A POWERFUL BOOK ABOUT AN EXTRORDINARY IRANIAN WOMAN

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Most of us know very little about life in Iran, a new book, The Wind In My Hair by Iranian journalist, Masih Alinejad is a tremendous memoir and takes us into the heartbeat of that country.

Alinejad was born in 1976 in rural Iran and she now lives in exile in New York. She is an author and an advocate for women’s rights. She is a presenter on VOA Persian Service, a correspondent for Radio Farda , and a contributing editor to IranWire.

Masih grew up in a traditional Iranian village where her mother, a tailor and respected figure was the exception to the rule.

As a teenager, Masih was arrested for political activism and while in police custody, discovered she was pregnant. She was released and married quickly, following her husband to Teheran, where she was served with divorce papers. Masih spent nine years struggling to regain custody of her beloved son and remains in forced exile from her homeland.

She says that: “The Wind In My Hair” is about my journey from a village in northern Iran to the metropolis that is New York City, a journey of self-discovery in which I forged my identity after I learned to say NO. It is a tale that may be familiar to many women.”

Every time Masih wanted to do something that the boys were already doing, she heard the same refrain: ”You can’t do that.” Her father expected girls to stay indoors and out of sight. He wasn’t alone in his thinking. No other girls were allowed to run around and play outside the house. Boys had freedom and girls were kept indoors.

Her mother gave her this advice: “Open your eyes wide, as wide as possible. Stare into the darkness and the shadows will disappear. Never be afraid of darkness, but stare it down.”

Masih paints a vivid and fascinating picture of growing up in a Ghomikola, a village of only 650 people. She says at that time she couldn’t imagine a better place anywhere in the world. It was when she reached her teens that she began to realise just how small the village was.

Even to this day almost forty years after Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Masih says that there are debates within Iranian families about whether her father’s generation made a mistake in overthrowing the Shah and his Western-inspired ideas to modernise Iran to bring in a regime that looked to the seventh century for moral and legal guidance.

The events of that Revolution are: “the most dramatic in the history of modern Iran. I am a child of that Islamic Revolution and have lived nearly all my life under its shadow. My story is the story of modern Iran, the tension between the secular tendencies of its population and the forced Islamification of the society, and the struggle of women, especially young women, for their rights against the introduction of Sharia law, against violations of human rights and civil liberties.”

“The revolution changed much, but for the women it was many steps backward. In the Islamic Republic, being born a woman is like having a disability.” In her family, politics was talked about politics all the time and there were two distinct sides to most of the family’s discussions.

All the women in the Alinejad household slept with their head scarves on, but Masih felt that her hair was part of her identity, but you couldn’t see it. “When I was growing up, my hair was no longer part of my body. It had been hijacked and replaced with a head scarf.”

Before the Islamic Revolution, Iran was a country in which a law was passed forbidding women from wearing the hijab. Masih writes that were she around at the time: “I’d have opposed it, not because I believe in the hijab but because I believe in the freedom of choice.”

A photo on Masih’s Facebook page of a woman standing proudly, face bare, hair blowing in the wind. Her crime: removing her veil, or hijab, which is compulsory for women in Iran. This is the iconic self-portrait that sparked ‘My Stealthy Freedom,’ a social media campaign that went viral.

Masih has paid the price for her outspoken bravery and activism. “I am a child of an Iran that carries many scars – the scar of the revolution, the wounds of an eight year war, the lacerations of mass executions, the daily nicks and slashes of discrimination that women face daily. I now carry the scar of exile. “

“There are periods when darkness prevails and threatens to swallow you whole. To overcome the despair and the country’s dark era, I think about my mother’s words and open my eyes as wide as I can and stare out the darkness. The women of Iran want to be free to make their own choices. That’s why the struggle will continue….until we all feel the wind in our hair.

In The Wind In My Hair, Masih Alinejad’s voice is courageous, spirited, inspiring and passionate. Her personal story is an extraordinary one. The book is a tour de force of a memoir. Its balancing of personal account with an even insight into the little known world that is Iran, makes for an astonishing, powerful read

The questioning voice that started in her school years continues today in a woman who is undeterred and continues to fight for what she believes in.

