Neil Coppen

writings/ plays/ poetry/musings/travel journals and newspaper columns

You’ll find me in the Summer when the snow melts.

January28

Dear Goose

You’ll find me in the summer when the snow melts. I took a tumble in the winter, tripped on an oversized ski- boot, clapped head and teeth on a mountain root, concussed, descended, confused into the snow. While down there I started to piece together the bones of Mozart’s thirty-five year old fingers in-between searching for my misplaced memory.

Days before in a cabin, all scented with cow-pat and cigarette smoke, we watched a moth-eaten moon hitch a ride on a ski-lift while drinking beer and playing a children’s card game .Turning and overturning picture cards (daisy, sea shell, pine- cone) in an attempt to uncover the matching pair.

 I fared dismally.

 Daisy…………..daisy?……fuck pine cone!

The three Austrians beside us played with a terrible intensity while a cassette tape they had exhumed from a kitchen draw provided the soundtrack. A warped radio broadcast they had recorded in their teens. Something eerie about news relayed ten years after the fact.

 My imagination satelllited skyward. I saw the cottage in long-shot, saw it drifting backwards in time. Watched the men grow younger: bellies flattening, shoulders rising, fighter pilot fantasies reborn. Memories glorious (building a trout dam in the summer of 2001) then devastating (watching it washed away by the first heavy rains.)

You asked me to tell you my life-story.  Start at the beginning you urged. What amounted was sketchy anecdote. I couldn’t assemble them just like I couldn’t remember where the matching sea shell, pine-cone or infernal daisy card lay. Recollections brittle and disintegrating like the autumn-leaf page of a poem I discovered yesterday in central park.

Later that evening, wedged between mattress and ceiling-rafter (while you plotted and re-plotted emergency fire- escape routes in your head) I clenched my fists against the cold and sifted through the pantry of my skull searching for a jar of something pickled, something preserved. Something as elusive as the bones of Mozart’s 35 year-old fingers or as simple as the twin image of a playing card.

Nothing

I stepped outside hoping the cold might resuscitate something. Villages twinkled in the valley basin below. War time Austria? The mnemonic trace of a reincarnated self or something recycled from a movie musical (Von Trapp’s escape from nefarious Nazis).

Memories: reels of images spliced together from a myriad of fictions. I’ll write again I decide. Not to record or articulate but to remember. To disentangle my dreams from the over wrought dreams of celluloid others.

Sing: You’ll find me in the summer when the snow melts, thawing in a luminous pasture, fat cow grazing on my unkempt hair. A daisy sprouting from my left nostril.

Thank you for the memory, for remembering

Maverick

Austria, January 2 2013

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Durban’s Endangered Art Deco Empires

December7

To this day the Art Deco style remains a contentious and oft disputed entry into the Architectural journals and history books. With its penchant for excessive ornamentation, non functional frills and outlandish colour schemes, the style is all too often dismissed by contemporary Architects as a brief and embarrassing rush of blood to depression era architects’ heads.  Certainly the conservative colonial population of Durban thought so, when in 1931 the veritable anti- Christ of architecture reared it unsightly head in the form of Art Deco apartment block known as the Enterprise Building in Aliwal Street. Unhappily for its detractors, the style would flourish like an overly flamboyant fungus in city and suburb across the country before petering out during the outbreak of the second -world war.

Read the rest of this entry »

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In Search of Macondo- Travels with Gabriel Garcia Marquez (part 2)

May13

Its not easy finding the road that leads into the fabled Colombian town of Aracataca–that is despite its reputation as s Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s birth-place as well as the same settlement that was to inspire and shape his literary plantation town of Macondo.

I was on the verge of giving up, of supposing that the town –if it had in fact existed at all –had suffered the same fate as its literary counterpart ; those familiar with Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ will recall that Macondo is obliterated in the novel’s catastrophic and concluding windstorm. Read the rest of this entry »

In Search Of San Pedros Keys (The Wiz of Hauncabamba ) Part 2

January11

The maestro ushers me into the basement of his homestead. A cramped room with cattle hides carpeting the floor and a raised altar (messa) at its centre .The air is damp and overbearing with a mismatched array of fragrances. The Altar cluttered with a variety of swords and objects: icons of saints, sculptures, earthenware bowls, dice, sea shells , bottles containing herbs and variety of colourful concoctions. The wall papered with dog eared ID and family photos (left by past customers), spectate our negotiation.The Maestros stolid gaze gives me the Jitters, I have not the tongue or confidence to barter. I agree obsequiously to the 200 Soles fee and that settles it. The ceremony is to commence at nine and in the mean time I’m shown to the cavernous upstairs kitchen for a last supper.

