Scary stories from a lovely place
Sunday afternoon’s will always remind me of Johannesburg’s Zoo Lake. These days they are much different, we spent this afternoon watching kid’s television and eating popcorn, but in my mind I was at Zoo Lake. It was a perfect distance from my home to be right for a quick Sunday afternoon visit. And no matter the weather, the time of day or my mood it contained within itself enough aesthetic beauty, physical space and dappled sunshine to soothe the soul.
New York’s Central Park is often described as that great city’s lungs. The same could be said of Zoo Lake, even though Johannesburg is one big undulating forest of Jacaranda trees. It’s central enough to feel like a stone’s throw from the CBD and only a few minutes drive from the inner suburbs and the north. The lake (not naturally occurring) is crowned by the fountain (which was apparently musical in the good old days), and encircled by grassy gardens and roaming pathways.
During the week it’s smattered with retirees keeping in shape, local mum’s trying to get the edge on post-baby belly and domestic employees walking rich people’s dogs. It’s a different story on the weekend though when Zoo Lake is packed with families on camp chairs and the unmistakeable smell of braaied meat. It also features row boats, ice-cream carts and a Lion’s club second-hand bookstall – everything one needs.
The view of the city from Zoo Lake is breathtaking. The beauty of Hillbrow and the brutal architecture of Joburg General Hospital is just beyond the tallest trees. The view draws one back to reality. I like this. I like that the real Joburg is right there, in the foreground. This is so different from most of Joburg’s other leisure grounds. The casinos, malls, dedicated outdoor spaces (like Brightwater Commons or Sandton Square) are all enjoyed through foreboding entrance gates and security guards with rifles. But Zoo Lake is totally public. Even though it marks the start of the privileged northern suburbs, most visits would involve being asked by someone desperate looking for help or a madman explaining the problems with society and kids today.
My visits to this wonderful spot were spent walking and watching the birds (once I saw a turtle!), rowing in boats with friends (once I fell in!), lolling on the grass (Stephen asked me to be his girlfriend on one such picnic) and decompressing (once I had a nap on one of the park benches but when I told Stephen he was horrified). Now when I close my eyes, I can still hear the birds and the splash of the oars. I can smell the braai smoke and the algae. I can see Joburg Gen’s smokestack and the purple of the Jacarandas. There’s something special about enjoying the great outdoors in the midst of a hectic metropolis. It’s ying and yang, up and down, fresh and grubby.
Visits to Zoo Lake were good for the soul, and even the memories infiltrate me with a sense of quiet calm.