If you follow my social media channels you’ve probably seen lots of updates about this already. So please excuse the redundancy. But I just want to make sure everyone knows:
The initial 250-copy print run for The 2Summers #Gauteng52 Challenge book (printed in November 2018) is sold out. Thanks to all of you who bought copies, came to my book launches, told your friends, etc.
Since quite a few people are still interested in buying the book, I’ve decided to do a small second print run of 100 copies. You can pre-order your copy now using the payment button below.
The book costs R400 (about $28). My goal is to get 50 pre-orders before printing the book, which will nearly cover the costs. (Printing books is expensive, y’all.) I’m already halfway there so please help me reach 50 pre-orders before the end of April.
I’ve received tons of nice feedback on the book so far. It serves as a great quirky guidebook for Joburg and Gauteng province — local Airbnb owners love putting it out on their coffee tables. (If you know any Airbnb owners, please spread the word.)
Also, legendary travel writer Kate Turkington wrote a quick review of the book in the City Press newspaper last Sunday. Thanks Kate, you rock.
If you live in either Europe or the United States, please don’t hesitate to place an order. I often have friends coming and going from both places (I’ll be in the U.S. myself this fall) and I’ll be able to get your book to you.
Assuming I receive my 50 pre-orders in time — which I’m on-target to accomplish, as long you all do your part — I will print and distribute the books during the first half of May. Yay! Thanks in advance.
Sixth in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand.
A few weeks ago I saw some photos of a plate of chips — fries, to the Americans among you — on Instagram.
These were no ordinary chips. They were beautifully presented, sprinkled with colorful sauces and herbs, and I could taste them right through my phone. My mouth literally watered.
A couple of clicks told me these chips come from a place called TJIPS in Eastgate Mall. (Eastgate is the pre-eminent sprawling Joburg mall of the East.) The Eastgate food court is not the first place I’d expect to find a high-end, gourmet chip shop. I was intrigued all the more.
Within minutes I was DM-ing with Jaron, the TJIPS’ founder, arranging a visit.
The Story of Slap Chips
Before I continue, I need to explain about slap chips. Slap chips (pronounced something like “slahp tchups”) are basically soggy fries — a South African staple food. Apparently slap chips originated during South Africa’s gold mining era, when miners ate a lot of fish and chips and food stalls sloppily fried huge quantities of thick-cut potatoes in massive vats of cheap cooking oil. The chips got soggy quickly and hence became slap chips.
TJIPS’ chips, however, are not of the slap variety. In fact TJIPS’ motto is “more klap than slap”. “Klap” is an Afrikaans word meaning “hit”. In other words, TJIPS’ chips are so crispy and tasty, they’ll klap you.
I love how TJIPS is building upon the story of South African slap chips. For a more in-depth explanation of how TJIPS got started and what the chips are about, read this article in the Daily Maverick.
A Potato-filled Lunch at TJIPS
Jaron gave my friend Megan and me six different TJIPS dishes to try.
I really loved these chips. The chips themselves were perfectly prepared — not too skinny, not too fat, and crispy and well seasoned. We also learned from Jaron that a lot of research and thought has gone into where TJIPS sources its potatoes from — not all potatoes are the same.
The topping combinations are so fun and tasty. My favorite dish was the parmesan chips with black truffle mayo — simple, luxurious, and delicious. The buffalo wing chips and Mexican style chips tied for second. The buffalo sauce was tangy with just the right amount of spice, and the salsa on the Mexican chips was one of the best salsas I’ve had in South Africa. I could tell a lot of thought and care goes into the selection of every ingredient.
The dishes range in price from R29 for plain chips to R100 for the chips with black truffle mayo.
I posted the photo above on social media and was surprised by the numerous extreme reactions it received. Lots of people seemed put off, even offended, by the idea of chips and ice cream together. I don’t understand why — I love salty/sweet combinations. And didn’t you ever dip a French fry into your chocolate milkshake at McDonalds?
