Monthly Archives: November 2015

Back to the future

breekyster 2010 045A fridge, like we all know, is an essential requirement in our everyday survival. Warm beer just isn’t healthy – especially so in the Kalahari. So, when Boggel’s trusty old fridge suddenly gave up the ghost, his customers were devastated. It’d take two weeks for another cooler to arrive with Kalahari Vervoer, which means the end of civilisation as they know it. The mood in Boggel’s Place is dark, the conversation stopped and even Vrede doesn’t seem interested in the piece of biltong Sevaas chucked his way.

“I suppose this is the end of the line,” Vetfaan sighs, “there’s just no reason to go on…”

A long, depressed silence follows the remark. A life without cold beer in Boggel’s Place? Impossible!

“Ice.” Gertruida whispers the word. “We need ice! In the old days of Kolman’s Kop and Kimberley, they delivered huge blocks of ice to the house. Somebody must simply drive to Upington and get us some.” A smile lights up her face. “Simple, isn’t it? Problem solved.”

“Yes, and by the time we get back here, we’ll have a tub of water.” Vetfaan’s remark isn’t unfounded – it’s been terribly hot lately. “We won’t get back quick enough, even if my Land Rover makes good time…which it usually doesn’t.”

“Ja,” Servaas joins in. “It’s just like the situation in the country. There is enough ice in Upington, but we won’t get it back here where it’s needed.”

“How can you compare Boggel’s fridge to the country’s problems, Servaas? That fridge is much more important than the political mayhem, the bankruptcy of SAA, the wrong trains from Spain, ESCOM’s bottomless pit and the student protests combined…and you know that!”

“Jup…those are serious matters, indeed, Gertruida…and that’s my point. We have enough money in the country – what with taxes being what they are – but the real stuff doesn’t get to the people who need them. We thought Nkandla was bad, until the pres started showing interest in a new super-plane for himself. As usual, he giggled his way through questions and told everybody he knew nothing about such things.

“The point is this: it’s no use having ice in Upington, if we cannot get it here. And there are endless protests because people are cheated out of a brighter future. It’s the same thing…”

“Maybe we could drive over to Ben Bitterbrak’s place – he’s got a solar panel to keep him going. Quite a nice arrangement, if you asked me. He’s using sunshine to keep him happy…and it’s not only free, but it works!” Vetfaan eyes the case of warm beers, shudders, and goes on: “Of course, he might not want to help; stingy old bugger that he is.”

breekyster 2010 049“On my farm I haver a cooler room, guys!” Kleinpiet’s excited statement makes them look up hopefully. “You know, one of those old-fashioned rooms with the double, perforated walls and the charcoal in between. Haven’t used it for ages, but there’s plenty of space for all the beer in Boggel’s storeroom. All we have to do, is to wet the charcoal.”

“Now that,” Vetfaan says with a sardonic sneer, “is real progress for you. From nuclear power plants in the future, to damp charcoal-cooled beer. All that is left, is to start the fire, and we can have a braai.”

The group at the bar can’t wait for Kleinpiet’s return the next day. As the minutes tick by, they start speculating that the farmer might have had an accident, or maybe fell ill…or something. It is way past midday beofe Kleinpiet finally appears at the end of Voortrekker Weg – on a borrowed donkey-cart.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he says when he finally draws up the reins in front of Boggel’s Place. “The garage in Grootdrink didn’t have petrol – apparently the drivers of the tankers are striking. Nothing in Upington either, they told me. So I had to borrow Platnees’s donkey and his cart. Anyway, here I am, and the beer is cool…”

Kleinpiet is the hero of the day. Forget about the great technical advances, the wonderful convenience of modern-day appliances and the so-called progress in world-wide politics and economics – the old ways have stood the test of time. According to Gertruida, we are far too dependent on electricity, the Internet and the goodwill of our fellow men and women across the globe. She says we have become slaves to the energy companies and the concept of democracy. That’s why, she maintains, Rolbos is such a great place to live and grow old in – the place is remote, the people care more about each other than about what the newsreader on CNN tells the world, and  their only weakness is for cold beer. Oudoom is there to keep them (more or less) on the straight and narrow. And…Kleinpiet has an ancient cooling room.

