The saudade safari
Greetings from LAX. I have just been checked in for my flight to Europe — a feat that required furnishing:
my CDC vaccination card
proof of a just-done antigen test (nose-tickling, eye-watering [and not just cos it costs $80], but most importantly, negative)
two passenger location forms (for Switzerland and the UK)
a booking for a PCR test in London for two days’ time
Intercontinental travel, as you may have gathered, is a tad more complicated these days (and with tests galore, even more expensive). But, my oh my, how exhilarating it is to be in an international departure terminal — for the first time in two years.
This trip — to visit friends in Europe — comes at a good time. Much as I relish living in on Northern California rugged coast, I’ve been missing Southern Africa a lot lately. Europe isn’t Southern Africa — of course — but I’d argue that, when it comes to saudade, travel is a powerful emollient.
Yes, saudade. Because “homesickness” doesn’t seem quite the right term to describe the yearning for a place indelibly still part of you — despite you no longer living there. Voicenotes, Skype, rooibos and mint South Africa tempers this to a degree, but there are plenty of things about the region that need to be experienced in person. A non-exhaustive list of things I’m particularly pining after:
The sleepy chortles of an emerald spotted wood dove; duetting black collared barbets; the purple crested turaco’s morning crescendos; a fish eagle’s wail
Highveld summer storms; Highveld sunsets
Boerewors and Karoo lamb braaied on a wood fire; munching droewors while roadtripping
The smell of fynbos after rain; the warm Berg wind on my arms
TREES! What I wouldn’t do to be able to hug an nyalaberry tree in the Thuli Block right now, pat a torchwood’s fluted trunk in the Sabi Sand or sit on the bough of an ancient baobab up in Pafuri (before drinking a G&T in its spectral fever tree forests). Then, let’s not forget:
The lala palms near Mombo Camp in the Okavango
The rock fig that straddles the entrance to Singita Pamushana like a welcome arch
Phinda’s sand forest, home to a 1,500-year-old Lebombo wattle
The gigantic kiepersol near Kurisa Moya
The soaring jackalberry trees in the gardens of the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate
Modjadji’s hilltop cycads
Speaking of trees, the BBC recently published a meaty feature of mine exploring the links between deforestation, supply chains and finance. This was a multi-month project, involving many research rabbit-holes, multiple drafts, vetting from the BBC’s lawyers, and a dizzying number of rights of reply.
I’m pretty stoked with the result (if I may be so immodest). Give it a read, then check out DeforestationFreeFunds to see whether your investments might be exposed to deforestation risk.
Having recently finished reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography and Regarding the Suffering of Others I’ll never look at images, photography or photojournalism in quite the same blasé way ever again.
I’ve also enjoyed Virginia Woolf’s deliciously subversive and witty Orlando and am now re-reading her Mrs Dalloway, which feels even more magical the second time around.
What have you been reading, listening or watching lately?
I better go: it’s time to board. Replies are always welcome — and appreciated — so do drop me a line with tales of trees, what your flavour of saudade is, pandemic travel stories, or just a simple “hello”.