Monthly Archives: July 2020

Operation Oysterhood: 31 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

754

Occasionally, a book cover is difficult not because of lack of ideas, but because the existing ideas are many and all brilliant, and it is nearly impossible to choose which one will be best for the book. The next Karavan Press title is in the making (cover reveal to follow soonest) and the author, designer and I just couldn’t decide on the final cover while communicating by email, phone and Skype for days. A meeting in person was suggested. I offered my garden and arranged a table in the middle of the lawn, with chairs around, but each a few meters apart. There was a tea and coffee corner. Between sips of our drinks, despite the distances between us, we still wore masks, and had the most lively and productive discussion about the design drafts and possibilities on the table in front of us. By a process of careful elimination, we arrived at two options and then debated those two again. Two hours into the meeting we had a winner and celebrated with a bottle of bubbly, still standing meters apart form one another while discussing the project and the final choice, which is stunning! (Even if I say so myself. And the bubbly was delicious – haven’t had any for weeks now and I was saving this bottle for a special moment.)

I managed to renew my car licence disk online, and it arrived in the post today, which feels like a double-miracle. I would have been ready to pop the bubbly just to celebrate this little everyday success. Not only the city, but also the post office delivered! Yay!

Emboldened, I rushed to the post office to send off some parcels for New Contrast. The rest of the day was admin, some editing work and tons of coffee, because last night wasn’t exactly blissfully restful. I had a nightmare about being robbed. And no matter how horrible it is, I had to admit to myself today that every time I leave the house, I expect the alarm to go off, and even though it would be really stupid of anyone to steal my one-of-a-kind car, every time I park it somewhere outside the garage, I also expect it to disappear before I return. Permanent high vigilance and anxiety levels. It’s exhausting. 

Yet, our troubled city is no longer the epicenter of the pandemic in South Africa, nor the murder capital of the country. Dubious crowns that had been passed on to other places. It’s impossible to celebrate such facts when one knows that others have to deal with these terrible titles. If only … But that is not how the world works.

My love treated me to a dinner of tapas from Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia today. I had to pick up the box he ordered at the restaurant. It was lovely to drive up there again and admire the view. After sanitising and list-checking, the restaurant staff walk you from chef to chef, each one explaining the little dishes to you and how to finish preparing them at home. It was such a surreal experience. I am getting used to all these new ways of doing things, and yet, there are these moments when I almost have out of body experiences and watch myself from a distance and think, ‘Is this really happening?’ Standing in front of one of the masked chefs who was grating fresh Parmesan onto one of the dishes I was about to take home, I just wanted to sit down comfortably at a table and order the food at leisure, have wine, wait for the individual plates to arrive freshly prepared from the kitchen, and admire the view and relax (it is this last component of the brief vision I had that seems unattainable for now). One day again … Today, I just memorised the chefs’ individual instructions, grabbed my takeaway box, added a ridiculously expensive box of bonbons to the order and was home before six.

It is only when I am alone at home that I feel a semblance of my reality restore itself to itself. Everything else has become surreal.

The end of July. The days are getting longer. There is still light at six in the evening, and I don’t have to wait forever for it to appear when I wake up in the morning. The balmy weather lifts the spirits, too.

And now, the leftover sips of bubbly, a page or two and a warm bed await. Good night.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 30 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

‘Look at us, the first and last Mrs Brink, discussing brooms,’ Estelle, André’s first wife, once said to me when I was staying with her for a few days in her Grahamstown home while doing research at (back then) NELM and she was showing me her fancy new broom in the evening after one of our dinners together. We laughed a lot about that moment in years to come. She loved her home, still the house she and André had shared during their marriage, and her amazing garden. She was a botanist, worked at Rhodes University, and continued assisting with identifying and classifying plants well into her retirement. She and André had remained friends until his death and she was always kind to me. When he passed away, she came to Cape Town to be with me, to mourn the man we both loved together and in our own separate ways. But we hadn’t managed to stay in touch and the last time I heard from her was about two years ago when we spoke on the phone.

Today, my friend Erika sent me an article that must have appeared in yesterday’s Die Burger, reporting that Estelle had passed away suddenly on Tuesday, three weeks after moving away from her home into a care facility. She was 84. I do not know what her circumstances were like in the last two years, but I can imagine that, like an old tree with deep, strong roots, she did not take well to transplanting. I can still see her in her favourite chair in her lounge, telling me about the olden days in the early evening light. Or walking in her garden and teaching me about different types of grass. I know she will be missed by all who knew her. May she rest in peace.

It is one of those strange coincidences that the news of Estelle’s death reached me on a day when I spent most of the morning in my own garden, mowing grass, weeding and sweeping old leaves out of the main path. There was a strong scent of lavender in the air and many birds came to investigate the freshly disturbed lawn. It was so relaxing to watch them from the stoep.

The rest of the day was work, all literary stuff, small steps forward on several projects I am involved in.

A quiet day, flooded by sadness, and memories, at sunset.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 29 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

oznorMO

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a mousebird!

