The Shirts

These shirts show signs of wear and tear,
The collars frayed, the cuffs rubbed bare.
I see the signals everywhere.

I see them in my mind like doom.
They float like ghosts upon the loom.
I slip them on like skin, perfume.

I'll have the collars turned before
I fold them neatly in the drawer.
Perhaps they'll look like new once more.


© Glen Fisher

Letters from Madrid

https://www.glenfisher.photography/places/letters-from-madrid

Visit my photography website to view my latest portfolio of colour and black-and-white images, Letters from Madrid.

Clouds – A Poem

A boy lies on his back
looking at clouds. Only
he is not looking, he is
up there with them, up
where they slide and collide
mysterious as fate
insubstantial as air.

I have not seen clouds
in sixty years, until
today - there, overhead, in the blue
sky that scrolls and unfolds -
there, where they always were.

©

A Poem for my Dad

The Saw

Hold this, my father said,
Meaning the board he was cutting
For another project he would never finish.
The silver-toothed saw snickered and whined.

It was his way, I guess,
Of reaching out. I saw nothing at all,
A small boy who wanted only
To go out and play.

© Glen Fisher

Things I Disapprove Of

Dribbling when peeing. Pain in the joints. Nose hair. Hairy ears. Dribbling after peeing.

Bushy eyebrows. Cars that whip by too close. Cars that whip by too fast. Cars that crawl up your arse.

Farts.

Weak erections. Brief erections. Bad art.

No erections.

Hair loss.

Milk. Wrinkles. Skin like crepe paper. Skin like sandpaper. Food that makes your stomach burble. Farts.

Pain in the joints.

Forgetting things. Misremembering things. Remembering things I’d rather forget.

Repeating oneself. Non sequiturs.

Republicans. Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s children. Leprosy.

Realising what an idiot you are. Were. Still are.

Forgetting things. Peeing after you’ve stopped peeing.

Dribbling. Farts. Repeating yourself.

Ageing in general.

2022.

Provincial Scenes

My new photo portfolio, Provincial Scenes, Ontario – do click on the link, and take a look, and do let me know what you think! – might also be called Scenes from a Life, the life in this case being my own, pretty humdrum existence, and the photographs taken, not on some fancy assignment or as part of a planned project, but simply in the course of my accidental wanderings, on business and holidays, across the fair province of Ontario, Canada.

Barn with a Red Roof, Prince Edward County

The photos are ‘scenes from a life’ as well as pictures of Ontario in this sense: each of the images, on its own, is an attempt – successful, or unsuccessful, you be the judge – not simply to see and capture but to absorb and reflect on whatever part or aspect of Ontario – and by extension, Canada – is in front of my lens. Not simply as an image, or scene, but as a question, and an act of contemplation, a kind of analysis, if you will.

The question is a simple one – what am I doing here? I ask myself. A South African, and a New Canadian, transplanted or transposed from one place – one corner of the earth – to another. And what is it I am seeing? What is this place? The Canadian virtues – peace, order, decency, civility, as well as the darker shadows of our common humanity – all are present, printed on the landscape, etched into the environment – different not only in outward form but in the atmosphere, the sensibility, the zeitgeist if you will, of my African homeland. The difference – the distance – between Canada and South Africa is both physical and metaphysical.

Into the Lake

If the images individually are about not only the place or the landscape but also about the thought processes going on in the mind of the person taking the photograph, the portfolio – culled or selected from literally hundreds of images, retouched, re-cropped in some cases, and presented together, not in any old order but in this particular order – is not so much a portrait of Ontario – that would be a different kind of project altogether – as a kind of interior landscape, a version of what I see and where I am, a rumination, me muttering to myself as I return like a dog with a bone to a recurring question – who am I, and what am I doing here? What is this place? This Ontario, this Canada?

There is also another, altogether different reason for going on about this portfolio. What, after all, does one say, at the end of 2021, about the year that has almost passed, and the year that is to come? Covid has upended everything.

