Friday, December 28, 2007

What is all this "cougar" b.s?

Far from being liberating or egalitarian, the word "cougar," as applied to older women, is a pejorative term that subtly implies a predator-victim dynamic, with the woman in the role as predator.

I am married to a much younger man. Twenty-five years younger, to be exact.

In the old days this was called a “May-December” romance and it raised eyebrows whether the older partner was male or female. Older women were widely expected to be “past all that nonsense by now” and older males often found themselves followed by whispers of “there’s no fool like an old fool.”

In today’s generally more tactless and overtly judgmental society, much-younger wives are still widely regarded…openly now…as gold diggers and fortune hunters. Their older husbands may be publicly disparaged as being “old fools,” but they are secretly envied by their same-sex peers for their young, firm, fecund trophy wives. Older women who partner with younger men, on the other hand, are pretty much universally regarded as cradle-robbing predators, as evidenced by the pejorative nickname, “cougar.”

I suppose that is because most people don’t think pretty young men…at least not emotionally healthy ones…will pursue older women, therefore any older woman who is coupled with a nubile young man must have chased him down. And there must be some kind of aberration that makes him vulnerable to her attentions…either the woman must be deceptively young-looking or the young man must have some kind of unwholesome mother fixation. Or she pursued and seduced him with her greater experience…and perhaps openness…in sexual matters, using his own carnal nature against him. Why else, after all, would a younger man seek relationship bliss with a woman a decade or more his senior?

But my own experiences…and the experiences of several female acquaintances…don’t bear out that predatory image. In every case of which I am personally aware, the younger men have approached the women first and, in some cases, actively pursued them. Sometimes a man falls for a woman and her age…or race or weight or hair colour or breast size…is just not important enough to override those things that attract him to her.

As a plumpish widow in my early fifties and possessing no illusions about my allure on the dating circuit, I decided to place a personal ad. I wasn’t happy with the dating sites as they were too structured for my taste…and too crass. I opted for placing a carefully crafted ad on my local site, and waited for the responses.

In the first week more than sixty men responded to my ad and I had quite a surprise: nearly half of them were married and of the remaining half, there were a surprising number of young men who quite clearly stated they were interested in a romantic meeting with an older woman. This quite shocked me! I refuse to disrespect another woman’s marriage (even if her husband does) and I wasn’t looking for a quick fling, regardless of the man’s age. So I reposted my ad on Craigslist with a few modifications: I specifically stated that no married men should respond and made clearer allusions to my age (I said that I had “gray hair creeping into the blonde”). Over the next week I received a further sixty or so responses and while the numbers of married men declined, the numbers of younger men…and I mean men under 35…did not. (I should specify here that I did not post a photo or physical description of myself because I was not interested in men who would select/reject me based on my appearance.)

Not seeing myself as a cradle robber and presuming that I would have little in common with a twenty-something, I sent notes of polite disinterest to the boys and winnowed through the responses from the men. Three in particular stood out: they seemed to be intelligent men who were thoughtful, interesting, and well-spoken. After exchanging correspondence with them, I finally narrowed my interest down to one particularly erudite and interesting fellow, a professional man from another country who was working on a contract in my area. We progressed from email to instant messages to telephone conversations, and I was further intrigued. He was funny, engaging, thoughtful, and because he was not American, his viewpoints and insights were very novel and thought-provoking. In an IM session one evening about six weeks after we initially connected he asked me out to dinner and I happily accepted. It was then that he dropped his bombshell…

“Before we meet,” he wrote, “there is something I need to tell you.”

“OK,” I typed back.

“If you don’t want to go out with me after this, I’ll understand…no hard feelings.”

My heart sank. What could he possibly tell me that would make me want to break our date? Was he a child molester? A serial rapist? Married?

“I’m 29,” he typed.

My heart sank even further. In that moment I realized that as a result of our communication I had begun harbouring secret hopes for a romantic relationship with this captivating man. I quickly demoted him from “potential partner” status to “fascinating friend.” I would have to re-run that ad and this time specify “45+” somewhere in the text.

“Not a problem,” I responded, having mentally and emotionally changed gears.

But things were not to turn out the way I anticipated. Instead of an arm’s length friendship, over the next eighteen months we became lovers and very intimate friends. When it came time, five months after we first connected, for him to return to his home country, we both wept at the airport. Three months later he was back, on vacation, spending nearly a month with me. And he was back again six months after that. And then I applied for and received my very first passport and flew to his home for a three-week holiday that culminated in a proposal of marriage. “I just can’t see the rest of my life without you,” he said. We recently celebrated our fourth anniversary.

A cougar is a predator, a cat that preys upon other creatures to satisfy its own needs. Driven by hunger, it gives no consideration to the feelings or rights or intrinsic value of their victims. They simply take what they can get their claws into without regard to anything other than their own needs. Applied to older women who find themselves coupled with younger men, it is a pejorative, insulting term that implies that the women give no thought to anything other than satisfying their own wants and desires.

I love my husband and he is the focus of my life. He may be twenty-five years younger than I am, but I am not a cougar.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sweet Violet and the Turkey

Christmas 2007

I am accustomed to turkeys that are weighed in pounds and roasted in degrees Fahrenheit: kilograms and centigrade confuse me.

And so our Christmas dinner started at 7:30 Christmas morning with me searching the internet for the proper length of time to roast a 4.35 kg turkey in a centigrade oven. After a bit of searching I did find the info I needed (1 hr per kg at 160C), but en route I managed to turn up amazing array of unusual, exotic, and even peculiar ways to prepare a holiday turkey.

Much as my liberal heart quails at the admission, I must confess to being a conservative when it comes to my holiday turkey. All these trendy new ways to pimp the bird just make me cringe. A few years back, the rage was deep frying the whole turkey which, I must admit, made me laugh when I first heard about it. At a time we were being admonished more and more to reduce our consumption of cholesterol-laden foods, the newest fad in holiday cooking is to deep fry the turkey! I never took the trend seriously so I don’t know for a fact, but didn’t one recipe include stuffing the bird with crinkle-cut potatoes so that it emerged from a vat of boiling grease with French fries on board?

I’ve been away from American television for some time…and I’ve never been terribly impressed with those poncy, pretentious television chefs, anyway…so I missed the new “brining” trend apparently foisted onto American home cooks by one such fellow. Evidently the hook is that brining supposedly gives the turkey more flavour and makes it juicier… Well, duh! If you soak anything in salty water, the flavour will be enhanced…that is what salt does!

And why is it surprising that soaking something overnight in liquid will make it juicier when it is cooked? I prevent pork chops from getting dry by braising them…cooking them in a liquid. Surely it is painfully obvious to virtually everyone that soaking a turkey overnight in a barrel of water will make the turkey absorb water...especially if the water is salted (hello…salt causes tissue to retain water, remember?). And the more water that is contained in the turkey’s flesh at the time it goes into the oven, the more “juice” in the turkey when it is cooked, right?

But aren’t we are supposed to be reducing our salt intake, not increasing it? My husband has high blood pressure and I make sure he even orders his margaritas without salt…I’m going to increase his sodium intake by soaking his Christmas turkey in salty water? I think not!!

I read an article that advocates cooking the turkey in a roasting pan without a rack and with a cup each of oil and water in the bottom of the pan. Eeeeek! Roasting is a dry process! You can lard the meat or baste it with oils or liquids, but you do not put water in the bottom of the turkey pan and let the bird’s backside boil in it!! This same article advocated marinating the turkey in red wine and stuffing it with ground pork…just what we all want…purple turkey that tastes like pork.

Another article warns against stuffing the bird, citing two reasons: 1) it makes the oven time for the bird longer and 2) stuffing = salmonella. Well, the oven time thing is a no-brainer…and kind of stupid, actually. First of all, a heavier (stuffed) piece of meat, whether turkey or a deboned and stuffed leg of lamb, is going to take longer to cook than a lighter (and presumable unstuffed) one. Secondly, this is a lazy man’s argument that turns the paradigm upside down: the normal, traditional, time-honoured method of preparing a holiday turkey is to stuff the bird and roast it, and the roasting time is based on the weight of the bird (which increases when you put stuffing in it). Omitting the stuffing will reduce the weight of the bird, thereby reducing the time it takes to cook. If you cut a rump roast in half, it will take less time to cook, too, because you reduced its size and therefore the time necessary to cook it. So, yes, omitting the stuffing will decrease cooking time. So will cutting the turkey in half and cooking only one of the halves.

It looks like a little knowledge is a dangerous thing when it comes to turkey, since we’ve been safely eating stuffed turkey for a couple of hundred years or so, and the salmonella thing is a very recent concern. Why has it not been a problem in the past? Because people prepared their stuffing in the morning and stuffed the bird immediately before putting it into the oven. But some bright souls who wanted to have a lie-in on Christmas morning and, doubtlessly following some contemporary trend, took a shortcut from the traditional method by stuffing the turkey the night before and putting it in the refrigerator overnight. Then, trying to steal a march on time and tradition, they popped a bird full of icy cold stuffing into the oven and failed to roast it long enough to thoroughly cook that stuffing, ultimately poisoning themselves and their guests by thoughtlessly deviating from long-established methods.

What is so wrong with preparing a traditional meal for a traditional celebration? It’s not like turkey graces the table so often that one gets bored with it. If you want some variety in the holiday meal, why not change from mashed to roasted baby potatoes, ditch the canned cranberry sauce for a fresh cranberry-orange relish, or substitute a steamed romanesco…a curiously fractal form of broccoli…in place of those limp green beans?

Perhaps the problem is one of ignorance. We grew up eating those succulent turkey dinners at grandma’s house, but nobody bothered to teach us how grandma got the turkey so moist and flavourful and the stuffing so fragrant and tasty. And, instead of asking an older generation of accomplished turkey cooks, we turn to our most ubiquitous modern source of information, the internet and, instead of finding grandma’s turkey recipe, we happen upon a zillion megabytes of misinformation intermingled with trendy ways to ruin a traditional holiday dinner.

