« Turbulent Priests | Main | The I Dotter »

Open Features: A Chat With Joan Von Memerty

“Life is the journey not the destination so we should never confine ourselves to only one level of thought, there is a little bit of truth in everything. But we do need to give ourselves goals or challenges to keep us on course. In the end I think our only rewards are brief moments of enlightenment.''

Marianne Hall brings us an interview with a fascinating character, Baroness Joan Elizabeth von Memerty.

Baroness Joan Elizabeth von Memerty

There are books everywhere: on the shelves, floor and counter, dealing with anything. Colourful watercolours and sketches adorn the walls. There are astrology, dream and birth charts as well as maps. The intricate and delicate music of Vivaldi is heard in the background. People wander in and out. Some to browse, others are on the lookout for a particular book or publication. Each person is greeted with a smile.

The bookshop is as fascinating as its owner Joan, who is none other than the Baroness Joan Elizabeth von Memerty.
Born in Malawi on February 10, 1950, she contracted polio at 10 months, during the 50’s epidemic. The family moved to Zimbabwe when she was six, the youngest of four children.

She grew up in Rhodesia and loved swimming and the outdoors. It was there that she married Baron Richard von Memerty, who is of German and Polish descent. Richard’s grandfather emigrated to Africa in the 1900’s after losing all 13 estates in Poland. Joan is of Scottish descent. She had three of her four children, living mostly on farms, before immigrating to South Africa.

After two years’ farming in the Cape, the family moved up to Gauteng, where her youngest child was born. She now lives in Benoni in a rambling house. Joan is also surrounded by books at home. Again, they are everywhere, on bookshelves and on all the tables, a stack of them alongside her bed – these dealing mostly with astrophysics by writers such as Stephen Hawking, John Gribbin, Leon Lederman, George Smoot, Kitty Ferguson and Richard Dawkins. Her favourite classics are the romances of Austen, the Brontes and she loves Thomas Hardy. Favourite poets are T.S Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hopkins, Frost and Yeats.

Artistic, Joan has completed oils, watercolours and sketches over the years. One wall is completely covered by works of art.
Joan has always been totally involved with her children. Albums overflow with pictures and certificates of their achievements – ballet, music, poetry and karate. School diplomas and trophies abound.

Her eldest daughter, Candice, was married to an Austrian in the UN and for a while they resided in the Lebanon. They were married with great pomp and ceremony, accompanied by a brass band with all the villagers and tourists out in force to watch the bride and groom, with all the guests following, parading through the village street to the church. Now she is married to an Englishman and lives in a little place near Oxford.
Renee, Joan’s second daughter, is the most adventurous in the family and hitchhiked through Africa when she left university and from there travelled around the world. She’s travelled through South America on motorbikes with her husband but they are based in Lichtenstein.

Her son Karl studied music and did a BA at UNISA then furthered his education in London where he lived for several years. He now lives in Paris teaching English.

The youngest, Natasha, is also overseas and lives in Oxford and works for Oxford University, she too has a degree and is planning , along with her partner, to cycle round the world.
While we were chatting the first time a brown racing pigeon flew into the kitchen. “He’s looking for the margarine” came the explanation. The family also had a three-legged cat and two German Shepherd dogs. Now Joan lives alone in a different house and different kitchen with her German Shepherd cross collie.

When Joan left school she became a photographer’s assistant. Then, to earn money to travel overseas, she worked for the Rhodesian government. At 19 she flew to London and worked at Barclays Bank DCO as a clerk.”In London I was crazy about the underground and British transport. I saw as much as I could of everything. Another ambition was to live in Paris and paint, but after four days I was broke, so had to take the first plane home from France. On arrival at Salisbury I had exactly enough left for a phone call home.”

On her return she worked as an advertising artist, then joined The Rhodesian Herald as a layout artist. At 22 she married and lived on a farm in Marandellas. At that stage they had five servants. Doris Lessing lived in the same area.

Later they moved closer to Salisbury and lived on a farm in Arcturus. During this time she worked as an artist for Greatermans. Later, in South Africa, she worked for the Amalgamated Press and became the manageress of the art department in Boksburg. “I then was an assistant in a bookshop in Braamfontein for a while and decided to open my own business in 1996.”

Joan has a Masters degree in English Literature and an Honours degree in Psychology as well as diplomas in Art and Hypnotherapy but she now confines herself to contract work for the university and writing.