Maybe, she once remarked, the world wants too much. By constantly expecting the future to be better than the past, is like expecting education and health care  to be free. Yes, it sounds like such a good idea, but only if the professors and the doctors refuse to be paid. And, she added, if you pay peanuts, you’ll  get monkeys. She called it the ‘zoo-scenario’.

“The past will be better than the future, chaps. We might as well get used to the idea.” She’s right, of course – like always.

That’s why Boggel got the townsfolk to start building a cooling room behind his bar. He says cold beer has been around for many centuries – it’s worth investing in the past.

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The Many-headed Hyena.

hyena“It’s no use,” Gertruida says as she switches off the radio. “They’ll never stop this thing by taking out a few activists here and there. Oh, it’s good for morale and all that, but in the end, it’s pretty much symbolic.”

“Oh, come on, Gertruida…you’re in one of your black moods again. Russia and France are bombing those terrorists, and the police all over Europe are doing a magnificent job in unravelling the network of activists. How can you say it’s ‘symbolic‘?”

“All I’m saying, Servaas, is: too little, too late. Let me tell you one of !Kung’s stories…”

***

Once upon a time, many, many winters ago, the quiet life of the people living in a remote village was disrupted by a hyena. It was a huge beast, with fierce fangs and huge jaws.This hyena had developed a taste for the villager’s children, which naturally upset the parents tremendously. They held many meetings and spoke of the beast in hushed tones, calling it a coward and a thief – but still they didn’t do anything. Eventually, after yet another attack, they called on all the men in the village to hunt this animal down.

tour-dundee-04This they did, and after many bloody skirmishes, the men returned triumphantly, proclaiming their victory and boasting about their bravery. The villagers relaxed, painted many pictures of the battle on many rocks, and made up new songs for their warriors.

But, in the hills, something happened they didn’t know about. The Hyena had had a pup: a small and furry little animal that cried at night after the loss of it’s father. Some people from a neighbouring village heard the pitiful sobs, looked for and found the cute baby animal.

“What is this poor baby doing all alone? See how hungry it is! It is our duty to feed it and help it grow.”

And this is what they did. The shaman in the village took care of the pup, feeding it and making it strong again.

One day, the little hyena spoke to the shaman, telling him how bad men had hunted his father and killed him for no reason. The shaman felt exceedingly sad upon hearing this and promised the young animal that no such thing would ever happen to him.

“Look, I have cared for you,” the shaman said, “and now you’re big enough to go back into the wilds. But you’ll be hunted, like your father was. This cannot be. Here, drink this potion, it’ll protect you. No hunter will be strong enough to kill you now.”

And the young hyena took what the shaman offered, drank the potion and felt how it made him stronger. Then it left to seek out his own in the wilderness.

Some time later, some hunters found his tracks and followed it. When they saw the fully-grown hyena, they ran back to the village.

“Ayee! Ayee!” They shouted for the people to hear. “There is a hyena in the veld again. We must kill it at once!”

And so the men took their bows and arrows, their spears and knives, to go and find the hyena. This they did, and a fierce battle ensued. Eventually one of the marksmen managed to kill it with a well-aimed arrow.

“Let us cut off his head,” they said amongst themselves. “The women would be most impressed.” And this, too, was done.

While the villagers celebrated their brave warriors, a strange thing happened out there in the veld. On the corpse of the hyena, a new head grew. The shaman’s magic was working.

And the hyena continued to feed on the villager’s children, no matter how many times they hunted it down…

***

“Kung told this story about how some people never stopped doing bad things – he called them many-headed hyenas.” Gertruida nods at Boggel to order a round of drinks. “But it has a wider meaning than that. Evil – once it is nurtured and fed – will keep up it’s destructive ways once it has progressed beyond a certain point.”

“But the Muslims…”

“No, Servaas, this has nothing to do with religion. The evil isn’t confined to a certain way of believing, a certain culture or a specific race.  The evil was fed by politicians to attain political goals. But now the hyena is out there and he doesn’t need the shaman’s protection any longer. We can cut off its head many times…only to prove it’ll grow back every time.”

“So what can we do, Gertruida? Surely there must be some way…”

“It’s the most difficult problem, Servaas. The shaman created it…it must now stop feeding it. And I’m not sure that’ll happen.”

“You mean the politicians?”

