Friday, December 27, 2013

A Place to Run Towards

Today the hubs and I decided to go for a nice lunch out in the Cape Winelands. If you even sort of follow this blog you know that wine is a little bit of a thing for us… so this is a pretty routine trip.

It’s about a half hour into Stellenbosch, a very nice wine area that is close by but also has loads of interesting stuff. We bundled ourselves into the car, slathered ourselves with sunblock (African sun is outta hand – you even burn while driving), put on some tunes and hit the road. While on the very crowded roads, we noticed something – every other car had a license place from Gauteng, the province of Johannesburg.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Normally this would not be a big deal – Cape Town has cars from all over the place driving around. Cars from neighboring Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia. Cars from the UK. Even cars with a left-hand drive (remember they navigate from and drive on the wrong…ahem opposite… side of the road here).  The vast number of Joburgers - and their awful driving habits - made me realize that there are two types of places in the world: the ones people come to for Christmas vacation and the ones they drive away from to Christmas vacation.

My first thought today was something akin to that moment in South Florida when the shofar and the wind blows in points north and the place becomes invaded.  But this is more severe. This is more like Christmas, which is more like a blitzkrieg – brief and intense. Cars stuffed with screaming children and the things meant to keep them from screaming, stressed out parents who don’t know where they’re going  while trying to juggle screaming kids and the various and sundry aunts, uncles and parents. It’s enough to drive them… into my lane.

This is the complete opposite of somewhere like Washington, DC which is devoid of all human beings during the holidays. One of my favorite things about being in DC for a chunk of the holidays was the traffic-free streets, the half-empty bars and restaurants, and the peace and quiet. It’s probably how things are in Johannesburg this week since all of those people are here.

So we’re mostly hunkered down at home. Haven’t been on a proper grocery shop in days, but tomorrow we’re gonna run out of milk. Wonder if the grocery store will have something in common with DC during a snowstorm? I suspect yes, so I am thankful we’re all stocked up on toilet paper.

Nonetheless, the wine and the views at lunch certainly made up for the Joburg blitzkrieg, which is why they’re here in the first place, right?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Politics of Those Boos

OK world, I get it. South Africa was certainly not on its best behavior yesterday in front of the world.  Even the South African Broadcasting Company tried to spare the world, to no avail. I’ve read how many South Africans were mortified about the boos, that people were being rude and lamenting that Madiba would be upset about how people behaved
Photo via

But would he?

He spent his whole life fighting so that people could boo, so they could voice their support and their dissent… regardless of who they were. So maybe he would have wished that people had more class, but he probably would have been proud that people were able to make their dissent known– without violence but with their voices.

Of course the reasons for it are complicated and largely internal to South Africa. Perhaps people are disappointed that President, Zuma, the ANC and its leadership are something Mandela would be less than pleased with.  It might be directed exclusively at Zuma for his transgressions, recent and historic. It might be that people feel that things haven’t changed enough since Mandela fought so hard to get them there. It could be that the spectacle yesterday was the world’s and not the people of South Africa’s… who may mourn differently through song, noise and dancing.

Whatever the reason, they do have the right to bitch. Just maybe not in front of the world.

A highlight from yesterday was certainly President Obama. The handshake with President Raul Casto showed the world that the day was beyond politics, unlike those mentioned above. The speech showed the personal connection for Obama, as well as the unique connection between South Africa and the US as multi-racial democracies. The irony of President Obama’s words in front of many who profess to admire Madiba but also continue policies against his ideas should not be lost on anyone. But I think that was point – everyone could find something to admire in Nelson Mandela – dictator, Democrat or Republican alike.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Hamba Kahle, Tata

I haven’t written here in a long while. Nevermind as to why… today I am moved by the passing of Tata Madiba.

Madiba was George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. all in one. He was part of a group of people that chose the path and defined what South Africa wants to be, is trying to be and hopefully will become. He is the backbone of roadmap to get there… both it and him not perfect, but aiming to be more perfect. He himself said he was “not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

The world loved Madiba and rightly so. He stands a fleeting symbol of struggle, of sacrifice, of belief, of hope. We see fewer and fewer icons of this magnitude today- perhaps it is the relentless news cycle that casts a pallor on every possible successor’s imperfections. Can the world ever have another Madiba?

