I’m fortunate enough to have been booked by my client in a delightful guesthouse just outside Pretoria, the seat of South Africa’s executive branch. Here, on the northern side of the Magaliesberg, we are less than 9 kilometers removed from the city proper, but this rugged outcrop is a formidable barrier between the bushveld and the plateau where Pretoria lies, as the British found out the hard way during the Second Boer War.
The month is March and the fall weather here is mild and changeable; clear blue skies gradually become gray and menacing, then the rain begins and falls in sheets for a while. But it’s soon sunny and warm again with temperatures nearing 30° C and an azure sky peppered with plump little clouds.
My previous visits here were always in the winter and all was dry and yellow; now everything is green, lush, and much easier on the eye.
The place I’m staying at for 5 nights is called Casta Diva, a rich man’s home from days of yore that’s been converted into a boutique hotel with around 20 units and an excellent restaurant. (Yet, you won’t believe how inexpensive it is.)
My unit sits just across the garden from the restaurant. I return to it in the late afternoon after working in nearby Rosslyn, pick up a bottle of excellent South African Chardonnay from the room’s refrigerator where I had earlier placed it to chill and head to a friendly little portico that lies just outside my unit, overlooking the hotel’s garden.
I work on my e-mails as I sip the fruity wine from the Cape Province and all is well. Couldn’t be better, in fact. Invisible exotic birds call in the foliage, a mild breeze blows and the overall effect is wonderful. The combination of chilled wine, rich scents from the flowered bushes, and faint avian sounds makes for instant relaxation and a sense of fully deserved luxury.
But suddenly, across the garden, a well-known noise intrudes on my bliss. A guy is talking loudly into his cellphone. The individual in question is ostensibly a German businessman who hasn’t yet learned that technology allows you to just speak into the phone to be heard on the other side. Surely he doesn’t think that it’s the yelling to carry his voice all the way to Dusseldorf or wherever der Teufel he comes from.
He yammers on and on about business matters with the tone of someone who is used to having people listen to him and hardly in a position to tell him: get to the point already and give your mouth a rest.
I try to shut him out of my consciousness as I deal with my correspondence (and the Chardonnay) and soon it’s time to get back to my room and change for dinner in town.
The next day, I have a free evening with no outside engagements. After my e-mail routine (and, to be sure, a glass of Swartland Winery’s rich Merlot for a change), I make my way across the garden to the restaurant. Aside from its main room, the restaurant offers the opportunity to dine “al fresco” on a small veranda covered by a canvas roof.
I sit there and order my dinner as the sky slowly darkens and the night sets in. The lighting is subdued and the stillness complete, except for the occasional trill and hoot of tropical birds. This silence is heady after a day of non-stop talking and there’s a promise of rain in the moist evening air.
Then, as the darkness is almost complete, a familiar clamor shatters the idyll. Yes, it’s him, Herr Loudmouth on his damn cellphone again. He’s in another veranda, maybe 10 meters and a few planters away, smart enough to choose such a delightful dinner setting but dumm enough to ruin it with his incessant blaring.
I try to concentrate on my food and the excellent red huiswyn they serve here, but to no avail. He’s really getting on my nerves (and I suppose those of some poor wretch on the other end of his call).
Now a waiter brings him his food. That’ll shut him up, I think.
No such luck. He drones on through dinner having put his phone on speaker. Great. Now I can hear the other guy, too.
I’m just about to walk over and ask him to shut the hell up, when a sudden occurrence stops me from starting a potentially ugly scene.
The rain hurtles down like a sudden, thundering drumroll on the canvas awning above me and loudly slaps the foliage all around my veranda. The downpour is as abrupt as it is fierce. A liquid onslaught drowns every other sound and is soon joined by the rush of rainwater through the drainpipes that run from the eaves. In this natural cacophony, I’m as content as I was in total silence 15 minutes ago.
This sudden, torrential cloudburst is even more relaxing than the earlier stillness and—more importantly—it has totally superseded the obnoxious yapper, the irritating fly in the ointment.
I lift the wineglass to my lips as I think how incredibly close I am to an urban area of over 3 million people, yet so far away from its hustle and bustle—and its cellphone-toting idiots.