Salting the Earth

So our time in Cape Town draws to an end, and we start to pack up our belongings, take down our studio, say our goodbyes. It doesn’t feel like we are leaving never to return, although we both know that coming back would be different. I see this text in the Malmesbury Museum:

“May your gates be open always.

Day and night.

May they never be closed.”

I realise that endings are never full stops. Instead we leave doors open everywhere we go, possibilities of return, possibilities of friendships and relationships left behind to be re-established, ideas still to be explored; but the context, the time, will never be quite the same.

Unlike our ancestors, we are going back. We can return to our lives in Europe, but we have changed, subtly. I think about the redpill/bluepill choice in The Matrix. Having taken the risk, explored the possibility of other lives, is it impossible to go back to familiar, comfortable, known modes of identity and existence?

On our last day in Cape Town, we drive out along Chapmans Peak Drive. It is a stunningly clear day, endless blue skies and ocean stretching out into the distance. We stop at the highest point and ceremonially throw the salt from our installation out over the cliffs and the ocean. It feels like a goodbye, but also like investing ourselves into the earth. A little bit of us belonging here, remaining here. Salting the earth.

Part of leaving is having to get rid of the material possessions we have accumulated, and at the airport we discover that we have to lose some of our baggage or pay the excess. So we offer up our possessions to the airport, to whoever might find them. We leave “Romeo and Juliet” at La Senza, take “Great Expectations” to the World Cup souvenir shop, donate Isaac Bashevis Singer to the Esoteric section of the bookshop and leave the rice paper on a café table. Our final activity as they call for boarding is to eat the remaining black bread from the Malmesbury event with salt from the pans, and leave Woolf’s name on the table.

Travelling from England to South Africa took us 26 days, and travelling back takes us less than 26 hours. Rebecca tells me that there is a Native American Indian belief that your soul only travels at walking pace, so if you travel faster then it takes a while for your soul to catch up with you. We travel about 6000 miles in a day and I arrive feeling like a part of me is definitely still somewhere in Africa.

England feels grey, white, cold, disorientatingly familiar. Home doesn’t feel like home. Is this what it is like to be a migrant, to not belong anymore, in the new home or the old? Gradually I settle back in, I listen to the radio, read the paper, walk in the muddy green fields. But I am carrying ghosts within me, not just ancestral ghosts, but the ghosts of place – I dream of the mountain, of dusty red earth, and razor sharp light striking through the curtains in the morning. I understand now our rituals as we left. They were funeral rites, acts in anticipation of mourning.

Katy Beinart


The last supper

It’s our final weekend in South Africa and we are hosting an event at Malmesbury Museum: the old Jewish Synagogue where our family used to worship. We spend Saturday evening preparing borscht and black bread for the performance. Dad is in Cape Town for a few days and we keep him busy chopping vegetables and making almond biscuits.

A group made up of family, members of the Museum’s management committee, and artists from Greatmore studios join us for the event. We set up a dinner table at the far end of the museum, where a board displays information about the Beinart family and the rest of Malmesbury’s once-flourishing Jewish community. There is something very special about being able to perform an event in this space: it is a site that is so strongly connected to the stories we have been hunting, a space at once familiar and strange to us.

Katy and I read texts taken from our letters to each other. The words feel particularly resonant in this place, and frame the conversations that follow as we share borscht and black bread with our guests. The simple act of eating together and asking each person to propose a toast to one of their ancestors forms a ritual in which significant fragments are shared. It is a moving and meaningful way to close our time here.