Monthly Archives: September 2020

Operation Oysterhood: 28 -30 September

A little bit of lagoon luxury: Mosaic Lagoon Lodge. Our last two nights of holiday were spent just outside of Stanford on the beautiful lagoon, teeming with bird and plant life, spectacular views and rainbows.

Despite occasional rain showers, we managed to walk in the area and simply relax before our return home late this morning. Yesterday, we met with my love’s family for a hearty lunch at Stanford Hills. It was good to see them and to know that they are well. And I really liked my burger and the local rosé.

It was soul-soothing to have all this time with my love and together to enjoy the beauty and bounty that our Western Cape has to offer its residents and visitors.

While we were on the road, I spoke a few times with my Mom on the phone and every time I asked her how she was, she said ‘all well here’ and changed the topic, so I knew something was not entirely ‘all well’, but she would not tell me what was happening. I felt however that because of other comments she made that she was more and more worried about the pandemic and urged us stronger than ever to be careful. I spoke to her this afternoon after my return home: she had to self-isolate all the time we were away after her neighbour tested positive for the virus! Mom tested negative, but was advised to self-isolate for a few days after the test results as a precaution. She is completely fine now, thank goodness, but I did tell her that she MUST NOT keep these things from us (my brother was also on holiday during this time and she did not want to worry us). Mothers! You’ve got to love them, even when they are naughty like this.

Home. Cats. Work (not that it stopped completely on holiday, but I did get away with some truly lazy days).

Good night.

Operation Oysterhood: 25 – 28 September

We were welcomed in Wilderness by the gorgeous Knysna Turaco (a close relative of mousebirds!), flashing its reds and greens over our heads the moment we got out of the car. A good omen for the part of the trip solely dedicated to nature – physical distancing made easy. And what better place for such adventures than a comfy, secluded, en-suite tent in the Reflections Eco-Reserve where you can to experience the salt-water lakes and the forests of the Garden Route near Wilderness. Admittedly, the nights were windy and cold, our breaths “like signatures before us” (Gordimer) in the early mornings, but nothing that braais, red wine, hot water bottles and coffee couldn’t handle.

And we woke up to this view:

Tim and Angelique Carr, our Reflections hosts, are passionate about conservation and everything in the Reserve is organised around regeneration, preservation and the privilege of taking care of a beautiful piece of land and the waterscape around Rondevlei. Sunday morning, we got up early for a birding trip with Tim that was mind-blowing. He is the perfect guide, adjusting to the levels of expertise of his audience members to guarantee that everyone gets the most out of the experience. We did not only see stunning birds, we were able to spend time in their company, in one case being able to almost stroke a bird’s fluffy egg-yolk chest feathers when a fearless Chorister Robin-Chat allowed us to have a long, close look.

Other avian highlights included the Denham’s Bustard, African Paradise Flycatcher, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, White-starred Robin, Pin-tailed Whydah, Yellow-throated Petronia (out of range), Recapped Lark, Olive Woodpecker, Amethyst Sunbird and my absolute favourite: the outrageously wonderful African Swamphen.

Photo by Wally Harris.

Just look at this marvellous bird! Love at first sight.

We walked a lot and spent the evenings in front of big, friendly fires, braaing and drinking pink bubbly at sunset. Even a simple lunch of cheese and cold meats can turn into a feast when it is enjoyed with a spectacular view. And when you are in an elevated luxury tent you are surrounded by spectacular views. To top it all, we still had cheesecake for dessert.

Nearly two years ago, when we visited the Goukamma Nature Reserve for a few days and discovered the Wild Oats Farmers’ Market in Sedgefield, I had the most delicious, fresh oysters there. They were selling at R10 (small) and R15 (big) each and tasted like sea heaven. Just a dash of tabasco sauce and a sprinkle of fresh lemon juice. At this price, I had ‘many’. This Saturday, even though we were at the market early, I could not resist. The same oyster stall was still there, the prices haven’t changed and the quality of the oysters was even better than I’d remembered. I so wish I could do this every Saturday (but perhaps not for breakfast – rather make that a brunch wish) …

Food is one of the simplest pleasures.