Given the difficulty of finding clear, time-and-kitchen-tested recipes for preparing a turkey the way grandma did, as a turkey-roasting grandma whose Christmas dinner (using a free-range bird, not one of those “pre-basted” factory turkeys) won high praise at the latest family turkey orgy, herewith a traditional turkey stuffing and roasting recipe. Print it. Save it. Use it.

This is for a bird weighing approximately 10 lbs, unstuffed. Scale the portions up or down, depending on the size of the bird (works for roasting chicken and game hens, too).

Traditional Stuffed Roast Turkey

Meat thermometer
Roasting pan
Two thin skewers
Roasting rack*
Aluminium foil (heavy)
Basting brush


1 turkey, approximately 10 lbs (5 ½ kg), fresh or thawed according to package directions.
½ cup melted butter

1 cup diced onion
1 cup finely sliced celery, including tops
3 to 5 tbsp Bell’s Poultry Seasoning
2 tsp crushed garlic
1 egg, beaten
½ cup melted butter
12 slices bread, freshly toasted
Additional liquid if required

Cooked giblets, minced
Broth giblets were cooked in
3 tbsp corn starch (mielie flour)
½ cup water

Prepare the turkey before beginning to make the stuffing: do not cut the band of skin holding the legs in place, and do not remove the turkey’s tail. Pull the legs away from the band of skin to open the bird’s cavity and remove the giblets. They will probably be bagged, but if not, make sure you have all of them removed from the cavity: neck, liver, heart, and gizzard. Set these aside for now.

Rinse the bird’s cavity with cold running water and pat the bird dry with paper towels, inside and out. Place on a large platter or board.

Begin heating the oven (160C or 325F), making sure to remove all unnecessary oven racks. Locate the roasting pan you will use and make sure the turkey fits into it. Place a roasting rack in the bottom of the pan. *If you do not have a roasting rack, make a rope of aluminium foil, fashion it into an oval and place it on the bottom of the roasting pan for the turkey to sit on. Spray the roasting rack with cooking spray (or coat with oil).

Place the giblets in a saucepan, cover with water, add salt to taste and set to boil. Allow to boil for twenty minutes or until they are done. Set aside. Do not discard liquid.

Make the stuffing:
Cut the toast into cubes approximately ½ inch (1.25 cm) square and place in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Make the cubes larger for a dryer stuffing, smaller for a more moist stuffing. Sauté the onion, celery, and garlic until the onion is translucent and soft. Add to the toast cubes and toss well. Add poultry seasoning and salt, toss again. Add butter and egg and mix thoroughly with clean hands. The stuffing should cling together when a handful is squeezed. If it does not, add broth from the boiled giblets a few tablespoons at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Pack the stuffing into the bird. Most recipes warn against stuffing the bird tightly, but this can be safely ignored. The more tightly you pack the stuffing, the less moist it will be, so let your taste be your guide. I make the dressing fairly dry, as guests who want it moist can add gravy; guests who don’t like wet stuffing can’t remove the moisture. When the cavity is full, lay the bird breast side up and slip the legs back under the band of skin that originally held them. Stuffing will extrude a bit from the cavity, but this is desirable…if the stuffing expands during cooking (it will absorb some moisture from the bird’s juices), this is where it expands to.

You will probably have some leftover stuffing. If so, you have two choices:
1) oil the inside of a covered, oven-proof dish and put the stuffing in it. You will put this in the oven during the last hour of roasting time.
2) stuff the neck cavity. If you choose this option, you will need an additional skewer to secure the flap of neck skin. Also, you can add some cooked mild Italian sausage pieces and some chopped fresh apple to the leftover stuffing before packing it into the neck cavity. This will give you two stuffings for your guests to choose from.

Last steps before roasting: use the skewers to pin the wings to the bird’s side. Try to tuck the wing tips behind the drumstick so they won’t burn. Place the bird, breast side up, in the roasting pan, being careful that the turkey does not actually touch the pan itself (the roasting rack or the rope of foil should keep it up off the pan’s surface.

Roasting the bird
Using a basting brush, brush melted butter over the turkey’s skin, making sure to brush the sides as well as the top.

Insert a meat thermometer into the turkey’s breast, making sure it goes deep into the breast meat but that it does not touch bone.

Make a tent of foil and, shiny side down, place over the turkey. Secure the foil to the sides of the pan, making sure it does not touch the turkey. Leave the ends of the foil open…you want to tent the turkey to prevent the breast meat from cooking too fast and drying out, not seal the bird into a steaming vessel.

Place pan in oven and shut the door. Do not open again for at least 3 hours. During this time, mince the giblets into teeny-tiny bits (you can discard the liver if you don’t like the taste of liver). Place the bits back into the broth they were cooked in.

After 3 hours of cooking, open oven, slide oven rack forward, and uncover the bird. If there are juices in the bottom of the pan, use the basting brush to baste the bird, If there are no juices, baste with melted butter (or a 50-50 mixture of olive oil and butter), replace the tent, and return to oven. Do this again every 45 minutes until it is time to remove the tent.

A rule of thumb for figuring out approximately how long it will take your bird to cook is to allow about 25 minutes per pound (1 per kg) of unstuffed bird. This will give you an approximate starting time for preparing the additional dishes that will be served. About an hour before the turkey should be done, remove the tent, baste the bird, and baste again every 20 to 30 minutes until the bird is done.

Turkey is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 190F (87C). Hold the turkey at that temperature for 20 minutes to ensure doneness throughout. When finished, remove the turkey from the oven onto a warmed plate. Allow the bird to stand for 20 to 30 minutes to “set.”

Gravy time

During this time, make the gravy. Place the roasting pan across two burners on the stove, light both burners and set to low. Add a cup of broth from the giblets and, using a wooden spoon, stir the water, scraping at the browned bits stuck to the bottom (and possibly sides) of the pan until they dissolve into the liquid add the remainder of the broth and giblets, stirring until they come to a boil. Cook for a minute or two, then pour the entire contents into the saucepan in which the giblets were boiled, setting aside the roasting pan (careful! It’s hot!). Return the mixture to a boil.

Mix the cornstarch with the plain water in a measuring cup, stirring until the cornstarch dissolves. With your dominant hand, stir the boiling broth mixture and with your other hand, slowly pour the cornstarch mixture into the boiling liquid. Depending on the quantity of the boiling liquid, you may not need all of the cornstarch mixture. Add only until the liquid thickens to gravy consistency and then remove immediately from the stove. If you use all the cornstarch mixture and the gravy seems too thin, just keep boiling and stirring. It will reduce and thicken in no time.

As soon as the gravy reaches the desired thickness, remove immediately from the heat and pour into a serving dish or gravy boat.

And there you have it: a traditional roast turkey with bread stuffing and brown gravy.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Rain, rain, go away...

It is raining cat and dogs. It is also raining lions, tigers and baby elephants....must be, otherwise how to account for the roaring and booming outside?

It is Christmas Eve Day in Cape Town, the land of summer sun and winter is high summer...and the skies have opened up and simply drenched us! The doggies are inside, huddled in their bed, quaking with each boom of thunder, certain that doom is upon us. And in the middle of the downpour comes a phone call from our holiday tenant, a young man who has rented our cottage for his Christmas holiday, that he has arrived and can we come let him in.

"Did you bring the rain with you?" my husband quipped, knowing our tenant had driven down from Gauteng, the home of summer rain. The man shook his head ruefully and gratefully accepted the proferred umbrella.

We showed him through the property, gave him the keys, and inquired if there was anything we could do for him. "Where's the beach?" he asked hopefully. Hubby gave him directions and he smiled his thanks. A Gautenger in Cape Town is like a Nebraskan in San Francisco...just show him to the big water!

Naturally, as soon as I was no longer struggling with locks and gates and an unwieldy umbrella, the rain stopped. Our Gauteng friend was probably frolicking in the icy Atlantic before my hair was dry, the rain having stopped about the time we handed over the keys.

Oddly enough, we were expecting the rain despite forecasts and barometer readings to the contrary. Two nights ago...when the weather was bright and uncommonly hot, my hip started to ache. I had to take a pain pill to sleep, because it was like a toothache, deep in the bones. Last night it was the other hip aching. We checked the barometer and the Oregon Scientific weather station: one was predicting sun, the other predicting clouds. My hip, it seems, is the only accurate one among the three!

Hubby's Mum and Grandmum have been here for a week and we've enjoyed entertaining them. Grandmother, who turned 80 this year, is not especially impressed with the big malls and their shiny wasn't until we took a drive to the open-air market in Gatesville on Saturday that she perked up. Several hours (a quite a few rand) later we made our way back home and gratefully retreated to the cooler confines of the house, the sun having been brutal. Hubby decamped to the air conditioned comfort of the bedroom while we women sat around in the dining room unpacking and admiring our purchases. Over the course of the week we managed to decimate a mall full of factory shops and suck down half a tank of petrol finding the factory shops that weren't conveniently clustered together.

Tomorrow is Christmas and they are flying back to Durban in the evening, so tomorrow morning I'll be up early stuffing the turkey and putting together a fat Christmas dinner. We'll be having Christmas pudding and vanilla custard for dessert if I can figure out the proper way to serve them....

Thursday, December 20, 2007

RIP, Princess Doggie

My dog has died.

Little Sasha, known affectionately as "Empty Doggie," our dainty little princess dog, breathed her last today. She was about 11, and we were her third family.

Sasha came to us about a year or so ago. She was a littermate to our little Doggie-Boy, Nash, and had been raised with him until they were about 6 years old. Their family moved to the UK and, rather than take the dogs with them, put them out for adoption. At that time, Nash and Sasha were separated, Sasha going to one family, Nash coming to us.