Anyway I thought the chips and ice cream tasted great together, especially combined with the caramel sauce. Although I confess I loved the savory combinations more. When I go back to TJIPS (and I’ll definitely go back) I’ll probably go for the truffle mayo or Mexican chips.
Eastgate Mall is TJIPS’ only location for now. But TJIPS will soon be spreading beyond the confines of the East. Follow their Facebook and Instagram feeds for announcements about new shops opening up in the near future.
My lunch at TJIPS was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.
Let me tell you about that time I ran to the top of Ponte City.
Every few months Dlala Nje and Microadventure Tours co-host the Ponte Challenge, which invites people to gather at the bottom of Ponte City at a very early hour and run or walk 54 storeys to the top. Last month I finally made the event and I (mostly) ran to the top. It really wasn’t that bad.
Running Up Ponte City
Here’s how it worked. I arrived at Ponte just before 7:00 on a Sunday morning, parked in the garage, and went up to the Dlala Nje headquarters on the ground floor to register for the race. The race costs R150, or about $10. (Dlala Nje is a Ponte-based nonprofit organization that runs tours of the surrounding area and community activities for kids.)
I should mention, for anyone who doesn’t already know, that Ponte City is 100% safe. Yes, it was once a notoriously crime-ridden building but that was 20 years ago. Today Ponte is legally occupied and a joy to visit. Search my blog for other posts about Ponte — I have several.
There were 30 or 40 of us there, laughing nervously and wondering (both aloud and inside our heads) if we could actually do it. Once everyone had arrived we gathered in a grassy area outside the building to limber up. Then the guides called for groups of ten people at a time to start the race. A new group left every five minutes or so.
We started all the way at the bottom, in the core of the building.
Going in, I knew the record time for running Ponte’s 54 flights is about five-and-a-half minutes. I could not even imagine how this was possible. I figured it would take me at least 30 minutes and I’d have to walk most of it.
But although the race was indeed exhausting, it was nowhere near as difficult as I thought. Here’s a short, amateurish video documenting my trip to the top.
I am reasonably (but not insanely) fit and I ran the steps in about 12-and-a-half minutes. I think I can definitely run it faster next time. George, who has pretty bad knees, did it in 14 minutes. I think everyone who participated — including some people who walked the whole way and even one family with a toddler — finished under half an hour.
Ponte’s stairwells are relatively spacious and clean so the run was pleasant overall. It was funny watching the reactions of people who live in the building as I ran past, panting and spluttering. Dlala Nje guides were posted every 20 floors or so to monitor our progress and there was even paramedic on hand. (He wasn’t needed.)
Best of all, at the end of the race we were invited to have a light breakfast in Dlala Nje’s event space on the 51st floor.
The Ponte Challenge was an excellent way to start a Sunday. A nice burst of exercise, great views, and I was back home by 9:30 a.m.
UPDATE (May 2019): The Coalition Pineslopes location has closed. You can still eat Coalition’s delicious Margherita pizza at their location on Bolton Road in Rosebank, and they will soon be offering their “Kitchen Table” experience again at a new location in Sandton. Follow them on Facebook for updates.
A million years ago, I remember reading Eat, Pray, Love and getting to the part when Elizabeth Gilbert has a religious experience while eating a Margherita pizza in Naples. And I thought: Someday I too will go to Naples and eat a pizza like that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to go to Naples. But now that I’ve eaten a Margherita from Coalition Pizza in Joburg, the pressure is off.
I’m sure I’ll get lots of comments from people who have eaten pizza in Naples, disputing the title of this post. And I realize I don’t know what I’m talking about. But seriously, people: Have you been to Coalition and ordered the Margherita? If not, go do it now and then we’ll have a conversation.
Then a couple of months ago I received an invite to try out Coalition’s new “Kitchen Table” experience at their second location in Fourways. The experience is a three-course meal and wine-pairing, during which you watch Coalition chefs make mozzarella cheese and Margherita pizza from scratch.
I’ll never see Margherita pizza the same way again.