“Ja, that, and the media, the religious leaders, the financiers, the suppliers, the fanatics and the fundamentalists. And I can’t see that happening. The pup has grown up. Now its got too many heads…”

A Flower for Paris

eiffel-tower_edited-1Even though Rolbos is so far away from the capitol of France, the group in Boggel’s Place gathers for a moment of silence to pray for the victims, the families and friends of the people who died there last night. Oudoom leads them in prayer – breaking the sombre silence – before sitting down slowly.

“The world is at war,” Gertruida eventually says, “but not like the wars in the past. The world is at war with itself.”

Servaas nods. “Yes, that’s true. Something horrible happened to the human race. I don’t know when, where, and how it started, but suddenly we have become a brutal mass of beings, intent on destruction.  It’s happening all over. I just don’t understand.”

“Well, over here it’s simple. The thousands of protests we have every year; all too often accompanied by the burning of busses, buildings, and such – not to mention the loss of lives; are  the result of an incompetent government.” Gertruida is lecturing again. It’s her way of rationalising – of escaping the reality of the horrors we live with every day. “We are, however, only experiencing the initial symptoms of social unrest. In it’s most advanced state,  this unrest turns into terrorism. Incompetence has nothing to do with that; it’s pure fanaticism.”

“But what happened to democracy and diplomacy? Why can’t people talk to each other any longer; you know, discuss problems and find an amicable solution?”

“You solve mathematical problems, Servaas. You can’t solve ideology.” When she sees him knitting his brows together, she explains. “Look, both democracy and ideology are forms of brainwashing. Almost the same animal, vastly different outcomes. In democracy the will of the majority is supreme. If you’re in the minority, you’re forced to accept whatever drew the most votes. So you stare at the TV every night, shake your head at the antics of politicians….but you remain a loyal citizen.

“But ideology? The backbone of ideology has nothing to do with minorities or majorities. The will of the people doesn’t count. If you dare disagree, your life is at risk. The brainwashing here is more brutal, stark in its reality and doesn’t respect the individual. Ideology demands absolute ownership of your life, your soul and even your spirit. That’s the danger.”

“But why Paris? It’s the capitol of Love, isn’t it?”

“Exactly, Servaas. Love and ideology doesn’t mix. Oh, there will be other reasons as well – France is fighting against ISIS, after all – but in the end, the attack on Paris was a cowardly expression of hate. Shooting innocent people – unarmed individuals enjoying an evening out with friends –  at random can never be seen as an act of heroism. You don’t kill people you love; you shoot those you hate. And why would a gunman open fire on a crowd? I’ll tell you: it’s because some twisted person propagated lethal violence as the means to an end. That’s ideology, be it political or religious in principle.”

“Ja, I agree.” Oudoom’s voice is tinged with emotion. “Religion is far more dangerous than all the nuclear arsenals of the world combined. Forget about an atomic war ending life on this planet. Religion will do it long before some idiot pushes the red button on the console.”

Oudoom…?” Servaas can’t believe his ears.

“It’s true, Servaas, and sadly so. Look, all the religions believe that Man was created by a Supreme Being, the ruler of the universe. That’s faith and so far, so good. But then we lose the plot by insisting we know all about Him…or Her…or It. We attribute all kinds of human characteristics to our gods, assume certain attributes and preach about God’s will – as if we have an intimate knowledge of the mind of God. That, my friend, is called religion. We have corrupted faith into various religions that suit our ways of thinking. And then…in the extreme form of this…we create an ideology, throw reality out of the window, and start hating people who differ from us. When logic fails, my friends, we use God to justify our actions. That’s fanatical ideology, the fundamental flaw of the human race that’ll be our downfall.”

“And that’s why they shot those poor people in Paris?”

“That’s my take, Servaas. I simply cannot think that God – whatever different religions might call Him – would sanction such acts. Religion can. and people seem blind to the fact.”

“So, what can we do?”

“Do what your faith tells you: that God created us all. That we have but one life on this one earth. That all life is precious. And that there is no power strong enough to destroy Love. What god would like to see his creation destroying itself? Killing others won’t get you to heaven,Servaas, it’s a sin.”

