Friday, March 11, 2011

A mini Hillbrow sneak peak!

I'm assuming you all know that Hillbrow is bad. It's terrible, not worth a visit, dead to the world and oh're going to get shot if you go there, right? wrong! A while back I fancied a trip to the Brow and an extremely fantastic, culture-loving, diverse friend of mine agreed to accompany me. So it was that Mark, Dirk, Maxine and I ventured in the deep, dangerous depths of Hillbrow...only to find that it wasn't so deep and dangerous at all. In fact it was pretty damned marvellous!

Hillbrow was a bustling middle-class neighborhood until the end of Apartheid rule. Hillbrow's then white middle-class fled to the suburbs, making way for immigrants from across the country and the disadvantaged black community. Unfortunately, the population soared, crime grew rampant and it became a no-go area for visitors. Thankfully, things are changing and it's great to have witnessed the positive, friendly atmosphere first hand!

We had barely been walking for 3 minutes, when Mark jumped across the street to two men who looked...well, lets just say I wouldn't want to run into them in a dark ally.  It turned out that they wanted photographs and we landed up practicing our gangster poses for a good few minutes before moving on. We'd barely gone another ten meters when I had to stop and do a double-take at a fruit stall where they had the most amazing watermelons for R2.50. Yes, Please! I also poked my head into a few shops and loved the combo deals that they had packed out and the client service was something else!!!

There were fascinating objects, little shops and people around every corner and my heart felt so light being around those fantastic people. You can see that life is difficult, but somehow they have a permanent smile on their face and a welcoming hand to anyone and everyone. On our way back to the car, we passed a man making chicken on the side-walk and we had a great little conversation with him about his chickens, which unfortunately didn't quite grab my fancy. None the less, we all parted in laughter.

Further down the road we were again stopped by some rather eager photographic-subjects. They were picking up the refuse from Hillbrow and surrounds and took a 5 minute break to allow us to mingle and gave us some awesome photo opportunities!

From the people, to the shops, to the buildings Hillbrow was worth every second. I would definitely recommend stopping by if you're in the 'hood'

A building, a Key and a Night.

The city is exploding with the most amazing spaces, forgotten secrets and history. One of my best encounters so far has been with the Chrysler building. The building, situated on Eloff, is far from spectacular on the outside, but stepping inside was a different story. We climbed in through a grungy metal door covering a hole in the wall and were confronted with a security desk (with MIA security guy) and a guest book. Patience has never been a strong suit of mine, so we just signed in and started walking around. The building has been completely destroyed; everything that could have been pulled out, torn apart and wrecked has suffered that exact fate and it was one of the saddest things I've ever seen. As we walked through the building I became more excited by the spaces and the views became pretty breath-taking as well. After we had marched up 7 flights of stairs, we went out to the balcony surrounding the building to take a bit of a breather and admire the view. That is where I 'acquired' my first rusty old key, which currently sits on my bedside table! As we got to to the top, the large spaces dwindled into smaller, odd corridors and rooms, which I assumed were staff quarters, service rooms or storage areas. Trudging though the water to get from one are to the next, I felt things slipping beneath my feet and when I looked down, I saw countless bullet casings littering the floor and suddenly my rosy fantasy was shattered by a chilling reminder of the time that had passed and the people that had walked the corridors before me and how our experiences of that building must differ so entirely. I can't recall ever having experienced that level of conflicting emotions before. I felt like running away from the sadness, the dark corridors and the desertion but at the same time I was captured by the energy of the building. Time was short that day and we had to leave, but the memories of my brief visit lingered long after.

I went back to may apartment, roasted away in a bath for a few hours, ate some fruit, stared at my key and mulled over the experiences of the day. The only conclusion that I drew was that the Chrysler hadn't finished with me and I wasn't exactly done with it either. I was drawn to it, and to this day I can't tell you why. I wanted to go back but I wanted to go on my own. The only problem was that I was scared; venturing into a deserted building on my own in the less savory part of town didn't exactly strike me as the pinnacle of safety conscious behaviour. My life continued normally for a further ten days but even my beloved dance floor couldn't get the Chrysler out of my mind and I was getting annoyed so I decided to return. Not only did I decide to go back, but I went alone and I went at night. Honestly, I didn't even thing I'd get in. I thought they would have bolted it shut by the time I got there, but thankfully it was still open. Again the security guard was somewhere else so I put my name on the paper, and started venturing up the stairs. I was terrified and the staircase was darker than I remembered it and at some points, I had to feel my way around the corners and I was starting to think that leaving my cell phone at home was a stupid idea. The lift shafts are completely bare and exposed and I suppose it could be dangerous if you got your footing a bit wrong. I successfully made it up to the 5th floor, then the 6th, 7th, 8th. In the dark, it was a different experience: scarier, more thrilling and the spaces seemed bigger because my senses were so heightened. On the 8th floor I paused and thought about why I was actually doing the whole thing (by that I mean being a complete idiot in that building on my own) and I quite frankly couldn't think of an answer and that seemed to be a pretty good reason to turn back. So I did. Then I hit the fifth floor again on my way down and something changed. Because of the structure of the building, the entire floor was dark except for the evening/night light coming in from the extended old windows and doors and all i wanted to do was laugh. It was the most beautiful and inspiring time I can remember. It was just me, the city, the night, a building, a floor and a moment of stillness in a life that spends every day running away. I closed my eyes and I couldn't believe how quiet it was. The wind blew through the broken windows and the dust, dirt and little odds and ends were flitting around in the breeze. It was so free and I realized that my perception was wrong: the building wasn't dead at all, it had just taken on a different life of it's own and as irrational as it sounds, I felt safe.