A new continent, a new blog

One of the most magnificent locations in the whole of South Africa, and the pride of Cape Town – the world-renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. This photo was taken this year on my last visit to the garden.

This blog served the wonderful purpose of allowing me to share images and memories of my life in Cape Town, South Africa. It lasted almost 10 years and in that time I drifted from ardently posting every day to slipping for a year or more without a post. It was a mood thing but if I showed my bad mood or whinged about anything I was reprimanded by friends so I tried to keep it as light as possible.

I love Cape Town, I love South Africa. Althought I wasn’t born there, it was my home for almost 60 years and it’s all I know, warts and all. I lived through apartheid, I witnessed the change to democracy, I sadly also witnessed, and still do so from afar, the deterioration into a state of corruption beyond anything ever imaged by the people who struggled and died for change from a regime that has been descrived as a crime against humanity. The current state incompetence and corruption could also be considered a crime against humanity but that’s a discussion for people with a more intellectual and analytical aptitude than I have.

I loved the country and although I became a bit scared of it at times, I would have been quite happy to stay there for the rest of my life. Every street I walk holds a memory, every landscape photo I see I can identify, everytime I go in public I am likely to see someone or something that is familiar to me, cultural references mean something to me, my friends are there, my parents are buried there, my son was born there, my memories are there, it’s the homeground of my adopted tribe.

But sadly, the pandemic took so much from me. For financial reasons I became homeless and jobless and savings-less. So when a cousin in France offered me her home to share and I saw that France, where I was born, will support me and will give me free healthcare, I found myself with little choice but to move here.

I had to sell all my belongings and bring only a few boxes. I am still in shock at how I went from owning a household of furniture and things to just a few boxes and suitcases. It’s disgusting how attached one can become to mere objects. I almost had to rehome or put down my beloved dog, Vida, but thanks to the intervention of a generous friend I have brought her with me and will see her very soon. I am surrounded by family, I have a home, I am fed and loved. My son is also here, albeit in another city, because he relocated months before I did.

I am homesick and a bit lost but that’ll pass, in time, to some extent.

I need to earn some money to supplement what the state will give me, and working even part time will give me reasons to get out of bed. Right now I tend to stay in bed too late and do nothing substantial with my days other than bare minimum housework and a daily walk around the neighbourhood. The latter is the highlight of my day. I look forward to doing it with my dog when she arrives.

I’ve started a new blog, at the behest of friends. Because food is a big thing in France and I happen to live with a cousin who cooks like a master chef, the blog will focus on food and I’ll share my cousin’s recipes, tips and methods.

Here is the new blog – leblogetlebouffe. Bouffe is a slang French word for food. It reminds one of a table laden with food and wine and many happy people partaking of it all for several hours of shared pleasure.

This is probably the last entry of this blog – if I return to South Africa for a holiday, as I would like, it’ll still form part of my new life.

Thank you for reading and a special thank you to my friends who followed and who encourage me to write!

Sea Point, where I gew up.

The storm, the zebra, and the tree

I wrote just the other day that when I leave this house I will miss not seeing the young tree that I planted grow big and strong. Two days later, it began uprooting itself in a storm.

Cape storms are not for the fainthearted. This is a coastal region so in reality they are tempests, not mere storms. They rage and rage all night long, the wind blows fiercerly and brings heavy rains, much of which blows horizontally. People don’t really believe us when we desribe this sort of weather and it’s only when someone experiences it that they realise how awful it is. British people, yes, people from Great Britain, that small island of nothing but grey lousy weather, have been known to complain bitterly about the winter weather in the Cape. It doesn’t help that our houses are not insulated so it’s often colder indoors than outdoors. Luckily these storms, which can last a few days, are not the norm for the full duration of winter, they just occur a few times between May and August.

During these not-so delightful few days, wind tunnels are created and one of these wind tunnels is right up my narrow walled-in driveway, straight into my little garden. The first thing it encounters is The Tree. Otherwise known as my pride and joy. I planted it just over two years ago and it is already a thing of splendour. A white pear, it will not be huge but will be large enough to give shade in summer. I’ve only experienced it flowering one season and it was magnificent.

So the other night, as the storm raged – yes, it was a dark and stormy night – I stood at the window watching it pour down and sideways and all over the place. I was thankful to be indoors and sheltered, unlike so many people not far from me who live in doorways or shacks that fill with water. As I stood and watched I realised The Tree was no longer upright. In fact it was most decidedly being blow forward and downwards, until it was resting on the birdbath, that item being the only thing holding it up.

My wonderful friend who lives with me suggested we Do Something to prevent it being uprooted completely. So we went outside. Now please picture the scene. I was warm and snug in the house because I was wearing a onesie. One of those lovely warm adult baby-grows that are so popular in the United States. This particular onesie has kept me warm on many cold winter nights. It is a zebra. It is loudly black and white striped, it has a tail, a hood with a zebra face complete with little pink ears and eyes.

