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culture

Video Town in La Rochelle

#JoziWalks: Exploring Johannesburg’s Forgotten Frontiers

Last weekend the Johannesburg Development Agency sponsored 13 walking tours all over the city as part of an initiative called #JoziWalks. The weekend was meant to encourage Joburgers to get out of their cars and engage with urban communities in ways they might not do otherwise. Kids in the Soweto suburb of Noordgesig.  #JoziWalks was an incredible opportunity for me. I’ve been on many walking tours in Johannesburg but #JoziWalks offered tours in places I’d never been, and the tours were free. The only bad part was most of the tours happened concurrently and I had to make agonizing choices over which ones to participate in. I eventually settled on a Saturday morning tour of La Rochelle, a suburb in the south of Joburg known for its Portuguese culture, and a Sunday tour of Noordgesig, a suburb on the edge of Soweto that played a big role in the anti-apartheid struggle. #JoziWalks La Rochelle Our tour of La Rochelle was led by Judith Muindisi of Tsica Heritage Consultants and Calvin Montgomery of the Southern Suburbs Heritage Society. La Rochelle, just south of the city center, is best known for Parreirinha, Joburg’s most famous Portuguese restaurant. I myself had only been to […]

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Mark1 Mandela street art piece

Street Art and Cape Town’s District Six

Last month I spent a couple of days in Cape Town on either end of my weeklong stay in Stellenbosch. I was reminded yet again of what a lovely city Cape Town is. At some point I really need to stay for longer than three days at a time. I’m a Joburg girl, now and forever. But I must confess Cape Town is really freaking beautiful. I managed to do quite a few cool things during my short time in Cape Town, the best of which was a street art tour in District Six and surrounding areas with Juma’s Tours. The History of District Six The history of District Six is tragic and makes no sense, except in the non-sensical context of apartheid South Africa. Similar to Sophiatown in Joburg, District Six was a culturally vibrant area — located close to the center of Cape Town — populated by mostly non-white South Africans of various races. Following the Group Areas Act (enacted in various forms in 1950, 1957, and 1966), which legally mandated South Africa’s racial groups to live separately, the apartheid government forcibly removed District Six’s 60,000 residents to the Cape Flats and other townships during the 1970s. Of all the enraging aspects of apartheid, there […]

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Cooking chicken at Food Junxion

#Gauteng52, Week 23: Food Junxion

Welcome to Week 23 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Food Junxion, a take-away restaurant in downtown Johannesburg. While visiting Master Mansions last week, I noticed a delicious smell emanating from a street-level restaurant in the building next door. There was a man in the window of the restaurant, cooking chicken over a coal-fired grill, painting the chicken bright red using a thick brush. The restaurant’s name was Food Junxion. On a whim, Gail and I decided to eat lunch there. Grilling bright red chicken. I’m sure Food Junxion has a great story, but I don’t know it. It didn’t occur to me until later that I might want to blog about Food Junxion — at the time my mind was swimming with romantic stories of hat factories and secret Hindu temples. So I didn’t ask any questions or take a ton of photos during our meal. But here’s what I can tell you: 1) Food Junxion is cheap: R30 ($2.30) for a platter of chicken, roti (Indian bread), chips (fries), and salad (a small pile of iceberg lettuce). Next time I’ll skip the salad and substitute […]

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Outside Master Mansions

A Magical Visit to Master Mansions

A couple of weeks ago I attended the book launch for Master Mansions. Master Mansions is the eighth in a ten-book series called “Wake Up, This is Joburg”: written by Tanya Zack, photographed by Mark Lewis, and published by Fourthwall Books. My precious copy of Master Mansions. Just a side note about the “Wake Up This is Joburg” books: If you attend the launch of one of the books, then buy the book and impatiently rip it out of the plastic right away, please do not do so while eating canapés. You’ll risk putting greasy fingerprints on the delicate, un-laminated cover of the book. (I photoshopped my fingerprint out of the picture above.) The “Wake Up This is Joburg” series is fantastic. I learned about it late, after the first five books had already sold out, so I only have numbers six, seven, and eight. (Nine and ten haven’t been released yet.) The narrative in these books — which are more like fancy pamphlets, covered with thick, matte paper and bound with staples — is exceptional and the photography is inspiring. The short stories are required reading for anyone who appreciates Joburg’s beautiful oddity. At the book launch my friend Gail approached Harshad Bhikha Master, one […]

