Sunday, 3 May 2020

The story people of Saint du Barrys.

Last night I dreamt that I visited Saint du Barrys twenty-five years hence. It was autumn, and the leaves had rusted and reddened and those that had already fallen seemed to have chosen the ground on purpose. The air was quieter than I had ever known, and as I stood, peering about, a little perplexed, a robin cheered at me, a bright young fellow, no doubt generations and generations away from the families that we had known all those years before.

The place was empty, dream-like itself, and I hesitated to renew acquaintance, wondering who and what I should meet. And as I waited it seemed to me that I stepped back into so many stories of childhood and adolescence, remembering places I'd visited in my imagination but felt nonetheless to be as real as the ground on which I stood, complete with the pebbles we had put there, replacing the grass that had too much shelter from the great tree. I thought of the mystique of Manderley, and its fiery end, and all its enticingly mocking moods.

I thought of Wuthering Heights, and plaintive Cathy at the window, begging to be let in.

And I thought of Misselthwaite Manor and its secret garden, also with its own robin.

The sense of place blurred, somewhere deep in the heart, and I began to understand something of the gift we had received at Saint du Barrys, by way of crossing the stories of the place, our lives and the many, many people who had rested there, some more consciously, others barely off their cell-phones to eat breakfast.

I waited, in my dream, not wanting to rush into something I couldn't comprehend, and the details of so much swiftly reminded me of doors, dreams and visions that had come and gone, like the visitors themselves.

And what of Saint du Barrys' own story? That it had been part of a school that burnt down? That it was rebuilt as a guest house and we were the third and longest owners? And was I simply cheeky to feel it as much of a presence as those dwellings in time-honoured stories?

And indeed, in my dream, I could sense our guests telling friends and family snippets of their stay at Saint du Barrys, and those snippets being carried on and on, like an African Grey's memory, recalling many moments which as memory would have it, could last long in contemplative absorption or pass as quickly as a whistle-stop.

Being myself I wanted to open the door and shout something to rouse everything into wakefulness, but the dream was too strong. It asked me to wait, and see.

And certainly, there was so much more to the waterfall of realisation: the immense presence of that massive tree, the corridors of communication that had opened between people from all continents, and the dreams of the animals themselves, from the cats to the otters, harrier-hawks, martial eagles, geckos, rain-spiders, striped mice to the single bad-tempered mole-snake. And Where-Are-You, the rescue hadeda. And the bandaged starling, for whom the whole flock waited until the last split-second before clearing off in a short chaos of wings. And the Barry-dogs.

And I realised that there would be no waking from this strange dream, that being midway from twenty-five years ago and twenty-five years hence was a juncture in itself, and that I was being shown things of importance that suggest no communication is coincidental.

So the secret was kept, for the time being, and all our stories rested, no doubt waiting for the dawn chorus.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Saint du Barrys re-imagined, hospitality re-invented, travellers' tales retold.

I've been listening and discussing with a number of people who have things to say about being versatile, flexible, creative yet clear about navigating the newness of business, emerging as we are at this confounding time.

For years we've been a four star guest house offering bed and breakfast to business people, guests doing the loop from Cape Town to towns on the coast to Clanwilliam and the Cederberg and the rooibos area,  to the Winelands, or in reverse order. We've hosted guests en route to Namibia, the Augrabies Falls and on to Johannesburg. We've been revisited by families from Windhoek travelling to Cape Town, Knysna, George and back.

We've paid attention to bed linen, towels, fresh fruit, local wines, tidy garden, clear splash-pool, keeping friendly guest-house pets and home-made muesli and jams.

We've spent years putting the story that made sense to us in place, and according to feedback from and Tripadvisor, it's worked.

But now, with some regret, because it's been fun, we're putting that story behind us and are seeking the headings for new chapters.

We're not sure what to expect but here are a few likely items:

fewer international guests while Covid-19 remains a threat, but we look forward to their return

local guests who can travel and want to but have much less disposable cash

people who have been jolted out of normality and are looking for new stability but don't know what it feels like

people who are bereaved and seriously require the kind of company that's not easily definable

people who want simplicity rather than self-congratulation and self-comfort

people who want to get out of the city

people who are crying for KFC, Spur, wine, whisky, beer, vodka and cigarettes, and who have the sudden and horrible realisation that these aren't enough.

In short, I'm re-imagining Saint du Barrys, and if you can offer insights, please do.

I'm thinking of travellers who have lost much, but not the power to re-imagine their lives. Travellers who aren't merely travelling from Cape Town to Stellenbosch via Clanwilliam, but from a comfortable life to fierce disappointment to a disturbed but rekindled hope that there's something still left. That although some pages have been crumpled, there are yet many stories to be told.

I'm thinking of people who are able to sample world-class cuisine, and who have come to realise that shared simplicity is irreplaceable.

And that that which is prepared outside, in sunlight can be as intriguing and exciting as that which is prepared in a five star kitchen.

