Café Mischu in Sea Point

cafe mischu sign

It’s harder than you might think, living in this cool city, coming up with cool places to go for coffee which you’ll also want to blog about, so when my friend, Craig, suggested Mischu in Sea Point, I thought, hurrah, yes. Mischu is opposite the Spar, and the reason he likes going there – other than the great coffee – is that he says it’s funny watching women have conversations when their faces don’t move. And while on the day we were there I didn’t spot any of those and I really liked the way they’ve done it up and it’s the kind of place you can definitely hang out with your Americano and watch the world go by, it got me thinking about this whole botox thing and why I have such a problem with it.

And it’s not because I’m not vain or don’t care about getting old and ugly. I care about it much, and I spend ages in the mirror worrying that my teeth aren’t white enough and that my sun spots will eventually take over my entire face and I’ll look like an alien and I hate when I gain weight and my clothes cling. And in the interests of vanity I bleach said teeth and I eat salad when I want pasta and wear BB cream every single day while pretending I’m au natural, but there is just something about the botox thing that makes my toes curl.

It’s like I have these two opposing forces where the one is super invested in looking good at any cost, while the other – I guess you can call her my inner dyke, though I suspect that’s deeply offensive – says ‘fuck that for a lark. I’m a woman, not a girl. I’m amazing just as I am, and I don’t have to buy into that twisted conception of what female adults are supposed to look like. I don’t have to be skinny and hairless to be accepted, and I certainly don’t have to look like I’m 25 in order to have value in this world.’

And while I’m incredibly fond of the vacuous, shallow version of myself and have the bags and shoes to prove it, it’s the other voice that I pay attention to because she feels closer to the real me. Because I am more than the sum of my parts, and I can hold my own intellectually and in spaces that would have scared the daylights out of me when I was in my twenties. I might have had fewer crow’s feet, but I was also rather dof and uninteresting by virtue of not having done very much. Your average 20-year-old has a lot of living to do before they make interesting dinner companions and, honestly, I value having seen some things in my life and having an opinion very much more than I do looking perfect in the mirror.

And fuck knows, when you get to 40 you’ve seen some things. I’ve had my heart smashed more times than I care to count; I’ve given birth twice without so much as an aspirin to help a girl through (what was I thinking, right?); I’ve held sick, feverish babies through the night and got up at the same time the next morning to do the other things that needed to be done. I’ve made a life for myself in a far away, cold country and endured the relentless heartache of being away from my home and my tribe. I’ve written things that have made people laugh out loud, and things that have made people so furious they wanted to lynch me on the spot. I’ve made good choices and terrible choices, and I’m not more special than anyone else, I’m just alive in the world, as we all are, and getting on with this journey I’ve picked out for myself.

And to deny my face the lessons I’ve learned – to pay somebody money to inject poison into my head so that when I’m really, really happy or really, really sad you’d never know – feels like the biggest travesty. Worse, it feels like betrayal to myself, because I have earned these lines, every single one. These lines are living. These lines are what I have lived and the things I have seen and done. They are drinking wine late into the night and talking with my husband about what matters. They are shouting in rage when he doesn’t get a thing about me and I can’t believe how hard it is being married. They are the terror that he won’t get off the plane and I’ll lose the love of my life because he is the coolest human being I have ever known, and they are shrieking with laughter when my maddest friend picks up her phone and talks in the same funny voice that used to have me sent outside the classroom in Std 7 for my uncontrollable hysteria.

They are worrying that my children are safe; sadness that my dad doesn’t feel good about his life; hoping my mom gets home safely when she works late at night. They are consoling our daughters when their daddy goes overseas every month for work, the angst that I might have offended a friend and the secret 3am fear that I’ll never write that book. Maybe it isn’t as ‘beautiful’ as the smooth, blank faces you see on younger women, but to me its beauty lies in something else – in its naturalness and its grace and the message it sends to my daughters about what really matters in life. And it’s not whether their mother has a wrinkle-free forehead. It’s not the hope that people look at me and go, ‘wow, she looks great! How does she do it?’ And I never think that, anyway, when I see someone who’s had work. I feel pity and a kind of sadness for what she thinks she has to be to be loved and to feel okay in the world.

And maybe I’ll change my mind in 10 years when the passage of time really starts marching across my face, but honestly I don’t think so. I think that other me will nip that thought right in the bud. Because the kind of beauty that comes of knowing who you are and what you have to offer doesn’t exist at the end of a needle. Anyhow. I think I got off track. Café Mischu does kiff coffee. My wrinkles and I will be back.

The service is warm and friendly, and the coffee is goo-ood.
The service is warm and friendly, and the coffee is goo-ood.

