Today marks the 20th Anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic election of April 27, 1994. South Africans will go to the polls once again on May 7 to cast their ballots in the fifth democratic election of the country. By all standards, the country is still a young democracy. In just two decades it has changed from being a country with a legally mandated national policy of racial oppression to one that is transitioning to being inclusive and representative of its diverse people.
Title: The Wife
Author: Meg Wolitzer
The Wife opens with Joan Castleman making the decision to leave her husband, Joe while en route to Helsinki where he is to be honoured with the Helsinki Prize, a literary award which is the culmination of what he has worked for all his life. Meg Wolitzer takes the reader through the lives of Joe and Joan: from Joan’s days as a freshman at Smith. She goes on to have an affair with his professor, Joe. His marriage crumbles, his wife leaves him, taking their baby son with him. Joe and Joan move in together – while he attempts to write the great American novel, she works, supporting his writing dream and in the process abandoning her own writing ambitions.
I made reservations early and we apparently got the last table for four. Who would have thought that St. Jean-de-Luz, a small fishing town would require advance booking for their restaurants. It is a 15 minute drive from Biarritz, and like the other small towns in the region – St. Jean-de-Luz also had its own charm.
One of the things we delighted in was the local custom of saving those few hours before the sun sets for tapas and sundowners. Around 7pm, the tables outside most restaurants came out onto terraces, or pavements and were quickly populated with people. Le Comptoir du Foie Gras served up foie gras with its perfectly chilled bottles of rosé.
‘A hole in the wall’ my husband called it. A bit, but what a delightful little ‘hole in the wall it was. The tables are barrels that have been placed randomly around the bar counter.
As if the Basque region had not been a gourmande’s delight all on its own, we found yet another gem in Biarritz where we had one of the finest meals at Les Rosiers.
It is not on the tourist trail in the city, it was a bit of a drive from our hotel. Hidden away in the residential non-descript part of Biarritz, this was a gem of a place. Small, with an approximate seating for twenty. The service was excellent, the food was excellent, and en plus, the chef – whose feet I was ready to kiss after our meal – came out and made the tour around the restaurant meeting the patrons. It was a great evening, served up with genuine smiles and bonhomie.
We hired a car and decided to explore a bit further beyond Biarritz. I have always been curious about the the town Espelette – a curiosity fed by references to the spice produced in that area: piment d’Espelette. The spice is not fiery as one would expect from a chilli product – but has the mildness of cayenne pepper.
The town is a 30 minute scenic scenic drive from Biarritz,
There is a fairly laid back attitude among the locals in Biarritz, almost typical of most towns with a high community of surfers. We walked around discovering little corners of the town. It is not a big town, and the community spirit amongst the locals was a refreshing change from the brusqueness of the Parisians.
Every other store tempted with delights of some Basque delicacy, or pastry – leaving us with no choice but to get into the spirit of things.
A five hour TGV trip from Paris to Biarritz, a walk around the town for an hour or so, and we were ready for dinner just after sunset. Reservations were made by the hotel concierge at Chez Albert, and for a change I went in blindly. I have written often about striking a balance between well-rated, as per Trip Advisor or in Michelin Guides traveller tips, and local knowledge when it comes to picking restaurants in places foreign. I let the concierge be the local knowledge in this case, or more simply the one who refers all hotel guests to Chez Albert. Who knows? As we left the hotel though, I did a quick search on Chez Albert and read some positive reviews.
The first two books, in a series of three written by Fiona Snyckers were meant to be my holiday reading. I finished them in two days, before the Spring break. I could not put them down. They were hilarious. The protagonist Trinity Luhabe, is a young ‘born free’ South African about to begin her first first year at Rhodes University. Even though her father is a former Robben Island prisoner and anti-apartheid activist, and her mother a former activist and social worker, “Trinity Luhabe is so over the whole Robben Island thing.”
Title: Fasting, Feasting
Author: Anita Desai
I enjoyed Fasting, Feasting enough to finish it but can’t really say it is was one of my favourite reads. Anita Desai weaves her story around an Indian family with three children – all three of whom represent the family’s ambitions in some way.
Uma, the eldest is unmarried, clumsy and not particularly bright. The author describes her hunger for knowledge, and her attempts at being scholarly – but it is apparent that her thirst for knowledge is probably that of a spiritual kind.