Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pretoria Victorious.

Despite having lived in South Africa for a year, I had never been to Pretoria. The closest I had come was passing through the city at night on a Greyhound bus on the way to Zimbabwe. So on this trip to South Africa, I very conscientiously added Pretoria to my itinerary. However, after finally visiting, I suppose I can see why I never made the effort to visit in the past.On my way up from Johannesburg, I stopped at the Voortrekker monument. I have a fascination with Afrikaner culture, and since I'm still working on my ethnography on Afrikaner nationalism, I considered this to be a form of research. Following the somewhat rough, hand drawn map I had copied from the internet, I was a little worried that I might not be able to find it. This turned out to be a rather ridiculous thought, I realized, as Afrikaners of course love to make their monuments enormously prominent- rising over the trees on a distant green hill was the Voortrekker Monument, a thick, solid tower in sandstone. After paying a rather exorbitant fee (an entrance charge and a car fee) and parking in the nearly empty lot, I climbed the steps up to the tower's base. On the way I passed two restrooms, carved to look like bulky ox wagons. Unlike the equally phallic Taal monument, which is graceful and streamlined if rather concrete, the Voortrekker monument is rather squat and inelegant. The plaque at the base of the monument stated that it was built in the Art Deco style, but, squinting up at it, I couldn't detect any signs of this. Maybe they meant Apartheid deco? Afrikaner deco? Inside the darkened inner-chamber of the monument were a series of artworks depicting Afrikaner history: the Voortrekkers battle savage Africans, make pacts with God, and look out over barbarous lands with optimism. I was unsure of what else I should visit in Pretoria, so I checked out the usually helpful Rough Guide website. The only real attraction they suggested was Church Square, so I decided to head there after leaving the Voortrekker Monument. Following a series of one way streets into the center of town, I easily reached Church Square. Getting out of my car, I immediately had a confusing interaction with a heavily scarred man, who wanted me to pay him to put money in the parking meter for me. The square was hardly the cosmopolitan center that the Rough Guide made it seem; instead it was a simple park surrounded by quiet office complexes, and a few impresive old governmental buildings. However, it had an oddly bucolic charm for being at the center of South Africa's capital; there were crowds of people lying on the grassy lawn, enjoying snacks sold from ice cream trucks and fruit stands. Following another suggestion from Rough Guide, I checked out Cafe Riche, located on a corner of Church Square. It turned out to be a rather dull European style espresso bar with turn-of-the-century fixtures and a stale coffee smell. After looking around the area for a bit, I found the much more appealing Tribeca Cafe. Set between tall buildings and under a canopy of trees on a side street, Tribeca Cafe offered relief from the bleaching winter sun. I sat near the fountain outside, enjoying a honey nut latte, and watching the traffic pass by.

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