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?


Triggermap said...

I was probably standing in the exact spot yesterday, where you took the picture of the Colosseum Hotel, walking in the cold night to Zeplins... Have you left yet? Good luck :)

Trundling Grunt said...

It's always nice to see other cities to get a flavour of the place. I think many US cities tend to look very similar and so there is a fascination for foreign ones. Denver is a nice city and Fort Collins is beautiful