Friday, 23 November 2012

Shopping in Clanwilliam

As far as I know there are two Clanwilliams in the world: one in Ireland, and the other in South Africa in the Cederberg region. It is the latter that has reference in this blog. I have never been to Clanwilliam in Ireland, but I would think that there are considerably more shops in that main street than there are in this main street. This information is written for guests at Saint du Barrys and indeed all propective visitors to Clanwilliam who want to know about shopping in Clanwilliam for practical and therapeutic purposes. Most visitors do not come to the Cederberg for the shopping experience and certainly Clanwilliam does not compete with Dubai, Zurich or New York in this respect. The most common questions we are asked are like this:

Is there a general store and when is it open?

There is a Spar, in fact a SuperSpar which means it's a bigger one with more lines and ranges, and it's open for seven days a week from seven till seven, except for Christmas Day and Good Friday. There are also other general stores, but the Spar is the best stocked.

We are not often asked about liqour stores, but here is the information: I have seldom looked for alcohol in the early morning, but I do know that Tops opens at eight in the morning and closes at seven in the evening, except for Saturday when closing at five is compulsory.Cora opens at eight as well, and closes at eight each evening, except for Saturdays when the cut-off is at five.  The law in South Africa is strict about no alcohol being sold after five on a Saturday, and no sales during Sunday.

When are petrol stations open?

There are three petrol stations: the two in town are open from seven in the morning till nine in the evening and there is another on the N7 open for 24 hours a day. All three stock petrol and diesel.

Where can I buy airtime?

Spar, Pep and possibly a few more places.

More generally, there is a good butchery, "Ramskop", the surf shop (I have no idea why it has this name) which sells clothing and footwear, a video outlet, McClans which is akin to KFC, two gift shops, one in Nancy's Tea Room and Tannie Poppie se Shoppie. Pep Stores is mainly for clothing. Visitors who have read up on the town look for rooibos tea products which are sold from the Rooibos Tea factory. Here Saint du Barrys is allowed to boast: we stock rooibos products sourced from three different manufacturers, and after using the products in the bathrooms, many guests take advantage of buying from us what they have experienced in respect of soap, shampoo, body lotion, body butter and other products.

Guests frequnetly want to visit the Strassbergers Shoe Factory. For those who like shoes, this is often a hit. Once we had a guest who had to buy an extra suitcase to take all the shoes home.

There are more service orientated shops, all located on or close to the main road.

The majority of shops accept major credit cards.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Saint du Barrys and sensations

If you separate them into details, you might not get the whole. The pebble, sunlight, cool air, leaf, small bird, red of the small bird, the flutter, the puff of dust as it lands on the feeder, the different stains of brown on the feeder, the slight angle as it takes the bird's titny weight, even the brightness of the eye. Add to this the coffee and cigar I have taken outside to watch the evening in the garden from a favourite couch, and the sensation of all these details, and of course many, many more: I asked my heart what it felt, and the answer was calm and lifted up. Sitting there, a snippet of the liturgy came to mind:

Priest: Lift up your hearts.
Congregation: We lift them up.

There must be myriads of sensations in each moment, and quite unconciously, they focus to make a moment real.

Inside, for the first time ever in October, I have lit a fire. It's not really necessary, but the winter this year has curled its tail around the months when it should have stretched out, shaken itself and moved on. The world outside is full of blossoms, buds and rich smells, and the temperature is about 17C. The Europeans will laugh at the fire. The cats and dogs are not embarrassed. They have come to join me.

I filled up the bird-feeders, all four, and sat down to watch, and paid attention to what my heart did as I observed. Three pigeons strutted over the pebbles. My heart simply saw them and stayed even. They remind me of sheep. Then two finches darted down. My heart lifted by two pebbles' worth. Pebbles held in the strong evening light. Then a red bishop came down. My heart lifted by another three pebbles' worth. And so it went until the whole garden was slightly more raised and I found myself relaxed and content.

There's a curious exchange between the outer and the inner when it comes to establishing the ruling sensation of the moment. I have watched guests sit down, open bottle of wine, turn the glass a little, pour, taste, and then sit back. I am certain I can feel what they feel in this moment. I have observed guests peer into their room for the first time, walk in, look around, walk into the bathroom, then step back and their entire posture speaks of relief and satisfaction.

Going on a journey is mostly about wanting to experience new sensations, whether the novelty, challenge or fascination. Yet sometimes the journey is because of sad occasions, sorrowful memories or poignant purpose. Once we had a couple who got engaged during a private dinner. It was supposed to be a secret for her, and it was, but the rest of the company in the dining-room on the other side of the door waited in anticipation until at last the announcement came.

