‘Lest human voices wake us and we drown,‘ I thought to myself yesterday, answering the phone and talking with a friend in New York, reading emails, catching up with forums news and bloggers’ posts (Mary Christine celebrated 27 years sober, which takes my breath away). I know so many who find it impossible to get more than a few days together and the really admirable thing about 27 years sober is just that: 27 years without touching alcohol, achieved one day at a time.
Home again, missing the fires at night and thrill of heating an old boiler in order to bath (hot brackish water a luxury), falling asleep to the sound of the sea, walking through fynbos looking at francolins, guineafowl and outraged plovers guarding eggs. And I read Le Clezio and a book on Deep Green Resistance and an abundance of poetry, memorising a poem or more a day. The dog Satchi grew bigger and behaved very well on the whole, a sweet-narured, affectionate but stubborn puppy. The smaller dogs were impossibly excited and noisy, but we all adjusted and compromised, the housemate and friends grilled plentiful sustainable fish on the coals, we talked politics late into the night and went down to the harbour, took out a boat to the island protectorate to watch penguins and seals, drove right into the wild and ungovernable valley named after the silver bearded spiders that weave webs between bushes, explored rocky beaches and waded through forests of kelp at low tide. Scoured with salt and sunburned and blissfully tired.
The poet David Metzger:
Time unbends me
My fragments make no difference
They are children
Laughing against knowledge
Shadows grow large in the field
My window watches
Sunset swallow song
Page after page of my book
Writes thru time
Lights sewn together
My poem is bits & splinters
Darkness allows me.
The door opens.
Quail in pairs
Wobble out for seed
Scattered like stars
In random swirls around the green
Grace of bamboo
Moving supple in the wind.
The contrasts are staggering as always — the built-up resorts with massive holiday homes and guesthouses, boutique hotels, whale-watching boats that pursue and harass the Southern Right whales, sharkdiving boats: tourists dive down in cages and lumps of raw meat are thrown into the water to attract Great White sharks who go into a feeding frenzy. Motor launches, yachts, ski boats, buggies crashing around the dunes, boys with air rifles, tourists buying blackmarket supplies of rock lobster or abalone. Private security companies guarding homes and threatening locals who venture into affluent areas. New gates and fences going up everywhere, dunes torn apart for double garages, a skyline of satellite dishes, milkwood forests replaced with brick driveways and slabs of cement.
And then the poverty of the township, high unemployment, and scattered remnants of the older fishing communities that began here with the old whaling stations of the 18th and 19th centuries. The thin scarred women at the fish processing factories with faces hard as fists. People still cook in hearths and sleep on pillows stuffed with moulted penguin feathers, boiled to remove the stench. An elderly woman selling lice combs for those coming off the boats, yellowing lace doilies hung with musselcracker scales. Everyone afraid of the numbers of Great Whites coming into the bay, the overfishing and perlemoen (abalone) smuggling. The only viable industry is crime, the poaching of seafood (crabs, mussels, sea urchins as well as penguin eggs) and the boom in drugs, locally made crystal meths or tik. All the police stationed at one village had been arrested and were on trial for drug dealing and poaching.
And my former art teacher suddenly very ill so that was a worry — her son flying out from America, while she sat up in her hospital bed and planned her funeral in detail, even writing the minister’s eulogy for herself. Feisty and lucid, hanging in there. Severe renal failure, congestive heart failure, her voice just a whisper on the phone, so hard to hear that spirit quenched. But my neighbour T came through his open-heart surgery and that was good news. We could turn off the cell phone and just walk by the sea, go to the old lighthouse on the peninsula and look out at the stormy seas. Even now, spars of mast and verdigrised cultlery wash up from shipwrecks along this coast.
Out of touch with the world for a short time, but walked into a cafe yesterday and saw headlines saying Amy Winehouse was dead. A brief painful shock to think of that intense voice and jazz/soul music talent gone. She made many successful singers (Madonna, Lady Gaga) driven by ambition rather than love of the music sound thin and plastic, inauthentic. But a waste, a journey cut short too soon. And she hasn’t been present to much around her for a while now, as Russell Brand noted:
I was myself at that time barely out of rehab and was thirstily seeking less complicated women so I barely reflected on the now glaringly obvious fact that Winehouse and I shared an affliction, the disease of addiction. All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but unignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his speedboat, there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be. And of course they are. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief.