(The Umkomaas River mouth where Claude would surf … )
Those who grew up on the South Coast in the Sixties and Seventies will remember the train.
With the train you could either go up the line into Durbs to buy LPs in Grey Street, or down the line to Scottburgh and other places to surf.
You could even go to high school if you missed the bus, either Kingsway High or Scottburgh High if you were from Umkomaas.
Teenagers in school uniforms during the weekdays and surfers with surfboards over weekends … Claude, Walter, Alan … Claude was even crazy enough to surf off the Umkomaas River mouth!
The bridge over the Umkomaas River is huge, looking down from the train gave one a sense of that.
If you went south from Umkomaas you would go through the indigenous coastal forest where the wild bananas grow, between Umkomaas and Scottburgh.
Somewhere in there was a secret place, a huge sand hole that we called ‘Diamond Hole’ and where we built a fufi slide (zipline) from one end to the other.
I have no idea who discovered it, but Giovanni (Prod) was the ring-leader, the ‘situational leader’ as they would call it in leadership theory – of all places I discovered that notion during officer’s training in the SA Navy; that in any of us, even those without military rank or for that matter any significant status in Life have instances of leadership, depending on the situation.
(Remind me to tell you about the bergie in Muizenberg who saved my life … !)
In the Diamond Hole sagas, John who was older came along because he had an interest in one of the girls who was also older than us.
The rest of us were still too young, time for that some other day …
What I can remember is having spent the whole day away without telling my mother where I was going and coming home to receive the papuzza.
The papuzza (my very approximate spelling of this Friulan word) was a felt top, rubber-soled slipper that the immigrant mothers would make – all from recycled material and throw away rubber waste from Saiccor factory.
The rubber stung … Italian Mammas had a God given right to ensure discipline!
Italians can recycle anything as Norman Lewis, ‘one of the best writers, not of any particular decade, but of our century’ according to Graham Greene, Daily Telegraph, discovered in his magnificent ‘Naples ‘44’.
Is it true, I asked my mother, who grew up in Northern Italy during WW2, that you would make coats out of the Allies army blankets sold on the black market?
Yes, of course!? As in, why ask me such a stupid question!?
Lewis even describes how an Allied supply ship began to be dismantled and recycled into the black market the night it docked at a harbour close by to Naples!
So the papuzza was a multi-purpose recycled utility.
The Italians recycled everything, rags, bones, rubber tubing, even the bread crumbs from the tovaglia (the table cloth) for the uccellini so that the ‘little birds’ would have the strength to do their insect control of the vines and fruit trees and the frumento (wheat) and orzo (barley) etc.
As a child our train rides were undertaken with parents, filled with purpose on Saturdays, going to Durban to look for good value discounts.
Sconto for cash … discount!?
The Indians loved us, proper trading, with discount haggling just as it should be!
And Nonno continues asking for sconto to this day.
He found Kismet here in Cape Town, Indians as well, and their patriarch could not wait for Silvano’s next visit to haggle for screws, nails, hammers, and whatever else he needed in his countless DIY projects.
Later, when I went to Italy, I had other train rides, and these are the contrasting impressions …
In the early mornings we would catch trains occasionally … into Durban from Umkomaas.
Most of the trip was rural, through subtropical landscape, the sea to the right crashing the Indian Ocean onto the beaches …
Until we went through the industrial zones …
New worlds of old times could run trains through sparse places until they reached the few urban destinations.
Then we could see the to and fro of humanity engaged in survival …
At some moments even furnaces doing whatever they were intended to do … through the train window, glimpses.
A moving view …
In Italy the moving view was more condensed … strips of fields separated industry and homes.
Short rides would reveal a myriad sights, artisans engaged in the first moments of a long day, front doors opening …
The view in the early morning always more active than later on.
In the late afternoon and early evening the swarm of activities would intensify again.
All those people, events, bicycles on winding roads, the twists and turns of Life …
through the train windows
Copyright © 2015 G. Rigotti