Last week, quirky website Mahala gave me tickets (baie dankie) for the concert of Tumi and the Volume at Tanz Café, deep in Joburgs northern suburbs in Fourways. Tumi is one of SA’s best hip-hop artists, and usually tours in Europe, especially in France where he’s apparently made it big. Great concert, and Zaki Ibrahim and The Fridge who warmed up the audience were excellent too.
Yesterday my photographer neighbour David took me to see an open day of artist studios in several hardly-converted offices and hotel rooms around Braamfontein’s Juta Street. I found the studios, artist paraphernalia and Braamie views more intriguing than the artworks themselves. Who knew there’s a brand of oil paint called Amsterdam?
Mark Photowalker kindly invited me to the opening of the ‘More is more’ exhibition of 700 works of art collected by Gordon Froud, a well-known local artist, at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) of the University of Joburg. Although there was not much I’d have bought myself, the collection was quite impressive and well-presented. I especially liked the quirkier things like the ‘poes’ and ‘doos gesig’ doormats.
The one thing that surprised me was the warning sign at the door: “Some of the content of this exhibition might offend sensitive viewers”. There was another such message posted at the stairs leading to the area where there were indeed some artworks with bare flesh and some genitalia, but nothing especially disturbing. I’m left wondering what kind of pussy university UJ is, that they feel the need to warn visitors to an exhibition of modern art. Are they implying the rest of us are insensitive viewers? Do they also take care to warn UJ students that some knowledge gained at this institution may be disturbing and can challenge ideas that are firmly lodged in their minds? FADA, by all means notify parents that it’s not suitable for kids, but if grown adults choose to be offended (yes, it’s always a choice) by art, so be it, perhaps they’ll learn something.
Eish, it’s been a while hey. Let’s get restarted with the lunar eclipse that took place tonight. Solar eclipses are much more fun (I was lucky to witness one in 1999), but seeing a deep red moon is impressive too. I caught a minibus taxi just down the road to the Wits University Planetarium, where a large number of boffins had collected to see a special show about eclipses, followed by the viewing of the event from the car park.
It was surprisingly busy, perhaps 300 people in total, and about ten enthusiasts who had set up proper telescopes for the geeks to gawk through. Joburg is lucky to have clear, cold nights in winter and there was no cloud nonsense going on like in Cape Town.
A short but fun show at the planetarium explained the ins and outs of lunar and solar eclipses – I’ll be back for their regular Friday night show soon. There are two lunar facts that are really weird.The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, and is also 400 times closer to us than the sun, meaning that the moon blocks the sun out perfectly (and beautifully) during solar eclipses. Secondly, we always only see one side the the moon from Earth; the moon turns around its axis in exact unison with its orbit around Earth. Amazing coincidences.
At 20:22 the earth’s shadow indeed started to eat up the moon, resulting in a nice deep red eclipsed disc an hour later. I managed to poke my little camera through the objective of some of the fatter telescopes and got the following rather cool photos of the moon going into eclipse.
When that got boring, the astronomers started swivelling their gear and looking up other celestial phenomena, like the ‘Jewel Box’ (a cluster of stars with various colours in the Southern Cross constellation), the Alpha Centauri double star (two stars spinning around each other) and the Omega Centauri cluster (a faint puff consisting of a hundred million stars).
But coolest of all was Saturn, spinning at a dainty angle opposite the moon. Through the telescope the planet was clearly visible with incredible detail such as the shadow of the planet on the rings and the gap between the planet and the rings were all easy to see. Factoid of the day: Saturn’s rings span 250,000 kilometres but are only 100 metres thick.
What a beauty hey.
I’ll leave you with the interior of the planetarium, with their cool star-making machine.
Scenes from Soweto, where we went on a tour with Past Experiences. We hopped on a quite comfortable minibux taxi from Joburg city centre to the renovated Vilakazi street (where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived), then visited the nearby Hector Pieterson memorial museum, commemorating the 1976 student uprising and named after the first student to die during the violence. We planned to take a Metrorail train from Phefeni station to iKwezi but after an hour when two scheduled trains did not show up (a bit of the true Soweto experience) we gave up and took minibus taxis instead, then walked to Dobsonville for lunch with the locals at a shebeen.
The Bree Street taxi rank aka the Metro Mall – apparently the only shopping centre in Joburg without car parking, but with several floors of minibus taxi. 150,000 people pass through here per day on their way to and from the city centre from Soweto and the suburbs. Like so often in Joburg, guards came up to us to say we couldn’t take photos here without permission.
Artwork commemorating the schoolkids who participated in the 1976 protests.
Soweto’s famous cooling towers, from a decommissioned power station and now used as a viewing platform and for bungee jumping.
Phefeni station, happily selling R5 tickets for non-existent trains.
Stuff you can’t bring into the station: machine guns, axes, knives, spears and local knobkierrie clubs. (They forgot to add a picture of a train).
Nice clean station, it even had a special commuter radio station playing.
One hour later, still no train, working on our suntans.
A garage take-away business in iKwezi.
A rare clutch of informal shacks – despite perceptions abroad, most of Soweto actually consists of small but decent houses.
Buffet lunch with the locals at a shebeen in somebody’s garage. Food included quite delicious braai meat, corn meal pap, a kind of wet bread that’s identical to Czech knedliky, salad, some spicy vegetable curries and chicken feet.
South Africans don’t seem to care much about what happens to the mail when they move. Perhaps it’s because SAPO (South African Postal service) is on strike so often that people don’t notice the difference between bad service and no service. But since we moved here we’ve been getting letters for at least 2 previous tenants and over 10 people who told their bank they live here before taking out a loan. So it’s not junk mail – I’m talking about bank and mortgage statements, insurance documents and airline loyalty cards. It’s tempting to open them of course, but scribbling return to sender on the envelope is rather satisfying, and walking to the mailbox gives me a welcome reason to get out and about.
Other than that, we get a weekly free newspaper, the Melville Northcliff Times, which is simultaneously a very scary and a very funny read. On the one hand, there are appallingly spelled letters from well-meaning citizens about “blasphemous advertising corrupting the morals of our youth” (a billboard for a rather tame strip club), heartfelt complaints about the terrible state the roads are in, endless discussions about the new separated rubbish collection scheme, protests against restaurants opening up in residential areas, and a page in Afrikaans about the krieket and other sporting achievements of the suburb’s all-white youth (nearly all the ones on the photos are, anyway). And then the spooky reports about crime; stolen cars, break-ins, shootouts at the shopping centre where we get our milk, etc.
Even more fun are the flyers, at least a few every week. Most of them are put in the mailbox, but some are stuck to our gate with some kind of sticky chewing gum – as if that’s going to impress potential clients. The majority of flyers are offers to unclog drains, paint walls, buy/sell our house, lay new grass and remove rubble; simple photocopies with shoddy spelling (‘painting walles’). Every now and them a gem ends up in the mailbox. Like this one, Professor Wakho‘s wacky solutions for just about everything.