As you will have surmised if you read my previous post, I landed in Toronto in the middle of October, after two long flights broken by a long layover in Paris; I took a limo home from Pearson, to where Rob was waiting, up along High Park and through Roncesvalles; the evening was mild and the last light lingered, and with every street we crossed, every corner we turned, I thought to myself, yes, I remember this! This is familiar. This is home, at last.

And then, in no time at all, it was the end of November. We were about to fly out again, to South Africa, on the last Sunday of the month, for my mother’s 90th birthday and a holiday in the Cape. Just 48 hours before our departure, Omicron broke, Canada pulled up the drawbridge, and we cancelled our flights. Since then we have been in the kind of limbo that almost everyone everywhere is in – will we able to spend Christmas with our family here in Toronto, given the almost daily doubling in Covid infections? Will I be able to return to SA in January or February to finish my contract – or will five years of work with my South African colleagues end, not with hugs and tears and the clinking of glasses, but a final Zoom call and a limply virtual, put-on-a-brave-face-but-really-this-sucks apologetic goodbye? This after a fairly crappy year, on the whole – a fairly crappy two years, actually, if you think back to when all of this began.

Hard to say. But at least we are well, and still reasonably sane (our view of course, not independently verified). Still standing and ready – if a little punch-drunk and unsteady on our pins – to give next year a go. Happy Holidays, everyone. And let’s raise our glasses to a happier New Year.

Oh, and don’t forget to take a look at that darned portfolio….

Driftwood, Lake Huron

Songs of the Road

If time is a river, and the river a road, then the long road winding 1400km from Joburg to Cape Town is both distance and time, surface and depth, ripple and bend, present and past.

All journeys begin with a parting, with a saying of goodbyes: goodbye to our grand-daughter, Olivia, just three days old; goodbye to Tom, aged four; goodbye to my daughter and son-in-law and his parents, who have flown up from the coast to help with the newborn; goodbye to their house in Greenside, where we have stayed since we said goodbye to the house in Parkmore that we rented for more than four years – goodbye, goodbye!

Silence, as you drive through the Sunday suburbs; silence as the distance sinks in, and the river murmurs.

The highway that leads out of the city is a highway leading out of any city, anywhere – a flickering newsreel of bridges and flyovers, rusted rooftops and vibracrete walls, low-cost housing, signs and billboards, traffic crawling like bugs in the brown morning smog.

And then the city vanishes, just like that. The road opens and clears, the river rushes forward, time dips in its oar and away you go. I am alone with my memories and thoughts and my mind wanders, a free flow of recollections, associations, things forgotten and found. All the while I am watching the road, watching the countryside glide by, the car humming pleasantly along in the rhythm of the river. I turn on the music – because I am driving alone, I can turn up the volume as much as I like, and soon the sound fills the car and I am singing lustily along, The Beatles, the Stones, The Police, Bob Dylan, Dire Straits, Elton John, Diana Krall, Melody Gardot, The Eagles, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin, Oliver Mtukudzi, Freshly Ground, Mango Groove, Johnny Clegg, the soundtrack of my life.

Over the Vaal River and out of Gauteng, on through the colours, khaki, blue, orange and green of the Free State’s big skies and fertile farmlands, koppies and hills, pushing on and on into the Northern Cape, stony and dry. My first stop is Tzamenkomst, a stone-built lodge on the Orange River, six-and-a-half hour’s drive from the City of Gold, not too long a day but far enough to be well on my way. A green oasis given life by the river, and time for a beer.

Before dinner I take a short walk down to the bank of the river to take a few photographs, and on my way back to the lodge I am diffidently stopped by a middle-aged couple: you look like you’re a professional photographer, the man says, can I ask your advice about what lenses I should buy? I am absolutely not a professional, I tell him, but I am a keen photographer – what kind of photography do you do? Just a beginner, he says, still learning the ropes – but wildlife, birds – he has a new pair of Leica Ultravids round his neck. So we fall into a conversation about lenses and photography and before I know it it is time for dinner and drinks and a whiskey and bed.

