KAROO DIARY: Showdown at Pella Cathedral
Some time ago, this nun and I were in deadlock over a daisy. Neither of us was giving any ground on this hot and bothersome day in Bushmanland. In the museum section of Pella Mission, Northern Cape, to be precise. “Just let me take the plastic cover off for one little minute,” I insisted. But […]
Some time ago, this nun and I were in deadlock over a daisy. Neither of us was giving any ground on this hot and bothersome day in Bushmanland. In the museum section of Pella Mission, Northern Cape, to be precise.
“Just let me take the plastic cover off for one little minute,” I insisted. But she was having none of it.
Lying before us, in a wooden bureau drawer, was a Namaqua daisy embroidered into a priest’s vestment.
It was quite gorgeous, and I had driven over one thousand kilometres (1 382 km to be exact) to photograph it. But a thick plastic cover obscured my view. As if to taunt me, the daisy practically glistened under that thick milky plastic sheet.
“No. Absolutely not. I have orders that the vestments are not to be touched at all,” the little Pella nun – with the bright eyes behind round spectacles – told me as firmly as she could.
Her entire mien was that of Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings, when he told the Balrog Monster in the Mines of Moria: You Shall Not Pass.
I’m not famous for beating up nuns, I’ll tell you. But on that day, years and years ago, I came close.
I stalked out of there (like The Balrog would, I imagine), jumped in my bakkie and steamed off in the general direction of a pub in Port Nolloth.
On the long drive past Springbok, Steinkopf and over the Anenous Pass down to the vlaktes that precede my favourite misty seaside hideaway in all the world, I came to the following conclusion about that spat with the Pella nun…
Out here in the middle of nowhere, this gutsy lady of the cloth was defending her church heritage items like they were the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London – and she was a Beefeater.
Good for her, I thought, swerving to avoid an errant Namaqua donkey. She was protecting her heartland and obeying orders.
I also pondered on my obsession with country museums. Especially museums in the Karoo and Kalahari.
They’re quite spectacular in their own way. Even the grubby ones that have mouldering mannequins wearing granny’s clobber, missing their arms and noses, and gazing sightlessly out into the middle distance.
Even those museums full of old monochromes of stern men and lantern-jawed women, and others packed to the rafters with agricultural implements no one can work these days.
And you can show me a diorama any day of the week, especially those with old whistling rats just about to tip over, trekboer families cooking supper with slightly distracted expressions of momentarily-lost zombies.
It sometimes comes in the form of a scandal from long ago, a shipwreck tale, something poignant, something sad. Always human.
The grand Pella church, all the brochures say, was built by a bunch of priests using an encyclopaedia as a reference.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that they did it with the help of a Boer blacksmith who came to live with them and even converted to Catholicism. There’s always another story about something, isn’t there?
Back home with my milky photographs of the Pella-Namaqua Daisy, I ventured into the Lightroom section of my PhotoShop kit.
“Here goes nothing” I told myself as I downloaded the daisy. Then I twiggled this, toggled that and, hey presto! That lovely Pella flower bloomed before my very eyes.
I think I’ll send that nun a print of it, someday. Or perhaps a voice recording of my last laugh…
Text & Photographs by CHRIS MARAIS, www.karoospace.co.za