So there we were in the howling wind and pouring rain, a zebra in slippers and a tall man wedging a garden bench and heavy slabs against a little tree. Had anyone been out in the streets, breaking curfew and braving the weather, they might have been a tad amused to see this sight. As it is, only the dogs saw us as they watched through the window.

Our makeshift repair held through the night, and the next day, yesterday, we made a more stable arrangement. It’s still only temporary and something more stable will have to be done by the next occupant of this house but at least while I am here for a few more weeks, I will see my tree standing straight and upright.

Stuff and the joys of decluttering

I haven’t written in over a month and this blog has moved away slightly from its original purpose. The past few months have been torrid and it’s been almost impossible to be or do anything not mired in depression and anxiety. One day I’ll look back on this period amzed at what I’ve endured. I hate cliches, but this, too, shall pass.

I’ve suffered dreadful depression and high anxiety for a few years. Not too long, just the past 5 or so years. I guess it was always there lurking underneath, but specific events and situations gave it life. I am on medication, I have to lecture myself all the time, I can erupt easily, and I cry easily. But the meds help. A lot.

I’ve had support and help from one friend in particular who I can say without any reservation has been my rock. Without him, I’d be dead. Maybe even literally, because suicide was on my mind for a long time. But really, really, on my mind. It was a fantasy solution that played itself over and over, something planned and ready to be executed. My rock understood, supported, gave advice, played the shrink, sent me to a real shrink, and did not recoil. Unlike some – oh my goodness, how some people are terrified of the word. The very notion that someone else might be suffering so much is just too much for them to deal with. They might as well tell you to shut up and suffer in silence, which as far as they are concerned, is the best way.

But I woke up one day, put on my big girl pants and decided I was *not* going to die. I found that last vestige of life and courage deep inside me and nurtured it. I also addressed one of the biggest problems facing me and dealt with it, once and for all. Like a big girl.

This big girl has also decided to make a major life change. I am relocating, very far away. Away from my comfort zone to a different, new, comfort, away from all that is familiar and off to the bosom of family. From the fear of old-age poverty to state sponsored medical care. From open spaces and unique vegetation to safety, security and seasonal salad. I’m going to need a new blog title and concept.

Relocating abroad means selling all your stuff. I can’t afford to spend loads of money on schlepping my junk halfway across the world and … guess what? I won’t need it! As tough as it is, I am realising that stuff is just stuff and I can live without most of it. I will take just enough to make me feel at home in my new home but the rest goes to worthy causes or gets exchanged for lucre. And the lucre goes towards the cost of taking what really matters, my beloved dog and that of my son who is already waiting for us all.

But, oh my word, the packing and the decisions and the realisation that my precious belongings are just junk in some peoples’ eyes. The majority of things that matter the most are items I either picked up on a beach or in a forest – what am I to do with my stone and shell collection? Or planted lovingly – I’ll never get to see the tree grow majestic. Or were given to me by my mother an eternity ago? How can I sell the art deco cups she very specifically said I must have and not my siblings? Who would buy the strange piece she painted during her Jackson Pollock period?

I think I do look forward to the day I have divested myself of most belongings. I know there will be a feeling of freedom and liberty. Me and a couple of suitcases, because a girl needs shoes and her big-girl panties, and my faithful dog, and off we will go!

Today marks one month before I move out of my house. That’ll be followed by 6 weeks in a temporary lodging, and then the adventure will begin with a long drive across the country … watch this space!

Daffodils for my birthday!

It was my birthday last week. As boring as all lockdown birthdays are, but my son popped in to visit and brought me these beautiful daffodils. I’ve had to read up on them because I’ve never grown them before. They’re apparently hardy little buggers so I shouldnt have difficulty. The worst that could happen is that our winter might be too mild for them. They’re probably not used to Cape winter storms but they do like frost … eeek..we don’t get any here.

For now, they have a special spot and I keep a beady eye on them to ensure they stay moist. I must say I’m more familiar with indiginous plants but I’ll give these my best shot.

Of course Wordsworth has to have the last word.

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You can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg, or more

I’m seriously considering not eating food connected to living creatures. I’m not sure I want to go the whole hog vegan (see what I did there?) but vegetarian very very possibly. I’m not into all those stupid in-between words that describe someone who wants to eat what they want when they want but still use a poncy label to make themselves feel and seem better about being fickle.