I've sensed that contact with our natural friends is much more important than we realise.

And that although food feeds us

"man does not live by bread alone...".

So it seems to me that in this re-invention, we'll work on establishing what's relevant not by being romantic, but by reaching out and asking to be real with each other, certainly in comfortable ways, and also in ways that are more clear and open to conversations about this new way of living. That one is not an eighteen hour long guest, but a traveller for whom much waits.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Unlocking the Cederberg

The suddenness of this abrupt lockdown has caught the world by surprise and this certainly includes Saint du Barrys. After almost twenty-five years of successful trading in hospitality, we've had to rethink and recalculate our way through the quietness since lockdown was announced in South Africa. Our last guest to leave was caught out, and had to stay for longer than intended, but we enjoyed each others' company, sharing meals, sundowners and conversation. It's been such an unusual time, and meeting a great character has been an adventure in itself.

Our attitude to the change itself? I need to speak for myself. Money is helpful but health is prime. One useful insight that I've come across, having more time to read now, is that you can spend, invest, lose, make, save and fritter away money, but you can do only one of two things with time: waste it or invest it. This doesn't mean that you need to frantically create fruitfulness in each second: resting and recuperating are also good time investments. The living body, as well as the living planet is a miracle, and by now many more humans recognise and appreciate the gift and the value of being alive.

Restriction and confinement aren't enjoyable, and nothing will be the same as before, and no mountain range is lockable, but if you change perspective, and re-imagine the door of what feels like a prison door to be the door to the treasure-trove, you'll get the sense that I have when I'm up making coffee in the early morning, or walking in the garden in the last light, looking away to the Cederberg. I imagine, fondly and romantically, that there is no virulent menace basking on the rocks, that leopards are moving with less stealth and more rapidity across hundreds of the country's kilometres to reach these cracks and crevices, that whatever roams this realm does not really have to change that much, because not so much was spoiled, here in the Cederberg, before lockdown. Lockdown is a man-made response to a critical situation. My idea is this: as you unlock your mind, your imagination and your appreciation of life as we gradually enter our new economic, ecological and less egocentric era, it will be good to touch home again.

Perhaps folk will say that they're truly sick of home. That's not what I mean. Home is also whatever helps you to recover. In many ways, we're all heading for a new sense of home, and I've no doubt that Saint du Barrys is able to add to that newness.

Here's how we are preparing: we've taken down and cleaned overhead mosquito-nets and curtains, and stored them, ready for new seasons. We've used our time to read new recipes, and how to re-imagine breakfasts. We're doing our best not to drink all the wine, but that depends on lockdown rules  over which we have no control. More seriously, if we are obliged to take medical and hygienic precautions such as screening for temperature, and sanitising, we're ready for that, too.

In case the picture doesn't impress you, or looks scary, we have more sanitiser, a bigger digital thermometer, and we don't believe that the blood pressure monitor or the stethoscope will be necessary.

We also have loads of toilet paper.

To be honest, we're using this time to consider how traveling will be different, what will reassure and rejuvenate guests, how re-costing the new lives of all will have to be frank and fair, how to ease the likelihood of keeping registers of so much more, how the communication of a simple handshake will mean so much, when one feels safe to do so.

We're not really unlocking the Cederberg, we're unlocking ourselves, our general human selves, guests, suppliers, community, context and culture, and we're so very blessed to have the enormous silence of the Cederberg as backdrop to our small yet significant participation.

It makes us ask what new roles a guest house might have?

I sense that there are many fruitful answers to this, but in the next few days, we'll do what we can:

open doors,

and wait.

And prepare.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Cederberg and evening light.

One of the most beautiful things to see in the Cederberg is the changing shades of light on the mountain rocks as the sun begins to set. In the first place, the rocks themselves are magnificent and weird at the same time: poised on three or four points, they seem to have been placed there on purpose. It's strange to consider how they came to be there.

When guests who arrive quite late in the day ask what they can do, we frequently suggest that they drive up the Pakhuis Pass as evening develops, and the sun begins to slant. The colours and angles are an experience.

A few days ago I was in the bakkie (Afrikaans word for a small, open truck) with our local doctor who was driving over that pass in the evening, and so I took a few random pictures which don't do justice, but give a glimpse into what one may experience.

Please note that the windscreen was a bit dirty. This adds authenticity....

The temperature was warm, about 32C, even at that time of evening. I had actually taken a jersey along as I have been surprised by sudden cold evenings even in summer months, but this wasn't one of them.

As shadow and light develop and contrast, the drama of the sun's descent engages the Cederberg with something extraordinary.

One should actually find a place to stop and take take in the changing vista.

But we didn't have the time, as we were actually having a meeting in the bakkie.

It was a most interesting meeting, not only because of the agenda but also because of the context.

But if you come as guests, not as attendees, you would have the time to stop and savour more of the Pakhuis Pass, the colour kaleidoscope, and the evening cooling into the anticipation of dinner somewhere in town.

