Wednesday, December 22, 2010
It's that time of the year again, when I buy a copy of my favourite South African publication, the 2011 Eat Out. The compilers must have been told that a few of my Jozi favourites had been left out last year, as Desmond Mabuza's Signature (and new addition Wall St, near the JSE), The Flamingo Room at the Troyeville Hotel, Greek deli Portas, the Schwarma Co (with those delicious Palestinian twins, who get everyone so confused as the owner is always there, but only remembers you half of the time), the Darkie Cafe in Marshalltown and sundry others are now included, along with all sorts of other new gems.
Jolly good, although I still have a gripe. Joburg got around 47 pages in the guide but I felt as if they put in every sandwich shop and pizza joint in town, not just the very good places. I know we suffer from franchise sickness but the guide was still balanced very much in favour of the Cape which got the lion's share. The reviewers were a balanced collection of passionate foodies from all over the country, who obviously make it their business to eat at all sorts of tucked away places and I know Cape Town and the Winelands have wonderful places to eat, but do I detect a little bit of bias on the editorial staff's side? After all, the mag is produced in Cape Town ... is it really the hottest place to eat in the country? In a country where the quality of the food and cheffing skills is seriously good. You can have as fabulous an eating experience at a little farm stall along the freeway as you can at the highest priced establishment!
I don't pretend to know the current Cape food scene very well but this much is clear - I grew up there in the 1970s and it was not the clean, tourist-friendly city packed with trendy places to eat that it is today. It was in fact a very dodgy city that on some days was covered in a yellow sulphuric haze of pollution. That was when you couldn't walk down Adderley St, particularly at night, and the Waterfront was The Docks, doll. As in ships, sailors and various skollies and ladies of the night. You could probably get a good fish and chips but the city was about as far away from the culinary Olympics as it was from the moon. It was also mad, bad and dangerous: three pupils from the very posh private school that I went to were murdered in the 7 years I lived there. I hated Cape Town and still can't go back to some places there without feeling as though I just ran into a razor wire fence. Today the city has changed out of all recognition, with no trace of its dodgy past and lack of foodie allure.
I am as passionate a foodie as anyone on the Eat Out panel (mmmwhmmmm hmmmm, I say, stuffing in another gorgeous chocolate from Godiva, an early Christmas present) and think they should put ME on their panel, as not only do I adore food and eating but my job ensures my ear is very close to the ground regarding new places, particularly in my own home town.
I have been exploring the inner city of Jozi more and more and interacting with that growing breed of people .... the Passionate Joburger. These are people who live in the city, love it unstintingly despite all its faults, and think it is the best place in the country, if not the world. We haven't managed to convince Capetonians of this but feel that they live with their heads up their own arses half the time. The Passionate Joburger likes going to Cape Town (you can use the Gautrain to get to the airport!), and loves eating there but something is happening in our city that is very special. The World Cup may have been the catalyst but a tranformation is taking place under our very noses. Jozi really does rock.
Joburgers use the bush telegraph a lot and you can pick up so much information just by being in the right spot at the right time. The owner of trendy new Braamfontein florist Lovely on Loveday, Jano, rents in hot new inner city apartment block The Franklin in Pritchard St (the architect is Stefan Antonio), and tells me that the owners of the Darkie Cafe are opening up a new restaurant on the ground floor of The Franklin within walking distance of the Gautrain station and the Newtown precinct.
The fabulous Turbine Hall will also take bookings once a month as a restaurant. Turbine Hall CEO Glynis Hyslop and her wonderfully named MD Daintree O'Grady will ensure a wonderful underground dinner. Normally this is a venue space but on date night all you have to do is book a table!
Randlords did not get a mention in the Eat Out, but that might be because the 23 storey high Braamfontein rooftop space isnt a restaurant but a venue space (it costs R100 000 to book it out for a function). It nevertheless provides a sensational view of the Joburg skyline.
