Fine Dining, Doggy Style

I believe I have a fine appreciation for most things French. I love their beautiful language, their sense of style, their magnificent gastronomic flair…but I have never understood their willingness to share all of this with their dogs. At a guest house in the Alps last year, I was horrified to find a rate card in our room for "nos amis a quatre pattes" (our four-legged friends).

As 2010 drew to a close, however, I learned that it is not just the Frenchies who treat their pooches like people. I learned this when I discovered we were sharing our Umhlanga hotel's fine dining restaurant with not one…not two…but THREE pampered pets. Since when do silver service and slobbering dogs go together? Admittedly, we probably would never have noticed the little mutts, had our waiter (the man has a sense of humour) not decided to quietly point them out to us. It wasn't so much their presence that he wanted to share with us, but the matter of their finely developed taste buds. Two of the coochy-coochy poochies apparently preferred still water, whilst the third had a penchant for sparkling, which our waiter had just served them in their silver-plated doggie bowls. Next up, the hounds were going for the Fillet Bearnaise, served with potato dauphinoise. This was straight from the menu ordinarily reserved for humans. For the more neglected pets out there, however, their owners have the option of a specially designed "pet menu" which the hotel offers. This menu doesn't offer Fillet Bearnaise, but instead Fluffy can feast on some delicious "Woof Waffles" – grilled waffles which are served with "a large boerewors sausage and gravy". Mmmm. Or if Fluffy has had a big night and wants a morning after fry-up, then he can have the "Full Doggy Breakfast" which consists of: scrambled eggs, pork sausage, bacon and hash browns. And all of this is on offer for the yummy price of 95 ZAR.

Who said pets were cheaper than kids?

Because it was New Year's Eve, this doggy-friendly fine dining establishment was offering a "dinner & dance" combo. When we saw the band, we suspected that the music may be a bit before our time – the average age of the musicians was about 75 squared. I guess it made sense since the average age of the guests was in that region as well. Which would have been fine, except that these people belong to an era when white men really could dance. Not so, for The Husband and I. Our little foray onto the dance floor went something like this:

The Husband: Okay, we can do this. We can show those old-timers. My mother sent me to some lessons for my matric dance and I know what I'm doing here.

Me: Great, because I have no idea what you're doing.

The Husband: It's easy. I lead, you follow.

Me: How am I supposed to follow when I have no idea what you're about to do next?

The Husband: You don't need to know because you're following me. That's the definition of following. Your problem is that you can't stand not being in charge.

Me: My problem is I can't read your mind.

The Husband: Just follow me, for Christ's sake. I'm in charge!

Me: I get it – you're in charge. You just don't seem to be in charge of your feet because you just crushed my baby toe with one of them.

During this spectacle we managed to collide with a Swiss couple a few times. They may have been in their twilight years but when they got moving on the dance floor, they did these one-legged jigs that would have put 16 year old gymnasts to shame. And they weren't the only ones who really knew how to shake a shoe or two. The rest of the couples were spinning one another around, looking like Strictly Coming Dancing for seniors.

Mercifully, we were put out of our misery by the ringing in of the New Year when everyone stood in a circle and did some kind of a folking dancing, can-can number in lieu of a countdown. Clearly, that's how they did things back then, before the war.

After the old Auld Lang Syne sing-along with the old folk, we discovered a venue upstairs with dancing and music from this decade. At least there we could steer clear of one another's two left feet. Only thing was, the floor was dominated by 21 year old girls in the highest of heels and the shortest of dresses. Not one to be up-staged after being shown up by the senior citizens downstairs, I was determined to get "low, low, low" with Flo-rida and the best of the twenty-somethings.

Not a good move at 29 weeks pregnant…Needless to say, I retired to bed soon afterwards, leaving the respective dance floors to the very old and the very young.

Happy New Year, everyone. Remember: never start a New Year's Resolution on a weekend!

Couples Vacation

I swear I am going to spend next December in Joburg – it seems to be the only spot in SA with reliable summer weather. I tried Stellenbosch and Cape Town in early December and was treated to gale-force winds and an honestly average amount of sun. Then I tried Keurbooms, Plett and Knysna in mid-December and there was record rainfall not seen in the last two drought-ridden years. Now we’re in Umhlanga where I was preparing to be panting like a little poodle in the heat – except we haven’t seen the sun for three days straight. I have just given up my poolside possie, realising that one can’t really tan when it’s drizzling. I swear, if Joburg were naturally beautiful and had a beach, it would be so invaded by rich foreigners, none of us Saffers would be able to afford property there. We just have to get our head around holidaying in The Big Smoke – best tanning opportunities in the country, no doubt.
As a result of this kak weather, my usual holiday ritual of breakfast-pool-cocktails-pool-lunch-pool-cocktails-pool-dinner, has been rudely interrupted. (Okay, virgin cocktails this time, owing to being knocked up and all). And, as a result of Umhlanga resembling downtown Jozi in rush-hour, The Husband’s usual holiday ritual of cycling-cycling-cycling, has been derailed. So we have invented a new holiday ritual, namely the Spousal Tennis Championships. But this is not just any tournament. It’s a tournament involving a seven month pregnant yours-truly and her viciously competitive husband. The game works like this. The Husband tells me, “Honey, you mustn’t run for the ball”. Sounds sweet, right? But then he finds himself in a tight spot and he goes in for an impossibly short, drop shot. This little challenge has two possible effects: it either makes me stop dead in my tracks to give him a death stare, or it makes me sprint (okay, waddle, quite quickly) for the ball. If it’s the latter, The Husband has the audacity to shout “Don’t run!” To which I respond, “Don’t drop shot me!” To which he has no response. He knows that I know that he just can’t face the prospect of losing a game to his heavily pregnant wife.
And so the spousal tennis champs go… The usual, relaxing stuff that couple vacations are made of.
Tennis champs aside, though, I have learned that The Husband and I have a very different view of how to spend our holidays. I like to pick one form of exercise and then I like to get it over with as quickly as possible – preferably not more than 60 hellish minutes. Thereafter, I feel absolutely justified being a pool-side sloth for the rest of the day. Pool-side slothing activities include reading, napping and eating, with the occasional pool dip here and there but only if the temperature is just right and that there are no kids in sight who might wet my hair.
The Husband, on the other hand, thrives on a strict regime of at least three sports a day. Today’s tennis in super humid conditions, left him wondering whether he’d really had a cardio work-out, just because he sweated up a storm? Anyway, he wasn’t convinced so he decided he’d just make sure by heading to the hotel gym for a bit of aerobic exercise. By mid-afternoon it was time for his standing 3pm personal training session at the gym up the road. Upon his return, he woke me from me poolside slumber because he wanted to know where the swimming goggles were so he could do laps in the pool. And he still wants to sign up for surfing lessons…
The long and short of it is that we either spend holiday time together trying to annihilate one another on the tennis court or we hook up at meal times. (When all else fails, there’s always the food bond). There has however, been one exception when I managed to chain him to a deck chair with his book. That was when he decided to expend his excess energy by passionately explaining to me what he’d just read about the Riemann Hypothesis – all part of his holiday reading on “the greatest unsolved problem in Mathematics”. My gut reaction was to try and distract him and what better way to do so than to go: “Race you to the other side of the pool, baby!” He was almost at the other end before he realised that I hadn’t actually entered the pool. However, he had forgotten about the hypotheseis by then and had moved on to testing how far he could swim underwater.
I’m just hoping this boundless energy is here when there’s a kid diving off his shoulders, another one pulling down his swimming costume underwater and when Mommy is decidedly indisposed on her deck chair, reclining with her book in her one hand and her caipirinha in the other.