Travelling through memory…

VANESSA SMEETS

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SANTÉ: Founder of Blank Canvas Studio, Martine de Kock, welcomes guests to The Thyste Traveller’s third event.                                                                                  PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Memory flows for some in the form of a distinct song, an exceptional smell or a specific taste. For Martine de Kock (31), founder of Blank Canvas Studio, capturing the essence of her late great grandfather came in the form of what he loved most: great food, wine and company.

These ideals had to be captured in a truly sensory journey and, so, The Thyste Traveller series was born, asking exclusive wineries across South Africa to be part of an unforgettable experience.
The Thyste Traveller journey has grown from a small intimate group of friends to a monthly event of celebration and joy, in the comfort of a cozy atmosphere, in Pretoria.

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CHEERS: Bernard Dewey, sales and marketing director for Chamonix, and Martine de Kock, organiser of these delightful events.                                            PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Blank Canvas Studio has hosted numerous events in its young existence, but this is a very personal one for its founder:
“My great grandfather, Oupa Thys, travelled the globe to experience its culinary offerings. These events are held in his home, in memory of him, where we share a love of what he stood for.”

The third event in the series was showcased by Chamonix, a beautiful wine farm nestled in the Franschhoek valley, with a 50-hectare game farm, and found only one hour away from Cape Town.

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PARADISE: Chamonix wine farm in Franschhoek, paired perfectly for the third event.         PIC: Chamonix website

Guests were treated to a delicious 6-course pairing menu, prepared by ESSEN eatery which included:
TOP: dried porcini mushroom tortellini, parmesan ice-cream, peking duck.
BOTTOM: pork dish, melanzanata aubergine and gold Belgian chocolate dome for dessert.

Regulars to these events, Joha and Piet Bredell, said: “We keep coming for the great food, wine and company. What better way to spend a Wednesday evening?”

Keep an eye out for the fourth installment on this appetizing journey…

 

Happiness is…

VANESSA SMEETS

For years, I searched far and wide for happiness.
The greatest poets and creative people have spoken of it as an illusion or the ultimate tease, being short-lived and unfulfilling. Walt Disney claimed it’s the way one looks at things. William Shakespeare referred to it as good friends. AA Milne, who wrote Winnie the Pooh, referred to it as the secret to all beauty. For many, it comes in four states of being, which I believe could be seen as four seasons: euphoria, bliss, joy, and contentment.

Euphoria: where everything seems to be floating and unreal, your senses are overcome much like in spring.
Bliss: where everything seems almost too perfect to be true. Your body and heart are one, much like in summer.
Joy: where everything still seems beautiful, just like the colours of autumn.
Contentment: where you hold on to the other three, but will have to do with the warmth provided, much like in winter.

But, what does it mean to me? Because that’s what Incitement is about: my story, our story. (For more on Incitement SA, see my previous article: There is HOPE!)

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FREEDOM: The magic of childhood should not be forgotten in adulthood… PIC: Internet

My seasonal journey with happiness has been complex, sometimes raining with splendor, other times hard to harvest.
I first discovered it as a small child from simple things: setting dragonflies and butterflies free in the kitchen, catching grasshoppers in the garden and feeling them tickle my skin, watching my parents kiss, playing with Barbies for hours on end. Yes, I’ve always been a romantic and that is where my disillusionment with happiness was born.

This is quite personal, but I believe many of us have been through it…
As someone who struggled with clinical depression for almost ten years, I am finally free of it. No, it was not through fancy medication or hours at the psychiatrist. If anything, those things worsened my state of being. The meds poisoned my body, to the verge of becoming a diabetic and the shrink poisoned my soul by opening old wounds. I had forgiven. I didn’t need to be reminded of my past regrets and hurt.

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FAITH: Balancing faith against your fears will push you forward. PIC: RobinSharma.com

Happiness is the ability to balance what you have with what you need, appreciating those special moments. I learnt this best as a preschool teacher. Children have the ability to be creative, even when their little heads and hearts are in disjoint. A child will continue to smile, even if things at home aren’t easy. They believe in the power of daily life – every day is a magical reason to wake up, discover your surroundings and explore your needs.

As adults, we forget the essence of imagination. We forget to discover daily power and magic. We keep diaries of our daily struggles, instead of your daily triumphs. And we forget to spend time with children, who teach us to see through new eyes. I’ve always believed children are the world’s greatest teachers.