I had dinner at Signature last night and suggested to Desmond Mabuza that he start up a place in downtown Joburg. He already had plans for a rooftop venue in Sandton but a move downtown should not be far behind, especially as people start to move inner cityward.
The Salvatian Cafe at 44 Stanley in Milpark got a write up, probably because they have brought over the Oppenheimers' former private chef. Recommended by resident hairstylist Candice from Wyatt hairstylists was the calamari with five spice dip and the fish cakes.
70 Juta st now boasts a nice coffee shop, POST, and entering the Lord Milner hotel across the road is like entering another world. A sweet old couple, known to one another as Jimmy and Pops (she's done out like Edith Piaf in huge earrings, a white hat from the 70s and a pink smock with buttons), sit at one table having a pub lunch while the regulars, some of whom haveen going for 25 years, huddle round the big wooden bar, ostensibly dating from Lord Kitchener's days during the Boer War (not likely as the pub was built around 1905, by which time it was all over). The walls smell of smoke during the day but at night the party animals turn it into a disco!
More restaurants and pubs will open in this area, it's just a matter of time! Watch this space.
PS: popped into Deborah Wakefield's new place, Higher Ground, at St Stithians. Sadly it was closed but the interior looked inviting. There have been loads of functions there since it opened during the World Cup so I don't think it's just for the yummy mummies looking for cupcakes. I don't think it warrants the description of the best view of Joburg as the soccer fields and utilitarian school buildings were not that exciting.
off to La Vie en Rose in Melville Road, Illovo as those Godiva chocolates have worn off somewhat by now! A Wendy Luhabe recommendation.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Joburg is acquiring some wonderful new eating establishments, where the food is outstanding, the prices reasonable and the queues go out of the door! Time for a little recce of what's hot, what's new and what is getting itself talked about ...
The latest excellent ''food experience', for want of a better word, is LIFE which this week opened its doors in Hyde Park. LIFE has been going strong in Nelson Mandela Square for ten years and built up a reputation for cutting-edge food, a great ambience and amazing eco-friendly lifestyle accessories.
The shop with the lifestyle accessories.
Owners Maira and John Katsoudakis tap into their innately stylish Greek heritage and always amaze, and now it is time for another branch.
The new LIFE is on the site where the Hyde Park ladies who lunch used to pay homage for many years - none other than the legendary Steffanie's which was at its height in the 80s. The original floor and Parisian-style tables have been resurrected, stripped, sanded down and given a new spin in a modern, brightly lit space which combines edgy architecture and earthy colours with romantic bowls of flowers.
There's a sushi bar complete with sushi chef borrowed from the Sandton store, outside underneath the centre's new skylights designed by South African conceptual artist Willem Boshoff, a bar where the drinks are innovative, delicious and as alcoholic (or not) as you like, a homeware shop with a bullet-embedded floor (bought from the ammunition shop) and small tables which can be as intimate with your neighbours as you would like them to be. It's not communal eating as in Europe but you can lean over for a chat, or to see what the next door neighbours have ordered. Maybe you'd like to try that the next time.
There is always going to be a next time. It opens on Tuesday and by Friday night there's a regular clientele. One customer even spends a 12 hour shift on the first day, starting with breakfast, working her way through lunch, trying out the high tea and lingering over dinner!
My own request is that they set up a waiting area at an outside bar because it is so popular you can't really book and there is nowhere to stand and wait fir your table.
EVERYTHING on the menu is good. I try a watermelon, rosewater and basil granita the first time I pop in to have a look and have to dissuade Maira from feeding me slow cooked lamb shank served in a cute little copper dish as I am off to a vegetarian dinner with friends. The granita is sublime and a taste of things to come, but it is eclipsed by the next granita I am persuaded to try on my next visit. This one is as fragrant as it is flavoursome: elderflower, mint and lime. Yum. it comes with a long spoon so none of the icy stuff goes to waste. My neighbour does a Harry meets Sally, and tells his waitress: "I'll have what she's having." The granita is getting admiring looks from other patrons as well.