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Love Wine in Stellenbosch

I Drank Stellenbosch

My last Stellenblog post was about all the non-drinking things to do in Stellenbosch. I wrote that post for a couple of reasons: 1) I thought it would be useful for non-drinkers visiting Stellenbosch; and 2) I figured it would ease my conscience to write a post about non-drinking Stellenbosch activities before writing this post, which will be all about the delicious wine and other alcohol I drank in Stellenbosch. A beautiful wall of wine at Love Wine Studio in downtown Stellenbosch. A glass of white from Lanzerac. I don’t have a sophisticated wine palette; I’m one of those “I like this/I don’t like that” kind of wine people. (Usually I like it.) But there’s one thing I do know: South African wine is damn good and affordable. If you like wine and want to take a wine-oriented vacation, there is no better place in the world to go than Stellenbosch. Things I Learned About Wine in Stellenbosch I drank a lot of different wine in Stellenbosch, and as I said my palette isn’t sophisticated. I won’t wax on for hours about the different varietals I tasted and what their bouquets were. But there are a couple of trends I’d […]

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Ted Sheasby at his printer in Malvern

#Gauteng52, Week 22: An Old-School Printer in Malvern

Welcome to Week 22 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit PrintALine, an old-school print shop in Malvern, Johannesburg. Ted Sheasby’s letterpress print shop in Malvern — a run-down suburb in eastern Johannesburg dotted with auto repair shops and crumbling semis — will never appear in any guidebook. This story is more about a person, and a process, than it is about a place. Ted Sheasby in his shop — an ancient garage in Malvern.  So this isn’t a typical #Gauteng52 post. But when I look back over my 52 stories about Gauteng Province at the end of this year, I want Ted’s story to be one of them. It’s too interesting and weird not to include. And besides, this might be the only blog post ever written about Malvern. Stepping Back in Time Inside a Malvern Garage When I was a little girl, my father was the sports editor of the Sykesville Herald, a newspaper in the small town where I grew up. I have a vague memory of going with my dad to the room where the Herald was printed. The room […]

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Table at Breezeblock in Brixton

#Gauteng52, Week 21: Breezeblock in Brixton

Welcome to Week 21 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Breezeblock, a new café in Brixton. I blog a lot about Joburg restaurants, and I must confess it’s not always as interesting as it used to be. When I first moved to Joburg I blogged about practically every restaurant I ate in. But these days I often go to a restaurant set to do a blog post, then leave an hour later thinking, eh…not exciting enough. Breezeblock, the newest hangout in Brixton, is not one of those restaurants. I knew Breezeblock was blog-worthy the moment I walked through the door. A simple, beautiful table at Breezeblock. Breezeblock, the Best New Thing in Brixton First and foremost, Breezblock is in Brixton. Brixton (which is next door to my beloved Melville) is one of Joburg’s most interesting and underrated neighbourhoods, but up until recently there were few places in Brixton to hang out and have a meal. A couple of years ago the Roving Bantu Kitchen opened, and now we have Breezeblock — open every day for breakfast and lunch and serving excellent […]

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Thembi Koli in Kayamandi, on tour with Stellenbosch 360

A Non-Drinker’s Guide to Stellenbosch

Let me clarify that I am not a non-drinker. I’m no party animal, but I do enjoy a glass of wine. So I was ecstatic to be invited to participate in #Stellenblog, a blogging campaign in Stellenbosch. There were some non-drinkers in our group, and at the start of the trip I wondered how much fun they would have hanging out for a week in the wine-drinking capital of South Africa. At the end of the week, when I looked through all my Stellenbosch photos, I found they told an unexpected story. There was lots of wine-drinking, to be sure. But the most memorable activities of the week had nothing to do with wine, or any alcohol for that matter. Alcohol-free Stellenbosch So I decided to put together a little guide for non-drinkers. If you don’t like wine, or don’t drink at all, here’s a list of activities to keep you busy on a multi-day visit to Stellenbosch. 1) Take a Segway Tour Back when I lived in Washington D.C., I used to watch group Segway tours glide past and silently make fun of them. I should have known that someday my own Segway time would come. Laugh silently if […]

