Tag Archives: lifestyle

Photo Challenge: The Road Taken..

...less travelled, please! Remote. Isolated. Away… And oh! What beauty and serenity awaits once the sham of civilisation is left behind.015.jpgOnce the call of The Great Silence manages to entice you away from your desk, your computer and your mortgage bills, there is a road that’ll take you to Tranquility. But you must first escape.

057.jpgAt times, one may be excused for feeling a bit lost – after all, entering unknown regions may prove daunting…but keep on following the tracks. IMG_4655.JPGDon’t hesitate. Not even when it seems as if the road leads to Nowhere. Keep the faith.IMG_4857.JPGGear down. Deflate the tyres if you have to. But keep going.IMG_0344a.jpg.And then, suddenly, a new world unfolds. It’s simple. Unpretentious. You set up camp in a completely new mindset. And, for the first time, you notice the green world you’ve been ignoring for far too long…

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The Charmer, Vetfaan’s Gout and Immortality

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Paul Trouillebert: The naked snake charmer

Whenever Vetfaan is asked about the sexy girl he had met that fateful summer’s day, he blushes, stutters and tells you to mind your own business. Should you persist, a rather unpleasant exchange of a more physical nature is sure to follow.

The problem involves the fact that this waif of a girl – somewhere between mid-thirty and menopause – had the body of an athlete and the ageless wisdom some women seem to possess.

It was a particularly hot day, with heat shimmers rising and warping the scenery of the Kalahari. The distorted surroundings often create a surrealistic symptoms-of-gout-in-the-toe.jpgatmosphere, especially if the traveller is new to the area. Vetfaan, being a born-and-bred son of the region, simply failed to notice the visual impact of the heatwaves. His attention was focussed on the joint where his big toe joined his foot.

Now, anybody who has had some experience with gout, will understand the degree of pain and discomfort poor Vetfaan endured that morning. He had already eaten a handful of black cherries, drank two litres of water, ate three lemons and packed his foot in ice. Nothing helped. The throbbing, red, painful joint insisted on swelling up even more, forcing Vetfaan to take off his boot while driving to Upington, where he hoped to see the new doctor he had heard so much about.

Well, heat waves may have escaped his attention…the girl in the middle of the road did not. No Kalahari-man will ever drive past a stranded woman. Especially if she’s beautiful. Or wears a revealing, short skirt. Or stands  in the middle of the road, aiming a short-barrelled  .38 at you. In this case, the woman in question had ticked all these boxes, and Vetfaan did, indeed, stop.

She was unapologetic about the gun, saying a girl could never be sure who would stop to offer help.

“Listen, I’ve been around. I’m a woman. You’re a man. It all adds up.”

“What does?” Vetfaan didn’t understand.

She ignored his question, picked up her bag and got in. “Drive slowly and don’t make an accident. I’ve had enough trouble in my life.”

“What’s wrong with your vehicle?”

She eyed him for a full minute before answering. “Mam doesn’t like the smell of petrol. Neither do I, for that matter.”

“Mam?”

She rolled her eyes heavenward in exasperation. “Mam. My snake. Short for mamba.”

To recount the disjointed conversation that followed, would involve many pages of blank looks and horrid stares and still-born sentences. The short version: Mimi – she of no fixed abode and rather limited means – made a living as a snake charmer. She also treated various  health conditions, communicated with departed family members and had once sat as a model for a famous artist.

“That’s immortality, understand? Paintings don’t grow old and die. Oh, the paint the artist used, might get a bit flakey,but the picture? It remains as beautiful as the day the brush touched the canvas.”

By the time they reached Upington, Vetfaan was completely confused.  His passenger was either completely mad, or perhaps the most interesting woman he had ever met. Fascinated by the possibilities, he asked her to join him for coffee before his appointment with the doctor.

“Doctor? What for?”

He explained. She suggested moxibustion. Vetfaan said the people in the Northern Cape frowned on polygamy. She laughed.

japanese-moxibustion.jpg“No, it’s not that, silly man! I burn a herb on your toe, and you feel better. Moxi-bustion…the burning of mugwort.  It’s an old Chinese trick. see? Mugwort, that’s the herb – is what you need. I’ve got some.”

Vetfaan claims to be the first man in the Kalahari to have undergone moxibustion. There, on the front seat of his old Land Rover, his strange passenger rolled a few mugwort fibres into a little ball and placed it on his swollen toe. He watched, horrified, as she lit the potion with a small gas lighter and was amazed that he felt no pain.

“The swelling will go down now,” she said, “but I must go. Mam needs something to eat and you’re too nice. And…I must still find my two friends. I’ll just keep on looking, even if it takes forever. So, thank you and bye-bye.”

Vetfaan watched, dumbfounded,  as she sauntered down the street, swinging her bag casually as she strode along. He ran a hand over his still-bare foot and sighed with relief when he noticed how much better it felt. By the time he had his sock and boot back on, Mimi was nowhere to be seen.

On his way back to Rolbos, Vetfaan stopped at her abandoned vehicle. On the back seat he found an old shoe-box with a dead rat in it. Mam’s supper?  In the boot, another box – a lot bigger, containing three pieces of art.

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It was Gertruida who told Vetfaan about the girls and the great portrait artist, Paul Désiré Trouillebert. “The Young Girl, the Harem Girl and the Snake Charmer were all painted by the same man, Vetfaan. Remember, Trouillebert was a landscape artist – he abandoned his attempts at portrait works because he fell in love with the girls in his painting – like all artists do. The real, flesh-and-blood subjects were admired for their beauty, but the paintings became the loves of his life – because they were immortal. Time would not decay their beauty, neither would the lovely faces and bodies sag and become wrinkled.”