Like I did after reading the book, I recommend watching Masih’s television interview with Tina Brown on stage during the 2016 Women in the World Summit in New York City. It makes for inspiring viewing and brings the power and commitment of seeing and hearing this extraordinary Iranian “in the flesh.”

The Wind In My Hair is a powerhouse of a book, one that should particularly appeal to feminists but also to a broad readership as well. It is one of my top reads of the last few years.

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A TOPICAL AND FASCINATING READ

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South Africa is undergoing yet another spate of daring Cash-In-Transit Heists (CIT). If ever the publication date of a book was fortuitously timed, Heist! by Anneliese Burgess is it.

When Burgess started writing the book at the end of 2016, the perception then was that the phenomenon of CIT heists had been brought under control and was no longer a significant crime issue. (As at 6 June, there have been 159 cash-in-transit heists (CIT) in 2018, a marked increase over the same period last year).

She suggests that: “CIT heists have been commonplace for so long, that they mostly don’t even make a blip on our collective radar. They happen. They are noted. And then they silently slide into some or other statistical crime bucket.”

From the horror of the 2006 Villa Nora heist, in which four security guards were burnt alive in their armoured vehicle after a ferocious fight-back against highly trained mercenaries, to the 2014 robbery of a cash centre in Witbank, where a gang made off with almost R104 million after impersonating police officers – the book provides a richly-detailed expose of a topical crime phenomenon.

Using the information gleaned from thousands of pages of court documents and press reports, as well as interviews with police officers, crime intelligence agents, prosecutors, defence lawyers, researchers, journalists, security guards and the criminals themselves, Heist! Provides unprecedented insight into a crime that increased by a staggering 49% in the first eight months of 2017 alone.

She has broken the big issue down into series of interlinking, smaller stories looking at ten individual heists over two decades – a tiny but carefully selected sample from a sea of cases.

With the huge amounts of cash involved, CIT is a crime ‘that is planned and perpetrated by networks of experienced and hardened criminals, aided and abetted by law enforcement officers and security company employees. It shows an astonishing brazenness: how criminals operate without fear of being caught; how they solicit investments to buy in expertise, and pay off lawyers, court officials and high-ranking police officers. Cash heists are about greed, not need and avarice turns people into monsters.’

Heist! is not the most pleasant of reads, nor because of its subject matter should it be. The book makes for a disturbing, engrossing and important read. CIT crime is a complex issue with “more than its share of unpleasant truths.” The narrative that takes one into the engine-room of a CIT heist gang, is fascinating in its detail and mind-blowing. For me it is the most powerful part of Heist! and huge praise must go to Anneliese Burgess for this privileged insight.

The book’s final chapter, Dirty little secrets, is a fitting climax to an extraordinary book, it is eye-opening, gasp-inducing stuff and it ends with a glimmer of hope…personnel changes that have been made at Crime Intelligence and at SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority ‘starting to make gurgling noises – a sign that it might come out of its politics-induced coma. All this is good news, because, without a new approach to organised crime, the gangs will keep on winning.’

 

I SNIFFED A LINE-UP OF OAKS AT NEDERBURG

A visit to Nederburg is always a pleasure, but my most recent visit was a rather special one. We were invited to experience The Wood Diaries and to learn how different types of oak interact with cabernet sauvignon.

The tasting and blending experience was hosted by Nederburg’s red wine maker, Samuel Viljoen, in the Manor House, which is home to the Red Table Restaurant..

We were divided up into groups of five and given the task of blending cabernet sauvignons, each matured in a different kind of oak.

Samuel presented us with a line-up of four glass jars – one with pieces of American oak, the next with moderately toasted French Oak, then one with intensely toasted French oak and the fourth with Eastern European oak.

We sniffed then all before deciding on our blend which was moderate French oak dominant with equal portions of French intense and American oak.

The moderate French oak we liked for its mocha and caramel flavour, the intense for its spicy, smoky notes and for the majority of our team, some American oak to add a little sweet vanilla character.