Chunks of raw flesh dangle from low hanging beams. An elederly woman with plaited hair sqauts beside a cauldron spinning thread. The reel invisible on its line seems to waft magically in and out of her hand. Potatoes, a sour chunk of cheese are placed before us and it is here that I meet my fellow pilgrims and patients: a leather faced and laconic Texan and his dolled up Peruvian bookie as well as another young Peruvian couple who have travelled from Piura to seek blessings for their family and sick child. When the Texan does mumble the semblance of a sentence, its to inform me that the Maestro healed his brother from a terminal illness a few years back and is a man of extraordinary powers.

After dinner we retire to a shared dorm. Anxiety alongside the Texans guttural snores, a lumpy mattress and blanket (so full of starch it feels as it were made of concrete) forbid me a moments rest.  I lie awake , tossing and turning, my imagination ticking into torturous over drive. The a rap on the door.

It is time.

The five of us shuffle into the ceremonial room to find the blanketed Maestro nestled into his throne adjacent to the Altar. I notice the Peruvian couples unloading packet fulls of items at his feet: Wallets, hand bags, kids school text books and array of family photographs. We take our place on the cow hide rugs and are handed our keys to the ancestors in the form of a cup of San Pedro. It is a bitter tasting substance that blazes through the body like a jug of tequila might. The lamps are blown out and Don Augustin is reduced to a voice sonorous and monotonous in the dark. His shaker, like the restless tail of a dessert snake underscoring his chanting. Every once and a while, and quite unexpectedly his voice rears up with- Abajo! (down) Abajo! (down) Abajo! (down) .Cautioning our wayward demons, as a owner might -a pack of over zealous and muddy pawed puppies.

A good two hours pass and despite feeling a deep and meditative drowsiness, I am yet to unlock the gate, see a hint of celestial light or converse with long lost grandfolks.

Then the thunk, thunk, thunk of muddy gum boots announce the arrival of the maestros three henchmen. From the light seeping through the cracks in above kitchen floor boards I can just make out their burly blanketed figures, apprentices is my guess. They step forward and beckon the five of us to rise. A sea shell full of tobacco liquid is placed in our hands and on the Maestros command we are made to inhale it through the nostrils. Its an acrid tasting tar like substance and similar (I would imagine-though I am yet to try) to taking an espresso shot up ones snozz.

This activity spins the room into brief hysteria. The lot of us reduced to a hacking, spluttering, coughing mess.  Abajo! (down) Abajo! (down) Abajo! (down) commands the Maestro. Abajo! Abajo! Abajo! respond his henchmen as the next sea shell arrives, then the next.

Shortly after this, one of the apprentices takes a hearty sip from a bottle of cheap perfume and then proceeds to spit the contents into each of our faces. A chaotic confusion, repugnant profusion of fragrances engulf us. This continues for some time until finally each of our outstretched hands are doused in the scents and we are made to run it over our faces and through our hair in an act of divine benediction and prayer

Still I feel nothing, no body drifting, atom splitting, cosmos cracking awe. Nothing except the steady increase of exhaustion and persistent fire in my sinus.

The Maestro now sets about consulting each of us individually. Spanish tones ping and pong in question and response. My limited grasp of the language does not permit me to grapple with the intricacies of their conversations, but from their post enthusing of Muchas Gracias´s Maestro, Muchas Gracias! I gather his divining was more then spot on. When my turn comes, the Texan reluctantly helps to translate. I’m told I am an escritor (writer) and there shall be prosperity and perhaps more travel ahead. Perfecto! Short, sweet and without any awful future anticipations.

It is at this point that I begin to imagine, rather pray we are crawling toward the finish line. Hopes no sooner dashed when one of the Maestros trusty Henchman decides he still has some unfinished business with me the my ol demons . He lugs me outside to undergo further perfume showers and then a final cleansing that involves an ominous looking baton-about the size of a baseball bat. It is an experience not dissimilar to being harassed at an air port security check though minus the ping.The baton running, back and forth, up and down my body, between my legs, over my head while he rants and raves, grunts and snorts. Abajo! Abajo! Abajo!

