Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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SA – A Slender Travelogue

Our holiday in South Africa was all about the people*, but this time we also managed to go to some fantastic places. Usually when we go home, we confine our stay to our parents’ home towns, his being Johannesburg and mine being Pietermaritzburg, and we leave exhausted from serial visiting and feeling cheated. This time, thanks to an aptly located wedding, we managed to spend the entire time in the Western Cape, mecca of tourism and holidays, and everyone came to be with us. We are immensely grateful for the effort people put into travelling long distances, since it meant we could see them AND have a holiday. Here is a slender round-up of what we did and where we went:

My first stop was Kersefontein, a wheat and cattle farm on the Cape West Coast, where I went with my three dear girlfriends ostensibly to celebrate our year of turning 40, but also to drink wine, eat loads of food, play bridge, laugh ourselves silly and, occasionally, cry. Kersefontein, situated on the banks of the Berg River near Hopefield, has been in the Melck family for eight generations and, with its beautiful Cape Dutch farmstead, is now a national monument. What I loved about it is that, despite the pristine state of the farmhouse and the very gorgeous en-suite rooms where we slept, Kersefontein is a working farm, so sheep wander around, the ancient farm dog trails you, chickens cluck around the edges of your consciousness, swallows roost noisily in the rafters and host Julian saws down trees on the river bank while you are swimming. With its original crumbling outhouses, its sweeping lawns, the slumbering river, and vast acres of farmland, it is not surprising that Kersefontein has become a destination for travellers seeking peace and solace and a popular location for film and advert shooting. Also for four busy women, it was an absolute dream to be served food three times a day without having to make any decisions about the meal except would our eggs be poached, scrambled or fried.

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Breakfast on the stoep outside our room

While I was languishing at the river and enjoying afternoon naps, my husband had driven up the N2 with our threesome to meet his family at Plettenberg Bay. Once my Kersefontein retreat came to an end, I joined them at Plett, which is where his family have a holiday house and where we have been going on holiday for twenty years. In the old days, we would occasionally grace the beach, but mostly we would lie on the sofas all day, me reading, him watching cricket on TV, now and again getting up to make tea or, as the day progressed, pour gin and tonics, after which we would hit the Plett nightclubs. Now Plett is all about the beach. My brother-in-law is a beach expert, and his beach experience always includes ice-cold drinks, snacks, umbrellas, beach chairs, buckets, spades, boogie boards and inflatable boats. It’s a military operation getting all this stuff and thirteen people to and from the beach, but he manages it with cheer. Then when he’s there, he’s building sandcastles, teaching people how to fish and making sure they don’t drown in the surf while we stand around vaguely wondering why no-one’s bringing us a gin and tonic.

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Robberg, scene of beach action

Robberg Beach is a five-kilometre stretch of pristine sand that runs from the hotel you see in the middle of this shot all the way to the Robberg peninsula, and where I jogged most mornings. One morning, I made it triumphantly all the way to the rocks, and despite claiming I needed airlifting home, all the way back again. Plett was busy: the gaggle of cousins cavorted all day long like happy puppies; we got to spend time with our US friends T and J, also out for the wedding, and meet their adorable baby daughter; and I lunched with Jeanne, the famous Cooksister, who is even more lovely than her blog.

Then we left to meet up with some members of my family – my dad, brother and stepmother, who drove two days all the way from KwaZulu-Natal to see us. Our meeting place of choice was the Teniqua Treetop Lodge, a series of self-catering treehouses tucked into the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains. Teniqua was very rustic and quiet, which was quite pleasant after the rigours of Plett, and the kids enjoyed rushing from our treehouse (the Eyrie) to Grandpa’s (the Philosopher’s Perch) and back again. They were inducted into the joys of birdwatching by my father and brother, and spent a lot of time staring into binoculars identifying small birds. Their mother also took them on a mammoth hike down into a river gorge, where they swam in cola-coloured water and then, after a lunch of biltong and apples, hiked back up the mountain again.

