I grew up in
Johannesburg, in Parkview and later Parkwood, and when I moved to Cape Town at
19, I missed it desperately. I moved back to Jozi briefly in my mid-20s for a
job (which paid well over double what I’d been earning in Cape Town), and quickly
slotted right back into that vibey energy that (sorry, Slaapstad) was so
missing in the Mother City.
The five years I’d spent in Cape Town had, however, hooked me – it really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world – and I ended up settling there for the next decade or so, before decamping to the little town of Riebeek Kasteel.
I’ve gone back to Johannesburg briefly from time to time, on business and for various family occasions, and I’ve always enjoyed it, but for some reason my last visit, last week, really reminded me of why I so loved growing up there.
|Everything's bigger in Jozi: my sister shows off a |
chocolate croissant, presumably made to share....
Sandton City became the place to meet on Saturday mornings – my generation of teenagers were the forerunners of today’s mall rats. We played Space Invaders in the video arcade, ordered four glasses of water and one plate of chips to share at the restaurants (there were no food courts yet), and shopped for skin-tight high-waisted jeans at Goophee’s.
Ten years ago I went back to Joburg on a business trip, to write a story about Montecasino. I was booked into a BnB in Fourways, and declined the offer of directions to get there because I’d lived in Fourways in my late teens and knew where it was – the suburb was, after all, named after the four-way stop at William Nicol and Witkoppen. It was only when I was well on my way to Hartbeestpoort that I realised that the old landmark had disappeared under a three-lane highway.
My sister and I experienced same somewhat unsettling disorientation on this latest visit – our teen memories of landmarks were confusingly overlaid by the new Sandton, packed with gleaming skyscrapers, uber-smart office headquarters and trendy apartment blocks. When we drove past a Tudor-style townhouse complex on Rivonia Road, we both shrieked recognition: our father’s friend and colleague, cameraman Ernie Christie (who later gained notoriety when he flew his Cessna into a block of flats down the road from our house in Parkwood, killing both himself and two other people), had lived there with his wife, Nikki. A family outing to the Christies’ place back in the 1970s was a trip out to the country! (By some bizarre coincidence, the headquarters of the corporate where we presented our course was built on the very piece of land where Ernie once had a film studio.)
|From left: me, my brother, my sister and my brother's wife, |
at Kai Thai. My brother is the only member of
our family still living in Jozi.
I’d also forgotten how distinct Jozi’s seasons are – although this is very much something I missed when I first moved to Cape Town, where there are really only two seasons, summer and winter. So coming out of the hotel early in the morning, with the city already fully awake, into the clean, crisp autumn air, and watching two grey louries fly from tree to russet-coloured tree, was just too wonderful. Jozi is no concrete jungle – with over 10 million trees, the city boasts the biggest manmade forest in the world. And when it turns orange in autumn, and the trees shed their leaves into huge scrunchy piles, it’s a fabulously picturesque signal that winter is on its way. And – bonus – we also got to experience an afternoon thunderstorm!
(I do recall battling through the Joburg winters – it gets so bitterly cold, and the dryness makes everything crackle with static electricity, and causes nosebleeds and painfully cracked lips.)
The cherry on top of our visit was being whisked from Sandton to the airport on the Gautrain. It’s not a cheap 15-minute ride at R115 one way, but it’s fast, efficient and sparkly-clean. Buying a ticket was a bit of a pain – although there’s a rank of automatic ticket-dispensing machines at the Sandton station, you can only use them if you already have a Gautrain card (which we didn’t), and that meant we had to queue at the single ticket office. Each ticket sale took about a minute and a half, which doesn’t sound long in isolation, but when you’re in a queue of 10 people, the minutes stack up.