25 December 2013

19. - 25 Dec.: From wineland to Johannesburg

After yet another rich breakfast with Italian music in the background I spend an easy morning at the Auberge Clermont, reading, smoking a Toscanello and taking a few pictures around the vineyard. At about noon I am politely asked to vacate the room as they have to clean up for the lucky guests who will take my room in the afternoon. Oh well. Time to drive to Cape Town anyway, I have to fill up my tank, return the car and check-in for my flight to Johannesburg.

Easy drive to the Cape Town airport. I stop at a filling station just before the rental car return. A plump black attendant comes forward with a big smile flashing from his white teeth. (There is virtually no self serve station in South Africa because the fuel price, by law, must be the same as full serve.) "Hello sir how are you? Have you had a good trip? It's an honor for me to serve you today." He is extremely welcoming and works with alacrity and gusto. Well maybe it's for the tip, but no can't do that all that just for the tip. It's a sign of a positive attitude, of someone who is aware of being there to do something useful. He is in a talkative mood: after he inquires about my home city, he starts commenting on the latest Serie A exploits of A.S. Roma. (I always wonder why foreigners always refer to "la Roma" with its official company name.) He knows much more than me about Italian soccer. I can nod a few times when he mentions Totti but am totally impotent when he asks specific questions about defensive tactics of Italian players and the like.

He fills up my tank, meticulously cleans the windshield, checks my oil as well as the level of my wipers' water as if it were his own car. It's been a long long long time since something like this happened to me in Europe. I would like to give him a tip but I am extremely embarrassed to find out that I have no coins or small notes on me. I openly tell him so, thanking him profusely for his work. He keeps smiling and tells me not to worry, to drive safe and have a good trip.

After returning my car to Avis I make my way to the check-in counters to catch my flight to Johannesburg, the next stage of my trip, where I will meet my photographer friends for a couple of weeks of intensive digital shooting.
My flight is uneventful and by early evening I will check in at my hotel just around the corner from the airport of South Africa's economic powerhouse city. During the flight, which takes place around lunch time, which would normally be a huge Christmas feed, again I have the opportunity to reflect on the fact that this year I am free of Christmas celebrations. Not only of eating too much but also of giving and receiving unwanted gifts and putting up with crazy traffic.

In the last few years I have celebrated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti with my friend Massimiliano, with whom I share a healthy agnosticism and a romantic nostalgia for all things (ancient) Roman. This year I will miss that as well, maybe we can make up next time I am in Rome. It must have been a fun time in Rome the, this year-end period, to indulge almost without limit to celebrate the rebirth of the invincible Sun, when the days once again start getting longer.

After a light buffet dinner, during which I share the excitement of a cricket match between South Africa and Sri Lanka with a couple of tall black guys, I decide to take a walk in the lukewarm evening. My hotel is close to a large casino complex and I am curious to take a peak. There is a sort of outer ring to the complex, with kids and families, all kinds of restaurants and no smoking signs. As one approaches the inner rooms the first gambling tables appear. There are even electronic automatic roulette robots, where the wheel is encased in a glass cube and players place their bets through various buttons on the four sides. Weird...

Then one can go through some heavy glass doors doors, each bearing a sign to keep it closed at all times, into an inner ring where smoking is allowed and the most addicted players crowd around roulette and black jack tables. A sort of sancta sanctorum of gambling, with very serious faces and people (mostly men) often dressed in bizarre attires, jewels and hats. The croupiers, mostly women, are smartly dressed though they could do with a bit less make up in my view. A pub-style bar at the very core of all this is very busy providing cool beer and various sorts of alcohol to the patrons in between bets. there would be plenty of opportunities for interesting photographs, but somehow I get a feeling this would not be appreciated and I don't think I want to get into an argument with anyone in this crowd.

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