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Cola rockpools at Teniqua

The charm of Teniqua is that the treehouses are partially open to the elements, which means you not only have branches curling into your living space, but you get visitors like the Cape Robin, who comes looking for breadcrumbs, and the terrifyingly large rain spider. Thankfully the hosts provided a large feather duster on a long stick, which I used to sweep the latter out of the kitchen, accompanied by piercing screams from the children.

Their experience of African wildlife grew exponentially at our next stop, the Garden Route Game Lodge. This was the setting for the wedding of dear South African friends who also live in Germany. Their guests were from France, Germany, the US, Belgium, the UK, Malawi and South Africa, so it was a very international gathering in a particularly African setting. A two-day affair, the wedding kicked off with an afternoon at the pool, followed by evening game drives, where we got to see lion, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, zebra and a tortoise. That night there was a kudu braai in the boma, with African drummers, fabulous food (including an array of South African desserts for which I rapidly abandoned my low-carb diet – the Malva pudding lives on in my memory), dancing and a surprise rendition by the groom of “Shosholoza”. On the wedding day there were more game drives, more swimming and more splendid eating, until 3pm when we spruced ourselves up for a very moving ceremony and a great party, where we danced to one of South Africa’s most exciting new bands, the exceptionally groovy Goldfish.

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Wedding flowers with rondavels in the background

Then it was back to Cape Town, and a whirlwind visiting session of braais, dinners and lunches, catching up with university friends, their spouses and offspring. We also managed to get out of Cape Town to see the wonderful Kit and her brood. The children got on splendidly and we grown-ups didn’t do too badly either. On my last morning in Cape Town, spectacularly hungover from the last last dinner-party the night before, I attended a yoga class and was hugely relieved that it was a restorative meditation. Had anyone asked me to do the downward dog at that point, I might have collapsed.

One of the messages of the meditation was “Observe your emotions, and let them slip by you”, which was appropriate for leaving Cape Town, my favourite city in the world, and South Africa, my homeland. While nursing my hangover, I observed my feelings of sadness, but let them slip by me. Since then I have had tinges of my usual departure grief but have been feeling mostly grateful, that I was able to have such a wonderful holiday and that I am lucky enough to have great friends and loving family. Thank you to everyone for helping us have our dream holiday!

* While I’d love to post some of the many photographs of me clasping my favourite people, I won’t since I must respect privacy. Instead you get landscapes, flowers and tiny dots of people.

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Sunshine and Chandeliers

Can I just say that Italy is lovely? And if anyone ever says to you, “Want to visit Lake Garda?”, your appropriate response should be, “When do we leave?”. Do not hesitate, not even to finish the ironing or the next page of your book, but go straight there. The combination of balmy weather, mountains and a crystal-clear lake all set about with chic little towns and pebbly beaches is a winner. We had eleven straight days of sunshine, enough to get a tan, swim in the pool or in the lake seven times a day and not even once contemplate a cardigan.

Our campsite, the appropriately named Campsite Eden, had two pools, a private beach and was in walking distance to Portese, a dinky little port with a great swimming beach, a couple of restaurants and an ice-cream parlour. We were housed not in a tent, since we have not yet reached those levels of self-sufficient derring-do (plus I like to have my own toilet), but in a well-equipped mobile home that measured seven metres by three. Minature, but perfect since we spent most of our time swimming and eating ice-cream and admiring chic Italians and little time pacing the tiny parameters of our accommodation. The big deck helped to make it seem larger, as did the fact that we were situated in an olive grove, with mint growing in the grass and semi-tame bunnies gratefully accepting carrots.

The campsite was mostly filled with Germans, Dutch and British tourists and my hours of pooltime watching my three avid swimmers gave me some time to form completely scientific conclusions about the different nations. The German and Dutch parents got into the pool and actually played with their children, while the British lay on loungers and ignored theirs. I believe the fact that the British parents were the lardiest is not unrelated to this fact. In order to not be tainted, I played with my children, and while GTH was not out climbing mountains on his bike, I went for runs along the lake, but I was not above bribing them for moments alone on my lounger by sending them to the shop with money for ice-cream.