Not just any mousebird, or rather not just anywhere: a small flock of mousebirds visited my street today. First time ever that I spotted my favourite bird in my favourite street. And first time ever I managed to take a picture (no matter how inadequate) of one. Still smiling.

Not much else to report otherwise, apart from the morning mousebird walk, a lovely lunchtime chat with Mom and Krystian and work, work, work all around until it was time for dinner. I made a potato salad again today. It will last for a few days. The Cats were delighted with their chicken kebabs leftovers.

I was awake for a lot of the night last night, so fading fast tonight and hoping for some decent sleep again. Maybe.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 28 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

752

To all of you who have been wondering: the frogs are fine. They have both survived my pool ministrations. And a creature has moved into my bedroom wall, and another one lives under my study’s floor. More szczureks? Maybe … The Cats and I are certainly never alone. (It might also be that I am beginning to hear things …)

I don’t want to be reading manuscripts during this time because the odds are stacked completely against them, but I understand that authors need answers, so I am pulling up my sleeves and returning to the manuscript piles. This morning was thus spent reading, and trying not to dream.

I had too much coffee and forgot to eat my breakfast. I only remembered when my stomach started making strange noises while I was driving to town to pick up some books from the Protea Bookshop and the Book Lounge. On the way back, I stopped at Frankie Fenner to buy something for a braai.

The rest of the day was spent at the computer. At the end of it all, it was wonderful to light the fire and just wait for the sun to set. I had my wine out of a wine glass, but I just love the story of restaurants apparently offering their red, white and pink tea menus to customers and serving ‘tea’ in tea cups. I understand that there is an alcohol problem in the Cape, and beyond – I am Polish after all! – but there are ways of enjoying alcohol responsibly, and there are ways of making sure that there is enough joy in people’s lives so that they don’t have to drown their sorrows in pink tea. Instead of banning tea, how about making sure that no one wants to forget their miserable lives by drinking it …?

Last night’s numbers were quite disturbing again, fewer cases, but only because of fewer tests conducted; and the death toll close to three hundred. Over seven thousand people all together. And that’s only the official number. What about those who don’t get counted as Covid-19-related deaths, but clearly are? Tonight’s numbers different again, less official deaths, but hundred and ninety are so many people – and what about their families and friends …

Every day, I repeat to myself: be careful, wear your mask and visor, sanitise everything you can, wash hands, think and think again. Be rather paranoid than sick. And there are moments when I think that I might get through it all unharmed, last long enough for a vaccine to arrive or a Covid-19-proof cure to be mastered by the medics taking care of our lives … Sometimes, I think that maybe I have already had it, with no symptoms and no lasting effects whatsoever. Although, can anyone who has lived through this collective trauma claim that they have suffered no lasting effects of this pandemic-lockdown-madness? And there are moments when I forget that all if this is happening – for a few blissful seconds, I don’t think about death …

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 27 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

751

An ordinary Monday. Not the best of nights, and this evening, my cheeks are sore again, but the day itself went well, with most tasks set also accomplished, at least the urgent ones. Highlight of the day: a visit to the art shop. I needed materials for a project and had the most wonderful time choosing the paper and colours. A new challenge. And a small drawing came to me again (but still on old paper, with my usual pencils).

‘Don’t get it,’ warned Alan Winde on the radio this morning, when asked about what he had to say about being ill with Covid-19. Someone I haven’t heard from for many months wrote to me today, saying that she’d also been infected. I know most people survive and are well. But … Fortunately, as far as I can judge, the numbers in the Western Cape are stable to falling, and our province might have the worst behind it. At least in terms of infections. The impact on livelihoods will continue haunting us for a very long time.

Every day, people ring my bell, asking for food. When I direct them to the place where they will be assisted and given food for free in our neighbourhood, they always have a story why they can’t go there and why they need my help. It is hard to know whom to believe. Impossible to explain why I will never open the gate to an unannounced stranger ever again.

My own worries pale in comparison, but they also exist. I keep forging ahead, believing in my dreams, but the reality out there does not allow one to be too optimistic. I read, write, review, publish and dream books for a living, and I continue supporting books and authors on all possible fronts, but right now it feels like an impossible quest. And then I get inquiries from people who want me to publish their books, but they haven’t even read a single thing I have written or published – they just assume that I could be a means to an end, I suppose. It saddens me. Anyway. I still can feed myself and my family, so I shouldn’t complain. And apart from anything else, I love what I do. That in itself is a huge gift. I just need to learn how to say ‘no’. And to say it gently. Because being cruel always comes back to haunt one.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 26 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

749

A better night. A long morning. Rain, coffee, poetry, breakfast in bed, some staring into space. All much needed. Eventually, I got up, washed my hair, and after an early lunch, did some work in the garden and on a manuscript. I promised myself no work-related emails this weekend, but there was a lovely one about a possible title, then one about a potential Karavan Press title and one with a stunning cover option – I could not not respond.

Short, but relaxing walk in the afternoon. Some tense football action on the last day of the British Premier League. Roast chicken for dinner – enjoyed by more than one member of the human-feline family :)

Salieri is on my lap as I write, purring her heart out in content.