Nash had a problem that made him difficult to place...when he was left alone, he howled nonstop until someone came home. The person who placed Nash with us did not tell us that he had a sister who had been taken from him after six years of living together, and so we could not find a solution to his misery. After a year, Hubby added a second dog to the household, Candy, and after a short time the howling permanently stopped.

Last year, the rescue lady called us asking if we would like another dog. It was then that we learned about Sasha...and finally understood Nashie's mournful howling when left alone: he'd never been alone...he had always had his sister. Now the rescue lady wanted us to give Sasha a home, too...but we had Candy, and she tended to be a bit aggressive towards other dogs. We agreed to take Sasha for a week to see how things went.

Her owners brought her over and from the moment he entered the room, Nash knew who it was. He was so excited, he turned around and around in a tight light circle, his tail stiff, little whimpering sounds coming out of his mouth. When we put Sasha on the floor, he was all over her, sniffing, licking, whining...he recognized her there was no way we could refuse to keep her now.

I asked the owners about Sasha's things...she had none. She had been with them for three years and she didn't have so much as a collar and ID tag! Within 24 hours she had a pink jersey (short haircut + cold weather = miserable doggie), a red collar, and a heart-shaped brass tag with her name on one side and my cell number on the other. Each night we would have to pick her up off the cold patio tiles and carry her inside to the dog bed...they had made this dainty little Maltese sleep outside in all weather. It took weeks for her to get the idea that she could sleep indoors with the other dogs.

From the beginning, she was delicate, almost frail. She cried out when we picked her up and whimpered piteously when we touched her ears when petting her. And she didn't like to be held. She did sit still for Nash to groom her...he would sit on the patio and lick her face and her ears as she patiently allowed it.

Slowly, she began to integrate into the family. She was always a little aloof, a little fearful, a little unsure...but finally she started acting like our dog instead of an outsider. She cautiously began to be a little playful, to take her place in the little pack when treats were being passed out. She began wagging her tail when we came home and stopped acting fearful when we paid attention to her.

But she had problems. Sometimes she would stagger around like she was drunk, or stagger in a circle, looking confused. At first we thought she was having a seizure, but we soon discovered rigid muscles along her lower spine which, when Hubby massaged her, would release. She would have these attacks from time to time, trembling in pain and looking confused, but always recovered within a day.

On Tuesday morning I put her into the groomer's van, along with her three companions, and sent her off to be groomed. She seemed normal when she left, but was not too happy when she returned home, holding herself aloof from me. We attributed this to her being annoyed with me for handing her off to the groomers...she was not terribly fond of being dunked, sudsed, shorn, and blow-dried. She lined up with the other doggies for treats, though, just not terribly thrilled with my presence.

But she hadn't perked up by the next morning, and seemed listless and disinterested. She didn't seem to have a temperature, and she was drinking water, but midday she was refusing treats. By evening she was trembling either in pain or cold...or both...and I found that the muscles along her spine were rigid. So Hubby gave her a massage and I tucked her into bed with me where she relaxed and fell to sleep.

This morning she seemed to feel better and although she wasn't interested in eating, she stiffly waddled out to the water bowl and took a good drink. She then went to the doggie bed on the patio and took her customary place in the the cushions there. Hubby and I took his mother and grandmother shopping, as planned, returning home in the early afternoon. As Hubby carried in the purchases, I went straight to the doggie bed to check on Sasha, only to find her stiff and trembling. I picked her up and she looked at me piteously, and she was immediately whisked off to the vet.

In 48 hours she had gone from her normal self to alarmingly ill. The vet gave her a cursory examination, drew some blood, and said the prognosis was not good...she seemed to be jaundiced...he suspected liver failure. He put a drip in, with some medication to relax her and relieve her discomfort, and said he would call later after the blood tests were in.

And so she slipped gently into her next incarnation, swaddled in a fuzzy dark blue blanket like the one she slept on in my study. As we sat down to dinner the call came, and Hubby and I hurried to the vet's office to see her one last time, collect her little red collar and heart-shaped ID tag.

Thus she left us, naked as the day she came into our lives, but now loved and terribly, terribly missed.

Rest in peace, little Sasha. We will miss you very, very much.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Just a Huckin' an' a Jivin'

I thought that America could not be more shamed than when Richard Nixon’s dirty tricks came to light and he was forced to resign. Next, I watched the entire Republican Party and their sycophants turn a private, non-political act into a scandal, spending more than a billion tax dollars…money that could have fed hungry children or increased the meagre Social Security stipend to our elderly…and dragging the office of the presidency through the mud because of a brief marital affair…I didn’t think it could get worse than that! Then, the GOP fielded a complete moron whose history was one of profligacy, alcohol abuse, cheating the government, and who displayed the intellect of an amoeba, the compassion of a rock and the ethics of a starving lion. I never believed, especially after the outcry over Clinton’s non-political moral shenanigans, that someone so morally challenged and ethically bankrupt as George W. Bush could be elected to the presidency, but thanks to as little help from his friends…and most especially the friends and appointees of his brother (governor of Florida, the state that decided the election), a brainless, clueless, bumbling moron ended up in the White House.

At that point, I didn’t think it could get worse, but the Idiot Child’s handlers fooled me: They got the moron to lie to the electorate, start a war, and then engage in some sleight-of-mouth to make the citizens believe that the war, which had swiftly become a jungle-free Vietnam, was over despite increasing casualties. Surely, the Greedy Old Party could not top this!

Well, it seems they can. After eight years of being manipulated, lied to, and having their best interests ignored by the absolute worst president ever to tarnish America’s image in the eyes of the world, Americans are finally able to vote for a replacement. Unfortunately, one of the frontrunners in the GOP appears to be an even worse version of the brain dead moron who has been sitting in the White House for the last seven years: Mike Huckabee.

From everything I have read, Huckabee is a rigid right winger who not only believes that his personal set of beliefs and prejudices should be the moral compass of the country, he believes that the individual rights of the citizens should be subordinate to those prejudices and beliefs. Herewith a recent news article about Huckabee and my thoughts on the points highlighted:

Now that he's a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, he's being asked anew about some of the views and comments he expressed in the survey by The Associated Press. Over the weekend, he said he wouldn't retract answers in which he advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public, opposed increased funding for finding a cure and said homosexuality could pose a public health risk — though he said today he might phrase his answers "a little differently."

So, he would soft-peddle his delivery without changing his position, a position that has no basis in fact and violates the very freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution. How does homosexuality pose a public health risk? If I sit next to a person on a bus who has active tuberculosis, I stand a chance of catching the disease…that’s a public health risk. But homosexuality? HIV/AIDS? Not a chance.

What the man wants to do is create ghettos into which HIV+ people and homosexuals, regardless of their HIV status, thrown. Then, he opposes funding for a cure for AIDS. So, in the plainest language possible, he wants to put everyone who is HIV…babies who were born with it, women who contracted the disease from their husbands, homosexuals, people who were infected through a blood transfusion…in a place isolated from the rest of the citizens. Then, because homosexuals might pose a health risk (how? does he think homosexuality is contagious or that being homosexual automatically predisposes one to AIDS?), they get to be unwilling guests of government as well. And then, to top it all off, after all these people are isolated from the rest of the population because of either their sexual orientation or their disease status, Huckabee doesn’t want to spend any money on finding a cure for the disease.

OK…so how are these people to live? Who will care for them as their untreated disease takes them inexorably towards death? And as the disease continues to spread in the general population (you can’t identify them all, HIV doesn’t give you pus-filled vesicles on your face or purple buboes by which you can be easily identified), more and more people will be forced to leave productive jobs and enter the isolation camps, who is going to pay for their upkeep?

Wouldn’t the burden to the tax payer ultimately be less if the homosexuals and HIV+ citizens were left as they are and the government devoted serious funds to finding a cure for the scourge? But, why would a presidential candidate want to think that far ahead? Let’s just throw the faggots, diseased or not, into a ghetto and let them die of their affliction! Oh, and anybody else who contracted “their” disease, regardless of how. Moron.

Some of the words in his answers to the questionnaire are indeed strong.

Asked about gays in the military, for example, he didn't just reject the idea but added: "I believe to try to legitimize that which is inherently illegitimate would be a disgraceful act of government. I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk."

We don’t know any such thing. First of all, the fastest growing HIV+ segment of the US population are heterosexual teens. Secondly, here in sub-Saharan Africa, we know that HIV/AIDS is not a homosexual disease. If you look at the education campaigns, you find that they are universally directed to young heterosexual couples. In fact, in many of the black communities, extremely thin women are shunned as possibly being AIDS victims! Homosexuality poses no public health risk until and unless it can be proven that homosexuals can passively infect people…with anything.

Secondly, one would think that a homophobe of Huckabee’s magnitude would welcome gays in the military…even conscript them. Instead of spending boatloads of money on safety gear and expensive technological toys, just send the gay guys out to find the mines, the bombs, the sniper nests. Huckie could get them out of the general population permanently that way, save a few heterosexual soldiers lives, and a bunch of government money in the bargain.

But the reality is, why shouldn’t homosexuals serve in the military? Is there something inherent in homosexuality that causes the inaccurate aiming of a rifle? An inability to drive a tank? Or perhaps Huck fears that a gay contingent in the military would bitch and moan about the drabness of the uniforms, causing discontent among the troops? It can’t be the fear of the gay men being sexually available to the other men, could it? I mean, there are female soldiers available to the men (and getting pregnant, for crying out loud!), so it can’t be sex between the troops that has him all cranked up, can it?