A Margherita Pizza Experience
After sipping a Negroni and watching the sun set over “Tuscany” (i.e. Montecasino) on the Coalition terrace, my friend Fiver and I and a few other foodies sat at the long bar facing the restaurant’s open kitchen. We spent the evening chatting with Shayne, one of Coalition’s owners, and Levis, Coalition’s rock star pizza chef, drinking delicious wine and eating the food Levis and Shayne prepared.
It’s hard to explain what made this pizza taste so good. Maybe it was the crust, perfectly crispy and chewy at the same time. Maybe it was the fresh mozzarella, created in front of me moments earlier. Maybe it was the Italian tomatoes, crushed by hand right before they were spread onto the crust.
Or maybe it was just the whole vibe of the evening, which was perfect in every way. Worth the trek to Fourways for sure.
Coalition Pizza has locations at 2 Bolton Road, Parkwood (in the Park Corner complex near Rosebank) and Shop GF22 in the Pineslopes Boulevard shopping centre near Fourways. Book the Kitchen Table experience at Pineslopes for R380 ($26) per person (minimum four people, maximum six people).
My Kitchen Table experience was complimentary. Opinions expressed are my own.
I spent six days in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.
Two friends joined me for the last two days but the rest of the time I was alone. Other than booking my flight and accommodation and buying a guide book — the Bradt Travel Guide for Mozambique, which has a short and rather disappointing chapter on Maputo but was helpful nonetheless — I made zero plans before going. Once there, I continued making zero plans and just wandered around looking at things.
I realized Maputo is one of the most underrated travel destinations in Southern Africa (perhaps surpassed only by Johannesburg), especially for people who like cities. Maputo is cosmopolitan, with incredible food, history, architecture, art, and culture. There aren’t many cities like that in this sparsely populated corner of the world.
Here are the top 15 quirky places/things I discovered in Maputo. This list is by no means comprehensive. Read to the end for a few tips about visiting the city.
My Favorite Things in Maputo
Quirky architecture is everywhere in Maputo.
2) Museu De História Natural de Maputo (Museum of Natural History)
This is one of the strangest museums I’ve ever visited. The building is stately and and beautiful and the exhibits are fascinating, yet…repulsive.
3) Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Imaculada Conceição (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) and the monument to Samora Machel
Maputo’s main cathedral is in the center of town on Praça da Independência (Independence Square). Right next to it is the massive, nine-meter-tall monument to Samora Machel (pictured above).
4) FEIMA – Feira de Artesanato, Flores e Gastronomica (Crafts, Flowers and Gastronomy Fair) of Maputo
This outdoor craft market, nicknamed FEIMA, is the best place in Maputo to buy crafts and souvenirs. In fact it’s one of the best craft markets I’ve ever been to. The setting is beautiful, the things for sale are beautiful — there are lots of run-of-the-mill African crafts but also lots of really great art — the vendors are chilled, and there are several cafés of the premises.
FEIMA is on Avenida de Matires de Machava in the Baixa district.
5) Casa Elefante
I don’t sew, but if I did I would have gone to town at this incredible fabric shop. I’ve never seen so much beautiful African material in one place.
Casa Elefante is at 1845 Avenida 25 de Setembro across the road from the Mercado Central.
6) Mercado Central
This is the main central market in downtown Maputo, with vendors selling fresh produce, fish, household items, crafts, and whatever else you can imagine. The market is beautiful, spotless, and the vendors are friendly. I loved it.
The Mercado Central is also on Avenida 25 de Setembro.
7) Jardim Tunduru Botanical Gardens
This large botanical garden is in the center of town and popular with locals because it’s the best place to escape Maputo’s stifling heat. I spent 45 minutes there on a shady bench, watching birds and lizards and screeching bats in the trees.
Jardim Tunduru has several gates but only one of them is open. Enter and exit through the main gate on Rua Henrique de Sousa, just down from the Praça da Independência.