Back on the cow hide mat, and still the diligent Maestro holds vigil. In my state of exhaustion he sounds like Van Morrison grumbling the lyrics to ´Rave On John Donne´´. This I find strangely comforting. Rave on , Rave On, Rave on, Rave On through thy holy ghost etc……. It must be four in the morning and I can no longer withstand the drowsy velvet of his voice. I pass out, wake an hour later with face in the dirt and mouth full of mud.

The cocks are crowing throughout the valleys. Thick mists make for a diluted and eerie sun rise. That’s when I hear them, Oh God- The sound of skittish mules traipsing through the mud outside the room. Mules waiting to courier us to the remote and sacred lakes for the second half of the ceremony.

Will this interminable exorcism, tripless purging never end? I wish to cry out, but bite my tongue and prepare to mount my equally unenthusiastic ass.

All this time the inncesant tribunal of my inner monologue mocking : Ya,Ya pesky westerner, serves you right, you and your pseudo anthropological/ spiritualistic/ journalistic curiosities. Pah!

Okay, okay I repent: I just came along to have a good time and now I’m left wondering what in gods name I have gone and gotten himself into!

And so it is that our caravan of wonky donkeys and one somewhat (okay very reluctant) pilgrim begin their slippery and fated ascent for the Las Haringas or sacred lakes.

(TBC)

Feliz Año 2008- Haunchaco and the Hurricane Protection Pitch

January2

Strange but refreshing company I had to see in the New Year. The morning of arriving in Haunchaco, a sea side village ten minutes from Trujillo (not unlike Durbs in its grubby beach and collection of baggied and burnt surfers) I stumble upon a ramshackle bamboo surfer retreat to meet Juan, the pro Peruvian. Jaun who has that universal beach boy type down to well waxed T. Cheeky Hawaiian grin and a disconcerting gaze that seems to be constantly peering out over some very very very distant horizon. He welcomed me to his abode, pulled up a chair and offered a free breakie. Hey what choo doing ta night? On answering I had just arrived and had no plans he invited me to celebrate the neuvo año with his family.

Now Juan has a vast family, the type (and im talking immediate siblings here) that take up two very large dining room tables and require up turned beer crates for the shortage of chairs their numbers warrant.Two of its players I shall take a minute to recall. Firstly Mrs Peru on my left, the national female fitness champ ( I’m sure she said body building but so baggy was her sweater that I couldn’t be sure if those were biceps bulging beneath) and her hubby (too my right) a native stoner from Fort Lauderdale, who informs me he is an entrepreneur in the Hurricane Housing Protection business . As the evening progresses and feast commences, Mrs Peru begins to tell her rags to riches tale. How she got her ticket into the States through some body building championship she hd entered. How she subseqeuntly stayed on, working illegally as restaurant toilet cleaner. He met her one night in the restaurant( The bog? ,I didn’t think to ask) and as she put it (squeling excitedly while smothering his bald patch with kisses): Gee ,my bebeee, Gee take me to the paradise, ge marree mi and geeve me the greeeeen card. Gee make a me gees secretaree!Then Miss Peru kicks in with a demonstration (with Eliza Doolittle type elocution). A hard sell Americana infomercial, her newly acquired English now faulty with wine and enthusiasm . With trademark Miami Mamma sass she launches into -Choo better listen op coz you no wanna miz dis deal, no on your life!

The whole thing becomes even more surreal (not helped by a puff of her husbands joint) when she sees my interest as an oppurtunity to practise her pitch. She rushes off , returning with arm fulls of test samples, samples of the hurricane debris catching netting and a deluge of business cards and brochures.

En for joost so and so many dollares choo can protect your house and leeeetle dog from dose beeg bad weeends!

Ain’t she a moon beam, grins hubby while I applaud the demonstration and say were Durban drafts a threat to homesteads I would have purchased the whole bunch.

After the feast, we make out way down to the Pacific edge, the pack of brothers reduced to naughty kids, bearing a man made of straw and stuffed with fireworks (similar to the long suffering dummy we crucify back home on Guy Fawkes). So the tradition goes that each family on the eve of an old Year must burn a life size replica- standing to represent the bad energy of the past twelve months. Considering this is a family of ardent surfers (and a sister who could beat the lot of them at an arm wrestle) the dummy comes attached with old surf board. This will ensure the New Year comes full of good waves, smirks Juan as on the hour he gleefully sets the dummy ablaze.