It’s just his homophobia talking…and he’s so punitive in his viewpoints, so draconian in his beliefs as to what to do with homosexuals (lock them in a ghetto with HIV patients), as to make me wonder just what it is he really fears. Maybe he has these urges…

Called for the elimination of political action committees and campaign contributions from lobbyists. He also said candidates should not be allowed to receive contributions until one year before an election and said there should be limits on the amount of out-of-state money they could accept…As Arkansas governor, Huckabee formed a political action committee based in Virginia to raise money for non-federal candidates that allowed him to travel and raise his profile for a potential presidential run. The Hope for America PAC shut down earlier this year as Huckabee entered the White House race.

OK…so he can have a PAC to make himself visible enough to be able to float his name as a presidential candidate, but nobody else can. Can anybody pronounce H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E?

Said he would not support any tax increases if elected to the Senate. Huckabee's record of raising some taxes as Arkansas' governor has drawn fire from fiscal conservatives in the presidential race.

Well, he can follow Georgie’s footsteps and float the biggest budget deficit in the history of the world. You can reduce taxes to nothing as long as you are willing to increase the deficit. But it would seem Huck’s even more traditional than that…with a history of raising taxes during his governorship, he now asks us to believe that the Huckabee leopard has changed its spots. Either way, it’s a bad deal…either he is lying or he’s looking to increase Georgie’s record-breaking deficit. Perfect presidential material…a profligate or a prevaricator…or both.

When asked whether the U.S. should take any action to kill Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Huckabee replied: "The U.S. should not kill Saddam Hussein or anyone else."

Except HIV/AIDS patients, who should be quarantined and no attempts be made to find a cure for their disease.

Rejected the idea of women in combat "because of my strong traditional view that women should be treated with respect and dignity and not subject to the kinds of abuses that could occur in combat."

His strong traditional view trumps a woman’s constitutional right to self-determination? OK, so what other traditional views about women does he thinks he has a right to impose on the female half of the population? Send them home to stay barefoot, pregnant, and tied to the kitchen sink? Restrict them to “traditional” female occupations like nursing and teaching? Rescind their right to vote? One man’s “treated with respect and dignity and not subject to…abuses…” may well be seen as patronizing paternalism by the object of his “respect.” I’m flesh and bone and have a fully functioning brain…how about letting me make my own choices, Mikey?

Said living together out of wedlock "is demeaning to the highest expression of human love and commitment. I reject it as an alternate lifestyle, because it robs people of the highest possible relationship one can experience: marriage."

Huh? In a country that sees half of its marriages end in divorce, (and nobody with more than two brain cells believes that the other half are blissful), marriage is “the highest possible relationship one can experience”? Not bloody likely. People cohabit for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is a mock-marriage. Who knows why couples live together, sometimes for decades, without formalization? Whose business is it but theirs?

Said he believed no one has a constitutional right to an abortion and supported requiring minors to obtain parental consent. Huckabee also said he supported requiring doctors to discuss abortion alternatives and a waiting period...Huckabee's vocal opposition to gay marriage and abortion have attracted evangelical Christians' support and vaulted him to the top of the field in Iowa.

One of the most precious of American freedoms is the right to freely choose you own religion. But some people seem to think that, hand-in-hand with that right to choose comes a right to impose one’s own religious sensibilities on others. This is the crux of the abortion issue, believe it or not. You see, if your religion believes that personhood is bestowed at conception because the soul is infused at that moment, then you believe the product of conception, regardless of its state of development, is a person and killing it is murder. If, on the other hand, you don’t believe the soul is infused until a later time…or you don’t believe the soul even exists…then abortion is simply a medical procedure. Either way, one’s religious convictions drives the opinion, and none of us have the right to impose our religious convictions…or prohibitions…on others as it violates their religious rights.

Notifying parents of a teen’s abortion? For something that seems so right and so simple on the surface, this really is a knotty issue. The argument goes that if a parent has to be notified and consent taken for something like an appendectomy, why does an invasive surgical procedure like an abortion not require parental consent?

Well, the simple fact is, many teens don’t live in benevolent, understanding, compassionate families ala TV sitcom households. And if you have never been a teen who was legitimately afraid of her parents, then it may be difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that there really are kids out there whose safety…even lives…could be endangered by the revelation of a pregnancy. And, until a reliable crystal ball is on the marketplace, we simply have no way of knowing which teens are just exaggerating the presumed reaction of their parents and which teens literally face terrifying consequences if they tell. So, until that crystal ball is in hand, the safe choice is to allow the person who got pregnant to decide what to do about it…including whether or not to tell her parents.

Now, the subject of gay marriage is another of Mikey’s issues. Absent any intelligent debate on the matter, Americans have been herded towards the notion that there is something inherently wrong with same-gender marriages. The reason they have been fed it that it somehow threatens marriage which, in and of itself, is a ludicrous notion. If anything, gay marriage strengthens the whole concept of marriage in a time when many heterosexual couples find no reason to enter the institution. Same sex couples who marry are proclaiming to the world that the institution is desirable, not something to be shunned. Of course, Mike Homophobee may just be wanting to punish gay people by robbing gay “people of the highest possible relationship one can experience: marriage.”

But some of his earlier comments offer a harder-edged presentation of those stances than he has presented as he's tried to portray himself as a conservative who won't "scare the living daylights" out of moderates and independents…I think the model he saw that had been successful in other Southern states was this very hard right message and that's what seemed to be the most natural for him," … “He's become much smarter about successfully using language that expresses views without being hard-edged”…

Can we say “shuck and jive”? Or should that be “Huck and jive”? Cloak the truth in dissembling language but step not back from the punitive, paternalistic platform. Let’s try another applicable phrase: “control freak.”

Huckabee's 1992 comments on isolating AIDS patients run counter to a statement he released last month calling for increased federal funds to find a cure. Huckabee says the earlier remarks came at a time when there was confusion about how AIDS could be transmitted.

If I roll my eyes one more time, I’m afraid they are gonna get stuck up there. Gimme a break here…the man cannot admit he was wrong and make appropriate apologies? I was around in 1992, in fact I was working at a company that was doing research into HIV. Even then we knew that you didn’t get AIDS by sitting next to an HIV positive person on a bus!!

Can’t he just say “I was ignorant, I said stupid things in my ignorance, and I’m sorry. I’ll try to be more enlightened in the future.”? No, the gasbag has to try to rationalize and justify what he said rather than just admit he was wrong and apologize for it.

Said he had never smoked marijuana or "experimented with any illegal drug." In fact, he said he had never used any tobacco products because of "a very sensitive allergy" and would support a smoking ban in public places.

And this is important because?? I also duly note that he is careful to say he has not experimented with any illegal drug. Is this some clever dissembling to hedge against someone alleging he may have abused legal drugs? Otherwise, why bother to make such a clear distinction?

Opposed passing a law that would give workers time off to care for an ailing family member.

So, if your child is dying of leukaemia, or your wife is confined to bed rest during the last weeks of her pregnancy or your father is gasping his last from a brain tumour, tough nougies, buddy, get your nose back to that corporate grindstone or you’ll be unemployed on top of all your other troubles, right? Gee, this shows some serious compassion for the individual American, eh?

When asked about the nomination hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Huckabee said: "I watched or listened to many hours of the Thomas hearings and was firmly convinced that the preponderance of testimony backed up Clarence Thomas."

The analytical portion of his brain must have been on holiday in Thailand when Anita Hill was testifying…

Called the federal welfare system "disgraceful" and said the burden should be shifted from the federal government to local communities.

Oh, that makes all kinds of sense. So, GM or Ford pulls out of a region, taking the majority of the local jobs away. Or a major manufacturing facility sends the work overseas, closing the main source of work in an area. Or a mine is closed or some natural disaster occurs, sending the local economies into a tail spin, leaving the people hungry and unemployed and needing government assistance just to survive. Exactly where is the tax base that is supposed to fund that welfare burden?

The whole concept of a federal system is to allow richer communities to help the poorer ones, a burden which may remain constant in some areas, but inevitably fluctuates with changes in the economy and natural phenomenon. To cast such a burden back onto the local economies, which may have been flattened by a series of tornadoes or desiccated by the jobs being shipped offshore, is to further stratify the society, creating increasing layers of poor and marginalized people while allowing richer communities to increase their wealth. The milk of human kindness clearly does not flow in Mike Huckabee’s breast.

So, the question becomes, does America need another Dubya, this one with a brain and agenda of his own? And will Americans actually elect a rigid, inflexible, unfeeling control freak who will be their friend and supporter only as long as they can continue flowing tax dollars into his government? Will the Republican Party find some ethics and try to field a candidate who will actually be good for America…or will they pick the guy they think will win the presidency by fair mean of foul. I mean, it worked with Shrub, didn’t it?

Since we don’t have those crystal balls yet, only time will tell.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A new definition for stupid...

My husband works for the country’s power utility, Eskom, and while I think the company is often hard-done by in the press and public opinion, sometimes they do something so unarguably stupid that harsh criticism and ridicule is warranted. Take this afternoon, for example. I was merrily typing along when suddenly, the power went out. OK, I’ve got a laptop and therefore battery backup, but gone with the power is my internet connection (the router requires electricity), so while it’s not a train wreck, it is mighty inconvenient.

What makes this whole thing so incredibly stupid, however, is the recorded message I heard when I called Eskom to check if this was a known outage or if it needed to be reported. Speaking at the speed of light, a woman's voice rattles off the tidbit that “load shedding is currently happening in the Whgbysdysl*rel$gly,” followed by a slightly more intelligible admonition that I should check Eskom’s website for load shedding schedules for my region. I re-dialled the main number since, due to that lightning fast, garbled delivery the first time around, I didn’t get the area that was experiencing load shedding. Turns out it’s Western Region…what does that mean?

OK, I’m pretty sure I’m in the Western Region, but since we don’t have a so-named province and no towns are mentioned on the taped message, how do I know just who is affected? Is all of Cape Town down? All of the Western Province (Eskom is a national entity, after all)? Or is it just my little strip of civilization north of Cape Town and strung up along the western seaboard?

