It might still be impossible to literally take flight, writes novelist and lecturer PIETER FOURIE, but memories of roads taken at night, red Grapetisers at the Brandwag Hotel and a unique moment on an English train serve to sustain his need to travel far and wide.
In this time of our plague, movement circumscribed, domestic stasis no longer voluntary, I invent ways of flying while nesting. My passport takes me inwards; I recall roads of my past, forever in transit – flight in amber.
In Bloemfontein, on the sidewalk in Winter Street on the way to school, there are tiny beige thorns that look like grass and grow flat against the ground. In winter the frost covers them, and cracks beneath your shoes as you walk. Near the top of that road my first girlfriend, aged seven, gave me a grown-up kiss, which tasted like oranges and sherbet.
Next to the main national road heading into the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, there is a large tree with leaves a shade of green completely different from all the others. Close by, there was once a de-consecrated church for sale that I considered buying and living in. Near the end of the descent out of the mountains, where the road turns slightly to the right for the final stretch across the Nepean River, there are cracks in the road in the shape of Africa.
If you drive from Fouriesburg to Clarens, on the final turn and on the final stretch of road, just when you reach the top of Surrender Hill, look right, and you will see straight into Lesotho, across a vast, vast expanse and the valley below, the border river, and the Maluti Mountains in the distance. It is the most beautiful vista in the world. In Stellenbosch, along Van der Stel Road, if you go running in the middle of the night and know where to look, at the top of that street you will notice a long metal nail embedded on its side in the tar. It glints when the moon catches it. Once, not far from here, I snapped the tendon at the back of my knee, limped down the street and was picked up by the wife of the richest man in South Africa. She drove a Mercedes-Benz station wagon and made me read to her her shopping list, out loud, to distract me from the pain.On the Robinson Pass, right at the bottom on the Mossel Bay side, there is a sharp dip and then an optical illusion that makes it look as though you are driving slightly uphill. If you stop the car there and switch it off, and put the gear into neutral, it will seem like magic – as if an invisible force is pulling the car against gravity. Very near Three Sisters in the Karoo there is a hill against which rest many large stones, almost perfectly round and pitch-black from millennia in the sun.
On my daily train commute from West Sussex to London, nearly 20 years ago, I once saw, when we had to stop and wait because of branches on the tracks, a naked nun getting dressed in the top room of a residence next to a Catholic church. Outside Bethulie, in the direction of Smithfield, there is a hill so perfectly proportioned and shaped that it must surely be The Perfect Hill. In Paris, if you take the number 63 bus from Place Maubert all the way through the Latin Quarter, and you make a visitor sit on the left-hand side, and distract them by talking to them from the righthand side of the vehicle, you can drive right up to the Trocadéro and surprise them with a spectacular first view of the Eiffel Tower. On Sundays late in the afternoon in the 1970s, my father would go for a jog on the road from Clarens into Golden Gate.
My mother and I would follow him on that road, by car, half an hour later, drive past him, and wait for him at the Brandwag Hotel. I could watch an episode of Heidi on television, and later eat a meal consisting of thinly sliced roast lamb and baked potatoes (with sticky skins), and drink as many red Grapetisers as I wanted.