When we leave Saint du Barrys one day it will be with an exceptional awareness of the enrichment of the experience of owning a guest house. After guests leave, I wonder what memory remains for them a day, week, year later.

The mark of good literature is memorability. Perhaps the mark of a good guest house is the imprint of comfortable and happy sensation that is retained over time.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Saint du Barrys and smells

We're about to be covered by a blanket of orange blossom in the air, thick enough to assume that if you put out your hand, you'll actually touch something. It's the strongest signal of spring that we get. On the cold winter days, I believe that I can smell snow, when the wind whirls from the white crags of the Cederberg, or the sea, although it's sixty kilometers away to the west, when the west wind blows. The air changes in respect of olfactory qualtiy, from season to season. You can smell what kind of a day it's going to be, as it gets lighter and the birds start earlier and earlier. The orange blossom isn't negotiable: you have no choice but to breathe it in. My favourite is jasmine: for that I have to walk over to the parking bays, and the wall against which the jasmine grows. It's like a high legato violin note above the darker volume of the orange blossom orchestra. Open the front door in the morning, and you get the full orchestral hit: spring-cool air, orange blossom heat to come, the jasmine note, and birds joining the choral spaces. I'm waiting for frangipani: Joan planted one some years ago. It suffered somewhat when the municipal meter-reader came from the back, and snapped off branches to defend himself against our guest-house friendly dogs. But it's coming on, and will in due course add it's own chord to the sharps and flats in Saint du Barrys octave of smells.

Step beyond the gate, and you'll pick up one of two friendly fire smells: either the warm neighbourly hearth-fire from ourselves or Uncle Phil next door, when it's winter, or the slightly more smoky smell from the pizza oven at Olifanthuis restaurant, which the locals still call the pizza huis, although the menu is a la carte as well as pizza. That's more of a summer smell.

If it's one of our quieter days, and we've had a walk in the car, and have checked the town's perimeter, I usually respond to braai smells by going into competition. If that's peri-peri chicken, I'll reply with Spur wings. Some over-drenched, overdone hunk of mutton chop? The clear answer is fillet, no basting, on an open fire at just the right heat, and no flames yet, sending out a pure aroma guarranteed to produce salivation up to four hundred meters, six if the breeze helps to carry the message.

This is no competition for what strolls out of the kitchen when Joan prepares dinner for guests: fresh bread, oxtail, chilli con carne, lasagne, oven-baked aubergine, accompanied by garlic, olive oil and followed by brandy tart, all of this creating an exciting smudge that excites the palate and reduces the mind to nothing but anticipation.

The home-smells of thatch. Guest rooms and our own upstairs rooms have rafters that are open to thatch. Each room has a different smell of thatch, emphasized when the wind blows. Lead me into each room with my eyes closed: here's a dry touch of sunlight combined with tall grass on a slope: room five. This one has a rich yet soft touch and I have to think of mountains on the horizon and a river close by: must be room three. These identities of thatch become invitingly strong as the wind picks up. What goes into the nose settles in the chest, and the feeling is one of nostalgia, almost too much, at times.

And of course, depending on the time of year, varying intensities of drying rooibos. Sometimes just on the edge of the breeze, sometimes standing squarely over the town, this presence is ubiquitous. After eleven years of living here, I think my body has accepted rooibos at a cellular level. I think I I have extra rooibos mitochondria helping my identity to progress beyond known things. They say animals use the sense of smell far more acutely than humans.

I believe that I sniff the air much more than I did earlier on in life, and that I am even excited at the messages I receive. That's the equinox passed; that's four o' clock in the afternoon; it will rain in less than an hour; we're more than halfway through Spring; today we have to light a fire; the snow has defintiely melted; the wind has at this very instant changed. This week we should go to find crayfish, a sauvignon blanc and a sandy beach.

And when we get home the thatch might say that a quiet couch and a book are called for, or, the pizza house may offer another invitation, as the evening progresses, just a small one, maybe the Adriatic with fresh avo as it comes out of the oven. And just because life is a celebration, I should be indulgent enough to at least breathe in over a wee bite of the Glenlivet before tasting it.

And the last one, that many may not ever experience: burying your nose in the back feathers of an African Grey. I won't attempt a description. It's another curious recognition that happens not in the head but in the chest. Perhaps that's what the animals try to tell us.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Hand-crafted hospitality

This is an ideal to which guest-house owners who enjoy their work aspire. I think it also explains why people who prefer guest-houses to hotels do so.

