Sunday, January 8, 2017

Lunch Under the Tree: Tweede Nuwe Jaar

A new deck was recently built under the London plane tree (a hybrid, apparently, of Platanus occidentalis - sycamore, and Platanus orientalis) in my mother's Cape Town garden. The tree - above - was a wispy sapling when we moved into No. 9.

The original deck was installed by a fly-by-night outfit, and died before its time. The new deck, completed just a couple of weeks ago, was beautifully built by Billie Boucher, who bills himself as a handyman, but who is clearly more (get in touch if you'd like Billie to build you a deck).

So. New deck. Party?

But also: I do not know when or if this deck under this tree in this garden, the place I have called home for so long, will see another big lunch for friends. There have been so many. The most recent one was in April 2015. Now, it is the cool green venue for small lunches - lunches for two (and three, when I am here, and four, if the Frenchman is too). I am afraid of losing it, the place, the center of myself. And so you whistle a happy tune, and hope no one suspects...

I invited some friends. From long ago and from just a few week ago.

Tipsy (also known as Selina), helped. Digression, apropos of a recent conversation with friends: Tipsy's given name is Nomatiptip, but her family calls her Tipsy, and so do I. She does not, for the record, drink a drop. Not that kind of tipsy. 'Selina' was the name her mother chose for her after the little girl was told at school by the teacher to come back the next day with an Afrikaans name. Those were the days. End of digression. She was assisted by her cousin Nonceba, who left a corporate life and is studying to become a traditional healer. They made a formidable team behind the scenes, and I could not have done this without them.

Tweede Nuwe Jaar ('Second New Year') in Cape Town is a traditional holiday-after-the-holiday, when Cape Minstrels gather and parade and play, and kick off a weeks-long competition to decide the best troop for the year. Think Mardi Gras under an African sun. I prefer this holiday to the desperate good cheer of New Year's Eve. That one has always felt sombre, to me.

Tweede Nuwe Jaar, conversely, is a day for setting the pace of the next year. And for this lunch it was in the company of talented people with good brains, big hearts, and inquiring minds. I have never wanted to be the brightest person in a room (or under the tree). I can't imagine anything more boring. I love what happens when a dining table unites diverse but wired minds.

As well as peeling a gazillion quail eggs - served with confetti bush-chile-lime salt and brown sage salt - my mother picked a lot of flowers from her garden and arranged them (I requested "shabby enamel vases").

After I set up the trestles and chairs the table was laid by Tipsy and Nonceba while I scurried around in the kitchen, tending the five-hour porchetta and straining watermelon juice for a Cape Town version of the Silver Lake, an improvised cocktail first sipped in late summer, on a floating dock on a lake in upstate New York.  

All ready.

Photo: Karen Bekker

Lunch on one table, people at another. Lots and lots of fresh-pickled vegetables (the overnight kind and the even-quicker kind), pickled cherries and pickled shrimp. (What can I say? It's a phase.) Plus some hams (recipe in 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life) - with sauces, and that porchetta, with sauces.

When I sat down to eat I started with some pickles and the shrimps, and by the time I got back to this table for round two That Porchetta was...whoosh. Gone. As if it had never been. I guess it was good. I must make it again. Low, slow, and bursting with chopped fennel fronds, lemon zest and garlic.

I made two ginger ale hams. That seems to be the secret. 

And one gigantic tiramisu. 

And a bowl of basil ice cream.

At 6pm the last friends left. We had talked good talks and laughed good laughs. Musicians and editors and writers and artists and photographers and a marine biologist and a botanist and a conservationist and a recovering ecologist and even a lawyer and a mushroom forager and a pesto princess, and my parents at opposite ends of the langtafel.

I gathered and carried in the used glasses, and then sat on a shaded corner of lawn, near the tree, with a friendly corgi who came to look at me, and watched early evening birds in the shrubs and on the grass - the robin and thrushes, the bulbuls and white eyes, the little rooibekkies and the swee. the prinnias, the swooping amethyst sunbird and the little sunbirds, the Cape canaries and the dusky flycatcher.

There was still a lot to do, but I did not want it to end.

"How will we know it's us without our past?

...How'll it be not to know what land's outside the door? How if you wake up in the night and know - and know the willow tree's not there? Can you live without the willow tree? Well, no, you can't. The willow tree is you."

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath.


  1. Such a lovely day on the deck while we struggle in snow. Very jealous. Travel safely.

  2. So lovely! The memories will be precious.

  3. Sorry. ...I'm a bit weepy. So many memories and losses from similar times.
    But thank you.

  4. This made me smile from beginning to end. Thank you Marie

  5. Such a touching post. Thank you for letting us be a part of it, and such frequent virtual guests in your parents' wonderful garden in general.

  6. No one can take away your memories of such a beautiful and welcoming place. May you and your family enjoy it for as long as possible.

  7. Lovely. All of it. And so bittersweet. Sending comfort your way, Marie.

  8. So lucky you are--to know that this is special time, to know to feel (not just appreciate, but feel) every single second you can. Somehow, reading what you've written, I sort of feel the moments I didn't have. No explanation, but I'm not arguing. Thank you.

  9. It was a very special day. Thank you x

  10. Thank you for sharing this beautiful place and occasion with us. With every hope that you have many more such lunches on the beautiful new deck around the lovely trees, Leslie P.S. You will never truly lose it, the place, the center of yourself...


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