We can only hope.
The first treason trial in 1958. (Jurgen Schadenberg, AP)

People ask how will this impact South Africa? The reality is that Madiba has been and will continue to live in people’s hearts, minds and souls… just as he
has been since he mostly left public life 10+ years ago. In terms of politics, the political party that Nelson Madela belonged to most of his life is vastly different than the one that rules South Africa today. If only the party could remember what Nelson Mandela, OR Tambo, John Dube, Chris Hani and Sol Plaatje were all about.

We woke up this morning crying. My husband cried inconsolably when Madiba was in critical condition earlier this year but today he was more subdued – as if he had already said goodbye. We held each other and saw the start of a beautiful day in the most beautiful place on earth, Cape Town.  I could only think that instead of being sad today about the loss of a great human being, I am thankful that we could ever know of him and be touched by his intentions for the world. I remain hopeful for South Africa and the world that the spirit of Madiba will remain alive in all of us.

Hamba Kahle, Tata.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Proudly.... Something

I, along with the rest of the world (both free and un-free I suspect), have been watching the Olympics. I’ve enjoyed watching swimming, where the hair of a second can make you a winner or a loser; laughed about the Spanish warm-up suits (which were donated by the same designer who did the Russian and Ukrainian warms up… even the Spanish complained via Twitter); and of course, I loved being in another country and experiencing the games in a foreign land.

First off, I’m not watching NBC. There’s no Bob Costas, Meredith Viera or the rest of the familiar faces and voices that I know from watching American TV.  Instead, in South Africa we get a patchwork of English language announcers from Australia, the UK and the US. Swimming stats are squawked from two Aussies, their flattened Fs , garggly Gs, and mealy Ms punctuating every sentence.  The Brits have taken more civilized pursuits – rowing coverage comes from the UK. And what’s American? Gymnastics, of course!

Chad le Clos
I have also felt great pride at the amazing accomplishments of my country. My poor other half has grown tired of seeing the “stars and bars” rise on a regular basis - I taught him that one, now he’s using it. Although he has yet to belt out “Oh, say can you see…” This feeling comes not just from all the medals we have won (as of right now the US is near the top of the medal count) but all of the medal winners from around the world that my nation has helped shape. Many swimmers from other nations train in the US, as do runners and rowers and lots of other competitors. I don’t know if I fully realized that until I lived in a nation that sends many of its best athletes to train in the US.

Beyond that, watching the Olympic games from afar also gives me the perspective of another country competing in the games…. one that sent just 125 athletes to the games (the US sent 530). The South African team is certainly not shabby – they have three gold medals so far, including one from Chad le Clos that many had already anointed to super-Olympian Michael Phelps. As they say here - about everything, not just their athletes - proudly South African.

Chad le Clos photo from: Gallo Images &

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gimme A Dop

You probably know that South Africa produces some of the world’s most delicious wine. Vines have been grown in this area since about 1680 or so, dating back to Jan Van Riebeeck and the first Dutch settlers in the Cape colony. A quick 15-minute ride from our house is the oldest ‘wine farm’ in South Africa. (Wine farm, in case you were wondering, is South African for vineyard). The area, called Constantia (and seen in the photo, albeit not from Van Riebeeck's time), produced such delicious vino that it was the first wine from the new world sent back for the hoi polloi of Europe to enjoy.

The business didn’t stop with the European crème-de-la-crème, although they are still the biggest importers of our local juice. Wine is a big business here: South Africa is the seventh largest wine producer in the world and contributes about US$3 billion to the country’s GDP.

Aside from coining their own name for vineyards, South Africans even created their own wine varietal, Pinotage- a mix of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut grapes. It’s a little sweet for me, but I have enjoyed one or two glasses of the stuff on occasion. You can’t live here and not give it a sip.

To be honest, the real problem is not the Pinotgae, it’s the Savignon Blanc. And the lovely bubbles. And the delicious Shriraz. And the spicy red blends with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It’s the inescapable fact that you can go into virtually any restaurant around Cape Town and order a fabulous, reasonably priced bottle of wine.

This is even more obvious when you travel around the rest of South Africa and see the lame excuses for wine they serve at restaurants. Johannesburg is cosmopolitan? Not when it comes to your average wine lists. Love the sun of Durban? You won’t love the sub-par wine. After one night out in either of these places, you’ll be begging to be back in Cape Town, drinking fabulous wine.