Beleza on Upper Kloof

Beleza interior Love the retro interior. And the outside-y section is great, too.

This morning’s coffee arrangement with my mom was a little bit different because it was preceded by a meeting at Elisabeth’s school where one of the moms has initiated a project whereby available parents have been asked to provide assisted reading to some kids who come from homes where their caregivers don’t/can’t read and are at risk of falling through the cracks of an education system which isn’t really equipped to provide this type of individual attention. And while I like to think of myself as terribly committed to this country, the shameful truth is that I do zip diddly in terms of offering my time/skills/money to any of the many worthwhile causes around while there are so many people who do so much. It’s a very nice idea, this. It’s just 15 minutes per child per week, directly after drop off and, as was explained, this brief time spent alone with an adult is often the only time these kids will get in the week.

Having grown up in a home where I was read to constantly it’s hard to imagine a childhood without books and words. But that’s the reality for a lot of South African children. And it will cost me nothing and is the absolute least I can do given the amazingness of every part of my life in this country, and it’s horrible that I’ve never done anything like this before, and that I’m only doing it because it’s really easy and I know that it will turn out to be at least as rewarding for me – who has no clue, really, about how some people in this country live. So, we will each have a child allocated to us, and once a week we’ll bring books from home or choose them from the school library and read together and learn the words and talk about the stories. And I should do much, much more than this, but it’s something and it’s a start.

On the way to coffee afterwards, my mom – who is awesome with kids, and has offered her time, too – was already planning little treats to bring along for after their session and that’s a nice idea, too. To give your reading buddy a little sticker or a sucker because – and I know this from my own kids – these small tokens celebrating their achievements mean the absolute world to them. By the time the meeting was over we were both hungry, and I remembered seeing a sign at the bottom of Upper Kloof advertising cheapie breakfasts, so that’s where we headed. Turns out the place we’ve been driving past (across from Rafiki’s at the big set of traffic lights) is called Beleza (http://belezarestaurant.co.za), and it’s awesome and I can’t believe I’ve never been there.

Beleza is a café/restaurant/vintage clothes store, and the interior is stylish and retro and one of those Cape Town spots that you walk into and think, sheesh, this city is cool. Since today is such a magnificent day we decided to sit outside and watch the world go by. After a perfectly tasty bacon and eggs breakfast (for R19, if you please) and very good coffee (they won an award in 2011 for best coffee in town, fyi) we browsed around inside, and while I’m not really a big vintage clothing kind of person, they have some nice stuff – sunglasses, accessories and a pair of funky 60s-style sandals I might have bought were they in my size. It’s one of the few vintage stores I’ve been into where I thought, Oh, I’ll be back. And it’s just quite a delightful concept – gathering your girlfriends for a few drinks and bite to eat, and picking up a cute frock or throw or bracelet while you’re at it. And I’m sure it’s fab in the evening, too. So, I’m excited about next Tuesday where I strongly suspect that, while I might be helping a child to read, the one who will be doing the real learning will be me.

The vintage clothing store. They often have sales - check their website for the next one.
The vintage clothing store. They often have sales – check their website for the next one.
As my friend, Stef, says, there is no reason not to be fabulous.
As my friend, Stef, says, there is no reason not to be fabulous.

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.

Sunday in Kalk Bay

Sophie and E Kalk Bay

For the longest time I’ve been thinking about making a documentary on the fisherman of Kalk Bay, a community which won’t be around for very much longer. This week a photographer friend of mine introduced me to a film producer who liked the idea and offered to help us put it together at no charge. So, today we put the girls in the car and took a drive down there to have a look around.

Kalk Bay Fishing Boat

It was cold and windy, and nothing much was happening on the quay. The woman I was hoping to speak to wasn’t there, so we took ourselves up the road for something warm to drink. The thing is, while doing what you love is great in theory, it doesn’t always translate into hard cash. This project will take a lot of time and energy, and there are no guarantees that anyone will buy our short film when it’s done. This is how it goes when you do this kind of work.

Pernuin coffee. Just because they could.
Penguin coffee. Just because they could.

We went on, stopping at art galleries and little antique shops. I love Kalk Bay. It’s so close to Cape Town, but it’s managed to maintain that little fishing village feel. By the time we’d walked the length of the town the sun had come out. The harbour was full now with people arriving for a Sunday lunch of fish and chips. Of making hard decisions, they say, ‘leap and the net will appear,’ a saying which is particularly apt in this case. By the side of the road someone was selling beautiful beaded hearts. I bought one to remind me of what I need to be following.

Bead heart