Unbearable Lightness

By Jac Dowling

Funny how things just happen. Here’s me wondering what on earth I should write about this month – follow up on the river saga, hack on about He Who Must Fall? Then, voila, something totally different pops up. In the form of Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano cencerto and Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being‘. What have they in common? Nothing much as far as I know, except for the deep romance evoked by both music and plot. And what have I to do with either for goodness’ sake? More with Kundera than Rachmaninov as it turns out.

In 1960 something, five of us headed off to Swedish Lapland in a camper van for a chilly and extremely interesting voyage of discovery. The trip up the Arctic Highway, literally from London to the Russian border at Kirkenes was spectacular; fjords, icy glaciers, chugging ferries to cross the wide waters, and reindeer grazing in the snow around the van at night. We found a set of moulted antlers which we attached to the roof rack, with flag attached and felt well and truly Tundra’d.

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The trip back down through flat Finland was peaceful, tranquil, no alarums or excursions; just vast lakes, birch and conifer forests and a feeling of well-being. We never really knew when to go to sleep because of the midnight sun and 24hr daylight, and the mozzies were colossal and really stung, even through track suits and thick socks. And so to Denmark, heading for the last few laps down through Germany, taking in Bayreuth (outside of opera house only!) and leaving out divided Berlin. I was in charge of map reading and managed, in my post Finland torpor, to land us up on a ferry which turned out to be heading for East Germany. Mistake. Big one.

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We, the only passengers, disembarked and were immediately herded into a pen between two booms, by soldiers in full army dudes. They weren’t even amused by our be-flagged antlers. Took away our passports and left us sitting for two hours, in the van, while they made numerous phone calls, keeping an eye on us all the while. Funny it was not. Eventually we were released with a transit visa which didn’t allow stopping or shopping or talking to the locals. Since we’d run out of food it was even less funny but we put foot and headed off along the quickest route to Berlin. For two nights we slept behind large hay stacks, eating borrowed apples from nearby orchards. The countryside was interesting, communal farms, no traffic other than rust buckets and horse-drawn carts; the towns bleak and dreary.

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And then, out of the blue came the tanks. Hundreds of them, some with young soldiers sitting on top, others rattling along belching out foul diesel smoke. There were trucks of soldiers, some on foot as well, all going in the same direction – Prague. From our safety net in haystack we watched for a couple of hours until they were well out of sight and went hell for leather to Berlin where we learned of the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia. It was definitely not funny!

What has this to do with Kundera and The Unbearable Lightness of Being? When you read it all will be revealed. Better still, watch the old movie, it tells it all as it was.

On the rocks

by Jacqueline Dowling

Early Portuguese navigators called it Cabo de Bon Esperanza (Cape of Good Hope), rounded Cape Point and, depending on the weather, either sank or sailed on to lands of monkeys and exotic spices. Or, they called it Cabo Tormentosa (Cape of Storms), and simply sank. There are some 3000 wrecks along the Southern African coast and, after shivering through our present and extended winter, it’s not difficult to imagine why.

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Recently, the lagoon breached in a volcanic fury of mud, bushes, trees and a wall of water which swept away all intersecting sandbanks and clashed with breakers of the high spring tide sending columns of sea and fresh water high into the air , and a river of sludge heaving along the coast. It was an apocalyptic sight: especially when viewed from a car park rumoured to be built on the rubble from the old Birkenhead Hotel, named after a Royal Navy ship wrecked in 1852, with the loss of 450 lives, off Danger Point , at the southern end of Walker Bay. The Birkenhead, at the time, was the largest iron ship of the Royal Navy, en route to the Frontier War.

Today the force and anger of the lagoon is gradually sending the spirit of Birkenhead on yet another journey, undermining the car park in the process. It’s a crowd gatherer, no doubt about it: we stand in the teeth of a winter gale, leaning against the yellow safety barriers and rubber-necking in time with the surging and crashing of the tide. At times it’s almost balletic to watch the human movement, a motley collection of bodies swaddled in polar gear swaying hither and yon as the sea sucks and swells, woolly hats bobbing to the rhythm of their feet.

Recently the Atlantic exploded with such force against the sea wall in the fishing harbour that gates were washed away, windows in the diving ‘hut’ smashed and a trawler sank at its quayside moorings. Seaside homes had boulders delivered to their living rooms, bedrooms and garages on the back of brutal waves which smashed everything in their path. Tents and marquees erected for the annual Whale Festival landed up in trees and out at sea…and everyone agreed that it was the worst winter in living memory.

In time the gates were recovered from the seabed, slightly misshapen, but restored to their rightful place nevertheless. Divers fitted sliding sea-proof shutters to their hut and the pier was strengthened with vast quantities of concrete blocks: chunks of rusted boat were dredged up and sold as scrap. Now there are no more trawlers in the little harbour.

The sea is an icy bottle green: hail pounds the roof of our car as we battle to find a sheltering Milkwood: waterfalls race down mountainsides into the lagoon which, once again has reached saturation point. My mobile buzzes with a text from the municipality warning of heavy rainfall over the weekend , high winds and severe flooding.

It’s the first day of Spring.

