I have decided, in the interests of personal sanity, to ignore the birds this week and turn my attention elsewhere entirely. Specifically, to the limited pleasures of visiting that smoking ruin of a traffic jam resplendent under the towering neon signs of Sodom and Gomorrah, known colloquially as Jozzie. For those of you born in the last century, that means the country’s largest mining camp, Johannesburg.I’m certain that its gated suburbs, some of them at least, are quite splendid; possibly even attractive and surely well-served by succeeding sets of malls, nightclubs, casinos and restaurants.
My destination was more central however, and a great deal less salubrious, in spite of its 5-star billing (in both senses of the word). The hotel itself shall remain nameless, in the interests of good relations with their legal representatives, but suffice to say that it occupies the most expensive patch of Johannesburg turf known to man. It plays smarmy host to legions of travellers from the world beyond our shores, accepting their currencies with ill-disguised disdain.
My arrival in its salacious reception area, apparently styled after the Great Disney Empires of the north, was unremarkable, particularly as they had never heard of me. After a little unpleasant interchange the matter was resolved and I was granted entrance into the high life of the jet-set. Happily, for the record (and SARS), I was not paying the bill. So here’s the thing: Turns out that your faithful Twitcher was the only South African staying there, while the staff appeared to entirely sourced from Lagos and Harare. A quick scope of the place confirmed that I was trapped in a United Nations exchange programme, with an encyclopaedia of language options to add to the confusion.
Every one of these international travelers had clearly studied voice projection from Grade 1, been taught to chew with their mouths fully open and had the dress sense of retired (striking?) miners. By evening I had barricaded my doors to drown out the sound of manic conversation and marbled teeth grinding raw salmon into a paste. Liberal quantities of liquor added a level of hysteria to the hubbub and I took the gap to a charming little place down the road. This turned out to be a way-station for international development agencies and the diplomatic corps, and was so expensive that I settled for a starter and a glass of tap water.
So here’s my point, well, a couple actually: First, there are apparently only a handful of locals left in what is laughingly known as Gauteng. Second, international jet setters are loud, generally unattractive and almost entirely lacking in manners. And third (yes, I know I said a couple), the grass is not only greener in Clarens but our little village is also distinguished by a gentle charm and some measure of rural civility.
So, the message is simple: Take the greatest care of our weekend guests from the rubble of civilisation to the north; remember the roads (?) they have had to navigate to get to our fair playground; and try to ignore their primitive ways (of eating and drinking in particular). Remember from whence they come and grant them a little peace on our earth.