Walking through Cape Town today, I became nostalgic for Johannesburg. This Johannesburg that people say has changed so much, they don't know it anymore. But during my time there, I saw a glimpse of what it is now, and it rekindled something in me - a love for Africa perhaps.
I wish my friend John would write a book, but meanwhile, I share his words here.
Nostalgic for being away from here, in a place where English is not spoken. I am driving around Johannesburg, now an almost strange town, obeying the schoolmistress in the little screen above the dashboard, but often turning too late, or too early, because I am distracted by the sights of Johannesburg - a couple of hundred years of improvised gambits have left the urban landscape crammed with relics of attempts, victories, failures. I am bombarded by the information, new and defunct, on signs, hoardings, facades. It is all, or mainly in English, and it gets mixed up with fragments of the gprs, and with my own verbal thought-stream, sometimes voiced, and with the song on the cd. This is too frantic, and so I long to be somewhere else, some place where, because I am unable to understand anything, I will be able to switch off this almost automatic process of monitoring and collecting, and being lured by, instructions and information, which I know have nothing or little to do with me.
I was fortunate to be with someone who knows the city so well. And very lucky indeed that I didn't have to drive. Distractions abound. There were so many moments that I couldn't catch on film. In the car under a fly-over at dusk and seeing a pool of light up ahead. The traffic stops and I look in. A hole in the wall bakery with a flour-covered man kneading dough. He looks up at me and smiles wide. The ever present ladies with loads on their heads, regally conveying bundles of clothing, a huge bag of spinach, kindling...
The buildings, the beautiful old buildings. Once grand, now falling into decay. The Alhambra Theatre in the morning sunlight, notorious Ponte Tower looming on the hill. Art Deco apartment blocks in Hillbrow: The Alma, Park Lane, Empire Gardens. Covered in satellite dishes and flapping laundry lines. Broken windows criss crossed with brown tape. Early Friday evening crowds on the street, shopping in a supermarket that only sells meat. The hairdressers crowded to bursting point. The Yeoville vegetable market reminiscent of Mozambique. A ruined but inhabited building in Berea. The Radium Beer Hall in Orange Grove, established in 1929 and still going. Imagining the people there in 1937, watching Vangelia Court being built next door, what it was like back then. I wish I knew.
I saw this man from afar - he stood out like a big red pin. When I asked if I could take his picture, he asked: How do you want me?
Hidden graffiti. I fell in love with the work of the mysterious Veronika, who turned out to be a guy named Ben.
I miss the friendliness and the bustling industry of Johannesburg. The instant connections with strangers. I miss the golden afternoon light.