I grew up in South Africa, on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, in an unkempt, wild and unruly place called The Bluff. A place where you had to lock your windows to stop the monkeys from breaking into your kitchen and stealing your food. A place where it was considered normal to have a brother who collected myriads of snakes and had them stacked in glass tanks in his bedroom. A time and place where there were more vervet monkeys, mongoose, blue-headed iguanas and snakes than people. We would play for hours exploring the wild African bush that surrounded our house or digging vast and somewhat dangerous tunnels in the old sand quarry or for a change of scenery, plot together and come up with naughty pranks to play on the neighbours. And then there were the beaches, miles and miles of soft sand, seagulls screeching overhead, and waves crashing on the shore, tidal pools and surfers. This was my childhood.
When I was 17 and in my final year of my all girl high school, my hard working, amazing and much-loved parents took money from their savings and sent me on a Thompson Tours school trip to Europe. I was part of a motley group of bright eyed and bushy tailed, naïve and conservative South African school girls that landed in Europe. All of the ancient wonders of Italy, Turkey and Greece were thoroughly explored and delighted in by all of us.
I loved it all, but the place that I loved the most was Venice, Italy. On our last day in Venice, I was supposed take a gondola ride with some friends. This, was what we had collectively decided would be our last memory of Venice, gently gliding down a Venetian canal being serenaded by our handsome Italian gondolier. At the very last minute, much to the chagrin of my friends, I changed my mind. To this day, I don’t know why I did it, but I did. I stood on the edge of the canal as they elegantly floated away from me and announced, “I’ll come back to Venice one day with the love of my life, and I’ll ride in a gondola then.”
Fast forward more than 30 years and I look at my life and shake my head in wonder. So much has happened in this life that has unfolded before me. On returning to South Africa from that most wonderful trip, I completed my schooling, and then went on to study Performing Arts. I was fortunate enough to have a successful career doing what I loved doing the most; being creative and entertaining people. Using my craft to touch people deeply, making amazing memories and friends in the process. I had good times as well as bad, I achieved amazing heights and fell to horrible depths.
At 21, I married too young and stayed too long. In my defence, I have always been a romantic. I had spent my adolescent years reading the likes of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Little Women, Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare. I believed in the love that I read about in the pages of those books and I spent a lifetime looking for it. Needless to say, my quest to find it was not very successful. In my pursuit of love, I learnt many lessons. Some lessons harder than others, but for each lesson learnt, I am eternally grateful, because they have shaped me into who I am today.
So, after a failed marriage of ten years, as well as a few other exhilarating but failed relationships, I stood broken, bewildered and even a little bitter. It was then that I decided to stop looking for love outside of me, but rather to find love within. To learn how to love myself first. To live a life of gratitude and simple abundance. I gave thanks and was grateful , focusing on what I had rather than on what I lacked. I took great joy in the small things and stood in awe and wonder of this beautiful world we live in.
And then, just when I had given up on my quest, when I had stopped looking, love found me. The kind of love I knew existed but until then had never found, the kind of love that you read about in books. The best part of this little story is that my husband Vic, not only gave me the greatest gift of all; the gift of love, he also took me to Venice. “Did the 17-year-old me know, did she have any idea?” I asked myself as we softly floated through the canals as our gondolier sang beautiful love songs that echoed through the city.
A strange little part of this story is that Vic and I only met each 10 years ago, in Johannesburg. This man, who up until then had been a complete stranger. This man, who when I met him, immediately felt like home. This man, who when I was that 17-year-old school girl who made that wish to one day return to Venice, not only lived on the wild Bluff in KwaZulu-Natal, he lived in the very same neighbourhood, right across the street from me. Today I can honestly say that I am grateful that Cupid waited for exactly the right moment for us to meet. The moment when we would both be ready to live in love.