Fall

We don’t call it Fall, here in South Africa. We do it the English way. We call it autumn.

Barn Quilt Trail, Prince Edward County

Be that as it may, fall has arrived, including this morning an unseasonal thunderstorm and rain. It’s not just the weather that is changing, folks, it’s the climate, as you know of course, unless you’ve had your head in the sand, or in Fox News’s ass. In Teilfingen, in Germany, our friends Lisa and Klaus have had snow, no less out of place at this time of the year, except that our expectations about what to expect weather-wise at any given time of the year now need to change.

This is not just an inconvenience, it’s a global emergency. But let me not go on about that now. It’s the weekend, right, and we just want to relax.

Not that we can go anywhere relaxing, what with the lockdown and the rising threat of a third wave of Covid. Here, too, one could rattle one’s chains and mutter something foreboding about the encroachment of farming and human settlements on wild spaces and wildlife, the inevitable risks of animal to human transmission of viruses and disease – but again, let me not spoil your lunch.

Which comes, I guess, from a farm somewhere, or many farms, some of them close by and others in far, exotic lands, flown in by air, trailing not clouds of glory as in William Blake’s poem but carbon emissions and … oh, dear, there I go again. Must be something in the water, though in this water scarce country, not to mention incompetence and misgovernment, even a reliable water supply can’t be taken for granted. Ask Cape Town.

Barn, Prince Edward County

Fall, it seems, is not just about autumn, it’s about Man’s Fall – oh blast. Not Man’s Fall, people’s fall, their fall, they being both singular and plural and extremely awkward these days.

(The thing to do, I’ve been slow to learn, but am learning slowly, is that when you’re digging yourself a hole, it’s time to stop digging.)

That goes for you, too, humanity. Stop digging us all a hole!

Ahem. So here, to soothe your shattered nerves, and to make up if I can for my lack of consideration, my disturbance of the peace, calm and tranquility we expect as our due as members of the middle class, are four images of fall – of farms, and barns, and autumn light. The time, October. The place: Prince Edward County.

Rob and I live in hope that one day soon, armed with our jabs and our vaccination certificates, we will climb on board a plane, and fly all the way back home, across the warming oceans, to our little heated house in Toronto, and then drive up some time to revisit the county.

Perhaps we should purchase some carbon offsets.

Five Things You Should Stop Telling Me To Do

We all see this every day: headlines that scream, ‘Five things you should stop doing right now!’ ‘Three things you need to know.’ ‘Scared of the stock market? Do this today!’ And on and on and on, from all corners, all comers, every wannabe pundit and pretend journalist and (groan) aspirant ‘influencer.’

Who are these people? What makes them so smart? What makes them think I’m so dumb? Why do they treat me like a distracted three-year old? And what’s with the relentless, didactic language of self-improvement, as if life is one big football football match, a game you only can win if everyone around you is a coach, constantly yelling instructions? Do this. Do that. Stop doing the other thing.

So here’s where I get off the bus – cheers, folks, have yourselves a blast. This fella is about as improved as he is going to get, about as knowledgeable (or clueless) as he is going to be, about as grown up, at 67, as seems possible, or likely, or even desirable (it’s all downhill from here, anyway, isn’t it?)

Not for me the life of endless self-improvement. I’m happy as I am. With the time I have left, the attention span I can still muster, the air left in my lungs and the blood that still beats in my veins, it’s a walk in the woods that beckons, a volume of poems, an afternoon at the AGO with the Group of Seven painters, a day spent making photographs, a glass of wine, a meal, an evening with my wife.

Long Dog Vineyard and Winery, Prince Edward County

I’m getting off the bus. But before I go, here are five things you should stop telling me to do:

  • stop telling me to do stuff
  • stop telling me to stop doing things
  • stop saying stop. Stop saying ‘do this’ ‘do that.’ Just stop.
  • in case I haven’t made myself clear, stop giving me advice
  • oh, and for god’s sake, stop trying to improve everyone else. Try a little introspection, a little reflection, a little humility, even. Take a look in the mirror. Live a little. Grow up.

