Tuesday, August 10, 2010

South Africa Social Diary

25 million U.S. viewers watched FIFA World Cup Finals on TV in July. I was one of the lucky 84,000 in Johannesburg’s Soccer Stadium, watching it in person.
WORLD CUP FINALS IN SOUTH AFRICA
by Jeanne Lawrence

Coca-Cola Company was our host for the perfectly orchestrated football weekend. Their officials greeted us when we arrived in Johannesburg (“Jo’burg,” to the natives.)
JOHANNESBURG — “We’ve done it!” exulted the South Africa Sunday Times on July 12, the day after the World Cup Finals.

“Africa will never be the same,” opined President Jacob Zuma.

You can’t imagine the euphoria. Africa’s first shot at hosting this year’s World Cup and the competitors from 32 nations was a spectacular success, making South Africans proud and turning the tables on the skeptics.

Now South African is thinking even bigger— bidding on the Olympics.

SUN CITY, “THE KINGDOM OF PLEASURE”

Though the World Cup was the highlight, my trip to South Africa—another first for me—was packed with fantastic moments.

Our group, stayed in Sun City at its flagship, the luxurious “Palace of the Lost City,” located at the mythical home of an ancient king—and we were treated like royalty.
Welcome! Our Coca-Cola entourage stayed at the luxurious “Palace of the Lost City.” Legend has it that the “Lost City” was the royal residence of an ancient civilization destroyed in an earthquake. We were welcomed by Coca-Cola Chairmen and CEO Muhtar Kent (l.) and Doug Jackson, President of Coca-Cola, China and Korea.
We took a three-hour bus ride to Sun City, called “Africa’s Kingdom of Pleasure.”
Sun City, a massive entertainment resort, is serious competition for Las Vegas and Disney. Hotel magnate Sol Kerzner (Bahamas Atlantis, and One and Only Resorts) was the creator.
The “Palace of the Lost City” is a fantasy world of African jungles, gardens spilling down cliffs, streams, waterfalls and pools, and entertainment.
At breakfast and lunch daily, the Crystal Court featured a bountiful African-influenced buffet with bands or pianist playing.
Breakfast on the terrace, overlooking the mountains and the swimming pool.
With all the wonderful meals, dining and the late afternoon tapas bar at the Tusk Lounge, many of us felt obliged to hit the gym!
Soweto Youth League entertained us with African music and dance.
At the Palace, media icon Yue-Sai Kan checked out the local handicrafts.
Africa is famed for its diamonds and jewelry.
FIFA WORLD CUP CLOSING CEREMONY

We were taken to Soccer City Stadium for the World Cup’s final game, which was preceded by closing ceremonies.

The entertainment included pop star Shakira’s hip-shaking rendition of the World Cup’s anthem, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa).” (If you missed it, check out YouTube, where it’s already been viewed nearly 150 million times!)
“Zakumi" is a cute and sporty leopard with green hair and the official World Cup mascot. ZA is the international Code for South Africa and ‘kumi’ means 10 in various African languages ... and it’s fun to say.
Spanish supporters, ready to board the bus for the drive to Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium.
The stadium was packed with throngs of Dutch, many dressed in orange and some in wacky getups. They far outnumbered the Spanish fans in red and yellow, but that ended up not mattering.
Yue-Sai Kan, leaving the hospitality suite to the stadium for the final match. Thanks to her, Coca-Cola extended their hospitality to me as part of the Shanghai official group. Everyone caught the spirit!
Entertainment included pop star Shakira’s hip-shaking rendition of the World Cup’s anthem, “Waka Waka” (This Time for Africa)."
A performance by dancers wearing the colors of all 32 competing nations ended with a colorful display of the nations’ flags.
When giant white elephants marched in a line onto the field heading toward a fantasy water hole, we were open-jawed ... until we realized they were puppets.
THE BELOVED NELSON MANDELA

Everyone I spoke to praised Nelson Mandela for his wisdom and lack of vengefulness—after spending three decades behind bars for treason—when he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president in l994.