The next day is another six hour’s drive, the bands of my youth bouncing off the landscape, the freedom of the road that is time and a river roaring loud in my ears. My lungs are full of fresh air, my heart sings with the tyres and the tarmac and the land sliding by. I’m in Matjiesfontein by two, checking in to the Lord Milner, a grand old colonial dame of a Karoo hotel. There is load-shedding that night, which means the power has gone out, and the hotel’s generator has gone on strike, so I sit outside on the verandah in the gathering dark, alone in the candelight, listening to a tableful of loud brash engineers who are constructing a wind farm somewhere between here and Sutherland, or so I gather, full of bullshit and hot air. I am mildly irritated but at the same time it’s okay – I’ve been there, I know the drill, I was that young man once. I am up the next morning before sunrise to take a few photographs, and the engineers are there already, drifting out of the hotel, climbing into their bakkies, headlights on, heading out to the day’s work.

I make a more leisurely start, knowing I have an easy three-and-a-half hour’s drive, dropping down from the dry stark plateau into the sudden green of the Hex River Valley, through the high magical kloofs that descend into Wellington, climbing again to the Du Toits Kloof tunnel, before the final descent and the waves upon waves of vine-clad hills that fall through the outlying suburbs into the city of Cape Town.

Soon I will turn around again, this time by air, and cover the 1400km back to Johannesburg in just on two hours, leaving my car parked at my mother’s, our goodbyes a foretaste of a longer goodbye, as I prepare for the long flight via Paris in just a few more days to my home in Canada. But first I will take her for lunches and drives, we will chat and remember, and I will remind her when she grows sad that yes, I will be back – Rob and I will both be back – for her 90th birthday, on December 3rd. Just six weeks away – but she knows, and I know, that returning in December is just a pause in the flood, before the river takes us away again, to our lives in Toronto.

Of Renewals and Renewal

The other day I received a renewal notice, from a professional association I belong to – or belonged to, I should say. Normally – in the old normal – I would have renewed my membership without much thought, but this time I hesitated.

It was not so much the money – over $100 – though it did cross my mind that I would be needing soon to start counting my pennies much more carefully. It was the question, why do I need this? that stopped me in my tracks.

Because you are still planning on working, I told myself – not full time, and not continuously, but you do still want to keep your hand in, right? You do still plan on taking the odd contract, making a contribution, ploughing something back, earning a few shekels here and there to pay for your travels, your hobbies, your day dreams and vices, etc, etc?

Elephants of the Zambezi

Well, yes, I do, but do I need this?

More importantly, what does renewing my professional memberships say, about how I see myself, where I am at? Can I really say I am hanging up my boots, cutting loose, embarking upon a new, post-employment life, if my programmed response to an emailed reminder that a membership is expiring is to go right online like Pavlov’s salivating dog and transfer the moolah? Who is fooling who here?

And so, I didn’t pay, and I didn’t renew my membership – and in fact, over the past few months, I have found myself balking at the renewal of certain newspaper and journal and software subscriptions also, not because I am no longer interested in this stuff – I will always, in some sense, be a political junkie, a self-improver, and a collector of what used to be called general knowledge, not because it is useful, necessarily, but because it helps make up the messy and unfinished scrapbook that is my understanding of the world – but because it is a statement of direction: I have done all that, and now I am headed elsewhere.

And so, my decision not to renew certain memberships and subscriptions is in fact a sign of renewal – a measure, not of abandonment or denial of an old and former life, but of commitment to what comes after.

That is the passive – it will come, but believe me, I have every intention of making it happen.

For evidence of this, why don’t you mosey over to my photography website, and take a look at my new portfolio, Elephants of the Zambezi. While you are there, take a look around. Enjoy yourself.

Just click on the embedded links. You know how to do it.

