poppy seed torte

poppyseed torte(1)


Over the summer I stopped sleeping. The reasons for my sleeplessness are not prudently discussed on the internet, so I shall only say that night after night, for close to two months, I lay awake, clawing my way through the anxiety that enters the moment sleep leaves. Most of these nights I lay in the Toronto apartment and imagined walking through the house of my grandmother. She was, that same summer, moving from the town where she had spent sixty years of her life, to a different city, to an altogether different house. The sheer terror of leaving behind six decades of one’s life paralysed me. And I mourned the house. I mourned the wallpaper, I mourned the stoep, I mourned the incessant hadedas in the garden, RSG playing from a little radio in the kitchen every morning. It was the house that Annetjie built, it was what stood once her children moved out and had children of their own, once her husband died, in a town that still housed all of her friends who had suffered the same fate, all of these women in the houses they had built. I could not bear the thought of her having to leave behind the tannies who had sustained one another over the course of six decades of being a woman in a Wes-Transvaal mining town, with the utter absence of agency that one has to resign oneself to in that context. I thought of this piece by Hélène Cixous, in Osnabrück:




Years ago I surprised my grandmother by showing up for her birthday. She was hosting these tannies for tea, and I brought out a cake I had recently started baking and which I bake to this day, a German-style poppy seed torte. The cake itself consists of little but ground poppy seed, raisins, pecan nuts and sugar and eggs. No flour! the tannies exclaimed. No flour, I said. The moist cake is topped with a mixture of melted butter and chocolate, beaten together, offering a lovely rich contrast to the nutty flavour of the poppy seed. The tannies were enthralled. So was my grandmother. For the rest of the week her and I would eat slices of the cake, twice a day, with a cup of tea on the stoep outside, and she would send slices of it to all the tannies who had not been able to make it to the tea. They would always call in the evening, once they had eaten the cake, to thank us for it, and exclaim, No flour!, and my grandmother, still taken aback by this fact, would reply, No flour!





I tried to take a photograph of her every afternoon, on the stoep. As always, she rushes inside the moment she realises what I’m doing. My life is filled with photographs of my grandmother exiting the frame.




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