22 July 2007

I ♥ Pretoria

Apparently, I require photographs to show inquisitive Americans where I come from. I therefore went on a photo shoot around Pretoria. For the first time, I was a tourist in my own city. I started off by taking several photographs of the oldest and most important buildings on the university campus. The collection needed to expand, however - I wanted pictures of the telecommunications tower at Groenkloof, the Union Buildings, Melrose House, the Reserve Bank, the Magaliesberg, the Wonderboom.

Beyond these, I wanted to show people the weird little things, the idiosyncracies, like the wonderfully named Hotel Sharbel in Villieria, Leeubrug (where Pretoria's last wild lion was shot in 1858), the curiously triangular apartment buildings on the hill above Murrayfield which you see from the highway, mistletoe on the trees in Magnolia Dell, Sterland in all its pink glory, the giant tree aloe growing outside Tings 'n Times in Hatfield, the rotund Colosseum Hotel in Arcadia. So I set off, dear reader, Cybershot in hand, knowing full well that I wouldn't be able to capture what I really felt about this place. I shot cityscapes from the steps of the Union Buildings. I saw the city for the hundredth time. As if for the first time, like the handful of Korean tourists who were there with me. I ate brunch at Harrie's Pancakes, before making my way to Groenkloof. There I drove around for a bit, fearing that I would end up in front of Unisa: no matter what I do, going past the Groenkloof Spar on George Storrar Drive inevitably brings me right to the huge pillar at the entrance to Unisa; taking any turn-off at the Fountains Circle, whether I intended to drive to the airport, or into town, whatever, inevitably brings me right to the huge pillar at the entrance to Unisa.

Finally managing to escape the gravitational pull of Unisa's event horizon, I enter the oldest part of Pretoria, and probably the part I visit the least. The luxuries of suburban sprawl have made visits to the city centre highly infrequent. Unless it's a document to be collected at Home Affairs, or a ballet at the State Theatre to be attended, I have little need to enter Pretoria's dark heart. However, several surprises were in store for me on this lovely Highveld winter afternoon. First stop was one of the city's greatest green spaces. Burgers Park had an alien tranquility about it. Immobile bodies lay in drifts between its Victorian rose beds, soaking up the July afternoon sunlight. I remembered that my sister used to rent an apartment overlooking the park sometime in the early 1990's, but I couldn't locate it. Instead, I entered the airless Florarium and wandered past twining tropical vines and aroids with their huge leaves overhanging clear ponds of water lilies. By contrast, Church Square was bustling. With all the activity surrounding the Robert McBride case, parking space was at a premium. Church Square represents a strange intersection between Europe and Africa. Victorian buildings surround this pigeon-infested space, as do little stalls selling punnets of tomatoes and bags of oranges. Apart from a business woman strutting determinedly across the lawn, I was the only white person there. And the statue of Paul Kruger is still there, proudly gazing into the distance. If this city of my birth, that has nursed and shaped me into what I am, this city that I love as dearly as a mother, is changed into something other once I am weaned of her, and all trace of what she represents to me is gone once I return, could I please have the statue of Paul Kruger that used to stand in Church Square?

8 July 2007

Worry, a menu and crazy adventures

Everything changes. It's been a busy month, organizing payment of a security deposit on an apartment, getting my plane tickets, stating that I'm not a terrorist/drug baron/prostitute on a million visa application forms, determining my blood type (it's ORh+, folks), ordering a new power supply for my defunct flatbed scanner, trying to get my mother to come to grips with email as a viable form of communication (VoIP is pretty much a pipe dream at this stage), sucking at bowling, resigning at work, closing bank accounts, having copies of my thesis professionally bound (yes, it finally is truly over), worrying over what will become of my precious orchids, hoping that the new Recoil album will arrive in my mailbox in time to still listen to it before I leave, clearing out loads of old receipts/undergrad notes/bank statements, taking photographs of my hometown to potentially use in presentations, finishing up some labwork for my professor ...and planning a party.

I am not about to do full-on finger food for forty hungry people (don'tcha just love alliteration?) and so the ready-made everything aisle in Woolworths will be my salvation again. Do not despair though, as store-bought stuff is just ancillary and I have several culinary surprises up my sleeve. Like the chilli-spiced olives with slices of lime and fresh rosemary from the garden which I canned yesterday; or the feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes I marinated in extra virgin olive oil laced with cracked black pepper and coriander seeds this morning. I'm planning a fusion food menu of sorts: bruschetta topped with grilled peppers, chicken satay skewers with spicy peanut sauce, cherry tomatoes topped with fresh pesto, stuffed chillies, meatballs according to the secret family recipe, spring rolls, tuna fritters with lemon mayonnaise, nachos with Mexican layered dip, delightful little rolled things, exquisite little goodies on sticks, aromatic dips, pungent spices. It's not meze, not tapas, not boerekos, not dim sum, perhaps not even proper fusion cooking, but I don't care as long as it's delicious. If the guests end up forgetting all about me when I'm gone, at least they won't forget the food.

This will be the first time that all the different people that I've met over the years will be together in the same space. My lab friends will meet my friends from the bookshop for the first time. Should I be worried? I have always had this irrational fear that they might actually get along better without me and then go off on crazy adventures without me. Irrational, see? Because I know full well that each set of friends goes off on crazy adventures without me all the time, anyway. Usually along the lines of them going: "Hey, Leon, why don't you come with us? We're going to hike the Fish River Canyon this weekend, then take in a concert by some band you've never heard of and probably wouldn't like. It'll be great!" My response: "Erm, well... I have this thesis-thing and need to fill my shifts at work this weekend..." Why should it matter if they get on well without me? Why should it matter if they go off on crazy adventures without me? Why? Because I want them to be miserable without me, that's why. Now I'm going off on my own crazy adventure, alone, and it's too late, much too late. At least we won't forget the food...