More to the point, however, is the little fact that the vast majority of the people in the country, including the majority of people served by Eskom, cannot afford either computers or internet service. How is Mbwelo, whose shack has gone dark and whose prized little bar fridge...which keeps a precious food store from spoiling...has stopped, supposed to find out when the township is going to be darkened?

And even more to the point…if the power has been shut down, exactly how am I or anyone else supposed to connect to that website to find out why the fridge is silent and the router dead? No power, no internet connection..DOH!

And what is with mid-day load shedding, anyway? The heaviest use of power is in the hours between 5 and 8 pm when people come home from work and turn on their kitchen stoves, fans, and televisions. Electricity isn’t like water, that you can keep bottled up for a mass use later on in the day. My lack of electricity this afternoon doesn’t mean that there will be extra electricity to spread around this evening, it just means that tasks I could be doing now, during low use hours (like washing and drying clothes) will have to be put off to later…peak use time…since the electricity isn’t available during low usage time.

Now that’s just stupid.

UPDATE: well, the power’s back on and I decided to drop by Eskom’s site to check the load-shedding schedule. Guess what? My suburb is scheduled for load shedding between 6 pm and 8:30 pm. What…Eskom can’t tell time or do they think that I can’t?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Some people just don’t get it, do they?

We had a tenant for two years who was regularly late with her rent. Sometimes that rent would be six weeks or more in arrears and when it came time to renew her lease a few months back, we were relieved that she declared she was unwilling to do so.

We tried explaining to her that we had a mortgage payment to make on the building in which she lived, and if she didn’t pay her rent on time, we either dug into our own pockets to make up the shortfall or we incurred late penalties from our lender. Did putting late penalties onto her rent make a difference? No, she just ignored them.

Well, now she’s out. The first thing we had to do was have the place cleaned. She claims to have had a cleaning service in, but if that’s true, then she needs to get her money back. The oven took more than an hour (with a spray-on oven cleaner and lots of elbow-grease) to scrub clean, and more than two hours were spent, on hands and knees, getting the stains out of the carpet. And then there were the missing items to be replaced, like the gate latch and the shower drain, and the damaged items to be repaired or replaced, like kitchen door hinges and a mouldy, mildew-stained shower curtain (a fabric curtain that could have been kept clean by the simple expedient of a quick cycle through the washing machine with a bit of bleach).

Finally, there is a mountain of garden debris (hers was a garden flat) behind the garden shed, debris she was warned in writing to remove and to cease and desist from piling there. Always it was, “we’ll get it out next weekend…” Well, next weekend has come and gone and now I have to hire someone to come haul it away and dump it. And it won’t be at my expense, although it will be the lowest cost vendor I can find.

So, she’s been out of her flat for less than two weeks and guess what? She’s calling up and having fits because she hasn’t received her cleaning/security deposit back yet. Seems she needs the money…

Shoe pinches when it’s on the other foot, doesn’t it?

In South Africa, size doesn't matter...

I stand corrected…

A lovely gentleman from KwaZulu Natal has dropped me a note informing me that I haven’t correctly grasped the difference between pies and tarts here in the beautiful Republic of South Africa. After rolling his comment around in my mind, I have had to come to the conclusion that he is absolutely correct.

In America, the difference between a pie and a tart is size (with the exception of pot pies). Drop by the pots n pans section of any American supermarket and you’ll find pie pans, which have sloping sides and a diameter of either 8 or 9 inches. If the market is well-stocked, you will also find tart, mini-tart, and tartlet pans, which are pie pans of decreasing diameter (sometimes with fluted sides, sometimes not). So, in America, if it’s big, it’s a pie, if it’s small it’s a tart…except in the case of savoury (not sweet) pies, which are all pies regardless of size.

In South Africa, the difference is much simpler: if it has a top, it’s a pie…if it doesn’t have a top, it’s a tart…size doesn’t matter. That means those delicious Thanksgiving pumpkin pies are really tarts, as are custard pies of all flavours…chocolate cream pie is really a tart…I wonder how a cobbler would be classified?

It does simplify things, I suppose, although a bit of confusion arises when the tart is actually tart-sized. An American would recognize a jam tart, for example (although he might wonder why anyone would go to so much effort with crust and oven when jam can so easily be consumed on a quickly made piece of toast), but an apple tart…called a Dutch apple pie in the States…might cause him to wonder if the tarts are so big, where are the giant pies? When I was 14 I took second place in a pie baking contest with a Dutch apple pie, but now I know that what I entered was actually a tart. I wonder if the judges would have disqualified me if they had known the difference?

Nomenclature aside, there is one other difference between South African tarts and American pies: the crust. Here, savoury pies are made with a crumbly, flaky crust, rather like a phyllo dough, and the sweet pies (tarts) are made with a hard, tough bottom crust that needs a jack hammer to get through. In America, we use the same pastry dough recipe for top and bottom crusts, sweet and savoury alike. I learned to bake from my grandmother who made the lightest, flakiest, most delicate pie crusts ever to melt on one’s tongue. I find that I…and my South African husband…find the pie…er…tart fillings here to be lovely, but we both leave those impenetrable bottom crusts behind.

So there you have it…I stand corrected…in South Africa, size is immaterial in the difference between pie and tart, it’s the top crust that gives the confection its name!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Christmas on the Other Side

Americans don’t seem to know a lot about South Africa. In fact, some Americans can’t tell the difference between Africa (a continent) and South Africa (a country on the continent along with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Nigeria, and a whole lot of other places you’ve probably never heard of, either). I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised since it is widely rumoured that I share breathing space and citizenship with people who can’t tell the difference between Mexico (a foreign country) and New Mexico (an American state).

Anyway, a certain amount of ignorance about South Africa is to be expected, I suppose. The apartheid years saw news blackouts in both directions, and American schools don’t go into much depth regarding the less developed world. So, if you are labouring under the misconception that South Africa still has apartheid, or that lions and tigers roam the streets, or that South Africa is a dangerous, undeveloped poverty pocket where half-naked, skin-draped natives make war on each other and the witch doctors hold sway, you aren’t entirely alone.

I knew about Johannesburg and Cape Town being large, cosmopolitan cities, but in my circle of acquaintances, I seemed to be in the minority…a rather scary observation when you realize that the vast majority of the people I associate with are highly intelligent, reasonably well-educated individuals. Some of the questions I fielded when I announced my intention to move to Cape Town: “Is the water safe?” “Are there paved roads?” “Are the animals still loose or have they been put in parks like Yosemite?” (Yes, yes, and

Now that I’m here, I still get some odd questions from friends and acquaintances back in the States. Like, do we celebrate Thanksgiving here? No, actually, we don’t. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, ostensibly commemorating that first feast between the Pilgrims and Indians. There weren’t any Pilgrims in South Africa, and the Indians here are from India.

South Africa is a largely Christian nation, the missionaries of old having done their jobs well, bless their little black hearts. There is also a large Muslim community here, and Durban has more Hindu temples than you can shake a stick at. Many of the black people still worship ancestors or adhere to animist beliefs, sometimes simultaneously with being church-going Christians. And yet despite all of this religious diversity, Christmas is almost universally celebrated here.

But an American might have a bit of difficulty recognizing the Christmas spirit in South Africa. The Dutch are a frugal people and their Afrikaner acorns have not fallen far from the Dutch tree. One of my first impressions of the white community here was how tight they are: little ad papers proliferate here and people advertise…and actually expect to sell…their old toilets, window frames, kitchen curtains, and closet gleanings…and for extraordinary prices, too! The concept of donating to charitable organizations like Goodwill or Salvation Army or St. Vincent DePaul is not very well established here. It is no surprise, then, that the American tradition of buying a boatload of gifts for the family, particularly the immediate family, has little traction in South Africa.

We don’t have live Christmas trees, either. South Africa is a semi-arid climate and arable land (and the water to irrigate it) is at a premium…and used for food production. There are few natural forests here, and the planted forests are primarily eucalyptus and the property of paper companies. In fact, wood is scarce here compared to the US and costly. Houses are built of clay or cement bricks, rather than stick-built like in America. Trees, particularly those trees that can grow tall and become timber, are not sacrificed for a couple of weeks of display.

Of course, we can’t discount the frugal nature of the South African: not having the emotional attachment to the tradition of a fragrant, gew-gaw encrusted pine in the middle of the living room as Americans have, South Africans find the reusable fake tree to be the optimal choice. Our table-top fibre optic tree has served us for four years and will be pressed into service again this year…rather a bit of an irony, considering that my father has a Christmas tree farm in Oregon!

Despite the fact that South Africans tend not to give each other…or their children…teetering mountains of Christmas swag, the malls are presently jammed with throngs of harried shoppers who brought their credit cards and shopping lists but left their manners at home. A large number of these people are vacationers, Cape Town being one of the favourite summer holiday destinations in this country, and while they jam the malls and parking lots, their teeming numbers don’t necessarily translate into piles of presents under those fake trees. Johannesburg is South Africa’s answer to LA when it comes to traffic, and the vacationing Joburgers don’t leave their combative traffic habits at home when they take their holidays in Cape Town…which they snarkily call “SlaapStad” (“SleepTown”)…which turns navigating our laidback roadscape into a knuckle biting experience. It isn’t much different in the parking lots, malls, or shops, either. So the holiday experience here, at least where shopping and driving is concerned, isn’t too different from my experiences in Silicon Valley.

My first Christmas here, five members of Hubby’s family…including my newly-minted mother-in-law…came to visit and I prepared a traditional American Christmas dinner. Well, that was the plan, anyway. I had my first taste of culture shock when I went shopping for the 22 pound turkey that was my customary centrepiece of the meal…no turkey! Seems that South Africans are only just developing a taste for turkey meat, preferring chicken or ham for their Christmas dinners. Eventually I found a turkey…a puny 11 pounder…and found myself with another surprise: the pinfeathers had neither been plucked out nor singed. Spoiled American that I am, I grumbled as I sat at the breakfast bar with pliers and stick matches, plucking and singeing and getting the turkey ready.