Hand-crafted furniture, clocks, glassware, violins and cloth. Custom-made fountain pens, embossed paper, wax-sealed envelopes. Fine coffee. Signals of carefulness, time and craftsmanship. Ancient or contemporary, one senses the value of skilled workmanship, wherever it's presence is invested.

It was once pointed out to us that guests choose which guest-house to visit on the basis of what they are used to at home. If the experience is equal to or better than their home comforts, they're happy. At home, personal taste and choice are supreme, and furnishings, furniture and decor reflect the family narrative.
Being more personal than a hotel, a guest-house also reflects a narrative, and this is part of the appeal of living the guest-house life-style.

In room two, there is a set of four pictures called The Road to Bisho. This was given to me by my Irish friend. He wanted to be right in front of the crowd that marched to Bisho, to go up that long, dangerous hill with them, and fortunately for him, his wife locked him into their bedroom and didn't let him out until it was over. The march started virtually outside my house, and I remember calling the children inside when I heard the gunfire. Then I watched the crowd run down the hill. The etchings are large, and were done as a project combining poerty and art, recording and recognising the event. Twenty-five sets were made, and I was given one.

Over eleven years, a vivid red splash has washed through Saint du Barrys. When we started off we were green and white. Daringly, I painted the gate and the garden lamp-pole blue. The shutters turned blue, too. One day, we had to change our email address. We pondered the new name, and came up with redbird@saintdubarrys. Dot com. The origins of this are still obscure. Maybe it had to do with the red tail feathers of Ramius, the African Grey. Maybe it was the emergence of the cheeky yet warm streak that we enjoy when human nature presents it. Our logo became a red bird in a green tree. Then came the red cushions for the outside chairs. Cups, saucers, plates with red lines. Just for the fun of it, a red Le Crueset kettle for the gas stove. More red plates and side plates, with bolder designs. Red Le Crueset cups and saucers, sourced after turning a few shops upside down. Along came our chair man, Mr Thomas, who turns couches, sofas and chairs into brand new items: "red", we said, a nice, comfortable not in your face but very sittable red for our dining room. He brought them back, chairs like new, and with a warm, red-like seat. I heard some German guests, the other morning, commenting on the wonderful, warm feeling of the dining-room, and was gratified that what pleases us, pleased them, too.

This is what makes the details of Saint du Barrys important: as far as we can, we invest in the details. One good thing that has come out of the global financial melt-down is that even the richest of the rich are no longer embarrassed to mention money. Budgets and limits. We would be delighted to throw caution to the Cape Doctor, but that would soon invite the wind to blow through empty rooms. Bed linen, and bathroom towels? Non-negotiable. I roll my eyes when Joan gets into hunting mode and marches straight past the "guest house quality" shelves to look for better things. Polo. I don't even know the labels. Two hundred percale, four hundred. Egyptian cotton. "Must we really spend this money on sheets and stuff?" I ask, looking forlornly for the single malt whisky that Saint du Barrys ought to stock. She is stern. The budget and no budging are the same thing. New linen. New towels. I reckon it happens every season of the year.

The Snow Goose. This is a favourite story of mine. Philip Rhayader and Fritha. They'd be personal friends if I met them, but alas, they can only meet me through Paul Gallico, who is in heaven, now. I lovingly framed pictures that spoke to me so strongly and vividly in childhood and hung them in room one. I believe some guests found them bleak. Well yes, of course they're bleak, the whole landscape of the story is bleak, but what a message of hope came out of it!

Just yesterday we moved them around.

Again, in connection with the theme of red. We have managed to entice red bishops to join the garden birds. This is the first year ever that they have done so. They eat from the bird-feeders.

A Nigerian (I think) gentleman made the red birds on the dining room tables to order. His voice has such a song-like quality he could almost be Welsh.

A guest-house is an invitation. Whatever you experience, it's hand-crafted hospitality, and therein lie all the advantages and fallibilities. All the financial investment in the world won't necessarily offer this guest what will satisfy him, while that guest will notice something that affects the visit profoundly, and will make it memorable, which, as my colleague once said in respect of reading a book, is the actual value. You remember because it struck you.

We live here. We will remember much, and there is much that we treasure, from the first bird-calls in the morning (just after five, this morning) to the smells that come with different breezes. We've put our hearts into Saint du Barrys, and that's no tear-jerker, that's just so. Those words on our front door say when the heart speaks take good note.