8) Breakfast at Pastelaria Pizza House 3
Pastelarias — bakeries with attached cafés — are dotted all over Maputo and great places to stop for a coffee or inexpensive meal. The Pastelaria nearest to my flat was called Pizza House 3. (I never saw anyone eating pizza.) It was on Avenida 24 de Julho in the Polana district.
I had breakfast there twice and bought all my bread from the bakery at the back. A tasty oval-shaped loaf the size of a small baguette costs 10 meticais (2 rand, or 16 cents).
9) Louis Tregardt (Louis Trichardt) Trek Memorial Garden
This was my weirdest Maputo sight-seeing experience. In the middle of a bustling downtown neighborhood on Avenida Ho Chi Min is a pristine memorial to South African Voortrekker Louis Trichardt (spelled Tregardt in Portuguese — important when locating the memorial on Google Maps), who died of malaria here during the Great Trek.
I don’t have time to explain the complicated historical and cultural significance of the Great Trek and why I found it strange that this memorial — funded by the South African apartheid government in 1968 — still stands in Mozambique, a country that has more recently experienced socialist rule and violent civil war. But it’s super interesting and worth a visit.
The memorial is tricky to find — I almost walked right past the gate. It’s on Avenida Ho Chi Min near the corner of Avenida Felipe Samuel Magaia.
10) Estação Central dos Caminhos de Ferro (Central Railway Station)
Maputo’s Central Railway Station is world-famous: In 2009 Newsweek ranked the station #7 in an article about the world’s grandest train stations. The Maputo station has appeared on several other such lists.
Opened in 1910, the station was long rumoured to have been designed by French architect Gustave Eiffel. But that is untrue. The station was designed by by José Ferreira da Costa and modeled after the old central train terminal in Joburg (which now sits in Newtown just under Nelson Mandela Bridge).
The station is exceedingly pleasant to visit. Walk up and down the platforms to see some beautiful old photos of the station. There is also a café and a small museum.
The Central Railway Station is just off Avenida 25 de Setembro, a short walk from the Mercado Central.
11) The Scala Cinema
I was charmed by the old Scala Cinema, an Art Deco theatre built in 1931. I don’t think the theatre is operating anymore but the building has been beautifully maintained.
I wandered inside and found the lobby decorated with old movie posters and giant antique film projectors. Upstairs is a restaurant, Wood’s Lounge, where you can sit on the balcony overlooking the street. I had a very pleasant meal there.
Cinema Scala is on Avenida 25 de Setembro, one block east of the Mercado Central.
12) Costa do Sol
Restaurante Costa do Sol is a seafood restaurant just outside Maputo, about a 15-minute taxi ride from the city center. Costa do Sol opened in 1938 and is famous for its prawns. The restaurant provides a great excuse to get out of town and hang out by the beach for a couple of hours.
The beach is pretty but not quite inviting enough for sunbathing — there’s a bit of rubbish scattered around and the water isn’t super clear due to a nearby river mouth. Nonetheless, my friends and I enjoyed a quick stroll on the sand and wading in the warm, shallow water.
Before lunch we sat outside one of the many beachside shacks and had a beer, which was fun but hilarious and slightly stressful at the beginning because two lady beer shack owners had a boisterous, 10-minute argument about which one of them was going to serve us.
Costa do Sol is at Avenida Marginal 10294.
13) Dhow Moçambique
Dhow is a gorgeous, classy restaurant/bar in the Polana district, with a great view of the harbor. The restaurant serves Greek food and everything is glorious except for the prices — Dhow is on the expensive side and geared toward tourists and expats. It’s worth it anyway for the amazing setting.
Dhow is at 4 Rua da Marracuene. The street dead-ends at the ocean — when you reach the end, look for the gate to your left.
14) DEAL Espaço Criativo (Creative Space)
My Airbnb host tipped me off to DEAL (Design, Entertainment, Art, and Literature), a private home turned into an art gallery and craft store. Every single thing in this place is beautiful and locally made and all of it is for sale. DEAL also has a really nice restaurant in the garden.
DEAL is at Rua Jose Mateus 265 in the Polana district.