“Immortal? Really? Are you saying that I…?”

“Either that, Vetfaan, or you’ve lost your mind.” Gertruida shrugged. “I don’t know which is worse…”

Gertruida’s Hope

Judge Gericke sits down on the bed with a sigh. Life can be so complicated at times! At the point of his life when retirement changed from being a reward  for a lifetime of service to society, into the prelude to death, he now has to deal with issues he’s not at all comfortable with. To many new things have suddenly become part of his life. Discovering the son he’s wondered about so much, has become a mixed blessing. Relocating to this dusty little town? Well, the jury is still out on that one. And now this kind, intelligent woman convinced him to move into her library – and woke up feelings he has always been at pains to ignore.

Love.

The word stumbles through his brain like a groggy bull in a china shop, upsetting everything in its wake.  Oh, he’s always had an open mind about people living together and caring for each other. That, at least, he has no problem with. But to have his own son in a relationship with another man? That really cuts a bit close to the bone. The truth? He’ll be happy if his son is happy; it’s just that such a relationship may very well turn out to be a minefield of problems. What about the attitude of the small, conservative community in the district? The little he knows about his son, makes him uneasy as well. Frans is an intense, reclusive sort of man – should this relationship turn sour, the effect may quite well be catastrophic.

And then there’s Gertruida. He has never met a woman with such an intellect. And … she’s quite good-looking, as well. Even … sexy! Despite the pale hue his face has taken to over the last few months, he feels himself blushing.  Come on, Kobus Gericke, you’re almost seventy. You have leukaemia. Death awaits. And now – now you’re thinking like a schoolboy? You’re a man of logic – what future do you have? What can you offer the woman? You’re crazy to think like this!

A knock on the door disturbs his thoughts.

“I brought you some tea,” Gertruida says lamely. “And I’ve been reading.” She waves a sheaf of papers in the air. “

——–

“The doctor said I had to have chemo, Gertruida. He said it was my only chance. Like you know, I was on the verge of going for it, when you arrived to tell me about Frans.” Judge Gericke has regained some of his composure, and uses his courtroom-voice. “The verdict, based on the available evidence at the time, was three months without chemo, eighteen months with. I had to decide whether it was worth it to go to the expense of the treatment to live a bit longer – or call it quits and face my last days.

“My doctor is a nice man. He doesn’t talk much. He doesn’t like questions. He gives you the information you need and that’s what you have to use to come to a decision. But, anyway, that’s water under the bridge. He said if I didn’t start the treatment within a week, I wouldn’t benefit any more. Said I was lucky to still be at a stage where treatment can help. And he said I had a week’s window before it’s too late. It’s too late now.”

Gertruida can’t believe what she’s hearing. The judge, after all, isn’t a fool – and he fell for that?

“Listen, Judge, you must go on appeal here. Who’s that doctor to play God like that? Is he the new prophet? That argument is all skew and wrong! A week’s window? Last chance? Three months this way or eighteen months the other?

“Listen – he might be right up to date with statistics, but there’s no way he can tell you that’s exactly what’s going to happen to you as an individual! Why, do you even know what type of leukaemia you have?”

The judge scratches his head. This woman is exasperating! Of course he doesn’t know. Leukaemia is leukaemia, for godness’ sakes! “He said something about chronic. Oh – and lymph, something about lymph. He showed me the report, but I was so shocked I couldn’t read it. And it said it was probably indolent. I don’t think that is good. Sounds aggressive to me.”

Gertruida bursts out laughing, checks herself and apologises.  “Sorry, Judge.” She fights to control herself, sniggers and wags an admonishing finger at the old man. “You should brush up your English, sir!”

Judge Gericke isn’t used to ridicule and is about to retaliate, when her words sink in.

“What do you mean? My English is perfectly good, thank you.”

Indolent. Adjective. Meaning slothful, lazy, slow to progress, subclinical. It comes from the original Latin, meaning without pain:  in- dolēre. If this is what the report says, the doctor overplayed his hand. That means you have a problem, but it’s not half as bad as he said.  Soooo… Judge… we’re going to get all the information we can lay our hands on. Let’s get that report and get a second opinion. I’ll get onto it first thing in the morning. After your exercise, of course.”

He can only gape at her. “Exercise? What exercise?”

“You should know this as well, you old fool…” she checks herself to peer at him. Indeed, he bristles at the remark, but the smile finds its way back to his lips when she asks if she can approach the bench.  “Lifestyle change. No drinking. Exercise. Healthy diet. Happy thoughts. No anger. Lots of laughter. No stress. And you are gong for all of the above, as from now.

“Then we’re going to get all the information we can lay our hands on, and make an informed decision.”

Long after she’s taken the teacups away, closing the door softly behind her, Judge Gericke sits quietly in the chair, surrounded by the many books in Gertruida’s library. Some words keep on echoing in his mind… we’re going to get all the information we can lay our hands on… not half as bad… you old fool…

After all these years of fighting his own battles, this woman marches in and jumps into the frontline with him. Not only that – she lectures him about English! And she makes a damn fine cup of tea…

Well. He mustn’t get his hopes up, must he? Wordplay is fine, but the diagnosis still stands. Still, Gertruida has managed to peek between the cracks of his armour and somehow he likes the idea of having  somebody around to bring in tea at night. To tell him he’s an old fool. And to bring new hope to a drama that was about to turn into a tragedy.

Shuffling over to the bed, he pulls off his slippers. Clean, soft sheets. A comfortable cushion. And a woman to help you face the future.

What more can a man ask for?

He slips into a deep, dreamless sleep with the smile still hovering quietly in the darkness.