Friday, July 31, 2009

From the incredible pleasantries of Mulla Nasrudin

'I will instruct you in metaphysics' said Nasrudin to a neighbour in whom he saw a spark of understanding, albeit a small one.

'I should be delighted' said the man; 'come to my house anytime and talk to me.

Nasrudin realised that the man was thinking that mystical knowledge could be transmitted entirely by word of mouth.

He said no more.

A few days later the neighbour called the Mulla from his roof.

'Nasrudin, I want your help to blow my fire, the charcoal is going out.'

'Certainly,' said Nasrudin.

My breath is at your disposal - come over here and you can have as much of it as you can carry away.

By Idries Shah

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We are a funny bunch.

Us humans.

It's so hard for us to welcome change and find new ways to grow. Mostly I see people stuck fast, living out a script that no longer serves them. Every now and then their world gets shook up like a storm in a snow globe.

Everything seems blurry for a while but when the dust settles it all looks just the same. Life goes on as it always has; more of the same, the usual, over and over again.

Take a chance today.

There are other roads that will you lead you home.

Waiting for sunshine.

Just waiting for a balmy winter's day so we can have a picnic. Jugs of iced tea, full of mint and sliced lemons from the garden. Grilled terriyakyi salmon and a Bill Granger pasta. Big fat strawberries, vanilla ice cream from Woolies and hot apple betty!

Then Mr Nielson better known as Sid, and I will spread out on the lawn with the children, and talk as we are want to do about the meaning of life, and everything in between...

on travelling the quieter roads to Samara

Mr Nielson better known as Sid and I have a penchant for exploring.

We like to up and take to the road of a morning, sometimes not even sure of where it will take us.

Sid will point to a spot on the map or identify a flight special, and next thing I know we are heading out in search of adventure. It's a nice way to live, if you can do it. It helps that Sid keeps such flexible hours, that the children are quite the grown ups now, and that I am such an obliging wife!

Why just a few weeks ago Mr Nielson better known as Sid expressed a desperate yearning to take to the wilds. Here in South Africa we call it the 'bush'. That place of refuge from the city, where the animals that once roamed freely across the African plains, still have a tiny corner to survive in. Only just.

Rather then head for the highveld, we decided to take to the Eastern Cape; flying to Port Elizabeth where we rented a car in which to wend our way slowly back home. Sid has a yen for the Big Five with a special interest in Cats. So he was a little pieved to discover that I had centred our journey around reserves which had no lion or leopard at all.

Tut tut, the poor man was convinced that without the cicada crescendo of the African highveld, and the tension of possible danger posed by those beautiful cats, we were in for a tepid time. O ye of little faith!

The first few days, Sid and I resided in gentile, colonial splendour at the Elephant House,
from where we took to the road each day in search of game in The Addo Elephant Park.

And yes, we did see a lot of Elephants.

In fact, this one came a little too close for comfort!

Then we drove past fields of citrus trees, their bright orange pompoms of colour waving like cheerleaders from the road side on our way to Samara. Ah, and then the Big Karoo. Nothing prepares you for its strange beauty. An endless canvas of veld surrounded by mountain ranges that meet the empty sky. We drove for hours without seeing another car. Save for the woolly sheep that pepper the dry land, it was me and my Sid and the open road. Just the way we like it!

Samara is a 28 000 hectare reserve made up of eleven Karoo sheep farms saved from the complete devastation of erosion, by Mark and Sarah Tompkins. Allowing it to lie fallow for eight years, they slowly introduced game indigenous to the area. The earth began to recover and come to life again. There are still areas fenced off, that bare the pockmarked scars of over grazing. Elsewhere it is as if the land has found its breath. Stretched out like a roughly knitted blanket it quietly rests. It has become an extraordinary conservancy in which threatened species like Cheetah can flourish, without the danger posed by other predators. Amidst this silent beauty, the Tompkins have restored the old farmhouses and created beautiful spaces in which to share in the wonder.

Mr Nielson better known as Sid, and I were entranced by it all. We fondly parented our young game ranger Michael Jones, who made each drive an open air school in which to learn about the wild spaces that are so threatened by man, and his encroachments into the wild.

The land was treated with a rare integrity and reverence. Michael pointed out the sweet miracles that might be crushed beneath an errant foot and the fragile insect life and wild flora finding new life, that are so easily destroyed by an SUV hellbent on getting 'closer to the action'.

To see the night sky without the aura of city lights, is to feel your own miraculous presence in so vast a galaxy. Sid brought along his guitar. ( Our son Steele is teaching Sid how to play it, with considerable patience. ) In the evenings we would sit on the stoep while my husband serenaded me with his simple strumming. The Darling!

We ate sublime cuisine and met the loveliest people and gave thanks, again and again and again... Before heading for the open road once more...

Just imagine sitting in this lovely room decorated by John Jacobs interiors for Samara. Sublime.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Last trip to the island...

You're mad that I can't love the ocean

but I've come to this world landlocked
and some bodies feel permanently strange.
Like any foreign language, study it too late and
it never sticks. Anyway,

we're here aren't we? -
trudging up the sand, the water churning
its constant horny noise, an openmouthed heavy

breathing made more unnerving by
the presence of all these families, the toddlers

with their chapped bottoms, the fathers
in gigantic trunks spreading out their dopey
circus coloured gear.

How can anyone relax near something so worked up all the time?