My problem is I really enjoy certain animal dishes. Take lamb – there is nothing in the world quite as mouth-wateringly delicious as Karoo lamb. Those little wooly creatures are fed on special yummy natural vegetation that is found nowhere else on earth but in this arid beautiful region. There is even an official certification for Karoo lamb. A juicy cutlet with just the right amount of fat, seasoned and cooked perfectly on a wood fire, the way South Africans do so well .. very hard to resist! And a rich lamb stew or curry is a heavenly, albeit very privileged, way to get through a cold winter’s night.

What about chicken? Okay, that I can live without, quite easily in fact. I know I could, especially great big chunks of dry breast on the bone, or drumsticks that always have an undercooked bit in the centre and that yucky long piece of cartilage. Stirfried chicken fillets or grilled wings nicely marinated, ok, ok, I will eat with pleasure, but the rest you can keep. Steak and any other beef products I can also live without, in fact I can’t even remember when I last ate beef. I’m partial to pork medallions done in a creamy mushroom sauce but I guess I could live without them if I had to.

But eggs? What’s a nicoise or tuna salad without a hard-boiled egg? What’s a breakfast fry-up without two eggs sunnyside up, slightly runny and very yellow? A quick snack of scrambled eggs with chopped chives on a slice of perfectly toasted bread? And a fluffy omelette cooked just right with a smidgen of grated strong cheese and a few sautéed mushrooms? How can I be expected to go without this?

I once visited the Mont Saint Michel in Normandy with my son and cousin. They urged me to climb to the top which was sheer torture; I bought a sily touristy memento, and down we came again. My cousin suggested we have a very special omelette. I was, as always in France, happy to go along with anything food related. In a narrow walkway into the restaurant one walks past a large window behind which chefs are seen whisking eggs with energetic vigour in very large mixing bowls. They know when they’re being watched so they speed it up even more.

A waiter brought the menu which my cousin instantly whisked away from me. Instead, she gave me a few options of what sort of omelette we could have. Once we had chosen I stole the menu back and looked at the prices. OH MY GOD. Seriously, I almost fainted. The price of one omelette was the equivalent of a four-course meal for four people. My cousin grabbed the menu back and told me to chill out, this was her treat and that is that.

Oh boy, never in my life have I eaten an omelette so light and fluffy. I vaguely remember the filling, ham and cheese I think, but the memory of that meal will never fade. The world’s most expensive but most delicious omelette. Light, fluffy, and some secret ingredient that I will never know. Heaven.

Anyhow, despite ongoing efforts to think and talk about doing away with animal food, I finally made the perfect omelette this week. I chose a very old but solid pan. My stovetop plates are small so my regular frying pan doesn’t work for something that requires even cooking. This old woman and her old pan made the best omelette – two days in a row. Someone suggested I whisk the egg whites seperately so I tried that this morning and I think I overdid it because it was excessively fluffy; still delicious though and I’m eminently proud of myself. Small pleasures. To be repeated.

Incidentally, I am thoroughly bored shitless with this pandemic though. I love food and I love eating but I want something else to do and think about and write about. (Stunning looking dessert coming out of the oven in a few minutes – tomorrow’s blog, maybe, depends on outcome).

Gratitude, in bushels!

This week is off to an excellent start.

Yesterday I worked with foreign tourists – for the first time in over a year!! I acted as interpreter at the wedding of a French couple who speak no English but, for various reasons, wanted to integrate their wedding with the honeymoon in South Africa. It was a wind-free warm day, the setting was a beautiful boutique hotel in Clifton, one of Cape Town’s most trendy suburbs overlooking the best beaches in the country. Everyone went the exra mile – not least of all the travel agent and I who were beside ourselves with nerves at seeing foreign clients again! Out came the pearls and make-up for me, and a suit and polished smart shoes for him – all manner of things we haven’t bothered with in 12 months of lockdown!

Everything went very well, our couple was thrilled and very appreciative with all the attentiveness. We followed up with a wonderful lunch in Camps Bay, the suburb next door which is also usually a very popular tourism spot. Sadly, we had almost the entire restaurant to ourselves because tourism is so dismal at the moment, but this meant we had undivided attention from our waiters. Our clients were even moved to order a bottle of champagne that cost almost as much as I earned for the entire day – normally I’d be horrified at this sort of expense but the gesture was highly appreciated as I sipped the bubbles of the widow and gazed on the white sands of Camps Bay.

I returned home extremely satisfied with myself and duly exhausted – for once I slept through the night like a log. I don’t know if it’s because of the chamapgne or so much delicious food.

This morning I received a message that I have won a book ! This may seem like no big deal but books have become very expensive and, more to the point .. as much as I love having a Kindle and being able to grab bargains on Amazon that are downloaded in a flash, I sometimes do miss the feel and smell of a book in my hands. And everyone loves to win something, right? I’ll do a book review blog when I’ve read it. In the meantime, big thanks to Paige Nick and Penguin Random House Publishers. If you enjoy reading and want to hear from other readers what’s hot and what’s not, join the Facebook group known as the Good Book Appreciation Society. It’s South African in that the admins are here and prizes are usually only for locals but we have members from all over the world. Readers from elsewhere who are interested in Africana often appreciate the suggestions and input from locals.

