Operation Oysterhood: 19-20 June

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

Franschhoek Valley is a magical place in any season, but during a balmy weekend in late autumn it is beyond magic. My love whisked me away to Franschhoek yesterday and we had an amazing time of laziness, great food and all-round beauty.

LA CLÉ DES MONTAGNES

Walks, reading, trampoline jumping and a long bath were the non-culinary treats of the weekend.

The culinary treats included a visit to Tuk Tuk, Épice and Yama Sushi Emporium. All, sadly, half-empty even during the Father’s Day weekend. But all extremely well organised when it comes to social-distancing and safety. We did book but could have walked in to most restaurants in Franschhoek.

I have never been to Tuk Tuk and Yama Sushi Emporium before, but I am familiar with Épice and returned there with hungry anticipation. Once more, every single dish on their winter menu was a delicious delight.

Now, it is back home and back to reality, but with recharged batteries and renewed inspiration.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 18 June

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

Fourteen days later, still no symptoms – my self-isolating days are over (for now). On the day of my ‘close contact’, we did social distance, we wore masks for most of the time (unless drinking or eating, but seated well apart around a big table), had all doors and windows open, and never hugged or touched while greeting one another. No one got sick (apart from my friend who was already infected with Covid-19, but did not know it at the time). It could have been that we were very lucky, but I think that these non-pharmaceutical safety measures (distance, ventilation, masks) probably prevented further infections (unless asymptomatic). My ill friend is also recovering. We count our lucky stars.

An emotional day on all fronts. I watched an online funeral service for the first time. Yolisa Qunta was laid to rest today. Even though I hardly knew her, it felt quite overwhelming and I could not watch all of it – but I did listen to some truly touching tributes. She is remembered and missed.

Two lovely visitors arrived on my stoep today: one of my step-granddaughters and her husband. She was the first of André’s grandchildren to get married and I attended the wedding last year just before the lockdown. It was so good to see this beautiful young couple again and to witness once more how much in love and happy they are. They clearly belong together and the beauty of their togetherness makes one feel inspired. Although watching them, I also felt bruised by my own experiences, and old, and cynical in comparison. Loss of innocence and deep regrets can do that to one.

After some intense work, I finally left the property for the first time in ten days late in the afternoon and took my love’s cat to her vet for an antibiotic injection and then took her home and had dinner with my love. It was amazing to see each other without masks again.

Over ten thousand daily infections are becoming the norm and I guess it is going to be very difficult again to stay out of harm’s way, but I am determined to at least try, to find a balance of being in the world but in a safe and responsible way. It was so nice to get behind Topolino’s wheel again :) I have to renew my car and driver’s licenses in the next few weeks … Deep sigh.

Very tired tonight.

Good night.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 17 June

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

Ambassador Johann Brieger

A few days ago, I got a message that the Austrian Ambassador to South Africa would address Austrians living in the country via Teams this morning. I got the link for the meeting and was very eager to join, hoping that perhaps Austria would be vaccinating her citizens living in foreign countries (apparently some other countries are doing it).

No matter what I tried, the bloody Teams would simply not allow me to join. IT Krystian to the rescue! He joined the meeting in Austria and streamed it live for me via our Skype connection. Probably the most complicated way to join an online meeting, but it worked. I missed only the beginning. Alas, no vaccines for Austrian citizens living abroad unless we return to Austria to get vaccinated there. Back to square one, so basically back to nowhere.

And then, I found out today that a very close relative is an anti-vaxxer. Sigh. I often ask myself how can it be that we are so closely related and sooooo different, but it is what it is. It makes me think of two things: a Polish saying that I roughly translate as ‘families are best in photographs’; and of a fridge magnet on my favourite aunt’s (we are not blood-related) fridge door saying, ‘Friends always welcome, family only by appointment.’

