On holidays

Johannesburg is a thirsty city.

Winters so dry, your skin flakes in scales and your bones crack so the cold can get inside. Summers wrapped in a hot fog of waiting; waiting for rain, foot-tapping, restless, impatient anticipation of something-but-what.

We wait behind desks, in the traffic, in the lethargy and swirls of dust that blow low along the curbs; we wait for respite, for endings, to be quenched.

Holidays are hard to imagine in cities. But escape can take many forms.

We can pine: longing for salt breezes and bare feet.

We can wish: that we were slurping oysters on Wild Coast cliffs, bowls of amêijoas by the waves.

We can pretend: drive south of the city and eat crisp rissóis de camarão with peri-peri and choose imported tiger prawns from a tray.

Or, we can submit to her seduction: in the gentle calm of December’s empty streets; on rooftops under zigzags of a grand highveld lightshow, accompanied by a bass drum in the sky; in the damp of morning, coffee sipped with the smell of earth and her renewal, the wake of a storm.

We can embrace our city in all her fickleness: her dusty streets and glorious tempests, and drink a holiday toast to her.

Roadside Old Fashioneds, laced with smoked mezcal as the moon cracks a grin. Late afternoon white port and tonics, as the grey sidles in from the south with the scent of almost-rain. The grassiest Sauvignon Blanc, crisp and cold; paired with a chlorine chill in your skin.

Go swimming at Zoo Lake, watch our jigsaw city come together.

See the beautiful woman with orange peel legs and proud bikini rolls, reading a paperback love story. Smile at the little princess, in pink frilled-lycra, prancing. Lie on the grass, watch tumbling splashes rise into the air, pool edges chipped from history and scrambling hands.

Ask the ice cream man for a Oh Oh Orange too-sweet-popsicle that turns your tongue tangerine.

See the couple sit dangling their legs in the pool for Small Children. She in black cotton, headscarf and all, he in long-sleeved white; swinging feet in the shallows, holding hands.

In December, no one is watching.

It is a time to put ice in your shiraz, eat with your fingers, slip your shoes off under the dinner table. It is a time to drink bubbles and sing a capella from a hotel terrace, imagining a jacaranda carpet in the dark. A time to drink chocolate-banana milkshakes by the roadside.

Holidays are for breathing and laughing and paying tribute.

Leave the window ajar: so the raindrops can leave spots in the dust on the sill.

Rissois at Restaurant Parreirinha, 011 435 3809
Old Fashioneds at Perron, 011 880 7296, www.perron.co.za
White port and tonic at Warm & Glad, 011 781 0455, dev.warmandglad.com
Zoo Lake swimming pool, 011 646 8495
Bubbles on the terrace at the Westcliff Four Seasons, 011 481 6000, www.fourseasons.com/johannesburg
Roadside milkshakes at the Dollhouse, 071 186 4703