“Well, my heart goes out to all those in France.” Gertruida sighs. “Faith, religion, ideology…I don’t care how those terrorists justified it – what they’ve done is wrong. It’s sad. It’s pathetic to think somebody is so warped as to strap explosives to himself before opening fire on innocents. It is, in the end, not the action of somebody who stands up for anything. It’s the action of somebody stupid enough to die for nothing except the tears of those left behind.”

cederberg sandpoort vygiesKleinpiet walks in to the bar with a small flower in his hand. It’s a vygie, the hardy little plant that survives in the harsh climate of the Kalahari.

“I brought this,” he says, “for the people of Paris.”

Boggel places the flower in a glass of water. “That’s the religion I believe in, Kleinpiet. Thank you.”

(Read also the prediction in the fable posted in September.)

What’s in a name?

fullback “So Fiat is going to introduce a new bakkie?”

“Yes, Vetfaan. It’s called the Fullback and will be available next year.” Gertruida doesn’t add that the vehicle will be built in Thailand by a Japanese firm for the Italian company: Vetfaan still believes bakkies are unique to South Africa. “They’ll have a 4X4 version as well.”

Vetfaan doesn’t even bother to respond. If the bakkie wasn’t a 4X4, he wouldn’t have mentioned it at all.

“It’s time for you to replace the old Land Rover,” Kleinpiet says.”That thing must have a million kilos on the clock.”

69-LandRover_SIIA_88_SWB_DV-07-CA_02“It’s still as good as new. The carburettor is a bit iffy, but that’s all. And the oil leak isn’t so bad – a can a week is much cheaper than buying a new pickup.” Always fiercely loyal to his Landy, Vetfaan defends the ’69 model with pride. “Last week, on my way to Upington, I even got a speeding ticket.”

“If you’re so happy with that old thing, why did you mention the Fiat?”

“The name got to me. Fullback. The chap with the number 15 jersey. The defender, see? Just like my Landy. But – and this is where the Italians lost the plot – a fullback must also be the secret weapon: able to switch from defence to attack in he blink of an eye. Fast, strong and aggressive when needed; calm and relaxed even under the most trying conditions. A fullback never panics – he stands his ground when the odds are stacked against him.”

“Lost the plot? How can  you say that after praising the vehicle so much?”

Vetfaan turns to Servaas with a mischievous grin. “Think about it, Servaas.  They needed a name no other vehicle ever had. This is a world wide problem for all manufacturers. And the name can’t just be any old name; it has to convey a message. The buyer must feel that he’s invested in something he can trust. Now, calling it a Fullback, might seem interesting to rugby players, and that’s fine in a country where rugby is a generally accepted sport. In South Africa, however, the game of rugby has become a very controversial subject. The government insists on politicising the issue, forcing down quotas and playing the race card over and over again. Remember, too, that the buying power in the country is now situated in the income group that supports soccer. The next thing you’ll hear, is that Fiat is insensitive about our colonial past.”

“I hate that.” Servaas knits his brows together. “Why is everything associated with the past so wrong? Colonialism brought a lot of things to Africa, massively improving the way we live today. If the politicians want to do away with the remnants of colonialism, they should stop using electricity.”

“Ja, and what about suits, ties, shaving cream and panties?” Boggel blushes, glances at Gertruida and shrugs. “But facts are facts, guys. You can’t throw out Rhodes while wearing jeans and T-shirts. If the old ways were so good, why adopt the style of the coloniser? And what about English – isn’t that a legacy of old Queen Vic as well?”

“So you’d like a bakkie to represent South Africa, Vetfaan? Something that is above criticism, epitomises the culture of Africa and is undeniably indigenous?  Well, then you must find a word that encompasses defence, attack, the ability to get into trouble and out of tight spots. It must say something about traction on all kinds of surfaces, the ability to purr over rough areas and the power to wade through mud and water while not getting stuck. In fact, the name must say so much that the majority of the country will fall for it, even though it remains, in the end a Fiat. And you know what that stands for…”

“Ja, that was the old joke. First In All Trouble. Used to laugh at that twenty years ago, but I don’t think it’s true any more.” Boggel actually likes the brand.

“Still,” Kleinpiet continues, “I’d like to know what Vetfaan suggests as a name to replace Fullback.”

“That’s easy,” Vetfaan smiles smugly. “Call it a Zooma.”

The Stupidity of Ernest.

