I don’t usually complain about life in Joburg, at least not publicly. But there’s been a lot to complain about lately. The city’s infrastructure has collapsed, resulting in horrifyingly frequent power and water outages. Potholes have grown into jacuzzi-sized pits and rather than fixing them, the city often fills the pits with dirt. At least half the city’s traffic and street lights are out. The economy is terrible, poverty is rife, and crime is getting worse, not better. Joburg mayors keep getting ousted and I’m not even sure who’s in charge anymore.
All these horrors are happening and it’s getting harder and harder to look away. And yet…I also can’t look away from the dazzling spectacle of Joburg in October.
Every year in October, the temperature in Joburg rises (quite a bit more steeply than usual this year, but let’s put the climate change panic aside for a moment) and the jacaranda trees start to bloom. At first it’s just a hint of purple — a clump of flowers here and there at the top of a particularly ambitious tree.
Sometimes the trees get off to a slow start and we worry it’s a bad jacaranda year — that the blossoms will let us down, just like the city government. But always, over the course of another week or two, the jacarandas come through. The purple spreads, then deepens, and then entire streets become enshrouded in puffy violet clouds.
As soon as the blooms pop out, they also begin to fall. The blossoms drop quickly on windy afternoons — like real, purple rain — creating the magical illusion of a purple carpet below a purple ceiling.
I used to feel sad when I saw purple blossoms piling up on the streets, thinking the falling flowers signaled the looming end of peak jacaranda season. But that’s the thing about Joburg in October: It lasts longer than you might expect. These jacarandas have staying power and the trees keep blooming for weeks, even as the blossoms fall. Joburg in October sometimes lasts well into November.
Peak Joburg in October
Last Sunday I realized the purple peak had begun. I got into my car in the late afternoon and drove slowly through Joburg’s older northern suburbs, searching for the best places to get out and wander. Other people were around, doing the same thing I was doing, which made me feel safe.
It was warm and my car windows were open; the sweet smell of jasmine wafted into my nose. The sun was about to set and it felt like rain. (The rains didn’t come that afternoon. But we’re finally getting the first heavy rains of the season right now, as I type this, together with that amazing first-rain smell — another great aspect of Joburg in October.) I played Taylor Swift loudly on my shitty car stereo and gulped deep lungfuls of air. I was happy.
Thank you, Joburg in October.
Jacaranda Walk Coming Soon
Quick post-script: A week from this Saturday, I’m hosting a jacaranda walk through Rosebank with the Johannesburg In Your Pocket Guide. I led one of these walks last year — it was really fun and I think this year is going to be even better. I highly recommend signing up now before the walk fills up.
I’ll have more on the Joburg jacarandas in a couple of weeks.