He earned respect around the globe for leading a peaceful transition to democracy when many feared a civil war.
A thunderous ovation greeted 92-year-old icon Nelson Mandela when he and his wife, Grace Machel, rode onto the field in golf cart. As he waved, the vuvuzelas buzzed throughout the stadium and South Africans showed their pride.
In the 2009 biopic “Invictus,” Morgan Freeman as Mandela uses the 1995 World Rugby Cup, to unite the country. South Africa, hosts of the event, took the top prize. Its slogan was “One Team, One Country.”
THE WORLD CUP FINAL GAME

For the women, the big attraction was Iker Casillas, a 29-year-old from Madrid who was voted the World Cup’s top goalkeeper. Sadly, he’s taken (by TV reporter Sara Carbonero), but it was the trophy he kissed in the Stadium.

Casillas hoisted it high as confetti rained down and fans, including Queen Sofia, Rafael Nadal and Pau Gasol, cheered.

Back in Spain, the crowds wildly celebrated the victory. This win, along with Alberto Contador’s victory in the 2010 Tour de France, is a shot in the arm for a country suffering economic woes.
Some of the Coca-Cola entourage.
Coca-Cola Asia President Glenn Jordan with wife Carolina.
More supporters.
It was thrilling for me to report from Johannesburg on my first World Cup experience for the New York Social Diary.
Yue-Sai Kan’s Chinese fans recognized the television personality and asked her to autograph their football.
The real World Cup action occurred in the 116th minute, when Spain’s Andres Iniesta took a pass and put a shot out of reach of Holland’s goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
Spain, a three-time finalist, won its first World Cup and defeated the Netherlands. Everyone buzzed about “Paul the Octopus,” the German oracle who predicted the winner of eight matches.
When the final whistle blew, Spain won 1-0 in an extra-time victory.
Ecstatic Spanish fans blew thousands of deafening vuvuzelas (which some want outlawed!).
For the women, the big attraction was Iker Casillas, a 29-year-old from Madrid, voted the World Cup’s top goalkeeper. Sadly (for us), Casillas is taken—by TV reporter Sara Carbonero .
Yue-Sai Kan and I were happy with the outcome.
The grand finale for the World Cup 2010.
As you can see, it was a big celebration!
We arrived back late at our ‘Palace” after a full day; we slept all the way home.
Post ride, we perked up after hot soup and snacks in the lobby. Some of us headed for the Tusk Bar ... to discuss business (of course).
A few hit the Hollywood Slots for a little fun and were amused to watch Chinese gamblers order hot tea—so unlike the Las Vegas crowd that enjoys all the free booze.
K’NAAN ENTERTAINS

In addition to the big game, Coca-Cola planned other wonderful events. One of my special memories was the performance by Somalia-born poet and rapper K’NAAN, 32, who won the competition for creating Coke’s World Cup 2010 anthem with “Wavin’ Flag.”

This hypnotic and sensational song literally put K’NAAN on the world map. He toured 89 cities in 86 countries, including every country in Africa – making the World Cup an event for the entire continent, thanks to Coca Cola.
We gathered at the outdoor Royal Amphitheater to hear a special performance by Somalian rapper K’NAAN.
K’NAAN won the competition for creating Coke’s World Cup 2010 anthem with "Wavin’ Flag,” a remixed selection from his 2009 album, “Troubadour.”
After the performance, we enjoyed a dinner at Club Jabulani “to celebrate" in the Zulu language, and watched (on TV) the 3rd and 4th place World Cup matches.
I was impressed by Somalian performer K’NAAN.
K’NAAN with Yue-Sai Kan, the Chinese media personality.
THE GAME DRIVE

One morning, we toured through the Pilanesberg National Park, home to all the “big five” animals—lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalo and rhinos.