Oysterhood in all kinds of senses of the word.

Last stop on our intra-provincial tour (organised at a time when inter-provincial travel was not allowed): Stanford.

Operation Oysterhood: 22 – 25 September

Prince Albert. At the centre of a network of endless dirt roads, surrounded by the seemingly unforgiving dry landscape of the Karoo. But people thrive here. The first time I visited was last year for the Prince Albert Leesfees – a vibrant, inspiring festival for writers and readers alike – and I fell in love with the town, its places and people. I promised myself to return this year for the festival in whichever capacity was required, but with the literary event postponed until next year because of the pandemic, I did not anticipate that I would simply come as a tourist.

We stayed at Onse Rus B&B with Neil and Leonard as our hosts. After a long time in the hospitality industry in London, with their experience and expertise, they could have settled and made a success of a guesthouse anywhere in South Africa, but Prince Albert stole their hearts the moment they set foot in the picturesque Karoo town with its rich history and an impressive record of stealing hearts of people who arrive for a visit and stay forever – the inkomers. Onse Rus, with its comfy rooms, lush garden, beautiful pool, generous stoep on the main road where the hosts serve the most delicious breakfasts, including Leonard’s home-baked bread, definitely lives up to its name. No wonder Cat, the now resident black cat, decided to make it his home and adds feline charm to the place. There is also a Spotted Eagle-Owl that hangs out around Onse Rus and hoots comfort from the trees above.

Our hosts recommended and organised two tours for us: a birding excursion with the town’s expert, Gita Claasen, and a historic ghost tour of Prince Albert with the wonderful storyteller, Ailsa Tudhope. Meeting Gita was fascinating, not only because she is an incredible bird guide and photographer (subsequently, we found her work in the Prince Albert Gallery and could not resist one of her photographs on display there), but because her main line of work involves environmental impact assessment on wind energy projects, like the main character of Melissa A. Volker’s Shadow Flicker. When she spoke about her work, it felt to me as if I was listening to the novel’s Kate Petersen. Gita also told us about the fragility of the veld and how long this ancient landscape needs to recover when handled without thought and care. Personal highlights of the birding around Prince Albert: Red-faced and White-backed Mousebirds. We also met a Karoo bush rat and encountered a few mongooses on the run.

The historical ghost tour of Prince Albert did not deliver any encounters with ghosts, but the stories Ailsa shared with us made the beautiful town come alive in all sorts of ways. I asked about SA writers in Prince Albert and found out that J.M. Coetzee used to visit his grandparents here as a young boy. Apparently, he revisited last year to look at the place from his childhood memories.

Culinary highlights of Prince Albert: Greek salad at The Rude Chef (who was wonderfully un-rude), The Lazy Lizard and its famous apple pie, tapas at the Real Food Company (a restaurant with a stunning cookbook collection), olives and snacks at O for Olives, and Karoo lamb of leg at the Karoo Kombuis with its theatrical interiors of note. Leonard and Neil make the most divine afternoon cocktails for their guests – also highly recommended.

I have been driving through the Great Karoo ever since I first travelled around South Africa with my brother in 2004. But until now, these trips have been mainly on well-travelled paved roads. On this trip, my love and I decided to see the Weltevrede Fig & Guest Farm just outside Prince Albert and drove into the Karoo landscape on a still well-travelled but gravel road and it was simply wonderful to immerse oneself in the beauty of the rocky and dry terrain. It is surreal to pass fertile onion seed fields and fig orchards in this context or to find a huge man-made rock labyrinth at the end of the path on a farm just outside the Gamkakloof Nature Reserve. Even when you know that people live here, it is still difficult to imagine that it is possible. And it is. And how!

