Lilac and Lime

Contrasts in colour, contrasts in life – Mary Bruce

Durban vs Cape Town? Pfffft!

Sjoe people, all the calling out of names between our big cities is rubbing off. If you wanted to start pozzie-envy you should have remembered that we smaller cities also have the internets and ISPs – and our pride too. And we understand from the elitist phrases being bandied about that it’s considered posher to live in some cities than others. We have feelings too, you know.

But all this jousting? What are you thinking – trying to encourage everyone and his tannie to move to your neck of the woods? That seems to be a large part of the problem already. Learn from us and keep your lights in the bush-els. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends live in Johannesburg and Durban and Cape Town and my mother grew up in Port Elizabeth, so any opinion I express is going to p-off a whole private jet-load of you at the very least.

If potholes are to be used against Durban, one can only admire the greater Johannesburg area whose potholes are so big houses have fallen into them. But Durban claims a greater number and who am I to argue? I visit the city infrequently and on those occasions expend way more energy avoiding the drivers than the potholes.

Just so you don’t think Pietermaritzburg is wholly lacking in competitive spirit, our pothole is in Commercial Road between Greyling and Boom (boom like the cannon noise, not buh-wim, ok?) Streets. It’s moderate in size but we don’t intend to encourage pothole-chasers on one hand or journalists who want to diss our home town on the other.

There wouldn’t be any point in letting the hole get out of hand for two reasons, both of them advantages of living in a smaller city : firstly, chances are we live up the road from someone who works for the City Engineer’s Department or our child goes to school with theirs and it would be the work of a few minutes to make a generous pothole in their driveway if decent requests went unfilled ; secondly, sometime during any day at least three Councillors are going to have to drive along any given route and they would fall in it. The second option is particularly effective and the means our residential suburb relies on to fill the occasional crater at the bottom of the hill. But we don’t draw attention to it and encourage criticism.

Of course most of us could easily stroll to the City Hall during lunchtime and nail a list of grievances to the door but, as that would be as effective (or not) as most email campaigns, we prefer to stroll to Kara Nichas instead and indulge in rotis, chilli bites or ‘specials’, a toasted sandwich whose contents I am not about to divulge to the masses. No “stoopid” tattoo here, although we Do have a parlour.

International movies have also been filmed on our turf : our high school fine art teacher was incoherent for days after talking to Peter O’Toole who was in town for the shooting of Zulu Dawn in the late 70s ; more recently parts of Sea Biscuit were filmed in one of our suburbs, and a few months ago an as yet unnamed Asian movie made use of a few sites on the northern side of town. Our train station has been notoriously immortalised for its role in Mahatma Gandhi’s life course. I’m not going to look for more examples. Three or four opportunities to hobnob with eminent movie stars within a few years is quite respectable without making us sound vulgarly pretentious, heaven forbid chaps.

Foreign tourists? Of course we have those. Clumps of camera-laden thrill-seekers frequent our pedestrian mall. Apart from the diverse architectural examples that pull them in, the Gandhi statue is within a stone’s throw of the City Hall and its location offers a picture perfect view of the station for zoom lenses from all backgrounds. Being the progressive planners that we are, these happy visitors are quickly discouraged from loitering, let alone purchasing property, by the pungent urine odour emanating from the lanes in the vicinity. Good heavens, if we lived in a winter rainfall zone I don’t think anyone would survive two hot dry days in that atmosphere. Did you think it was coincidence that we visit Cape Town in February? Let me guess : you thought it had something to do with the wine route? Come on, we have our own meander, and a lekker one it is too.

There’s also plenty of action around here. Admittedly Pretoria’s record of three fires in three days in the Magistrates Court would be hard to better but I’m sure you’ve realized by now that we don’t seek to draw attention to our piece of paradise. Instead we stagger our domestic conflagrations. About a year ago the old Magistrates Court building burned out its roof and windows during the night. In July our majestic Colonial Building, adjacent to the Gandhi statue, burned extensively in a dramatic display of daytime decadence not often seen in these parts. And only weeks later an historical arcade just metres away from both these sites was gutted one evening. These are architectural tragedies but not insurmountable : all three sites are being restored as we do appreciate our diverse heritage. Just don’t assume we have no hot street action.

Yes, we do have fire engines but they failed us dismally. We don’t seek to boast of privileges. In fact, as an eyewitness to the Colonial Building fiasco, I honestly can think of no other way to describe the mechanical efforts than piss poor.

Tuning in to the plaintive Tweets denigrading the traffic congestion in other centres as inferior and less stress-inducing doubles me up laughing. Yes, we know what traffic jams are. Earlier this month two power failures within a week meant that twice this year I have taken Thir-tee Minutes to travel from home to work. It really isn’t good enough as I intend to spend as little of my life as possible in that state and am certainly not going to be impressed by the number of suburbs that disappear in a haze of fumes as a gauge of a city’s status.

We people formerly known as Natalians are radically under-estimated. Name changes are so user-unfriendly that we made sure your GPSes have no difficulty finding either Durban or Pietermaritzburg. In fact, neither should you : the latter is easy. You know that long twisty downhill that always has trucks in the southern-bound arrestor beds and the northern-bound emergency lanes, about twenty minutes before you hit Durban? Well, just turn sharp right or left at the bottom of that hill and you’ll be in it.

That was the easy part. Now that we have you, we defy you to find your way around. Opting for First, Second, etc Avenues is such a cop out and so unimaginative – anyone could work that out. In an unprecedented display of unity, both Durban and Pietermaritzburg have cunningly renamed most major routes. Don’t bother upgrading your Garmin software : one case is currently in court and we may just change the names some more. Of course we love you and want you to feel welcome : once in our one-way system it could take you weeks to break your way out.

Does any other local city have an anthem? It may mean there will shortly be a Lloyd-Webber Lane somewhere in central Durban, but what a small price to pay when the collective citizens rise to their feet, pride streaming down their cheeks, and erupt into a rendition of Names, Names Changes Everything.

Durban has obviously had to be cognizant of the anticipated increase in visitors next year. I’ve heard that the new stadium is visible from nearly all over the city. (An aside here. That I battle to believe. I’ve been lost in Anton Lembede Street more than once because one can see blow all when surrounded by concrete more than a few floors high. Don’t laugh, people from Cape Town : I also got lost on one of your landmarky hills because The Mountain went out of sight behind concrete. Admittedly you did have a friendly security-man-and-Rottweiler combination who ensured my return to known quarters).

Anyway, the Durban stadium really only has to be visible from the roads that haven’t lost their identity. That way you’ll not only get to see the fixture/s you plan to attend, you may still be there when Durban eventually gets to host the Olympics.

On that superlative note of name-dropping, I break off to cogitate on my own personal dilemma that this debate has given rise to : town of birth vs city of residence. Port Shepstone vs Pietermaritzburg. Watch this space.


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