Citrus_swallowtail_Christmas_butterfly_(Princeps_papilio_demodocus)_04Ernest Swiegelaar rarely visits Rolbos, mainly because he is such a busy man. Still, whenever he phones to tell them he’s on his way, the men in Boggel’s Place perk up, get to bed early and have their weekly bath. You never know your luck, after all, if you haven’t tried your best.

Gertruida says it’s Mandy’s fault. If she had been more kind, Ernest could have been a professor by now. Still, according to the men in Boggel’s Place, Ernest should be admired for the way he survived, despite the success of his research.

Ernest studied the habitat of a very specific butterfly, with a very specific goal in mind. According to Gertruida, the little creature is called  Papilio demodocus, but the group at the bar prefers the more common (and easier to remember), Citrus Swallowtail.  When asked why a young man like Ernest would want to waste his time chasing some butterflies, Gertruida defended his actions.

“Look, we all know what happened th Ernest. It’s the old-old story on boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-his-heart and girl-dumps-boy. It is, after all, not unique in the history of male-female relationships. But, in Ernest’s case, it turned out to be a life-changing experience. At the time, Ernest was doing a Ph.D in lepidopterology, the study of butterflies, and was doing great work on pheromones.” Of course, Gertruida had to stop right there to explain what it all meant before she could continue. “So, when Mandy preferred a star rugby player and left him, his world came crashing down. He actually abandoned his studies, telling his professors that there was no point in pursuing the matter. What good, after all, could come from analyzing minute amounts of chemicals some insects secrete? He left university and hitch-hiked his way to nowhere. Just travelled and lived like a nomad.”

This much is true. However, Ernest eventually ran out of money (and space) near Union’s End, where the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia meet. He finally had to face reality, so he offered his services as a entomologist to the manager of Grootkolk Camp in the Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park. It is difficult to find game in this vast, arid region – which often resulted in tourists grumbling about the amount of money it cost to stay there in relationship to the number of animals they saw. Enter Ernest, with his vast knowledge of insects – and butterflies – who could entertain bored tourists for hours with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the world of exoskeletal creatures, moths, beetles, and…butterflies. Somehow a circle in his life was completed – the lepidopterist awoke once more.

It is here that he noticed the Citrus Swallowtail, an old favourite of his, and it is here that he started spending hours and hours studying the pretty butterflies. It is also here that his interest in the Kalahari Citrus Butterfly took a surprising turn.

The Citrus Swallowtail is rather common in Sub-Sahara Africa, but it prefers more moderate climates. In the Kgalakgadi, with the endless red sand dunes, Ernest observed two strange phenomena. First: the subtype occurring  there, didn’t lay their eggs on citrus leaves (there aren’t any). They had adapted to a small cactus-like plant, which Ernest correctly assumed contained citrus-like oils and Vitamin C. But, more importantly, he noticed that the male Citrus Swallowtail was much more successful in its mating habits than the butterflies he had studied before. He didn’t need a long time to figure it out: these Desert Citrus Swallowtails had to produce much more of the female-attraction pheromones than the ones he had studied before.

Well, it is said that you can take a born researcher out of the laboratory, but you can’t take his curiosity away. And slowly, month after month, Ernest compiled notes, observations and a number of theories. He surmised, for instance, that the reason why these male butterflies were so successful, was the harsh environment. Nature thus provided them with the super-ability to produce offspring, a simple evolutionary occurrence to ensure the survival of the species.

It was during this time that Ernest first visited Rolbos. The road to Upington had been washed away by a freak storm, leaving Rolbos (and Sammie’s Shop) as the only alternative place to replenish supplies. Like all visitors to Rolbos, it was only natural that he popped in at Boggel’s Place, where he met the group at the bar. Despite his natural reluctance to interact with strangers, Ernest found (much to his surprise) it exceedingly easy to chat with Gertruida – and it was through this conversation (and many afterwards) that Ernest finally agreed to become a scientist once more.

Ernest started contacting his old professors, much to their joy. Yes, of course, they’d love to assist him to complete his studies. Let the past be past, all is forgiven. And so, after another year, Ernest was back in the laboratory with his small colony of Citrus Swallowtails in a sizable, climate controlled environment stocked with Kalahari succulents.

***

“Ernest phoned to say he’ll be around for a week or two.” Gertruida’s announcement had a note of smugness about it. “He said the butterflies in this region proved to be superior to other areas – his previous visit showed that. Now he wants to make Rolbos his basecamp again.”

