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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MADAME ZINGARA (article first published : 2008-05-19)

A magical gourmet spiegeltent that is casting its spell across our country will be reaching our shores on May 22. The vagabond marquee is an in-famous lady named Madame Zingara and well known for spoiling the senses of her guests. Madame treats her guests to abundance and delight. Around 120,000 guests from Johannesburg and Cape Town have so far enjoyed her superb four-course meal and the invitation now goes out to all Durbanites to join.

Zingara adores the arts. She nurtures our local talents with training and attention. Some very gifted performers from all over the world have been welcomed in her glitzy arms. Madame’s guests are lucky enough to admire the breathtaking results during their delicious meal. “On the side” Madame Zingara supports numerous charity organisations with millions of philanthropist pennies. Yes, this fairy tale is all reality and it is Durban’s turn to witness the magic.

I met Richard Griffin, the visionary behind the scenes, a man as sparkling and glittering as his brainchild Madame Zingara, the home that he has resurrected as a tent after the original Cape Town restaurant burned down during a tragic accident in September 2006. “After the fire I lost pretty much everything. The only thing I had left was my team - a good team, and a team that trusts me. So it was not an option for me to just fall out and not honour my relationships that I spent 20 years building.”

Richard flew to Belgium with not a penny to his name and convinced the Klessen family to give him their original 1920s spiegelzelt. The tent was a strategy to save Madame Zingara - opening another restaurant would have taken far too much time. Richard’s inherent determination, will and belief helped him to overcome this tragedy. “I believe in what I am doing. I believe in the people that I work with. I believe, in a way, that we can run our businesses and our lives with a different kind of integrity. Personally I don’t really care about the money part of it. It’s about being able to get up in the morning and to say ‘You have done something. And you have done it well. And you have done it to the best of your ability. With mistakes. With prayers. With tragedy’.” And he has done it. With a lot of discipline and with a brilliant team behind him he rose from the ashes and re-created a magical micro cosmos even bigger and more enchanting than before.

What has remained the same, however, is that everyone is warm-heartedly welcomed in Madame’s mobile home, be (s)he straight, queer, weird, black, white, pierced or from the midst of corporate Joburgia. This environment makes the Zingara getaway an uplifting and refreshing experience. It also reflects one of Richard’s core life principles. “The point of the tent project is to create a space where everybody can be included - without having to wait for the next life. So what I wanted to try and achieve was to build this space where anybody is allowed to have fun and lose inhibitions.”

Richard passionately opposes any form of exclusionist thinking and believes that a lack of respect is the source of it. He means respect for oneself. Respect for friends, guests and fellow crew members. And respect for the dreams we have. “We are living in a country where people don’t respect the next person. And they don’t respect themselves enough to validate themselves. They wonder why everything is going wrong, but they don’t take responsibility. And if there is one lesson that I can ask of my company and myself to give it is the facility to invite the people to change the way they think. Our current show Aphrodisia is about all of us taking responsibility and stop excluding the next person. We live in this rainbow nation, however, we are not rising together. We talk acceptance, but then we block off and it’s all about being white or black or gay or straight etc.”

Each and every one of us can be included. Likewise, each and every facet of our life can be channelled into something productive. Richard is the living proof of this life philosophy. The experience of “hippy-happy” Cape Town culture, as he affectionately calls it, but also apartheid, of loyal and loving friendship, but also abuse and the belief of his family in him, a run-away child, have left a mark on Richard.

Madame Zingara & the Dream Factory (his artist training centre) are Richard’s contribution to South Africa. “I want to do all of that not only for ourselves, but also for South Africa’s community. I believe we come from this incredible place, we come from this amazing society called South Africa which has its own way of thinking. There is an incredible wealth, and incredible blend of people. And I want to show it off!”

What are the plans for the future? “The call now is to get out. To take this project out to the foreign side. I want to show people our space. But not the glossy magazine side of it. I want to show them what South Africa is really about.” South Africa is about unrestricted possibility. And Madame Zingara about a team that has realised it. This fairy tale is not to be missed.

The tour takes in Durban from May 22 to August 31. The tent is one of only a handful left in the world today. It is a magical space with ballooning velvet canopies, merry go round dance floors, stained cut-glass windows, intimate booths, ornate bars, bevelled mirror columns and glorious chandeliers hanging from above. The Spiegelpaleis tent dates back to the 1920s. These tents were built to entertain patrons after WWI and were designed to travel across Europe to small villages where no entertainment was available. It has a seating capacity for 420 diners. Madame Zingara is heated and runs its own power generator, professional kitchen, parking and security.

The menu includes: Antipasti - a selection of delectable delights from all over the world, accompanied by freshly baked breads; Primi Piatti - from Cannelloni to Triagole...”at the whim of the Contessa” - a delightful pasta surprise!; Secondi Piatti – Pesce, fresh from the ocean... ask your waiter which divine combinations have inspired the chef today or Chocolate Chilli Fillet, a seductive blend of dark Belgian chocolate, rosemary & a hint of chili, over succulent beef fillet on a bed of sautéed black mushrooms and arugola or Springbok Shanks or Tortina di Ceci, chickpea cakes served over grilled Aubergine and topped with salsa rosso, accompanied by a rocket and parmesan salad; and Dolce - the Contessa’s threesome...a decadent conclusion to a sublime culinary journey, served with coffee or tea.

The name of the current show is Aphrodisia. During the ancient Aphrodisia – the Greek celebrations in honour of Aphrodite, the goddess of love – the participants were spoilt with food, dance, athletic competitions and stimulating substances. Likewise, Zingara’s Aphrodisia are a feast for the senses in the name of universal love. Aphrodisia is an exquisite performance show that blurs the traditional boundaries between dance, acrobatics, circus acts and illusion. Be prepared to be seduced by a philosophical Mephisto on stilts, floor acrobats and aerial artists from South Africa and all around the world.

Madame Zingara’s larger than life divas, The Tons, all come from Cape Town with an eclectic background of opera, jazz and cabaret. Their velvet voices of Marguerita Freeks, Dorothy Engelbrecht, Lilian Khumalo and Stella Mugabe croon melodies from Mowtown days and they get the party going with their 60’s disco songs.

Zingara village will be located on the property of Sun Coast Entertainment World. The doors open at 19h00 with the show starting at 20h15. All guests must be seated by 20h00 as the front doors close at 20h00 at the start of the show. The show usually finishes at 23h30. Final rounds will be served by 00h00 and the theatre closes by 00h30. Tickets R300 – R350 per head for a welcome cocktail, a four course meal and the show (excluding drinks). Cost depends on seat selection (Boulevard R300, Private Booth R325, Golden Circle R350). This evening is worth every cent.

Bookings on 0861-MADAME. You will need to pay R175 per person to secure your booking. The balance depending on ticket selection plus drinks and gratuity is payable on the night. The Box Office is open Monday to Friday between 09h00 and 17h00 (Saturdays from 10h00 to 14h00). More information on 021 426 2458 or email boxoffice@madamezingara.com or visit www.madamezingara.co - Elena Beis




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