Shock number two came when I tried to put the turkey in the oven…the roaster was bigger than the oven! So, I lined a flat cake pan with foil and plopped the gobbler in side, folded up the sides to make a tent, and took it to the oven.

Surprise, surprise! The turkey…a puny little 11 pound turkey, barely larger than a fat chicken…wouldn’t fit into the oven. It was too tall! Right…the top edge of the turkey breast was literally touching the top of the oven! I managed to get the thing flattened down a bit and then get the beast roasted, but thank goodness I couldn’t find the 22 pounder I had originally been after!

Nobody knew what candied yams were, although mince pie (which is called a “tart” here) was recognized and eagerly wolfed down. Then, as a nod to South African Christmas traditions, we had a Christmas pudding (which is more of a fruit cake than anything else) with something called “custard” poured over it. Now, when you say “custard” to an American, we get a mental image of a firm-textured yellow milk-and-egg thing that, when cut, holds its shape. Not so South African custard…here, the word custard is used to describe a kind of custard-coloured, vanilla-flavoured thick sweet sauce with the consistency of pudding that failed to set. You can pour it…in fact, you do pour it. Now, I’m not particularly a fan of either fruitcake or custard, so the appeal of the dish is lost on me, but Hubby’s family was enthusiastic in their demolition of it.

The English custom of pulling Christmas crackers, completely unknown in America, continues to be indulged here. Wikipedia explains Christmas crackers so much better than I can: . Despite my husband and his family being Hindu, we exchange Christmas gifts and everyone seems to be enthralled with those Christmas crackers.

I’m an American. I don’t get it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sorry to have neglected you...

Sorry to have been gone for so long, but sometimes life takes precedence over blogging…blasphemous sentiment, I know, but there you have it.

We are desperately trying to get our cottage rented. You see, we have a mortgage on the rental property and if two of the three units aren’t rented, those mortgage payments come out of our personal pockets, which are a bit on the flat side since we took our fabulous holiday to Durbs. The big two bedroom flat is coming vacant on March 1 so it’s important to get the flat rented so we have enough income to make the mortgage.

Two of the three flats went vacant on December 1, so we’ve been scrambling since we got back from Durban to get them advertised and shown to prospective tenants. We did manage to get the 2 bedroom flat rented and the tenants moved in Saturday, but the cottage still needed cleaning and showing and hard work makes me too tired to think, let alone blog, hence my prolonged absence.

Anyway, I just got back from showing the cottage…we’ve decided to rely on rental agents to a large degree this time because we’ve just not had good luck finding honest, reliable tenants on our own. Last year at this time we were scrambling to repair the damages and replace the furnishings as a result of inadvertently renting to a crackhead. What furnishings he did not sell (including the bed, the refrigerator and even the pots & pans!) he destroyed. We had to repair plumbing, carpets, walls, and even replace the custom-made blinds he destroyed. His six-week tenancy…at R2500 per month…cost us R20,000+ in damages. Had we the facilities to run a credit check we might have picked up on the dodgy nature of this guy, but we couldn’t and we didn’t and we paid for it…literally.

Another reason we are using rental agents is that I am sick and tired of wasting time and gas driving over to show the cottage to people who just can’t be bothered to keep their appointments. It’s only 2km to the place, but that’s 4km round trip and as much as I love my Bertha, I have no illusions about her…she is a gas hog. More important, however, is that I invest time…I drive over, unlock the place, open the blinds and windows and turn on the fan and then sit and wait…and wait…and wait…for people who don’t even have the manners to call and cancel their appointment. The agent, who stands to make a fat commission on renting out my cottage, doesn’t want to piss me off by being a no show…it’s a very competitive business and if she stiffs me, I’ll never list with her again.

Because I live so close to the rental property, it is tempting to tell these prospects to go to the cottage and call me when they get there, but my cell phone service seems to have gone to H-E-double toothpicks the last few weeks. It’s never been good and we’ve called the provider out before, but this time it just sucks. I get “missed call” messages when I’ve physically had the phone on my person and it didn’t ring. It’s not the phone…I’ve had three phones since I moved into this house and it was a problem with all of them. My friend Sally cannot use her phone at my house (same provider) and Hubby has the same problem with his. Yesterday I got a voicemail from the provider…he called and the phone never rang at my end, so he had to leave a message. The SMS notifying me of his call came several hours later when I was away from home…in a place where I have signal.

So, they send a technician out and he agrees (like the last technician) that I have crappy signal here. He wants to put a signal booster on my roof (Hubby’s solution when he tried to resolve this two years ago). Problem is, we don’t spend enough money on their crappy service! Seems our R400 per month usage is about one third of what the cell phone provider requires in order to put in this booster. Hello? So it is OK for me to spend almost R5000 per year on a service that is unavailable to me half the time and substandard the other half? What part of this equation am I not getting???

The local telephone (landline) company is called Telkom…but subscribers universally refer to it as Hellkom. And with good reason. This is the epitome of a company that exists for the benefit of their shareholders and to hell with its customers. There are never enough employees for anything you wish to accomplish with them, whether it is a simple inquiry into your bill, reporting a fault, or ordering new service. You can expect to be in a queue of no less than thirty minutes and then be served by someone who is a) clueless, b) apathetic, c) unable to think…and sometimes all three. Oh…and don’t forget rude…if you don’t accept their bulldust line “Oh, your line is fine…I know your ADSL is dead, but my computer says your line is fine!” then they get mad at you and get rude. My friend Sally moved recently and it took three weeks for her telephone line to be installed…and even longer for her internet connection. Hiring more people (there is more than 20% unemployment in this country…there are lots of people willing and able to work if someone would just give them a job!) could only improve the situation: more installers means lines installed more quickly, more customer service reps and shorter queues and both add up to greater customer satisfaction. But who in Hellkom cares when they are a monopoly and their enraged customer base doesn’t have anywhere to go? As long as the shareholders are happy with their ever-increasing dividends, who cares if the phone service is crap and the phone company is universally reviled?

If you are tempted to say “Well, it’s Africa, what do you expect?” well…don’t! The problem is not our location, it is that pernicious mindset that has crept into the country from the First World: screw the customers and f*ck the employees, just maximize profit. Telkom posts obscene profits every year without bothering to upgrade its infrastructure, improve its service, or increase its headcount. In fact, a couple of years ago, it made deep cuts in the headcount, improving profits at the expense of service. A little piece of American culture that I do not miss at all.

On a lighter note, we have had a little excitement on the block this week. Ferrets are not native to any part of Africa, so Thandiswe can be forgiven for her wide-eyed panic at seeing a ferret drinking out of one of the basins beneath the courtyard fountains the other day. She was convinced it was the biggest rat on the continent!

I found some pics on the internet of ferrets and showed them to her and she identified the animal she saw as a ferret. Once I explained to her that it probably was feeding on the mice and moles that plague us, she was a bit relieved…”It’s not dangerous?” she asked me. I am sure she was thinking of the two-month-old baby boy she brings to work, tied to her back, every day.

How did I know it was a ferret? Well, it’s been hanging around our block for a couple of months now. I suspect a neighbour had it as a pet and it escaped. Sally, who lives a block away, has seen it in her garden and I’ve seen it in the street at least twice, as my neighbour across the street. Since I’m not farming chickens and the vacant lot up the road is farming moles, I’m happy for the little varmint to stay.

Speaking of varmints…I’m deathly allergic to bees and in South Africa, nobody has window or door screens. Go figure…the mosquito capital of the planet and there are no screens! So, a bee got into the house yesterday and Hubby is on a business trip so he can’t come rescue me…what to do? Well, as luck would have it, the nasty little creature buzzed his way into the retreat, where the air conditioning doesn’t reach because I have the heavy curtains pulled. It doesn’t seem to be here today so either it found a way out or the heat baked it dead…I am hoping for the latter.

But, this morning one of my neighbours, whose back garden wall touches part of my garden wall, came by to tell me that there is a huge swarm of bees in one of the trees at the back of our property! I sent Thandiswe out to see if she could spot it (not something I am willing to risk with my allergy) and she came back saying the garden shed was full of hundreds of bees! Lord, what do I do now? Hubby is out of town and I don’t dare go out there and try to do something about it myself. Thank goodness he had the excellent foresight to install air conditioning in the bedroom last summer so I don’t have to open the windows!

Well, duty calls…must go show the cottage again…hopefully this one will show up!

Monday, November 26, 2007

How beautiful is Cape Town?

I don't think people outside of the immediate area have any idea how beautiful Cape Town is. Like South Africa, Cape Town is a wonderfully diverse place and the architecture here is absolutely amazing. I am presently on a mission to record examples of the beauty and diversity of what has become my new home.

To the right is a shot of Lion's Head (a peak to the side of Table Mountain) taken from a major intersection in the CBD (Central Business District).

This gorgeous old Cape Dutch building on Strand Street is the gold museum.

A view of Signal Hill from the corner of Strand Str. and Buitengracht. Every day at noon, a cannon is loudly discharged from the top of the hill. It is rather a surprise, the first time you hear the "noon gun," especially if you are seated in a lovely outdoor restaurant and have a forkfull of food halfway to your mouth...

More pics to follow

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Some pictures of Durban

Some pics taken in Durban...

...into the fire

11 November 2007
So, we decided to avoid Harrismith on our return journey. We sat down with a map and Hubby, Mr. Precise Engineer, mapped us out a route that would take us around Lesotho on its west side, meeting up with the N1 in Colesberg. We know the road and the scenery and the landmarks from Durban to Colesberg (via Harrismith) already, we reasoned, so why not kill two birds with one stone…see some new countryside and avoid that nightmare of road destruction in Harrismith?