Does anyone know what is happening to the Sunday Times book pages? The spaces for the reviewing of local books seem to be shrinking drastically. My love will tease me after reading this, but I have an idea. (Apparently, it is something I say a lot.) Something needs to be done.

And my Sunday Times horoscope concurs:

Off to study the facts!

Good night.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 25 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

btfmdn

When you are too tired to sleep and too wired up to think straight, music can be an answer. And dancing. Last night, I flossed and brushed my teeth, got into my PJs, put on my favourite Austrian radio station and danced around my bedroom until I felt my body relax, my mind unwind and I just sang and moved along to the music – with only the Lady Cats watching and my shadow laughing.

It was easy to fall asleep after that, but the night was still not entirely restful and it took me a long time to open my eyes in the morning, then to get up and make coffee. I read a bit in bed and then watched the NZ rugby with Glinka. Another exciting match.

After breakfast, I cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom and water-sinned again, indulging in a midday bath, with another coffee and the only novel by Siri Hustvedt I haven’t read yet, her latest, Memories of the Future. I love her work and I cannot believe that it took me so long to get to this one. Many moons ago, she gave me permission to use a quote from one of her books for the epigraph of my novel, Invisible Others. The idea still thrills me.

The pool has started turning green with all this warmth and sunshine, so I cleaned it again and discovered that my Frog Prince got tired of waiting for me to return and got himself a companion.

I always take the frog(s) I find in the wire to safety before cleaning, backwashing, etc. But today, when I turned away, one of them jumped back into the water and ended up in the pool pump filter! Thank goodness I spotted it immediately and rescued the poor thing. I don’t know how they survive the pool chemicals and my constant interference in their lives, but I am always so happy to see them, especially when I know that they are more than one. No more kissing required from me.

I returned to work in the afternoon, but not for too terribly long. I started fading fast and ended up sleeping in the late afternoon until it was time for dinner. A quiet, good day – much needed after the craziness of the last week.

Soup for dinner, entertaining TV for dessert.

Today, one of Karavan Press’s authors made me aware that I dropped the ball in respect of something – not the end of the world, but the potential loss of an opportunity. I apologised for my slackness and got the nicest email in return. Moments like this make me understand how crucial it is to work with decent people. Even when one makes a mistake, there is still hope of fixing things and making the most of an unfortunate situation – together. I am so grateful that the authors I work with are not only wonderful writers, but also such great people – friends.

Siri Hustvedt awaits. Good night.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 24 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

Damien Kempf

Relentless. This week. Has been.

What to do when there are no more words left to share? Dance myself into the weekend …

ö3x-feel the weekend

Good night :)

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

P.S. Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes

Operation Oysterhood: 23 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

733

Mood of the day, best expressed by Salieri.

Sleep did come and carried me through the night despite yesterday’s elevated anxiety levels. It took me a long time to open my eyes in the morning, to get up, make coffee. Sometimes, even a deep sleep is not exactly restful.

Where to go for beauty and serenity? Poetry. I have been indulging again in “Poetry for the people.” This morning, another upcoming collection from uHlanga Press. Will reveal more when it is officially announced. For now, I can say that poetry readers are in for a poetic treat: another tender, wise volume of deeply moving poetry.

734

Work continued for the rest of the day, apart from a sunny walk in my neighbourhood and a Skype chat with my Mom and Krystian.

I have never seen a mousebird around my house, but there are other wonders everywhere.

Setting the midday sky on fire.

The SARS-CoV-2/Covid-19 numbers around the world are staggering. And locally, we have recorded a new high of 572 deaths in a twenty-four hour cycle.

And then there was The Address. Public schools closing. Acknowledgement of corruption. The greatest failures of the last twenty-six years in a nutshell. How about a ten billion rand bailout for public schools? That would be around R400 000 per school, if divided equally. Can you imagine the upgrades and possibilities?

Corruption … power, greed, vileness. I do not know how anyone stealing from emergency relief funds can live with themselves.

It is impossible not to despair. I need a drink!

When in doubt: read poetry, walk, eat sushi. Simple pleasures are all around. If only we could all live in a system that delivers the basics and occasional little luxuries – whatever they may be to an individual – to all.

Lockdown Nigiri from FYN Restaurant.

The above was delivered straight to my gate just in time for dinner, a treat from my love.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 22 July

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

— @HaggardHawks

A bad night. A headachy morning. Only one thing to do: a scenic drive around the Cape Peninsula. Balm for the soul. All the memories of all these miraculously beautiful places. New magical impressions. Back home at noon.

For the rest of the day, I worked.

And someone else broke into my garage and stole stuff (again), making me feel small and vulnerable and much more tired than I would have felt otherwise (and that was already exhausted enough).

It is difficult not to feel vulnerable. Not to want to throw in the towel. To dream of a little cottage in the Austrian mountains with only the snow to worry about.

How much vulnerability can one take? How deep must one’s roots be to survive the relentless storms?

An early night.

Be kind. Stay at home. Wear a mask everywhere else.

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

— NICD