Talking about lovely friends: the lovely Melissa A. Volker delivered a parcel to my door which included a book and four delicious cupcakes to sweeten the last two days of my self-isolation. Still smiling, because of the generous, kind gesture and the two cupcakes already happily settled in my tummy.

Otherwise a long day of mostly computer work, although I did go through the paper proofs of the amazing The Skipper’s Daughter. To see this story come alive like this in book form is simply wonderful. I still remember the first time Nancy and I had a Skype meeting about it about a year ago and the book had been only a thirty-year-old dream. And now, here it is, bright-new reality.

The Skipper’s Daughter and the author of the book, the skipper’s granddaughter Nancy

Monique Cleghorn designed the book. We will be doing another very special one together soon. Also a story that has been waiting a long time to be told, a horrifying story, but luckily with the most empowering, inspiring ending that will offer hope and solace to many women.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 16 June

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

Upper Austria in Summer

I spent nearly the entire day reading on my computer screen, so this is going to be short.

‘Level three,’ was the President’s announcement. ‘Lockdown or loadshedding?’ I saw someone asking online, and I just burst out laughing. Mad times. We need to laugh, because there is just so much weeping that one can do.

Author Penny Haw sent me the link to this wonderful article by an indie publisher – Louise Walters Books – in the UK: “Indie realities“. It made me feel less alone, and very much inspired.

I invited my love to a braai today. I set up two small tables outside and braaied lamb chops for us. It was weird to sit so far apart, but at least we could enjoy a meal ‘together’. Two more days. Although I think I will be living in semi-self-isolation for a while, at least until the third wave is over.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 15 June

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

“The shortest day of the year fast approaches! Prepare to be Disrupted.”

Short Story Day Africa

Being part of Short Story Day Africa as reader, judge, board member, proofreader and editor for many years now has been a profound experience and I am excited that the new anthology is going to be published later this year. Co-editing the book with Rachel and Jason was amazing (I co-edited one other SSDA anthology, Water with Nick Mulgrew). I loved working with the seven authors assigned to me this time. Three of them made the shortlist. And the entire anthology, stunningly designed by Rachel and Megan Ross, is going to be amazing to share with readers. “Prepare to be Disrupted”, indeed.

Disruption is here in other forms, sadly not literary. More and more of my friends are self-isolating, a few showing first symptoms and a few already quite ill. It is not hard to guess what the President is going to announce tonight. And whatever the restrictions are going to be, they are probably not going to be enough. I really wish that level five would be an option again. And I try not to think what a more efficient – global and local – vaccine rollout could have done to prevent the ongoing and increasing suffering. I don’t want to be angry all the time. Or despair.

Fortunately, I am still symptom-free, and my beautiful Salieri is getting better and better with the help of her medication and lots of TLC.

Yesterday, I wanted to test our independence for the weeks ahead and ordered some food online. It all arrived promptly this morning as promised and the delivery man was great about keeping his distance etc. I also enjoyed my Tour de Garden today. This time I wasn’t counting leaves, but just listening to the radio and thinking.

Karavan Press news: the proof copy of The Skipper’s Daughter by Nancy Richards arrived today. Nancy received it on my behalf and will pop it into my postbox tomorrow. I saw a photograph of the proof sample – it looks soooooo beautiful!

And Karavan Press finally has a Submissions page. Because of knowing where to find the kind of manuscripts I would love to publish and of being swamped with manuscripts despite not having a Submission page, I have resisted formalising any guidelines, but now there is at least an introduction to the process. The final straw was when someone – very legit, I have to say – offered to send me their manuscript “if only for [my] entertainment”. It was a really nice submission letter, but:

Most readers consider reading fifty books a year a challenge. I usually manage about double that number, and I have to read in order to know what is – roughly – happening around me. In order to publish five/six books a year, I have to read each of the manuscripts that goes into production at least five/six times very carefully (assessment, editing, editing, editing, proofreading, proofreading) – it’s like reading thirty books a year extremely slowly. I receive requests from authors to send me their manuscripts every few days, so the piles are not getting smaller, although I am saying no to many upfront when I know there is very little hope for the submission ever getting published. Others have been waiting for months to receive feedback from me and I am immensely grateful for their patience. Unlike other publishers, I cannot imagine publishing a manuscript that I haven’t read myself first. I manage to get back to everyone eventually, but I also need to make a living, and live, and sleep, and occasionally read “for my entertainment”, and that means often reading something completely different than one might imagine. I am trying, I really am. There is just not enough of me and my time to make everyone happy.