Considering the history of South Africa and the apartheid government, there is also a disturbing backstory about wine production – namely the “Dop System”. In Afrikaans, a “dop” is an alcoholic drink. Going back as early as the 1800s, those who worked on the wine farms were paid in wine. Sometimes, most or even all of their salaries were paid in drink - hence a system called the "Dop System". While I am sure many of you would not mind part of your salary in wine (in fact, I know it might save some of you quite a bit of cash throughout the year), it has created a disturbingly high incidence of alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome (the highest in the world in parts of the Western Cape) and tons of other negative consequences.

Since I don’t want you to have sour grapes about South African wine, I will tell you that the “Dop System” has been outlawed since the 1960’s and the post-apartheid government has been particularly outspoken about getting rid of it. Some say it still persists in areas of the Western Cape. A recent Human Rights Watch report said two farms in the area were giving their workers wine, but the industry has certainly cleaned itself up. Mostly they just exploit workers like any other farming industry in the world.

Apologies for leaving you as bitter as red wine left out too long.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Driving Me to Insanity

One of life’s necessities since moving to Cape Town is that I have to drive. After living in urbanity for the better chunk of the last 15 years, my driving escapades have been limited to the occasional rental in some far flung locale, the borrowing of a friend’s car or the occasional use of a Zipcar. Hence, I may be a little rusty in the applied vehicular knowledge.

If my rusty driving skills were the sole problem, this thing would be a cakewalk. Pile on the fact that people drive on the other side of the road, you sit on the other side of the car and parking on the sidewalk is not the sign of a drunk or insane person – now you can imagine my own personal hell every time I get behind the wheel.

But alas, I have no choice in the matter. Driving means doing the things I want to do in my life, so now I am a driver.

First, the wrong side of the road thing. At first I thought this would be the killer. But it’s fine as long as you keep shouting left to the left, right to the left to yourself as a reminder to keep you from pulling onto the wrong side of the road when turning. Problem solved. Circles; a tad more challenging but as long as there are other people there, you can just follow along. The only issue was a recent brief foray to the US when I became utterly confused at an empty street corner and had to think hard before deciding which lane to go into. Yikes!

So once I got the hang of the wrong side thing, I noticed all the other things… namely the roads. Ladies and gentlemen, we are not talking the interstate highway system – South Africa has yet to elect their own Dwight Eisenhower. Most roads are as wide as the sidewalk on Broadway near Herald Square but with the ludicrous expectation that two-way traffic will use it. Sure the cars are small, but c’mon! Spending a lot of time in reverse, rather than playing (but feeling) chicken.

Even parking in the driveway can seem like stuffing a sausage into the casing - see photo.

The parking lunacy doesn't end there. While driving last week on a beautiful scenic road (which there are no shortage of), I noticed that they had actually marked little white lines for parking spots on the SIDEWALK – which explains why everyone thinks it is perfectly fine to park pretty much anywhere they want, often leaving pedestrians to walk in the road.

But I have also noticed this flagrant attitude of “Fuck You” that comes from pedestrians. They walk right in front of moving cars, indifferent to the fact that a machine is barreling towards them at 40 miles an hour (will never get that kms thing, sorry). Overall, it's a very tense relationship but can you blame them? I mean the cars park right in your path!

Cars v. pedestrians. Same ‘ole war no matter where you are.

P.S. Haven’t even thought about riding my bike. Scared shitless for that one!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lattitudes and Attitudes

Okay everyone... I guess I have some 'splaing to do. It's a long story, one I'll save for a bottle of luscious wine, succulent yummies and good lighting. Until then, I'll just attend to the matter at hand - blogging.

So, I have traded Buenos Aires for Cape Town, South Africa. The only thing they have in common, honestly, is their latitude. Buenos Aires is extremes... loud and Latin, sweaty and screaming, hectic and hungry. It's got a New York attitude replete with yellow and black taxis, culture spilling into the streets, and millions of people squeezed into a 132-story high rise.

Cape Town is the complete opposite.

Think blues. Cerulean seas, ultramarine skies. Mountains peeking over the skylines in any direction you spin. The only truly hectic thing aside from the asshole drivers (this is an upcoming blog post... I mean, they drive ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD... a topic begging to be deconstructed on this blog) is the wind. Pachamama got the last word in this place - the southern seas whip a wind for several months a year that can be more hectic than Buenos Aires' humanly induced insanity.

I don't want to give away everything that's ahead but just lay the marker down and promise to recommit to my first world white girl blogging. So thanks for coming back, lovely to have you.