My brother in law is out from Australia and I want to show him what the South African food scene is up to. He tells me about New Zealander Katherine Langbeen and her books and orders a classic steak with pommes frites, which come in a tiny deep fryer. I love the details in this presentation and the steak is excellent, he informs me. My meal is none other than the lamb shanks, though it is really difficult to choose from the menu which is embellished in Victorian style with tiny Mrs Beaton-esque drawings.
It was designed by Nathan Reddy of GRID and is very cute. Already the menus have started to disappear as competitors pull in.
There's the breakfast section with every kind of egg dish, patisserie (sadly, mispelt!), decadent French toast with vanilla marscapone and berries and the Full Monty of breakfasts. Then there's the famous LIFE salad bar in case you decided NOT to check the diet in at the door, all very Mediterranean and yummy with olives, goat's feta cheese, grilled veggies and gourmet toppings.
Then if you feel like a sandwich there is the gourmet loaves section, closely followed by the thin-crust pizza. My neighbour, whose name we have established is Dave, is bent over his rockety pizza making orgiastic little noises. There is even a sweet pizza with a brioche base, Nutella, vanilla pod icecream and hazelnut praline. Or you could go fruity with strawberries, clotted cream and bananas. This is a definite WOW factor for me.
I won't spoil it for you by going through the whole menu but suffice to say my lamb shanks lived up to expectations and I am going back for the tapas. Maira and John are attentive to all their patrons and take people's food intolerances into account. Brother in law cant eat dairy so we have fruit carpaccio drizzled with honey and topped with nutty phyllo (my favourite, fresh sliced fruit after a big meal). I try a decaf cappuccino ("we love our latte art here," Maira says when it arrives with heraldic patterns on it that i feel ashamed to stir) and he has a filter coffee. We watch a brace of Sundaes being delivered with a flourish to an outside table, with small relief that our stomachs are full.
No doubt about it, the best meal I have had in a very long time! And I love the philosophy of LIFE: Celebration and Libation, simple sustenance, wholesome simplicity, subtle ambience and decadent delights. Artisanal, premier and crafted ...
The wood fired pizza oven.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
The haze of purple in the streets of Johannesburg is like being in a wonderful cathedral.
It's that time of the year again, my favourite season when my city becomes breathtakingly beautiful. The purple mistiness of the jacarandas blend effortlessly into the busy streets, the honking taxis, the urban sprawl and industrialisation of a huge Afropolitan city. All the colours of this huge artificial jungle blend into one another: the bright pink of the bougainvilleas, the Pride of India blossoms, the red coral trees and the white and purple agapanthus which pop out in the flower beds.
The funny thing about the jackys is that while they are individually magnificent (below), these trees are so densely planted in certain suburbs of Joburg, sort of "in the zone", so there are certain places where they are more spectacular en masse.
My jewellery designer-slash-photographer friend Kevin Friedman and I take a Jacaranda Pilgrimage from the overarching avenues of Norwood, through to upper Houghton, on to Parktown where the purple is offset by the deep ivy green cradling the stone walls of the Herbert Baker houses. Finally we land up at The Westcliff and watch the sunset.
IN NORWOOD ...
Nothing like the sight of sunlight bursting through the branches.
The branches of the jacarandas are normally twisted and tortured-looking (below), in contrast to the soft petals, which are even better with the back-lighting of the sun.
Kevin stopped to capture a broken bough and its tough wood (below).
A Cape dove struts among the fallen purple petals in Norwood.
THE JACARANDAS IN HILLBROW
Hillbrow was the best place to be this jacaranda season!
A romantic carpet of flowers.
HIGH UP IN HOUGHTON ...
Looking down on the stone angel war memorial outside the zoo. Italian prisoners of war built it during World War 2.
