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Friday, November 30, 2018 - 07:52

Heather Mason is an American who lives in Johannesburg, has embraced the city and blogs about her experiences on a website called 2Summers. She came to South Africa in 2010 and embraced a life as a migrant bohemian freelancer. She called her blog 2Summers as she experienced two summers in a row.

Sometimes it takes an outside observer (though after nearly a decade of living here, she is really an insider guide) to find out about the exciting vibrancy of the city and surrounds.  This is surely a book to sell Gauteng to the visitor but locals also need this book to be inspired by Heather's travels, curiosity and sense of fun. It's a personal and idiosyncratic line-up of places to visit. All appear to be open to the public (some are by appointment only). Heather comes across as a busy energetic journalist with an eye for a good photo moment. Food and shopping must be important in her life.

 

Heather Mason (via 2Summers.net)

 

The book is an unusual record of a series of journeys and places visited over a period of a year. Heather set herself the challenge of visiting a new place each week and writing about her travels in her online diary. It was a personal challenge and kind of bucket list. In her foreword she says that the challenge to find something new each week gave her a purpose and made her want to get out of bed in the morning.

The series of blogs written in 2017 has now been turned into a self published book filled with snapshot and sometimes very beautiful photographs all taken by Heather. She explains that she wrote each blog after visiting a place only once. The descriptions reflect her own personal impressions. Her style is lively, bright and cheerful. There is almost a frenetic pace. Her attitude is "go get it, go find it, write it up". This is a record of a week by week series of journeys around Gauteng with Johannesburg at the core.

The style reminds me of the movie and book Julie and Julia (2009) all about the heroine cooking her way through the life and recipes of Julia Child, the American who introduced French cuisine to Americans in the fifties and lived in Paris. This too was a weekly blog and challenge about the experience of finding Julia Child and the Paris of the fifties. Heather's endeavor would make a super movie.

Over the course of her travels she visits fifteen eating establishments, four shops, two farms, three museums, four art galleries, six parks / nature reserves, four religious places, four factories or showrooms, four towns or neighbourhoods and two printers in addition to a race course, a swimming pool, a barber shop and a steam train. It's a nice mix of activities and very much a personal choice. The first challenge was the Hennops trail, then came a butchery, followed by Gandhi's Tolstoy farm. I love the double page spread of the Johannesburg Multiflora flower market. Through these pages you can find where Basotho blankets are made, tread an antique route in Pretoria, dance to Boere country music at the Bapsfontein Hotel, feel the exhilaration of train travel on the Reefsteamers Magaliesberg Express, have lunch at Winnie's tuck shop at Tembisa or catch a tram at the James Hall Museum of Transport. You can almost smell the horses at Turffontein and taste the pastries of Cafe Patisse.

 

The entry for the James Hall Museum of Transport

 

This is a guide book with a difference. It is brimming with ideas of where to go and what to do in the smallest and wealthiest province in South Africa. There is lots of eating and shopping to be done, though there are a few quiet moments such as the visit to the Jesuits of Auckland Park and the visit to the Pretoria Prison museum. There are plenty of places to find nature and breathe again such as at Rhodes Park or the Tswaing Meteorite Crater or on a trip to pick raspberries at the Field Berry Farm.

Heather has included contact details and phone numbers for each of her destinations. The book is a record of personal journey. I found it refreshing as it is not commercial. She is selling an experience and the joy of being alive in Gauteng rather than marketing a place but no doubt the book will add to the turnover of the visited places. The interesting and quirky catches Heather's fancy. She engages with so many unusual people. These are the characters who populate the province. All hard working people with ambition and drive to make their enterprises work. This book is a book for making memories and is a piece of memorabilia of Johannesburg (and its province). It's a book for the Johannesburg bookshelf.

Nowhere does she mention it but one assumes that travel is by car. There are no instructions about using public transport to arrive anywhere. When you travel around by car how can the author say "I don't know what a Woolsey is and I don't care".

Any negatives? I like the dozens of photographs. These are high quality but the the design and layout of the book is excessively busy. It looks like a magazine shrunk to A5 size, and the excessively large size print and the repetition for each week of what the challenge is about is superfluous. Indenting paragraphs makes reading more difficult. White print on coloured background is not easy to read especially when the blue fades out across to a photo of a highveld sky. Presenting an incredible painting of a man in a Basotho blanket but splitting the image into the binding of two pages shows design failure. Too little historical research has gone into the background. The James Hall Museum of Transport cries out for something on the history of Joburg trams and trolley buses. What about Pioneer Park and the Rand Pioneers memorial right next door? There is no bibliography, no source references, though a front of book map numbering and pinpointing the 52 favoured spots is useful. There needs to be an alphabetical index because it is difficult to find a specific place. When people's names are mentioned their surname also ought to be given. R400 for this small size book (A5) is expensive but only 250 copies were printed for the first edition. I purchased my copy from Bridge books.

 

Bridge Books window in the Joburg CBD (The Heritage Portal)

 

In summary a fun project showing dedication and a love of Johannesburg and Gauteng. Heather shares it all.

Kathy Munro is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She enjoyed a long career as an academic and in management at Wits University. She trained as an economic historian. She is an enthusiastic book person and has built her own somewhat eclectic book collection over 40 years. Her interests cover Africana, Johannesburg history, history, art history, travel, business and banking histories. She researches and writes on historical architecture and heritage matters and is well known for her magnificent book reviews. She is a member of the Board of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and is a docent at the Wits Arts Museum. She is currently working on a couple of projects on Johannesburg architects and is researching South African architects, war cemeteries and memorials.

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