And finally, just in case you’re feeling a little lost right now, in need of direction, a little adult supervision, here are four things you should do:

  • follow my blog; enjoy the photographs in this post, of Ontario’s Prince Edward County, and send me your comments and thoughts
  • follow me on Flickr, and remember to ‘like’ my photographs!
  • take a look at my photographs on my Glen Fisher Photography website
  • lighten up, have fun. You only live once.

A Biden Hope

The great thing about Canada, Canadians will tell you, is that it’s so boring. No big drama, no insurrections on the steps of Parliament, no QAnon lunatics impeaching the prime minister, and no prime minister, for that matter, doing his damndest to overthrow a legitimate election. Just law, order and good government.

It’s national news when a moose crosses the road in Bobcaygeon.

So it is in this spirit that I want to applaud the entirely boring Inauguration Speech by President Joe Biden in the US this week. Honesty and truth? Boring! Common decency, consideration for others? Boring! Stopping a pandemic? Boring! Tackling climate change? Boring, boring boring!!!

Mind you, one unintended benefit of these four golden years of the Trump era is that the US has shown – nakedly, garishly, like a Brueghel painting, or Hogarth’s depictions of a gin-sodden London – exactly what a fetid state of corruption and misgovernment actually looks like.

Some other states that I can think of are no more virtuous; the difference being that they are better at hiding it. Extra-judicial killings, surveillance, disappearances, the gulags and even ordinary, institutionalised every-day lies and evasion can work wonders.

But the US, bless it, has as always been a shining example. Look at your ex-President, Americans, and think what you have given those of us poor benighted souls who live in ‘shithole’ countries – which I assume includes places like Norway and New Zealand. You have shown us the ugliness and venality – oh, and the arrogant, hilarious, know-nothing incompetence – that other, less fortunate countries, endure in silence.

The lesson, I guess, is that boring is beautiful, normal is to be treasured, truth matters. And lies are lies, everywhere and always.

So thank you, President Biden, and thank you, America.

A Biden Hope, all of ya.

When is a rhino just a rhino?

Sometimes a rhino is just a rhino.

This big fellow, bringing up the rear of a group of white rhinos as they lumbered up a rutted track to the top of a ridge before disappearing down the other side, maintained a watchful eye as we jolted along in his wake, in the open LandCruiser, last week in the Madikwe Game Reserve. Every now and then he would turn, sending stones flying, and we would stop abruptly, the ranger assessing the risk of a charge. Then he would carry on browsing, and we would advance, until at last he was silhouetted against the sky, the photograph I had wanted.

He was all rhino, that fellow, and for perhaps twenty minutes, that was all we were conscious of – the morning wind in our faces, the smells of the bush, the early light casting its shadows, the armoured behemoth ranged against the sky above us, going ploddingly about his daily business.

Looking at these photographs now, my first thoughts are simply of that moment – how extraordinary it was, how lucky we felt to be in this presence, to experience this, to be there, in the bush, under a vast sky, waiting, listening, watching. It is a wonderful thing, to be freed from that human sense of urgency, of purpose, of things needing to be done, and simply to be there, to exist and to participate, knowing that the pace, the roll-out of events, what happens next, is out of your hands and dependent on the unpredictable whims of the large irritable animal blocking the path on the hill up ahead of you.

Back in my home office, though, this Sunday morning – how many of us have got used to working from home over the past interminable months of the Covid pandemic? – that rhino takes on other meanings, is suggestive of other possibilities and perspectives. Not least of which is the relief of seeing the rear-end of 2020. Including the rear-end of Trump, for that matter, a blight every bit as debilitating as the pandemic and with effects – social, political, environmental – every bit as malignant and possibly more long-lasting.

So what of the New Year? What of 2021?

One thing that we can be pretty sure of, it seems, is that 2021 will be much like the last year, the almost miraculous speed with which a Covid-19 vaccine has been developed notwithstanding.

It’s one thing to develop the vaccine, but it is another thing entirely, as we know, and will continue to learn in more painstakingly practical detail, to manufacture, store and distribute it. And still another thing to get people to take it, and to get those needles into the arms of those who do want to take it, and need to take it.

Like Rob and me, for instance.