“Oh, no!” Vetfaan droped his head in his hands, making sure he didn’t spill his beer. “Last time he did that, it was chaos. Remember Oudoom’s sermons afterwards? It was really difficult to catch a bit of shut-eye when he started shouting like that.”

“Oh shush, Vetfaan. As I remember, the sermons were very necessary. Especially after the way you and Kleinpiet – and don’t forget Servaas – carried on during his last visit.”

An uncommon flush spread up Vetfaan’s neck while he tried to think of an appropriate answer. Kleinpiet came to his rescue.

“Ag, Gertruida, give us a break. Ernest succeeded in a massive scientific breakthrough. He might even be on the brink of establishing world peace….”

“Or a world war…” Servaas interrupted.

“…and he might even get the Nobel Prize.” Kleinpiet soldiers on. “Imagine that some molecule – which you can’t see and smell or taste – can have such a profound effect on men and women…men, especially.”

“It’s not the molecule that fascinates me,” Servaas said dryly.

“No, you closet Cassanova, you.” Gertruida’s scorn dripped from the words. “It’s the bevy of assistants you drool over. All of them – the beauties, the trim bodies, the pretty faces….”

“And the legs, the short skirts, the brilliant smiles…” Boggel added with a laugh.

“Ja,” Vetfaan eventually agreed with a sigh. “Such a pity they only have eyes for Ernest. It’s like being at a buffet but you aren’t able to get anything on your plate.”

“But maybe that’s a good thing, Vetfaan.” Servaas smiled. “Have you seen what he looked like, last time? Just a bag of bones. I gave him six months, but apparently he’s still at it. Quite amazing, really.”

The conversation dwindled out after that. Boggel had to lock up earlier than usual that night. The men wanted to get a bath and a good night’s sleep before Ernest and his entourage arrived the next morning. And maybe, hopefully, Ernest wouldn’t be so stuck-up to lock that precious little bottle away again like he did last time…

Gertruida’s (almost) nude sketch

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Gertruida (as we all know) is not an emotional woman. She takes life’s blows as they come and never allows circumstances to weigh her down.

Well, almost never.

Tomorrow, when Vetfaan and Boggel will discuss the incident over a couple of beers and they’ll stick to the facts…but they won’t mention the tear that found it’s way over her pale cheek this morning. That’ll be an admission of the unmentionable, a breach of confidence, a disrespectful comment of a lady they hold in such high esteem.

Still, the tear was there, even if everybody chose to ignore it. People do that, sometimes. Some call it the-elephant-in-the-room-syndrome, and others say it’s  unkind to emphasise another’s grief; but it is entirely true that we all – at times – choose not to remark about something that is patently obvious to all. Even Gertruida acted the same way: she didn’t bother to wipe away the tear, nor did she try to hide her continuous sniffing when she read the letter.

Afterwards, she left the letter on the counter. Just the letter, mind – not the sketch; that she took home. It is, after all, her very personal property now. Maybe that was her way of explaining, of making them understand. Boggel thought it was a very clever way of going about things: much better than telling them all about Mathys Willemse and that summer of ’72. After all, they were all young once and they all did things they will remember with a smile although they’ll never talk about it. When you’re young, life is a kaleidoscope of missed chances. When you’re old, you cry about the beauty of those moments.

My dear Gertruida,

I asked the nurse to write this note as my condition does not allow me to do so myself. I trust Nurse Groenewald – she promised to keep this confidential. In a certain way, she reminds me of you, all those years ago.

Don’t be surprised to receive a letter from me. We may have met – and parted – many years ago, but I’ve kept the memory of those weeks sacred – and fresh – in my mind. Even now, despite the white sheets and the beeping machines – I can recall the sound of your voice, the touch of your hand. It is a great comfort in these days. If this is a cause of embarrassment to you, I apologise. But to me, it is the most wonderful memory.

By the time you receive this – so the doctors tell me – I will know more about Life’s greatest mystery. I’m looking forward to that. But, before I go, I have to finalise a few things while I can. My will is a simple one; you know how much I loved Nature. My remaining paintings (oh, how you encouraged the young artist!) will be auctioned and the proceeds used in the fight against poaching. It seems a fitting farewell for somebody who enjoyed the wide landscapes and the animals of our lovely country.

