Monday, May 16, 2011

Write in the Vines: Franschhoek

A short few weeks ago, when the opportunity arose to enter a sample of my writing into a literary competition, little did I anticipate that I would be the winner of the writer's residency, and to be treated to the five day retreat, the delights of a fabulous little town named Franschhoek and a grand literary festival to follow, there.

I guess I only really believed that it was happening, when I was on the flight to Cape Town on Wednesday, 11 May.
And when I received a text from my as yet unknown co-residency writer, Verashni, that she had heard my flight boarding and that we would meet for the first time, on the other side (Cape Town Airport), the surreal was made tangible in some way. If one regards words as tangible, as I do.

Writing out in Franschhoek was nothing short of a spectacular experience. Not so much that I produced volumes, as this was not the case, but that I found my centre. I rediscovered that place inside that allows me to be one with my writing; with reason and motivation for the biography project, and with a renewed clarity of purpose. It had much to do with the people that I met from the time that I touched down in Cape Town. Verashni Pillay, a sparkling soul and talented writer, who was to be my housemate for the retreat and the gem of a woman with a passion for the musical talent in this country, Kerry Friedman, who was to transport us through the strawberry fields and vineyards to Franschhoek.

On arrival, we met our mentor and the retreat facilitator, Barbara Nussbaum. Lesley and Robert were to take care of us during our daytime hours at their guesthouse estate, Le Auberge Chanteclair; a place of beauty, designed for rest, inspiration and contemplation if I ever saw one.

By some coincidence perhaps, the four writers who had signed up for the retreat were all women, and included Michelle Watts from the UK and two Kaapenaars, Elsibe and Penny. It doesn't take years of studying group dynamic to be both enthralled and swept up in the awesomeness that was to embrace us in the days to follow.

And then, we were led to our place of rest; the 17th Century manor that Verashni and I (as the winners of the retreat) were to use as 'home' for the duration of our stay: Boekenhoutskloof Manor.
Set in the Boekenhoutskloof vineyards, in a valley encased in mountains and the scent of rejuvenation, we were treated to a rustic, beautifully decorated house fitted with all the modern luxuries imaginable. This included under-floor heating in the bathroom and a flat screen TV (the latter totally out of it's league, in my opinion). Sprawling front lawns and leafy vine-covered awnings surrounded the house to ensure that poetic content was well-balanced within artistic context. And wooden floors and gables enclosed antique four-poster beds to cradle us after a long day of writing.

Flighted as the gourmet capital of South Africa, Fanschhoek also made certain to take care of our taste buds. Allora made available ample food and transport to and from the restaurant. I'm definitely going to be trying out their Sandton branch.
The famed Reubens served us a gourmet finger lunch at Le Auberge Chanteclair on the first day. I think I just had bad luck with them afterwards, for having ordered a vegetarian meal, got served a beautiful looking salad with dried helpings of bacon chips all over it. And then the refusal, later on, to cash any of our vouchers. Still, it was generous of them to have written out so many free vouchers, whatever the resulting confusion had been. Salmon Bar's divine Franschhoek trout held some fascination as did the goodies I got to take home to Johannesburg. And in my walks around the town, I managed to discover the Village Bookshop and an local art gallery where I gathered an armful of books as well as painted greeting cards made by a local artist. She also happened to be the owner of the gallery, and when I enquired about the artist, she said, in fact that she was the 'poet' of the works. How enchanted, I was! I bought about 20 pieces, which I will write little notes of my poetry and send around to my dearest ones. I think I want to start by writing to my nieces and nephew. Just feel this urgency to pen for them; or to them. One day, they may just read all of it. Or they might feel the energy of the intention. Or something...

On the last day in Franschhoek, Verashni and I had yet to cash in our vouchers at an courtyard pub called the Elephant & Barrel, which turned out to be this convivial restaurant next to the Village Bookshop with tables and chairs set up in a courtyard behind the village shopping main road. We lunched there, with Nielfa and Razeen, and Khaya Dlanga of the twitterverse and other such media wonders, fame. Okay, not so tongue-in-cheek as it sounds. After having reached the ORT Airport, I have images of all these writer's mulling about waiting for bags to arrive, checking mobile phones and doing odd things like trolley-skating their way out of the baggage claim area ;)

Franschhoek. After those immeasurably inspired days in the vineyards of the Western Cape, I'm finding resistance in getting back into the swing of things in the city. Thanks to Razeen and Nielfa, I made my way through Maccassar on the way to the CT Airport, to stop for a few moments of contemplation at the Karamat of Sheikh Yusuf; all in keeping with the essence of the biography that I am writing, especially because there are - as I'm slowly discovering - these links between mutiny and spirituality.

I am overwhelmed, still, when I recall the events of the past week that were strung together, in the way in which they played out, and the discourse that has been lent to me. I am centred, once again, and even as the pendulum swings, I know that I will return to this, time and time again.

The writing journeys on.

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