Sunday, 22 April 2012

An Afrotropolis to be proud of: Jozi rocks!

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....
My sister and I spent two days in Sandton presenting a writing workshop for a large corporate, and although we had precious little spare time, we did manage to soak up a bit of Jozi’s amazing energy. Sandton itself has changed beyond recognition from the early days – when Sandton City was first built in the mid-1970s, it was the biggest thing ever to have happened in the northern suburbs. Before the mega-shopping centre went up, Sandown, Bryanston and Rivonia were out in the sticks – I went out there to ride offroad bikes along endless miles of trails, and some of my better-heeled friends had horses stabled out there.

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.
My sister and I stayed at the City Lodge in Sandton, which is very much in the centre of things. It was clean and bright, and the staff were without exception on the ball, friendly and eager to please. And we experienced this service excellence everywhere, including the News CafĂ© (where we went for a drink in the early evening, and sat outside in the nippy autumn air, surrounded by some of the cream of Jozi’s young and energetic labour force) and Kai Thai, a fabulous restaurant in Randburg where I had one of the best yellow Thai curries I’ve ever eaten. For someone who’s long given up going out to eat in my own neck of the woods, because it’s always such a frustrating experience, this was a pleasure practically beyond description.

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.

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3 comments:

Clyde said...

A walk down memory lane.
Clean crisp air?

Tracey said...

You're right to query that, Clyde. That's what it FELT like. But (and this is gross, so steel yourself!) I did realise how much invisible pollution was in the air when I cleaned my ears with an earbud on the Friday morning and what came out was BROWN! Yuk!

Anatswanashe said...

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