I know what makes me happy: reading that first page and knowing, this, this is it. Reader’s bliss.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 14 June

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

The Rosebank Glasspecker strikes again! This bird is IMPOSSIBLE. The moment the old towel I hung over the widow began to slip, the bird returned. I will have to readjust the towel again tomorrow. The bird deserves something for his tenacity; I just don’t know what.

My love brought me more groceries today and we sat for a few minutes together on the stoep. Distance, masks, misery of being in this situation. But, only a few days left.

The day was reading and admin and arranging things for ‘after’. Our self-catering cottage for the McGregor Poetry Festival is booked. I am not sure the festival will take place, but there are safe ways of doing this, and McGregor has the open spaces for safe, small events to make it work, so fingers crossed.

I felt like a walk today and considered driving to somewhere remote to enjoy a solitary beach or forest path, but personal safety considerations and my own ‘luck’ – knowing me, I would have had to perform CPR exactly when I am not supposed to be near others – crushed the idea, and I decided to keep it worry-less and completely safe and just do my lockdown-level-five-proof Tour de Garden (fifty rounds around the property, collecting one fallen leaf for every lap – cats supervising at all times, of course).

Heard this evening that the Alma Café Folks are also self-isolating after exposure to someone who subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. The third wave is here and we all need to be super-cautious and take care of one another.

Off to bed to watch the latest episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, “Prison Heat”. (The latest episode of my personal Last Week Tonight could be called “Isolation Cool”.)

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 13 June

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

My love brought me flowers and Nespresso capsules today – he knows what will make me smile no matter what :) We sat far apart in masks on my stoep for a little while and made plans for after my self-isolation. No hugs, no kisses, but at least we could spend a little bit of time together this weekend.

I read for pure pleasure in bed all morning – bliss. Then I cleaned my fridge and my bathroom. A few unidentified jars had been living in my fridge for the past century or two, and I finally got rid of them. My fridge is near-empty most of the time – now it looks naked inside.

I had Skype lunch with Mom and Krystian and happily reported ‘no symptoms’. Day nine.

I watched the RG men’s final with Flat Eric, Bobik and Salieri, and we continued hoping against hope until the last game, but …

Bobik and Flat Eric are drowning their sorrows in pink French Champagne. I am just having local box rosé (yes, it has come to this).

And two million J&J vaccines are going to be flushed down the toilet in Gqeberha, it has been announced this evening. I am weeping into my box rosé.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 12 June

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

My brother is doing a workshop where he has to answer questions about his childhood. Today, he asked Mom to fill in some gaps and dug out old photographs, and we met on Skype to wander down memory lane. He showed me many photographs that I do not recall ever seeing before. The one above is one that I do remember and love. The two of us have always had a loving, great relationship, and many of the photographs capture this bond – I am so blessed to have a brother like him, the best brother in the universe.

This morning, I read about a completely different childhood, one ravaged by war. Krystian and I did not have it easy growing up as refugees, but we never had to go through the kind of horrors I read about in the memoir. I was relieved to close the last page of the book and to know that the author is alive and has somehow managed to make a life for herself.

