Dispatches is part of a series of brief takes on how we live in South Africa
The last farm on the N1 north as you turn off for Prince Albert is called Vergenoeg – far enough. And it is. Far enough for the cloaking silence that allows you to hear your blood flow, a silence a friend from New York described as “solid”. It is far enough to wonder whether you can pick up a cellphone signal, a newspaper or Maldon sea salt and far enough to lose your bearings about the constellations as their sister stars, never seen from the cities, surround them each night.
The old, folded earth and clear air attract painters, who spend a lifetime trying to capture the light or the colours of the veld, and retirees, who want to detox after years of meetings and traffic.
But it is also warm and comic: the sunbird here is known as a polisievoël (police bird) because it is always sticking its nose in things.
When you play golf, you bring your own Astroturf to tee off. When you drop in to see the butcher, he does not always have meat (the hunters have not shot the game or the sheep have not made it to the abattoir and chicken is considered a vegetable), but he might offer solid advice on where to find the elusive Cape penduline tit.
Sometimes, driving into town, you are held up by sheep or baboons, or an ostrich crossing the road. Rush hour, observed while sipping a gin and tonic on Prickly Pear’s stoep, means four or five cars passing every five or 10 minutes. A big night out is movies every second Wednesday.
Agriculture provides our rhythm: we anticipate the next season’s fruit and can hum the names of the olives that go into oil – frantoio, corotino, FS-17, leccino. The smell of naloop (the remains of the previous distilling process) becomes familiar as the must from the vineyards is turned into witblits at the museum’s annual stook (distilling) and potjiekos in April.
We share a lot. Recipes, tips for staying warm in winter, cuttings from plants, books. We tell each other where to find the swimming hole in the mountains and where the large, wild, edible porcini mushrooms grow under the poplars.
But we do not share enough. Poverty is grinding and the town remains divided. Social grant money from AllPay goes to the liquor stores and children go hungry. Some people refer to “they” and “them” and mistakenly assume an “us”. True of everywhere, but perhaps more glaring in this clear light.
So, sometimes “far enough” is not the place where you end up, but the place where you begin again.