Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A couple of days in Pretoria South Africa

Kathleen and I at Struben Dam in Pretoria. It was cold!

My brother Nick picked us up from ORTI Airport on Thursday evening and we drove to Pretoria along the N-2 freeway, which was under construction with additional lanes in both directions being added, together with several new access roads, bridges and other improvements.

It soon became apparent that many major routes in and around the city – especially those leading the 2010 World Cup of Soccer venues – are all under simultaneous construction. If you’ve lived in Houston over the last 8 to 10 years you will know exactly what I am talking about.

As always, it was great to see the family again. We very much enjoyed a reunion with all four children and my mother together again, the first time since Nov. 2007. None of us have changed over the years; we are just a bit older and hopefully wiser. Seeing close family members sporadically, sometimes after long intervals, can be a bit disconcerting. People whom you see all the time age almost imperceptibly. Not so people whom you see in intervals measured by years. They age visibly, just like you do. None of us are Dorian Gray, the only things about us that do not change are pictures taken years ago.

The following day Nick took us on a drive around the city, past my parents’ erstwhile home on Brooklyn Avenue. The house is now just a shadow of its former elegant past, its stately thatched roof replaced with faux Spanish brick tiles. From there we drove along Charles Street – under construction – through Sunnyside and Arcadia and then took a right turn up Edmond Street straight uphill to the Union Buildings. From the high hill on which this magnificent Herbert Baker-designed sand stone edifice was built, the gardens below it and the city beyond usually make for a superb spectacle. Not so on this Saturday. It was raining quite heavily by the time we parked the vehicle. The city was obscured by clouds and rain squalls, so I passed on taking any photographs.

On Sunday morning weather conditions were considerably better, and we took a pleasant stroll around Struben Dam, close to where Kathleen and I lived in the early 1980’s. I spent many happy hours here developing my fledgling birding skills, a hobby which I had just acquired on a visit to Cape Town in December 1983. Several dozen species on my Southern Africa ‘life-list’ of birds are marked ‘Struben Dam 1984’ – it was certainly the most productive spell ever in my life as a bird-watcher. Unfortunately the dam is now but a degraded and rather threadbare version of its erstwhile vibrant self. Ironically Struben Dam was once a real bird sanctuary before it was designated as one by the Pretoria City Council.

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