15) Maputo’s Fruit and Vegetable Vendors
Everywhere you look in Maputo there are people selling fruit and vegetables from mobile carts or stands. Besides providing the great convenience of shopping while walking, these vendors create a wonderful sense of vibrancy on the streets. Joburg needs more of this.
Quick Tips for Visiting Maputo
Portuguese is the national language in Mozambique. I don’t speak Portuguese (beyond bom dia and obrigada) but didn’t have much problem communicating — most restaurants and shops have at least one English speaker.
South Africans don’t need a visa to visit Mozambique but most non-Africans do. Visas at the airport cost $50 (you can pay in dollars or rands) and can be purchased on arrival. Don’t go straight to the regular immigration line — there is a small table in the corner where you need to go first to buy your visa.
Print out a copy of your accommodation booking before you leave. Immigration officials will give you a hard time if you can’t provide the exact address where you’ll be staying.
We stayed in an Airbnb in the Polana district on Avenida Ahmed Sekou Touré. Our flat is called “Love Maputo Polana” on Airbnb and I highly recommend it. Shout-out to our awesome hosts Maria and Patricia.
A taxi ride from the airport to town should cost around 800 meticais (about $12 or R180). It’s best to arrange a taxi in advance if you can.
It’s hard to navigate Maputo without Google Maps and wifi is not prevalent. I recommend buying a local SIM card at the airport. I had a bad experience with my mCel SIM card (the signal was very spotty) but my friend swore by her Movitel card.
Except for the cheap and delicious bread and the local beer, I thought food was a bit expensive in Maputo — perhaps 15-20% more expensive than in Joburg.
I found walking alone in Maputo during the day to be 100% safe. I never felt vulnerable and wasn’t harassed or even approached by a single policeman or hustler. I’ve heard you should carry your passport at all times, and I did, but no one ever asked me for it.
It’s freaking hot in Maputo. Dress accordingly and drink coconuts.
I was supposed to cycle, but there weren’t enough bikes and it was blazing hot and when someone suggested I ride in the Jeep that was escorting the riders and take photos through the open top, I gladly accepted.
The bike ride was hosted by Art Affair, a tiny art gallery and studio in Alex’s East Bank that also serves as an events venue/community gathering place. Artist and cycling enthusiast Mxolisi Mbonjwa owns the gallery and organized the ride together with Bicycle Stokvel.
I’ve visited and blogged about Alex many times. (You can browse all of my Alex posts here.) I don’t want to belabor this point. But if you live in Joburg and have never been to Alex, please go.
Alex is a five-minute drive from Sandton but many Joburgers are afraid to even drive past it due to Alex’s reputation for poverty and crime.
In fact, Alex is quite easy and safe to visit as long as you go with someone who knows their way around. And it’s one of the most important parts of Joburg historically, being the first township in Joburg and the first place Nelson Mandela lived when he moved to the city in 1941.
Also, Alex is fun. With the exception of me and my friends Crystal and Dom, who are new to Joburg and were visiting Alex for the first time, and a group of hard-core cyclists from the East Rand, I think the majority of the people on this bike ride were from Alex. They were super nice and welcoming and just plain fun to hang out with. We all had a great time being tourists in our own city together.
End of lecture. Here are some photos from the ride.
Following the Cyclists Through Alex
Our Jeep brought up the rear of the cycle ride so I have lots of photos of people’s, er…bums. But I like the pictures anyway.
Sight-seeing in Alexandra Township
This ride was mostly cycling for cycling’s sake. But we did make a couple of stops at interesting sites along the way.
Kings Cinema is the oldest movie theatre in Alex and a notable community gathering place — it was bombed by apartheid forces in 1984. I visited Kings Cinema once before a few years ago and was happy to see it’s had a new paint job since then.
Alexandra Heritage Centre
This was the most exciting discovery of the ride. The Alexandra Heritage Centre, which was built about a decade ago but remained closed for many years due to various political/logistical/financial difficulties, is finally open and it is spectacular.
