Had a long steaming bath and slept for nine hours.
Years ago when I was going through a bad time, feverish with drink and a disrupted sleep pattern, I would lie in the dark and think about lines from Shakeapeare on sleep and insomnia, his great insomniac kings troubled by guilt and premonitions of death in their medieval bedchambers with rats in the wainscoting. Macbeth and King Henry IV.
‘Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care’
‘where unbruised youth with unstuff’d brain
Doth couch his limbs, there golden sleep doth reign’
And my favourite:
‘O sleep! O gentle sleep!
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?’
I am not a closet Shakespearean scholar, I Googled them to check what I had misremembered.
Sober, I sleep on plane flights, through emotional devastation, through political turmoil, through heat waves and bitter cold nights. Hot baths, sleep, green tea and taking life one day at a time. Those are my secret weapons against picking up that first drink. I would add ‘meetings’, but that is not possible right now. And blogging. Reading blogs and commenting, and writing blogs and reading comments. Cyber sobriety for the 21st century.
When I came into the kitchen this morning, there were small house martins and sparrows flying around and perching on light fittings. No sign of the semi-feral cats. I enjoy living with birds nesting in the eaves of an old cottage. The rooms have very high ceilings in yellowwood that date back to the begining of the last century or earlier. The original loft runs the length of the cottage and the rooms are spacious. All the windows look out onto leafy trees and flowering bushes with views across fields to the mountains at the front of the house.
It is not an easy country to live in, but it is very beautiful.
Two hundred years ago, the Khoisan tribes, nomads with small herds of cattle, wandered through this valley and watered their animals beside the streams, sheltered in the caves of the mountains. They followed the path taken by the graceful eland (buck) through the mountains, what is today called Elandskloof Pass. The Khoisan were nomadic pastoralists, farmers who composed poetry and sang and made beadwork.
The most famous Khoisan woman in South African history is called by a derogatory nickname, the ‘Hottentot Venus’.
Her real name was Sarah or Saartjie Baartman and she was born in 1789. She was working as a slave in Cape Town when British ship’s doctor William Dunlop persuaded her to travel with him to England. We’ll never know what she had in mind when she stepped on board –- of her own free will — a ship for London.
Dunlop wanted to display her as a ‘freak’, a ‘scientific curiosity’, and make money from these freak shows.
Baartman had unusually large buttocks and genitals, and in the early 1800s Europeans were arrogantly obsessed with their own superiority, and with proving that others, particularly blacks, were inferior and oversexed.
Baartman’s physical characteristics, not unusual for Khoisan women, although her features were larger than normal, were ‘evidence’ of this prejudice, and she was exhibited naked in London in front of crowds of mostly men.
Then she was taken to Paris. Once the Parisians got tired of the exhibit, she was forced to turn to prostitution. She died in 1815 at the age of 25.
The cause of death was given as ‘inflammatory and eruptive sickness’, possibly syphilis. She was known as an alcoholic. She lived and died thousands of miles from home and family, abandoned in a hostile city, with no means of getting herself home again.
The French scientist Cuvier made a plaster cast of her body, then removed her skeleton and, after removing her brain and genitals, pickled them and displayed them in bottles at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.
When the poet Diana Ferrus learned that Baartman’s remains were still in this museum, she wrote a poem for her and in 1994 Nelson Mandela organised for the body of Sarah Baartman to be brought home and buried with dignity in South Africa, on the banks of a river in the Eastern Cape.
‘I’ve come to take you home –
home, remember the veld?
the lush green grass beneath the big oak trees
the air is cool there and the sun does not burn.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white
and the water in the stream chuckle sing-songs
as it hobbles along over little stones. ‘
Women and alcoholism. Women and slavery. Women and racism.
On the wine farms around here, the women who work on the hot slopes amongst the vines are still paid on the old dop sytem. A dop is Afrikaans for a drink. They are given litres of cheap wine to supplement their meagre payments, as part of their wages. It is illegal to do this, but the system has been going on for centuries and the farmers ignore the law. They say that it keeps the workers happy at weekends and ensures they will not run off to the cities in search of higher wages. The Western Cape has the highest statistics in the world for foetal alcohol syndrome .
Maybe I should go and have another hot bath or drink some green tea. I am so lucky and grateful to be sober myelf and I feel so helpless much of the time.