Bird’s Eye View of a Wildfowl State – Reflections over brunch

I ended up taking lunch at the one place I had seen open earlier.  The Calumet Inn was a handsome building, made up of a light quartzite (from the town of Jasper which I had passed through earlier)  with pipestone highlights.  I went through the main door not quite knowing what to expect.  Apart from the sign showing that it was open for brunch I had no idea of the quality.  A receptionist for the hotel pointed me towards the dining room and I passed by a buffet table with a modest but interesting range of dishes.  I was invited to sit and have a drink (soft) and then I started working my way through some cantaloupe, pancakes and maple syrup, slabs of beef, mashed potato, vegetables, tomatoes, salads, an array of very sweet looking cakes and cheese.

The dining room was a trifle seedy and weary.  The windows were high above the level of the tables.  the decor was dark.  But the staff were all friendly and I was left alone to get through my two meals in one.  I had my ubiquitous novel with me, but I used it to disguise my people watching.  I, as often is the case when I travel, was the only person here on their own.  The hotel was surprisingly busy after the deserted streets.  Most people were coming in from a back entrance and had obviously, like most Americans, driven over and parked up in the lot at the back of the hotel.  It was predominantly extended families.  A couple of tables had 10, 12 people on there of up to four generations.  A matriarch or patriarch might be sitting in one seat, the dominant son or daughter would be orchestrating affairs for them and the rest of the family, the numerous offspring and beta males and females all tagged on.  OK, that is a tad unfair – yes from the outside this was the makeup of the groups, but a few more minutes of observation saw that there was a friendly familial banter going on, lots of different conversations crossing the generations.  I guessed from the dress of most of the families there they were either fresh out of church, or had got together for some celebration.

I do find myself a bit of an outsider in these situations.  You are used to me writing about my travels where I am on my own dipping in and out of other people’s lives.  Even back home, while I come from what was a tight family of four brothers and mum and dad, my parents were only children so I never had an extensive set of aunts and uncles or cousins.  And because of the age of my parents when I was born, I only ever really knew one grandmother very well.  I never met my paternal grandfather.  So this picture of multiple levels of families all interacting as a unit was slightly uneasy and daunting for me.

Envy?  Jealousy? No – it is not for me so I do not crave it.  But I did have respect for it.

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Small town does not mean small minded

But it was another example of this part of the US, whether it be in Minnesota or South Dakota.  Family ties run deep, there is a natural order to life that despite the harshness of the past and the economic wars of the present, the strength of those family bonds and the firmness of friendships in this area are vital.  But none of these bonds are flashy or brazenly publicized.  The people of the northern plains are quiet and unassuming.  In that way they mirror their landscape which at one scale seems monotonous, but in fact has subtle and unique beauty.

I took a different route back to Sioux Falls, sorry that this was the last journey I would take in this environment.  I had one more day of work at EROS before dropping the car off at the airport and flying back through Dallas the next evening.  But I sucked in this noble land to my memory and learned the lessons of being comfortable with what you have from these splendid people.

The Highest Country in the World – Exploring Clarens

Like many South African towns, this lovely Californian style open plan town had originally been for whites only.  The servants and workers, the black community, had been crammed together in a little township down the hill.  Despite the breakdown of Apartheid, it is the black population who are predominantly poorer than the whites, and still the divisions where people have to live remain.  From our deck that evening, we could see the lights coming on in the villas around us, and people relaxing in large open plan houses watching TV, drinking , having parties.  While, from down the hill, the smoke rose from the hundreds of open cooking fires, the chickens clucked or crowed, the children cried or screamed.  That was not the only contrast, there was one between the sterility of suburban streets and the sounds of chatter, laughter and even singing that showed a stronger sense of shared community down the hill.

I can’t lie in when on holiday – I do not want to waste any of the time doing things I could easily do at home, so next morning I was up early and making myself a coffee.  The others too were early risers and we discussed our plans for the day.  We needn’t be back in Maseru till late afternoon but not worth chancing driving on Lesotho’s roads in the dark.  I might take a chance on the big wide empty roads on this side of the border, but in Lesotho you never knew which chicken, goat, pothole, kid, bus would jump out at you at any moment.

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Sunrise as good as sunset

Becky was after some pampering and had had a Clarens’ masseur recommended to her by a friend in Maseru.  She set up an appointment for mid morning.  We had a couple of hours to kill so we all agreed to treat ourselves to a lazy brunch.

We walked into town – barely a half kilometre away.  The centre town was set out grid iron style with low density plots all around, almost all single storey.  The wide roads with equally wide verges were shaded with pines and jacaranda trees.  Clarens had become an escape for wealthy Johannesburgians and Pretorians.  They would hack down here on a Friday evening and spend the weekend either soaking up the numerous antique shops and cafes, or getting involved with some extreme sport or other.  In the centre, the Main Street opened up into a wide grassy square dotted with manicured shrubs.  If you have ever been to one of those Northern Californian small towns  this was a mirror image;’ bohemian in a way, very neat and tidy, people living easily and laid back.  This was not the image of the Free State that I had.  I saw it as a rather strict community, Lutheran at its heart, and living a simple life that was of its own making and not swayed by outside influences.  But here in Clarens was the most remarkable resort town; definitely something for everyone.

We settled down in the garden of a cafe, a pergola covered in climbing roses and bougainvillea giving us a dappled shade, but with enough sun shining through to make us smile, and we ordered the major brunch experience. Loads of juice and cantaloupe, Eggs Benedict and toast and croissants with fresh butter and jams, all washed down with copious freshly ground coffee.  Considering some of my African breakfasts (cold beans, white bread straight from the loaf), this was enlighteningly sophisticated.

Becky, with a little trepidation, made here excuses to leave for her massage.  Christine and I took a leisurely stroll round town, soaking up the atmosphere and bathing  in the intense sunlight.  When we met up again with Becky, we saw a different woman.  I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so relaxed.  She said she had been pummelled and pushed and slapped, but the effect had reorganised her body into the right shape, and placed a massive grin on her face.  It was a bit of a pity there were no more slots in the masseur’s schedule for Christine and I to get the same experience.