Son et Lumiere…

I know exactly when it happened. My first love affair. Passionate… Enduring…  All consuming… Well, I was nine.  Yes. I know what you cynics are thinking, but you are sooooo…wrong. It was not a dog, cat or hamster…the lover in question happens to be a city.  Bricks and mortar, but so much more.

Frankly, I blame my parents.  After all…if they hadn’t gone to Paris for their honeymoon, I might have focused my affections on Skegness! God Forbid! Anyway, they chose Paris instead. The epitome of chic in the sixties. Thank God…and thank Yves St Laurent!

I realise this might appear strange to all those well-travelled EU citizens out there. But to a shy, spider-legged girl growing up in Africa, Paris seemed impossibly sophisticated.  This affection for a capital I had never seen or visited grew, but remained unrequited until university.   It was there that I discovered my second love…French films. For those of you who eschew subtitles – just look away now and don’t bother to read any further!

 In 1895 the Lumiere brothers were the first to present projected, moving, photographic, pictures to a paying audience of more that one person. I think that qualifies as inventing cinema and probably explains why French films are pre-eminent in my own mind. By the time I graduated, I’d watched about 100 French films. The ones I love most, were set in Paris.  They usually involved complex, slow moving plot-lines and starred couth, dark haired men. Men of few words, but great passion.  They wore pressed blue shirts and dined and smoked in wood-panelled bistros. They rode vespas and had complicated personal lives. Well… it’s my fantasy so I’m allowed to dream!

Last week, I set off for Paris.   I had breakfast with Matisse and Picasso, lunch in a wood-panelled bistro on the Seine.  A good spot for watching suave men and elegant women as they sashayed past on their way to work…to assignations…and the Rive Gauche. I spent the afternoon getting lost in the Marais, but finding myself…in the architecture, the light, the sense and sound of an old city. I fell in love all over again.  Paris, j’taime!

Star Trek…

I adore Science Fiction. So much so, I even studied it at Uni as part of my degree. Bug-eyed Monsters, The Green Lantern and Bladerunner all have a special place in my heart. Now before you get completely the wrong idea, I’m not quite ready to don lycra and attend conventions as a warrior queen from the planet Zorg. Still, it’s fair to say this intergalactic love affair started young.

When I was a kid, Betamax and VHS were vying for supremacy, but for those of us whose parents hadn’t quite got round to getting a video machine, there was always cine film.  I’m not quite sure whether Star Trek was the only thing you could hire during the cultural boycotts of the apartheid years, or if my dad was secretly modelling himself on Captain Kirk…, but one thing I do know.

My sisters and I always looked forward to Saturday, because this would mean a trip to our local corner shop, for crisps and a cooldrink, a weekend treat.  Then….’un-bear-able’ excitement as my dad picked up the hire projector and ‘shorts’, and turned our lounge into a cinema.  We would help to move the Tretchikoff picture off the wall, and arrange ourselves neatly in front of the sofa.  Anticipation mounted.  And as the projector began whirring, Gene Roddenberry would transport us to a world of space age heroics and alien encounters.

Like me, Star Trek made its debut 43 years ago.  Roddenberry wanted his series to show mankind what it might develop into, if only it would learn from the lessons of the past, most specifically by ending violence. Of course, this was lost on me at the time, but it makes sense now.  Star Trek was fairly progressive – many of the original episodes were allegories for the issues of the time in which it was made.

These cinematic adventures made a lasting impression.  As far as I was concerned Star Trek had it all – a racially diverse cast of strong alien and human characters, diabolical villains and groovy music.  And let’s not forget my ultimate favourite gadget – a transporter!  Gotta have me one of those. Just so you know… I’ll be first in line if they ever invent a safe way to beam me to another dimension.  Now, where did I put that light sabre…?

The Secret Ingredient…

When I was little, my dad, who wasn’t terribly good at DIY made my mom a ‘kitchen island’.  It was a wooden cupboard on wheels (moveable, hence the ‘island’ moniker), with louvre doors and seventies ‘yeah baby’ orange and brown glaze tiles on the top.  It was made with love. It was hideous. It ended up beside the stove and served as a vegetable cupboard-cum-potstand.  In this case the wheels were superfluous because the kitchen island never moved.  But it was loved in return. 

That kitchen island was there on Sunday nights when my father made pancakes.  He was a good – but very messy – chef. He cooked with emotion and lots of utensils! Drove my mom bonkers. She had to wash up!  My dad was also the person who taught me to fling spaghetti at the wall to see if it was done ‘al dente’.  If it sticks, it’s ready!  Yes, that kitchen island was there when he died and we all sat at the kitchen table missing him as small girls in an uncertain world. My mom missed him the most because she loved him best. I think perhaps it was because they both discovered curry together!   It was hard to see that kitchen island and not think of him.

And yet, in her own unassuming way,  the person who taught my sisters and I the meaning of togetherness when we were growing up was my mom.  Sundays in our house were always roast dinner in winter and braais (barbeques) in summer. My mom grew up in a country that could not be described as the culinary capital of the world – though they probably could claim the patent for inventing the potato!  Despite this, she made fantastic homemade pizza, superb sweet and sour chicken and a pretty good curry.  You know, the old fashioned type served with sultanas, chopped tomato and cucumber and dessicated coconut. Yum! Yum!  I often think of those meals! 

Even today, mealtimes are important for my sisters and I.  They are a chance to get friends and loved ones round the table – to share the news of the day, to commiserate, to celebrate, to laugh and perhaps to cry when we remember absent friends and fathers. We all cook with passion…and I must admit, a fair degree of garlic, herbs and other spices. Fresh, of course!  I think for each of us, cooking brings particular pleasure. I’m not a baker (too scientific) but I can make pavlova.  My middle sister does a fab roast pork, and my baby sister has a cracking recipe for apple crumble with Toblerone! It’s our recipe for love – the secret ingredient you will never find in any book, but one that nonetheless makes a meal that is cooked with care and thought, taste great.