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Jan van Eden

bio - biography

Stories of our life in the foreign

 

1973  Republic of South Africa - memories of Andre Winkler [written in 2013]

 

Memories of Andre Winkler back to 1973, when he was a child, 7 years old.

 

Writing this story during his stay at our house Singel 100, Amsterdam in august 2013, this time taking care of our B&B.

 

 

 

1073 coffee mill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

intertwined

When I opened the drawer in the kitchen at Singel 100 to unpack the groceries I had just bought, my eyes immediately focused on a bright orange Braun coffee grinder. In an instant I was transported back to 101 John Adamson Drive in Montgomery Park, Johannesburg in 1973. We lived at 99 John Adamson Drive; our houses were separated only by a low jasmine hedge. I recall the excitement at home one Sunday morning because we had been invited to Pepa and Jan for lunch. The reason for the excitement was that Pepa was preparing Paella. We had sampled her cooking on a few occasions already but now we were about to partake of the national dish prepared by a one hundred percent Spanish national who, it just so happened was our new neighbour! This could be regarded as exotic growing up in a middle class Johannesburg suburb in the 1970's where nobody had a bright orange coffee grinder. There wasn't even filter coffee. A teaspoon of Nescafe instant coffee thrown unceremoniously into a mug was my understanding of coffee. I walked through the front door and was greeted by an aroma I had never yet in my seven years smelled. The air was thick and sweet. Anticipation grew and after a short while lunch was served. One taste of my first experience of a prawn and all I wanted to do was gag. All this build up for something which can taste this bad?

 

 

[at Singel 100] Whilst pulling a fitted sheet over a mattress in Jan's studio preparing for Gerrie's arrival from Cologne and Megs and Ken's from London, my attention is caught by one of Jan's paintings which he painted in 1973.

 

 

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I am back at Sunday lunch in Johannesburg. Thoroughly unimpressed by the food and getting absolutely no sympathy from all the others at the table sucking out the contents of prawn heads and licking their fingers, I leave the table and go to the lounge.

 

A minimalist arrangement of unusual black leather and chrome furniture placed on a zebra skin which in turn concealed a portion of the mundane parquet floors. A modular shelving system which they told me had been disassembled elsewhere and reassembled in its new position in John Adamson drive. Modular, wow that's a new word, OK! All these unusual items fighting for dominance in a rigidly shaped 1960's suburban house. The music was as bad as the food. Frenetic saxophones, drums and all manner of instruments in an atonal cacophony.  I became hypnotised watching the vinyl LP resting on 5 spinning gold pads [referring to our Transcriptors turntable]. I turned my attention to the painting on the wall. A very angry looking vagina perched on a bar stool. The painting that caught my eye whilst making a bed in the studio [in Amsterdam] is of that genre, possibly even the same one. During the tour I give Meg's and Ken on their arrival at Singel 100, I jokingly point out the painting that can be attributed to me choosing my sexual preference all those years ago.

Jan had a company car but not just any company car, a Toyota Land Cruiser. I would entertain myself for hours sitting behind the wheel fiddling with the switches and gear levers and opening and closing the foot ventilation flaps. These two people with their orange coffee grinder had come into our lives out of nowhere. Rie was inspired by them. They spoke about art, literature and basically offered a different perspective to the overwhelming norm that was life in a white suburb of Johannesburg in the 1970's. She had someone who shared her taste for atonal music. The positive side to this for me was that the inspiration led her to buying new Hi-Fi. The one we had until then was fashioned out of glossy timber veneer with a single speaker in the front which was concealed with fabric that looked like a grandmother's coat. In its glory days it stood on four wooden legs not dissimilar from a toothpick in proportion, hence the fact that they had long ago snapped and it now stood clumsily on the chest. Jan went off to the shop with Rie to choose the replacement. Not only were there two speakers but it also had an amplifier.

Our little family unit had gained something, it felt good. Ingrid and I were spoiled rotten on our birthdays and generally all three of us were given a lot of affection. It felt secure.

But life takes its course. The modular shelving system was dismantled and they packed up and moved on to Brazil. Aerogramme letters would arrive probably two or three times a year. They were long and detailed, neatly written letters which Rie would read to us, normally sitting at our round dining room table after dinner. Brazil, San Salvador, Saudi Arabia, Sabayes. I would conjure up vivid images of these places. There was a Delicious Monster pot plant in a corner in our lounge. I could imagine entire jungles of these plants in San Salvador and decided then that one day I would visit these places.

Rie would read these letters a few times, they would move from the dining room to her bedside table where they would earn the stamp of a coffee mug stain and ultimately find their resting place next to all the others in the room divider drawer.