IN HISTORICAL PARKTOWN/WESTCLIFF
Whenever I get really depressed I come and look at the Sir Herbert Baker houses here, and even though I don't have R100-million to buy one, it always cheers me up!
The indigenous and the exotic ... fragile petals against sturdy cacti.
THE JOBURG GEN ... AND SURROUNDS
We were rudely turned away at the gates to this public health hospital, which has done itself no PR favours recently, but the view on the hill going down was glorious. We found an alternative viewing platform to look across the city towards The Westcliff.
This gorgeous house was built for Sir Henry Hull in 1905 and is now a conference centre.
The viewing deck (above) had one smashed pane of glass (below).
Blooms above the old carriage house.
The garden was a burst of purple agapanthus, to go with the trees.
Looking up at the Hillbrow Tower from the carpark.
THE GRAND FINALE- FROM THE WESTCLIFF ...
The hotel's somewhat harsh pink buildings are softened by the plantations of mauve.
The view across from the Westcliff to the Villa Arcadia.
What's a trip to The Westcliff without a glorious sunset and a cocktail besides the pool(below)?
ALL PIX BY KEVIN FRIEDMAN
Monday, October 25, 2010
The lake with the mountain behind it.
Long, long ago I had a little penpal. She was based in Franschhoek, which in those days was a charming, sleepy little town in the Winelands. Not much happened there besides the annual harvest but the town had beautiful old buildings which had stood there since the Huguenots sought refuge from religious persection in the Cape in the late seventeenth century. Many of the farms had been in the same families for generations. The Dutch didn't much like the thought of a French settlement to rival their own, so separated the new settlers into isolated farms in an attempt to break the use of their mother tongue. The town was called Olifants Hoek back then, to honour the elephants which travelled along ancient trails around and around the craggy Franschhoek mountains.
But the Huguenots brought their winemaking skills with them and found that the vines flourished in this mountain-ringed,windless countryside. They left their legacy in many of the handsome, olive-skinned, dark-eyed faces, in the surnames in the area and the 300-year-old wine farms, many of which are today the property of big corporations or foreign investors.
My little penpal told me none of this however. I learnt it all many years later on subsequent visits. She and I communicated with one another in different tongues, as I was an immigrant much like the early Huguenots and had to learn this peculiar language called Afrikaans. She, on the other hand, had to brush up on her English. it was nevertheless a charming correspondence and we learnt much about one another. Perhaps the blood of Huguenot ancestors flowed through both our veins.
Subsequent visits showed how Franschhoek was changing and evolving. It was still sleepy in the early 80s, when my sister was married in neighbouring Stellenbosch and had her reception at Boschendal, but by the millennium it began to be a major tourist destination. I stayed there in 2003 during the Cricket World Cup in a pretty B&B and saw the explosion of restaurants and big-name wine estates. There was a view of the mountains from every angle of my upstairs room, and I became aware that this formerly sleepy town was now prime real estate for retired couples, or those who wanted to leave the rat race and open yet another guesthouse. Pseudo-Frenchification was everywhere in the town - much to the early Huguenots' delight I am sure.
My next trip was part of a media trip for the new Schwartz jewellery store in the town; obviously big money shopped there. We ate non-stop, starting with fabulous fish restaurant Boullaibasse (which has now sadly closed down, along with the town's branch 6f Schwartz, thanks to the recession) and winding up at the chocolate shop down the road. Fortunately there was a great deal of walking involved! We staggered back to our guesthouse, Klein Olifants Hoek, named in honour of those long gone pachyderms, where white Iceberg roses and long stemmed lavender bushes were starting to bloom in the mizzly rain. It was early spring, sit-by-the-fire-with-a-glass-of-good-red weather, and I tumbled into my bed to sleep, straight from a fabulous open bathtub which was positively 18th century. The floors and doors were not quite flush, and I was told the building was an old school which had obviously been built on to.
