Great House

24 Jan

As soon as I saw Great House in Exclusive Books, I had to have it! After the enthralling read of The History of Love and now Great House, I can safely call myself a great lover of Nicole Krauss’s work.

It all starts with a monologue by an unknown woman telling her life story to an unknown listener. But it is far more interesting than that; the woman keeps addressing the listener as “your honour” as if in court, yet her winding story has none of the characteristics of a testimony. To whom is she talking and why?

Just as I thought I became closer to answering these questions, Krauss swaps narratives. Each time I felt myself beginning to understand the particular story I was reading, and perhaps the link between it and the rest, I was whisked into another part of another story, always wondering how I would find my way out of the labyrinth to something resembling sense. It’s not that the stories are confusing, but readers have an innate deisre to make things fits, to link different stories and times if they are in one novel. We want it all to make sense.

This is what makes Nicole Krauss’s work so interesting. She plays on our need for logical progression in narrative, much like great film makers; she jumps around, feeding us bits and pieces until, in the final chapter, it all makes sense and, after some careful thought about time, we can close the book, finally satisfied that we “got it”. Or did we?

Great House is made up of four very different stories, but each have one item in common – a beautiful, if ominous, desk, is all that lets the reader have a vague idea that something is making the book cohesive. The desk however, is merely a tool that allows Krauss to cross time and geography, from London to New York, Budapest to Jerusalem. Each character that surrounds the desk has a sad story to tell of loss and deep loneliness, making Great House a somewhat tiring, if gripping read.

Krauss clearly has a deep interest in World War Two and the deep effects it has had on families, even the children who were not yet born, and those seeking out a new life. Great House explores the deep loneliness felt by those who carry secrets and loss with them throughout their lives. She draws excellent psychologoical landscapes, but without giving the impression that she understands or knows what it must be like. She has a great gift for showing the reader rather than telling.

Pick up Great House and be prepared to hide in your room for two days, reading, but make sure you have someone nearby to give you a hug once you finish – you will need it.



The Town

22 Jan

I have always had a little crush on Ben Affleck, before he betrayed me by forming not one, but two Bennifer couples. *sigh* There is nothing better than a talented man, who also happens to be 6ft2″, and Affleck really does show off his talent by acting in and directing The Town. And let’s not forget the Boston accent.

The opening subtitle of The Town claims that Charlestown, a suburb of Boston, has produced the most bank thieves and armed robbers in the United States. The film then zooms in on a particular group of bank robbers and their slickly planned hits. From the beginning it is clear that Ben Affleck is the brains behind the operation while John Hamm (The Hurt Locker) is the unstable, violent element of the gang.

The opening robbery goes somewhat awry, with someone grabbing Rebecca Hall as a hostage. The poor woman is left unharmed, but traumatised on a Boston beach. She is immediately swooped upon by the Feds, hoping that she will provide the key to catching the gang.

The film follows Ben Affleck dealing with Rebecca Hall as a live witness, the Feds closing in and the gang becoming more desperate to remain free, especially Hamm, facing his third conviction and life in prison.

Affleck has directed a gripping film (as much as I disdain that phrase!), which made me feel more like I was watching a particularly good episode of The Wire rather than a 125 min film. And believe me, this is a good thing. The film is fast paced, yet manages to keep a focus on the relationships and history between the characters.

Ben Affleck and John Hamm in The Town

Rebecca Hall pulls off a good traumatised victim, desperate to find some normality in her life. I found her performance quite convincing and her actions towards the end of The Town left me with admiration for her character and her acting skills. She plays a good foil to Ben Affleck’s character, all softness versus his rough edges. But it is John Hamm’s aggression and desperation that steal the scenes he is in. He by no means rules the film, but he has a great presence.

I have grown in respect for Ben Affleck, and thankfully I can forget his forays into dud (well, to my mind) films like Daredevil. Of course none of these affected my crush on him, but respect is another thing all together.

The Town is still showing at selected cinemas – see it before it goes to DVD.

El Burro

19 Jan

When most South Africans think Mexican food, visions of greasy, cheesy nachos and oil dripping chilli poppers come to mind. Thank goodness, this no longer need be the case with El Burro in town.