What is nearly impossible to imagine or comprehend, though, even after seeing it with my own eyes, is the Swartberg Pass. The reality of this road from Prince Albert across the mountain range to the Cango Caves outside of Oudtshoorn, carved miraculously into the steep slopes, defies the grasp of my mind. I was so scared going down the pass on the other side – even though I wasn’t the one driving, and my love is one of the best if not the best driver I know – that I curled my toes in fear until they hurt. Later that night, I lay awake listening to the wind and feeling my sore toes. The only way I will ever get up there again will be on foot. I can hike the pass; I don’t want to drive it again. And this road will forever remain in my mind as something unimaginable made real – while on it, I thought: if we can do this, surely anything is within our reach. Let’s eradicate hunger, fix Eskom and make SAA profitable! Anyone who thinks these things cannot be achieved must simply walk across the Swartberg Pass. Travelling around South Africa, I am usually accompanied by two other thoughts (both connected to the impression the Swartberg Pass made on me): this land is incredibly beautiful wherever one goes, and bountiful, fertile in the most surprising places. No one should go hungry here with all this sustenance – for the body and the soul.

And speaking of food: we made one brief stop in Oudtshoorn at the Café Brûlée and got a few slices of my favourite cheesecake in the world. Still as delicious as ever! Next stop: Rondevlei and Reflections Eco-Reserve.

Operation Oysterhood: 18 – 22 September

Oudrif: a state of mind. We took our time on the last part of the journey from Cape Town, stopping every few minutes on the dirt road to Oudrif to admire the serene landscape covered in the spring tapestry of colour. Arrived to a socially distanced but as warm and charming as ever welcome: friendly eyes, ice-cold beers and a catch-up chat. The moment you get there, all the stress of the everyday begins to drain away from your body and mind and rest sets in. There is no reception, nor internet, so the world cannot reach you. It is just you, Jeanine, Bill and their caring staff, the animals of Oudrif, the hills, the stars and the Doring river – flowing enthusiastically after the rains. The place always attracts the most fascinating people. This is where we met Natalie and James of The Hoghouse (when we picked up our takeaway breakfast for the road to Oudrif, Natalie included a gift for me: a packet of my chocolate chip cookies!) and Sue Greeff, the artist with whom I have subsequently collaborated on a literary project (her stunning artworks also grace my walls), among many others. This time, a young Dutch couple were there. They have made SA their home for over six years now: she works with community projects focused on regenerative farming, he with solar energy – it was amazing to listen to their stories. And we also met a local couple who travel around SA in their retirement and who also had wonderful tales to share around the braai under the Milky Way. Every day after breakfast, we went on the usual walks with either Jeanine or Bill – walking with them through this landscape is always enlightening and soothing and it makes you feel better about the world. We visited the sheep rock painting. We saw the flowers. Four nights later, life was just a better place to be in, as it always is when you can recharge your inner batteries at Oudrif.

Our next trip here is already booked. This is the place I always long to return to, like home. Oudrif. Oudrif. Oudrif.

Operation Oysterhood: 17 September

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

In Polish, we say ‘kto daje i odbiera ten się w piekle poniewiera’. Roughly: who gives and then takes away, languishes in hell. Someone’s actions today made me think of it. If this kind of power play wasn’t simply sad and petty, I would fight for a just resolution, but sometimes the best option is to simply walk away and count one’s blessing that this sort of person is out of one’s life. Good riddance, me thinks.

The rest of the day was just work, work, work, and lovely meetings to discuss exciting book projects. I received an email about a novel that made my day – I am going to bed smiling from ear to ear.

And tomorrow …

Oudrif. Oudrif. Oudrif.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 16 September

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

Charlotte happiness – when your love brings home this gorgeous book written by one of your dearest friends.

Level one. “We’ve got good moves!”

Theoretically, I could travel to see my Mom in October. I thought that I would the moment it became possible, but I can’t say that I still feel the same. I would love to see her – yet it does not feel as safe as I would want it to before embarking on such a journey. We did have a lovely chat on the phone yesterday, and for now, it will still have to be enough.

Otherwise, nothing changes for me in level one, apart from not breaking the curfew unconsciously again. I am usually home by midnight anyway.

A morning of admin, and an afternoon of going through the edits of a beautiful manuscript by a Karavan Press author – Dawn Garisch. Much literary joy.

