Raddest Plakkies in the Universe

The gold ones for girls, but they come in lots of styles and colours.
The gold ones for girls, but they come in lots of styles and colours.

If we South Africans had a national shoe it would, without contest, be the plakkie (or the slip slop or the flip flop – whichever word you prefer) – they’re cool, comfy, easy-to-wear and when you buy the larny metallic ones you can take them straight from the beach to the bar and still look fabulous. And, to this end, my sweet and gorgeous friend, Mike Cloete, is making plakkies that are, truly, very awesome to wear. And I know because he gave me a pair which I wear ALL THE TIME. Not only are they much (much) cheaper than a certain brand which begins with a ‘huh’, they’re excellent quality, very pretty, and best of all – they’re made in SA.

80% of all Beach Religion footwear is locally produced, which means Mike’s company is creating jobs for a lot of people, developing and utilising local skills, and wouldn’t you know, he’s just sent a consignment of shoes to Italy – land of Prada, Dolce and Gabbana and all manner of fabulous footwear – which means his shoes are bladdy well made. He’s also got a very fun, interactive thing going where you can design your own slip slop before each season, but mostly I just think it’s cool when quality stuff is made down here, and supporting local business helps us all. For info on how to purchase the raddest plakkies in the universe check out http://www.beachreligion.com. (And you don’t want to not be rad).

Mikey and his beautiful boys, Jacques and Dominic.
Mikey and his beautiful boys, Jacques and Dominic.

Cafe Mozart, Church Street

Cafe mozart sign

So, me and Aunty Lorraine’s next Kiff Coffee stop was Cafe Mozart in Church Street which, as locals know, is something of an institution, having been around more or less since P.W. Botha. I never visited in the olden days so I don’t know how much it’s changed, but it’s quite blinged up now, with lots of fake roses adorning its small picket fence (which unsuccessfully keeps out buskers), and fun brick-a-brac-y things lining its walls. It’s totally unpretentious, and sometimes you’re just in the mood for unpretentious. And what’s cool about this cafe is that it’s located on a pedestrian street lined with antique stores and stalls where the same people since I worked on Greenmarket Square in 1992 arrive to arrange their hodgepodge of treasures on probably the same blue velvet cloths. It looks like they still haven’t sold anything.

fake flowers

Since we’d both had breakfast and it’s just wrong not to eat, we decided to share a toasted croissant with bacon, lettuce and tomato. It was so yum we had to have another, and the coffee was pretty good, too. Not that I’m an expert, as I’ve explained. My friend, Alison, and I had lunch there not too long ago and they do a very cool and madly inexpensive buffet. For R42 you get a glass of wine, soup with home-made bread, a full buffet (which that day included lamb stew, cauliflower bake, lasagne and several salads) and dessert. It’s a good deal whichever way you look at it.

Sometimes you just don't mess with a good thing, and a BLT is one of those things.
Sometimes you just don’t mess with a good thing, and a BLT is one of those things.

bric a brac

My mom and I laughed about how, as a child, I hated tomato (I still kind of do unless it’s on a BLT croissant or in a pasta sauce or they’re teeny and exceptionally sweet) and every time we were in a restaurant I’d take my tomato off my burger and every time my mom would ask me if she could have it and for some reason – knowing full well I wasn’t going to eat it myself – I’d say no. I have no idea what that was about, but just about every time we’re in a restaurant now she reminds me of that betrayal. I guess I’ll never live it down. That, and the time I ate dagga cookies on the afternoon of my 16th birthday and, in my deeply stoned state, had to sit at the dinner table with my parents’ best (quite posh) friends and eat a roast dinner, trying to stay on my chair and not completely die of hysterics when my best friend and partner in crime forewent the roast potatoes and lamb and gravy and only dished herself peas which she then found quite impossible to keep on her fork. It was a long dinner (sorry, mom, you cooked good food. I hope I’m still seeing you next week after reading this).

cafe mozart blackboard

After a second cup of coffee we wandered around Greenmarket Square which is quite boring and same-y now, but we did watch a woman demonstrate 13 ways to wear a cardigan which was pretty impressive. And it was made of bamboo, what’s more. And then we congratulated ourselves on coming up with such a fun and clever tradition as regular coffee meetings. Talking in real life – as opposed to all this cyber stuff – is really very lovely.

