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I’m sitting at The Rambling Vine restaurant at the Mount Grace Hotel in the Magaliesberg. I’ve been invited on a blogging weekend, of bloggers and partners and friends. We have our own hashtag: #mountgraceblog for Twitter and the cellphone flashes start as soon as the first course is served. If ever there was a weekend that was going to be preserved for posterity, this is it.
Also at the table a blogger who maintains no less than three accounts, has his iPad out among the silver cutlery and fine dining plates. Hard core about his blogging, he informs us midway through the eight-course meal that Cosatu’s just released a press release about the e-tag debacle.
Flashes continue, people’s conversations are captured as quotes to be forever immortalised on Twitter, every dish presented at this fine dining event is captured digitally. Conversation stops as each new plate is brought to the table.
We’re listening to chef Franc Lubbe explain the meal, but we’re also pausing to record, tweet, re-live the event by beaming our thoughts live, online. It feels as if we’re living double lives. The median age is twentysomething, a scattering of thirtysomethings, one or two over the age of 40. And I’m glad of that – I’m watching a generation gap in action. Generation X has cottoned on to the sharing, oversharing Gen Y-ers. We tweet, we blog, we update our BBM statuses, we link Twitter to Facebook, and some of us were right there in the beta phase of Google+. But still, a tiny headshake or two when we realise the iPad, which was brought out at the beginning of the meal, is not going anywhere – it’s going to remain part of the fine dining experience.
We try to tweet discreetly but, eventually, even that goes out of the window. Anywhere else this would be considered rude, perhaps. But things are changing.
I’m also remembering my previous night’s outing and the contrast couldn’t be more different, more telling, more nuanced. I was with friends from the Baby Boomer generation. Seasoned journalists who worked at The Rand Daily Mail in its heyday and The Star. They remember crazy days, working 24/7 before the term had been invented, right through weekends, all to get the scoop, being the best they could be. “There were no such things as fixed hours,” my friend’s husband almost sneers, “hell, we lived the job, we lived for the job. And we were known around town as journalists. We went to the airport and they all knew who we were.”
I shook my head then, fascinated and appalled in equal measure. I said: “You’ve got to have a balance between life and work, you’ve got to have rest.” I sounded like I was quoting a book on the generations: not for my generation the work yourself to slave level affair, nor for my generation do we stay at one job or company our whole lives. We do the job, but our loyalty is first to ourselves, our families, our own health.
But we tweet, we build our own brands as writers or whatever our field of expertise through social media forums, and link that to whoever we may be working for.
Neither of my Baby Boomer friends are on Twitter or Facebook – they complain it takes too much time. I tried to explain that if you have a smartphone you can quickly post an update via your phone, or if you’re standing in a queue, you read through your timeline instead of frustratedly ringing your hands in anguish.
But the tables are turned the next night – I feel as if time has warped and twisted, watching Generation Y-ers in full throttle.
There’s only one person at the table without a smartphone – but even she has her laptop with her, permanently on in her hotel room, ready to let the world know what’s going on.
And so, what is going on? We’ve been invited to share in the gracious country splendours of the Mount Grace. Situated just outside Magalies village, the hotel is spread around 4 hectares, a mix of manicured lawns, bushveld, pools dotted around the place, and a heated pool with Grecian-looking columns that takes my fancy. We have our own private plunge pool – heated of course, it’s the end of April, but the charm and romance of the Grecian pool are more alluring.
We’re here to have spa treatments, eat gourmet food, lose ourselves in the country. It’s an hour from Joburg, but I’m already marvelling at the fact that city stresses seem to almost magically fall away when you’re surrounded by views rather than townhouse developments.
The relaxation continues with lunch overlooking the mountains. More rockpools lie dotted outside, a little bridge arches quaintly over a stream. It’s all quite idyllic.
My spa treatment isn’t all I expected. A recent convert to massages after a traumatic experience 10 years ago, I’ve taken the advice of friends and said “yes” to whatever treatments have come my way. I’m hooked – but I’m offered a Swedish massage and later I hear that this is the hardest massage you can have, despite asking for a soft touch.
A walk at dusk – smartphone in hand, of course – leaves me time to ruminate. I sit at the spa’s rock pools and fountains as night starts falling. I take photos, I tweet, I SMS, I need to be in contact and yet, yes, I am relaxing. Letting others know what’s going on gives me a sense of peace. I’m sharing – maybe I’m over-sharing. Who cares.