We only had about 10 or 15 minutes to walk through the centre, but from what I saw the exhibits are fantastic. It’s my kind of museum — great design, great light, and engaging, interactive displays without too much heavy text to read. I will be back.
There is almost no information online about the Alexandra Heritage Centre but it’s at 4694 Hofmeyr Street, on what is called “Heritage Corner”. The centre is one street over from the historic Mandela house at 46 7th Avenue.
At the end of the ride there was a party set up in the yard surrounding Art Affair, with DJs and good food and beer. Crystal and Dom and I left after an hour or two but I suspect the party ran well into the night. It was a great way to spend a Saturday.
Follow Art Affair on Facebook for announcements about future events. Or contact one of these companies — all locally run — to book a tour in Alex.
Fifth in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand.
On a busy stretch of Van Riebeek Avenue in Edenvale, amidst hair braiding salons and car stereo places and dusty old bookshops, is an authentic, nearly full-sized Dutch wooden windmill. Inside the windmill is a Dutch pancake house and below it is the best Dutch bakery in Joburg.
De Backery was founded by a Dutch family in 1963 — originally a small, single-story bakery. The place became popular over the years and continued to expand, with people coming from all over Joburg for its bread and pies and pastries.
In the 1990s De Backery’s owners looked into commissioning a neon sign shaped like a windmill but eventually decided to build an actual windmill instead — a 3/4-sized replica of the Zeldenrust windmill in Gronigen, Holland. That’s when De Molen (“the Windmill”) Pancake House was born, inside the windmill on top of De Backery. The vanes even turn when there are no customers on the balcony.
Breakfast on the Windmill
Breakfast on a windmill — what more do I need to say? We sat on the balcony overlooking the busy street, feeling the breeze and eating pancakes and pies and drinking coffee. It was a perfect East Rand Saturday morning and I wish I could have stayed there forever.
De Backery is a worth a trip to Edenvale, no matter where you live. Go this Saturday and get there early before the best pastries sell out.
Bezuidenhout Valley, aka Bez Valley, feels like a forgotten suburb. Once home to wealthy Johannesburg socialites, the area has declined in recent decades. Many of Bez Valley’s stately old houses have been abandoned or fallen into disrepair.
Yukon House was built between 1906 and 1911 and was home to two Johannesburg mayors in the early 20th century. The house suffered periods of neglect as it changed ownership over the years (read this article about the theft of its priceless stained glass windows) but its current owners, Loretta and Henry Chamberlain, have lovingly restored the mansion back to its original glory.
I’ve been meaning to visit Yukon House forever but it’s not open to the public all the time. So when I heard Kennedy of Micro-adventure Tours was hosting a historical tour there — including afternoon tea, my favorite meal — I jumped right on board.
Tour and Tea at Yukon House
This isn’t your average historical house tour. Loretta and Henry live at Yukon House so it doesn’t feel like a museum. This house is truly loved while also maintaining a very authentic, Victorian feel. Each room has some spectacular feature that I couldn’t take my eyes off of.
Tea was served on the cool stone patio adjoining the drawing room. It didn’t disappoint. The food was great and I really enjoyed getting to know the other tour participants who were sitting around me.
There’s nothing I enjoy more than a fun, informative Jozi tour with great food. This was a perfect Saturday afternoon.
And I have good news: Kennedy is organizing another Yukon House tour just two weeks from now on 23 March 2019. Sign up by visiting his website: microadventuretours.co.za. You can also book your own event at Yukon House by visiting yukonhouse.co.za.
Yukon House is at 33 North Avenue, Bezuidenhout Valley. My tour was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.
In Braamfontein there is a tiny, tree-lined street called Reserve Street. It’s more of an alley really, in a block created by Jorissen and De Korte Streets to the north/south and Melle and Biccard Streets to the east/west. Beams cross over the street, draped in vegetation, creating the illusion of a mini-forest in the middle of this noisy city neighborhood.
On this alley/street is a place called Artivist.