One morning Ollie woke up, sprung into our bed declaring, “Mummy! I had a good dream! I was sailing in a boat – with you!” so we made his dream come true by getting onto a ferry at Salo and taking a trip to Isola del Garda, a private island owned by the Cavazza family where we were taken on a guided tour by a nice German girl from Liepzig. Apparently the Countess is called Charlotte, which my family found most appropriate. The children liked the Cavazza family cats which followed the tour, and I liked the snacks provided at the end. The island and the villa were lovely too.

After eleven days of five people sleeping in the minature mobile, we packed up and drove 1,200 kilometres to the Uckermark in northeast Brandenburg for a wedding at Schloss Herzenfelde. This is another place to which, if ever offered the opportunity to visit, you should unhesitatingly say, “Let’s go!”. Surrounded by 20 hectares of parkland, and then by the forests and farmlands of the Uckermark, the Schloss has been restored by its present owner to high standards of comfort and luxury. The lovely bride, who did the room arrangements, had warned us to bring mattresses and sleeping-bags for the children as there was only one double bed per room, but when we arrived we found ourselves in a suite with three double beds and a chandelier-bedecked bathroom that was bigger than our Italian mobile home. After eleven days of edging sideways round our bed and still getting knocked on the head or ankles by our belongings, it was bliss to have space, sleep on fresh white linen and admire the statuary in the park out of the bathroom window.

The wedding was gorgeous – an appropriately in love couple, a service in a quaint village church, lots of Sekt, babysitters for the children, an exquisite meal, great people to talk to and dancing until the early hours of Sunday morning. After hauling ourselves out of bed and enjoying one last lovely breakfast under the chandeliers, we drove the 700 kilometres home.

It’s good to be back, but I’m missing the olive grove and the chandeliers. And my family are growing tired of calling me Countess.


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National Unity, Pyjamas and Berlin

Today is Germany’s day of national unity – the day when East and West Germany became one. In this house it is also known as the day Mummy Stays In Her Pyjamas All Day If She So Chooses. And she does choose. (By gumminy, she does.) Having just visited Germany’s monument to national unity – the wondrous Berlin – I should probably talk about my trip last week. I’ve been a bit slow about writing about it, because I’m still holding it close to my heart. I’m not sure if I want to let the secrets out or not.

So when two youngish mothers of a total of seven children hit the techno capital of the world, do they go clubbing? Do they stay out all night, drinking ridiculous cocktails and chatting up younger men? Do they totter about in high heels, whooping and kicking over dustbins?

Umm.

No.

We didn’t.*

What they do is that they carefully and responsibly See Everything. They start by seeing the Berlin State Ballet perform Alice’s Wonderland. With the artful use of matchsticks, they manage to stay awake (having just arrived in Berlin after a six-hour drive from Frankfurt) to appreciate the exquisite choreography, staging and dancing. They leave, stunned by all this superlativeness and by the enthusiastic ovation that Berliners like to give their very own ballet, and eat fresh tomato soup at an outdoor restaurant in the Gendarmenmarkt for their supper, accompanied – for one, at least – by Germanically generous glasses of white wine.

Then they leap out of bed, refreshed, drive enthusiastically to Potsdam, and park at the Schloss San Souci (which their guidebook says is the number one sight in Berlin). They repair immediately to a restaurant and partake of one of those large and languid Sunday brunches which is the number one activity in Berlin. They watch the autumn leaves fall. Then they walk around the Schlosspark, enjoying the sunshine and taking photographs, followed by an impromptu skating session in a pair of enormous pantoffel inside the Schloss itself (they avoid the tour, preferring the whistlestop self-guided version in which you can skate really fast on the polished marble and wood floors).

Would we allow our children to do this?

Hell no!

It’s far too much fun.

Then they whizz back to Berlin Mitte for a show at the Friedrichstadtpalast. Slightly disturbed by the amount of pensioners in the audience and the young man next to them with his trousers up under his armpits, who hums loudly throughout the show, they enjoy a spectacle of dance and acrobatics. There are some scary bits – all of the singing

Ho hum. Could you get on with it please?

and a truly terrifying slippery wet suspended fishbowl affair high up above where two fish

Can we call them dancers?

people try alternatively to drown each other or throw each other out of the fishbowl to plunge down down for many metres in a horrible rictus of what the director must have imagined to be erotic but which was really just a live horror show. They watch this through their fingers, sigh with relief when it is over and stop for grilled tuna on the way home at The Hotel That Has The Worst Service In The World But Which Is On The River Spree, So Must Be Good. They have an early night, tucked up by – oh – 9pm in comfy beds with books.

