Sarah Buitendach Editor: Wanted and FM lifestyle
Rodeo Drive. Picture: 123RF/Brian Kinney
Rodeo Drive. Picture: 123RF/Brian Kinney

“Welcome to Hollywood. What’s your dream?”

So goes one of the opening lines of Pretty Woman, the 1990 movie starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.

For our consul-general in Los Angeles, Thandile Sunduza, that dream is to live on Rodeo Drive – one of the fanciest streets in America – if the Sunday Times’ most recent cover story is on the money.

My dream as a taxpayer watching how the government is spending my hard-earned rands is for her not to.

Prior to this story breaking, I was unaware that we had a consulate in LA. Light Googling reveals that it is a dour-looking spot in an office block on Wilshire Boulevard. A picture of its reception area reveals chairs channelling corporate Versailles. The lighting is of the interrogation variety and not even a poorly placed photo of the president, smiling cheerily, helps.

The official website of this, our majestic LA hangout, says the following: “This consulate-general is responsible for representing and promoting SA within the thirteen (13) western states of the United States including the US territory of Guam. These US western states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.”

Presumably its counterparts in Chicago, New York City and Washington DC — our other consulates in the States — handle everywhere else. It eludes me why just one or two of these, with some Zoom meetings, the odd flight, and a courier handling visas around the country, wouldn’t suffice. And yet running four outfits with staff and dollar-priced overheads is apparently a necessity to our department of international relations & co-operation.

But back to Rodeo Drive. Those who’ve watched any movie that is set in Beverly Hills (think Clueless, Beverly Hills Cop — and of course, Pretty Woman) will know that three palm-lined blocks of this LA road are the luxury shopping destination in the US. They flaunt one ultra-slick, triple-volume designer store after the next. From Agent Provocateur to Ermenegildo Zegna, they’re all there.

It’s the stuff of dictator’s wives’ and starry-eyed tourists’ dreams. They yearn to sashay down the strip, arms burdened with shiny, monogrammed shopping bags.

This bit of asphalt is the ultimate symbol of success, a Hollywood backlot-like manifestation of the American dream.

Rodeo Drive, it turns out, also has a fascinating history, having started out as a bridle path. This great new podcast, simply titled Rodeo Drive, will clue you in on the places and personalities that have made it so iconic and seem more than just an altar to brash consumerism.

Not that you’d see any of that consumerism today, as large parts of the street have been boarded up because of possible US election-related unrest. Have a look at the images of this chipboard ghost town, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, here.

The road then runs down into an area called The Flats, where it becomes a gorgeous residential street. Here the artery is all big front yards, exquisitely manicured trees and movie mansions. I’d also want to live there. Tragically, I don’t have a loose $7.9m lying around for this nice English country pile of a place that is now up for grabs on the coveted road. Mind you, I don’t have the R238,253 a month that SA has budgeted to spend on Sunduza’s would-be home either.

The point is, as with the rest of Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive is not the appropriate home base for any official working for a country now beholden unto the IMF, one that has to raise R2.1bn a day just to pay its debts. It’s a case of cutting your cloth accordingly and making sure it’s not from Versace either.​

*Buitendach is the FM's Life editor and editor of Wanted magazine.

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