Beauty For Ashes

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There is nothing more solemn and stark a reminder of how ephemeral life is than someone’s death.  It takes all your previous perspectives, plans and ideas and turns them totally inside out and upside down.

Recently, while in the Western Cape which had been ‘home’ to my grandmother (my Dad’s mom) for eighty plus years, we drove passed the exact spot at which we had previously scattered her ashes 6 short months ago, and all the memories came flooding back…

Shortly after hearing the news of my gran’s passing, my family and I flew to Cape Town. She was not there, as per usual to greet us, which was so difficult to comprehend. It felt surreal having all the family come together at my aunt and uncle’s beautiful home, minus her. She so loved family gatherings.  I missed her mischievous smile and constant commentary critique. To make matters even more difficult, my Ouma (Mom’s mother) unexpectedly experienced heart failure on the very same day of my gran’s memorial! How bizarre!  But, there was much to do, family to greet and stories to share, so there was no time for pity parties. But, we were reeling in shock.  I knew that my Gran and Ouma were both old, but they had always been around, and somehow I’d thought that they always would be. Aren’t grandmothers meant to live forever? And then, we were given a little cardboard box containing the sum total of Gran’s ashes. Now, Mac, as family and friends knew her, was a larger than life character and so she definitely needed an equally large send off.  We, her family, were unanimous in our plan. We scattered some of her ashes in my aunt’s rose garden (she loved roses) and set off on a journey to scatter the rest (Gran loved a road trip even more than she loved roses).

The family piled into our vehicles and drove inland along winding roads, passing old farmsteads, vineyards and green valleys. We drove with a determination despite not quite knowing exactly where the spot would be. My dad’s eyes were peeled on finding the right spot and then suddenly … there it was. The cars all screeched to a halt and just about caused a few more deaths. We got out, and stood completely in awe of the beauty that the Western Cape holds. We all looked at each other, nodded our heads in agreement and knew that THIS was the spot. My granny apparently loved to camp when she was growing up and later frequented many riverside camp spots with her husband and children. So, it was fitting that the spot chosen was a quite river stream encompassed by mountains, a short distance from where she and her family used to camp many times.

It was a peaceful departure. A calm breeze blew over the Drakenstein mountains as we said our final goodbyes.  It was a sad yet beautiful way to celebrate life together with family. Unsure of how keenly they would respond, I hesitantly suggested that we celebrate Gran’s life by sharing a family meal together.  More nodding of heads in agreement – that is exactly what she would have wanted (serving tasty meals was her way of expressing love)…we feasted on wine, bread and cheese at Fairview Estate.

This time, some 6 months later, we returned to the same spot to show our respects before heading off to partake fully of the beauty of her beloved Western Cape…

Sipping on sun and wine is what one does in this region. Spoilt for choice with a myriad of restaurants and estates, we made our way to Paarl, home to Babylonstoren. It is, without a doubt, one of my favourite wine farms in the Western Cape.

Babylonstoren, which directly translated from Afrikaans means the ‘Tower of Babel’, is an ethereal farm garden paradise just 60kms outside of the Mother City.  Hidden just off the wine route’s easily accessible R44, this Cape Dutch farm is a whitewashed haven featuring primitive brick, ornate gables and thatched roofs.  Babylonstoren is said to be one of the finest preserved werfs (farm yards) in the Cape Dutch tradition. Both the manor house from 1777 and the wall structures date all the way back to the founding of the farm in 1690.

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Visiting the farm is a great adventure. Before you even reach the restaurant you are met with an eight-and-a-half acre edible garden, espaliered vines and a plethora of colourful bounty. Every fruit and vegetable imaginable is grown in this Cape cornucopia. Wouldn’t Gran have loved to make and bottle these as preserves! Her preserved figs were a much spoken about family topic. But, that’s maybe a story for another day. All around me were shades of luscious green, bright yellows, deep purples and fiery oranges indicative of a fertile farm verdant with produce. A calm solitude instantly transcends over one upon arrival, only with the occasional bleating of a goat to jolt you back to reality. Tucked in the Cape Wine lands on a meticulously restored estate was the perfect place in which to celebrate life.

Activities abound on this farm and one could easily spend many days here while staying at the quintessential Cape Dutch hotel on the premises. (We were day visitors.) You can try out your green fingers and gather produce – peaches, mulberries, figs, and cumquats – bake your very own bread, press olive oil from the 8,800 olive trees or harvest honey, if brave enough, with the resident beekeeper. (For those happy to leave the cooking to the professionals, Babylonstoren’s very own Babel restaurant is housed in a creatively converted cowshed.)

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I slipped away from the family and found a serene and quite spot in the mulberry meditation area in which to reflect and give thanks.  Next up was some time at the ‘Indigenous Fragrant Garden’ with its wild geranium, jasmine and buchu – certainly olfactory delights! I took a blissful moment to walk bare foot across the calming chamomile lawns and tested out its softness by lying flat on my back.

While meandering through the gardens, picking juicy purple figs I caught sight of the large dark green steel and hardened glass greenhouse, this see-through structure doubles as a tea parlour. Under the shade of the medium sized oak trees, my family and I sat around a table enjoying a sumptuous feast prepared with fresh ingredients from the farm’s garden. The menu is based on seasonality and what is currently on offer in the gardens.  For lunch I was presented with a colourful array of food, in blue and white packaging synonymous with the Dutch delft crockery dug up when the gardens where originally built.

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Every inch of this farm echoes old world classicism in a modern and quirky way.

To round the day off, we raised and clinked our glasses and a toast was made to ‘Life’

In the next journal post, I will share a delicious Nectacot jam recipe that my uncle made while we were visiting the Cape. This recipe perfectly encapsulates the burgeoning fruit orchids I witnessed while exploring Babylonstoren and its surroundings.

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