South Africa Diary Part 4 – The Cape Crusaders

There used to be a yearly balloon rally outside of Aspen.  I remember the one in 1983 the best.  There was one balloon that lifted off and it had writing on it that I couldn’t quite make out in the mist. But then it all came clear.  It said: “Decadence – A Way of Life.”  I can so relate.

Saturday night was our second concert in S.A., this time in Pretoria.  This was quite a difference from the last time I was in the Joburg/Pretoria area because back in 1984 Pretoria was “white by night.”  That meant that anyone not of Afrikans descent had to have special dispensation to be in the city limits after 6 pm.  Now Pretoria is a noisy, crazy city chock full of anyone and everyone.

The hall itself was from that early ‘70s style of architecture now referred to as “Brutalism.”   The sound went essentially nowhere and another problem was that the air was very dry. Joburg/Pretoria – Gauteng province – is essentially a desert. The combination of the dry acoustic and the dry atmosphere produced the most pointed, angry comment from Renée that I heard all week:

“Gee, it’s really dry in here and I’m having to work so hard that I’m almost leaning out over the audience.  Please catch me if I start tumbling off the stage.”

Renee…… sweetie……. if that’s the most caustic thing you can come up with we’re going to consider rescinding your “Diva” license.

Despite the difficulties we soldiered on and the reception by the audience was fantastic.  As much as we enjoyed our experience in Gauteng though, it was the upcoming trip that we were all looking forward to – Cape Town.  On Sunday morning the entire party stumbled into our various motored vehicles (Renée’s Mercedes was always dubbed Diva 1), left the comfy Le Chatelat, and headed for Tombo airport in Joburg.  I was just about to set foot onto the plane when I heard a crackle from the radio of the guy standing in the jetway… something about stopping the boarding.  I thought this a fine idea since the smell of aviation fuel was quite strong and my confidence in this particular airplane was quite weak.  A short time later we were booked onto another flight and we all settled in for the flight to the Cape.

The view of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain
The view of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain

Cape Town is the most scenic part of South Africa.  The city is dominated by the dynamic Table Mountain, which is where we were whisked to immediately after arriving.  Bongani Tembi (the GM of the orchestra) had arranged a little picnic for us on top of the mountain.  We climbed into the funicular and a couple minutes later were greeted with one of the most amazing vistas I know of.  The view from the top of Table Mountain on a bright, clear day is simply spectacular.  Cape Town reminds me a little bit of a smaller San Francisco, what with the ocean, the mountains, the spread out communities and just the general feel.  Looking down on the city from Table, wine glass in hand, one really gets a feel for why people came and stayed over the last 4 centuries.

The sun sets and we pile into our vehicles again.  Next stop is our resort outside of the sleepy town of Franschhoek (literally French Hook).  It seems this is the area where all the French decided to put down roots.  To everyone’s great surprise it turns out that the French migrated to the one area in South Africa perfectly suited for growing grapes.  I know – you’re shocked, shocked!  This is where most of the great South African wines come from and there are some really fabulous vintages to be had.  Unique to S.A. is the Pinotage grape, and a fine Pinotage is well worth drinking.

Nestled on the outskirts of Franschhoek we find La Residence.  I didn’t think we’d encounter something to put the place in Joburg to shame but……… let’s just say that the bathrooms were large enough that it required a GPS unit to find the toilet.  Although the property has only been open for 2 years both Elton John and Richard Gere have relationships with the management such that whenever they want a suite, it’s theirs.  Frankly I can’t blame them.  The staff is the nicest, friendliest bunch of people you’ve ever met, and they simply will not let you do anything.  I could tell they got a kick out of us since no one in the party was used to this level of decadence, which led to hilarious moments of power struggles between us and the staff.  But we were outnumbered and forced to succumb to their vile temptations.

Nelson Mandela's statue outside of the Drakenstein Prison outside Franschhoek.

Monday was a tourist day and the party broke up into various groups.  I decided that the morning was the best time to get out on my bike and explore the beautiful Franschhoek valley.  My goal was to go to Drakenstein Prison.

Nelson Mandela’s statue outside of the Drakenstein Prison outside Franschhoek.

Usually throughout my life I have tried desperately to stay out of prison (with varying degrees of success, but that’s another story) but this time it was the goal, for Drakenstein Prison was where Nelson Mandela was released from back in 1990.  I remember watching it live on the TV in Los Angeles (I was a student @ USC at the time) and being amazed.  I never expected it to happen but it did, and I wanted to go see this historic sight.  It was a beautiful ride through the wine country to Drakenstein, and now South Africa has provided with another memory that I will never forget.

Cape of Good Hope - southernmost point on the African Continent.
Cape of Good Hope - southernmost point on the African Continent.

The afternoon found the group reunited at the Cape of Good Hope.  Listen, we’re all the way down here so we might as well go to the southern most point on the African continent, eh?  Good Hope and it’s companion, Cape Point, must be utterly hellacious during a big storm.  On the way back from the Capes we pass a little park which is home to the famous Jackass penguins.  One wonders why these cute birds have gotten such a name right up to the time that one starts braying.  God help me but they sound exactly like donkeys.  Quite amusing to hear from a penguin.  Back to our resort and our last dinner together.

The last night all together!
The last night all together!

Tuesday morning dawns after a blustery night and it’s our sad duty to say goodbye to much of our party.  Renée’s mom, daughters, brother, sister-in-law, and nephews are heading to the Eastern Cape to stay at a game resort for 3 days.  We have had a ridiculously fun time being with them for a week and we know that we have made friends for life.  Renée and her assistant, as well as myself and my family, remain in Franschhoek.  There is another concert to do, after all.

The concert Tuesday night is in another City Hall auditorium, a bit smaller than the one in Durban and also a little more ornate.  It shares the live acoustics with that hall as well.  Actually, it was a bit of a bathtub, but when you’re a singer you will take a live acoustic over a dead one any day of the week.  Renée came out and I could tell that she immediately felt very comfortable.  She gets quite musically coquettish when she’s feeling it, and boy was she feeling it.  The over-capacity crowd was rapturous (all, I’m sure, except for the Fire Marshall – that personage was either bribed off or waylaid because there wasn’t so much as a square inch of unoccupied space to be found).

At the end there was in me that strange mixture of sad and glad.  Glad because ….. well, despite the amazing experience of being with Renée in South Africa it was definitely time to come home.  Sad because ……. hey, for one brief week I got to live in Renée’s world when a whole country is trying their goddamndest to impress her.  My family and I were just along for the ride, and it was so very much fun.  I said my goodbyes to Renée et al and hopped in my car.  She was staying in Cape Town that night so that she could take the earliest flight out to the Eastern Cape to catch up with her family.  Me – I’m back to Franschhoek for one last night.  In the morning it is time for my Jen, the boys, and I to come home.

Gee….. reality bites.

2 thoughts on “South Africa Diary Part 4 – The Cape Crusaders”

  1. Bill,
    What a great read, all four entries! Only got to this this morning…the joys and pressures of startup at the U and all. Thanks for taking the time to share this, and looking forward to that evening in late Sept with Dmitri!

  2. Hi Bill,
    This was a great story!! Thanks for sharing all of the details. I enjoy both yours and Ron’s insights. Keep up the good work!!

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