Franschhoek had clearly lost none of its charm, despite obvious and growing commercialisation, and my latest visit confirms this. This time I am down for the polo at Val de Vie polo estate outside the town. All thanks to Deidre Theron-Loots, CEO of the TCB Group, who sponsored my airline ticket with 1Time Airlines, as a favour to event organiser Edith Venter!
I am staying at L'Ermitage right up on the mountain near the white painted name of the town which greets visitors on the road in. The owner has established a number of self-service villas with an adjoining chapel, popular for weddings of any religious denomination, and built himself a house not far away, with the vineyards of the estate climbing across the mountainside. A gentleman in a bright, harlequin-coloured outfit vaguely reminiscent of the Four Musketeers greets me at the gate and directs me to reception.
It is the perfect retreat. You know when you have reached burnout point when you try to switch cramping feet in the hire car and you hit the brake instead of the accelerator. Thank God this is Cape Town and everyone drives at snail's pace! I need a refuge from the endless traffic, deadlines and bills. My nerves are stretched to breaking point and I am as cranky as a snapping turtle. My room is like the suite in a hotel, it goes on for ever. There is a self-service kitchen, a dining room/TV room, an enormous bedroom, a luxurious bathroom, a garage to park the car and an outside balcony where I can lean over and look at the big dam directly underneath, the mountains and the vineyard where they produced a label called Fransch Hoek. It is so peaceful. I sleep that night and the next night with my windows open so the sounds of outside and the fresh clean air wash over me: that deep liquid frog bubble and the ducks quacking quietly.
L'Ermitage ... what a beautiful place.
Driving to the polo is delicious too. En route is one of the most picturesque prisons I've ever seen ... did you get sent to the Groot Drakenstein Prison for good behaviour? There is a half-hearted attempt at barbed wire along the wall but otherwise it is as charming as anything else in Franschhoek. The only thing that is not charming were the hovels along the road that many labourers still live in, a disgrace to one of the richest wine growing areas in the country. Only the Ruperts' farm, L'Ormarins, on the road going out of Franschhoek has rows of neat, modern, white washed cottages with chimneys slightly smudged by smoke. They are on a par with the townhouses which are springing up like mushrooms all over the vineyards.
Val de Vie, scene of the BMW International match earlier this year, is almost too enchanting- and the view! The gods of the Cape's weather smile and send us a beautiful day, along with plenty to eat and some yummy polo players.
The next day it is time to drive into Cape Town for lunch with a friend in the Cape Quarter. In true confusing Cape fashion there are TWO of the above, the older one called the 'old Cape Quarter" and the newer one, well, the "new Cape Quarter". Not only that, but there are two restaurants by the same name in both, so I land up in the wrong place. There is something exasperating about a place that does that, and does not indicate its exit signs properly so you end up driving round and round a parking lot like a nana. All the mountains in the world don't make up for this muddled thinking and Joburgers, with their finger-snapping sense of urgency and efficiency, often can't get their heads around a place where a freeway that just ends in mid-air. What is WITH that? Also the tendency to consult the weather, like the Delphic Oracle, when it comes to deciding where to eat.
????? How BIZARRE.
OK, it was time to get back to Franschhoek. They have parking mafia here too, I discover, thanks to all the tourists but finally find refuge and a well deserved stop for a chocolate icecream under the trees at BICCCS, the recommendation of chef Fortunato, who I later discover has a vested interest, as it's his place!
It's been a stinker of a day so I splash my feet in the swimming pool at L'Ermitage which has a huge fountain in the middle of it and check out the deli opposite. From the top of the road a small channel of water runs down over the cobbles and into a drain, very 17th century. The road back was a veritable pantheon of some of the most familiar and famous names in South African wine-making, as well as the food world. Graham Beck has a big-ass South African flag unfurled outside their imposing, bougainvillea-laden brick and iron gates, the biggest I have ever seen. Plaisir de Merle, La Motte, Grande Provence, Allee Bleue, Allee Bleue ... the names positively tripple off the tongue. I once asked where the old graveyards are in this pretty town; many of the founding fathers are buried on their farms and descendants can go and visit with the permission of the current owners. There is also a beautiful cemetery in the town.