We drove to the “The Elephant Wallow,” where we could actually touch and feed elephants. There were elephant-back safaris too, but sadly we didn’t have time. 
One morning we toured the Pilanesberg National Park, a game reserve, home to the “Big Five”—leopards, lions, elephants, rhinos and buffalo.
At “The Elephant Wallow,” we could actually touch and feed elephants. Sadly, we hadn’t time for an elephant-back safari ride.
I WUZ ROBBED

I’d been warned to close the sliding doors of my hotel room, but I didn’t lock them. When I returned from the game ride, I discovered by room had been ransacked – by baboons.
Returning from the game ride, I discovered my room had been ransacked. The culprits? Baboons! I’d closed the doors to my hotel room, as warned, but failed to lock them.
The clever baboons or monkeys ate all the candy in the mini-bar and drank all drinks, but not the alcoholic ones (surely, there’s a message there!) opened every bureau drawer, gone through the cosmetic bags, and eaten my breath mints.
FAREWELL DINNER--BOMA BARBEQUE DINNER

The trip was capped off with a native and delicious BOMA, an outdoor barbecue, where we dined on such local specialties as ostrich medallions plus pork ribs, Creole rice, sweet potato with cinnamon and polenta.
A boma— a traditional South Africa “braai” or barbeque—is cooked, dude-ranch style, on a big open fire under the stars.
The African-influenced menu included pork spare ribs, ostrich medallions Creole rice, sweet potato with cinnamon, vegetable kebabs, and polenta.
Guests went wild when Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent sang onstage with the local African singers and dancers.
COCA-COLA INNOVATIONS

Throughout the weekend, Coca-Cola served us all types of refreshing drinks, including some brands not distributed in the U.S., like Hugo (launched in Chile) a fruit juice-skim milk drink, which I loved sampling.

The company also owns Vitamin Waters, and I’m glad to see they’re offering other non-sugary alternatives and using stevia for sweetening.
We were served refreshing Coca-Cola drinks, including some brands not distributed in the U.S. Steward and Kim Beck with Bill O’Brien and Gray Er.
I saw “The Bottle of the Future” with packaging that is made from 30% plant-based material and is 100 % recyclable, and bottles that collapse to a smaller size launched in Japan. I hope it comes to America soon. I stopped at the Coca-Cola Innovation area daily, fascinated by its new products: touch-operated vending machines with 100 beverages,
THE PARTY’S OVER

As everyone headed on to other destinations, many of us, including the big Brazilian entourage, headed to Cape Town, only a two-hour flight from Jo’burg. By the way, the next World Cup will be in Brazil.
We took the two-hour flight to Cape Town, after spending time at the airport with our Brazilian friends Alexandre Biagi and Emerson Vontobel. Brazil will host the next World Cup.
Saying good-by to Johannesburg and thanks to Coca-Cola.
CAPETOWN ADVENTURE

We couldn’t come so far without visiting Cape Town. I had heard it was beautiful but was unprepared for such breathtaking scenery and the stunning coastline.

Our host Maurice Shawzin, formerly of Palm Beach, showed us the highlights of the city, the spectacular scenery, the best restaurants and the shopping, Yue-Sai and I fell in love with Cape Town.
In Cape Town, our host Maurice Shawzin showed us the top sights, such as: Table Mountain, downtown, and Clifton and Camps Bay beaches.
The Cape Town World Cup Stadium, where more than 30,000 locals flocked for a last party and to watch the World Cup Final.
At Cape Point, the most southwesterly tip of the African continent. (We missed seeing the penguin colony.)
Lunching at a local fishing village at Kalk Bay, we felt as if we were in Maine.
From the vast seafood selection, we chose the seafood platter and chowed down on plates of lobsters and oysters.
Lady Linda Davis and interior designer Craig Caplan threw a dinner party in our honor.
We enjoyed shopping at Victoria Wharf, especially at The Safari Club, which features ostrich and crocodile bags, belts and other high-quality leather goods made by local artisans. I was introduced to my new addiction, Biltong, A distinctive beef jerky devised by Dutch settlers and Africa tribesmen to preserve meat for long-distance treks.
ONE AND ONLY RESORT

On our last night Maurice wanted to show us the fairly new, chic and contemporary One and Only Hotel, another of Sol Kerzner’s gems.

