Yes. That header is so misleading it could be straight off the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. Because there is no recipe for love and if you’re looking for cake you’ve clicked on the wrong link. But it did hit me today that exactly one year ago, I landed in Cape Town after a ten day holiday in Barcelona. And that my life has changed so radically in one short year. Even by my standards, and I have a gluttonous appetite for change.
I get asked a lot. Why Barcelona? How did the señor and I happen? And the truth is that so much has passed that I’m either trying to catch up with myself or sitting quietly, whiplashed, too scared to blink for fear of it all evaporating. Let’s rewind a year.
Me, forty years old, on sabbatical from my life as a magazine journalist and professional mourner. My thirties was one long funeral procession where I stared at the evil eye that seemed to be fixed on my life through the bottom of a tequila bottle. I wanted so badly to breathe again and step out from the shadows. So I moved to the countryside and rewarded myself with a trip to Europe. To visit my sisters. And then, seeing as though I was already in the old world, I’d visit my friends who live in a castle. Followed by the pièce de resistance in my goody bag to myself, ten days in Barcelona. Why Barcelona? Because many years ago my friend Anna visited and said ‘B, I thought of you all the time. This is your city. If the men weren’t so damn gorgeous I would have become a lesbian.’ Pretty people, good times. I’m coming!
So, Barcelona was to be the plaster on my sad sore. If you’re female and you’ve experienced turning forty as a singleton, you’ll know there’s a certain frisson that sets in just after your 38th birthday. Yes dear, you are standing on the docks and that big thing steaming South is the boat you’ve missed. From here onwards there will be only dinghies and leaky canoes. This story is going to nail a good couple of clichés, the first being ‘It will happen when you least expect it’. Of course I wanted to meet someone to love but I knew that just because I wanted it so badly, I wouldn’t. So I cancelled the want. Or just suspended it. I’m a crap tourist and except for two email addresses of friends of friends, I really didn’t have a clue why I was coming here.
Thanks to this blog and my gig as a restaurant reviewer on the Expresso Show (South Africa’s vibiest breakfast television) a friend of an old schoolfriend of Albert Adria managed to pull strings that I could eat at Tickets, the post-elBulli offering of the Adria brothers, a riot of colour and wit and showstopper tapas presented in over the top fairground fashion. Cue plinky-plonky circus music because this is where the magic happened.
I was a sticky ball of nervous anticipation when I walked through the door. Albert Adria was so welcoming and so attentive, I felt like yelling that I was just a little old blogger from a country far far away that uses too much sugar in its savoury dishes and this was not going to fill six pages in Vanity Fair. But then a very charming man came over to introduce himself. The head chef. He was witty and sweet like only broken English can be. As he turned away to talk to Albert, I thought ‘That’s what I need. A good man. A man who knows how to love.’ This type of wisdom, dear reader, does not come naturally to me. It was like the glittering diamond expressed from the muck of twenty years of gonzo dating. My second thought was, ‘Pah, he’s obviously married, or taken. The good ones always are’…
But fortunately, as with my initial appraisal of Madonna back in 1984 (‘We won’t be seeing much more of this tart’), I was wrong. We bumped into each other later that night and he invited me to the best paella in town on his day off. How magic is that? At least it would have been, if I hadn’t fucked it up. I was too scared. I didn’t go. I KNOW! You don’t get to being forty and single by being smart, do you? I didn’t think he really liked me and I didn’t want to be a nuisance. Not on his day off. I was so scared he would back out, that I did. Even writing this, one year down the line and pregnant with our son, I get downright anxious just thinking about that stupid me. But, for once, the plan was greater than my considerable capacity for sabotage.
It had been agreed that I would dine at Tickets not once but thrice during my stay. First, to try the savoury tapas. A second time to work my way through the dessert menu. And on my third visit I would go to 41 Degrees, the Adria’s sultry cocktail bar adjacent to Tickets. Imagine, I’d stood up the head chef and now I had to go back for multiple dessert courses presented by him. Because the señor is all about the sugar. He is a dessert master. An alchemist of egg and air. I felt about the size of a cake candle when I walked through the door.
