent room with gambling slot machines – bad, bad energy that luckily somehow dissipated after a glass of wine and some live entertainment by a charming singer with a great voice.

I so enjoyed being out with a girlfriend which seldom happens anymore due to the trying balance of work and family life, and so did she, that we had another glass of wine. Some interesting characters were hanging at the counter and became friendly as a result of my friend’s positive demeanour and larger than life personality and it was not long before they were showing off their steps and we too started dancing. Mostly with each other but some boogying with the locals amounted to much fun and many photo ops!

After a round of tequilas, our best moves emerged and the singer even dedicated a song to us! We were fabulous and wisely decided to leave on that very high note before the fame affected us.

On the way home, however, we became distracted… Her hubby was out and about on his own mission, my partner was at an after work function, the youngest had a sleepover at a friend’s house and the eldest was home with the animals – and it WAS still early… so we popped into another pub with a funky young touristy crowd and amazing new music played by a middle-aged female DJ with the appearance of an “afrikaanse tannie” – which I found delightfully amusing.

Of course, my friend knew the owners of the establishment (around the corner from them) and we each immediately received a hearty Bloody Mary on the house. More dancing and fabulousness followed and I realised that it was turning into a party so I sent a message to our family WhatsApp group that I was going to rather stay over and not drive home (to Franschhoek).

I have known my friend’s husband for more than 30 years and it would be good to catch up with him as well. However, the next thing my phone was going crazy. Angry messages and terrible accusations – astonishment about my shocking and irresponsible behaviour.

So I thought about it for a second – I am almost 50 years old, all dependent family members and animals were accounted for and safe, I was drinking in a designated public area with applicable licencing in a relatively harmless suburb, my partner was also out, it was a Friday night and I was dancing and not stressing about work, kids or housework for a change with a good friend and some locals and some tourists – I was not doing anything wrong or inappropriate or against the law.

A voice note suggested that I could be fetched so I put the phone away in my bag where the alerts were blocked by the noise (and missed 11 consecutive calls)…

But Suddenly my joy was gone. I felt old and sad and guilty and exactly like the terrible person that I was made out to be. Unable to continue dancing with my fabulousness now gone, I dragged my feet to the bar, abandoned the glorious tomato red cocktail, ordered soda water and resorted to taking photos of the happy human experiences of other people’s lives for the rest of the evening.

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We stopped at the garage to buy fresh warm pies and coffee which we ate and shared in the car before I dropped off my friend and hit the long road home shortly after 1 am. Travel time from Gordons Bay to Franschhoek is more than an hour and I arrived at our gate at 2:20 am.

The front door was locked and with a heavy heart, I knocked on the bedroom window catching a glimpse through the curtain of a concerned blinking angels eye…or was it the devil’s green glare…or maybe just a phone light flashing?

How to slay an unexpected devil.

In the daily activity of warding off devils, I am sometimes caught off guard and was recently surprised by a particularly potent evil. This was a sneaky one – disguised as a long lost family member who had suddenly become concerned with the well-being of my partner after an absence from his life for almost three decades.

We must have seemed really happy in those Facebook posts that announced our almost ten years together!

Shortly after arrival, I was advised clearly by the assiduously groomed and meticulously well-informed visitor that she had come to assess my legitimacy. (Whatever that may mean!).

Thank goodness I specially cleaned the house, cooked a great meal, decanted the dooswyn, set the table and warned the children to be on their best behaviour. I even hired somebody to help me clean-up outside a little. Yes, it certainly is no longer a cheap round to attempt a good impression.

I remember thinking after they departed that I will never, ever do this again for anybody, ever again in my life – you will find me as I am from now on. And for any future seekers of ‘legitimacy’ – I sure hope you find me when the house is clean and there is actually food in the fridge.

Fortunately, our devil was not one of those heavyweights who capture unsuspecting victims, reduces them to a pulp over many years and then leaves them to die at the side of the road. She was a walk in the park in comparison but nevertheless extremely forceful; a one night only coup d’etat.

The carefully constructed façade came undone slowly in the flickering candlelight at our impeccably curated dinner table. At first it was only the protruding claws and long dirty nails that became visible as it started picking at plasters and scars of recent and historical wounds; specifically aimed at overthrowing my authenticity but harming my loved one instead and my empath kicked into autopilot. I checked my sword. It was however not our first ever onslaught of this kind so I remained playful and continued to tend to the comfort of our dragon, graciously ignoring indiscretions and allowing the benefits of fair play while eagerly anticipating any signs of love.

It was not long before the perfect conditions constituted for a complete and full unveiling of the demon. Light bounced off salivating fangs, gleefully licking scabs and grazed skin from monstrous claws, beady eyes darting with excitement; challenging my good-natured reaction after every abrasion in order to gain ultimate power through shaming, guilt-tripping and embarrassing her hosts.

From the experience of being an accidental survivor, I luckily no longer wonder about people who enjoy creating drama and exposing dark secrets and stories about others for narcissistic gain and I follow a single simple rule – KILL IT (THERE AND THEN).

So when I detected a shift in my partner’s eyes, almost like storm clouds moving over a bright full moon, (after a particularly victimising comment with overtly sexual undertones), I prepared for battle. He growled softly as he left the table and I responded with deep loud laughter to avert the attention which threw the devil off guard for a bit, just long enough for my partner to recover and gather his weapons, returning calm and composed to the table armed with a bottle of tequila and four embellished Moroccan tea glasses.

The advent of the looming battle made me shiver as the adrenaline kicked in. He filled the glasses only half with the strong clear liquid and toasted me first. Our eyes met in silent accord, I winked, he nodded and simultaneously blew the last of the day’s guardian angels off his shoulder while lifting his glass. The shooting star faded as it hit the ground and we entered the abyss of darkness in full force, alone.

I took one sip to calm my nerves and then used the attention of the other toasts to bump the content of my tea glass into my water glass (knowing my weaknesses all too well) and unleashed a personal set of weaponry. My partner smiled surreptitiously at my first choice, not at all startled by the sudden earsplitting volume of Earth Wind and Fire’s ‘Fantasy’ while he swiftly led the dance and in unison we removed obstacles from the battlefield in preparation, returning to his own weapons in-between songs to fill the tea glasses.

Our devil had become confused from the sudden transference and my deceit went unnoticed as I regularly emptied my water glass in the kitchen. In defence mode now, the long claws and heavy armour had become clumsy in a battle that required a lightness of being.

The playlist started in the 70’s and by the 80’s the enemy was still frozen from shock and noise, unable to inflict any pain in the face of so much fun and laughter – ‘Get(ting) Into the Groove’ – and resorted to gaslighting; shooting fireballs from an ugly forked tongue.

I was hit in the 90’s and my partner in the 2000’s but we persevered and sometimes taunted – ‘Strong Enough to Live Without You’ – while fueling the dragon with alcohol to the point of gradual self-combustion as a result of the bewildering circumstantial forces which caused the swallowing of words, or rather fireballs.

By 2017, ‘Starboy’ concluded the battle in our favour at around 4:00 am.

Wounded and tired we dusted off the ashes and swept the last of the burned-out devil into the early morning dawn of a new day and whispered softly to each other: “stay in the light baby”.