The Kiffest Coffee in Cape Town (A New Thing)

So, if your husband – like mine – is straight and over 30 it’s probably not his best to sit and la-la in cafes and coffee shops, awesome as they might be. In fact, sometimes I think if I left my husband to his own devices instead of dragging him by the trouser leg to ‘events’ he’d never leave the house again, bless. So, quite by accident, I’ve embarked on a New Thing. Since my mom is DIVINE beyond and the only time I chat to her is for three seconds when she arrives to babysit and I should have been somewhere ten minutes ago, and as she also has the problem of a husband who is straight and over thirty, we’ve decided to meet for coffee every Tuesday morning. Which is so fab, actually, and so fun.

This Tuesday was our first meeting and we went to one of my favourites, Haas in Rose Street. I hadn’t decided to blog about it yet so I didn’t take any pictures, but here’s their website with loads http://haascollective.com/. It’s completely cool, and the waiters wear top hats and they do this savoury muffin (in truth, the real reason I go there) made with spinach, sweet peppers and melted cheese which they serve warm with home-made jam. It’s so big even I (greedy guts) can only eat half, and so divine you have to stop talking for a while. Haas is also part shop/gallery which sells stylish, rather beautiful artwork and knick knacks. So, it’s really quite win-win. And their coffee, of course, is great.

I read somewhere that they sell this rare, super-expensive coffee made from the poo of some exotic animal which lives in a tree on an island far away. (I’m not sure if they actually serve poo coffee – probably not – but what I have is really good and doesn’t taste anything like that).

Not that I’m a coffee connoisseur by any means. In truth, and if I was left to my own devices and wasn’t afraid of being ridiculed, I wouldn’t buy the Jacobs for a gazillion rand, I’d get that huge tin of Ricoffy white people buy for their maids and be happy as a banana. But since I’m married to a Scandinavian where coffee drinking is something of a religion (and who can blame them – without those hourly pots of jet-fuel-strength brew to keep them buzzing through the interminably long winters there’d be a lot more hara kiri going on, in my opinion), it’s become a bit of an indispensable part of my life. But I’m not going to be all blah-blah-these-coffee-beans-have-a-clean-nose-and-top-notes-of-veldskoen-and-chewing-tobacco, I’m going to talk about how fun it is to sit there and what you can eat and who you’re inclined to see. Because there are so, so many amazing cafes in this town that I just never get the chance to go to.

And we’ll go to fabulous places, and we’ll go to places that are fabulous for different reasons. And I think this new year’s tradition is going to make 2014 quite a fun one. I’m excited. Watch this space!

My new coffee shop buddy, Lorraine Hayden. The kids will not be invited, obz.
My new coffee shop buddy, Lorraine Hayden. And the girls when they were very little.

Steal His Photograph!

You know you have your finger on the pulse of the city not at all when it takes a Danish friend who has been in town for all of five minutes to tell you about one of the coolest endeavours Cape Town has ever been involved with. Creative Mornings (http://creativemornings.com) is part of a programme happening across the globe where a bunch of interesting cities from Berlin to Melbourne to San Francisco host a morning talk on the same day, in the same time slot covering a range of design/innovation/art/living in the world-related topics.

Last month’s theme, for example, was bravery, and the speaker was a young guy who decided to raise money by travelling alone through the Amazon jungle and ended up getting shot and surviving through the kindness of strangers. While not too many of us will kayak through a jungle, the point of the talk was human efficacy – how we must remember to be mindful; to ask questions; to think for ourselves; to say no when we don’t agree with what we’re being told.

Because bravery and courage are resources we need every day in a world which can be pretty hostile and more than a little bit scary. And, we tend to forget that one human being can, in fact, make a pretty big difference if we put our minds to it. It was a cool talk, and it’s especially applicable to anyone who has decided to take a path slightly less travelled, and use their skills and gifts and creativity to forge their own way in the world. Which isn’t always easy.

