I wonder if I would ever get used to this: this icy Atlantic sea surging endlessly against smooth boulders encrusted with mussels and barnacles, just 50 meters away from where I am writing this.
This morning my beloved and I went down to harvest mussels from the rocks. We were told by the local renting agent about a spot about 300m from here in a cove hidden from view by dunes and rocks, dense with mussel beds in shallow water at low tide. I threw on a pair of wide legged pants, and shoved dark glasses onto my sleepy face smudged with make-up I was too lazy to wash off last night, and trudged off with my husband who was wide awake and ready to stride forth to do the gatherer thing. We had a mound of mussels almost too soon: the mussels were densely packed in the exposed bed. I sat on my haunches in one spot and plucked palm sized shells from a field of dark mussels at my feet, while my husband ventured further away from the shore into deeper waters. We walked back via the shore, the early morning sun at our backs, and a slightly chilly breeze from the sea, the raw ozone smell of fresh mussels and kelp, and the crunch of millions of empty mussel and other mollusc shells, as if the sea has regurgitated them, underfoot.
Yesterday we bought crayfish and fresh fish from fishermen in a village just south of here. It’s famous for its quaint cottages and laconic fishing boats scattered around town and recently for its awards winning restaurants. We had lunch there in the only open restaurant: the other, more famous ones only open from Wednesdays to Sundays. We’ll go back tomorrow.
I’m on holiday, as must be clear by now: far away from Johannesburg, on the West Coast of South Africa.Writing here, I’m lying on a sofa, in a modest timber-clad cottage jutting out over a steep downwards swoop of dune. This time of the year it is covered with succulents and yellow and pale purple indigenous flowers, which the locals may know the names of. Or not. Yesterday I asked a shop assistant in Vredenburg if they sold saffron, and she did not know what I was referring to. Even when I said it in Afrikaans(which gets far more comprehending responses here): ‘Saffraan”, she asked quizzically: ’What’s that?” I did go and looked at the spice section though. No saffron.
I wanted saffron for a bouillabaisse, which I had planned to cook tonight. I did not have that from home in the rather big box of staples, which I packed to take with to this self-catering cottage. I was not quite sure whether we would be able to get crayfish or fresh fish of shellfish, and by the time I had packed, I was actually so tired that I simply did not think of bouillabaisse.
But I did cook it after all: sans saffron, but with Pernod and orange peel and home made fish stock from the heads and bones of hottentots-fish I bought yesterday, from an entrepeneurish young coloured fisherman who tried to convince me to pay the same price for two fish as for four. I had my Opinel in my bag, which came in handy as he asked if I had a knife to cut the thong-like twine he had four freshly caught fish strung together. I’m sure that he did not anticipate that I would have a knife on me, and so would have been obliged to take the full four.
Into the bouillabaisse pot went mussels left over from the morning harvest of mussels. For lunch we had them cooked in the black enamelled moules pot, which I found in this very modest cottage kitchen. I remembered to buy the ingredients for mirepoix. We had lunch on the deck, cold sparkling wine and moules mariniéres, the softly surging sea just 50 meters away, sparkling wine icy cold in tall flutes(surprisingly) stocked here, and an afternoon nap half an hour away.
I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to live here all the time. I wonder if having this all the time would jade my senses and diminish my enthusiasm to cook food fresh from this sea. I would like to think not.
But I’m not thinking too much and too hard right now. Right now I am just writing and listening to the tap of the keyboard and the rhythmic surge of shallow surf against the smooth boulders on this shore sloping down from here. Soon I shall be in bed, the same sounds of sea soothing me to sleep, in a strange bed but breathing in the familiar smell of my beloved’s skin as I fall asleep. Tomorrow I’ll think about food again.