I post on Facebook over my breakfast smoked salmon trout and strawberries, looking out over the dam fringed by white roses and completed by a Rodin-like reclining sculpture (never was there a more beautiful breakfast view) that there can be nothing closer to heaven than this. I can't help wishing I could win the R30-million lottery. That's how much it would take for me to move to this little piece of paradise, or at least buy a wine farm.
A small wine farm ... just like the Huguenots had.
The view from my balcony!
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Years ago I walked into Harrods in London wearing a pair of electric-blue Wellington boots. It had been snowing outside, the snow had melted and re-frozen into sleet which made the London pavements not only even harder on the feet than normal, but also highly slippery. This was no consolation to the blue-rinsed, tweedy county dowager whom I encountered in the loos - she looked me up, and she looked me down, and disapproval bristled up and down her well-bred spine.
I was a small-town South African girl who was unfamiliar with English mores and dress codes (Wellies in the country only, and green ones at that!)and this was the first time I had ever got a ticket from the Shoe Police. I got to know them better in Italy later on, but that is a story for another day. How was I to know this was such a narcissistic, shallow world where you really were judged by your footwear and not by practicality alone?
My first visit to Harrods was a lesson which instilled a lifelong interest and attraction to shoes, though. I love an elegant heel, a perfect shape, a high arch, exquisite details, peeptoes which show off Smartie-painted toes, a classic court, and oh yes!, the perfect boot. I may have left my idealistic girl self behind and become part of the painted, showy universe but, boy, is it seductive to be a grown-up and a lady.
The search for the perfect anti-aging wrinkle cream may continue but doesn't a girl feel fantastic every time she slips on a fine pair of shoes? I spend many happy hours windowshopping for what I can't afford in real life. In Sex and the City a pair of Manolos cost $400, in Johannesburg they cost the equivalent of your rent. Or the rent of a store in one of our fine upmarket malls, to be precise.
I wrote a story for Elle magazine a few years ago about women's obsession with shoes, which had gained the name of "Bootism". One thing which fascinated me was the Italian shoemakers and how they could engineer something within such a small space which could carry the weight of a woman on at least four inches, while pampering her back and feet.
Two years ago, you will be happy to hear, I went back to Harrods and headed straight for the shoe department. And what did I find there?!! Wellies, gumboots, or whatever you care to call them, wall-to-floor, flowered ones, sexy gold ones - and even an electric-blue boot or two. The gumboot was now the hottest thing of the season. Where was that disapproving Englishwoman now, I wondered? It seemed that my shoe choice had been an idea before its time.
My second time I wandered around looking at all the latest styles but was particularly mesmerised by the craftsmanship and design of the Louis Vuitton shoes. They were tres, tres elegant with the most interesting heel design I had yet encountered. I carried this interest home with me and regularly pop into the Johannesburg LV store to see their seasonal stock. I have also watched with interest what Louis Vuitton has been doing on the ramp with their recent collections (eg the African sandals produced for their 2009 Spring/Summer collection). It's art on a foot.
I have always loved the Louis Vuitton steamer trunks and vintage luggage but now a new seed is sprouting in my heart, a love of their witty, inspired, creative and very charming footwear.
It was Giselle Hon, the PR manager for Louis Vuitton South Africa, who told me about the latest developments in the LV shoe department. Most people know that Marc Jacobs took over as artistic director at LV but how many people know who Serge Alfandary is?. He's the Shoes Department Director based at
Louis Vuitton's Fiesso d'Artico plant near Venice. So, even though LV is a French label, the decision was taken in 2009 to establish the plant in Italy, in an area renowned for its shoe-crafting skills from as early as the 13th century.