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THE KEY: Children are not only the future, but the world’s greatest teachers. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

I discovered a whole new world as a preschool teacher: one where killed spiders are given funerals, where storms are caused by an angry creator and where friendship is about listening and sharing, even if that means your favourite sandwich.

Children, not pills, healed my heartache. Originally, I studied journalism. I was determined to become a war photographer. But teaching taught me to focus on life, rather than death. And the war within myself was finally put to rest. So the trick is to BELIEVE, in yourself, in your dreams, in others, in their dreams. Clichéd but true: what a difference this makes.

For the parents out there, I urge you to write down the beautiful things you witness on a daily basis with your child. Get involved with your child’s preschool: “What did he/ she get up to today?”

Happiness is obeying your bliss, even if it comes from ridiculous sounding things like a fresh smoothie, a yoga session you’ve been avoiding or an afternoon in the botanical gardens. Unhappy people are those that don’t know what they want out of life. They have little focus on where they are going. They keep looking back on past mistakes, instead of embracing today’s beauty. Every sunset should be seen as unique. Every stranger on the street has a story to share.

These are my tips for a state of happiness every day:

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Euphoria, like spring, is the overwhelming beauty of one’s life reawakening. PIC: Internet

EUPHORIA:

  • Start a random conversation with a stranger, such as a person who sells you a newspaper, hands out a flyer. If everyone listened with more patience, we’d have more interesting days.
  • Put away your phone and Facebook for a whole day. Make face-to-face conversation with a person you haven’t seen in a long time. The power of touch is one which can heal.
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Bliss is like summer, when mind, body, heart and soul beat as one. PIC: Internet

BLISS:

  • Listen to the way a small child speaks to their pet. If everyone spoke with such kindness, we’d have many more friends.
  • Draw. Paint. Sing. Dance. Do something you normally never have time to do, yet enjoy. It will rejuvenate your soul.
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Much like autumn, joy is an array of beautiful colours that envelop the soul. PIC: Internet

JOY:

  • Arrange a coffee-date with your parents and grandparents. Listen to stories of their youth and their search for happiness before it’s too late.
  • Hold your pet for a good hour, cuddle it… That is the only creature that never judges you, criticizes you; despite giving it the same food every day and the same lame excuse “I’ll play with you tomorrow”.
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Much like winter, contentment is loving the warmth of what we knew… PIC: Internet

CONTENTMENT:

  • Fall in love with your life again… Seek that dream job and those fun friends. Reawaken your inner being. A wise friend once told me: “Don’t walk away from negativity. RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!”
  • Meditate on the previous seasons.

Happiness should never be searched for. That goes against its aim. It finds you when you least expect it, much like love and peace. And I do believe those three work hand-in-hand. You cannot be truly happy without love or peace. And what is love or peace without happiness? Go on then, dream some more. Live for eternity.

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BLESSINGS: The essence of life… PIC: Internet

25 Lessons

VANESSA SMEETS

My first quarter of a century is up! 26, already?  Inspired by the voice of Baz Luhrmann for the Sunscreen song, I’ve come up with my own 25 lessons to honour the last 25 years that have passed by quietly or with a bang, on my eternal quest for love and truth.

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YES, DAD: A beautiful day in Zimbabwe with my dad (1986) PHOTO: CVU

1)    Learn from your parents’ mistakes. Although marriage seems like a tempting way to consummate one’s love for one another, it rather comes from hours of proper communication and compassion. Yet, happily divorced parents tend to give great advice…

2)    Write down your grandparents’ tales. Parky (Grandpa) used to tell his World War 2 tales under the stars. Wish I wasn’t too little to really understand how precious these memories were…

3)    Speak to strangers. As children, we are taught: “Don’t talk to strangers.” But, in adulthood meeting new people adds colour to one’s own world. You’d be surprised at how many similar experiences you actually share. Today, I spoke to an Afghan refugee. It was the most thought-provoking conversation in a few years.

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BICYCLE DIARIES: Happiness in the middle of the night PHOTO: CJ

4)    Ride a bicycle in a cocktail dress. Late one night, a friend and I jumped onto bicycles a little tipsy. We never arrived at our initial destination. Instead, we spent an amazing 40 minutes trying to perfect riding a bicycle in a cocktail dress and trying to stay on it without the cops suspecting we were a little over the limit…

5)    Don’t fall too hard in love, although it hurts just as much every time. After a few excruciating heart-breaks, I must say the shortest one was the most painful. Although you become a little more cynical after each failed relationship, you also make the huge mistake of settling for less. DON’T!!!

