9 December 2017
It is late afternoon and already bible-black. Earlier it was universal grey. The sun seems to have long-deserted this forlorn northern country in winter. It is no wonder that the old people have a look of desperation when they pass. They know that they have several months before they may smile again. Younger people seem to be more cheerful, but in time, many will also succumb to glum.
I pass my time waiting for my long-sought South African residence permit. I started the process back in June. I had all my papers and certificates available within a month, except for one; an FBI certificate from the US. Somehow the Americans managed to take more than four months to respond. When I thought that I would patiently pass 6-8 weeks in Europe in pleasant autumnal weather, waiting for the wheels of South African bureaucracy to slowly grind, I have found myself shivering once more in the frozen north. Two years ago I was stuck in winter months waiting for a new passport and last year it was a wintry wait trying to prove to my bank of more than 30 years that I was not now a money-launderer.
But I am never lost for things to occupy me: my investments, writing and family research, never mind my daily 2-hour walk, regardless of the weather. And in the late evening, I have the life-long habit of reading before going to bed. At the moment, I am once more reading James Mitchener’s Iberia, based on his four decades of travels and extensive research in Spain. It is a book that never fails to whet my appetite for walking on the Spanish caminos.
Over the years, I have read many of Mitchener’s books – The Drifters, Sayonara, Caravans, Centennial, Chesapeake, to name but a few. The first that I read was Hawaii. When we set off from Toronto in February 1971, I had that book in my bag, and most evenings I slowly progressed through the epic tale, covering the history of the islands, from their creation to modern day; it is a formula that Mitchener has oft repeated in other novels.
For four days we crossed a frozen Canada by train, to be welcomed by Vancouver to four days of torrential rain. We flew south to San Francisco, but the weather was not much better, with more rain and fog. By the time we flew west to Hawaii, I had had enough of crap weather; I never wanted to be cold and wet again. And with its tropical climate and luxurious vegetation, Hawaii did not disappoint.
For the first few days we stayed near Hilo, before moving on to the island of Oahu and Honolulu. We found a lovely small hotel on the beach. It was bliss to lie at night with the screen doors wide open, a warm breeze, and the sound of waves crashing on the shore. What luxury that was!
On one of the days there, I set off alone to walk into the nearby hills. I walked all day, following a quiet country road, seeing nothing more than occasional plantation buildings. At one point I came across a small museum, set back from the road. I paid the modest entry to an old regal-looking Hawaiian lady and for a time browsed among the exhibits.
As I was about to leave, I noticed that I could buy ice-cold drinks there, so I rested in a comfortable chair, while I sipped on a beer and chatted to the lady. It turned out that she was something of an expert in Hawaiian history and culture and the contents of the museum were items that she had collected over very many years, for she appeared to be quite ancient.
When I mentioned that I was currently reading Hawaii and asked if she had ever come across it, she clapped her hands and with enthusiasm told me that not only had she read it, but that James Mitchener was a great friend, and that she had assisted him in the research for his book.
I have never forgotten that day. My life has been full of coincidence. It is almost as if there is an unseen plan for me and every now and then I come across an encouraging sign that I am on the right path.
And here I am, once more in the frozen north, waiting to go back to the warm south.
As Yogi Berra once said, ‘It’s déjà vu all over again‘.