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.