A new couple moved into the house [at 101 John Adamson Drive, Johannesburg]. Nico and Yvonne Scheltema. Nico had a turquoise Fiat 127. There was a stone lodged between the hubcap and the wheel so you knew when he was coming and going. There was always a visible reservoir of saliva in the sides of his mouth which, during unwelcomed neighbourly interactions had the tendency of flying off in all directions like a loose cannon. He would disappear for 1 or 2 month stretches at a time to do military service on the border between Angola and South Africa. In the periods that he was at home he would walk down to DF Malan drive in the mornings to catch the bus. He was a 2nd Lieutenant, ageing and scrawny; his military "step-outs" seemed to swim around his slight frame. On weekends he often had something to do which involved a stepladder and getting onto the roof. From that perspective he had a commanding view into my pubescent sister's bedroom. On Saturday evenings at 6pm sharp, like a church bell hammer the sound of an axe sinking into wood would ring over the jasmine hedge. Saturday night was braai night. I never heard music or conversation, communication was limited to bickering in short sentences.

15 years later I have itchy feet. I am loving my studies but am as keen to see more. I have towed the line; worked hard to get better high school grades, spent two years doing compulsory military service for a sinking Apartheid regime and completed the first phase of my degree [in architecture]. I decide to take a gap year and head for Europe. It's time!

A few weeks prior to my departure I receive a letter from Jan. The contents are a "Strippenkaart" (a tram ticket) with instructions as to how to use it as well as directions to get to their house. This makes the pending journey more tangible, I can picture myself catching a tram for the first time.

 

I arrive at a house on a canal with a huge dark green door, I press the buzzer. A few seconds of silent anticipation and the heavy door is energetically pulled open by Jan. Here he is in front of me, the same voice, the same face, the same wiry dexterity. Pepa comes around the corner. Also the same voice, smiling, warm and enthusiastic. I realise that the last time I saw them I was more than a head shorter than her. I am an adult, just like them, but don't feel like one. I need time to fast forward fifteen years. They take me up to my room. It is cosy and has a particular smell. It has a view directly over the Singel. Now I have a picture of what the Singel is. The 3 metre high 17th century windows cut out the noises from outside, the bikes, boats and cars seem to glide past as if everything is hovering nothing judders.

After settling in and getting over the shock of the European winter I start looking for a casual job. I need to save money to be able to travel around the continent. I place an advertisement on the notice board in the Albert Heijn supermarket. I'm lucky, one day later I get a call and off I am for an interview. Michael, a very camp Freddie Mercury look alike from Australia conducts the interview and explains that it is a gay hotel. OK I think, this will be interesting! The next day I start work at the Waterfront Hotel, Singel 458. I have to clean the rooms and serve breakfast on a roster system which I share with a guy from Egypt. I had never met anyone from Egypt. I arrive early for him to show me the ropes. He's off and now I'm on. I have three hours to service the rooms. I am advised to start on the top floor and move down. The higher I go up the narrow stairs armed with my cleaning materials and a vacuum cleaner, the narrower the stairs become. I unlock the door and attempt to enter the room but it is so small that I have to think very carefully where to place myself, the bucket and the vacuum cleaner. There is only 1 plug in the room and it is integrated into the light switch. Hurriedly I plug in the vacuum cleaner and commence vacuuming. In 1 movement I manage to entwine myself in the cable and pull the entire plug socket out of the wall. 3 hours later, sweating and exhausted I get to the ground floor and store my cleaning equipment. I made it! It became easier each day and soon Freddy Mercury promoted me to reception duties as well.

  

Anticipation grew for my first Singel 100 gallery exhibition opening. Colette Curfs was the artist. I was chuffed with myself that I had packed my favourite tie which I thought would be just perfect for such events. It was a gift from Ingrid, a Post-Modern rendition of Gauguin's' Two Tahitian Women in hues of grey and burgundy, my favourite colour combination at the time. The gallery was filled with interesting people from all over the world. The wine flowed and the snacks consumed with perhaps more enthusiasm than there was for the paintings. When everyone had gone home we started cleaning up. There was a very clear system in the kitchen not to be questioned but because I had been "in training" for a few weeks already, I was equipped to deal with the task at hand without too much correction. Every evening after dinner we would wash up together sharing all sorts of interesting topics. Sometimes Jan would have finished a painting that day and we would go into his studio with a pot of mint tea and view and discuss it. The smell of acrylic and oil paint which lay spattered on the white marble floor, mixed with the aroma of mint tea was perfect.

On Sunday mornings I would be woken up to the smell of pancakes being made by Pepa in the kitchen below my bedroom. After breakfast one particular Sunday we went to visit friends, Trix and Walter for the day. Pepa was going to make paella and the anticipation among the guests was just as great as it was at 97 John Adamson drive 15 years previously. This time I devoured two large servings. I was an adult!

[Back to the present 2013] I unlock the canal suite to service the room after the friendly French family has left. It smells exactly the same, as it did when I entered it for the first time more than 20 years ago. The possessive side of me thinks that these people were most fortunate to have had the pleasure of spending 8 nights in my suite, the space that was my soft landing in Europe, the space where I could get stoned and lie on my bed and glare up at the ornately decorated ceiling making up objects as if it were clouds, the space where friends passing through from South Africa were welcome to stay, the space where Gerrie and I stayed when we were welcomed with open arms years later.

I find myself tripping over the vacuum cleaner cable and have to smile about how life maps itself out.

 

Andre Winkler

 

back to 1972-1974 South Africa

Angola

 

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