Today is the first day after flower season, an in-between day, with dull weather, yet the air is not cold. The birds outside are discussing the matter. In respect of detail, I'm thinking of the bright colours of our key-holders, the strips of tiling that bring red to the bathrooms, the quietness of the grass in front of our own bedroom and patio, and the single malt whisky I don't have. That could be serious, but it won't change the love I have for this place.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Location: Saint du Barrys on the map and on the planet

The physical address is 13 Augsburg Road, but please don't use this way of finding us. I don't think there's one sign that says Augsburg Road, and all our neighbours for three doors down (and that's quite a long way by European postal code standards) are also number 13. And then, on some municipal accounts Saint du Barrys appears as number 11. So the physical address is not an exact science. But it's easy to find us. Most folk arrive from the N7. There's only one road into Clanwilliam from the N7, and we're on it. Just keep going, don't turn right into the main road, and we're just after the bowling green, on the right, with the orange orchard on the left. There are brown boards all the way to the gate.

Clanwilliam is in the centre of the spring flower region. During the season there are flowers all the way from the beginning of the West Coast, up to Namaqualand. Clanwilliam is pretty much in the middle of this.

Clanwilliam is the heart of the rooibos industry. Originated and developed locally, rooibos is now exported internationally. This is the only area in the world in which rooibos grows. I have yet to find out exactly which climatological factors contribute to such a unique occurence.

At Saint du Barrys, we've had the pleasure of having many guests en route to and from Namibia. One of our long-standing guests hails from Windhoek, and in summer, he drives the entire distance between sunrise and sunset - in fact quite some time before sunset - from Windhoek to Clanwilliam. Perhaps this hint is illegal but here it is: on those long, long stretches of straight road in Namibia, you can push the limits by setting cruise control at 155 km. Up to 159, you get fined, at 160 you get fined and jailed. I haven't tried this for myself.

Travel west from Clanwilliam, and you'll reach Graafwater in thirty kilometers, and stop at Lamberts Bay after sixty. Many of our guests do this, heading for Bird Island to see the colony of gannets achieving the impossible: finding offspring that look exactly like all other offspring without even trying. They leave a little runway open for take-off, but land anywhere. The noise-level is high, often the olfactory index, too.

Head east, and you'll soon be up in the Cederberg, where you'll pass Bushmans Kloof, unless you have the good fortune to be booked in. This is one of the top ten resorts in the world. Here's what we love to boast about: their fresh produce is sourced by Mike Shaw, who delivers to Saint du Barrys as well. Perhaps we should consider raising our rates. At the Englishman's grave, there's a junction. Turn left to go to Calvinia, or right to go on to Wuppertal. From Wuppertal on, you'll need a four wheel drive vehicle, otherwise you'll have a good chance of getting stuck. The terrain is rough, and sandy.

That's where we are on the planet. Two hundred and twenty kilometers north of Cape Town. At the foot of the rugged Cederberg. Sixty kilometers from a cold Atlantic coast. Sixty-two meters above sea level, in our parking area. Three hundred to Springbok, and after that, another one hundred and eighty to the Namibian border, with Vioolsdrif on the southern side and Noordoewer on the northern side.

In South Africa, on the open road, you should easily average a hundred kilometers an hour, unless you're stuck behind a truck or negotiating a pass. This makes it fairly easy to estimate how much time it takes to get to where you want to be. If your vehicle has a sixth gear, you won't need an autobahn before you use it.

To find the heart of where you are, once here, stand stock-still and blend into the ground, air and breeze, if there is one. Pretend you aren't here, but still keep your awareness open and present. You shouldn't need more than a few moments. Forget about the mad politicians, impossible global fiscus and whatever else distracts us from the earth beneath our feet, the vista in front of our eyes and the many-tongued air that breathes on our skin. You might well feel something you have never felt before. You won't be able to pack it into your suit-case, yet you will never leave it behind.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Saint du Barrys and sounds

I don't cook with recipes. I follow successes that I've learnt, and if I try something new, I'll keep it secret until it works or is abandoned. Joan has teased me about listening to the pot to tell where it's at in the scheme of readiness. Yes, I have a sensitive ear, whether it's about music, cooking or subtle noises of alarm. I enjoy picking up romantic atmosphere or jolly moods by listening to the sounds that accompany these pockets of solitary experience.

We used to have a lot of frogs. There was a gully across the road which had water flowing down to the Jan Dissels River, and when this was closed, the frogs subsided. Sometimes they start up at night, but their number and vigour have both declined.

Hadedas. When I grew up in Cape Town, and started working, right up till 1988, I hadn't seen one. Up in the Eastern Cape they were prolific. Now, in Cape Town, they're everywhere. Guests ask what makes such a racket in the morning: hadedas. Big, black yet full of oily colour up close, the best explanation for their raucous cry is this: they're scared of heights. Taking off and flying, they look down, and then scream their fear. It sounds true.

We've grown fond of the evening and morning bird-calls. If you listen carefully, you can pick up what sort of day it's been or going to be. Then of course Ramius, the African Grey, might be cracking something in the food dish, or talking to himself, or sending the dogs to bed. If they bark, he'll join in for a moment, and then say "Go to bed!". On his own, trying to maintain his level of conversation, it will be greetings in various voices, or bits of Shakespeare - "O reason not the need" or "When to the sessions of sweet, silent thought" are favourites. He might be a bit more crisp on the flight deck: "Captain to cabin crew, check and cross-check". "Flaps up, flaps down." Surgical procedures are quiet: "Scalpel please, oxygen, clamp. DeBakey scissors".
More randomly, "Buttons". "Coffee."

On some weekend nights, you can hear the town having fun, sometimes it goes to bed early. Sunday mornings are silent, punctuated by church-bells that are early in summer, a bit later in winter. In the quiet of the night you may hear a cock crow. There are two low sounds of water running at Saint du Barrys: the water going nito the fish-pond and the small water-feature at the corner between the dining-room and the guest wing.

The wind doesn't blow stronngly or gust for long periods of time, as in Cape Town. The thatch over guest rooms means that rain is more of a rushing noise than a clatter.

The morning might wake up either with hadedas or Egyptian geese, with their honking, hissing cry. I like the sound of the fire, either in the office or outside at the braai.

I think eveyone listens to hear if the ambulance siren goes towards the N7 or towards the Pakhuis Pass. The other sound of distress is the helicopter circling the town before landing, then taking off again from the hospital after a brief droning.

The busy-ness of Saturday morning in the Main Road is noisy. Shouting, greeting, advice, laughter, abuse, impatience. My favourite is "Jou kop lek!" which means "your head is leaking". There are plenty of other retorts, most of them unrepeatable.

There's a bowling green next door, and when there's a big meeting, the balls clink continuously, and the voices comment.

I have just come in from making the evening's bookings at the restaurant. The birds are making their settling-down chirps, and there's a quiet night chill gathering in the air. Rush - hour which lasts from five o' clock till five past five has long passed. Soon the mild crackles of the fire beside me will be the loudest thing I can hear.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Seasons at Saint du Barrys

Many people must have believed that it doesn't get cold in Africa. Houses are built with braai-areas, pools, lapas and verandahs. Not central heating and double-glazed windows. At least it doesn't go to zero Celsius or below, in Clanwilliam. On really cold winter mornings, the chill factor might be severe, but the bite of the highveld isn't there. A good winter's day means snow on the crags of the Cederberg, flowers where you're standing, a clear blue sky and a temperature of around twenty degrees Celsius. Almost short sleeve weather. A bad winter's day means dark clouds, the day's high at around ten degrees, perhaps rain, and of course, flowers in hiding. This is July and August weather. Indeed there are more better than worse days, but flower-seekers on limited time schedules have to take their chances. Our winters are short, benign compared to European winters, and offer more promise than threat, in that they feel necessary as a required step towards spring.

My favourite seasons are autumn and spring, because in a good year they stretch to create many months of a wonderful summer, when evenings are longer, the growing plants know what to do, strong winds are seldom, and if you want to, you can light a fire every afternoon and evening, and create your favourite braai over and over. The crisp lamb chops, or steak, tender, tasty and pink in the middle, perhaps spare ribs, falling off the bone as your teeth merely touch the fire-roasted meat, chicken marinated in peri-peri basting, boerewors hissing with aroma and invitation: I confess to this season of braais at Saint du Barrys. This is more of a family thing than a guest thing, and if smoke gets in your eyes as you arrive (which it shouldn't - I'm being romantic - ) I'm sure you might feel a stab of envy, walking past the flames and the anticipation of the feast.

Back to the seasons, and leave the seasoning, with regret. I can see food coming up in future blogs.

Spring pulses almost obscenely with fecundity. Once the tips of seeking tendrils blossom and bunch, the orange orchard across the way begins to swell. The scent - no, this is too bland a word - the full fragrance - not sensory enough - the actual touch of fruitful presence that nudges the nose as well as the skin - encompasses night's knowledge and day's declaration of fullness.

Sounds a bit like a Hollywood honeymoon, and it's just orange blossoms. Yet the experience is rich if not romantic.

The wine. I'm harking back to the braaai, now, and the one that's on my tongue's memory is a cabernet sauvignon. A wine from 2007, and I mustn't advertise, so no names. What happens is that when it curls into the tongue's centre, it reminds the body's centre (that strange place between the heart and the stomach) of many memories of intense yet peaceful happiness.

Must get back to the seasons.

Summer. The beginning is good, the middle harsh (40 -45C?) the end, mercy. December, maybe, January, yes, February definitely, March, less. You need aircon, beer, sauvignon blanc, not to be on honeymoon unless you're a very hot couple (like boiling)  - that's how it is.

When I start up the car in winter, it might say 2C. At the height of summer, 54C. This is a car that has been standing, so it's an exaggerated figure. But hot....yes.

Once you have done the braai, you can always eat inside, in the cool of the hundred year old kitchen with thick walls. Strange, though, most of us like to go back outside and lean back into the shade of the verandah, taking time to dare the season with purposeful relaxation.

So the seasons are not neat steps. They're a pattern of living to which we've become accustomed, and which are different, again, in a personal sense. We wait for the wood to be delivered for winter's fireplace, in the office. We ask for delivery of summer's wood, for the braai, and family meals. We watch for crazy robins, poeping as they fly, even through the dining-room. We anticipate the flock of starlings' sudden shout of wings as they fly, for the last time, this season.

We become still. solemnly, remembering how souls don't disappear but touch, yet, in unexpected ways when ultimate partings become unaviodable.

And each morning we wake, sometimes still tired, always grateful for the gift of continued grace, which comes down on us with rain, sun and stillness, holding our lives in this place of remarkable blessing.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Saint du Barrys and the Big Tree

Perhaps the Tree deserves to be personalised, and have a name, but we've never done that. Once I thought I would try somethingWordsworthian and listen to the Tree, and I must say, that after thinking really hard about Tolkien, I did hear something quite profound, but I don't talk about it, because people would think that I had been drinking. Many guests remark on the Tree when they arrive, and truly, it's a magnificent wild fig. The most frequent question is about the Tree's age. We reckon it's about two hundred years, since it was mature when the house was built in 1904.

When we drove into Saint du Barrys for the very first time, it was a cold, clear July day. On the way from Cape Town we had seen bright flowers along the road, and this with the intense blue sky, clear snow-topped mountains and crisp air, gave us a taste of years to come.

When we arrived - I can hardly believe it - the only heating was the fireplace in the office. The rooms had those oil heaters with fins. How on earth had anyone kept warm for a hundred years before us?
Now we have nine of those reversible aircons which heat quickly and effectively. The seasons differ greatly: no talk of heating in the summer months, with temperatures ranging from mild thirty degrees Celsius to forty five on wicked days. The Tree is a blessing in these months, offering shade in which to hide from a stare which can be intimidating from such a sun.

I don't think Saint du Barrys would be Saint du Barrys without the Tree. Apart from functional values, its livingness can easily be taken for granted. It is forever trying to walk through the dining room, on the way to the Jan Dissels River which isn't many meters away. The aerial roots grow downwards quite quickly, and have to be cut regularly. Once they touch the ground, they'll grab and won't let go. The Tree must host a huge number of birds. We've come to know the difference between their morning and evening calls.

We prune back the large branches every three to four years. Our first tree-man had a very limited sense of the horizontal: he seemed to spend much of his life zapping up and down sliding ropes, and anywhere he put his feet was purchase, not of the buying kind, but of bringing down tough trees. In fact, our first meeting was when we glimpsed something landing on the scullery wall, lifting to come down on the dining room roof, then back to the scullery roof - not much sympathy for our humble structures, but what the hang - the thousand meter tree on our neighbour's land was required to come down, and down it would come, correctly cut into, angled, and then pulled by the tree-man and associates, with their feet tightly against our walls and roofs. His name was Luke: we called him Skywalker Luke.

In the later year the Tree drops millions of small balls of baby fig. They're hard or mushy depending on the kind of year and rain. Enough work for a team of gardeners and a company of carpet-cleaners. There's also the mulberry tree, but I won't even think about that one right now.

One poignant sound that will no doubt travel with us forever is the windchime that hangs from a lower branch. For many weeks it does very little, and then when north-west breezes begin to remind themselves of what it's like to be a full-blown wind, and we hear the sound of seasons rubbing hands, that high and mellow beat says things that completely bypass words. It's a sound, to me, of deep home.

Most guests would not experience a week of the Tree's company. Eleven years, so far, in the company of the Tree, is a significant part of our lives, and a very small part of its great growth. Time is relative and mystifying. The Tree has taught me at least that, as well as very much more.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Visiting the Cederberg: discovery, experience, introspection

About twenty-five years ago I had reason to travel the road between Windhoek, Keetmanshoop and Cape Town a number of times a year. Whenever I passed the Clanwilliam Dam I was thankful that the journey was more than half done: I remember looking over the expanse of water, usually at night, observing the lights and the reflections, and wondering what it was like to to be experiencing that place, rather than passing it.

Today I live there, surprisingly enough for me. I have a guest house there, Saint du Barrys Country Lodge, and toegther with my wife, Joan, we've hosted thousands of guests. It's a strange thought. If I take eleven years multiplied by two hundred nights multiplied by six guests - just a rough calculation - I get thirteen thousand and two hundred guests.

They come to South Africa, or they live in South Africa, they travel this way, some on business, some on holiday, and they stay over. The average is something like 1.8 days. I  am aware of the immense priviledge of sharing valuable time with so many people.

The more I become aware of how precious life and time are, the more carefully I look at the lives that cross ours, even for 1.8 days.

Everyone who arrives, stays and leaves has a story that impinges on the immediate, but also goes so much further. That's not our business, but after eleven years of doing this, we know that it matters. I remember a guest who came for repeat visits in the hottest heat of summer because the heat meant muscles could relax, the wheelchair could be put away, and pain was alleviated for the time being; I remember a couple who came at the beginning of each year and became firm friends; I am grateful for another couple who still arrive at the end of each year, and whose visits are a highlight; and the special twins who know who they are.

Obviously we can't cater for intimate personal details, but we know that each guest is on either a visit, a journey or a quest, depending on the intensity and purpose of time spent here.

We would like all of them to know that the Cederberg, Clanwilliam and Saint du Barrys offer a pause and an opportunity for realization of a different beauty and a reconnection to life that goes on.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Saint du Barrys, Cederberg and Clanwilliam

We live in Clanwilliam, and because we've lived here for eleven years, we've come to know it's characteristics and patterns. Guests who walk the main road will see a very badly surfaced road, shops of varying appeal, the old gaol, now a museum, at the end of the main road, the flower church, so-named because of the annual flower show to which it is home, an unrecognizable hotel previously known as the Criterion which is now offices for various government departments, and the old Clanwilliam Hotel which has changed ownership since its Strassberger days and tried various identities since then. Reinhold's Restaurant is still there, as well as Nancy's Tearoom which has been revamped, and has a smart interior.

Walk down Park Street, and you'll see white-walled houses with thatched roofs. The houses on both sides of the road tend to face the western bank of the Jan Dissels River. You'll see a church that doesn't look like a church, a secretive-looking Masonic Lodge, and trees both young and old lining the way.At the end of the Road, you'll find Ndedema Lodge. This is owned by the family that originally built Saint du Barrys, left Clanwilliam and then returned. Foster Street, at the other end of town, just around the corner from Saint du Barrys, is another pretty stroll, passing the bowling green, attractive homes and well-kept gardens.

The town has a busy vibe, except for Sunday afternoons. Our day is filled with chores needing to be done every hour, and because we're inhabitants, not visitors, sometimes we wonder how guests have experienced the town. Please leave comments, to let us know.

Many guests come to experience the Cederberg, and go along the Sevilla Rock Art Trail, or visit the rock formations which are around Algeria. A good idea is to go up the Pakhuis Pass, into the mountains, passing Louis Leipoldt's grave, before sunset, to experience the deepening colours on the vivid surfaces of baffling rock faces and walls. This, combined with the view of the town as you descend, just after sunset, will give you a taste of the surrounding atmosphere. Raw, rugged beauty. That slogan came out of a workshop designed to give the area a suitable tag.

Back at Saint du Barrys, it's time to sit in the garden and open a bottle of Cederberg wine. These wines come from the highest vineyard in the southern hemisphere, but that's another blog. Time to sit, take in the birds, enjoy the peace, and decide where to go for dinner. If you're leaving tomorrow, too bad, because there will always be more details for you to take in. But perhaps you'll feel the tug of attraction or interest, and mark the map for a return visit. After eleven years here, we realise how many and varied are the stories, interests and fascinations of the town (some best left untold), the area, mountains, and swirls of our private lives that have been stitched into the breezes that recognise no boundaries.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Birds, fish and otter

Most animals around here don't see Saint du Barrys as a four star guest house. It's just a place in their space. The birds: Ramius the Red October is our African Grey, and this is the one guests will see and hear. He's about thirteen years old, and loves sorting things out. His first words, untaught, were "Sort out your life!" shouted out from the top of the cage. The conversation stopped for a long, amazed moment. He is part of our lives and part of Saint du Barrys. He firmly believes that guests arrive to chat and entertain him.

Then the two love birds. We started off with two, one male, one female, and one day while Joan was watching, a hawk swooped suddenly and grabbed the male. We found him later, hardly a feather out of place. He must have died of a heart attack. So we got another male who made himself at home quickly. They fly freely in and out of the cage, and have made a nest behind an air conditioner.

They come to the cage to eat, and they're high velocity birds. They take off and land at the cage at about chin height, at a speed of about thirty kilometers per hour. No-one has yet been hit, but there's always a first time.

We have hanging bird feeders in the front garden and a large standing bird feeder in our own garden. There's another feeder behind the kitchen, and we now know that birds are not exempt from social class. There are distinct differences relating to shrillness, roughness and rowdiness between front and back of house bird behaviour. They don't all come to the feeders, especially not the big ones, but you'll see finches, sparrows, pigeons, canaries, kingfishers, butcher-birds, hoopoes, hadedas (these you'll hear more often than see), Egyptian geese, and when conditions are right, there are martial eagles. We had a family of three two years ago, but we haven't seen them for a while. They come on hot, still mornings, using the air-currents to glide down from the mountains.

We had fish, gold and red in colour, and a huge grey one called Khoisan, who flourished and multiplied to many and then very many, in our pond, along with crabs and frogs.

But the municipality went on an eco-rampage and hacked down trees along the Jan Dissels river which is meters away from us, and left the logs to disturb the flow and disrupt patterns of living. Along came an otter, night after night until the fish were all gone. Well, as the man said, in Jurassic Park, "Life always finds a way...".

Whatever living thing has come along our way, and gone, is absorbed into the memory of Saint du Barrys. It's a remarkable experience. The huge fig tree itself is a presence. We experience the seasons more closely and vivdly than we would in the city. We appreciate guests who take a moment to taste the unqiue atmosphere that this place breathes, that we hope we have nurtured and grown. Although our visiting otter seems to be removed from the affectionate Ring of Bright Water fellow-otters, and has left memories of trashing the pond and eating its inhabitants, we can't take umbrage at this occurence: it's part of the circle of which we, too, are part.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

New season

New season, new blog, new direction. We've given our website a new image (thanks Johann) and we don't think winter is quite over, but the sunny days are promising spring, flowers and plenty of energy at Saint du Barrys. On the way back from Cape Town and Vredendal we saw the beginning of flowers along the side of the road between Clanwilliam and Klawer: between Clanwilliam and Citrusdal the flowers spread up the hill into the fields.

This year's rain has been more soft than hard, more nurturing than stormy. Perhaps spring will reflect this.

We hope that all our guests, new ones, those who return regularly, and all who are interested in the Cederberg region and its towns will make this blog a regular read. Your comments and feedback will be appreciated. 

We're completing the re-thatching: take a look at facebook (we've set up a new presence there, too - thanks, Johann...), and we've upgraded bathrooms, so we're ready for another season. We're expecting Kohin-Acts, a Christian outreach group to stay over while they're in town this week. Since the beginning of the year we've had a new gardener, Sydney, who has made a huge difference to many facets of Saint du Barrys. He has gardened, painted, learned to iron - even those sheets with the fitted corners! Thanks Sydney! And Mandy , our housekeeper, is getting married this year. Perhaps some guests will be in time to see the end of the reception in the garden.

The Piekonierskloof Pass is open: a grand new safe road over the mountain with plenty of space to pass, now, places to stop and look at the view. This is a huge imrpovement and benefit to the area. And we hear rumours of work starting on the dam wall...

Please visit Saint du Barrys blog again: we'll be adding regularly.

As I write this, the sky is clear and blue, the Cederberg range sharp and deep, with many shades of green and blue, the temperature somewhere in the mid-teens C, and a light aircraft is droning high up. The view from there must be magnificent.