We were delighted with our resulting blend and named it Nederburg Quintet, had our blend been deemed the best, we would have to have renamed it the Famous Five……

After the blending experience we got to taste a wide range of Nederburg’s wines. I may not be blessed with the most learned palate on the planet, but it is amazing how my taste buds lock in the more expensive wines. In this case two in particular:  The Nederburg Ingenuity, a red blend and the Nederburg Ingenuity white blend.

 

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Over the last couple of years, I have developed a liking for wines made from Italian varietals, so the Ingenuity Red Italian blend was right up my street – it’s a blend of sangiovese (49%), barbera (40%) and nebbiolo (11%). It has a gorgeous nose of dark berries and some spice and strong fruity, and spicy on the palate. I like a red wine with muscles and the Ingenuity Italian blend certainly doesn’t just lie there meekly….and its bottle-shape and labelling are very classy.

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The Ingenuity White blend is sauvignon blanc dominated (38%) with chardonnay, semillion, chenin blanc, rousanne, alvarinho, weisser riesling and gewurtztraminer making the rest of the blend. My first sip of it initially revealed the sauvi characteristics and then the softer floral and spicy tones. Because of its taste detail, it should pair very well with a spectrum of meat and poultry dishes.

Two thoughts came to mind on the way home:

There are many fine Nederburg wines I have yet to taste…

The Red Table restaurant beckoned the foodie in me.

Watch this space…

 

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A BOLD ENTRY INTO MY WINE PLEASURE MEMORY

In May this year, shortly before the sad passing of Guilio Bertrand its owner, I visited Morgenster Wine and Olive Estate in Somerset West for the annual tasting of their new releases.

Morgenster new releases event is always a special event and an enjoyable one, and 2018 was no exception.

The tasting was led, as is befitting, by cellar master, Henry Kotzé.

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Henry Kotze, Morgenster cellar master, and I discussing his wines and more

We started with the Estate’s new bubbly, Morgenster Cuvee Alessandra 2016; then a wine that really surprised me, the Morgenster Sauvignon Blanc 2018; the Morgenster Caruso 2018, the Morgenster White Reserve; the Morgenster Tosca 2015; the Morgenster Nabucco 2015; Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2014; and then the climax, the Morgenster Estate Reserve 2014.

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The Estate Reserve 2014 is a big wine with the Cabernet Sauvignon 36%, Merlot 36%, Cabernet Franc and 14% Petit Verdot. With a smorgasbord of aromas and a smooth palate with just a hint of dark berry sweetness. Unlike the other wines in the tasting which I sipped and spat, I eagerly sipped and sipped every drop of it.

Another of this year’s releases particularly stood out for me was the Sauvignon Blanc 2018.Its nose was an explosion of tropical fruits and it drank with gentle acidity and just a touch of fruity sweetness. It was very new in the bottle and I can only imagine what a little bottle aging will do to it. It is already drinking very well. I can’t wait to try it again, definitely a Sauvi to savour.

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After the tasting, the group headed to the Morgenster Olive Cellar. As I had visited it just a few weeks back, I stayed behind in the tasting room. While the room was beings set up for a tasting with snacks, I unashamedly poured myself a large glass of the Morgenster Estate Reserve while I awaited the group’s return. I unashamedly savoured every sip of it.

Blissful indeed and my favourite red, so far this year.

Saluti!

 

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CHARDONNAY – SERVED MY WAY

On my recent trip to Bonnievale, we popped in to Weltevrede to taste some of their famous MCCs.

Now two things in particular made this visit special: the tasting was conducted by Weltevrede cellarmaster, Philip Jonker himself and it took place in their hugely atmospheric, underground cellars.

“In the early days of winemaking, farmers would create underground cooling vaults for their wine. On Weltevrede, large areas were dug underground, river stones were brought up from the Breede River by donkey and cart and then cement cisterns were cast. These cisterns would annually be rubbed with molten beeswax to seal each hole and crack and prevent the wine from coming into contact with the raw cement. Until recently, these cisterns had been forgotten about…..”

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We tasted two of Philip’s MCCs, the Philip Jonker Brut Entheos and the Philip Jonker The Ring. The Entheos is certainly a good bubbly, but it was The Ring that totally had bells ringing in my palate, and is the first MCC to write itself indelibly into my wine memory bank.

