Initially, I had two tempting events jotted down in spider-like hieroglyphics in my rather crammed and cramped desk diary for Friday, September 17.
One was the 40th birthday thrash of scintillating Sally Rugg at a sparkling, swish, freshly re-opened after major refurb, Victoria 22; the other the not-to-be-missed annual awards dinner of the Association of Zimbabwean Travel Agents at Meikles.
A heart-searching and rending decision. But, as a 40th is clearly a one-off, and AZTA an annual beano, coupled with the sad fact I’ll miss the Ruggs’ annual sponsored race-day at Borrowdale Park, I mentally opted for Vic 22. (Bunking Borrowdale, as I certainly can’t be racing there and at my son Rhoderick’s MSc degree award at Aberdeen University, 10 000km away, simultaneously.)
Serendipity! Out of the blue, AZTA was postponed a week. I could now do both functions. Not only could I enjoy, cover and photograph one of Harare’s major social events of the year but, as it turned out, the lucky number on my complimentary ticket won a return flight from Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital!) to Lilongwe or Blantyre with Air Malawi. The last time I was there was in 1975 or ’76.
Other attendees won tickets to Bombay; several Jo’burg-to-London; Qatar gave two tickets to any destination in the world to which they fly; there were weekends at many of Zimbabwe’s major hotels; 25 attractive prizes between 262 covers. Ross Kennedy, managing director of African Albida Tourism won a cruise on MV Sinfonia, from Durban to the picture postcard Portuguese Islands of Mozambique, donated by Fulela Dreams, of Avondale. I’ll be on one of those sailings immediately before leaving for Aberdeen.
AZTA is a very full night. Cocktails began at 7pm and many were still eating a “Christmas comes early”-themed dinner way after 11! (Most un-Zimbabwean!)
Award-winning chef Malika van Reenen from Meikles’ sister hotel, Cape Grace in Cape Town, helped with some stunning catering from executive chef Chris Gonzo and his team. We began with served mixed hors d’oeuvres, a successful time-traveller from the 1950s.
An attractive array included boiled eggs stuffed with salmon mousse, festive water melon with port wine and ginger, marinated prime beef fillet strips with oven-dried tomatoes, mixed herbs, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
That was served at the table, as was a soup course of a scalding, smoky, cappuccino of Christmas ham-and-pea soup and soft bread croutons (Surely oxymoronic?).
Then, table-by-orderly-table, a trip to the best buffet I’ve eaten from in ages, for mains. There was herb-crusted Kariba tilapia with lemon butter; roast de-boned and rolled turkey with ham, sage-and-onion stuffing, chipolatas and cranberry sauce; medallion of pork fillet (as tender as a nun’s heart) with honey-glazed apples and white wine sauce; roast whole organic Zimbabwean beef fillet with a hollandaise sauce and red wine jus and vegetarian mushroom quiche.
Roast and parsley potatoes, fragrant herb-enhanced rice and seasonal “festive” vegetables accompanied the entrée.
There was a (served) Yuletide
pudding of minted ice cream and brandy custard in a golden tulip basket and assorted cheese with fruit compote and biscuits, coffee and mince-pies.
It was near midnight before the last AZTA accolade (to airlines, hotels, safari lodges, camps and individuals) was awarded; well after the haunting hour when I made my excuses, crossed a still-packed dance floor, taking the lift to the 11th Floor and a Club Room, to which I’d been upgraded (bliss on a day when home — three km away — was Zesa-less for over 14 hours!).
I usually rise at dawn, but slept until 8.30am. The Club Floor package includes 30 minutes’ free professional massage, which I reluctantly declined, as I was short of time.
I like a buffet breakfast in Meikles’ Pavilion buffet restaurant, but served breakfast in the Club Dining Room knocks it into a cocked hat.
Other than not having kedgeree, smoked salmon or kippers on an otherwise mouthwatering menu, it was like breakfasting in one of the more switched on gentlemen’s clubs of the 1970s.
After wonderfully fresh fruit and yoghurt, Club Supervisor (maitre d’hôtel, really) Colin Takadzwa, who could give lessons in professional waiting, serving, butlering and caring, brought an as-light-as-air two-egg omelette bursting with morning-fresh earthy sautéed mushrooms, rashers of soft bacon (order soft or crispy!) and chipolata on a plate hot enough to fuse metal.
With toast and a lemon Danish I couldn’t resist, reading NewsDay, finishing mango juice and tea, by open French windows allowing 11th Floor fresh air unlimited ingress, having blown across a jacaranda-blooming Africa Unity Square, this was heaven.
The beautifully proportioned room is all light and space with glistening mirrors, gleaming timber, bright silver, polished crystal, crisp linen and service you rarely see in the 21st century; relatively few experienced in the second half of the 20th!
Colin was disappointed I couldn’t enjoy a massage, nor did I have shoes he would polish until I could shave in the toe-caps. Only footwear travelled with was a pair of Marks & Spencer’s £25 best which were on my feet!
Five minutes after reluctantly checking out (I could revel in that degree of service for weeks…or ever) I was in the office, penning this.
(AZTA Awards will be a lavishly illustrated sub-theme of a major supplement on Travel, Tourism and Cruising appearing in our sister paper The Standard on October 17. Don’t miss it!)