Under one roof you can dine at the first African outposts of two Michelin-star-winning celebrity chefs—Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s Nobu and Gordon Ramsey’s Maze.
The One and Only, another Sol Kerzner gem, is contemporary and urban with African influences.
I never fail to check out hotel rooms; the ones here (and the bathrooms) are oversized and luxurious. There are even chests of drawers in the closets! The bar with the view.
Yue-Sai Kan, Maurice Shawzin, our friend the doorman, and me.
The One and Only Resort is home to the first African outposts of two Michelin-star-winning celebrity chefs—Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (Nobu) and Gordon Ramsey (Maze). We dined at Nobu.
CAPE WINELANDS TOUR

On my last day, as I was short of time, I hired a car and driver to visit the Cape’s wine-growing region, only a 35-minute drive away. How could I come this far and not see the famous wine routes – the Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Francschhoek.

The area is lovely, with lush valleys and rugged mountains, wineries and historic sites in the characteristic Cape Town style. It seems more rural than the Napa Valley, even though it is home to 200 wine-growing estates—and I liked that.
As Franschhoek (French Corner) was celebrating Bastille Day, the charming village was decked out in the tri-colors of the French flag. It was founded over 300 years ago by Huguenot refugees.
The main street is lined with churches, shops, galleries, antique stores, inns and gourmet restaurants—even a fromagerie and a chocolate factory.
Considered “the gastronomic capital of South Africa,” we stopped for croissants and French coffee at the award-winning restaurant in Le Quartier Français, a heavenly Relais & Chateaux property.
It was a lovely surprise to run into friends from the Coca-Cola trip, Emerson and Sylvie Vontobel of Brazil. They were visiting their friend Susan Huxter, owner of Le Quartier Francais. Interior of the historic Boschendal Manor House.
We stopped at the Boschendal Manor House (1812), a museum that was formerly the country home of Cecil Rhodes (founder of the De Beers Diamonds and the man who funded the Rhodes Scholar program).
The Cape Winelands and vineyards in July, which is South Africa’s winter.
FRANSCHHOEK VILLAGE

As I’m a history buff, my first stop was the picturesque village of Franschhoek (French Corner) whose history dates back 300 years to the arrival of the French Huguenot refugees.

The Delaire Graff Estate owned by Laurence Graff, founder of Graff Diamonds. “Sitting Cheetahs” by South African artist Dylan Lewis guard the estate.
This was a special weekend as they were celebrating Bastille Day.

We stopped for coffee at the famed Le Quartier Français hotel before driving to Boschendal Manor,” once the country home of Cecil Rhodes, founder of De Beers, the diamond company, and the man who funded the Rhodes Scholar program.

DELAIR GRAFF LODGES AND SPA

Thought I had little time, I made a point of seeing the Delaire Graff estate, owned by Laurence Graff of Graff Diamonds, a global empire.

His latest jewel, the Delaire Lodges and Spa, opened several months ago and reflects Graff’s exquisite taste: understated, sophisticated, chic, and perfect in every detail. 
Located in Stellenbosch district, the exclusive retreat has 10 lodges, in the typically Cape Dutch style, with African influences, which are constructed of natural materials and sit amid the spectacular beauty of vineyards, mountains and exotic flora.
The Delaire Graff Estate is understated, chic, sophisticated, and perfect in every detail. There are several restaurants, a tasting room, and a spa.
After exploring the hotel, we arrived at the Tasting Room. The painting over the fireplace mantel is a collaboration by South African artists Robert Hodgins, William Kentridge, and Deborah Bell.
We tasted some of the award winning wines, among them the Delaire Sauvignon Blanc and Delaire Rosé Cabernet Franc that in 2009 Wine Magazine gave the highest rating in South Africa.
The tranquil rooms offer every imaginable amenity and spectacular views of the valley and vineyards.
I SHALL RETURN

I have vowed to revisit South Africa, for more safaris, more scenery, and more excellent dining and wine tasting. Its mild winters are a great place to escape our hot summers—which I don’t mind missing. That’s why I’m off to San Francisco for August.
As I headed to the airport I thought about all the beautiful things I wanted to see again and all that I had missed—including the chance to go on safari—and I vowed to return.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence. New York based Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in Shanghai and San Francisco, and wherever else she finds a good story.