“Ah, but your land is beautiful”

‘Ah, but your land is beautiful’ is the third novel by Alan Paton, the South African author best known for ‘Cry, the Beloved Country.’ Telling tales of apartheid and resistance, the title is an ironic reflection on the perception so often and so blindly voiced by visitors to this country – ‘you live in such a beautiful country,’ they say.

The Acacia Tree

Yes, it is beautiful, Paton tells us, but it is also a terrible beauty. The strange and haunted beauty of suffering and terror, oppression and hatred, struggle, love, fear, indifference, compassion, violence, racism, xenophobia, sexism, humiliating poverty and vulgar ostentation – extremes, contradictions, a maddening buffet of blandishment and repulsion.

And I haven’t even mentioned corruption, nepotism, greed, incompetence, and the other multiple sins and vanities of today’s ruling and entitled classes.

So, as we prepare to leave South Africa, and return to Canada, I feel the old duality still: this land is beautiful indeed, but it is also a suffering, struggling, hurtful beauty.

Twenty-seven years of liberation have brought progress, for sure; so much has changed, and for much the better. But so much has remained the same. ‘The Dream Deferred,’ as Mark Gevisser called it in his magisterial biography of Thabo Mbeki, seems as I round out my career, in education and development, not so much deferred as indefinitely postponed; less a prospect on the horizon or around the corner than a fragile unsubstantiated obstinate hope, a persistence of faith against the evidence and the available facts.

Burning the Veld

We have taken a few days out, as we come to the end of our time here, to rest and relax in the shadow of the Drakensberg, at a comfortable lodge overlooking Spioenkop, in the heart of the old Anglo-Boer War battlefields. It is peaceful now, the blood of Boer and Brit long since soaked and absorbed into the earth, the cries and the gunfire gone from the hills and the echoing valleys. Perhaps, one day, a similar calm will descend on the country, old wounds and old debts not necessarily forgotten but at least forgiven.

I hope so, with the part of me that can’t help but feel the call of the struggle. Yet there is part of me, too, as I look now toward the end of my contract and the freedom of retirement, that is over all this. Like a man remembering a former lover, I want to know how this terrible, beautiful, demanding mistress is doing, but it doesn’t matter.

Striking Camp

After 4 1/2 years in Parkmore Gardens, in suburban banal and exhausting Johannesburg, we are striking camp.

The stuff we want to keep is on its way, first by road to the coast, then onto a ship, via Rotterdam to Toronto. The stuff we don’t want to keep, or really don’t need, is in the process of being farmed out – some of it to Kath and Gareth, some of it to other members of the family, some to neighbours and some put out on the street, for passers-by and the waste pickers to help themselves. Some things are for sale, some we are giving away, but the important thing is that everything, in the end, goes out the door. The campground swept down to the bare earth, the house picked clean as a pile of bones.

It is a time of taking down, not putting up; of emptying not filling; of lasts rather than firsts – the last time we will sleep in our bed, the last fire we will make in the Danish fire pit we bought as a wedding present, the last braai or barbecue we will have on the patio. Gathering speed for the leap over the abyss.

Life beckons. There is a cheerfulness to our work.

Our reward at the end of each day is a small piece of creative time: Rob does her collages in what will soon no longer be her downstairs studio; upstairs, I work on a few photographs. If you’ve been following me on Facebook or Flickr or Instagram (grief, I am going to have to get a grip on all this social media time-wasting) you may recognise these images from a series I have posted on Chris and Paul’s farm near Bailieboro, in the Kawarthas, and my series on Madrid.

What is interesting me even more right now is a portfolio I am putting together, from our 2016/17 New Year’s trip to Havana, just before I flew out to South Africa to start my new contract.

I had such strong and such mixed feelings about this short and admittedly selective exposure to Cuba – too close to home, in some respects, speaking as a South African; too conflicted. There is a whole story I still need to write about this, but if pictures tell a story, then hopefully my Havana portfolio, when I publish it, will say something of my perceptions and feelings about Cuba.

But first, we gotta get outta this place. Meanwhile, here is a Havana foretaste.

Click on the images to view full size.