And we still do have enough water to wash the windscreen. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

The rescue dogs of Saint du Barrys

Saint du Barry's name originates from the St Bernard rescuers, particularly one famous Barry, the story of whom is on the wall in our dining room. Our guest house has been home to many animals, all affectionately remembered, and perhaps one day all their stories might be told.

Currently, we have three dogs, none of whom were planned as pets, but all were chosen at their own appointed time.

The longest-standing one, ButterBean, whose colour and shape are good clues to her name, was found at the Spur in Piketberg. We had stopped there three times in quick succession, and Joan noticed her apparent homelessness, and suggested we take her. The staff who had been looking after her, all came to greet, as we took her home. Her genes have given her short legs and a long, chubby body, and thus, mechanically, she is not a quick machine. She still knows how to gaze at anyone who is eating what she would like.

Jack is a this year dog, a Belgian shepherd who was found at the informal settlement in Hout Bay in Cape Town by an organisation called Pavement Specials. No-one knows how he came to be there. He is an intensely loyal dog, whose innate sense of orderliness is severely disturbed when we move tables, the stove and other furniture. He's old, with plenty of grey on his snout, but he's strong, and is always ready for a walk. We refer to Saint du Barrys as his retirement home.

Shona would have died the day we decided to rather let her live. Joan had been feeding dogs who had a place, but were not being looked after. The mother was wandering around town looking for food, and Joan tracked her down. There were puppies, and while Joan fed the adult dogs, the puppies disappeared one by one, and the story that was given as explanation was never clear. One puppy was particularly forward, and when I looked for her one morning, and found her lying listlessly, I picked her up, and realised that she would die. Her energy was falling away, fast. It was a Tuesday, though, and on Tuesdays the vet arrives at eleven o' clock, so all it took was three medications, and within the hour she was perking up.  She has stayed with us since, has made friends with Jack, and the two of them play rumbustiously. She likes to be in water and trouble.

I have often thought about the fact that dogs have distinct personalities. As do cats, but that's another subject.

We have four cats, but I have to stop at this point because I'm actually not allowed to talk about one of them. That's an interesting story which will have to wait for some time. 

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

New stories from Saint du Barrys

The big tree.

Our big tree had to go for a haircut. Our tree doctor told us that several branches had begun to pose a threat, and I could see exactly what he meant. The current drought added to my uneasiness, and so, with many apologies to the tree and the nest of harrier-hawks that had taken up residence, an appointment was made.

And so, our tree now has a re-styled look, still the same staggering height, but less wide. Guests are free to suggest names for the new look. One of the highest branches on which the nest had been built wasn't touched, and the harrier-hawks are still there. They are magnificent creatures. More than once I have been startled when a shadow briefly separated me from the sun, and looking up, I saw the hawk settling on another tree. Their characteristic call has become well-known to us, and this will be a memory to carry, similar to the magic of hosting our martial eagles.

The cherry-picker, as the truck is known, drove over the garden beds, chewed up the pebbles and pavers, and it has taken weeks to begin to get the garden back. Still quite a way to go, but it's happening.

The Story Clinic.

Wally has shaped an initiative called the Story Clinic. Some workshops, presentations and interactive sessions have been held, for example, at the local art gallery, with the CANSA support group, and at the Kalk Bay Bookshop in Cape Town. His background as professor of English and his training in homeopathic medicine have contributed to this venture.

The interest is growing because of his novel approach, which combines the sense of story, the sense of meaning, attention, intention, emotion and non-differentiated pathology.  One's life and one's body are more like a story than anything else, and once this is grasped, the question of how to read and act on one's own health changes.

Guests are welcome to enquire, and have an experience or book a consultation. To learn more about Wally's background, check

At the moment, via a free 3-4 hour experience is offered to anyone who books two nights at Saint du Barrys. Feel free to take advantage!

New products from The Storytellers Apothecary.

Quite coincidentally, which is how stories seem to work, new products arrived at Saint du Barrys, and are available along with the range of rooibos toiletries provided in our bathrooms, and are also for sale. There has been a great deal of interest in these, which include soaps, bath-salts moisturisers, balms, spritzers and sun-blocks, and contain ingredients that include rose-geranium, lemon-grass, rooibos, cancer bush, buchu. The plants are grown close to Saint du Barrys, here in the Cederberg, and the manufacturing is home-based.

We're fortunate to have such carefully-crafted plant-inspired people-centred products available. The packaging and presentation are compellingly attractive. Perhaps the owner herself could tell her own story on a later blog.

Noticing new things

As we rebuild our garden, become acquainted with a new family of hawks and move into the next season, it's striking how the blurring of the present and the next present occurs. Greeting guests who have often come becomes a matter of the heart more than professional courtesy, and wondering where the next sense of connection will occur is an intriguing experience. We often consider what guests are looking for, on their travels, and hope they find something soul-satisfying at Saint du Barrys. That would give us our own sense of joy and accomplishment.