Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Roof wetting the Cape Town Stadium

Cape Town Stadium - and the view FIFA demanded

So, I get this invitation – very glossy, very smart - very welcome drinks; followed by light snacks; followed by speeches; followed by concert; followed by supper; followed by more concert. I sort of knew it was going to be “popular”, so I didn’t take the instruction to wear smart clothes terribly seriously.

Parking was a bit chaotic – we were asked, in the middle of the street (before being requested to do a U-turn away from the site which was shown on the invite for parking), whether or not we were VIPs. So security, I would say, was a bit of an issue!

The outside of the stadium, now almost complete, looks like a large Afro-chic hat. The inside looks very much, to me - well, like a stadium! There is a green patch of grass in the centre, seats and a great halo of open space above you. The one thing which caught my eye was the grey colour of the seats. There are lighter and darker shades – randomly spaced, giving the impression of Mother-of-pearl, or the inside of a shell, or something like that. Of course, the entire effect would be lost if the stadium was full – but I thought it was quite a clever, and classy touch. (For almost five billion Rand – the very least I would expect was a nice touch, here and there.)

The speeches were as one would expect – everyone praising everyone who had anything to do with the construction of the stadium. Endless clapping this or that thought about how wonderful, how unique, how special and how beautiful it all is. The Premier, Helen Zille gave a rabble-rousing speech, preceded by one that was, (how can one put this gently?) less engaging, by the Mayor of Cape Town, Dan Plato.

Then on to the concert. Now, before I say anything, let me say how much I genuinely admire Richard Cock, the conductor. He is an extremely humble man and one who certainly knows how to bring music to the people. I don’t think he is a great conductor – but he is a populist supreme - and a gentle one at that. He knows what buttons to press amongst the musically uneducated and he really manages to get real rapport with them. This is a good thing – but I do have some slight problem about the actual level of musicality he seems content to allow in his efforts to do so.

Nevertheless, we started with what he called the “FIFA theme”. Apparently this is a piece of music owned by FIFA. (I was somewhat surprised that he didn’t announce that for the period of the tournament – FIFA owned ALL music – but he didn’t. Note to FIFA – this is something you may have missed for Brazil...). Needless to say, the FIFA theme was awful. Dreary, tub-thumping crashes and bangs which sounded not unlike the theme from “Dallas”. Indeed, it could have been the theme from “Dallas”, because who would remember the theme from “Dallas”?

Then we had the “Twenty Tenors” – (Geddit? Twenty Tenors???). Well, we had twelve of them, because (due to the fact that the stadium costs have ballooned from 1.8 Billion to a mere 5 Billion, in the space of three years),apparently the budget for the roof wetting needed to be somewhat limited. The singing was mediocre. But, and here is something worth noting, at least the singers were mostly black! They stood in the sharpest of contrast to the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, which was, not to put too fine a point on it, blindingly white.

And then, there was a group called the “Sterling Electric Quartet”. It consisted of four women playing an electric cello, violin, viola and flute. They wore dresses the size of serviettes and they seemed to be doing practise moves for the filming of the female part to the Karma Sutra. The audience loved them. Cameras flashed. Men approved. They can play – of that there is no doubt – but dear Lord! Why did they bother? It was a bit like watching porn with strangely shaped musical instruments.

My overall impression was one of sadness. Not at the kind of music the majority of the crowd seemed more than content to endure, but at the fact that this huge stadium can really only be used for three things: Soccer, Rugby and concerts. No Athletics. No cricket. Perhaps the occasional boxing match – who knows? Why? It has no athletics track because when the price was thought to be R1.8 billion, it was thought to be too much, so the size of the stadium was reduced to exclude an athletics track.

And sad, because I don’t buy the argument that the stadium is in the right place. Greenpoint Common is not a central point for Cape Town and nor is it, in my opinion, a developmental node. It will simply benefit the already rich of the area, who are mostly white. I have listened to all the arguments, over the years and I have to say, that I just don’t buy them. The reason why the stadium was put where it is, was quite simply, because that is where FIFA wanted it to be. And FIFA wanted it there for the view of Table Mountain.

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