Tuesday 24 October 2017

Lure of landing Pulitzer can't beat a good omelette

Dion Fanning

So this is how I saw the World Cup panning out: by day, or at least by mid-afternoon, I would be just another number, part of the media infantry trudging from one spectacular sporting event to another.

By night, or maybe mid-morning after coffee, I would investigate the social and political truths that are being masked by the euphoria of the World Cup. Nothing would deter me; I would embrace danger, laugh in the face of terror, ride shotgun into the valley of death. I would make the Bang-Bang club look like Cecil Beaton.

But South Africa has always found ways to suppress those who are determined to tell the truth. They used to call them riotous assemblies and the banning orders prevented anyone the apartheid regime considered seditious from associating with more than one person at a time.

Brave men found a way around this. And they are honoured in the new, tumultuous South Africa. The country's hosting of this tournament when everyone said it couldn't be done, reveals its defiance and its unpredictability.

My own pursuit of truth has been suppressed as brutally, although with a velvet touch. They call it breakfast.

I have mentioned before how the house in which I'm staying is owned by the two most hospitable people I have ever met, Mark and Brenda. Breakfast is the beginning of their largesse each day but never the end and when I explain that breakfast often takes place over several sittings and has been known to include a roast chicken, you'll understand why my pursuit of Pulitzers has been impeded.

Every day my intentions are good. I walk into her breakfast room, greet Brenda and say I'll just help myself to some cereal today. This seems to hurt Brenda; she has told me I'm unpredictable. I was under the impression women looked for that in a man but, when it comes to breakfast, I can tell that Brenda thinks it's a weakness.

So they've started to ignore my words and judge me on my actions which, when I'm around them, consist primarily of the action of eating.

I might look at my watch and suggest that the planned day of frontline photo-journalism won't shoot itself but then some croissants from the French bakery up the road are placed in front of me. "These are the ones you like," Brenda says, and she's right. I do like them. In fact, once I said I liked them she now goes to the bakery every day to get them.

As the breakfast becomes elaborate, the ideas of talking to the heroes in the fight against apartheid drift away. Soon I start taking pictures of the croissants, thinking that, in many, ways, this is as reflective of South Africa (or, at least a South Africa) as anything I could find in a township. I take a picture of the fruit bowl too, and a couple of the guard dogs, just to show I can still do gritty. They may not win any prizes but I could post them on Facebook and maybe someone will comment.

In this country, or at least in Brenda's house, a poached egg is never just a poached egg. It is served, as if by law, with bacon and sausage. If Mark is in the kitchen you can add an omelette to the menu and we like it when Mark is in the kitchen. In fact, a colleague and I spent most of the journey back from Bloemfontein discussing Mark's omelettes.

Brenda had, of course, packed a breakfast for all of us for the 20-hour day. Mark had insisted egg mayonnaise sandwiches were the correct supply for a road trip but Brenda was insisting on bacon and egg rolls with some excellent biltong. 'Why can't we have both?' one of us, who must be nameless or Brenda will insist on feeding him, asked and it is an indication of how much we have been indulged that we all thought it a reasonable question.

So the days have taken a different shape, with breakfast taking up more of it than I had anticipated, followed by a doze on the media shuttle as I vow to do more tomorrow. It is a privileged existence in a privileged part of South Africa but, a bit like Howard Webb, they are having a great tournament and it's time they got more recognition.

On Friday, I flew to Cape Town, heading away from the game that mattered. Ghana were playing and Africa had united. Their exit may not be tragic in the context of that continent but the desire with which all of Africa backed them, and all of South Africa, may have had something to do with not wanting these magical three weeks to end.

Even those of us who act like covering major tournaments is some sort of tour of duty are reluctant to come back. Ghana's unjust exit was just a reminder that soon it will all end.

In Cape Town on Friday night they anticipated a party and it never came. Asamoah Gyan's missed penalty provided the image of the tournament. Friday was the day that suggested the competition might yet have greatness in it.

My hotel in Cape Town was once a prison and now it is a FIFA media hotel, so not a lot has changed with the clientele. I strolled by the Atlantic, had some food and went to my room to watch the day's games. Cape Town is idyllic, but it passed me by. I pined for the world's most dangerous city. I wanted to continue the search for truth -- or at least an omelette.


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