Visiting the plant would be a dream come true, and Giselle has made the pilgrimage ... it's designed very simply, like a Louis Vuitton "shoe-box", with a steel screen enveloping the building, making it opaque from the outside. A big plus is that the plant is also environmentally green, with insulated walls, solar panels and a geothermal heating system.
One of the most attractive features of the plant is the contemporary artwork: which consists of, guess what, three outsized, shoe-shaped sculptures. The first to greet visitors is a white pump shoe sculpture by Jean-Jacques Ory, with a portrait of Botticelli's Venus within. It's not so much the Old Woman in the Shoe, more like an upscaled version of something Princess Di would have worn to Ascot.
Then, you can't miss it, on the lawns is a 4,70 metre glittering fish-scale stiletto called "Priscilla" by Joana Vasconcelos.
The whole place is a shoe fetishist's paradise and the piece de resistance inside the cloister is Nathalie Decoster's L'Objet du desir.
There is also a library inside dedicated to books on shoes. Oh my lordy, does that not sound like a dream come true? And there are orgasmic displays of shoes on the walls ...
There is an unbelievable amount of work that goes into making just one pair of shoes at the Fiesso d'Artico plant from painting of the edges with a brush, to bias seams and buffing. Each pair takes on average two days to make and demand between 150 to 250 operations, depending on how complex the designs are. Many operations are performed by hand, a real labour of love.
LV clearly believes in pushing the design envelope and, Giselle tells me, Sofia Coppola (of Marie Antoinette fame) is now designing a line of handbags and clutch bags, especially for the working woman.
It's all a long way from my blue Wellington days and hopefully my love of shoes can only flourish and grow the more I find out about them. No more shoe police for me!
ALL PICTURES COURTESY OF LOUIS VUITTON
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Life after the chrysalis ... a redhead's greatest friend is green.
I can pinpoint the day when I realised that I was a redhead. I was ten years old and my school mates started chanting delightedly: "You've got red hair!! You've got red hair!!!" - as only spawn of Satan ten-year-olds can when they find a suitable target. I went and had a look as soon as I got home - and saw a definite lightish ginger colour. It was totally traumatic to be even more different than I already was, so I burst into tears and wept inconsolably for days. It didn't help that my face was one huge freckle. I was a monster, the ugliest girl in creation. There was no hope for me. Why couldn't I be like all the other pretty little girls?
Why this reaction, you ask? Aren't redheads a special breed, set apart from the common blonde herd? Don't we all have an ethereal Julianne Moore quality, all alabaster skin, soulfulness and sun-kissed freckles? In truth the metamorphosis to becoming a butterfly is the same for all: egg, larva, pupa, adult. Many a redhead, even Julianne Moore, will tell you that they were perfectly hideous as a child and in their early teens (the larva and pupa stages). Which was probably not true but perception is nine tenths of reality when you are young and sensitive.
Yeah, you try being a ginger, a "rooikop" or any of the other names dreamt up by your mean schoolmates and you'll see it's much better to blend into the herd. The worst name I got called at my co-ed school was "Red Rat" because pale-eyelashed and gooseberry-green-eyed me was friends with a girl who had white blonde hair and no eyebrows. Naturally she was "White Rat".
You see, I was born blonde. To be precise I was born with one ginger curl, teeny little eyes and very sticky-out ears but developed butter blonde curls. Much more socially acceptable. Little did I know that the ginger gene was ready to make its big comeback. While my family and I travelled through France as a child my hair began to resemble the ripening wheat fields which greeted us on the cyprus-lined roads down to the fortified medieval city of Carcassonne. And still no one spoke out ... except for my granny, who drew my mother aside and told her never to dress me in pink as I had red in my hair. And it just got redder and redder and wouldn't go back to being blonde.
Here are a few things you probably didn't know about redheads:
1. Red hair is a recessive gene and is usually a sign of ancient Celtic influence. Many people carry the redheaded gene and then are very surprised when their babies turn out to be, well, redheads.