But – and you’ll understand this – I cannot sell your sketch. That would be wrong.

Remember that evening on the beach? I’m sure you do. The sun was just setting and the gulls were settling down for the night. They were our only company. And I took out my pad and you asked me why I was looking at you in such a strange way. I couldn’t answer then. I’ll try to answer now.

You see, at that moment I saw my Gerty, the real Gerty. I stripped you of your academic achievements (of which there were many!), and the faux air of superiority you spent so much effort in maintaining. I saw a young woman, a beautiful lady, a lonely girl – in all simplicity.

When I didn’t answer, you gave a little laugh and walked on, to sit down on the rocks amongst the gulls. Funny, they didn’t seem to mind. Maybe they recognised a kindred spirit: a restless soul, constantly moving on even if they stayed in the same place. It’s a paradox of life, isn’t it Gerty? We move and move…and seldom change who we are. No matter how wide we spread our wings, we cannot deny our inner identity.

So I sketched you as I saw you. Called the work ‘Restless’, with you as an off-centre central figure and the rocks and the sleeping birds around you. Over the years it hung in my gallery and I’ve had so many offers to buy it – but of course I couldn’t sell it at all. This was my sketch, my rock, where I could be calm and at peace. Even now, it hangs on the wall next to me.

I do believe I never told you I loved you. Silly me. I should have. But I knew – even back then – that an artist’s art is a fragile thing. It’s a jealous gift that demands all. If I have to explain (it is difficult!), I’ll say that art cannot be diluted by love. Art requires torment; it is the fuel that keeps the fire burning. And, Gerty, an artist without fire is an artist without grace. It is the anguish of Life that forces the painter to depict the beauty of existence.

And, of course, you had to move on, as well. You were on the brink of a brilliant career (yes, I followed it. Dakar was one of your finest moments!), a journey that would take you to explore a world that didn’t include me. We were both adult enough to know that. I understood that you were part on my anguish, part of my future in the most painful way possible. And I embraced the feeling, because I knew you were part of my journey to artistic excellence.

So now, with the curtain coming down on my stage, I return the sketch to you, where it belongs. It is – even though I say so myself – my best work. This is the way I remember you. Despite the years, you remain the lovely girl I drew back then. You didn’t age. Nobody hurt you along the way. The sun, my dearest, never set in that picture. The gulls didn’t fly away, nor did they die. They remain there, around you, quietly preparing for the night.

I do apologise for another thing. You’ll notice that I drew you as  saw you. Don’t be shy about the absence of clothing – you’ll notice that I respected your mage in the picture. But, dear Gerty, that was (is?) you. A pretty, wonderful, restless creature with a brilliant mind, and the kindest heart. That’s why, I think, you said goodbye afterwards. 

You understood…

And now I must say farewell. My journey is at its end and it’s time for me to explore the great unknown. I just wanted to put the finishing touches on the canvas of our picture – the one you have in your heart.

With all my love,

Mathys.

When Gertruida walks in to Boggel’s Place tomorrow, she’ll smile and greet them the usual way.

And then they’ll talk about the weather.

Weekly Photo Challenge: African Treat with Italian Flare.

Africa is the world’s best Treat Continent, without any doubt. The variety of surprises – the whole spectrum of them – is enough to lure you back again and again. A typical day on a recent trip serves as an example.

t1The road seemed to go on and on – a never ending strip of gravel through an endless terrain. No rushing here: a mishap might leave you stranded for days.

t3The desert gave way to stunted bush as the sun set. A lonely giraffe ignored us as we drove past. How far to go still? The map wasn’t of much help. The other question involved the camping site: what was it like? Booking a place where you’ve never been remains a risk, especially in Africa… But, bone tired and hungry, we pressed on.

t1

Oh. My. Word!!! Was that the ablution block? A long-drop and bucket ensemble to freshen up after a day like that?

t2Well, set up camp, clean up, get the fire going, and then consider the options. There’s a lodge not far away – maybe we could take our chances and enquire about having dinner there? Two beers later, the decision was made. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

x6And…surprise! At Shakawe Mario turned out to be the best pizza-maker in Africa! Imported from Italy, he did his heritage proud. What a meal – what a treat!

And that’s the treat of Africa. Forrest Gump’s famous line rings true here: Life is like a box of chocolates….