On my way home, I finally made it to Kalk Bay Books. Heartening to see the bookshop operating again. I like the new space very much. I also stopped at HARU to get my dinner.

And now, after the President’s announcement, I am going to have a glass of red wine and do some ironing and go to bed to sleep and dream of travelling – in the Western Cape.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local. Also in level one!

Recovery time.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 15 September

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

Another day ending in exhaustion, but many good things have been done. Two nice arrivals on my doorstep today: the macro lens I ordered for my cellphone camera, and the latest issue of New Contrast, to be prepared for distribution.

Highlight of the day: dinner with my love, who, seeing how my brain was spinning with all the things that need to be done before we depart on an exciting adventure soon, offered to assist with whatever work he can (despite having just as much, if not more, to accomplish before we leave). The heart is calm even if the head is spinning.

Good night.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 14 September

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

Salieri and I watching the US Open men’s final last night.

The first two and a half sets were so disappointing that I simply drifted off to sleep. But I woke up to the news of Dominic Thiem’s miraculous comeback. Impressive. Austria has a grand slam champion again!

And today, The Witches gathered in Noordhoek to complete the work on a precious manuscript. And while we were adding the special ingredient to the magic potion that will make everyone fall in love with this book, other good things were happening on the literary path of Karavan Press.

But I am just too exhausted to think about it.

Tomorrow is another day. Good night.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 13 September

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

My friend Debbie gave me Nespresso capsules as a gift and it was nice to drink the coffee and think of her this morning. I shared the rusks with Glinka.

Still in bed, we then worked on the edit of a manuscript until it was time to get ready for a culinary adventure. My love and I met dear friends in Franschhoek for a lunch at Protégé. It was the first time we saw one another since the beginning of lockdown and it felt great to reconnect in person (even at a distance and without hugs) and to enjoy a delicious meal together.

They serve divine oysters at Protégé.

I do love oysters. But no matter how exceptionally delicious the food was, it was the company that made the event beyond special. My love and I have missed our friends very much and it was soul-restoring to see them, especially under circumstances that felt safe. I appreciate places that have mastered the health and safety protocols so well that as their customer you can forget about the pandemic for a short time while being in their care. Protégé felt very safe.

After returning home, I got back into bed and continued working with Salieri catssisting. With the rain and wind going wild outside, we did not feel the need to be anywhere else. We had chicken leftovers for dinner and are now waiting for the US Open men’s final. We will be cheering for Mozart’s and my countryman, Dominic Thiem.

Ahead is a busy week, but the weekend was relaxing. If only I knew what was wrong with my right eye; it is gradually turning red. If it’s not better by tomorrow morning, I will have to see a doctor.

Barbara Boswell’s And I Wrote My Story Anyway – the perfect gift for my literary women friends.

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD

Operation Oysterhood: 12 September

OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.

— @HaggardHawks

The three stages of weekend.

Even though he spent the entire morning in my bed, Harry got married to another woman at the end of Trunk Music, the latest Bosch novel I have completed. The binge reading continues. Escapism of the purest kind. My brain is incapable of any other reading for pleasure right now.

I needed to switch off today and did some household and garden work after the morning reading session. I also delivered some things to a woman in Hout Bay who is helping the victims of the recent fire. On the way to her, I was reminded of all the people who showed up on our doorstep when we were in the process of establishing our first home after leaving the refugee camp in Austria. They were mostly strangers who’d heard about the refugee family in the neighbourhood and brought us things that they no longer needed, but that were pure gold to us when we had nearly nothing. I will never forget that generosity, what it meant to our parents, to my brother and me.

In the afternoon, I had a lovely visitor – one of my dear friends came to have a drink with me on the stoep. It was amazing to see her again, to catch up in person and to enjoy the mild sun shining on us. All the Cats joined us for the occasion.

And in the evening, my love cooked another delicious roast chicken for me and all our Furry Ones. A happy, well-fed family.

Now, it’s time to watch the US Open women’s final!

Be kind. Wear a mask. Support local.

“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”

— NICD