To read Chris Marais as a fellow hack is to drink deep from the cup of nostalgia having experienced a familiar cast of media characters – many of whom are no longer with us
The Journey Man is not so much a voyage into the past, as a teleportation into a parallel space time continuum in which we were all younger, crazier, and ready to conquer the world. It’s with a sense of wistfulness that I revisit that now foreign land and see it through older, sadder, but (hopefully) wiser eyes.
The Journey Man jogs the most jaded of memories. Thanks to Marais I flash back to a younger time when the bedazzlements of strobe lights and Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff throbbed through the speakers of The Grand Wazoo in Pretoria. Marais’ memory of that bastion of sophistication and everything hitherto forbidden, is more prosaic.
He calls the club from the newsroom of the Pretoria News. “Hello, is that the Grand Wazoo?
“No I’m just the cleaner,” comes the response.
The hilarious Marais is a consummate narrator, freshening up familiar territory with his philosophical, gossipy, and always entertaining prose. Who doesn’t remember Hillbrow in the early 80s? Who didn’t drink coffee and play backgammon at Café Wien? Who didn’t browse through Hillbrow Records, Estoril Books, explore the flea market in the basement on Pretoria Street or buy a brown chicken from Fontana at 3am?
Here’s Hillbrow through the Chris Marais lens, kicking off with a bout of female mud wrestling:
“… full tilt, nipple caps flying, panties slipping down to reveal G-strings, legs akimbo, eyes full of oil …
“…a suicide story. Some kids smoked one white pipe over the limit and threw themselves out of a flat on the 20h floor. They left no notes …”
“Mother Hillbrow is a filthy bitch at sunrise …”
Marais even writes about the Hillbrow Herald – that long-defunct “knock-and-drop” where I first cut my own journalistic teeth … yup, those were the heady, halcyon days, my friends. We thought they’d never end …
Of course, this is his story, and not mine. It’s just that Marais has a way of writing that wraps a friendly arm of prose around your shoulders and draws you into the action. Combining memoir, satire, confession, and humility, Marais, ever the literary showman, tells it like it is without resorting to adjectival metaphor. Unless, of course, you count the journey as the leitmotif, since Marais takes you on a journey in both senses of the word.
The Journey Man is an event-filled travelogue that spans the Atlantic Ocean from San Francisco down to the Karoo, but it is also the mental journey of a young man learning about people, politics, and philosophy on his way to becoming a better journalist, and dare I say, human being. Oh, who am I kidding? The Journey Man is boozy, druggy, blokish fun, more a rush than a trip down memory lane that is in equal parts memoir, commentary, and derring-do adventure.
You’ll find yourself immersed when you really should be packing the dishwasher/ or filling in a tax return. It’s catnip for scribes so don’t say I didn’t warn you!