The tranquillity is such that you want to share. Walking back down stairs carved into the ground, sun setting, watching various well-cared cats roaming through the grounds, I feel a million kilometres away from Jozi. There are baboons here too – great big giants, scrambling up trees, loping through the grounds and yet keeping well away from us.
And then, there’s supper: an eight-course meal, created by Franc Lubbe and paired with a number of different beers from the Dog and Fig Bewery. In this life I’m no drinker, but I taste the bitter brews, see the look of appreciation on the faces of my fellow diners, but it’s a conversation I’m excluded from.
But the food.
Our eight-courses consist of bite-sized portions, or there’s no way we’d get through it all. From a sweetcorn fritter that takes fritter to new levels to a soup that gives new meaning to the term “shooting up”. Mushroom consommé: dried mushrooms curled artistically in our soup bowls, little jugs of soup which we pour over the mushrooms and then oohs and aahs and, of courses, flashes as cameras go off – we pick up our injections next to our bowls and create our own particular noodles and shapes and designs. Food is delicious, but it’s also fun, seems to be the message here.
A seafood stew of Scottish salmon and prawn is another dish that I could order as a main meal. There’s a scallop paired with crostini and foie gras. And a sublime beef and stout pie that I’d also order if it were a main meal.
And the pièce de résistance, the final ooh moment, comes at dessert time. We’re presented with a caramel bavarois that is so beautiful to look at, like a miniature Joan Miro painting, that it almost seems sacrilegious to destroy it. But we do, of course, caramel oozes from the bavarois and we all scrape at the flavours combined in our mini-painting. There are, of course, the photos sent to Twitter, to remind us of what we’ve just consumed.
The magic continues the next morning in the flotation pool. My friend’s already posted to Facebook and Twitter that she’s going to try it out and it would be an #epicfail were we to leave without trying it out, now that we’ve shared this.
A surreal experience: the tide of the pool keeps you floating and moving in circles around this circular pool; you rock gently as though in a boat. Soft instrumental music pipes through the water, leading you on, leading you somewhere else. Signs warn you not to stay for longer than a half an hour – I don’t know how long we stay.
Time’s irrelevant, watches and smartphones discarded, I feel as if I’ve transcended everything, left something behind that I needed to leave behind. Drying off in the autumn sunshine, the sun warm on my face, the stream bubbling gently next to me, I click on my Twitter app again, and the words say it all: “I think I’ve left my identity @ the flotation tank… Or maybe I’ve just found it after all these years”.
Derek Martin derekm11: #MountGraceBlog Highlights – when @SimplyDelishSA told us that being a food blogger has more politics than a day time us soap opera!
Michelle McGrane: @MichelleMcGrane Running on country time at the moment, i.e. currently have no sense of time. #zen #mountgraceblog
Tanya Kovarsky: @TanyaKovarsky Leaving Mount Grace after a superb and relaxing time. I swear I weigh 2kg more after 8-course meal last night #mountgraceblog
Arja Salafranca: @ArjaSalafranca Q to Chef Franc Lubbe “what’s that sauce?” @ #mountgraceblog “I make sauces, your granny makes gravy.” Whatever the beef & stout pie delish
Shahil Juggernath: @shahil “it's like liquid Vaseline” thats when you know the food is interesting#mountgraceblog
Spiced Weasel: @SpicedWeasel I’’m not a beer drinker but will give it ago… Interesting flavour and not the bitter taste #mountgraceblog along me to expand my flavours
Shahil Juggernath: @shahil #thatawkwardmoment when you’re at an event and the beer maker suppose to pitch but his wife goes into labour #mountgraceblog
The Mount Grace is hosting various wine weekends this year:
May 26-27 – Haute Cabrière Wines
June 23-24 – Simonsig Estate
July 28-29 – Nitida Cellars
August 25-26 – Zewenwacht Estate
September 22-23 – Allée Bleue Wine Estate
October 27-28 – Iona Wines
November 24-25 – Beyerskloof Estate
To book a stay or a wine weekend: for Mount Grace Country House & Spa enquiries, call the Mount Grace Country House & Spa direct on 014 577 5600, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.mountgrace.co.za for more information. - Sunday Independent