This past weekend I attended the Franschhoek (French corner) Literary Festival. It was three days of sheer delight with many of the luminaries of the country’s literary world present. I had never before been to Franschhoek wine valley, a small heaven just an hour’s drive (83kms) from the Mother City, because like many I believed the world came to an end in Cape Town. Surprisingly, the more west one drove the prettier things got.
Franschhoek is a little gem with its beauty evident in its people, manifest in every home and building, and displayed in the many works of art housed in the galleries that line its main street. It is an oasis of colour, charm and of course wealth. Like the great cities of the ancient world, with the high walls to keep the invaders out, it is surrounded by mountains (an ancient mountain range believed to have been formed some 250 million years ago) as if to protect it from the cynical gaze of the world. Surely, this is what paradise is supposed to look like.
It is situated on sections of two Hugeunot farms – La Cotte and Cabriere. Its beauty notwithstanding it has had its fair share of conflict. It was once the site of several battles between the indigenous population and European settlers. And during the Anglo-Boer war a large military camp was established roughly where the present day museum and cemetery are.
I was invited by Andrea Nattrass, my publisher, to give an address at the opening event arranged by Pan Macmillan SA held on Friday at the Ebony gallery. The latter, with its colourful and beautifully decorated spaces, had what in my untrained eyes were fine modern pieces of art, and interior furniture on display. The evening went very well not because of my speech but the excellent food and wine, together with company of men and women who graced this special occasion.
I had planned to go and listen to Vanessa Goosen the following morning. I had followed her story with keen interest in the 90s.
The arrest of a former Miss SA in Thailand on drug charges had grabbed the attention of the whole country. Whether guilty or not, most of us sympathised with her. She was young and pregnant and didn’t seem to deserve a long jail sentence in a foreign country.
Her talk was moving and painful, and I was very happy to get an autographed copy of her book. Soon after, it was my turn, during a lunch time session, to talk about my second novel A Hill of Fools. It was satisfying that the venue was sold out, and that a lively debate followed on the book’s message.
The Sunday Times dinner at the La Cotte wine farm was the highlight. However despite the brilliance of the setting, and of those who attended, it was Jenny Crwys-Williams who captured the house. She was in fine form and her enthusiasm as infectious as ever. She is worthy of a novel in her right. The nominees for the Sunday Times Literary Awards were all worthy of their nominations.
After a late Saturday night I indolently slept in on Sunday morning. I consequently missed out on the morning book discussion sessions with the authors – some of which would have been interesting to attend. I eventually woke up to a brilliant summery day, and after a late breakfast, I patiently waited for my last session with the poet Oswald Mtshali, to be chaired by Professor Ndebele. It was once again a riveting session with the Professor adroitly controlling the discussion.
In the end it was an impressive and a thoroughly enjoyable weekend that left me asking for seconds. I hope to be back next year. For those who missed this one, there is good news: there is another one next year.
Congratulations to the organisers and the many hardworking people who made this event a success. I sincerely hope more people, particularly black South Africans, will attend in future. The winner of course was Franschhoek – for its engaging beauty, for its understated charm and for its generous hospitality.