Anyone who has ever lived in Johannesburg will tell you that one of the things they love the most about this big, bad, wonderful city are the summer thunderstorms. Our winters are dry and cold, and summer is hot and wet, but unlike the tropics, our summer storms are violent rages of wind, rain and lightning. The rain comes sheeting down, battering the blooms off the jacarandas and smashing rose bushes. They’re also short-lived. While it might be bucketing down at 5pm, by 6:30 you can be sure that the sky will have cleared, the stars will be shining and the city will smell clean and fresh. Steam rises up off the hot tarmac on the roads, and the city is cooled.
Joburg summer storms are huge in every way – on windy afternoons dark clouds gather in the southwest of the city. By 4pm, it’s as dark as dusk and the only things on the streets are sheets of newspapers that get caught in the wind. We have to run around unplugging routers and appliances because, being right under the tower, we get struck by lightning almost every time. This Friday we had our first massive hail storm of the summer, and it was a doozy. I was convinced that the swimming pool was going to overflow, and the roof was going to blow off. The hail piled up calf-high, and it smashed the garden to pieces. My lovely mint, which grows in a tangle all over the front stoep, is non-existent. I couldn’t even scrounge enough for a Saturday afternoon G&T. The roses are in tatters, and I fear that my tomato and bean seedlings my never recover.
But when I went outside after that storm, into the cool of an after-hail storm, when it was finally peaceful, the whole garden was full of the most incredible smells - of lavender and rosemary, from where the bushes had been stripped and pulverised. It was the real beginning of my Joburg summer.
Oh, and speaking of newspapers blowing in the streets – Joburg’s favourite son William Kentridge recently unveiled a lovely public work in the middle of the city, just over the Queen Elizabeth Bridge. It’s called Firewalker and it’s a sculpture of one of the many women who come into the city every day to sit on the pavements with a brazier, selling grilled corn and sometimes, smilies and half-smilies (goat and sheep heads). She’s beautiful, and so very familiar to anyone who has been in the city, but what I love about her the most is that, depending on the angle, she either looks like herself, or if you look from a different angle, the sheets of metal look like newspapers, blowing across the city streets.
I snapped her on my phone from both angles from the backseat of a car the other day. Isn’t she lovely?
From the front, and below, from the side:
See? Isn’t Kenty clever?