This big sleep is important because Monday is a big day. Monday is the Day of the Bike Tour of Berlin. One of them is an experienced cyclist, having done four-day mountain bike tours, who likes to spend her spare time careering down mountainsides at high speed. The other is not. She can count the amount of times she has ridden her bike as an adult on her fingers.

That’s not a lot, folks.

The bike tour is fabulous. They see everything. They have their photo taken at (what remains of) the Berlin Wall. They see Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, the parking lot under which Hitler’s bunker may or may not be, the Tiergarten, all the government buildings on the river, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburger Tor. They also enjoy an exciting cycle in the bus lane of Berlin and a very rewarding visit to a Biergarten for a late lunch and a large beer. Their tour guide, Ingo, is beyond cute and both cyclists, experienced and not, keep snuggled up close to him in the pelaton, kicking aside any stray New Yorkers or Oregonians who to try to muscle in.

After being returned to the Fat Tire Bike Tour offices at Alexanderplatz

If you go to Berlin, this is the best way to see the city.

It was fabulous.

And the guides are hot fit.

Whatever. You know what I mean.

they consider rest. After six hours of cycling round the city, would two mothers of a combination of seven children head back to their chic Berlin Mitte apartment for a small nap before finding a bijou restaurant for a relaxed dinner?

Actually.

No.

It becomes essential to go to the Haekesche Hoefe for some late-afternoon shopping in the beautiful Art Deco courtyards. Some coffee and cake become of the essence. Some more walking. It becomes night. Still the shops are open. They are shopped. It is dark, and the intrepid mothers decide it’s nonsense to go home when they can go and stand in a queue at the Reichstag for an hour, allow German security officials to accuse them of carrying a sparkly fairy ornament in one of their shopping bags

It was true.

We couldn’t deny it.

and then go up many many storeys in a lift to admire the view from the top of the building. However, they discover too late that they both have late-onset vertigo and an identical urge to crawl the walkway that hugs the glass dome, so they jog down very very fast back to terra firma.

Tuesday is designated shopping day. They head for the Kaufhaus des Westerns (KaDeWe), the Harrods of Berlin, and walk around in a daze for a few hours, testing the loos and fingering very expensive articles of clothing. Then they begin to stroll up the Kurfurstendamm, Berlin’s famous shopping street, but quickly become exhausted by all the

a. shops

b. tourists

c. beggars

so are forced to repair to a lovely little sidestreet where an Italian restaurant offers to feed them delicious pasta (salmon and pine-nut with a lobster sauce, and rocket and feta) and shelter them from the rain that has so irritatingly decided to pour down. They then retrieve the car from the Hotel That Serves the Worst Tea in the World

A huge, hairy testicle of a tea bag that has clearly been used umpty times before.

to do some driving around the city Because That is Fun. First driving stop is Schloss Charlottenburg. Next driving stop is the chic apartment in Berlin Mitte because they are tired and needing to nap. Later, after the nap

It was good.

So …

… nappy.

they walk around aimlessly, finally landing at the sushi bar under the Sony Centre on Potsdamer Platz for a €12 plate of sushi that they can’t finish it is so huge and delicious beers. They walk home, veering briefly into a lamp-post restaurant to acquire ice-creams.

Next day is Dresden day. This is very exciting because it means Driving Again. It is also very sad because it means Farewell to Berlin. However, they are grown women

really?

and manage to leave Berlin without a tear. Dresden is very beautiful. It is filled with buildings. It also has a river. Most importantly, it has a fabulously luxurious HOTEL where they check in, spend the afternoon sleeping, reading, bathing, lounging around in bathrobes, preening, toenail-clipping, dressing, going to the restaurant, enjoying fine dining and excellent wines and going to sleep again. The next morning they glance once more at the beautiful buildings of Dresden

They are so beautiful.