I glance up the beach then towards the town to see hundreds of similar figures burning and imploding. A disturbing sight too one who might stumble unawares on an towns entire population, insensate to the fire that consumes them.

Peru (part 1) Pageant of the Bizaare

December16

Funny morning, stepped out of my hostel room only to be nearly trampled by two deranged llamas bolting down the cobbled streets, one frisky for a little Sunday loving I’m sure. They are peculiar, tragic looking creatures, cross breads between the oddest star wars creature and cutesy early morning toddlers TV show host.

It is pouring where I am, everytime I try to take a stroll to view some of the famed outlying ruins, down it comes. There is an advantage in that rain supposedly means less tourists, hence off season ( though there are still enough here in Cuzco to fill Disneyland ten times over). I understand why the rain might perturb the masses for it is hardly little drizzle but rather torrential walloping, balls to the wall bucketing, which makes me a little unprepared for the four day trek ahead to the heights of Machu Picchu. I am eschewing the trampled but legendary Inca trail, for its exorbitant costs and muchos populous of gringo, and taking a trail, cheaper and quieter (though apparently as beautiful.)

To be honest the whole Machu Picchu thing has given me a knot in my stomach and cramp in my wallet. Of course its majestic and of such fame for a reason but it also means the yobos and touts, the whinging poms, dope pests (mi amigo, mi amigo), hiked prices and petty thefts. The Gringo trail I have mostly treaded since Chile is often like this- all sights of importance, of wonder but a hustle and bustle nevertheless. Familiar faces as hard as one tries to escape seem to revisit along the way (Americans, their current state of nationalist insecurity -the worst) . Thus it can feel like travelling in a big unintentional pack. They are nice people but not the type I would relinquish my solitude for, forge friendships with a significant future in mind (that is excluding my French brother Marc- who I hitch hiked with for some time around the mountains of Northern Argentina.) On saying this I do not make an extended effort to meet people (there are of course gems out there)- I am here for an essence and theirs remains too similar to my own- spoilt first world fodder hungry for third world wonder.

After I finish with Cuzco and the ruins, I will be stepping off the trail, heading through the North of Peru, to where it all gets a little grittier, I am contemplating spending a few hallucagenic filled nights with the IncanBuenos Aries, reinvented my understanding and perception of the city. How exciting to think what Marquez might do in his home town. healers in some distant mountain range, figure it might be a fitting way to see, or distort? the new year in. You know take a peep into the extended yawn of my suburban sub conscious. Three months makes things tight, especially considering my hearts desire is with Columbia and thus far there has been a entire continent between us. I long for nothing more then to seek out some one horse town, with rocking chair, preferably wobbly fan stirring a thick stew of equatorial heat. To drink beer in the sun and read the ten Marquez novels (that I lug about in my Alexandria Library of a back pack). Literature of the region so much more valuable then paint by numbers, bray like sheep guide books- bibles we tend to abide all too slavishly by. The Argentine writer Borges, in the small amount I read in

I’m reading voraciously, Theroux´s -Mosquito Coast to which I have only come to now, is a cracking read, great for passing hours on arduous buses. Dante’s Inferno- delicious, timeless, torturous and pretty god damn terrifying. Dickens ´Hard Times´ universal to any city one might visit in the world. Jonathan Swifts ´Tale of the Tub´- affirming himself as the funniest, bleakest and most brilliant satirist there is- again the bulls eye to his barb-Religion (which seems to be the recurring thread to my education here). It is easy to feel lonely, but then I remember my purpose, the wisdom held in these novels, the people of importance, back home, the road ahead

I was really low the other night, lurking the shady streets of Puno, thinking those Gringos were right when they warned me of it being a non event of a town. Then a firework, a rocket exploded inches from my face, then another and another. Kerouac says pop and the world goes AWWWWWWW - and so it did, before a 60 piece marching bad struck up their triumphant tune. At the front came the Virgin Mary born on the shoulders of panting worshippers then the town mayor pursued by troupe of sycophants. A pack of blue Incan looking demons with protruding tongues, a gang of Boys in oversized Gorilla Suits, Behind them, girls and women in brightly coloured skirts, twisting from one side to the next, whirling like sequenced spinning tops. Then another marching band, more dancers, confetti and fireworks. So it went on and on, blazing up the night and I grew tearful at its sight, its sound,this pageant of the bizarre.