After the talk a bunch of us went up the road to a coffee shop in Rose Street, including a Finnish guy called Lukas Renlund who is totally going out on a limb by doing something incredibly interesting with social media. Lukas is a very successful fashion photographer (though that title doesn’t do his art justice) in Copenhagen who wanted to find ways of getting his work noticed by a wider audience. So, he decided to start a project called ‘Steal My Photograph’ where he travels to cities like London and Barcelona and encourages people to literally steal his art in exchange for the person in question taking a pic of where the artwork is hanging in their homes and posting it on his Facebook page.

And while it might seem mad – giving art away – this is how social media has changed the way we think, act and market ourselves. It’s not about thinking out of the box – there is simply no box anymore. Anyway, his work is amazing, and I loved the energy and enthusiasm with which he approaches his craft – and life. The world is wide open and, particularly here where the creative and entrepreneurial spirit is so strong, anything is possible.

It was really cool to hear all these Scandinavians raving about how innovative South Africans are; how cutting-edge our design is and how impressed they are by the way we think. Who knew? If you’re in town and you can, get to Creative Mornings. It’s a very worthwhile way of spending a few hours on a Friday. You’ll learn stuff, be inspired and are sure to make at least one interesting connection over coffee afterwards. Here are the videos Lukas made of ‘Steal My Photograph’ in Barcelona and Copenhagen. He has the good sense to be staying in Cape Town for a while. Check out his Facebook page for info on how to steal his photograph: https://www.facebook.com/Lukas.Renlund.Photographer

On Islam and Cape Town and Friendship

Green Point Urban Park amphitheatre.
Green Point Urban Park amphitheatre.

On a blustery Sunday late last summer the girls and I had cabin fever from being alone indoors too long so we decided to take a stroll down the road to what we consider our back garden, the Green Point Urban Park. Long before we got there we saw throngs of people crossing the Main Road and streaming into the park. There must have been hundreds of men and women in long, white robes, their garments blowing out in the wind as they trekked down the long walkway with children and blankets and baskets in tow. At first I felt so horribly conspicuous and self-conscious that I considered turning around and leaving – a half-naked blonde woman in tattered denim shorts amongst these angelic creatures in their pristine, flowing robes.

We stopped at a water fountain where an old man was leaning, watching a bunch of men on their knees bowing down in prayer. I asked him what the occasion was and he explained that it was Mouloed, the prophet Mughamad’s birthday, and a very important event in the Islamic calendar. We continued to wander amongst the crowds, following the music. On the grassy plain that stretches out before the amphitheatre families sat in relaxed reverence as a male choir sang songs of such astonishing poignance and beauty that the three of us stopped dead in our tracks and didn’t move again for a long time. I forgot to be self-conscious as I became part of the celebration and absorbed the voices ringing out in praise, a south-easter lifting and carrying them up to their God.

It was foreign and familiar in equal measures. Islam might not be my religion, but it’s my heritage, and one of the most precious sounds I’ve ever heard was when I returned to Cape Town after a long time away and suddenly, on the wind, I could faintly make out the unmistakable, mournful strains of the Imam singing the evening prayer. And I stopped absolutely dead and listened with all my soul because I was home. When I was a small girl my granny and grandpa lived on the top floor of a tall block of flats off Greenmarket Square. That was the sound I would hear through the open window as I sat perched on my granny’s kitchen counter, swinging my legs as she peeled vegetables, and to this day it fills me with awe.

The first time I ever visited Bo Kaap in the early nineties (it didn’t have cool coffee shops and galleries back then) was when my friend Zulfa invited my boyfriend and I around for supper one Friday night. I am certain it was the first time I ever had supper in a not-white person’s house, and I was excited and a little bit nervous. She had been explaining ‘Bismillah’ to me, and wanted me to experience it in person. ‘Bismillah’ is the belief that whenever you feed people who visit your home, strangers or otherwise, you are honouring Allah and you will be rewarded in heaven. The food was every bit as wonderful as I had imagined, her mom having made every samoosa, daltjie and sweet pickle from scratch. We sat around their smart dining-room table and they treated us ungodly, pale strangers like honoured guests.

