As the end of the year draws near, Malibongwe Tyilo reflects on luxury – in all its forms The Oxford dictionary has three definitions for luxury. The first is that it is a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense. The second defines it as a pleasure only obtained rarely. The third and last definition: an essential, desirable item, which is expensive or difficult to obtain. At some point in life, whether we can afford it or not, and often because we struggle to afford it, we each define or accept definitions of what we consider luxury to be.
About a quarter century ago, I was an inquisitive tween, somewhere between 10 and 12 years old. We were on a family vacation, at some or other franchise hotel
between Wilderness and George in the Western Cape. We’d arrived at dinner time, and as we sat down and the family ordered familiar meals, I ordered lobster. I’d never tried it before. Back home, in tiny inland King Williams Town restaurants were of the steak, burger, ribs, chicken wings and pizza variety. As far as ocean fare was concerned, my prepubescent palate was more familiar with fish fingers, hake and deep-fried calamari than crustaceans.
I really only ordered it because American TV shows like Dynasty, Dallas, and others, which traded on fantasies of overstated luxury, made it seem like an indulgence, and somewhat out of reach. And yet here it was, on a menu, perfectly attainable. This was it, I was living a life of luxury. What next? Caviar and champagne? If only Alexis Carrington Colby could see me now. I’m not quite sure what I imagined it would taste like, but I absolutely hated it. My mum had given me a side-eye and my dad chuckled when I ordered it, as though they knew I’d hate it, and I wasn’t about to let them be right. I put on a brave face; I started shoving it down as though the main ingredient in lobster was fish fingers. Yum.
Was my young palate not sophisticated enough? Had the soapies lied to me? Maybe American lobster was better? Yes, that must be it. I never made it to the end of that meal. My dad saved me by pretending to really want the lobster, and he offered to swap the remainder of my dish for his steak. That was my first proper disappointment with the masses of experiences sold through TV and advertising as luxurious and desirable. Since then I’ve been disappointed by wines, bad gourmet food combinations, unfriendly service at some fancy joints, poorly designed rooms that lack soul in five star hotels, and much more.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not letting one bad lobster make me hate all things luxurious, for every bad meal I’ve also had dining experiences that made me want to run to the kitchen and ululate in front of the chef. For every unimaginatively designed hotel room, I’ve also experienced incredible spaces, full of warmth and a welcoming aesthetic. In those experiences I’ve learnt to define what is desirable, what rarities give me pleasure, and what represents great comfort and elegance to me.
I’ve learnt that luxury need not be defined by TV shows and adverts, and although I am not adverse to extreme wealth, I’ve learnt that it doesn’t only lie in our ability to make it rain’. It exists in the enjoyment and access to the things and experiences one truly loves and savours. Much of mine has been found in long drives through the Karoo, in weekends spent away in remote locations, with only the sounds of the wind and birds as the soundtrack. It’s been in long bath times with my favourite oils, in time spent alone doing absolutely nothing. It’s in seeking out experiences and indulging myself with the things that imbue my life with quality It’s the abundance of time and ability to clean and cook my own lobster, to taste exactly the way I like it.
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