Thursday, August 7, 2008

Memories of a South African Spring


Sometimes the best you can do under the circumstances is eat fried chicken.

It came to me later this evening, as sizzling came from the oven - so it wasn't fried, actually - that Dana Snyman was the reason I was about to eat crispy chicken pieces, on a hot Thursday night, while processing an IRS-related shock to the system, and thinking about consequences, in general.

This afternoon, on my way home to Brooklyn, I was reading the August edition of Go! a South African travel magazine whose great talent it is to visit small, affordable places and make them big, so big that your homesick heart overflows and you're practically weeping on the subway.

The story, by Dana Snyman, was When It Rains On the Knersvlakte, and sounds to my ear like English translated from Afrikaans. Go! is published in Afrikaans, too: Weg!

"I pulled off [the road] next to a man walking northwards, who said he didn't want a lift. His name's Duncan Evans, he said. He wore a brown slipper on the one foot and a ragged tackie on the other, and with him he had a plastic bag with a bottle of water, a single sandal, a jersey and a dog-eared Hustler.

At Rooiberg I ran into Jan Louw - with Pote [Paws], his dog. Almost immediately Pote lifted his leg against the wheel of my car. The wind blew so hard that the jet almost missed its target. Jan farms with goats and sheep. He explained to me exactly where the Knersvlakte begins and ends: it stretches more or less from the Gifberg in the south, past Vanrhynsdorp to Nuwerus and Kliprand in the north. To the east, it borders the Bokkeveld Mountains and to the west it borders on, well, "the dear Lord's mercy". That's how Jan Louw described it. I guess it's another one of those places of which [sic -a hiccup in the translation from his orginal Afrikaans, methinks] the borders lie in people's hearts rather than on a map.

I start driving back. At the T-junction with the N7 a man next to a white Uno with Namibian plates waves me down. I stop and he approaches the car. Thank goodness the conversation isn't about weather.

Do you know whether there's a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Springbok?

I think so, why?

I want to buy my wife one of those big family barrels.

Where's your wife?

In Keetmanshoop.

His name is Jan Opperman. He's a retired road grader from Keetmanshop. Once a year he leaves his wife at home, gets in the Uno and explores the places that he dreamt about during those years, sitting on the grader. But this wind is now driving Jan back home. He's only going to stop in Springbok for that family barrel - R149.90, VAT included - and then he's going straight home.

No, he assures me, as we take our leave, nothing will happen to the chicken in the car from Springbok to Keetmans. "It's only a six hour drive".

Later, in the story, it rains. What they have been waiting for. Rain on the corrugated iron roof. And now, in Brooklyn too, thunder rumbles and distant cumulus towers light up from within like windwarmed coals and rain is falling on the skylight. My heart is far away. West and south, and homesick for the person and the place. Last year this time I had not met this man yet, and from little hotels and guest houses far from cyber connections, in the depths of the North Western Cape, I wrote him a serial letter, looking forward to the 21st of September when we would first clap eyes on the real other, in the flesh, telling him about our travels the flowers, the water, everywhere in the desert.

So tonight I made fried chicken. Except I didn't.

You need:

A Cornish hen, cut up (or long fingers of potato if you don't/won't eat chicken)
1/4 stick butter, melted
1/2 a cup of flour, into which you blend:
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp ground coriander
2 Tbsp mustard seeds
Enough pepper to make the white flour deeply speckled. Quite a lot.
Salt. Enough.

Heat oven to 400'F/200'C. Coat chicken pieces in butter then dip in flour and pat as much on as will stick. Put into hot oven for about an hour till very brown and sizzling. Eat with cool red wine and watch My Name Is Nobody. Later you might want beans.

In 2006 and 2007 my mom and I drove to Kamieskroon and then through Springbok on our way to Nababeep to see its orange daisies. We drive through the apparently barren, cactus-rich Knersvlakte on our way to Nieuwoudtville, flower capital of the world, high on its plateau. If there is any way in the world you can get yourself there, go. It is a thing to do while you are on this planet. You will never forget it.


  1. You are right Marie - it is unforgettable, an altered state of reality, a veritable trip for eye, mind, soul.

  2. Hm, I really don't how to choose: they're all so nice; the flowers, the chicken, and the... movie. ;-)

    Don't worry though, it's a date.

  3. You make me yearn for that landscape and I've never visited it. Do you travel with champagne? :)

  4. Jane, and you're so close. Jealous.

    Centvingt: next year.

    BPG: I hope you can one day.

    Do I travel with champagne? Is there another way to travel? Does the bear catch choirboys in the woods?


  5. Marie - your pics of Namaqualand are breathtaking! I suspect it's in the ey of the beholder. (and the hands which frame the space). They've had very good rains north of Kamieskroon (and in general I think) - sommer 'n spogjaar?!

  6. Thank you Marijks. A very nice compliment, coming from you. I will never forget sitting beside a clear-running stream near Kamieskroon, separated from the tar road by many hills; with birds, insects, the sound of the water, and flowers flowers flowers, thinking, I had no idea...

    Do you think you will visit?

  7. Stunning photos, and very interesting text to match. Flower capital of the world...what a sight to see. I understand about the chicken---honest!!

    Yours looks excellent, by the way.

  8. It is worth the long trip, Lavinia, honest :-)

  9. Your Brooklyn fried chicken looks great! An amazing field of blooms. I have something very similar to the pink/purple (mesembryanthemum?)flower in pots in my garden. x


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