As if I wasn’t already giddy with self-satisfaction I received the top bonus of all in the form of an email from my tutor. What tutor? I’ve decided that because tourism isn’t coming back in a hurry and certainly not in the large numbers of before, it’s time for me to do something else. My low energy levels due to my lung problems and my susceptibility to the virus (and no vaccine in sight for a long time for me), make it very difficult for me to find a way to earn a living. I hit on the idea of teaching English to foreigners. I can teach online until such time as the world goes back to normal. So, I signed up for a course and I’ve been studying for almost two months.

Today’s email was to advise me I’ve passed my second assignment, at first attempt. That’s the most important part – first attempt! It’s quite common to be told to revise certain parts of an assignment and I struggled with this one so I fully expected to be given feedback about parts to redo. Not so! Now I can continue with the course (you have to wait for assignments to be returned before continuing), and the sooner I finish the sooner I can start getting some experience, and then teaching for real moola.

So, yay!! truly a red letter week so far! I dare not hope for more great news because they say these things come in threes and that’s my three but I did buy a few lotery tickets the other day so there’s always that glimmer of hope!

The magnificent Clifton beaches. Aside from being cute and smallish, their biggest appeal is that no matter what the wind conditions are throughout Cape Town, these four little beaches are always sheltered from the wind, That means a lot in a city known for very unpleasant strong summer winds. I spent an inordinate amount of time there in my youth, on each of those beaches as they waxed and waned in popularity and I have fond memories of them and all the friends I hung out with. And the bikinis … oh the bikinis!
And to celebrate all this I baked a lemon meringue – the lemon tree is bountiful at the moment so why not?

Lockdown, day 365

Midnight tonight marks one year since South Africa went into hard lockdown to ward off the dreaded Corona virus. It’s hard to believe how time has flown. Firstly, let’s be clear on one thing – we did not ward anything off. All we achieved is to slow it down, prepare hospitals and minimise the number of deaths. Actual infections are far far higher than officially recorded, some regions’ health systems have completely collapsed (not entirely due to Covid), and many people have lost everything. Everything – that means jobs, homes and loved ones.

I won’t go into what I’ve lost but suffice to say it’s been a nightmare of a year and as I type this we are waiting to hear what new regulations and restrictions will be put in place ahead of Easter. Easter is when South Africans act as if they haven’t just had a 3-week holiday just two and a half months ago and they sell their granny’s jewels to take the longest holiday they can squeeze into 2 days of actual paid days off work. They hit the roads like lemmings; all going in the same direction so they can all gather on the same beaches and meet all the same people they see at home every other day of the year. They die in road accidents in their hundreds per province and this year will also pick up the virus to bring home and spread at work. The poor do the same thing except they pack into sardine can minibuses so it all spreads faster and wider.

So yes, a third wave is about to hit us. Some say like a tsunami. I have a glimmer of hope in humanity and common sense and that people will have learnt to not be total dicks next time around.

And everyone will complain when the President announces restrictions to try prevent as much damage as possible.

Oh lockdown .. thou art a bitch.

I have spent most of this past year pottering around in my garden and baking. The garden is lovely and I am as round as a little piglet. As I type this, my latest easy-peasy favourite dessert is in the oven – a peach cobbler. See photos of a few recent ones, below. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve made this past year. I always attack the corner first, that’s where the crunchiest bits are.

  • Recipe: 1 cup flour – 1 cup sugar – pinch salt – teaspoon vanilla essence – half a teaspoon baking powder – 1 cup milk.
  • Mix all dry ingredients and vanilla, add the milk.
  • 60g butter, melted in bottom of baking dish in the oven while preheating to 180 degrees C. (Don’t let it burn but allow it to bubble a little bit).
  • Place 2 cups sliced fruit (peaches and/or plums are the best, apples and pears work too) in the dish on melted butter, and then pour the mixture over.
  • Bake for 45 minutes.
  • Break off cunchy corner as soon as humanly possible and blame the mouse or dog. Or just call it cook’s privilege.

After several days of excessive heat it’s raining today – and very welcome rain it is, too, because it was dry and wind-blown. On that note, here are some photos of my friend Frank’s FABULOUS garden. It’s small but packed with special plants and bulbs and a pond and all sorts of wonderful little nooks and crannies. Frank is also a tour guide, one who specialises in hiking and field trips to floral regions. He knows more about South African plants than anyone else I know. I had lunch at his home recently and snapped a few pics with my cell phone.

Disclaimer

A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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