Thursday, February 08, 2007

yzerfontein and cake

If you are planning to bake your first cake for your first child’s first birthday, I would not recommend doing it in someone else’s (especially your in-laws’) kitchen in a foreign country. It’s quite a bit more stressful than it probably needs to be, and trying to figure out the different names of different flours and doing conversions – well, it’s just not that much fun. That said, the cake is baked, iced and decorated with the carrot flower garnishes we got from the thai restaurant we ate at last night. Except for the icing, it was easier than I expected. Next year we’ll try actually decorating the cake.

Sunday afternoon, Grandpa Cape Town drove us up to the beach house at Yzerfontein while Stepmom stayed home with all the dogs. There’s some really great graffiti in this country, and Cousin R said it’s even encouraged in some places. I certainly think that colourful, well done graffiti is much preferable to blank gray walls. Some savvy companies have even started employing graffiti artists to paint graffiti advertisements, which seems a really great way to reach the young hip crowd.

After the graffiti, a dry landscape of fynbos, grass and sand whizzed by the car window. It’s mostly flat with small koppies, with patches of very small trees and shrubs. Mostly there aren’t any trees though. It actually seems a lot like a sand dune ecosystem, and we drove past some large dunes at a place called Atlantis that looked like a field of snow in the distance. I didn’t get to see these large dunes, because you need a permit that we didn’t have, but apparently people sandboard down them. Next time, I guess.

The area is prone to fires, which the fynbos are adapted to. Some fynbos even spread their seed by fire. The mostly green stretches of low fynbos with tiny patches of sand were broken by recently burnt out areas of pale sand punctuated by the black skeletons of shrunken gnarled burnt trees. This land is flatter, less dramatic than the land around Pilanesberg way up north of here, and I didn’t see any nasty looking thorns. I think maybe it’s the high winds that make the difference. We did pass a sign with bullet holes in it though.

It’s also emptier of people than up by Pilanesberg, and we didn’t pass a single person walking, or settlement, once we were out of the city. It was so hot that the air above the road shimmered, and a row of cars in the distance looked like drops of mercury rolling down the hill. Grandpa Cape Town is working on an article about Afrikaans music, so that’s what we listened to on the way up. It’s kind of like new country, but in Afrikaans, which to my ears is not a particularly musical language – too much spit gargling.

The beach house is fairly big and modern, bright white, both inside and out, with a small koppie rising up behind it. As soon as I opened the car door, the sound of the sea rushed in. Outside the little village, the beach house is among enormous new holiday homes, mostly empty, and spread out on large plots of land. Real estate signs abound, inviting more development. Some of these houses are worth upwards of R5 million ($1 million CAD), and Grandpa Cape Town’s is modest by comparison. At least 80 per cent of the houses are all white, and they literally glow against the impossibly blue sky. It’s uncompromisingly bright here, with absolutely no trees to shade out the bright sun, and the great reflecting umbrella of the ocean. The first afternoon we were there, we even put sunscreen on Swee’pea indoors, because the walls of the living room are mostly floor to ceiling windows with no coverings of any kind. By the next day, our eyes had adjusted to this new brightness, and we were less concerned for Swee’pea’s fresh fair skin.

On the main floor is an open concept kitchen, dining area and large living room, with two guest bedrooms and a guest bath separated from the common space by a door. Upstairs are three bedrooms, one for Sugar Daddy’s stepsister and husband, one for their two kids, and one for Grandpa Cape Town and Stepmom. Each bedroom upstairs has its own bathroom, and Grandpa Cape Town’s room has two!! The bathrooms have been thoughtfully outfitted with little hotel soaps, gels and lotions. I giggled when I imagined Stepmom surreptiously gathering them from various hotel rooms, but then I saw a box in the pantry, and realized they must have ordered them from somewhere.

In the south Table Mountain was barely visible 100 kilometers away through the haze. In fact, it was more the clouds that always seem to collect around its top like flies around a honey pot.

The fynbos, and the insects, rodents and reptiles they shelter and feed, support a lot of birds, and we saw many different kinds of birds of prey. There were small falcons that had so tamed the air currents and high wind here, that they hovered completely motionless above the koppie, then would dip a wing like a saluting plane, and swoop gracefully on the attack. If unsuccessful, they would rise effortlessly up again, and hover completely still until it saw something else to go after. We spent quite a while watching the birds out the back door.

It was very peaceful, yet surprisingly loud for such a peaceful place. We went to bed with the windows closed, but even so, all night during Swee’pea’s frequent wakings, I could hear the thunder of waves crashing against huge rocks below the roar of the strong wind.

