Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.
–Enzo, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein
A couple of memorable things happened this past weekend. One was the Wacky Wine Festival in and around Robertson. En route to and from said silly-named festival, I read “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” The symbolism was heavy-handed and overdone, the concept a bit contrived, and the story itself unlikely, but man if it didn’t make me cry (and miss my dog. Hi, Pivo). But in between the watery-eyes-inducing first chapter and the last chapter that led to convulsive sobbing, there was a lot of wine. There was also a lot of listening.
We listened as a man at Graham Beck Winery told us about the champagne Michelle Obama ordered the night Barack secured the Democratic nomination for president. And then he poured us some.We listened as old Afrikaner men in flat caps explained how they distilled gin that’s too alcoholic to legally be sold in stores.
And we listened as some new friends pointed out the finer points of the Afrikaner home they had rented for the weekend via Gum Tree, the South African version of craigslist. Mustard-yellow cabinets, about eight different devices for cooking meat, and a freezer full of pasta and rice and margarine. And that’s just the kitchen. We sat around an outdoor fire built in an ancient cauldron/wheel well and talked about politics, power, and wealth distribution in our respective countries.
Other highlights from the weekend include watching people go down a slide into a pool of red wine, managing to hang on to one wine glass (made of real glass) the entire day and then dancing with that same glass filled with good, cheap wine that was only available for purchase by the bottle to a live set by Goldfish. There was also a crowded taxi, a driver named Biggie Smalls, and a meandering tent-search excursion that stopped dead in its tracks when we looked up at the sky and were caught off guard by all the unfamiliar stars.
The next day, on the ride home, the bus broke down in Worcester, about an hour outside of Cape Town. For a while, this was OK because they were showing a bootleg version of “Hangover 2” (spoiler alert: it happens again) on the bus. But then it became clear they weren’t going to be able to do a fast fix and were sending another bus from Cape Town.
At this point, the uncle of the bus driver offered us a ride in his cab to a KFC. None of us really wanted KFC, but it would be a change of scenery, at least. So we hop in his car and he decides the first KFC is too crowded, so he takes us to another one, but not before first stopping at the largest brandy cellar in the world. Then it’s KFC, then there’s some off-roading, then a stop at a janky circus that had camels and lions and tigers all pacing grumpily around a tiny cage.Fascinating and depressing. Then we went to his house, conveniently located across the street from the circus, where we met his wife, mother, five kids, and a parrot that can say “Scratch my head” in Afrikans. He showed us pictures of himself with Mandela, Zuma, and a copy of the 1994 ballot. Then it was back in the car, but still not quite ready to go back, we drove past Karoo Botanical Gardens, and into the hills to this one spot where you can put the car in neutral from a full stop and it mysteriously goes uphill. I know there are a couple places in the States like this too, but I still don’t really understand the science of it.
What I do understand is that I fall a little bit more in love with Cape Town and its surroundings every day I’m here. The weekend was incredible on so many levels–the scenery, the hospitality, the openness–all of it unplanned and frankly, unexpected.
The only hostility came from the other Americans who had to wait for us back on the bus. After all our adventures (he just kept taking us places, I swear!), we were just a few measly minutes late getting back to the bus. Whoops? Sorry, friends!
There are details from the weekend that I know made me smile at the time; small moments that have already slipped away. You can read about some of those on a friend’s blog, here. And thanks to Mary Beth Barker for the pictures. I didn’t trust myself with a camera this weekend, but I’m glad she was bold enough to bring hers along.