Save the Boekehuis bookshop

Nothing to do but protest. Sad news is that one of Joburg’s most beloved bookshops is set to close early next year. Boekehuis in Auckland Park is a haven for writers and for people who love hearing from them run by the amazingly interested and interesting Corina Van der Spoel (I worked closely with her on the Sunday Times Book awards a few years ago – she was one of our judges. And I also hosted a discussion with Peter Harris on his incredible historical thriller In a Different Time: The inside story of the Delmas Four one Saturday afternoon there). It’s a gathering place for readings, poetry, debate, discussion and the exchange of ideas that has been nurtured by Corina. It’s also an independently-run bookshop that I have never managed to leave without a brown packet filled with some extraordinary title that no mega bookstore would stock (or be able to find) or even be interested in ordering. And while its heart is local, its soul is truly global.

Photo of Boekehuis is from SA-venues.com, things to do in Gauteng

 

But I am still to blame.  Continue reading

Author Justin Cartwright at the Troyeville Hotel

Justin Cartwright, TimesLive

Justin Cartwright, TimesLive

To the Troyeville Hotel book club on a rainy and then crisp Autumn night. And set against the twinkling lights of Ponte and the Hillbrow Tower through the window darkly, Justin Cartwright was being interviewed by Murray Michell, the head of South Africa’s Financial Intelligence Centre. The “banker” and the author had been brought together for an event billed as “The banking crisis comes to Troyeville” in a move intended to cajole those who think that fiction may not be serious enough stuff to leave home in the northern suburbs for. To be truthful the crowd at Troyeville are more attuned to hearing about civil wars, death cults and bloodthirsty Liberian warlords, dark subjects that unsettle, non-fiction that makes claims to be truthful, Continue reading

Joburg master class with David Goldblatt and Ivan Vladislavic

#215. Explore the double negative. I spent last Saturday at the Goodman Gallery listening to Ivan Vladislavic and David Goldblatt in conversation about their limited double edition [TJ and Double Negative] with the delightful Marlene van Niekerk [author of the award-winning Triomf and Agaat] who had been coaxed from Stellenbosch to speak with the “masters of Joburg”. Both of whom, in her words, have a commitment to the “the reductive mysteries of things as they are”. Warm, full of wit and nuance, the conversation took some interesting turns Continue reading

The Angel of Hillbrow

#171. Admire the angel and say that if any place needs one it’s Hillbrow.

Hillbrow's angel

Perched up high between Constitution Hill and one of Joburg’s most talked about suburbs the angel is one of a number of public artworks that have sprung up around the inner city. Part of the city of Johannesburg’s public art policy, officials have been hard at work commissioning artists to create pieces that are redefining the city as an inclusive space.

As for Hillbrow, it’s a place that conjures nostalgic, that calls up myths and legends. From the post-1994 hard drug scene that sprang up around the Sands Hotel to the playground of SA’s original party girl Brenda Fassie, Hillbrow was also home to my grandmother and a great-aunt (a lot earlier than that) who lived in the Coronia residential hotel in the late 1970’s (Now it’s a disco, but not for Lola …). Tropicana or was it Tropica sold the best schwarmas in town (It was the wrap) while Estoril had the monopoly on Italian fashion magazines. At Café Paris the men smoked and played backgammon and in the late 80’s Fontana would sell you roast chicken no matter the hour. Hillbrow was the height of cool. All bright lights and big-city like. Continue reading

Joburg crash

#124. Watch a movie unfold. In 2004 Paul Haggis won an Oscar for the movie Crash – a film set in LA but one that I have always thought could easily have been filmed in Joburg. One of the characters in the film talks about how people encounter each other in the city: “It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”

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Remembering David Webster

#105. Mark May Day. Under leaden skies we drove to Troyeville to Bloemenhof Park for a view of the city’s past and its future. From the park you can see the Johannesburg Athletics Stadium and the massive upgrading of the Doornfontein area where one of South Africa’s premier Soccer World Cup 2010 stadiums – Ellis Park – is located.  Just a few blocks from there marks the spot on Eleanor Street where David Webster, anthropologist, humanitarian, and anti-apartheid activist was murdered for his beliefs. Today the park was renamed as a tribute to his life and memory.

Twenty years ago today South Africa was in the grip of a State of Emergency Continue reading

A ban on grammar

#88. Note the apostrophes. A few weeks ago the Birmingham City Council, in a fit of grammatical pique, banned apostrophes. A report in the Birmingham Post by Paul Dale said that “They’ve been a source of utter confusion to schoolchildren over the years. And it’s a brave adult who can be absolutely certain where to put the little beast.” Continue reading

Obama wins in Troyeville

#61. Head to Troyeville to celebrate an Obama victory. Troyeville, east of Joburg’s city centre has had a few bohemian flirtations. The most memorable for me was Bob’s Bar, circa the early 1990′s, a haunt for the city’s writers, filmmakers and poets, misfits and activists, the lost and the found. You would leave whose ever car you had arrived in on a dark side street, and open a door into a world of coloured lights, vinyl decor and charged conversations that got more drunken as the night wore on. Alliances would be forged, feuds declared. There was so much alcohol it was easy to drink Troyeville pretty. Continue reading