Government here in South Africa, to put the matter delicately, says it has a plan, though how much of this plan is magical or wishful thinking is a matter of some public controversy. Rob and I can expect, or hope, to receive the vaccine in Phase Two of the rollout, apparently. This is the good news. When Phase Two is expected to begin, and how rapidly and smoothly the rollout will occur, is rather less certain.

In any event, we hope to be vaccinated before September, in other words, before we pack up our things here and return to Canada. Meanwhile, Covid-19 will continue to block the path to any easy or rapid return to what we, rather wistfully, think of as ‘normality.’

The thing is to survive, I guess, to stay calm and positive, and steadily plod forward. Live in the moment. Appreciate what we have. Develop a thicker skin towards life’s slings and arrows. Practice patience and resilience.

A bit like a rhino.

What to do in a lock-down?

What to do in a lock-down? This is a question to myself, you’ll be glad to hear, not another of those claims to instant expertise, sunny wisdom, righteous outrage or uniquely personal angst or fear that seem to be spreading around the globe with the speed and virulence of, well, a Coronavirus or a Donald Trump.

So nothing, then, about that squalid little misfit in the White House, nothing even about our so much more admirable and principled President Ramaphosa, no homilies about how to keep fit, or sane, or just plain human.

Just this.

We are in Day Three of our lock-down, here in Johannesburg. Keeping to ourselves, as we should. We are fortunate. We have our comfortable town-house, with its patio and garden and plunge pool and barbecue. The fridge and freezer are full. Rob has a studio where she can work on her collages, I have an upstairs office from where I can look out at the sky and some trees while I work, or while I video-conference on Zoom, or add a few lines to my novel – there is always a novel, in process, waiting patiently, without cynicism, to step outside, into the light of day. The novel has learned nothing, in more than forty years. It lives in hope. And there is a backlog of photographs waiting to be processed, to be selected and polished and posted on Flickr, a catalogue large enough to outlast this pestilence and any pestilences to come.

So we are, as I say, fortunate. We have kept in touch with family and friends, or they have kept in touch with us, via WhatsApp and FaceTime. As always there are jokes, there are inquiries about one another’s health, about how we are doing. We are doing fine, thank you. A-okay. Normal. Yet there is something in the air, isn’t there, an undercurrent of concern, that wasn’t there before. Like an odour or gas, as I wrote in my diary – yes, I have resumed my diary, too. There are unexpected benefits to being locked up at home.

It won’t be so easy for the people of Alex, for those who are unemployed, who live in the townships or in the poverty-stricken rural areas of South Africa; it won’t be so easy for the vast majority in this country who are unimaginably worse off than we are.

And it won’t be so easy for those on the front lines – the doctors and health-care workers, obviously, but also for the army and the police who are trying to keep the streets clear, the supermarket staff who need to get to work each day, the people who pick up the garbage or – for now at least, thank you Eskom – keep the lights on. Spare them a thought, and a prayer if you have one.

There is a strange sense of calm. Is this the phony war, you wonder, as you follow the news? The pretend-war before the real one arrives? And how bad will it be? Perhaps we will – all of us here in South Africa – get off quite lightly. And perhaps we won’t.

It is too early to tell. So back to our pastimes and interests we will go, to our photographs and collages, to catching up on films – we watched The Piano again, last night, and it still packs a wallop – and following the news while we try not to obsess.

Tomorrow is a work day. The work goes on.

Bird on a Wire

Here’s a good one. A prisoner in a Turkish prison goes to the prison library, and asks for a particular book. The prison librarian replies, ‘We don’t have that book. But we do have the author.’

Signs of the times, you might say – the modern dystopia. History has not ended – in fact, it’s back with a vengeance.

I saw this black-shouldered kite perched on the power-lines on the way back to the gate at Marievale the other day. I was afraid it would fly off, so I stopped, a way back, and turned off the engine, and carefully opened the car door, and took a couple of photographs. The bird seemed unperturbed, so I drove a little closer, and repeated the performance. The kite had other things on its mind, so I drew still closer. Even so, this photograph is a radical crop, using maybe a quarter of the original image.

Says something about the image quality of the Nikon, and that big sensor.

The original, in colour, is simply a picture: ‘this is what a black-shouldered kite looks like.’ I wanted to show something more, of the bird’s brooding power, it’s fierce beauty. I hope this captures at least something of that.