Zulfa remains my friend and one of the best human beings I’ve ever known and we still refer fondly to that night with her beloved mom and dad who have since passed away. And when we get together, as we did a few weeks ago (in one of those ultra cool coffee shops that line Rose Street now) we laugh so much our stomachs hurt when we say goodbye, and I wonder why I don’t talk to her every day because she is like tonic.

Sometimes when we take the girls and ourselves for a walk along the promenade at the weekend we’ll be lucky enough to encounter a Muslim wedding party with all its miniature brides and grooms, and it’s such an occasion and so ostentatious and proper and wonderful it really puts the rest of us and our blasé ways to shame. Because, really, what is this world without its rituals and formalities and dresses of shiny, white satin? We need this stuff to give life magic. Otherwise it’s just a series of grocery shops.

A while ago, coming down Lion’s Head, we found ourselves outside that little building that looks like a mosque but is actually the burial site of some very pious people called Saits (Zulfa told me) who were responsible for bringing Islam to the Cape. I’m not sure what it’s used for exactly, so far from everything, but I’ve always been attracted to holy buildings so I took off my shoes and went inside. You can immediately feel you’re not just in any old room. The air was suffused with incense and something that felt like grace. I took in the curly gold lettering and the stars and moons and the swathes of velvet and I felt a little bereft, having no religion to call my own and this one being so pretty. And I offered a prayer to Allah that he would watch over his lost children, too.

Zulfa. Need I say more?
My friend, Zulfa. Need I say more?

Please Don’t Show Up At My Dinner Party In Your Pyjamas

The trouble with we Capetonians is that we’re so immensely pleased with ourselves for living in one of the world’s top tourist destinations (try and find a B&B or hotel with a room in December) that some of us seem to think we’re rather above manners and common courtesy. We can be flaky, we have a flat-topped mountain. We can be late – have you seen Clifton 4th? In fact, we’re so fabulous we can not show up at all, and guess what – you’ll invite us again. And if we do deign to honour your invitation, there’s every chance we’re going to show up in tracksuit pants and Uggs because, fuck it, we have the
winelands, and we’re too cool to care.

While I love this city and its inhabitants more than the sky, we are a bit like those upper class Brits who wander down to breakfast with filthy jodhpurs and mud in their hair. Lady Muffy Tittlegob doesn’t need to make an effort because she’s third cousin removed from Prince Charles, and anyway, she inherited Shropshire. Even though no-one in the world knows (or cares) where Camps Bay beach is, that irrelevant detail doesn’t temper our smugness one little bit. And, unfortunately, this sometimes translates to something not unlike arrogance. A few weeks ago I attended a dinner party at the home of a Swedish couple who have made Cape Town their home. Since I know hosting a dinner party in Scandinavia is quite a formal affair, and nothing like here (where if you arrive at the allotted time your host will be at the Spar buying rolls and you might or might not eat six hours later), I knew it was important to be punctual and to scrub up somewhat.

Sure enough, when our hostess made her entrance with salon hair, spiky heels and an LBD, I was immensely relieved to have donned a black pant and used my ghd. Not so much the other guests who clearly weren’t au fait with the ways of northern Europeans, and while our host was the epitome of charm and good manners, I cringed with embarrassment as guest after guest showed up looking like they’d fallen off the couch, grabbed their plakkies and got caught in a wind tunnel before arriving at the front door. And I love me a plakkie and a tracksuit pant when I’m at home or DVD Nouveau, but when somebody has spent an entire day (or more) shopping and cooking, cleaned up, lit candles and made everything beautiful for you, her guest, the least you can freaking do is give yourself a spritz of Burberry and put on a nice shoe.

Worse still – the invitation was for 6:30pm. By 8pm one of the couples still hadn’t shown up nor rung to say they were delayed, so we were shown our places and invited to start. At 8:30pm, while the main course was underway, the doorbell rang and these two graced us with their presence. Not an apology was uttered as the table had to be rearranged to accommodate them (she had changed the seating so that there were no gaps). Sis, guys. That is just not okay. It’s worse than bad-manners – it’s sheer disrespect. And I was mortified by the shocking behavior of my kind.