News from the isolation front: imaginary symptoms continue, but otherwise I am fine. It was sad to think that I could not host the celebration sale I planned for today, nor go to a birthday tea I was invited to, but otherwise, a quiet, good day. The women’s RG final was completely uninspiring, although I managed to iron all my laundry of the last two weeks while it was on, so I am not complaining, and I loved the ceremony afterwards, especially Barbara Pravi’s performance of “Voilà” (it made me sorry that I missed the Eurovision Song Contest this year) and the delivery of the trophy to the court by two of France’s frontline workers (a deeply moving moment).

Earlier in the day, I sat with Mozart and Glinka in the garden and enjoyed the sun. Salieri’s condition is stabilising – she is eating less food and less often, but actually gaining weight, and I am getting her used to the application of an oral gel on her gums. We are making progress.

Another day of roughly 9000 new infections. The third wave is also making progress, but it is the kind that brings no good news.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 11 June

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

Ulrike and Yolisa

Yolisa Qunta passed away after complications from heart failure on 10 June. She was 41. When I saw Ulrike‘s message yesterday in the morning, I immediately contacted her and she phoned back to share her sorrow at her dear friend’s passing and stories about how amazing and kind Yolisa had been during the time they had known each other as friends.

I met Yolisa because of a review I wrote of the book she’d edited, Writing What We Like: A New Generation Speaks. In September 2017, the Helderberg Leeskring invited Yolisa to speak about the book to them and asked me to interview her at the gathering after reading my LitNet review. We travelled to the event together, and the moment Yolisa got into my car, I felt her warmth and bubbliness, and by the end of the journey, the connection we established because of our migratory pasts was palpable and translated into a great conversation at the Leeskring, with Yolisa simply winning the hearts of all those ladies for whom reading her book was not necessarily a comfortable experience. The entire morning was a success and I remember it warmly. A little while later we connected again because of a library project that Yolisa was involved in and I delivered a box of books to her. At one point I got the sweetest message from her about my memoir, or rather about my brother and the way I portrayed him in the book: ‘I’m on page 45 and I think I have a crush on your brother,’ she wrote and made my day, and Krystian’s. I will always treasure the inscription she wrote into my copy of her book. I loved her Twitter timeline and the pictures she posted there (she also had a fabulous IG account, I discovered only this morning) – I did not know her well and only spent a few hours in her company, but I know the world is a much poorer place without her in it. I can’t believe that she died at such a young age. Thank you, Yolisa, for those few hours we shared and the many smiles your online presence brought into my life. And thank you, Ulrike, for sharing your stories of this special woman with me. She left too soon, much too soon. My heart goes out to all her loved ones.

~ ~ ~

After this shocking news, it was a slow start to the day. I read in bed for a long time, and then eventually got up and washed my hair and made breakfast. I woke up sneezing like crazy with my nose all blocked – a typical allergic reaction I often experience in the morning, but, of course, I immediately thought: COVID. Twenty minutes later I was completely okay again. No real symptoms whatsoever, but the imaginary ones continue to haunt me.

I had my sole oyster mushroom for breakfast :)

My love delivered groceries to my gate and waved from a distance. It was good to see him, even if only briefly. I did have a proper visitor, though – my doctor friend came to check up on me, but we stayed in the garden, far apart, and kept our masks on. It was comforting to talk to her about my situation. She also brought an almond croissant that I enjoyed with my coffee after she’d left. Still smelling and tasting everything with enormous joy.

My intercom rang once more during the day when these stunning flowers were delivered to my gate – sent by the wonderful Sue Brown, one of Karavan Press’s authors. She sent them to celebrate Karavan Press and all the press’s good news of recent days and to brighten my days in isolation. I do work with the most amazing people.

We are proofreading the last of the Karavan Press books that need to go to print before I can – finally! (yes, I know, I have been saying this for weeks now … sigh) – get a break (not imposed by Covid-19 hopefully). Self-isolating is not exactly resting, and the logistics of it do add other pressures to the everyday, but I have been taking it easy, simply allowing my body to have all the chances possible to deal with the virus should I have been infected. It seems that 95% of people infected show symptoms within two weeks from exposure, so I still have a few days to go, but the average time for manifesting symptoms (five to seven days) is behind me. I might have dodged this bullet. Fingers and toes crossed.