 

Black-Shouldered Kite

A week is a long time in politics

A week in politics is more than a long time, sometimes: it can mark the beginning or the end of an era.

It is hard to believe that it was just this time last week that the man who sold his country, former president Jacob Zuma, was flatly refusing to step down from office. By Friday, in the State of the Nation address, a new man, President Cyril Ramaphosa, was resetting the tone for the nation, and Zuma was toast. Those who had depended on Zuma’s favours, who had enabled his vices, who had grown fat and arrogant along with him, those whose dumb stupidity was enough to entitle them to high office, have looks on their faces these days of utter bewilderment as South Africans, with justifiable schadenfreude, await their fall from office and the day of reckoning.

Ramaphosa’s speech on Friday rose to the moment: he spoke of renewal, of hope, of the civic virtues; he put bad guys on notice and asked the good guys – men and women – to lend a hand, with an emotive and effective reference to Bra Hugh Masekela, the great jazz hero who has just passed on to the big blue jazz club in the sky. And if some of Ramaphosa’s speech was mere ANC pablum – the self-deluding soviet-style recital of targets supposedly achieved and miracles of revolutionary accomplishment – that can be forgiven, at least for now, as the nation feels the weight of nearly ten lost years lifted, if only a little, from its tired and disillusioned shoulders.

Perhaps the boiler-plate vacuity was necessary – a consequence of the shortness of time, the speed of events, the need to reassure the faithful and placate enemies. But sooner or later – preferably sooner – the new President is going to have to show what he is made of. As the great biographer of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro famously wrote, in a paraphrase of Palmerston – ‘power reveals.’

His ascent to power will show us all, over this year and the next, who Cyril Ramaphosa is, and whether his presidency is simply an event, in the long chain of events, or the beginning of an era. But let’s be honest: as far as new beginnings go, SONA on Friday was about as good as it gets.

‘Inxeba’ – Distilled

Bergman-esque in its intensity, the South African film Inxeba – The Wound – has rightly won praise and awards around the world, along with the usual quota, for a film that speaks openly, and painfully, about homosexuality, masculinity, homophobia and ‘traditional culture’ in an African community, of threats and vitriol. In Cape Town, supposedly a bastion of the arts and enlightenment, the film was withdrawn by distributors Ster Kinekor, in an act of cowardice and betrayal.

All of which is to say, there is a moral imperative to see it, and a duty to support the actors and director. But over and above all this – the politics and cultural warfare – it is the film as a work of art, as a flawless exercise in controlled and yet passionate direction, acting by Nakane Toure, Bongile Mantsai and Niza Jay that is utterly invisible, and a story that transcends both its South African setting and its ‘gay’ narrative, that demands attention.

Inxeba represents the coming to maturity of South African cinema.

Director: John Trengrove

Verdict: Like the initiation into manhood which carries the narrative, Inxeba is painful to watch but a necessary rite of passage.

Five tipples. A half-jack of brandy is probably the most appropriate, with a quart of Castle to follow.

The President’s Keepers

‘The President’s Keepers,’ by Jacques Pauw, published by Tafelberg, has caused something of a sensation here, not least because of government’s clumsy attempts to suppress it – the best publicity that Pauw and his publisher could ask for. Copies of the book have sold like proverbial hot cakes – I had to place a copy on order, and picked it up at Exclusive Books in Hyde Park yesterday. I have hardly been able to put it down since.

Apart from anything else, it is damn well written – fast-paced, vivid, more best-selling thriller than sombre analysis. And yet the story – already so depressingly familiar – of Zuma’s utter corruption and malfeasance, surely treasonable as well as criminal? – comes off the page in a blaze of anger – the Zuptas and the rest of the whores who prostrate themselves before the gods of state capture naked in their greed and criminal impunity.

It’s in the anger and revulsion of the common citizen that South Africa’s hope lies. The rot in the system has gone too deep to cure itself. Let’s see what 2019 brings.

To remind you, and myself meanwhile, that there are still people who do honest work for a living – and as a reminder that there is more to this beautiful land of ours than scoundrels in office – here are some images of the crayfish boats and fishermen at Paternoster.