Aren’t they just?

and drive up the river, passing all the glamorous Communist villas where happy Communists once came to play landlords, to Schloss Pelnitz for a little stomp around the beautiful gardens, sadly muddying the boots that had been polished overnight by the little HOTEL elves. They shop idly for the last perfect present for lucky husbands and children and mothers, and then depart from formerly East Germany back to the West, which, strangely, looks very much like the East except that it has more hills.

It rained.

And the journey took eight hours.

But it was worth it.

* Any irritating tics and verbal asides that may appear in this post are attributable to the fact that I am reading Darkmans by Nicola Barker at the moment.

I am.

And it’s catching.

Really, really catching.

So, I’m sorry. But I can’t help it.


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Glitter, Glitter

That’s what the end of the week is doing. It’s glittering at me. In five sleeps’ time, I’m collecting my friend, K, from the airport and then we’re driving to Berlin (I can’t stay away; I’m addicted) for a week of sightseeing, shopping, eating and non-stop talking. Since we have seven children between us, and they will all be far far away with their daddies, there might also be a little bit of sleeping, reading in bed, working on novels, and stopping off for chai lattes at any moment of the day or night BECAUSE WE CAN.

K and I have known each other for 26 years. I got a little weepy when I worked that out. Twenty-six years is a long time to know someone. Two other friends are supposed to be with us, but can’t for various reasons. One of them I have known for 32 years and the other for 20. Clearly, I am someone who is hard to shake off. Once I find you and decide you’re mine, then we’re friends for life.

Remember what it was like to make a friend at the age of 12? You spent long afternoons together, and then phoned each other as soon as you got home. You discussed every detail of your life minutely. My family lived out of town, so I made it my habit to spend nights at my friends’ houses. They really couldn’t get rid of me. I partook in their family lives, sat around their dinner-tables and listened to their parents talk. I became a bit of a fixture, like a wall-hanging or a lamp. While my parents’ marriage was falling apart and my mother was slowly finding her feet again, both K’s family and that of my friend who I have known for 32 years became my replacement families. They both offered me a place where I could feel secure. So they are more than friends, really. They are sisters.

Last week, someone I know told me that I have let her down, that I have not been a good friend to her. That gave me pause for thought, because I have always considered myself a good friend. I have been known to forget the odd birthday (sorry E), but generally, I make my friendships a priority. It’s much harder now to give my friends the time I used to be able to give when I was 12, given that my life has become exponentially fuller.

My mother always said that you have friends for different reasons and different times of your life. I have old friends, new friends, German friends, expat friends, friends whose children are my children’s friends, blog friends, book friends, writing friends, friends my husband found for me, friends I have stolen from him and friends whose husbands or wives are his friends. Usually friends fall into more than one category, and the more categories the better. I think what happened with this friend who is disappointed with me is that I haven’t allowed her to rise above a certain category in which I’ve pegged her, and she would really like to defy her category and be more to me. I’ve been a bit rigid with her. I see that now.

Now, all you category-defying friends, I need to get back to work. I may manage to post before Berlin, but I may not. Forgive me if I don’t. I’ll be back soon, with stories.


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Recent Reading

Soon, we’ll be driving to Tuscany for a couple of weeks on the beach and the best thing, apart from sun, sand and Italian food, is that I can pack the boot of the car with as many books as I want to. I don’t have to worry about weight or select a few – I can take the whole damn lot. While I’m there I also intend to complete my novel outline for the first meeting of my writing group in September, flesh out some of my characters and maybe compose some offline posts about Tuscan beach culture (Are hoop earrings de rigeur?/ Is there such a thing as too little bikini?/Sandcastles I have known).

I realise I’ve been remiss about reviewing my recent reading. When I have big work projects on and house-guests, as I do now, I don’t stop reading but I don’t really have time to write in-depth reviews. While I await comment from my editor, and while my charming house-guests entertain my children, here’s an overview of the reading that’s been going on chez Charlotte recently.