2. The sun is a redhead's enemy. Sunblock was invented with redheads in mind. All redheads need to vigorously avoid the sun. The red pigment is an inadequate filter of sunlight and their skin is more susceptible to sunburn, skin cancer and wrinkling with age.
3. Being a redhead is not just a physical manifestation. It is also an attitude.
4. Redheads bleed like stuck pigs. Doctors know this when they deliver the babies of a redhead. You wouldn't think that white skin contained so much pigment underneath. This is due to slightly different clotting factors in the blood.
5. Red hair does not turn grey, the colour just fades away from blonde to white. As my father once told me, my hair would turn the colour of "tom cat mange".
6. Redheads are very sexy and sensual but they are also spiritual.
7. Red headed women are seldom attracted to red headed men.
8. Red heads are said to have one layer of skin less so they feel everything more, including pain. When your hair is the colour of molten lava you also have a helluva temper!
9. Redheads have very thick hair but have less hair on their head then anyone else.
10. Redheads have a secret bond with all other redheads. Kinda like a secret society.
At around fifteen and three quarters my ginger locks, which had been in a pudding bowl style but were now long, became what my admiring art teacher liked to call "strawberry blonde". Everyone started to rabbit on about pre-Raphaelites, bank managers stared at me and strange men tried to chat me up in the street. The mean kids told me my hair was now "orange". I realise now that they were probably very jealous.
Growing up in Africa as a redhead wasn't exactly a picnic. There were very few of us around and the lascivious rays of the burning African sun is not condusive to being outside, playing sport or cultivating a golden tan, which is what most sixteen years of my acquaintance were doing. So sitting on the beach swaddled up to the eyeballs with sunscreen, long sleeved shirts, hats and umbrellas I was an anomaly, a freak, an oddity of nature. I hated the beach and still do. In Turkey they took one look at my passport's place of birth, then looked at me, and said in tones of disbelief: Kitwe? Zambia?
Oh how I yearned to be a brunette, preferably Elizabeth Taylor in her heyday. So nice to wake up in the morning with healthy whites of the eyes, eyebrows, eyelashes and deep brunette hair. Oh and I wanted violet-coloured eyes. I didn't listen to anything that anyone told me, like my mother who said I had "apple blossom skin". Human beings always want the exact opposite of what they have.
It was only when I went to Ireland that I finally accepted myself as a gorgeous redhead. Ireland was truly the Kingdom of the Redhead, from palest red to deepest auburn. It was my spiritual home and I LOOKED LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. They all had puckish faces, pointy chins, gummy smiles, pixie ears. It was heaven. Irish men turned around 360 degrees in the street when I walked past them; this had never happened to me in my life before. It was an epiphany. Turned out the red hair had come down to me from my mother's side. There had been several redheads on the distaff side, some with deep auburn hair. It was all DNA after all, not cosmic torture. My relatives loved my red-gold hair and said they couldn't get over how Irish I looked. I even met a cousin years later who also had red hair. She and I were so alike it was uncanny.
My cousin Siobhan and I ... when she takes out of its plait her hair is like a river of fire!
By writing this blog I aimed to exorcise the mean names I was called growing up. Because it is only when a redhead embraces her crowning glory that she can be truly beautiful in her own skin. My red-gold hair is tribute to my Celtic heritage, along with many other aspects of my personality, and I celebrate it every day. Red hair is currently the hottest thing around but unless you are born with it no bottled colour can ever recreate it. Hairdressers should say in awe: "Is this your natural colour?" as they pull it through their brush, shake their heads and add: "You can't get colour like this out of a bottle". What possessed Nicole Kidman to lose her strawberry Celt-fro and turn to icy blonde I will never know. I found a website on the Net called www.redheadandproud.com which might convince her to change back! The author Dale Dassel talks about "Celtic women, with all of their fire-tressed, wraith-like glory".
OK, OK, I ain't no wraith, but the hair is all mine!