Jun 30, 2006

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa –  I meet another journalist aboard the Pride of Africa. Jacques is scouting for a TV-show, the Afrikaans equivalent to Saturday Night Live in the States, he explains.

I write a film traveler column for Moviemaker, so we yap about the industry. How skimpy do the starlets dress at the Durban July horse race? Is the Cape Town Film Commission helpful?

Does he know the actress Sandi Schultz, my cousin's stepmother?

Big comedy double-take. "Know her? She was just on my show three days ago! Her medical drama, Binnelanders, is very popular here."

Jacques punches a few buttons and hands the cell phone across. Sandi's smooth voice welcomes me to South Africa. We all make vague plans to rendezvous later in the city.

The luvvie world is a small one indeed.

And one I routinely flee.

Which I do again, opting instead for Chinese, Chardonnay and slot machines with Miss Betty from Dallas, Texas. We split a nightcap in the hotel bar, all palm fronded and tinkling with lounge piano classics.

"I needed this," she says. "Thanks. You could have been out jet-setting."

I raise my glass and clink hers. "A female journalist disappeared in Joburg last week, I heard. Suddenly an expensive night of cocktails and taxi cabs in a strange city, alone, didn't sound like such a bright idea.

"Plus, a new friend is far more important."

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