Two Lives by Vikram Seth

I love Seth’s novels. He writes them big and fat and packed with characters, which is my favourite kind of book. Two Lives is a memoir and biography, and it is just as large and satisfying as one of his novels. It details the lives of Seth’s great-uncle Shanti and his wife Henny. Shanti moved to Berlin from India in the 1930s to study dentistry, and found rooms with Henny’s family. Henny managed to escape to England from Germany in 1939, but her mother and sister were unable to leave and eventually were murdered in a concentration camp. Seth researches the memoir after Henny’s death, so he pieces her story together through Shanti Uncle’s memories and Henny’s vivid correspondence. What was fascinating for me was the vibrant picture of Thirties Berlin, and Shanti and Henny’s glamorous and various group of friends. After the war, the group is of course shattered, with some members dead, others shamed by their Nazi connections and others trying to survive the depredations of postwar Germany. Henny’s Berlin friends were always deeply grateful for her care packages of chocolate, stockings and cigarettes. At one point, Seth travels to Israel to research state records of the Holocaust in order to find out how and where Henny’s family were killed, and is overcome with horror at the understated cruel efficiency of official German as it describes the removal of people from society. He writes, “I grew to hate the verbs”. That resonated so strongly with me. The German that I use every day is the same German that wiped out millions of people with its cruel deathly verbs. While parts of this book are difficult to read, Two Lives is written with sensitivity, affection and humour. I loved it.

The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. This is apparently a bestseller, but that hadn’t crossed my radar when I picked it up. I suspect I may have read about it on someone’s blog – my usual method of collecting recommendations. The storyline was intriguing: a couple have twins but when the husband, who is a doctor, sees that his daughter is a Downs baby, he hands her to a nurse with directions to remove her to a home. He then tells his wife that her daughter has died. The nurse takes the baby to the home, but when there, changes her mind and decides to raise the child herself in another city. The novel tells the parallel stories of these twins growing up in different circumstances. It was well-told and the characters were well-drawn and believable. I felt compassion for the wife who mourns her dead daughter, compassion for the husband living with his terrible secret, and admiration for the nurse who loves the little girl as her own. It’s a competent story and well-told. I think it would make a good beach book.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walsh. This is also a memoir and a gripping one. Walsh is one of four children raised by a pair of completely feckless parents. The father is a dreamer and and an alcoholic, and the mother is an artist who doesn’t see the point of cooking a meal, because it only lasts 15 minutes, while a painting lasts forever. Walsh’s first memory is of standing at the stove at the age of three cooking hotdogs because she is hungry. The boiling water spills on her, and she has to spend six weeks in hospital, from where her father “saves her” because he doesn’t want to pay the bills. This is only the beginning of a litany of stories about her parents which I read with my mouth hanging open. Despite neglect on a spectacular scale, three of the four children manage to survive relatively intact – Walsh herself becomes a successful journalist in New York. She writes of her childhood without bitterness and of her parents with affection. As a reader, I followed her trajectory of warmish feelings towards this astonishingly unconventional couple – until the scene where the children are picking through the bins at school for something to eat and when they get home, the mother dives under the comforter on her bed (where she spends most of the day) to take large bites of a chocolate bar she’s secreted there. I lost patience with the father even earlier. I think Walsh wants to present a non-judgmental picture of her parents, but merely by telling her story she does invite her readers to judge. I judged, and I found them guilty of extreme neglect.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson. This is the second mystery story by the writer of Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and the second featuring grizzled detective Jackson Brodie (the first was the acclaimed Case Histories). Atkinson is at the top of her game. One Good Turn is an excellent read, with a host of superbly-drawn characters, a great mystery and a wonderful twist at the end. If anyone’s looking for the perfect summer book, I’d say this is it. I seldom re-read, but I’m tempted to take this on holiday with me because I’d like to pay more attention to her style. She is so damn talented.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I’m not going to write too much about this book, as there are many acres of text on the Web already, but I loved it. It was beautiful. It’s terrifying portrait of a country, a poignant study of family and a testament to loyalty.

The Ice Storm by Rick Moody. I saw Ang Lee’s superb film a few years ago, so it was his images that were in my head when I read the book. Perhaps my slight disappointment stems from the disjunction between the film and the book, but I found the book’s preoccupation with male masturbation and overly knowing teenage girls a bit tiresome. It’s not intended to be comfortable reading, and it isn’t. Let’s just say that Moody draws a particularly unappealing portrait of the American male and his preoccupations, circa 1973.

