ZA: Driving to Karoo

Come. Come away with me; close 8 days of class with a bang, zip up the computer bag, and leave the city in the rear view mirror.  A half hour past the suburbs a mountain tunnel emerges into a broad canyon, somewhere between Montana and Arizona, or the drive from Santa Fe to Taos, writ large, but decidedly African in its shape and pitiless desolation – beautiful, but not a thing moves, and no houses at all.  The highway swoops gaily through it nevertheless, criss-crossing the dribbling riverbed – how can you not believe in an ancient earth, when you see what this small stream has accomplished?  From deep in the carved canyon, the strata in the harder rock of the up-thrusting buttes are twisted ribbon candy of pink granites and lichen green, and as the sun lowers behind me I climb out of the gathering shadows below and toward the hills turned red and orange molten.

The deserted canyon gives way to blooming desert as I rise through broad valleys of floodland farms and hills of vines for those fine South African wines – Iona Sauvignon Blanc, amazing, Near the perfect vineyards are the less-than-perfact shantytowns for the laborers.  Hopeful people in colorful clothes line the road in 29C / 85 F, with laundry heaped on their shoulder or displaying boxes of fruit or just waiting.  I carry on at speed, alone in my white car; I have been warned enough of crime, and know too little to risk picking people up.  It’s awful, it’s a fact.

Houses for these workers are metal shacks, with nary a green thing among them but a stunted tree.  There is a fence around this village, and it looks too much like a cattle corral (which comes from the African kraal). On the radio is an election debate – Nelson Mandela’s ANC (he’s long retired, living in the same neighborhood – Houghton – I stayed in Jo’burg, as it turned out) has fractured into a new party – COPE, and the knives are out for the good ‘ol boy network.  But in these townships people will vote as they are told, or bought, or always have, until education – the subject of the debate – is available.

I ride the light as long as I can, and then, after stretching my legs in Laingsburg, enter another world familiar to the driver in the American West – barreling into the tunnel of a two-lane road in the night, rocked regularly by the double-load lorries that rumble past in the other direction.  Like all African activities, driving requires your full attention – things can pop up in the road having dropped off a ‘buckie’ (pick-up); people might be passing when they shouldn’t, a set of four headlights appearing suddenly in front of you.  They do always make it back though, and everyone crowds into the shoulder to accommodate.

By now it’s just gospels and spirituals on the radio – this is a very religious country, black and white.  I stop on the last deserted road before my friends, for a few minutes of airing out my back before I arrive.  It is so pitch dark on that turnout that I cannot tell if I am in flatland or hills.  The Milky Way is smeared across the sky; the silence is total.

I am off to see a friend I haven’t seen in more than 16 years, in the middle of a small town in the desert of the Western Cape.

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One Response to “ZA: Driving to Karoo”

  1. Michelle Bellerose Says:

    as usual, a cinematic riff of perfection…

    the facility here for the painterly yarn an example of what I would call pressure-point analysis in natal astrology… if I can use you as an example Tom, you have a Mercury/Uranus conjunction t-squaring a Moon/Neptune opposition… the MO/NE 180 is of particular interest, as it suggests the learning and mapping of somatics comes not so much from a prosaic fascination with matrix (MO), but from an intuitive ability to see (the 180) and be directed (the t-square) by the timeless universals (NE)…

    ME/UR squaring this dynamic produces in youth the unruliness of the iconoclast who instinctively knows end sums before the question is ever asked, a disturbance for slower learners and those who resent synthetic thinking. But with age such shearing forces can shave down as in Tom’s case into this super nice admixture of unfettered, compassionate viewing (MO/NE) expressed without clique or recourse to old ways of looking at things (ME/UR)…

    Toronto KMI 1 starts in a week….. Carrie’s AT intro this weekend. Excited!

    : )

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