6)    Keep your girlfriends near. Many girls once in love brush away their friendships in order to make room for their new guy. A true gentleman will allow a wonderful girls’ night out, where you can recharge your batteries away from him.

7)    Ask your guy friends for direction. Blessed with wonderful guy friends, they have taught me how to laugh at myself, step away from abusive relationships and help make the right career move.

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SERENITY: The beautiful aquarium of Valencia, Spain PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

8)    Travel. Try the Paella in Spain, the white beaches of Mauritius, the beer-gardens in Munich, the apfel-strudel of Austria and the Table Mountain of South Africa. So many languages and cultures to explore, even in your own country.

9)    Write love letters. Somehow, emails never have the same impact. If someone really means a lot to you, the relationship is bound to last longer than a few weeks. Getting a letter written when everything was burning hot re-ignites that spark!

10)  Gain wisdom from children. Two years as a pre-school teacher taught me enough to last the rest of my life. The joys of being human come from our unique gifts: speech, creativity, compassion, reason and enough laughter to keep it all going strong.

11)  Give pseudoscience a chance. This year, I fell in love with Reiki, a Japanese technique of finding out what is bothering you and allowing you to heal in your own time. I also realised graphologists (people who analyse handwriting) contain a lot of truth. Even the way one presses against the paper means something exceptional.

12)  Leave the ex alone. As tempting as it is to flirt with an old flame, you have to realise it’s preventing you from meeting someone new. This is your turn to shine for someone who truly appreciates you.

13) Study in different countries. Travelling is somehow not enough in seeking solace for one’s soul. By living 11 000 kilometres away from home, I‘ve come to appreciate South Africa so much more. Yes, Internet and transport efficiency is amazing in Europe, but the sun doesn’t shine as much, the people tend to keep to themselves and you have to make the effort of getting to know them first. Long live the days of “braais” around a pool…

14) Be prepared to be criticised and criticise. Although I hate conflict, a little conflict with some of my closest friends taught me there is joy in reconciling only a stronger friendship.

15) Keep a journal. Writing your experiences, struggles and feelings helps you meet the person you will spend the rest of your life with: yourself.

Faith through Ibrahim

FINDING FAITH: Ibrahim gets paid a minimum salary for being the care-taker of Stellenbosch's (South Africa) only mosque PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

16) Have faith or find it through others. Whether it comes from believing in G_d or Allah, it gives one direction in living a purpose-filled life.

17) It’s never too late to fall in love. When I saw my grandmother smiling in the old age home because of a certain someone, it hit me that it was never too late to fall in love again. Although at the same time I realised I don’t want to find the love of my life in nappies.

18)  Fear only fear itself. In high school, we were taught by watching Strictly Ballroom that a life lived in fear is a life half-lived. I wouldn’t be where I am today (travelling like a nomad with little knowledge of what’s coming next) if I had feared this ocean of incertitude…

19) Party till the sun comes up. Watching the a sunrise over a beach or mountain at the crack of dawn gives life so much more meaning and so many more reasons to appreciate every day as TODAY.

20) Make peace with your past. My childhood friend passed away this year. Although we hadn’t talked properly in years, her death hit me hard. I found  our old letters and photos we had taken 13 years ago. I made peace by her saying goodbye in this way…

21) “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” declared Einstein. The world is so much more colourful when you stop over-analysing situations in exchange for creating new dreams and desires.

22) Appreciate everyone, even the bergie (beggar) that will one day save your life. When I was being followed in Stellenbosch after a late night working at the newspaper, I bumped into Moksie (Stellies’ famous bergie). By being nice to her the week before, she “took care of” the people following me.

23)  Embrace your childhood. Time for the clichés: run like you’ve never fallen, laugh like it’s your first time, play before it’s too late, love like you’ve never been hurt and find your inner child again!

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PRECIOUS MEMORIES: Laughter and sunshine with school friends (2003) PHOTO: VS

24) Trust your teenhood. If it wasn’t for that first cigarette or terrible first kiss, we wouldn’t appreciate the real taste we have now.

25)  Feast your adulthood. People take for granted the ability to savour each new memory or experience. It comes from soothing your soul. You need time-out from work, friends and family to reflect in solitude. Ever listen to your own heart-beat? It’s possible…