If my husband, a chiropractor, doesn’t SMS every single patient the day before to remind them of their appointment, they don’t show up. They’ll call three days later, offer a weak excuse or none at all, and reschedule. Or call five minutes before to say it’s actually not going to ‘work’ for them today. These gaps in his working day cost him big time, but he loves his patients and wouldn’t dream of charging them anyway – as he probably should. We’ve had one or two occasions where we’ve both been exhausted and not in the mood but fixed up the house, shopped and cooked for friends and acquaintances only to have them call, one by one, to cancel.

And the worst story of all is of a friend who was newly broken up and depressed over New Year’s Eve, so she decided to cheer herself up and remind herself that she still had people who loved her by hosting a dinner at her new house. She spent a fortune shopping, decked out the table and cooked all day for her ten guests. You know how this is going to end, right? Not one person showed up. Not one. Just. Beyond. Hideous.

So, here’s the thing (and believe me, I’m also guilty of being indecisive and non-commital, but I’m working on it): if you’re invited to something, don’t say ‘maybe’ and then wait to see if a better thing comes up. Say yes, and then if Jay-Z and Beyonce personally invite you to a shindig on their yacht, you will go to the Spur with your gran if you’ve already made that arrangement. Don’t accept someone’s invitation and then leave two hours later for another event. It’s such bad form. And if someone invites you to dinner at their home, for heaven’s sake, arrive on time and change out of your onesie. Put on a lip, bring flowers and show a bit of respect for the person who’s been missioning all day to feed your face. It’s really not asking a lot.

Societi Bistro – a Very Fabulous Thing.

The drawing room.
The drawing room. Just see how cosy and French.

All cities have that one restaurant which is just THE restaurant, and if you haven’t been there you kind of suck. Just kidding, you don’t, but you do need to go there at least one time. It’s got nothing to do with how expensive it is or pretentious the waiters are, it’s just been given the ‘cool’ badge by locals because it’s awesome and vibey and consistently fabulous no matter what time of the day or night you show up in need of carbs.

This pic must have been taken on the only day I wasn't there. So typical.
This pic must have been taken on the only day I wasn’t there. So typical.

In Cape Town, that place is definitely Societi Bistro (www.societibistro.co.za). And I don’t just say that because I’ve known the owner, Peter Weetman, since school. It’s the place Coldplay came for dinner two nights in a row (and God knows, Chris Martin isn’t easy to please); where Annie Lennox is a regular and anyone with vague celebrity status comes by to hang out when they’re visiting the Mother City. The reason is simply because it’s chilled, the food is excellent and inexpensive, it has a drop dead view of Table Mountain (and yes, we Capetonians are pathologically obsessed with our mountain) and the service is always impeccable.

The kind of ridiculously delicious French things they give you to eat.
The kind of ridiculously delicious things they give you to eat.

Oh, and there’s one more reason – there’s a very tasty sandwich on the menu with my name on it. For real. And not because I’m famous, but because nepotism rules. When you go there straight after you’ve read this have the mushroom risotto or the pork belly or the fillet au poivre. Or if you want something sandwich-y, the Susan Hayden (a-hem) and the Sylvie Hurford are divine. And when you spot Annie, it’s okay to go and say hello, she’s really nice and friendly. Do book, though (021 4242100) because it’s packed every night. And there’s free wifi which means you can pretend to work while you people-watch. Punt over. Off you go.

And there she is. So fun.
And there she is. So fun.

A Beach in Winter

Sophie milnerton beach

The incredible thing about Cape Town winters is days like today when the temperature sails up to 24, 25 degrees, and beaches where the south-easter howls in summer, like the ones around Milnerton, become perfection itself. We found ourselves there by accident after we discovered the Milnerton market was closing up for the day. People were surfing, swimming, looking for mussels or, like us, just chilling and admiring the view of Table Mountain.

Susan Milnerton beach

Sophie and I dozed and watched the water, and Per and Elisabeth wandered off to find shells.

After an hour or so we walked up to Maestros for cold beer and garlic pizzas. On the way home 5fm played cool music and we turned it up loudly and drove with the windows open and the air was warm and the world felt good. And the thing is, this is where we live – not in crime stats or newspaper articles or doomsday predictions about the future, but in days.

Per, Elisabeth milnerton