Years ago Joan was involved in a serious car accident. She ‘died’ several times on the operating table and spent two weeks in the intensive care unit. “I dreamt of Orpheus and the Underworld, calling it Morpheus, probably due to the amount of morphine they pumped into me. My little journey to the other side was brief.” Later, whilst recuperating at home, she found someone holding her hand. “He was dressed in a dark brown hessian robe and a cowl covered his face. I felt at peace but as soon as my conscious mind began to take over, I became very scared and found I could not move or even speak. Then as I looked into his face I discovered it was a black void, just like the grim reaper. He felt my fear so rose and drifted away.”

These and other experiences led Joan to explore the paranormal more seriously. Hypnotherapy courses with Barry Seedman, an American hypnotist, and Evans Brown led her towards becoming a hypnotherapist.

“My main interest in hypnotherapy lies in regression – taking someone back into a past life. It’s not sure yet what phenomena are at work but I have regressed a few people which convinced me that we have all lived other lives.” It was a blossoming field of research.”

“Other esoteric adventures are in psychometry, numerology and Tarot cards. Astrology is a combination of all the ancient disciplines rolled into one, astrology, psychology, mathematics, geometry and numerology (Pythagoras excelled in this one) as well as medicine and chemistry to name but a few. Each discipline can take you along a different path but in the end a wise man holds a holistic view and the mysteries unfold one by one, but the ultimate mystery like the search for the Holy Grail still has to be discovered for ourselves.”

According to Joan dreams are the psychic animation of the soul. “I have had predictions in my dreams, which have actually occurred, some insignificant things, like standing in someone’s vegetable garden, but another time a dream woke me up in time to prevent my daughter from being burnt by a heater which had fallen against her bed one night. The heater had burnt through the blanket and the sheets were smouldering,”

Joan has travelled widely and to date has visited 27 countries. As a child she travelled on the Union Castle from Cape Town to Southampton, stopping at Las Palmas. She has toured England and Scotland, visited Greece with her father and Rio Brazil with her husband, then France, Italy and Switzerland. She visited her daughter in Western Sahara in 1995 and they toured Morocco. She spent a month in Austria where her daughter was married. She lived in Malawi and Zimbabwe and has visited parts of Southern Africa and Mozambique and recently visited India.

“I loved the markets and medinas in Morocco,” reminisced Joan. “In a little town called Essaouira, the artists and writers hang out. It was really pretty but Marakesh and the Atlas mountains are beautiful. We took a two-day donkey ride up the third highest mountain in Africa. I like the exotic. Cairo was also fascinating, especially the belly dancers. I could have spent hours at the museum.”

“Austria is very European. We went up through the Seegrotte, the largest subterranean lake in Europe, and also visited Eisriesenwelt, the highest ice cave in the world. It’s near Saltzburg where Mozart was born, a beautiful town with a fairytale castle brooding over it. Vienna is wonderful, and we attended ‘Die Fledermaus’ in Morbisch, where a yearly opera festival is held for people from all over Europe. The best and most exotic of course is India, they say you love it or hate it but I loved every minute”

Joan was president of the Rotary Anns during 1994. The highlight of her year was the hosting of an art exhibition at Medley House in which a wide selection of paintings by East Rand and township artists were displayed. She was a member of Writers 2000 for seventeen years and the poetry editor for fourteen years and learned a great deal about writing from the club.

Joan has written two novels. The Vulcan is a science fiction about time travel. A Man Young and Old a mystery, a collection of short stories including Three Cats in a Chair about and young, male university student, a collection of poetry as well as a children’s book on verse and a play. Her first love is poetry which she has been writing since she was fifteen. She has published a non-fiction book based on her dissertation called Michael Ondaatje; Distance, Clarity and Ghosts. (Available on line).

“My mind is always full of words which I am continually trying to organise. I love words, the power of words is greatly under estimated. The sound, tone and the meaning all interact to form a pattern which can invoke great feeling. They have the power to hypnotize, to rouse the masses and to lull a baby to sleep.”

“I’d like to continue with my writing she says and ‘definitely’ to travel more.”

She says her philosophy is slanted towards the eclectic and Buddhism. “Life is the journey not the destination so we should never confine ourselves to only one level of thought, there is a little bit of truth in everything. But we do need to give ourselves goals or challenges to keep us on course. In the end I think our only rewards are brief moments of enlightenment.” In India she was indeed told by a very learned astrologer in Benares that she would achieve enlightenment in her seventies. She looks forward to that time.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.