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Right now, I’ve got two books going on. For fun, I’m reading Jed Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder, a great thriller set in early twentieth-century New York. For intellectual challenge, I’m reading Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It’s a bold and fascinating book and it’s sure to spawn a blog post or two.


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Girls’ Weekend Away

I’ve been feeling envious of Ms Magic Hands’ road trip. I love a road trip – the singing badly to loud music, the disgustingly calorific food, the vistas and the braving of new territories. I have even driven from Germany to England with two small children (when I could have flown) just because I LOVE TO DRIVE. Very little excites me more than getting on the road-eo with a tank full of petrol, a CD drive full of singalong music and a destination looming.

As a student, I had a 1800-kilometre trip from university to home, so it was a good thing I enjoyed a drive. One of the best things about driving out of Cape Town was reaching the top of Van Reenen’s Pass and looking back at the whole of False Bay and the Cape Peninsula spread out behind you in a cathedral of sea and mountains. The next best thing was getting to the Old Cape Farm Stall, where we would stock up on padkos (Afrikaans for “road food”) – biltong (dried spiced meat strips like jerky, only better), dried guava rolls and rusks (a kind of dried sweetened bread – I’m noting for the first time, the proliferation of dried food in the South African cuisine: must be a leftover from the Afrikaner trekking tradition). We would stop to fill up the car at lonely petrol stations in the Karoo, and fill up our stomachs with toasted sandwiches, runny with grease and melted plastic cheese. The soundtrack was inevitably Van Morrison (I can still screech the lyrics to “Moon Dance”), Jim Morrison, Tracey Chapman (’twas the Eighties, folks), Johannes Kerkorrel (an Afrikaner rebel, who is sadly no longer around) and the music from The Big Chill. The car was usually full of girls, but the odd token boy student – boyfriend, brother, groupie – took his place on the back seat. Driving was for the girls, you understand.

Tomorrow, I am going on a road trip, and with one of my favourite co-travellers, an enthusiastic tourista whose appetite for travel and seeing stuff challenges my own – my mother. I have had a couple of trips with my mother to European destinations and she is indefatigable. I remember her waking me up in a Paris apartment at 7am saying, “We must get up. We must go out.” I groaned, turned over in my bed, muttering that nothing happens in Paris before 10am. “But the light, the light”, she exclaimed, pulling open the curtains so that I could better appreciate the light, “We must go out with our cameras and take photographs.” So, at 7.20am my mother, the Paris street-sweepers and I were out, taking note of the light.

That self-same day, we visited BOTH the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay (I have a memory of my mother running from room to room, saying, “I HAVE to see it all”), and walked so much, that the soles of my feet bled. I learned the French word for “plaster” that day.

On another occasion, we were staying in northern Tuscany with my husband and my aunt. We decided to drive to Sienna for the day. It was a long drive, made more exhausting by necessary wrangling of Italian drivers and the comments from the peanut gallery in the back seat of the car (mother + aunt). On arrival in Sienna, the limp driver and navigator felt a small coffee might be appropriate before hitting the sights. “I don’t want to waste time having coffee – I’m going straight to the cathedral,” said the Tourista, and headed off in a firm northerly direction. Husband and Aunt took in the necessary coffee, while I reeled in the determined little tourist.

Tomorrow’s road trip is not of mammoth proportions. We’re going to Strasbourg, a mere one and a half hour’s drive away. But it is FRANCE, and oh boy do the Tourista and I love France. We will both get giddy as soon as we cross the border, giggle and shriek “We’re in France!”. Then she will grip my arm and say, “This is SO much fun” and “I love travelling with you, darling” and I will do my best not to drive off the road in my state of high excitement.

When my husband suggested that we book ourselves into a hotel and spend the night in France, coming back the next day, I hesitated for about one second, then rushed to the computer and booked a hotel before anyone could change their mind. Now the Tourista’s got something else to get excited about – “staying in a HOTEL! in FRANCE! with CROISSANTS!”.

It’s going to be a lot of fun. I expect exclamation marks.