Scary stories from a lovely place
Last night I enjoyed supper at a nice Italian restaurant with Stephen’s cool architecture friends. Besides feeling totally uncool (“so what do you do kim?” “I work for a church” “Oh”) and racking my brain for residual architectural knowledge, it was a charming time. As they discussed their current projects in and around this great city I was struck afresh by Stephen’s passion for good urban development and my own love for Johannesburg, which has a poor global reputation. It may have the highest murder rate of all global cities, but Jozi is wonderful. The food was good; duck, tagliatelle, avo, ravioli. The decor was cool; antiquated cupboard doors hung on the walls, black and white photos of bare-breasted women in Italy and an actual Italian chef (shocking at an Italian restaurant).
This morning I woke with positive anticipation for the busy day ahead, while battling with the block of duck and potatoes sitting heavily in my belly. At breakfast I casually perused the Northcliff/Melville times which is a fairly yokel local newspaper featuring stories of horrendous crime and pictures of schoolkids winning running races. My positive anticipation and last night’s duck took a turn for the worst as I read the ‘Leisure Options’ magazine and discovered the ‘Best of Joburg’ as voted by the readers. I was one of these voters who submitted my picks months ago. I made sure to choose unique places, places that make Joburg what it is. But I discovered that instead of Ciro’s Too being voted Best Pizza, it actually went to crappy Debonairs, whose pizzas are not good, or fast. The winner of best Cocktail bar wasn’t Six in Melville or Sophiatown in Newtown, no it went to Newscafe, which again is not good or interesting. Instead of best coffee going to somewhere like Vida or anywhere in Parkhurst, it went to Mugg and Bean, which again is not quality or interesting. But the lowest moment in the ‘Best of Joburg’ is surely best breakfast. Instead of this accolade being awarded to Service Station or the Lucky Bean it went to Wimpy whose breakfast’s are veritable plates of oily b.s.
I do not understand Joburg’s fascination with chain stores. In a city replete with small businesses, micro-economies, a great spirit of entrepreunership and many poor people selling stuff on the street, why do we go back again and again for the same crap to the same places. That is my gripe with the vast majority of the ‘Best of Joburg’ winners. They are chains. They are the same. If you are in Fordsburg or Sandton or Cape Town or East London or Nelspruit or Mthatha you can always have the same crap at the same places. And maybe that’s the appeal, that you always know what you are going to get. But if what you are going to get is boring and not that tasty, why do we keep going back for it to the same places? There is something so souless about sitting in Mugg and Bean or Wimpy and knowing that you can do that in every mall in South Africa. These places have a place, sure, but not as ‘the best’ Joburg has to offer. It’s only at the small businesses, at the unique spots that we will encounter anything interesting, anything different, anything beautiful.
One thing about life in Joburg is that it’s unexpected. In some ways you’re always on the edge of your seat. The other night I got home and my cat was lying dead outside my front gate. I don’t know why she died. It was really unexpected and traumatic. You never know what is going to happen or what you are going to be told; meeting with a friend, walking to the shops, driving into town, coming home at night. Maybe the sameness of most of the entertainment options here is a combatitive method. It gives some certainty to life. You might get hijacked on the way to Mugg and Bean, but at least you know what you are going to eat when you get there. I shouldn’t rage too much about this. I am a culprit too. But not anymore. I am vowing off chains once again. I have a renewed passion to support small business, because it’s what is going to keep this city unique and good. Stay tuned for my own version of the ‘Best of Joburg’, not featuring any chains.
In conclusion, if it’s not clear already, let me reiteract a known fact. I love this city. I love it to its core. I love living here. I love exploring different parts of it. I love that everyday holds some new surprise. It’s busy and always in motion. Part of me wants to stay here forever. We shall see where life takes me. Such a wonderful city.