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Here In Africa: Cat Burglars

...Wandering around, what do you think I found? The most beautiful, marble baby’s foot – the carving was so perfect, you could almost feel it warm in your hand...

Barbara Durlacher, from her Highveld home, recalls travel adventures in Greece.

In my youth, I thought that Johannesburg was one of the most boring, ugly places on earth and the sooner I got out of there (when I was older, of course) the better.

Then, I got married and had three children and in the 1960s we moved to the Cape and finally, I had something to compare Joeys with. The Cape is beautiful, no one can deny that, but if you want to find B-O-R-I-N-G - Cape Town in those days was definitely where you found it.

Well, I’ve been back on the Highveld for more than 25 years and quite frankly, despite everything that’s against it (Joeys, I mean) I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

I really love this city in all its total craziness – the energy, the vibe, the adrenalin; the danger and the delights, how hard everyone is trying to make it work - what a stimulating place it is to live – and while enjoying every moment of being here (except for the traffic congestion and the dry Highveld winters) I can also see some of the many things that are wrong with it. But I don’t want to concentrate on the downside - rather I’d like to bring some of my good memories to share with you.

Like most people in their 70s, I’ve travelled a bit and now, as the years pass and today’s small events seem unimportant, memories of those casually undertaken travels seem to edge closer than before.

I can remember one extraordinary trip I did on the Magic Bus from London to Athens return for £29 in the late 1970s http://www.openwriting.com/archives/2005/08/the_bus_from_at.php#more which was extended by backpacking around the Greek Islands off-season when most of the small B&Bs were closed for the winter.

Ending up in a small village one cold evening, after considerable search, I’d found a small unheated room for the night and before the light faded had visited the one and only shop. Using my carefully budgeted funds, I’d purchased the few items available; fixings for my evening meal. I bought a dry piece of mouse-cheese, three misshapen tomatoes, and a hunk of dry bread. Not very tasty, but the best available, giving my inability to either read labels in Greek or communicate in that language. I’d hastily settled for what I could recognise, afford and use without cooking facilities.

Asleep in my simple room that night, I was woken by the stealthy sound of a burglar. Picture if you can, an unheated, cement floored room, with a plain metal bed, rough-dried sheets and a couple of thin blankets. Outside, the temperature is sliding down towards zero and your hero (me) fully clothed and curled up in foetal position to keep warm, is dreaming of great steaming bowls of oats porridge, with a big dollop of cream on top, followed by a delicious roast chicken, roast potatoes and chocolate mousse for afters.

My supper that evening had been a couple of chunks of that horrible cheese, a slice of dry bread and a tomato. Then, intruding into my dream of satisfying fullness, came a sound. A stealthy, rustling sound...

I leapt to my feet and dashed towards the window shouting, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” as fiercely as I could, and scrambling away in front of me, dashing away as if the devil himself was after them, were three scrawny, starving black cats!

These poor creatures had caught the smell of the cheese, and daring everything, had climbed walls, crossed knife-edge cornices and precipices to climb through my half-open window to steal a couple of mouthfuls of – ghastly goat’s cheese.

Banging the window closed, I went back to bed and as it was the off season in Greece, nothing else during my six weeks holiday rose to the same level of excitement. But it’s surprising how much fun I got from my travels, and now I cherish those memories of days that are gone.

Another experience was a trip by local bus to the shrine at Delphi, and, tired from walking around the ancient amphitheatre all a’hum with the buzz of bees sipping nectar from early spring flowers, and after listening to burgeoning actors testing their Thespian skills declaiming to the ranked tiers of the amphitheatre with its perfect acoustics, I wandered into the museum close by.

In those days Greek museums were very simple. I have no idea what they’re like today, as I’ve never visited Delphi again, but this museum was an honest and unsophisticated place where a few wonderful exhibits, some pretty ordinary bits and pieces and some rubbish was on show. Almost without exception, there were either no labels, or if the exhibits were labelled, they were in French, demotic Greek or Latin, none of which were much use to me.

Wandering around, what do you think I found? The most beautiful, marble baby’s foot – the carving was so perfect, you could almost feel it warm in your hand; you could sense the mother’s love as she held her baby’s foot in her hand; the delicate curve of the instep, the soft petals of the toes, and the arch of the sole, and without thinking, I turned to talk to someone, to call the nearest person and say, “Hey, come over here, come and see what I’ve found... isn’t it beautiful?” but there was no one else in the room.

And do you know, that was one of the only times in my many single journeys around Europe, when I felt truly alone, when I just longed to have someone with me, with whom I could share my wonderful discovery.

Wonderful memories of days that will never return, but something I’ll never regret doing – for me, travel is the most exciting and interesting pursuit in the world.

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