I’m Just Saying

by Penny M

… from Communications that Matter:

Edition V July 2016: Longevity Nutrition Report – Adaptogens: THE STRESS SOLUTION by Kheyrne Danu

‘Dr Leila Sadien … explains: “We are all exposed to stress in modern times, and the capacity of our ability to adapt is a valuable strength in every person’s health. I prescribe adaptogens to every patient who is experiencing … , for example, and patients who are interested in general anti-aging and optimum wellness.”‘

Well, if you don’t mind ‘multiple choice’ grammar and expect to live long enough to finish reading this excellent article, you are as hooked as I am. Thanks for the amplified version of your article, Kheyrne Danu.

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Legal at the Library, and Other Free Books

By Susan Roberts

I don’t suppose there are many people in this day and age whose prime motivation in acquiring a local driver’s licence is so that they can join the nearby library, but then – I’m not like most people and never have been.

I still have my South African driver’s licence, but in Australia one’s driver’s licence is the main source of identification for everything – from registering a new SIM card to boarding a local plane to joining the municipal library. Once I realised that a licence from Vic Roads would open the door to books as well as cars, I knew that this was an item I desired even more than a bank card.

The process to convert to a Victoria driver’s licence was fairly painless, largely because the staff at Vic Roads are friendly, patient and efficient, and my little plastic card with my name, mug-shot and address arrived in the post last Friday – just one week after I handed in my paperwork.

Over the weekend it dawned on me that, come Monday, I could visit the library and sign up to a whole new world! So that’s exactly what I did. Like most places in Australia, the staff were friendly and efficient, and before long I was all signed up and legal. Access to books was finally in my sweaty little paws!


The next hour flew by as I poked around bookshelves, DVD shelves, audio book shelves and… Oh, just everything gloriously associated with the goodies that bookworms like me get excited about.

It got me thinking about libraries in general, and how much they have changed over the years since I first joined the children’s library in Pietermaritzburg back in the late 1960s. Back then it consisted of only books – fiction on one side and non-fiction on the other – and I went through both sides like Scheherazade’s husband wanting more and more stories to satisfy a thirst for books that staggered even me.

A year or two later the children’s library moved across the road into an old church hall, and after I’d exhausted their collection I was allowed to move into the grown-up section in another building around the corner. In 1975, all the scattered parts of the library moved into brand new premises behind the City Hall.

What an Aladdin’s cave it was with everything under one roof at last! Four or five storeys high and full of reading matter; air-conditioned, quiet, with soft carpeting to deaden the footfalls, and cushioned seating for those who had no pressing engagements elsewhere. Of course, during my school and university years, I made sure that I spent plenty of time there. It was right next to the central bus terminus in the city, so it was always convenient to pop in, even if briefly.

One of the most fascinating places in that new library was the newspaper and magazine section, upstairs next to the reference section. One could not check these items out and take them home, but had to read them there. And read them I did – magazines about theatre and film became my guiltiest secret along with newspapers from other cities. The Star and the Pretoria News were always easier to get to because local newspapers like The Daily News and The Mercury usually had a queue of people hanging around, waiting to browse the sporting news, job advertisements and horse racing tips.

Libraries today are a little different. For the past ten to fifteen years, I belonged to the municipal library in Durban, and I enjoyed borrowing books, videos on VHS, audio books on cassette, and sometimes even large print books when I couldn’t find the ones I wanted in the normal section. As time took its toll on my ageing eyesight I borrowed more from the large print section, and I also started borrowing DVDs once the technology moved forward from video tapes.

I have always loved listening to audio books in my car, and as each successive car came with updated players, I made the move from cassette tapes to CDs about the same time that my library did.

I no longer drive a total of an hour each day to work and back, so I’ve fallen out of the habit of listening to audio books, but the rest of the pleasures still apply. In Australia, the latest technology allows you to do things in a library that I’ve never even heard of, let alone understand. I have no idea what “kits” are and I wouldn’t have the vaguest idea how to download something called Freegal Music songs or Zinio e-magazines, but I do intend to find out!

I love the idea that one can borrow books for free, and I took my first two home from the Narre Warren Library on Monday. I’ve never shied away from buying books, and most of my friends will testify to the fact that my book collection took up a good portion of the space in my various small cottages in South Africa, but it is a relief to know that I don’t need to buy every book that I’d like to read.

While we’re on the topic of free books, I must tell you that my Italian novel Benicio’s Bequest will be free for five days on Amazon next week. For those of you who have joined my emailing list, I’ll announce the exact dates early next week, and those who follow me on my Susan’s Musings blog, Facebook and Twitter will also get a heads-up about it.

So, if you enjoy romantic mysteries but haven’t yet read my third novel and would like it for free, you can download it from Amazon next week. I do hope you enjoy it. As I always say: if you enjoy it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads, and if you don’t enjoy it, please feel free to drop me an email via my contact form on my website or blog, and tell me what you didn’t enjoy. I promise to never take offence at constructive criticism, and your comments may help me when writing future novels.

If you like the idea of free books but don’t fancy mine, then why not pay a visit to your local library and enjoy some time there. It’ll be worth it!