Sunday, November 3, 2013

Beauty & The Barb

Looking toward the hills of Melville
Now that the rains have come, Johannesburg is lush and green. The almost daily thunderstorms in the last two weeks have greened up the landscape in an amazing manner. I can not count the number of garden stores and plant nurseries that I have seen on my rambles. A quick pop into any one of them is a heady experience of the known and the exotic.

Jacaranda Canopy
The Jacaranda trees are incredibly lovely. Many of streets I wander down, either intentionally or due to my unbelievably lousy sense of direction, are lined with these wonderful old ladies. In the last few days, the late afternoon and evening thunderstorms have turned my street into an wedding aisle strewn with purple petals awaiting a bride. It is the privilege of the early-to-work to drive through petal-laden streets.

The Jacaranda trees are not native to South Africa. I learned on my nature reserve visit that the trees were brought from South America in the late 1800s and are considered an invasive species. Although they dominant the landscape in Jo'berg and Pretoria, there are now many restrictions about planting and maintaining them. 

As in the Brothers Grimm fairytale, Sleeping Beauty, much beauty lies behind towering walls and barb wire in Jo'berg. The term "gated" takes on a whole new meaning here. Each house is gated; and the many varieties of barb wire and razor wire is impressive. Equally impressive is the structuring of the electrified fencing that often rises above the walls and gates.

Even in my suburb, Linden, the variety of electronic gates is amazing. Linden was developed shortly after World War II. The gating and fencing came in the mid-1970s. It would be interesting to see photos of the gardens and front yards from the pre-gating days. 

My first evening here in Linden I looked down my street and thought "great, there is a small newspaper/candy hut at the end of the street." I would soon learn that it was a guard house.

I live on Second Street. The street runs a short span from 1st Avenue to 5th Avenue-a distance of about 3 kilometers; most of it is straight uphill. The guard house is at the corner of Second Street and 4th Avenue. There is also a guard on the other end, at the corner of 1st Avenue and Second Street. The service is paid for by the homeowners on the street. 

As an American I find the security, gates, fencing, and wire all a bit claustrophobic. Yet I am constantly confronted with the necessity of it all. A co-worker explained she no longer locks her car as there is nothing left to steal out of it. She leaves it unlocked so the windows won't be shattered during a break-in attempt. Every evening she removes the battery and brings it inside her townhouse to avoid having it stolen. Even the nature preserve where I've gone hiking has a 24 hour guard hut to prevent vandalism of the exhibits and property that are behind a high fence.

The debate with respect to gated communities rages here in South Africa. Residents in the most "protected" communities are still victims of crime. Oscar Pistorius is reported to have kept a cricket bat and a gun in his bedroom for protection despite living in one of the most elite gated communities.  No one seems to know if these steel and concrete guardians really keep residents and their possessions safe or if they simply perpetuate a mentality of fear.  

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