The late afternoon and the entire evening was tennis. Some bloody good tennis! I poured myself a glass of Miss Molly’s In My Bed red, got into bed after dinner, The Cats joined me and we … fevered (metaphorically!) and endured until eventually all of us were too sleepy to continue.

My eyes began to close at two all in the fourth set, and I had a feeling that I would not wake up to a miracle. I am never happy when Rafa loses, but what comforts me is the amazing tennis I saw being played on Philippe Chatrier. My tennis-heart is broken, though. And Novaxx Djokovid’s team members screaming their support into the crowds around them without their masks on just made me angry.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 10 June

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

Numb. That’s how I feel. Perhaps this is what one needs to survive a pandemic. But I also continuously experience this numbness as a loss. In the last few days, I found out that someone who is very dear to me got engaged on another continent and is truly happy because she has found her place in the world and a person she loves to share it with – but I haven’t congratulated them yet. I also found out that someone I care deeply about has had an addition (one, not ten!) to the family, but I haven’t found time and headspace yet to phone the family. People I love are getting vaccinated; every day more and more people I know get their jab. Yesterday, a friend phoned to say that he was dying of cancer. And today my love had his medical check-up and his doctor was very happy with the progress since that fateful morning when we ended up in the ICU a little bit over a month ago. I take it all in, apart from all else that is going on, and for a moment I feel real, deep emotion – either elation or despair – and then it all returns to a kind of vacuum of feeling, a numbness, because it is simply all too much to process or to react to appropriately. Because all of it is happening while the world is going through the severe, ongoing, relentless trauma of trying to stay alive and somehow surviving against the odds.

And all I can really do – self-isolating because of exposure to the potentially lethal virus – is compartmentalise, make lists of things to do, go through them carefully while knowing I will forget something essential anyway, and walk around the house and garden, smelling and tasting things just to make sure that I still can. (No worrying symptoms detected.) And then loadshedding comes along and eventually, I just sit in the dark with The Cats sleeping around me, and stare into space.

I have discovered that I have all kinds of leftovers in the fridge and some dry pasta and pesto and other strange groceries that will actually keep me happy for a few days. But the cat food I need to feed The Cats, especially Salieri right now (who is not allowed to lose more weight), I did not have much of because I was still planning to go shopping yesterday when I heard that I had to self-isolate. I tried ordering online, but the shop’s credit card facility did not function and processing the order via EFT would have postponed the delivery until after the weekend, so I just forwarded the order to a friend who lives nearby and she went to the shop directly and delivered the food to us this afternoon. Our superhero of the day.

My friend who has Covid-19 and who I was in close contact with just before her diagnosis wrote this morning to say that she was sorry about what she’d ’caused’. But she didn’t! It wasn’t her. It is this horrible virus – unpredictable and uncontrollable because of its still largely unknown nature. I told her that there is nothing she needs to feel sorry about.

All I care about is that she recovers quickly and that I do not pass anything on to anyone else, not knowingly. And right now, I know I have been exposed and that I could pose a danger to others, so isolation it is.

I had a dream last night that I was standing in a queue at an Austrian pharmacy, begging to be vaccinated against Covid-19, but nobody was willing to help me … Dr Freud would know exactly what to say.

Today, I have harvested the next ‘batch’ of my oyster mushrooms – i.e. just one. Perfect, I suppose, if you can’t share anything with anyone anyway.

My love and I saw each other on Skype tonight.

And did I mention that Karavan Press is going to publish another poetry collection? By someone whom I hardly know personally, but whose creative work I have admired for a long time and with whom I share weird, ancient, literary ties that reach back to the Sestigers. All was written in the stars before we were born.

It’s all a rollercoaster. Occasionally, it all stops in the dark. Thank you, Eskom?

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD