Monday, 27 April 2015

For the love of a guest-house.

If you had told me, when I was twenty-one, and about to enter a teaching career, that I would in time to come think back over a fourteen year period as owner of a guest-house, I would not have imagined that to be the truth. But today it is the truth, and an unpredictable path has brought me here. We are in our fourteenth year of living and working at Saint du Barrys. This year has seen the most mild summer months we have yet experienced, the longest autumn warmth, and at the moment the weather is near perfect. The mornings start off cold, but the day warms up after ten o' clock, and maximum temperatures in the high twenties Celsius are forecast for the next ten days. The sky is clear. The past mornings when walking the dogs, we've seen the jet-stream high up, creating a light tear in the blue fabric.

Why would anyone want to run a guest-house? The hours are long, the work attention-intense, the required skills many and varied, the rewards often subtle. Yet they are real. I always enjoy it when guests arrive, look around, admire the tree and say, spontaneously, "This is a nice place you have!"

The rewards that I appreciate are living in an older home that has an atmosphere I won't easily get again, with the wood, the character and the quirks that make for uniqeness, meeting very many people whose natural grace and personal style have impressed me, having enjoyed many fascinating and memorable conversations, and having shared moments that speak something not quite verbalised yet emotionally valuable.

Joan says I am a city child, and often I do crave the stimulation of too many humans in one place and time, and having to tell a story that's too big for one narrative. On the other hand, the affection of a well-known tale steeped in personal pondering is an experience I would not have missed. This is the longest by far that I've lived anywhere, except for the house in which I grew up. If I wake early, I can tell the time by the relative intensity of the stillness. I know what day it is, not because of which day yesterday was, but by the background hum, or lack of it, of the rooibos factory up the hill. There are birds that start their annunciation just before the light changes. At this season, the day will be at its most cold between five to and five past eight in the morning. I know which cat is passing above me, by the sound of the floor-board and paw, even though the the touch is slight. And I can smell what Joan has created in the kitchen, today, yesterday and the day before. Once, last year I sat down in a restaurant at the V and A Waterfront and ordered a glas of dry white wine. House wine, I didn't bother to ask what it was. One small whiff, and I was certain, a sip to confirm, and yes, it was the Cederberg Cape Atlantic. Suddenly two senses of home merged.

Before long it will be time to light the fire in the office, and to sit in the lamp-light, or fire-light, depending on Eskom's ability to beathe electrons before lapsing into coma.

When you do something for long enough, you realize that your body does not occupy space: instead, the rhythmns and patterns of where you are suffuse the body. Recently field mice have taken to rushing in and out of the front door. The other day we saw one get up on its hind legs and push at the door with its forepaws. It makes you wonder who lives where.

A guest-house is a business but it's much more than that. It becomes a way of life, and that life is what we hope rubs off on guests. City-life has far too many details. Each one distracts from the other so that in the end you become part of the pace. One night in a guest-house in a small town at the foot of the Cederberg is not really adequate to formalise an experience. When I was twenty-one, I came across a good line in one of Barbra Streisand's songs: "Love takes time, I'm in a hurry..."

I have learnt the difference between hurry and no-hurry, which is definitely not the same as relaxation. No-hurry is not an escape from too much detail, but an intensification of detail. So we take pride in selecting detail so far as we can and paying attention closely to what connects.