I know the ocean is glamorous,
but the hypnosis, the dilated pull of it, feels
impossible to resist. And what better reason to
resist? I'm most comfortable in

a field, a yellow eared patch
of cereal, whose quiet rustling argues for
the underrated value of discretion.

And above this, I admire a certain quality of
sky, like an older woman who wears her jewels with
an air of distance, that is, lightly with the right attitude. Unlike your ocean

there's nothing sneaky about a field. I like their
ugly-girl frankness. I like that, sitting in the dirt,

I can hear what's coming between the stalks.

Erin Belieu

Guard your tongue...

Words are powerful things.

They are the building blocks of the co-created world in which we live.

Our sages tell us that G-d created the world with ten utterances.

In this way we are encouraged to recognise, Abra Ke dibrah ( Abbra Cadabbra!) As I speak so I create.

In Judaism there is the concept of 'evil talk' Loshan Horah and there are numerous orthodox texts which closely examine its crucial implications for our lives.

The continued transgressions of a slanderous tongue may lead ultimately to exclusion from the world to come, Olam Habah, emphasizing the care with which we should attend to our daily speech.

There is the old allegory of the congregant who approached her rabbi in order to heal her guilty heart. Having confessed to a loose tongue which had slandered others, the woman asked for guidance.

The rabbi suggested that she fill a bag with feathers and leave one on the doorstep of each person she had maligned.The woman duly carried out his instructions and placed a feather at the door of every victim of her 'evil tongue'.She returned to the Rabbi the following day for further instructions. The Rabbi asked that she now return to each doorstep to retrieve the feathers.

The woman soon contacted the Rabbi in a panic, only a few feathers had been found. Most had been carried off by the wind and were long gone.

Such is the path of words. They will find their own way out into the world, gaining the strength to build or destroy as they go. Our words fall like pebbles into still water rippling out beyond our control...

The Amidah ends with this prayer: " Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile, and to such as curse me let my soul be dumb...'

Monday, July 6, 2009

For the anniversary of my death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day

When the last fires will wave to me

And the silence will set out

Tireless traveler

Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer

Find myself in life as in a strange garment

Surprised at the earth

And the love of one woman

And the shamelessness of men

As today writing after three days of rain

Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease

And bowing not knowing to what

By W. S. Merwin

Thursday, July 2, 2009

To the cottage now...

As part of our practicing being alone routine, Mr Neilson better known as Sid and I are going to our little love-nest by the sea for a few days.

It felt presumptious fourteen years ago for us to be buying a second home, in a country where so many are homeless and dispossessed.

We looked for signs everywhere in search of guidance.

In the end, we knew that the little wooden cottage built at the turn of the last century, and used as a ration store during the Boer War was meant to be ours.

It is the seaside cottage you read of in children's story books, perched on a gentle slope with the sea all about and the towns and mountains across the bay.

It has been a place of deep love and real happiness for our family and as often as we can we share it with others.

We are very sentimental about it, especially now that it is the one place we can still visit and sit on my daughter Tiffany's bed and think back to a life that included her beauty and laughter.

Come visit...the door is always open.

Last night as I was sleeping...

Last night as I was sleeping
I dreamt - marvelous error! -
that a spring was breaking out in my heart
I said: Along which secret aquaduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping
I dreamt - marvelous error! -
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping
I dreamt - marvelous error! -
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt warmth
as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt - marvelous error! -
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
Antonio Machado

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On practicing being alone...

Mr Nielson and I

Mr Nielson, better known as Sid and I are practicing being alone.

The children, bless their cotton picking socks have flown the coop.

They are off on exciting travels of their very own, whilst Sid and I 'tend the crops'! It's funny how quickly it happens. One moment you are checking their homework ( if they're lucky) and the next, you are checking them onto a flight somewhere too far for comfort. It's that blink of an eye thing that seems to be happening more often then ever now.

I find it very disconcerting.

This evening Mr Nielson better known as Sid, made a delicious supper.

That man is a very neat cook. The same cannot be said of his wife, cest moi who is known and it must be said, loved for her messiness. Mr Nielson has often thanked me for the lessons of patience and tolerance that I have bestowed upon him by testing these qualities daily! The groaning heap of books next to my bed is a case in point. Mr Nielson has grown used to the sight of my laden bedside table in contrast to the orderly expanse that is his.
As for my car, why Mr Nielson has eliminated this bother by regularly seeing to it's cleaning himself. Many a missing shoe or important document has been found in this manner!

Open Mr Nielson's cupboard doors and you will behold the colour coded, seasonally ordered joy of the modern man's wardrobe. My own unruly holding space is filled with sale items ( no one else wanted them!) and a large contingency of clothing bought in the hope of impending weight loss! Mr Neilson solves this dilemma by giving my unworn clothes to passing vagrants who have learnt to ring our door bell in the sure knowledge that something good will come of it. But that is another story.

In the meantime, whilst Mr Nielson attends to last minute matters in his office I am upstairs preparing the boudoir. My husband is a most romantic man. All the accoutrement of romance are at my disposal. He ensures that a full supply of candles and flowers are always at the ready. Music too. ( Not to mention lovely lingerie!) I feel Mr Nielson better known as Sid should write a book to help other husbands.

Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good...
(PS: If you enlarge the photo (don't) there is a very strange person eyeing us from his/her(?) towel. This is no-one we know!)