Something about being by the sea unleashed some inner wild man in Sugar Daddy. I felt like I was watching a bloodythirsty Hulk burst out of his clothes and step out from his formerly meek vegetarian exterior, leaving it discarded like an empty shell. He decided that he simply must have fresh fish cooked on the braai. First he went fishing, leaving me dumbfounded as he trotted resolutely off with the house rod. (Although I knew he used to fish as a kid, I have never known him to pick up a fishing rod, or have any interest in doing so before.) He came back empty-handed but invigorated, and even more intent on Finding Fresh Fish.

We went into the village and asked where we could buy fresh fish. Apparently an Afrikaaner woman named Sunette supplies the entire village out of her house and we got directions. I was a bit concerned about buying fish from a stranger’s house, but Sugar Daddy said we could just have a look and see what there was. The house smelled. I’ve been in fishmongers’ before so I know what fish smells like, but this smelled worse. It put me off. She opened a deep freeze full of intact fish, and Sugar Daddy asked if she had anything cleaned. I didn’t see the point of buying frozen fish when we can do that anywhere, but bloodthirsty Sugar Daddy didn’t ask me.

Sunette took us out the side of the house, where there was quite the little fishing enterprise, complete with walk-in freezer and a row of rubber pants and boots hanging on the wall. Still, a huge frozen headless fish (still with tail, fins and scales) pulled from someone’s driveway freezer didn’t really jibe with my vision of fresh filets from a shop. But Sugar Daddy didn’t consult with me and just paid the 60 rands. Somehow Sugar Daddy figured out the charcoal barbecue and made rather a success of the enormough beast of the sea, and we had a big feast. I only had a few bites of the fish though, the remembered smell of Sunette’s house still lingering in my nostrils.

On the way home, we stopped at a San cultural centre, the only centre of its kind in the Western Cape, which is focused on providing some kind of restitution for the nearly extinct San people. They offer training, and sell San arts and crafts in the gift shop, serve meals at a fairly nice restaurant and offer tours of the hills to a ‘cultural village.’ The site is beautiful, with beautiful white buildings, and I took quite a few photos of the area.

This afternoon, we are going to Sugar Daddy’s stepsister’s place in Noordhoek to celebrate Swee’pea’s first birthday. Now that the cake is baked, already my mind is turning to the return trip, which will begin tomorrow night, and the things we have to pack for it. I am looking forward to going home in many ways, but I am not looking forward to leaving summer.

This visit has left me longing for a visit with my own boisterous people, where our differences are out in the open and I don’t have to navigate the interpersonal undercurrents of strange water, trying to make sense of their origins and directions. Stepmom and Grandpa Cape Town are wonderful and gracious hosts, but it seems like Grandpa Cape Town is more comfortable playing the role of unobtrusive tour guide than grandfather. I feel like I’m having to be on best behaviour, but failing in some (most/all) of my more stressed out moments.

* * *

It’s the early morning on the day of our departure, but we have all day to pack and go to Boulders Beach, since our flight doesn’t leave until 11. The birthday party was nice yesterday and the cake was a hit. Swee’pea seemed to prefer the icing though, and emerged from the encounter covered in icing and cake crumbs. We had to drive over top of a mountain strewn with grey rocks like a giant’s midden, along a steep and windy road to get to Noordhoek. Sugar Daddy and I were in the back with Swee’pea in the middle and we couldn’t do up our seatbelts because of his carseat. I kept thinking about how if we got in a car accident, Swee’pea would probably become an orphan. I didn’t like that thought. Sugar Daddy saw a green VW beetle with the word Swee’pea on the side, some kind of marketing.

Once there, we drank some lovely sparkling wine, and ate some yummy nibbles, then lit the candle on the cake and sang Happy Birthday.

So that’s that. Must get started with packing now…


Beck said...

Isn't their first encounter with cake hilarious? I'm glad that the cake worked out.
I'm loving your travel stories - they're gorgeous!

Mad Hatter said...

Sugar Daddy gone Hemmingway? Intriguing.

NotSoSage said...

"This visit has left me longing for a visit with my own boisterous people, where our differences are out in the open and I don’t have to navigate the interpersonal undercurrents of strange water, trying to make sense of their origins and directions."

This was so great. And it describes experiences with in-laws so exquisitely.

Best of luck on the return trip!

Her Bad Mother said...

Again, so evocative, your descriptions. Lovely.

jen said...

aren't you just so freaking HAPPY that you decided to go? I remember you going back and forth and taking the plunge, and then there you are, in all it's glory, cake baking and all.

Denguy said...

That place sounds like a it's a world away.

You're a better man than I am, there's no way I could survive that long with the in-laws.

Alpha DogMa said...

Here, here, denguy. A little bit of in-law goes a long way.
Oh, the smell of a fishmonger's home. From the bottom of my wayward Newfoundlander soul, I know and abhor that smell.
Happy travels as you head home!