Its nose is sublime, honey, melon and I even picked up some lemongrass (maybe that was what won me over?) and citrus and apple on the palate.

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Chardonnay is not my favourite grape, but if it is served to me as Philip Jonker’s The Ring, I will say thank you thank you thank you. It is seriously delicious.

By the way, you too can enjoy this eerie underground tasting experience at Weltevrede, you will walk through the candle lit, damp tunnels to the tasting – albeit without the bonus of Philip Jonker at the end (sorry).

 

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT

It has been a while since I visited Bonnievale, so a recent opportunity to join some media colleagues on a visit was readily accepted.

As we neared our destination, two things gave me much pleasure: the first was to see the area’s Breede River flowing very strongly; the second was to see evidence of major improvements being made to the local road infrastructure.

During the journey from Cape Town, I had chance to reflect about the privilege I enjoy of being able to taste (and drink!) so many South African wines.

With all the middle to high price wines that I am fortunate to taste, drink and enjoy, it is easy to forget the wines that could be categorised as ‘every day drinking’. For me they provide newcomers to wine drinking with a perfect gateway to the pleasure.

Now Bonnievale Wines describe their wines as delightful and a visit there as an unpretentious wine experience…

I don’t think those kind folks at Bonnievale would object to my categorising their wines as every day drinking, at R57 a bottle, their new range could certainly attest to this tag.

The reason for our visit was to celebrate the launch of a new range of wines, The River Collection as well as a new corporate identity for the winery.

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The new crest is a tasteful and elegant blend of its heritage and location. The cellar gable speaks of history; the three-arched bridge of collaboration and teamwork and the three original wineries; the blue diamonds bordered by triangles, the river and vineyards; and the ribbon, of unity.

The wines we tasted at their launch were the River Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2018, River Collection Chardonnay 2018, River Collection Chenin Blanc 2018 and the River Collection Cinsault Rose 2018. My personal favourite was the Cinsault  Rose and particularly its aromatic nose.

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These first four will be joined by reds later this year.

The River Collection wines are currently only available at the cellar door, but will soon be available

At the launch, I sat next to winemaking team head, Marthinus Rademeyer. During our time together I told him just how much I’d enjoyed his Bonnievale Natural Sweet Shiraz (Enjoying Shiraz Three Ways – Feb 13 2018). I am pleased they will continue to make it.

Cheers Bonnievale, long may your river flow!

 

 

BONNIEVALE WINES

Phone: 023 616 2795

OH WHAT A NIGHT!

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My wife and I recently enjoyed a special treat. We overnighted at the splendid Majeka House, a 5 Star Boutique Hotel in suburban Stellenbosch.

Its 23 rooms are spread across four categories. Three gardens rooms lead onto an enclosed garden boasting an exclusive-use plunge pool, a perk also enjoyed by the two sets of spacious Poolside Rooms. Mountain View rooms have eye-catching vistas of the nearby Helderberg Mountains.

We arrived early afternoon and were warmly welcomed in the car park by a Receptionist, checked in, and given a brief tour of the hotel’s facilities, before being shown to our Mountain View room which was close to the main building.

What a room! quietly luxurious with spectacular views on three sides, large bathroom with two showerheads, a bath (for when water restrictions are lifted), our bedroom boasted a four-poster bed and a large TV screen, the lounge had very comfy leather furniture, an honesty bar.

After checking in, we decided to use Majeka’s proximity to Stellenbosch to walk around the town centre. With no particular destination or plan, it was fun to just walk where the fancy took us. Lots of lovely little shops and an astonishing diversity of tempting eateries. If you haven’t yet walked Stellenbosch, do.

We headed back to Majeka House to ready ourselves for our early evening at their Makaron Restaurant. I’ve recently written in detail about my first visit there, so won’t go into too much detail about this second visit. We particularly loved their highlighting local ingredients and flavours and enjoyed a superb meal and wine pairing. The restaurant’s service is friendly, relaxed, professional and efficient, a perfect complement to a wonderful evening’s fine dining.