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Folded Basotho blankets

#Gauteng52, Week 19: Where Basotho Blankets Are Made

Welcome to Week 19 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Aranda Textile Mills, home of the Basotho blanket. Basotho blankets are not made in Lesotho, the tiny country for which the blankets are named. Originally produced in England, these woollen symbols of Basotho culture are now produced at Aranda, a factory/showroom in the South African town of Randfontein on Johannesburg’s West Rand. I’ve been wanting to visit Aranda since I learned about it in 2013 from the Basotho blanket ladies of Clarens. (Read more about Basotho blankets and the blanket ladies here and here.) I finally got my chance a few weeks ago. The Basotho blanket sales room at Aranda. Aranda’s extraordinary story started several generations ago with the Magnis, an Italian textile-making family in Tuscany. The Magnis’ factory was destroyed by the Germans during World War II, and a South African colonel convinced the family to move their operation to South Africa after the war ended. After several decades of producing a range of blankets and shawls at their mill in Randfontein, the Magnis added Basotho blankets to […]

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Chilles for sale

The 8 Best Things About Mexico City, Shot on iPhone

My camera was stolen in Mexico City. As someone who lives in another huge city with a reputation for crime, I didn’t want to make a big deal about this on my blog. The theft happened because I let my guard down and someone took advantage of my carelessness. It could have happened in any city on earth. Sadly though, it happened in Mexico City, which means: 1) I lost nearly all the Mexico City photos I had taken up until the theft, as I hadn’t backed up my memory card yet (another act of carelessness); and 2) I had to depend on iPhone photography for the remainder of my week in Mexico City. Mexico City is crowded and overwhelming. Most of the people are nice, like these two guys. But as in any other city, there are thieves looking to take advantage of wide-eyed tourists like me.  I realized I would have to write about the camera theft, as losing my camera had a profound impact on the way I documented my time in Mexico City. My camera is like an extension of my arm. I had no idea how dependent I was on it — how integral a camera […]

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Graffiti in brooklyn

2Summers in New York City

I took an Amtrak train from Baltimore to New York City. Upon arrival, I climbed from the depths of Penn Station up into the forest of skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan. I walked to the taxi stand and told the first driver in line that I needed to go to Brooklyn. My cab driver, a friendly young man named Mark, was a New York City original. Mark told me about his troubled childhood, how much he loves the bible, and how he “used to be gay” before discovering Jesus and starting a new life as a straight man. I learned all of this, and more, within 90 seconds of getting into the cab. “Can you hear me back there?” he called, peering in the rear-view mirror. “Move over a bit so I can see you.” Mark spent the remaining 30 minutes of the drive imploring me to read the bible. My guess is 99% of his passengers shut him down rudely (which I was tempted to do), or simply ignore him (which I was also tempted to do), and he was excited beyond belief that I was even listening (I was being polite, and maybe a little curious). I wasn’t sure how to respond to […]

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Wolesely hood ornament

#Gauteng52, Week 17: The James Hall Museum of Transport

Welcome to Week 17 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the James Hall Museum of Transport. I was prepared to hate the James Hall Museum of Transport. The only thing I really knew about the James Hall Museum of Transport (which most Joburgers refer to simply as “the Transport Museum”) before I went was that it’s about cars. I have zero interest in cars. Also the first room of the museum makes a bad first impression — full of badly lit, dusty exhibitions — and I kind of wanted to leave within five minutes of arriving. The James Hall Museum of Transport, which looks underwhelming from the outside. A 19th-century carriage, complete with full-size plastic horses, in the “animal-drawn vehicles” collection. This part of the museum, which is the first room after the entrance, was a bit sad.  But I was with my friend Kate on our whirlwind tour of Joburg South, and neither of us had been to the Transport Museum before. We wanted to give the place a chance. And besides, admission was free. We persisted and in the end we […]

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