Happy Hour at Artivist
I call Artivist an “art bar”, but it’s really a restaurant/bar/art gallery/music venue. I went early on a Thursday evening and found a nice smattering of guests, a friendly and talented bartender, tasty African snacks, and a thought-provoking exhibition by Zimbabwean artist Kudzani Chiurai.
There’s a balcony above the bar with space for more art, and a secret music venue below — called the “Untitled Basement” — hosting regular jazz performances and other hip musical events. (Artivist’s owners, DJ Kenzhero and Bradley Williams, are current and former DJs.)
Since the legendary Orbit Jazz Club is now closed (sob), I’m so happy there is another Braamfontein music venue to fill that void.
Braamfontein is inhabited by thousands of university students, but William the bartender says Artivist is geared toward the “working class” — i.e., older people who actually work.
In my view, Artivist is just plain classy.
Artivist is at 7 Reserve Street, Braamfontein. It’s open from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Follow Artivist on Instagram.
“Do make a turn at my mom’s store, corner Albert and Mooi Street, called Langwan Cleaners. Will make a good story.
“My mom, a single mother now 70 years old, has been running a ‘general dealer’ for the past 40 something years. Her business has evolved over the years but she is truly a kind of Mother Teresa of the area.
Two years later in February 2019, in a comment to a comment on another post, I receive a gentle reminder.
“Reminder to visit my mom😘. 99 Albert Street.”
99 Albert Street. I write it down.
Three weeks later I return to that note in my day planner. 99 Albert Street. By this time I’ve forgotten the name of the person who sent me the message or where she sent it from. I know it’s an Indian name and begins with an S.
99 Albert Street. A laundry? Owned by a woman. Someone’s mom.
I can’t remember but I know it’s time to go.
In a WhatsApp message to Fiver, I write: “Any chance you’d like to go with me on a mysterious mission?” Fiver is always game for mysterious missions.
A Visit to Langwan Cleaners
On Friday morning we pull up in front of Langwan Cleaners in Fiver’s Land Rover Defender. There’s a “Cash for Scrap” sign across the road and an endless stream of passing pedestrians giving us curious looks.
“What’s her name?” says Fiver.
“…I don’t know.”
Fiver shrugs and follows me inside.
Behind the glass we find Jay Patel, wearing a long, light green shift, dark brown hair pulled back loosely at the nape of her neck.
“Can I help you?” Jay asks, smiling.
I fumble for words. “I’m a writer,” I say. “I tell stories about Joburg. Your daughter told me to come.”
Jay laughs. “Who?”
“Sharita?” Jay asks.
Jay gives us each a bottle of water and invites us behind the counter.
Langwan Cleaners, named for Jay’s father, opened as a dry-cleaning service in the 1970s. Jay still does some dry-cleaning: I spot a few jackets and dresses, neatly draped in plastic, hanging on a rod behind her.
“We would wrap the trousers in this paper,” Jay explains, pointing to a large brown roll on the counter.
As the dry-cleaning market began to dwindle, Jay expanded her offerings.
Spray paint, batteries, headache pills, toothpaste, airtime, shoe polish, Brut cologne, garden shears, playing cards, cough syrup, lemon creams, ginger tea. Plug adaptors, incense, hand soap, herbal remedies, lightbulbs, motor oil, rat poison, dish towels, bottles of Coke, energy drinks, and coffee cups. Blowtorches, tote bags, matches, pocket knives, cereal mills, screwdrivers, buckets and mops and moth balls.
Langwan Cleaners sells everything.
Fiver commences a shopping spree, buying tape and toilet paper and rolls of string. I look curiously at the bottle of “Supermalt” in the refrigerator and Jay insists I take it to try.
There is no cash register or computer. Jay and her young shop assistant track everything by hand. Every spare piece of wall space is covered by scraps of paper with names and numbers.
“I give credit,” Jay explains with a chuckle. “My daughter gets so cross with me.”
Fiver and I notice the pictures of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul and Jesus, mixed in with family photos and a little shrine on a shelf with Hindu deities, tiny Buddha statues, and a framed picture of Jay’s late son.
