Life is Sweet in Philadelphia

The Algemene Handelaar is the throbbing heart of the village. Photos:

Life is sweet as a koeksuster in Philadelphia. It’s the small town charm, of course. There are some streets, but only so many that you can count them on two hands. There are some houses. You can count them, too. There are some places of commerce. Just a few. One does not want to get confused, as one does in the city.

Alta is the owner of the Algemene Handelaar, which also doubles as the post office. She sells just about everything except for property. On the day of our visit she cuts up milk tart, the old-fashioned kind that makes you go weak at the knees. Plump gold circles of sweetness.

Alta is the grocer, postmaster and Keeper of the Cemetery’s key.

She dispenses koeksusters, too, and rattles off ingredients. “Who made it?” we ask. She becomes evasive. The woman “lives over there,” she gestures vaguely. It could be anywhere in the Western Cape, we tell each other. Alta is so secretive when she discovers a gem. She keeps her gems close to her.

This house is on the outskirts of the village.

We buy an aloe infused drink that tastes like cooldrink. We look at her aloe ferox plant on the sidewalk. It has orange candelabras to die for, and it is a medicine chest, too, one which Alta plunders. She’s used the sap of one plump leaf on a child’s sore foot. And lo and behold, it got better in the wink of an eye.

Business is so brisk that we remark on it. “It’s slow today,” Alta counters. She’s got a few job titles. Apart from being the grocer and postmaster she is the Keeper of the Cemetery’s Key. She explains that the gates of the historic cemetery have been locked because of vandalism. People wishing to visit the graves, some of which go back to the time of the Groot Griep, have to sign her book, and get the cemetery’s key from her. They also have to return it to the shop. And of course there is no danger that she would have handed it over to any paloeka.

Customs. That is what a place like Philadelphia is about. That is why it is worth a visit. Perhaps one that lasts for years.



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