Nothing unites the world, elates the spirit quite like a parade. Pity the gutters, beggars and cripples submerged beneath that tide of euphoria. All reality, momentarily buoyed away and streets where minutes ago were hurried and harrowed are at once swept with jubilation.

I felt elated, levitating, I danced with the crowds, to that insistent beat. A delirious fool, desperate for it to never end, following the spectacle from one Plaza to the next until I could no more. Till I had to bid it farewell, let it pass, round its final corner and die as a distant summer storm might out over the Durban sea.

The rain has subsided, Outside the cobbled streets of Cusco have been washed clean . Ruins i should think fit for a little exploration

Bolivia (part 2) Above and Below

December16

A visit to the Patosi Silver Mines in Bolivia, to get an alternative view of the state of things, proves both frightening and enlightening. A descent deep in the bowels of the hellish Cerro Rico mountain which looms over the the city as lugubrious monument and Colonial shit pile. I take a tour with an ex- miner, who on our way up, stops our vehicle outside the Miners Market, insisting that Gringos will only be welcome should they arrive baring gifts. I oblige, purchase a packet of coca leaves, some soft drinks and for good measure, a few sticks of dynamite (bound to endear me instantly I’m told). That’s right, perfectly legal, sitting there amongst the cigarettes, candy, toilet paper in the local Cafeteria´- a wad of explosives (extra mild). Can anyone pop in and buy a pack of Dynamite? I ask, a little perplexed to which my host merely shrugs- Porque no? (Why not). I hope it isn’t on sale to kids, you know to minors ( pun unintentional -honest) or revolutionaries for that matter. Its a question which before I have time to ask, before my very eyes, a boy not past ten ambles in and leaves with two sticks wedged firmly in belt.

From the market one ascends to the crest of the gloomy mount,-lightening and lashings of rain only adding to the Hellish apparition, my mounting apprehension. This is after all the most medieval of mines functioning in the world today- the kind of death toll where authorities have grown bored with counting. Workers must make do without illuminated shafts, lifts or machinery- a far cry from the comparatively cushy Gold Reef City tour (No Toto we are not in Egoli anymore) .Here locals employ ancient push carts, poorly supported tunnels and rickety wooden ladders which plummet into those forsaken depths. As we move deeper the walls begin to tremble with the dull thud of dynamite. Air filling with acrid smoke causing, what little light the feeble head lamp offers, to vanishes instantly.

As for the Silver, for which the very foundations of Patosi are built upon?-nada. The Spanish Conquistadors, back in the day made quick work of that, exploiting every indigenous bloke who happened to wonder into view. Expanding empires, decking crowns and no doubt toilet seats with the ample takings. Sadly the modern day Patosian is left to suffer and scrape by one the remaining (and hardly lucrative) zinc deposits, burying it seems to the very core of the earth to retrieve them. I meet a gang of miners in one of these pits, swerving, slurring and wreaking of booze. What concerns me more is that they happen to be chugging on cigarettes when I extend my dynamite stick offerings. They respond by tugging me by the sleeve to meet the master and cause of their subterranean revelry.

There in a damp cavern, he sits. TIO. A life size replica of the miners revered devil (of which there are over 800 similar idols all over the mine) Carved from rock and clay, decked in traditional regalia, his eyes open, mouth agape. More famed (amongst giggling tourists) for his more than prodigious photo op appendage. A cock one might say as hard and prominent as the rock he has been shaped from. Here the miners proceed to fill his mouth with lit cigarettes, burn coca leaves at his feet and drink themselves to further stupor.According to the legend, TIO is the roving bachelor and veritable party monster of the mount. At the end of each day the men must incite him with an assortment of cocoa, tobacco and booze. Only once they have left does TIO wake, stammer to his feet, stalk the midnight corridors (minus hard hat, but certainly not hard on.)It is said he goes in search of Apache Mama ( Mother Earth- here symbolised by the whole of Mine) where, if i am to understand correctly, he is to give her a rogering to remember. Their vigorous love making of course proliferating the mountains depleted mineral resources.

