This is a long post. Apologies.
I was twenty-two when I went abroad for the first time. Amsterdam, Provence, Paris. I had €90 I could spend on things to bring back, and I still remember everything I bought. A print of Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom, white flowers speckling an intensely turquoise backdrop, which hung in my Arcadia apartment, above the dining table, for the next six years. A wide, shallow duck egg blue bowl and matching ceramic cups that reminded me of those Heidi drank from, from Hema in Amsterdam. In Paris I bought a skirt from a flea market in the Latin Quarter, also blue. I had just broken up with a boyfriend before the trip, in a period when Birthday Letters was a permanent fixture on my bedside table, and Ted Hughes’s voice would ring in my ears throughout the two weeks on foreign soil.
Blue was better for you. Blue was wings.
Kingfisher blue silks from San Francisco
Folded your pregnancy
In crucible caresses.
Blue was your kindly spirit — not a ghoul
But electrified, a guardian, thoughtful.
In the pit of red
You hid from the bone-clinic whiteness.
But the jewel you lost was blue.
I was determined not to lose the blue. When I returned home to a rainy Pretoria I walked into my apartment and started throwing things away. It was early summer and I was rearranging the house to encompass all I had seen outside, to situate all I had brought back. (Two weeks later I would meet Johannes, seated across from me at a birthday party table, but that is a story for another day.)
I still have an obsessive need to rearrange the house when I come back from any such trip, to lay out what I’ve brought back and figure out how it changes the landscape of what is already here. Below are the things I brought back from South Africa in the year of our Lord 2016.
Things that used to belong to other people.
Brown paisley scarf. Used to belong to my friend Jackie, who wore it in the very cold Parys winters. She died of breast cancer six years ago. Will now be worn in Toronto.
Red dress for a two-year old. Used to belong to me. No takers yet, but here’s hoping.
Gert Vlok Nel’s two poetry anthologies – Om te Lewe is Onnatuurlik (1993), and Om Beaufort-Wes se Beautiful Woorde te Verlaat (1999), both used to belong to my deceased godfather. Nel writes about all the best stuff – death, despair, family. I know these anthologies off by heart but have never owned my own copies, as they’ve been woefully out of print.
The other three books also came from my godfather’s estate. A copy of a cookbook produced by the wives of gunner’s in the South African army in 1983, Kannoniersspyskaart, which I will post about at some point. A guide to writing your thesis, published by the Potchefstroom Universiteit vir Christelike Hoër Onderwys in 1986, because it seemed apt at this point of my life, and a copy of a Tydskrif vir Letterkunde published in the 70s, which features a cover photo of Eugène Marais’s last home, also the spot of his suicide.
Things brought back from Munich, where we spent four days just before Christmas.
Various types of tea infusions – Strawberry and raspberry, Glühwein-flavoured, and one that smells distinctly of the candied almonds you buy on the street, roasted on the spot, hot and served in cones.
Chocolate-covered marzipan, chocolate-covered lebkuchen, chocolate-covered pfeffernusse. For eating on the couch.
Mustard, in a tube. And a glass ornament for a Christmas tree, either some very white-ass Jesus or one of the Magi?
Christmas brought an embarrassment of riches for our spice rack. J’s parents travelled to India and Sri Lanka and brought back curry mixes, and a bunch of small packets filled with ingredients we had never used before. Maldive fish chips (dried, pounded fish, for adding to curries), curd chillies (chillies dried in yoghurt, for making Indian rice with yoghurt), and dry mango powder, or amchoor, which gets added to a bunch of Indian chutneys or pickles, and which we’ve started using as a substitute for Middle-Eastern recipes that call for dried lime.
Friends visited the Seychelles and brought back the spice fixings for a Creole curry (including cinnamon leaf, excitement!). And enough cassia bark to keep us in good stead for a while. J’s sister Helen provided the black truffle salt (with actual pieces of black truffle, I don’t really do the body odour-flavour of truffle oil). The Moroccan rub and sea salt with lime, coriander and chilli are from two local brands I miss – Nomu, and Melissa’s.
More gifts. A beautiful blanket knitted by my friend R, from cream-coloured wool, with a grey mohair border. A Country Road milk jug from Stella. Two sets of earrings made by my sister-in-law Janie. And more additions to my growing collection of Great Trek commemorative crockery. They perhaps need a post of their own.
And finally, more food. For the coffee shelf, beans from micro roasters Truth in Cape Town and Terbodore in Kwazulu-Natal. For the chocolate shelf, dark chocolate coated whole almonds, dusted in cocoa, from Woolworths. (I’ve placed an embargo on buying chocolate until I’ve worked through my substantial collection at home. See the fact that an entire shelf is needed to house my store. These almonds were the exception. All three packets of them.)
For the general pantry, tomato paste in a tube (there’s a tube theme here, you’ll see), and sundried tomatoes, also from Woolworths. For the booze shelf: two bottles of gifted, local gin. Our favourite Amber Inverroche (a local gin which includes fynbos), which we drink over ice with a slice of grapefruit, and a new addition to the market – KWV’s Cruxland gin, infused with Kalahari truffles. Not pictured: more gin (good old Gordon’s, a fraction of the price in SA, compared to Canada), cheese! (from our favourite Dutch cheesemaker at the Boeremark, deliciously aged Gouda), more gifts from home, and a LOT of fabric. More on that in another post. For now I need to repack my cupboards and tackle my spice shelf.