“You’ve got all the religions here,” Fiver observes.
“Oh yes,” Jay says. “I pick and choose.”
Customers enter at a steady clip, one-by-one-by-two-by-one. They ask for change, or buy airtime or packets of crisps. Jay’s assistant comes and goes, hauling in new supplies of water and cold drinks. A woman comes in, stands shyly by the counter for a moment, then hurries out without buying anything.
I ask Jay how old she is. “I’m 72.”
“My mother is the same age,” I say. “She looks young and beautiful, like you.”
“I’m sure she is,” Jay says. “Like you. Does she have green eyes?”
I try to shoot a portrait of Jay but suddenly she’s shy. And the shop is busy. I take down Jay’s number and we say goodbye.
The next day I get a message from Fiver.
“The trip to the shop yesterday was amazing,” she writes. “Still thinking about it today.”
I’m still thinking about it too. We learned a lot in that 30-minute visit.
I WhatsApp Jay with a photo I took, telling her how much we enjoyed meeting her.
“Wonderful meeting you too,” Jay responds. “God bless 🙏 🕉”
Langwan Cleaners is at 99 Albert Street, City and Suburban.
Many years ago I wrote a blog post called Norwood: Almost as Awesome as Melville. I continue to stand by my proclamation that Norwood is the second-coolest Joburg suburb. But that old post has become woefully out of date.
So I recently took a walk up and down Grant Avenue with Brett McDougall, Norwood’s informal ambassador, to refresh my Norwood knowledge. We started our tour at Loof Coffee.
Breakfast at Loof Coffee
Loof Coffee has everything a great coffee shop should have: bright and cheerful atmosphere, friendly service, tables full of locals, dogs, delicious coffee beans roasted in Joburg, and nice food. I loved everything about it.
Basically Loof is perfect. If I lived in Norwood I’d probably go there every day.
What’s a Loof?
I actually met Loof Coffee’s owner during my breakfast but I forgot to ask him how Loof Coffee got its name. I googled the word just now and found some interesting definitions.
I’m stating the obvious here, but making art is hard. Writing words, shooting photographs, painting paintings, printing prints…It’s all freaking difficult. But sculpting sculptures — especially sculptures made from white-hot molten metal that turns into rock-hard bronze — at least logistically speaking, might be the trickiest of all art forms.
I never thought about how bronze sculptures get made, just as I never think about how iPhones or microwaves or railroad bridges or pencils get made. They’re just amazing things created by people way smarter than me, put on this earth for my consumption.
The first interesting thing about the Workhorse Foundry is its location, smack in the center of downtown Joburg and not in a trendy neighborhood like Maboneng or Braamfontein. This is “deep CBD”, in an area scattered with semi-abandoned buildings and stray piles of garbage.
You step inside the building and suddenly find yourself in this cool, quiet, oasis of art, a million miles away from what’s happening outside.
Let me very briefly, and probably inaccurately, summarize the bronze casting process.
First the artist creates a model out of clay or wax or some other material. The artisans at the foundry then create a mould of that model, which is the exact negative of the model itself. Then the artisans use the mould to create a wax copy of the original model, which is dipped into a silica slurry and turned into a hard shell.
The metal is heated to a temperature of nearly 1000 degrees (literally), poured into the shell, and eventually cooled and turned into a bronze replica of the original model.
The final step is the application of patina — a chemical finish sprayed on with a blowtorch, which makes the sculpture look shiny or colored.
See the Workhorse website for a much better explanation of this process. Also, studio manager Rina Noto does a fantastic job of leading guests through the foundry and explaining the bronze casting process in just the right amount of detail. I highly recommend touring the foundry with Rina, but tours are strictly by appointment and only during the week.
Everything that happens at Workhorse is mesmerizing, and on top of all that the owner of the foundry, Louis Olivier, is a sculptor himself and has his studio in the building.
The Workhorse Bronze Foundry embodies Joburg art at its best. It’s at 2 Grahamstown Street, Marshalltown. Call 011-334-0657 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.