Back on the ground, tensions it seems are running high. Its not hard to note the Bolivian phenomenon known as the daily newspapers.Seldom have I seen a nation or people as obsessed with their daily news. A scene typical to the ubiquitous city Plazas features elderly women, teenagers, business men (smug in shoe shine boy thrones) scanning their morning print. And if they are too young to read them then you can be certain they’re selling them. A politic obviously worth keeping a beady eye on- as volatile and in many ways as farcical as our own. Small cabbies bustle through city streets with over sized speakers attached to roofs. Above pompous band stand static, a voice beckons the public to arms. The same can be said for fish markets, where impassioned citizens(usually fish still flapping in hand) vent frustrations from upturned crates. Their disdain over the increase in food prices. One wonders what might become of this spark, about to ignite candle or keg? only time will tell. The Police forces, despite their daily proliferation, seem unfazed. Rather they slouch against barricades, pruning appearances in the reflection of their glass shields.

One does however pity poor ol TIO then, the miners Devil, despite his nightly philandering, his perpetual readiness, the current state of the countries natural resources seem to render him impotent.The people are hungry, food prices escalating. And if TIO and Apache -the all providing mama, can no longer deliver the goods, one shudders to think how the less benign (though no less omniscient) Bolivian Government plans to?

Bolivia (part 1) Part Dickens, Part Dr Seus

December16

If not for the festive folk music, phycadellic salt pans, flamingo infested lakes, pits of sulphurous belching earth, I´d say im fond of Bolivia for its voluminous skirted Metizo´ women. These I have developed a particular infinity for they are bawdy gogo´s the lot of them -Hunched and hobbling with their plaited pig tails slung over shoulder, off kilter bowler hats-part Dickens and part Dr Seus. Pantomime Fairy Godmothers who might at any minute throw off their tattered guises and grant one their hearts desire (that or reduce them to lowly toad). Then there are the Flower sellers with their obstinate push carts,shawls, tatty hats and rotting teeth. So close in their semblance to Eliza Doolilte, that I would not flinch should one ever feel the urge to break out in - Oh Wouldn’t It Be Lovely (in Español´: Mucho chocolate para mi te comer.)

Then there are the cities ( the two I shall pay particular attention to being Patosi and La Paz). Here lives are lived at impossible gradients ,not to mention altitudes.Cobble stoned streets tipple off Andean mountain edges. At night, from roof tops, I hover amosgst washing lines and water drums, above the mazes, a beer in hand. A fine way to watch the cascading of city lights. Cities where ,depending on which side of the canyon you sit, a cup of coffee placed at the center of a table may no sooner find its way to your lap. Where time ,as with its African counterpart, has a mind and humour of its own. The type of towns where for no other reason then to confound the wearied Gringo ,laundromats vanish overnight only to re appear on opposite ends of the street. Where the Mercado De Brajos (witches markets) might make even the hardiest- muti mad- sangoma blush. Pity then the uncomfortable icons of Christ, his saintly retinue rubbing shoulders with sewn up toads, virility tokens and dried Lama foetuses. Potteresque potions of every kind, colour and custom cluttering shelves. Alas, if only prosperity, tranquility, amour and vengeance could be this easily purchased over the supermarket shelf.

Of Impossible Yearning

December9

Sunday morning and I sit on a bench in La-Paz , watch a Plaza market rising. Ignoring the persistence of shoe shine boys ( and this takes some dedication) I set about enjoying a welcome splash of Andean sun. The traders are arriving, setting up their stores: strange looking local women in Pippi long stocking braids, bowler hats and bright Bolivian shawls. As they unpack their wares, a blind man tick, tick ticks his walking stick to the centre of the Plaza, puts down a tin and starts up on his Accordian. Fingers buckling, face feeling every inch of the lament. A sound of impossible loss. As he plays, an elderly Gentleman, decked in impeccable Sunday best, sits down beside me. The man is not perplexed when he notices my tears, rather sympathetically,even casually, extends his handkerchief. As if he understands all to well what wells of yearning such sounds are capable of inciting . Tears I shed for a sound so familiar. Makes one miss home, miss Rich most of all. Miss his midnight dirges, consoling a sea side city at odd and secret hours. There is an Accordion man for every town I visit. An omen if I may see them as such. Usually an elderly man, crumpled hat, a plastic flower protruding from top pocket. Each plays a song as tragic and beautiful as the last. They are of the same ilk, the same solitary brother hood. Watched over by Saint Ricardo- the omniscient melancholic. Contributing a few coins to their cause is an honour and sadly all I can do.

