Monday, 19 October 2009

Joburg day 2

[can't shift the pics into the text from here- sorry]

One of the consequences of being ‘guests’ of an institution in a foreign country is that your hosts feel obligated to keep you occupied. The obvious thing to do is to take you to the famous places, notably tourist spots. This is happening a little here. We could have done with a bit of down time on Saturday or a little local colour and some local food but instead we ‘did’ the visit to the cradle of mankind. Don’t get me wrong, I’d definitely go to any World Heritage site given enough time and on my own timeframe. It’s an amazing place with an interesting take on the whole evolution debate. On the one hand they have the oldest human remains and pride of identifying this as the ‘cradle’ while on the other they do not dismiss other interpretations and belief systems. Instead they try to present evidence as something a visitor can consider and draw conclusions on and alongside it give excellent summaries of relevant sections from sacred texts. There’s none of the Dawkinsesque dismissiveness though of course the weighting isn’t exactly 50-50 and this is understandable given the site and its focus. The site includes caves that were mined for lime and have produced countless fossils though the biggest excitement on the day was the appearance of a poisonous snake (it was one of the 10 most dangerous but I didn’t get the name). The museum in Maropang nearby has tried to bring a thrill to science and a ‘message’ about environmental catastrophe and humanity. It achieves this in part though it is no different from going to the Science museum and, as a consequence, much more interesting to me were the visitors rather than the exhibitions. There were at least 5 school parties there. Each group was kitted out in immaculate uniforms and distinct as a pristine football kit. They looked like private school kids but were regular state school kids and seemed to be enjoying themselves and engaging. There didn’t seem to be too many behaviour issues that you might expect taking a group of kids in the UK on a trip- it wasn’t as if they were being watched over closely; they just behaved and appreciated and worked. Like most of the people I have met here they liked to chat so a potentially dull part of the day was redeemed by them, their teachers and other visitors to the site.

Somewhere I’d have definitely baulked at visiting was Monte Casino. For me this was Cradle of mankind to cradle of profligacy in just two hours. It’s a giant casino, village, bunch of restaurants that is modelled to look like an Italian village. It is actually quite impressive but, like a lot of South Africa, a little distasteful when juxtaposed with very evident poverty. Inevitably it does provide jobs but, as I have seen in several places already, there is a part of SA that likes to go for it big time when it comes to comfort, food, entertainment, hotels and the like. I have to say that I gawped like a kid at the roof. It’s painted like a cloudy sky and looks bloody realistic. I know it’s not the Sistene chapel but it impressed me nonetheless. Apparently it’s designed to persuade people to stay and spend money longer when they might otherwise worry about travelling back to Joburg in the dark. Service and food, unlike the real Italy, are excellent and people seem genuinely friendly.

Saturday finished nicely with some premier league footy on TV and a Spurs win and Chelkski and West Sham losing. I’m writing this while watching Fulham v Hull. Most of the black and coloured South Africans I have met have an English team as well as a South African one. Most know more about the EPL than I do. The Afrikaaners tend to follow rugby. It’s the cup final this weekend coming. This may well be our opportunity to do something for ourselves because the hosts all have ‘other commitments’ on cup final day. I was having an excellent chat with one of the trainees here this evening until he told me he liked Les Arses. Bang goes his chance of passing the course. That's not true of course: I beat him to within an inch of his life with his fufuzella.

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