Once back at our room, we relaxed in its lounge and enjoyed chatting about our Stellenbosch day. Afterwards, we slept like babies in the quiet comfort of our four-poster.

Before breakfast, we headed a short way up the road for a glorious hour’s walk through the Blaauklippen vineyards in pleasantly balmy winter’s weather.

The Makaron breakfast is an indulgent delight. From the options of a Continental Breakfast (including a glass of bubbly), a Full English Breakfast (also with a glass of bubbly included). We chose the latter option.

The breakfast table is laden with yoghurts, cereals, season fruit, fish, charcuterie, cheeses, home baked pastries, homemade juices (we had the Green Energizer – apple, cucumber, lemon, spinach, celery, fennel and ginger). From the a la carte, I had Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, my wife chose an omelette with oven roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and cheddar.

We enjoyed the breakfast so much that when conventional time for lunch came…we happily didn’t need to.

Majeka House’s situation and offering are such that it would make a superb base for exploring Stellenbosch and its Wine Route.

We certainly had a stay to remember.

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26 Houtkapper St, Anesta, Stellenbosch, 7600;

Phone 021 880 1549

 

A REFRESHINGLY DIFFERENT WHITE BLEND

Although best known for its fine Pinot Noirs, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley produces many other wines of distinction.

Bouchard Finlayson Vineyard, holds its Pinot Noir flag proudly aloft, and I have long been a fan of it and their other wines.

One of them, for no particular reason, seems to have slipped by my palate – the Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer, a Riesling driven blend. Recently I had the pleasure of remedying this omission.

 

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Their first Blanc de Mer was bottled in 1991 and has evolved to where its current vintage has 60% Riesling, 20% Viognier, 13% Chardonnay, 5% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Semillon.

The 2017 certainly delivers a glorious mouthful – floral on the nose, and stone fruit on the palate. I particularly enjoyed its delicate smoothness.

Personally I think I am leaning towards preferring white blends to their single variety colleagues and the Bouchard Finlayson 2017 Blanc de Mer at a little over R100 a bottle, will certainly be a  visitor to my table again.

 

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ZANDVLIET…. AT LAST!

A few years back, my wife and I decided to spend a few days exploring the Robertson Wine Valley. We’d booked a self-catering as our base and had drawn up a list of things we’d like to do and wineries we’d like to visit. At the time, I was a shiraz only wine drinker.

Well aware of Zandvliet Wine Estate’s reputation for fine shirazes, I had scheduled a visit there for our second afternoon, except we never made it. We had received a call to say that our home had been broken in to, so we immediately headed home to Cape Town.

So no Zandvliet shiraz-tasting for me then…..until recently, when I eagerly accepted a media invitation to visit the Estate

What a wonderful surprise the Zandvliet of 2018 was/is.

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Central to its visitor experience is its beautiful tasting room, the Kalkveld Lounge, the name inspired by the Estate’s Kalkveld Shiraz. Its interior design is quite frankly breath-taking, a tasteful blend of old and new and aesthetically one of the most impressive I’ve seen. It even boasts an underground art gallery, with an atmosphere unlike any other you’re likely to visit.

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I tasted most of the Zandvliet range of wines, but a little like a thirsty dog, I was panting to taste their shirazes. I was not disappointed, both the Zandvliet Shiraz 2015 and the Zandvliet Kalkveld Shiraz 2014 certainly hit the mark for this shiraz fan, I liked both shirazes equally. (Subsequent to our visit, the Zandvliet Shiraz 2015 garnered a prestigious Gold Medal at the 2018 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show).

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Besides their standard wine tasting, they also offer a Cellar Tour and Wine Blending experience, where you blend your own wine and get to take it home and the unique Zandvliet Clemengold Pairing – Spicy panforte, biscotti and smooth dark chocolate – all with elements of zesty citrus – and Clemengold (a special type of mandarin) marmalade complement Zandvliet’s Estate Chardonnay, Kalkveld Shiraz, Vintage Liqueur Wine and Zandvliet Estate Muscat. I absolutely loved the flavour pairings,  wow wow wow!

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Zandvliet is not far from Ashton, and well worth a visit if you are visiting the Robertson Wine Valley.