Sunday, November 24, 2019

My father


It is not a word we knew, growing up, although Yiddish did make its way into our domestic vocabulary - my parents had some close Jewish friends. But it is very helpful, now, and I would like to borrow it.

It is a year since my father died. November 23rd. For the last two weeks my heart has been skipping beats. Literally. I can only think that my body is reacting to this time, last year (yes, I will see a doctor, in case).

Henri Viljoen. There he is. I asked to take pictures of him one late summer day in Cape Town, still dressed for work. I took six pictures. He was 81.

When I showed him a black and white version of this one, that I had framed, he looked at it sadly, but he said nothing, and handed it back to me, and smiled at me. I know he thought that he and his dog, Ben, both looked old. What if we had known this would be the picture Vince and I used when composing the e-vite to my father's memorial in that awful week, one year ago? I would have had to explain to my dad what an e-vite was. He would have found it miraculous.

I made my father cry, once. I was in my early thirties. We had had an argument about relationships. He said that with my uncompromising attitudes about men I would never be happy, and he wanted me to be happy. Jou maatstaf is te hoog, he said. Your measure is too high. And he wept, his head in his hands at the table on the patio.

When I brought the Frenchman home for the first time, just months after meeting him, the love of my life promptly fell in love with my father. It appeared to be mutual. This was unexpected. I had warned him that my father was judgemental, authoritarian. But Vince saw qualities in my dad that I had been raised to overlook. It is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Almost overnight, I saw my father through very different eyes.

In the last couple of years before his death, my father would come and sit near me in the study where I would be typing on my laptop after supper, when I visited. I would be there for weeks. He would be working - and later just trying to work, as dementia melted his mind - next door in the dining room. He'd walk in, on his way to bed, and be visibly startled to see me. He had forgotten I was home. You're here! Jy's hier! he would say, beaming, and sit down. And then he would say, Ek wens jy kon bly. I wish you could stay. And the next night it would be the same. And the next. You're here! I wish you could stay.

I miss him so much.

He didn't call or write inbetween visits, and we only exchanged a few words when I called my mother. But he would always answer the phone the same way when he knew it was me: My liewe kind. Hoe gáán dit met jou? My dear child. How are you? And I would say, My liewe Vader. And then we would both laugh and laugh.

I never spoke at my father's memorial. I couldn't. I had way too much to say, and with the grief of that week, and those preceding years, I was stripped of filters. The world would have exploded.

I see him in myself. When I use the toothpaste to the very last squeeze. When I straighten out the tube after the Frenchman has squashed it in the middle. When I clean my bicycle carefully or fold my sweaters neatly. When I use just my breath  to sing while I wash dishes or perform a chore. When I arrange things at right angles. When I hear contempt in my voice. When I take pleasure in a view, or a flower. When I lash out at a racist remark. When I forget why I walked into a room.

We lead privileged lives. My father said it again and again. He had money. But it was never a competition. He earned it, understood it, enjoyed it, and he gave a lot of it away. It exasperated him that I would not accept it. But that was the only way I could look him in the eye.

I am wearing my father's thickest, warm woollen socks. Their toes are darned. On my wrist is a tiny amount of his Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet. Last night the Frenchman and I drank to him after making sure the cork actually popped out of the bottle - no discreet pffft. My father liked bubbly to go out with a bang.

We had no unfinished business. I know he was proud of me. I know he loved me. I know I am lucky, that way.

But I want him back.

Monday, November 18, 2019

November Forage Walk

21 November 
12pm - 2pm
Fort Tilden (Beach Club end)

You know me. Always dragging you on adventures to strange, empty places in the city of millions. Here is a pop-up walk this Thursday at Fort Tilden, inspired by a briefly mild forecast. But bundle up, regardless.

We will walk along the deserted roads of this decommissioned missile launch site, perusing the aromatic and invasive mugwort, and admiring the hardy bayberry, whose leaves will infuse our warm toddies.

Sour sumac is petrified in place and we may still find some autumn olives, if the birds have left them (and yes, we will return to this wonderful walk in spring - the contrast is amazing). We will discuss the culinary pleasures of pine cones.

This walk is best reached by car, because we will be starting from the parking lot near the Silver Gull beach Club (one of this city's many weirdnesses) that is permit-only in summer. I can offer a ride for three people from Brooklyn.

Post ramble, we will picnic. Hot toddies, hot soup, and tidbits (like autumn olive jam on fresh biscuits) from the shoreline world of pre-Thanksgiving.

Booking Closed

Friday, November 15, 2019

Winter Cabin - A Cranberry Cocktail

For me winter cocktails are on a spectrum remote from summer’s floral cordials and mint-singing mojitos. I could no more sip a gin and tonic indoors in a northern winter's climate than I could go bobsledding in my negligée. Wait. I don’t have a negligée...

As light clothes are packed (far) away and the sweaters and coats are shaken out, fresh drinks are shaken up. Citrus is in season, and for us that mean right in our bedroom! While I have them, I use the fragrant Thai limes.

Head next door, to 66 Square Feet (the Food), where you will find the recipe for  'Winter Cabin' (above) - a shaking up of white rum, Chartreuse (we visited Chartreuse country in early summer), and an easy cranberry syrup. With lime zest and juice.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Cranberry Cocktails

It may be dark before five o'clock but cranberries have arrived. At farmers markets the local fruits are piled loose in bins, and in supermarkets red bags are stacked like miniature crimson sandbags, imports from New England, the West Coast and British Columbia (for beautiful pictures of that BC cranberry harvest, see the Frenchman's post from when he still lived in Vancouver).

To celebrate cranberry season, I have a slew of original cranberry mixology creations residing next door, at 66 Square Feet (the Food). It is the first in a series that will continue over the next week. Learn to make delicious Red Rita, above, with cranberry sour syrup and cranberry brine.

And yes, it is perfect for Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Daylight no more

With the new, early-dark afternoons, our ritual of drinks on the terrace around 6pm has come to a close.  It is dark at 4.30pm. Which is just silly. It is also - suddenly - very cold. But we have been known to tough it out for the pleasure of sitting outside.

But this was our last hurrah. In the foreground is a delicious combination of gin, my own cassis (made with summer's black currants, which I later dried), with ume syrup and Thai lime juice from our trees (now wintering in the sunny bedroom).

The seedpods belong to Magnolia grandiflora, my foraging and flavor experiment.