The denatured landbase

How does a global financial crisis permeate the spaces of the everyday in a city? In rural areas? Off the grid?

Looking at stills from Chris Marker’s film Sans Soleil (1983). A film I saw one evening and went back the next morning and the evening and the next day after that to see again. Stunned, smitten, uncomprehending. Not knowing what I was seeing, the  people asleep on the ferry, the  passengers, the  scenes changing again and again so fast, the snapshots of a  city speeded-up,crowds  flickering and  jolting in the mind’s eye, traffic lights changing, that hypnotic  narrator talking, reading aloud,  thinking aloud, remembering aloud. The voyeur who  glances and  rushes ahead without reflecting, just recording pointing the camera and  telling us something unrelated, what is disjointed but  fits. What we fail to notice when travelling routine journeys, what others notice about us, what cannot be said about the noticing.

Sans Soleil still

Scribbled  note at the back of an unused appointments diary for 2012: Give yourself another chance. Nothing makes sense at first.

The computer screen has frozen twice this morning. No idea why. That frozen sea within, churned to dirty ice  and mud slush. Odd metaphor to use when the heat is  heat-stricken and flailing for water. But something cold and obdurate within, something that melts with reluctance.

No electrical power for most of the day, chaos across South Africa as we have national load-shedding and electricity black-outs as we did in 2008 . According to an emergency municipal  leaflet, we will have no power between 4am and 7am, between 12noon and 3pm and no power between 8pm and midnight. The situation may improve  after  2nd April. Apparently heavy rains soaked the coal supply for the nation. We are so  dependent on fossil fuels, that is the obdurate fact of the matter.

[Echoes of MacArthur Park]

Someone left the coal out in the rain

I don’t think that I can take it

For it took so long to make it

And I’ll never have that recipe again

Dug out candles, tea lights, torch batteries, hurricane lamps and  a lethal but  exquisite polished brass oil lamp circa 1952, prone to explode if tilted.

Semi-rural newsflash

Blunt-nosed truck and trailers laden with pallets of ripe apples (not for export, for processing)  that toppled  down the Viljoen’s Pass last week. The pass is simple enough and not as dangerous as the Franschhoek Pass, descending from the Greenland plateau to a saddle and then, quickly enough, the hair-pin bend before the Elgin valley comes into view. It was named after an apple grower, Dr Antonie  Viljoen who  oversaw completion of the pass in 1902.

The ascent climbs through 133 vertical metres giving a gradient of 1:18 with the summit appearing at 532m ASL.The central section runs across a small plateau of pine trees where the Nuwerus Dam can be seen, a deep rippling indigo body of water. Beyond that the pass descends to bottom out near the much bigger Eikenhof Dam. There are rock hydraxes (dassies), Cape Grysbok, falcons, geometric tortoises and the occasional eland to be seen from the  winding pass road.

Accidents are more frequent than reports of accidents, the usual story in South Africa. The driver jumped clear and was unhurt, the  single route through the pass closed for 48 hours while  the  truck and trailers were retrieved and lifted back up, to be repaired or junked. The brakes failed, there was overloading and  a shift in the centre of gravity, the angle of the hair-pin bend was miscalculated. No straightforward narrative that has any conviction, no definite shape of  story. The driver poorly trained perhaps, underpaid, the truck not serviced annually, the loading of pallets  done in the misty dark of an Overberg  dawn, the roads wet with  rains and the roads  cantilevered ineptly on the bend. Slippery wet gravel and  run-off water in pools.

The driver half-asleep or hungover and going too fast. The driver blameless and  unable to manage  the unwieldy vehicle, twisting and  spinning  on the narrow downward turn. Double-axle trailer of load capacity perhaps 1 000kg with braking system worn down. How many skeletal combination trailer sets and in what condition?

[Many visitors and  tourists  driving through  the Overberg cannot distinguish a mill tank from a wine mash from forklifts and stackers anchored and tied down on passing trailers, have no idea of the relative size of farms  seen from the highways,  have no idea what farm labourers are paid or where they live. The  driver of a heavy duty articulated truck on one of these farms will not have been formally trained or qualified. The farm manager or an older farm driver keen to retire may have shown him how to drive these big trucks and  helped him get a Code 14 licence.]

On Cape  mountain passes there are no sand beds for  drivers who lose control of  heavy vehicles (unlike those run-offs between tall eucalyptus in  KwaZulu-Natal), there is nowhere to go except over the side  down into the ravines and gullies and  black-wattled undergrowth, over granite boulders, shale and eucalyptus stumps, all the  way down.

The insurance companies  will hear  one version, the driver will tell his own account(s) of how he came to escape with his life. No witnesses, no news reports. The farmer may  replace the driver but unlikely because he won’t want trouble with the CCMA on unfair labour practice. Nothing can be proven. The driver may be given a written warning about  careless driving but  perhaps not.

Harvesting and packing becomes a frenzy at this time of year,warehouses and packing sheds in every Overberg dorp where the apples are graded, washed, polished, packed, cooled and loaded onto trucks and trailers. The drivers make trips to factories and export stations all day. The work must go on, the driver is needed. He was not asleep at the wheel, he is not a dagga smoker or drinker. He made a mistake or  the road was in poor condition. If he is  ready to get back behind the wheel, his services are needed. The trucks will only be checked when the packing and export  season is at an end.

Risky business, all of it.

Viljoen's Pass

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