I have to admit I was a bit reluctant. I’m not ordinarily inclined favourably towards long stretches of road that don’t have regular rest stops or petrol stations with ultra-clean bathrooms. Like most women, if I am to drop my drawers and expose my delicate bits to strange porcelain, I have a very strong preference for that porcelain…and its surroundings…to be immaculately clean. But Hubby was keen on taking a new route and after seeing the myriad of little towns…most of them no more than 50 to 75 km apart…I agreed to his plan.

So, we had our breakfast and hit the road. After filling Bertha and making sure our padkos and cool drink keepers were full up, we got out onto the N2 headed towards Port Shepstone. At Sheppy, we turned north towards Kokstad, a town I have never seen and Hubby hasn’t been to in 25 years. The adventure was on.

I must say, it was a learning experience.

The first thing I learned is that making the assumption that all those little towns would have petrol stations was a grievous error. The second thing I learned is that it was also a mistake to assume that a major brand petrol station…like Shell or CalTex…would have clean restrooms. My third lesson was that pay toilets actually exist in South Africa…I have never seen one before in this country and today I saw three! And finally, I learned that, as bad as the road conditions at Harrismith were (and they were really, really bad), those conditions were not as bad as they could have been.

I quickly discovered that on a road trip, I get very thirsty. Probably the drying effects of the air conditioning in the car (it also gives my hair static electricity, to Hubby’s never-ending amusement and my everlasting annoyance). So, we keep a cooler box of iced drinks in the back seat where I can easily reach it. We pack it full of Sprite Zero and Coke Lite and guzzle our way across country.

En route to Durbs we stopped at Ultra Cities and Star Stops and whatever Engen calls their mega petrol stations whenever Bertha started looking thirsty, when it was meal time (diabetics have to eat regular meals, even on the road), or when one of us needed to find a loo. On the N1, N5, and N3, that was just not difficult. On the R56 and R58, it was virtually impossible!

Because we were unsure of petrol availability along the way, we stopped for fuel when the gauge hit the halfway mark or lower (depending on where we could find a station). At Kokstad we filled up the car and emptied both of us out and got on the road to parts unknown…at least to us…confident that we would encounter multiple petrol stations along the way…doesn’t every rural town have at least a one pumper? Those farmers have to fuel up their cars and trucks, too, after all. Every thing was fine until all that Coke Lite I drank decided it needed an exit. Unlike Hubby, who can pull off to the side of the road and make an acquaintance with a local bush or tree, I require technology for such an event, so I said “Pull in at the next station you see, I need a loo.” He nodded while I consulted the map…maybe 20 km to the next town, so not to worry.

Yeah, right. The next town consisted of several hillsides full of rondawels, a bottle store and a tavern. As did the next…and the next…and the next! A hundred kilometres down the road and there’s no petrol, no loo…and no bush big enough to hide my glowing white moons! We did wend our way through one scabrous town…Mt. Fletcher, I think…but the Engen station (the only one in town) was so filthy and dilapidated I was unwilling to risk it. Dirty is one thing…dirty toilets are something else again.

But I’m experienced and I’m stoic. I know if I adjust my posture just right I’ll put a minimum of pressure on my bladder and I can wait it out. “Just take it easy on the bumps,” I told Hubby. “There’s got to be a place ahead with a relatively clean loo.” And Hubby, bless his empathetic little heart, tried to avoid the potholes and go gently over the unintended speed bumps, and on the map I saw another town just a few kilometres away. Hope was born anew.

We came around a bend in the road and saw a flagman waving us off to the left, off the road. Ahead, on the right, stretched a beautiful ribbon of newly tarred highway, inaccessible. Instead, we bumped off onto an unpaved track reminiscent of Harrismith…and it went on forever! The next time some smart-mouth bunny hugger superciliously finds fault with my choice of an SUV for my personal vehicle, I’m going to whip out the pictures of this abomination that passes for a road and ask if she would like to drive a Prius or some other trendy little pseudo-car over it. It damn near killed Bertha, an SUV built on an honest-to-god truck chassis by none other than Mercedes Benz. I’m sorry, but if my ML, sturdy road warrior that she is, can be brought to a shuddering, beeping, squealing halt by this piece of road, exactly what kind of namby-pamby town car would do better?

The ruts and bumps and rocks and holes were so bad that at times we were literally airborne. On one of those leaps, when we came down, Hubby’s left foot (which had also been airborne) came down on the parking brake pedal. This car is engineered such that, when you try to set the parking brake while your foot is on the accelerator and the car is moving forward, it will emits a series of shrieking beeps and, if the offence is sufficiently egregious, it will simply shut itself off. Which is exactly what happened. Except that we didn’t know what happened at the time. All we knew was that the car was dead, we were somewhere in the middle of the Transkei on a road that would have done a 4x4 challenge proud, and I had to pee so bad my eyes were turning yellow. I started scanning for a likely bush, but there was nothing but rocks…too big to drive over easily, but far too small to conceal anything like my overly-generous backside.

Hubby quickly figured out what was causing the lack of forward motion, restarted the car, and put us back on the trail. Fortunately, we were nearly back on the tarred road…I am sure my bladder would not have taken much more abuse, and within a few minutes we were in a small town that actually had two petrol stations! We pulled in to the first station, only to be told they didn’t have a loo, but the gents at the CalTex cheerfully pointed us around the corner.

They neglected to tell us it was a pay toilet…and why was only the women’s toilet fitted with a coin operated lock?? It took Hubby a full two minutes to get the stupid thing to accept the damn R1 coin (I couldn’t figure it out…I’ve never seen a coin op box like it in my life!) and let me in.

OK…it was clean. But there were three stalls, two of which lacked paper, and the third lacked a functioning lock. By this time, I did not care. I grabbed a wad of tissue and took it with me to a stall I could lock and found heavenly relief.

After stopping to get lunch at the hot food counter at the local Spar (not a restaurant, fast food joint or takeaway in town), we hit the road again, headed inexorably towards Colesberg where I sit typing this.

Looking back on today’s experience, I have come to the conclusion that, between Port Shepstone and Colesburg there are a total of three clean public restrooms: one in Kokstad, one in Maclear, and another in Lady Grey. That’s it. So, unless you have an iron bladder, I strongly suggest that if you are driving from Durban to Bloemfontein or points west, brave the construction debacle at Harrismith…the alternate route not only had worse roads, it had no toilets!

Durban Holiday: Rain and ramblings

6 November 2007

It’s raining.

We’ve been in Durbs for three days now and haven’t seen the sun yet. And today it is actually raining. Having spent many years in a seaside suburb of San Diego, I am very aware of the implications of an all-day overcast. The cloud cover acts like a lid on a pot, and keeps everything in…heat, humidity, pollutants. One of the lovely things about Cape Town is the Cape Doctor, that stiff breeze that blows all your troubles…and the heat, humidity and air borne pollutants…away. Here in Durban, sans wind or sunshine, we are just stewing in it.

That, of course, drives us indoors. Right now we are in our room, Hubby in the shower, and I’ve mapped out a day of shopping in the indoor malls. Maybe tomorrow the sun will come out and I can take my camera to the Botanical Gardens.

* * *

It rained all day, but from within the confines of The Pavilion and Musgrave Centre, we barely noticed. Our wallets lightened and shopping bags filled, we made our way back to Mum’s for dinner, and I was touched and delighted to see that she had made one of my favourite curries, cauliflower and potato. Hubby bought a new digital camera, which I will try out tomorrow, this one a pocket-sized powerhouse, my Sony being a rather large and unwieldy thing, although it takes spectacular pics with absolutely stunning clarity. Tomorrow we shall see.

Living in Cape Town, a city in which the Indian…especially Hindu…population is rather small, I have grown accustomed to people giving me second glances because of the red bindi (dot) I customarily wear out in public. It is my nod of respect to my husband’s culture and customs, just as he wears a wedding ring as a mark of respect for mine. In the years I have been here, I have grown accustomed to the double-takes, most of them just innocuous confirming glances…“Was that really a white woman with a dot on her forehead I saw?”… although there have been a few looks that were unmistakeably hostile.

In all honesty, I did not expect this kind of surprise on the part of Durban residents. Certainly everyone here knows what the red dot means and surely, after 13 years of freedom, couples of mixed-race cannot still be fodder either for shock or hostility. But, based on this afternoon, apparently I am wrong. Stepping out of a shop at The Pavilion and glancing to my left, I did not see it, but I did hear Hubby’s surprised reaction. He said that a man walked past us and gave me such a hostile look…his eyes fixed on my forehead, then sweeping me up and down, then back to the dot…that were it possible, I would have been fried to a crisp by his glance alone. Pure hostility, Hubby told me, disbelief in his voice. I am sorry I missed the opportunity to stare challengingly back in the man’s face. Not ten minutes later I walked past a man who gave me the almost identical treatment! This time I did see him and this time I did stare straight into his eyes until he turned them away. Not that I think he was in any way chastened by my challenge, but at least he didn’t get away unscathed. What is wrong with these people, anyway??

My nephew, a precocious lad of 13, is becoming more and more socially aware. It seems that one of his teachers is a white lady of a very strong christian persuasion who apparently hasn’t a clue about respecting the belief systems of others. She obeys the absolute letter of the law without even acknowledging its spirit. For example, my Hindu nephew is expected to sing christian hymns in class, hymns that have had the word “God” substituted for “Jesus” so that the hymn can be for any religion or deity. Now, none of the other words are changed, so specifically christian references remain, as well as male gender references. My nephew feels marginalized, disrespected, and slighted by the whole thing.