I instantly realised how foolish I had been. He looked… so hurt. It dawned on me that I had been doing the rejecting. I stammered through explanations and excuses more complicated than the wondrous creations he placed before me. And then he asked me to join him for coffee on his early morning shopping run at Barcelona’s wonderful Boqueria market the next day. Don’t worry, dear reader, I certainly did not slip up again. We walked and talked through aisles laden with produce from all over. I snapped away, ostensibly for my blog, but in reality I was taking photos just for me. Like a teenybopper at a Bieber concert. I had no intention of sharing the señor. It was far too precious and too precarious. We lived worlds apart. I was sure nothing would come of it but at least I had lots of photos…
I’m not a blow by blow narrator so this won’t be going the Fifty Shades route. Suffice to say this market stroll was the highlight of our week. After that we chatted briefly when I was at 41 Degrees, exchanged numbers and the next I heard was a text message when I landed in Istanbul, en route to Cape Town. In real terms nothing much had happened. Except in my head. Then the odd email, followed by text messages that soon converted to Whats App, which escalated into a rabid stream of communication delivered in English, Spanish and Afrikaans, courtesy of Google Translate. Both realized this was something special when on a Saturday, minutes before service started, he burnt his bread because he just couldn’t stop thinking about me. This man. Does not. Burn. Stuff. Roaming the folds of Simonsberg mountain like a lovestruck goatherd, this was music to my ears. The fact that he created a dessert in my honour… Well, what would you do? I simply had to have some Apricot du Plessis.
So two months later I visited Barcelona again. Just for five days. To see if this was virtual infatuation or the real deal. And because the señor was heading to South Africa for his Christmas break and wanted to know if he should spend his time with me or with his buddy in Natal? He never saw Natal. From the farm in Helshoogte we drove East for some family time in Cape St Francis, which included a two day trip to Addo so the senor could see wild animals. And impress me with his rendition of a hyena’s mating call. Which worked – he lured not only a hyena but also a fox and a rhino to the watering hole. I was smitten. Time was not to be wasted. A month later I put my earthly goods in storage, left my precious hound *Milly with a friend on an equally beautiful farm outside Paarl, and headed for Barcelona.
Huge strides. Heady stuff. We wanted it to be. We wanted it all, together. With me being on the other side of forty, we appointed nature as our family planner. The thinking was that it would take at least a year… enough time to sort out paperwork, learn the language, start working, get to know each other. Hahaa! Our unborn son was conceived in the very first month, which, dear reader, at my age is pretty much a hole in one. Talk about lift-off.
It hasn’t necessarily been easy. You swallow a lot of water in the deep end. I was basically a kitchen widow (all that glorious food the señor serves is the result of meticulous, labour-intensive graft), pregnant and very alone in a strange land, with all attempts at learning the language thwarted by pregnancy-brain (my verdict) and at a time when procuring permits and visas for foreigners was becoming downright nerve-wracking. I’m not a big city girl and after the luxurious Cape winelands, old Barcelona didn’t seem all that bright. Morning sickness, or in my case afternoon and evening sickness, didn’t help. But we’ve come through it all. Lord knows, the señor is a good man.
It’s just one little year since we first met. We’ve bridged continents, a deep language divide, culture clashes and personal whims. We are so terribly excited to meet our son. And we are dreaming a future together. Change is in the air. Nothing is certain. I for one am all too aware that things can go very wrong. Death and disease have darkened my door. It very nearly darkened my soul. Yesterday I logged on to Facebook to see RIP followed by a friend’s name. Llewelyn Roderick. A beautiful mensch, father of two small children, husband, brother, son to amazing people. I am again reminded. How everything can turn. To hurt love’s equal measure. Am I up for it?
It is tempting to hide from the big decisions in life. That no bad may come your way. But no good will find you either. A year ago I threw the dice. I threw them hard.
I’m not saying I’ve hit the jackpot. But I am back in the game.
Did I hear ‘double or nothing’?
*After almost 9 months apart, Milly joined us in Barcelona yesterday and it’s like a big chunk of happy has hit our home. A chunk of happy that sheds piles of long white hair, but anyhow. I was absolutely amazed by how well she had endured the 36 hour flight, the charm with which she has taken to the streets and the traffic, and above all, that she didn’t suffer a second’s hesitation when she saw me. As if we’d spent only a day apart…