A quiet, windless Cape Town evening (impossible, I know!) gave rise to my house mate and I feeling the need to have one last gorgeous week night dinner out before the real work of the year began. I had heard good things about El Burro and seeing as it is only a R14 cab ride from our house, we headed out.

We were lucky enough to get a teeny tiny table to for two on the balcony (so book before if this is where you want to sit!). We really felt like we were at a little Mexican cantina, sitting on a precarious mini-table on the side of the road, but our friendly waitress and beautiful view made up for having to squeeze our food onto the table. The view of the Green Point Stadium and the newly “greened” area around it made for a particularly good Cape Town feel. The decor of El Burro is classic Mexican bits and bobs, without looking kitsch or too trendy. My favourite touch is a “wall” of hanging baskets, wooden hearts and fairy lights that encloses one side of the balcony. So pretty!

The menu which lay before me sparkled with Spanish words which I had to ask the waitress about – she was clearly new and said they were “just fancy words”! The menu has no plain cheese nachos – a sign that this is the real deal (like Italian restaurants that don’t serve pizza!). Enchiladas, soft tacos, salads all with a choice of meat fillings, or fish, or grilled vegetables, made choosing a meal exceptionally difficult. I finally decided on a chicken enchilada and my house mate, staying with chicken (though there are so many options), settled on a chicken soft taco.

The food was quick to arrive and delicious – everything I could have wanted. My enchilada had two tortillas stuffed with chicken, drenched in a tomato/chilli sauce and lots of sour cream – my real weakness! I could only eat one, but what an excellent next day lunch the second one made. And this is what struck me about El Burro – the quality and quantity of food comes at a very decent price. My house mate’s soft tacos were also a hit. A soft taco is what most people call a wrap – all the ingredients come on the side and you are given two tortillas to fill to your heart’s desire. Not enough sauce on your taco or enchilada? El Burro gives each table six little bowls of magic to add a little personal flair to your meal – salsa, chilli, donkey’s revenge (really, really hot chilli!) and sour cream, just to name a few.

All in all my meal was superb and I will definitely be visiting El Burro again. We might have decided another glass of wine was in order to really celebrate the beautiful Cape Town night which lead us to the Slug and Lettuce down the road, but that is another story entirely!

El Burro, 81 Main Road Green Point, 021 433 2364, Mains: R60-R90, Service: friendly, quirky, efficient. Open Monday to Saturday 12:00- 23:30

The History of Love

4 Jan

“How audacious!” These were my first thoughts when seeing the title The History of Love  on my sister’s bookshelf. How could one book claim to be the history of love? I picked up Nicole Krauss’s book more out of spite than real interest. I was going to prove that this was, to say the least, an ambitious title.  After a page , my spite disappeared and I was immersed in a truly beautiful novel, one that will stay with me for a long time.

The History of Love  follows two stories which eventually become one. Leo Gursky is an old man, a Polish refugee  of World War 2 living in New York. He is tired and scared of dying on a day when no one sees him. This causes him to create scenes, drop pennies in stores and bump into strangers. Once Leo was stong , young and a writer, now he is living out his promise to love only one woman, long after she could not let him.

Alma is a fourteen-year-old girl in another part of the city. She lives with her younger brother who becomes more obsessively religious by the day, and her mother, a translator. Alma only knows a few things about her father, but she cherishes them deeply, cultivating a myth around the man. About her own name, she knows only that she is named after a girl in a novel, The History of Love, which her father once gave her mother. She has never read it.

Alma and Leo’s stories are heartbreaking and breathtaking. I find it is generally the stories of the young and the very old that are. The naivety of the young Alma and the regrets of the old Leo add different dimensions to this tale. Krauss has woven these two, seemingly contradictory characters together so sensitively and cleverly that the story is one to be rememebered and held dear. Once I had finished the novel, I sat still for a long time; it is one of those books that slightly alters how you see the people and relationships around you.

Nicole Krauss

The style of The History of Love  does take some patience. It is unconventionally written, not only in narrative structure, but also in langauge. Leo and Alma’s voices are each characterised with turns of phrase and incomplete sentences that could be jarring to a reader who prefers the ordinary. The style reminded me

somehow of The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, as different as they may seem. Strangely enough, after making this observation I discovered that Nicole Krauss is in fact married to Jonathan Safran Foer. Bizarre.

