Like Paris Hilton, I had occasion to frequent a South African court house this past week. It might have been a simpler affair if I too had been nicked on the wrong side of a dagga cloud but, alas, I was paying a traffic fine for a lapsed car-licence disc.
So there I was in the seedy downtown Magistrate's Court, takeaway cappuccino in hand, pondering the real-life soap operas being played out in the court rooms around me. "R500," the large laborious lady announced when I got to the counter. Now my ticket quite plainly said R100, written out lovingly for her very own eyes to see but she was having none of my protestations. She simply shrugged her shoulders when I asked why, for the love of God, her computer said it was R500. This was obviously a mistake. I was directed to fill in a form and "come back tomorrow".
And so I did - the point being that had it not been for the fact that I am brimming with pride and good vibes for my country because of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, I would have had a major frothy. Instead, I left the court chuckling.
There was something uniquely South African in this women's long-suffering indifference to my plight and the ridiculous system in which she worked, in the way she sighed and shuffled off to the back rooms to find me the relevant form.
The absurdity of the situation put me in mind of the farcical bureaucracy played out in a series of Sicilian detective stories to which I'm rather partial, the Inspector Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri. And, in fact, the parallels with Italy are useful. When South Africans get down about crime and corruption, we tend to compare ourselves to Britain - possibly because it was our most recent colonial master and is one of our biggest trading partners - and also because many South Africans of British decent such as myself have lived in the UK at some time or other and have family there.
But now let's take a look at Italy: it's a staggeringly beautiful country with a fascinating history, it has great wealth but also poverty, and it is wracked with crime and corruption that goes right to the very top. Sound familiar? The only thing they've got that we haven't is a fabulous world cuisine.
Does the world in general - and Italians in particular - think any less of Italy because the good comes with the bad? Indeed not and I, for one, would give my right arm to sip a yummy Chianti on a Tuscan piazza one holiday.
[7 Jul 2010 13:31]