UP IN THE AIR ATHEISM

November22

Finding Atheism a godzillon metres above the ground,on a SAA flight to San Paulo, might not be the most advisable of epiphanies to find yourself having.Best wait, might I advise, till grounded on more substantial terra firma . Such was the lesson I was to learn last week, after reading- mid flight- Richard Dawkins impassioned (if not all together- life changing) ¨”The God Delusion”. So convincing is his polemic :Religion shown up to be the supernatural hoey that deep down our rational minds have always suspected it to be. So irrefutable the evidence ( his Darwin for dummies approach, particularly insighful) that one can only hope that the god fearing nutters, who govern and war beneath the dictates of a dusty volume of out dated fairy tales, would take a good and preferably long, open minded look.As novelist Julian Barnes claims on the overleaf ” This book should be read by everyone from atheist to monk. If its merciless rationalism doesn’t enrage you at some point, you probably aren’t alive.”

Thankfully “The God Delusion” doesn’t express the bleak- well now that gods dead does that mean we are destined to crawl and suffer uselessly across the face of the earth- type existentialism. Rather it provides a ridiculously enlightening and liberating re-education into our scientific (sans the big bearded guy in the sky) world of wonders. A reminder of the here and imminently miraculous “now”. Forging purpose and truth no longer in non -sensical speculation of yester year, relinquishing the terror of past incarnation, the horrific potential of future damnation. In short read it, for its a cause worth believing in. Before attempting to save the whales, the ozone, the decimated rain Forrest’s, we should turn our efforts to salvaging humanity’s logic from its own perilously over excitable and gullible imaginings.

And so it is with this revelation, that upon completing the book (several minutes prior to landing) I exalt- God damn it I’m an atheist! No longer afraid to concede my agnostic indifference . Dawkins encourages us to avoid playing it safe, you know the just in case , cowardly fence sitting stance to which most of us are guilty of. You either in or you out. So yes, I decide I am a full blown, out the closet & proud of it- Atheist. I say it now without a hint of fear. Safe from ever having to dread providing the tortured flesh to Beelzebub’s eternal barbecue. I realise only a moment later that such confidence may have proven, well, a little premature. For just as our flight is coming in to land, the plane suddenly lurches upward, causing horrified gasps from the passengers. A terrific storm has broken and rain begins to lash the aircraft windows. Suspicious engine noises hum below.

At this moment I begin to reconsider (hell even curse) my new found Atheistic leanings. Ones memory has the habit of working in the most torturous of ways, and I find myself recalling the recent slew of South African Airways calamities, ie: a plane engine (Ala Donnie Darko) plunging unexpectedly from aircraft wing mid flight. Then of course there is San Paul- the very wet runway our plane is destined (or not) for, which just three months ago saw a TAM Airlines Air Bus collide, killing all 200 hundred of its passengers.

Now I attempt to swear myself a Mormon, curse Dawkins and his delusions and wonder whether I have packed a high factor sun tan lotion- for my lengthy new vacation in hell.

‘Er..hello God, hi its me again, I’d like to maybe retract one or two of the comments I made earlier, can have ‘un momento’ to rethink my options-yes? NO! The plane shudders, rain pelts, children start to wail. No word of re -assurance comes from the cockpit. I clutch my Saint Christopher, worn under my late grandmothers insistence (but also, if I may confess-for superstitious fence sitting purposes.) Now I mumble the semblance of an apologetic prayer but to what avail? I have willingly, yes even foolishly just expelled the skies of my celestial hearing aid. I’m an atheist remember-and atheism (like Africa I suppose) is not for sissies. There’s no turning back. Despite the separation anxiety, no dialling Nirvana 911 as imminent catastrophe looms. You’re on your own kid and so with no one left to turn to, I contemplate weeping my last rites into the bosom of a Brazilian mama beside me but am thankfully spared that humiliation when rubber bumps tar and an announcement apologises for the turbulence, welcoming us to San Paulo International.

Upon landing I find my Saint Christopher necklace wedged in sweaty palm, a token akin (and about as comforting) to still wearing ones wedding ring after having just undergone a brief but nonetheless very messy divorce.

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