April 13th, 2008

africa

"I had a farm in Africa..."

So, TiVo taped a classic weepie for us - "Out of Africa". Just finished watching it - and wept, again. The acacia trees against sunsets that only happen in these skies, the sweeping vistas of hundreds of gazelles or thousands of flamingoes taking off from Nauru, or the a single stately elephant or pair of lions.

I wish I didn't get the feeling of watching history, something long gone, something that only still exists in memory and dream.

I was ten when I first set foot in the Dark Continent, ten years old, a child whose mind and spirit were wide open, and that place left a stamp on both of them. I know that there is also filth and death and disease and corruption and bitter poverty and tribal rivalries and constant suspicion and aggression and greed and arrogance and edge-of-catastrophe. All that, yes. But beyond that, there's the memory of vastness and ancientness and beauty that stabs at the heart with something that is almost exquisite pain. There is the smell of the frangipani trees in the twilight, and the sound of cicadas in the heat of the day when the air shimmers with the noise and the heat-mirages and the shadows themselves are hot and sultry and the sun has weight and sits coiled on the shoulders like a living thing. There is the purple of the jacarandas and the scarlet of the flame trees and the bougainvillea, and the golden waves of the savannah grasses, and the rough gray of ancient tree bark, and the red earth of Africa. There is the endless sky with its jewel-coloured sunsets. There's the danger of snake, or crocodile, or mosquitoes that carry diseases which leave you shaking and sweating in the night. There are the bright beautiful stars in the night, closer and sharper than anywhere else on earth. There are the bright vivid smiles that break in chilren's faces; There is an innocence there, as well as an ancientness that is almost beyond understanding. There is the fear and the glory and the beauty and the dream of it all.

And I was very young when it was all handed to me to absorb. And I may have missed some here and there. But what I got, I still carry, and there are times during movies like "Out of Africa" that I sob helplessly when I watch it all unfold before me and the memories all start stirring.

A long time ago I wrote an essay about leaving "shadow selves" behind in places where I've been. I know there is one always back on the shores of the Danube, my beloved river, watching over the town where I was born. And I know there is one - or perhaps more than one - roaming the hills and plains of Africa, walking with the elephants at sunset, drifting through the red hills of Swaziland or sitting on the edge of Table Mountain at night kicking my heels against the side of the cliff and watching the lights of Cape Town twinkle a long way below. Shadows that carry the heat and the light and the memory of Africa within them.

Shadows that make me weep when I remember the places which they guard.