Now I am the first to admit that the boy can be a bit on the cheeky side, but I think he has a point. The teacher seems to have an agenda, and not just one of recruiting children from his religion to hers. Apparently in giving lessons regarding the history of this country and continent, she takes the view that the European missionaries brought wonderful things to the local savages. My nephew, in his customarily confrontational manner, pointed out to her that the local people might take issue with such a statement, particularly since their lands were taken, their people enslaved, murdered, or put to rout, and what had been prosperous…if primitive…cultures decimated. His teacher, of course, insists that the European incursion into Africa was a good thing, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

I have a problem with people who are so convinced of their own superiority that they cannot give even the merest nod to another point of view. And when they ignore or discount incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, then I have to wonder what their real agenda is. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist…or even a Margaret Mead…to see the rude shacks and grinding poverty that is the subsistence of so many South Africans today. To say that they have “chosen” to live in such a way is to beg the question: do black South Africans today have better lives than they had before van Reebieck landed? I suppose the answer to that lies in what you consider to be the definition of “better,” but as we drove through the Transkei my husband asked me “Do you think these people would consider themselves poor if they had never been told they were, and looked down upon for it?” There was a time, after all, before the arrival of the Europeans, that the indigenous people of this country judged their prosperity by different standards and what is perceived as poverty and want in the rural areas today would have been wealth and contentment in a society untainted by alien paradigms.

Nephew’s teacher makes me wonder, then, what her real agenda might be. She gives the barest cooperation to the literal letter of the law without acknowledging its spirit…what kind of example does that set for her students? Is it acceptable to subordinate the law and its intent to her allegiance to her faith…or her political beliefs? The strategy by which she has inveigled students of non-christian faiths to sing hymns of her faith in class…can anyone truly accept the sophistry by which she has rationalized it? What is it about some people that they simply cannot accept that there are other paradigms that are entitled to the same level of respect they demand for their own?

Nephew, at 13, is a precocious kid who thinks about things that most of us don’t address until adulthood…if ever. He is an observant Hindu…not especially devout and certainly not fanatical…but he prays and participates in the religious observations. And while he is given to arguing for the sake of argument (or making another person wrong so he can be right) I get vibes that his sense of outrage is genuine.

The separation between church and state is not as clear here as it is in the States, nor as contentiously disputed. Aggressive proselytizing and conversion has turned numerous native people into semi-Christians, people who have failed to give up their belief in the magic of muti despite their Christian affiliation. The Christian right here even has its own political party, and while one’s freedom of religion is codified, the concept of respecting other faiths doesn’t seem to have taken a firm foothold.

I find this rather sad, and just one more indication that a large part of the white population still “doesn’t get it.” And while one might think that a faction that makes up no more than 15% of the population is without significant influence, that isn’t how it is in South Africa. The majority of the wealth of this country remains in white hands and the white lifestyle is the one sought after by virtually all South Africans. No one, after all, aspires to live in a rondawel, sans electricity or running water, on a dirt track in the middle of nowhere. It is the affluence sufficient to own a BMW, a modern house filled with luxury furnishings in an upmarket neighbourhood, and a bucket full of bling…these are the aspirations of South Africans of all colours and cultures. To live white.

And so a minority culture dominates South Africa, and with it comes a sense of being right in all things. The idea that people might want to live like you…but not think or worship like you…can be too fine a distinction for people who are not given to respecting the beliefs and values of other cultures….or prone to periods of deep thought. I think it’s remarkable that, at 13, Nephew “gets it.” And that his teacher does not.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Durban, Diwali, and South African spring weather

5 November 2007

One of the reasons we chose to holiday in Durban this year is that our wedding anniversary and Diwali fell at the same time. Since we always make a getaway out of our anniversary, we thought this would be a good way to celebrate both at the same time.

We spent most of Sunday with Hubby’s family. Sadly, the bulk of the Diwali public celebration took place Saturday night, while we were hurtling down the Escarpment in driving rain and blinding fog, and our sojourn to the beachfront found us wandering through a tent city of half-empty booths, the tens of thousands of revellers of the night before doubtless still sleeping off the painful, lingering results of their earlier revels. After a delicious dinner of lamb chop curry, courtesy my dear mother-in-law, we set off back to the air conditioned comfort of our B&B to sleep away the lingering fatigue from our journey.

This morning dawned overcast and humid.typical for Durban at this time of the year. We had breakfast on the verandah, Hubby seated to have a view of the sea, my vista the dense, jungly foliage of the garden. Our morning consisted of a few minor errands then lunch at Govender’s House of Curries, a takeaway place notable for having won a competition for the best bunny chow in Durban. Hubby ordered a mutton bunny and I asked for a boneless chicken roti roll. (For the uninitiated, a "bunny" is a part of a loaf of unsliced bread, the center white scooped out and then filled with curry. The center piece of bread is then placed on top. A bunny in finger food. A roti roll is like a burrito, a filling of curry wrapped up in a roti, which is similar to a tortilla.) Now, I am not a person who quails at the prospect of hot chilli crossing my tongue. In fact, I regularly enjoy hotter curries than my husband; he grew up eating curry, but I grew up eating Mexican food, which is noted for its heat. What I don’t like is when the heat overwhelms the flavour…when that happens, why not just eat a bucket of chillies and be done with it?

Hubby concurs that his bunny was the best one he had ever eaten. I wish I could say the same for my roti roll. First of all, we paid extra for boneless and I picked at least half a dozen chicken vertebra out of the meat. Second, the chicken was so hot that it had no flavour. It wasn’t hot enough to make my nose run or make me break a sweat, but there was no taste other than the chilli powder. A gross waste of money.

After a bit of shopping in the antique shops of Windermere Road, we went back to the room where, still stuffed with his mutton curry, Hubby took his customary afternoon nap. When it was time for dinner we headed out for Florida Road, determined to drop in on one of the trendy eateries. Hubby was hungry for steak so we selected the Butcher Boys and, as luck would have it, were able to get a table after only about half an hour’s wait.

None of the starters appealed to me and, knowing the upcoming meal would be heavy with meat and potato, I ordered a salad for my starter…a Greek salad, to be exact, one that, according to the menu, consisted of greens, onion, tomato, cucumber, black olives, and dressing. ‘Yum!’ I thought to myself. ‘Black olives, not kalamatas!” I tend to shy away from green salads I have not already seen served up due to an unfortunate propensity of many restaurants for chopping up green peppers into little invisible chunks and scattering them generously over the salad as if they were rose petals for a bride to tread upon. But green peppers were not on the list of ingredients, so I ordered with confidence.

I do not understand why people who prepare food for others so often do not recognize that the quantity of a particularly strongly-flavoured ingredient must be balanced against the quantity of milder ingredients. If you were to make a single-serving salad that included a full teaspoon of chopped garlic, the other ingredients would be rather superfluous, wouldn’t they? After all, what would you be able to taste, other than the garlic? Well, for me, green peppers are like that. I can be happily munching along on a wad of sumptuously dressed lettuce and the moment my teeth crush that little fragment of green pepper, that’s all I can taste.

So, my Greek salad came and the olives were kalamata, which instantly found their way to Hubby’s plate, and the top of the salad was strewn with long strips of red and yellow peppers, kissing cousins to the offensive green. Fortunately they were brightly coloured and did not blend in with the lettuce, so I was able to spot them and get them out of the salad before they contaminated the remaining ingredients with their pungent oils. But pepper strips on a Greek salad?? Since when?

I wasn’t so lucky with dinner. If you were to ask me to list my least favourite vegetables in the world, at the top of the list would be boiled, steamed or creamed spinach and any kind of yellow squash prepared in any manner except as a pumpkin custard pie. I loathe and detest creamed vegetables of any kind, preferring my veg steamed until barely done, then served plain or with just a hint of sweet butter. And the smell of cooked yellow squash makes my stomach…well, let’s just say that the smell has so much power to turn my tummy inside out, I couldn’t even stand the smell of it in the little jars of baby food…none of my kids ever had that nasty yellow stuff shoved in their unwilling little rosebud mouths!

Unfortunately, creamed spinach and puréed butternut squash seem to be the national veg dishes of South Africa, so when we go out to eat, I never leave the veg to chance…whenever possible I order an alternative, even if it is just a salad. So I was pleased to note on the menu that roasted fresh vegetables were available and placed an order, figuring that if roasted chunks of butternut showed up in the mix, I’d just shove them to the side…it’s nigh unto impossible to roast creamed spinach!

And so dinner finally arrived. I found myself again a bit disappointed: I should have ordered the baked potato, as the chips were not fresh (made from frozen potatoes and mealy-grainy textured inside), and my ribs, while tasty, had to be cut apart with a knife and then gnawed roughly off the bone…none of that delicious, decadent, falling-off-the-bone tenderness that I associate with really good ribs. But the jewel in the crown of disappointment was the roasted veg I ordered: carrots, broccoli, slices of courgettes, and pieces of onion shared a bowl with huge chunks of roasted red and yellow pepper! Hubby quickly scooped the offending peppers out of the bowl and onto his plate, but the damage was done. Everything in the bowl tasted like peppers, even the broccoli, a strongly-flavoured vegetable in its own right.

The baked blueberry cheesecake was tasty, although the portions were no more than half the size as those served by Dulcé in Cape Town. But it did make a lovely end to the meal and our stroll back to Bertha is the balmy night air was pleasant.

So now we are back at the B&B, comfortably ensconced in the bed, Hubby reading while I sit here clickety clicking away on the keyboard. Tomorrow, if the sun comes out (we are having extended periods of overcast here), we’ll take the camera and go to the Botanical Gardens, a place I’ve wanted to visit since before my first trip to SA. If it stays overcast, we’ll head for the Victoria Street market for some spice shopping. Mum tells me that Jayshrees is having a sale, and I’d love to make a run at the shoe shops in The Pavilion. We’ll just have to see what tomorrow’s weather brings…