The History of Love  is an intense book of regret, love and discovery. Read it now, while I move on to Krauss’s next book, Great House.

For more information on Nicole Krauss, head to her website.

On Broadway Restaurant

24 Dec

Before going out to a show, nothing beats a good glass of wine and fine meal. If you feel the same way as I do, do not go to the On Broadway restaurant. Do not.

We were heading for a sophisticated evening at the On Broadway Theatre (which was lovely and has no bearing on the restaurant!) when we made our terrible mistake. Instead of entering one of the many eateries along Long Street, we settled on the restaurant below the theatre, the On Broadway Restaurant. The waiter was a friendly, eccentric type, typical of what you might expect at a theatre restaurant.

That is where the pleasantries ended. I opted for a glass of house dry white wine. The only wine available by the glass is from the Bergsig estate. It tasted somewhere along the spectrum between petrol and sweet sherry (if you can possibly imagine those anywhere near each other!). One of my companions made the same mistake, but then asked for red instead. Not being a red wine drinker, I can’t comment on the flavour, but her face on first sip said it all.

Next was our food. D went for the burger, which was apparently a delicious standard burger. The rest of us weren’t so fortunate. I love to eat pasta out – many say you can just make it at home, but I never make anything beyond bolognaise. Creamy chicken, mushroom and basil pesto sauce sounded tasty. The waiter then persuaded me to have the sauce on tagliatelle because they made it at the restaurant themselves. This has taught me that home made is not always well made! Mushy, over-cooked and all stuck together noodles were what I got.

Needless to say, we didn’t stay for dessert. If you must go, better opt for a burger!

On Broadway Restaurant. 44 Long Street, Cape Town, 021 424 1194. Mains: R30-R129 Desserts: R35 Service: friendly and efficient.


16 Nov

Apologies readers, Limestone House can cost as little as R180 per person a night. I was obviously distracted while doing the maths! I’ve also added the email address to the original post. Go get some sunshine on the West Coast 🙂

Limestone House

15 Nov

Booking a rental house for a weekend away is often a dodgy business; you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get for your money. Online photos can be deceptive and exorbitant prices often lead one to believe that the place “must be good.” None of this is so with Limestone House in Paternoster.

It was time for a break. A friend and I just needed to get out of Cape Town for a weekend and we hit the internet, thinking of idyllic Paternoster as just the remedy for our troubles. The first search came up with Limestone House, which almost looked too good to be true. I called Rita, the lovely owner, and badda bing, we booked our weekend away. Simple.

We left Cape Town on a sunny Friday afternoon, zipped through traffic (yes, teachers do get to leave work early!) and found Paternoster. The clear sea and glaring but sweet white cottages were immediate balm to my soul. Next we had to find Limestone House. Luckily, Paternoster isn’t exactly big and getting lost is not easy.

After driving past some of the locals’ cottages, my friends were starting to doubt my judgement on just what kind of house I could have been talked into. But the house was beautiful! It is a large house, with a separate upstairs apartment with its own entrance. The main house has three double bedrooms, two bathrooms, a huge dining room table, an open-plan kitchen, dining room, sitting room and a courtyard. The upstairs has its own kitchen, sitting room and two bedrooms and one bathroom.

This makes it perfect for small and big parties because you can choose to rent out only the main house or apartment, or both. The rooms are clean, with quirky decor of oil lamp lights, shells and some interesting prints. The kitchen is well stocked, with only wine glasses running a little short (to me, a big problem!). My only complaint is that all the rooms only have double beds (no twins) so if the house is full, everyone needs to share a bed, whether a couple or not!

The house is 50 metres from the beach and easily within walking distance of all the restaurants and shops (not that there are many!) The incredible part of this lovely house was the price. The main house is R600 a night for the first two people and then an extra R100 per person (the house accommodates six people) and the apartment is the same (but sleeps four people). This means that for ten people, each person only pays R180 a night.

If you are heading to Paternoster, you need to book at restaurants before; it is only a “klein dorpie” and has become very popular but the restuarants are all still fairly small. Read on tomorrow f0r reviews of the Noisy Oyster and Voorstrandt Restaurant!

email: Rita,