Memories of a lavender carpet

2008-10-22 00:00

In a previous life BMC (before marriage and children), I spent many hours in French literature lectures. Among the books we studied was Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (À la Recherche du Temps Perdu). This record of childhood memories was un-locked by the taste of a particular cake. I have recently been enjoying my own “Proust moments” brought on by the purpling of the city.

It’s jacaranda time again.

Some of the loveliest photos I have seen of our chosen city were taken in jacaranda time. These now frowned-on alien blossoms even manage to soften the apartheid architecture of parts of that jakaranda stad Pretoria and make it look attractive.

Jacarandas and I go back a long way. From years of experience and experimentation you can take it from me that they are best enjoyed on a bicycle. For years I cycled about three kilometres to high school and back every day. I hated it at the time and thought that my parents were cruel and inhuman. Now, I look back with just the tiniest hint of nostalgia at an experience my children will almost certainly never have.

The only time when it was almost acceptable to cycle was at jacaranda time. As only a very few people know, fallen jacaranda blossoms pop most satisfyingly when you cycle over them. The “snap, crackle and pop” of breakfast cereal has nothing on jacaranda blossoms. The best time was the early morning trip to school when there was a whole night’s worth of fallen blossoms to ride over. We’d compete to be out in front to make the loudest noise and be the first to leave our snaking tracks on the fresh lavender carpet. By the time we cycled home again, the blossoms had become a squishy mess that stuck to our shoes if we got off to walk. Often, though, an afternoon thunderstorm had brought down a fresh crop and trying to pop them helped to distract us as we toiled up the hill homewards.

Car tyres have the same effect on jacaranda blossoms as bicycle tyres, but the experience is neither as immediate nor as satisfying. To enjoy the popping of jacaranda blossoms in full surround sound, you need to be on a bicycle. Besides, in a car, you have to drive slowly to savour the experience and slow drivers are loudly disapproved of. Except of course in Howick, where people not only drive slowly, but it also has invisible drivers — small people of advanced years whose heads barely reach above the dashboard.

Fast-forward to two YMs (young marrieds) in Melville, Johannesburg and even there I managed to enjoy the delights of jacarandas. Although Melville had its fair share of glorious trees to cycle under, it also had crazed taxi drivers and petty criminals who’d steal your bike in a pop. Because of what I am about to record, I considered writing this column under a nom de plume.

Take it from me that the best and safest place to go jacaranda popping in Johannesburg is Westpark Cemetery (gasp). Really, I’m deadly serious. My beloved and I spent many happy hours cycling there throughout the year. It is, after all, a park — quiet and scenically beautiful. In jacaranda season, its roads offered up riches like manna fallen from heaven — expansive stretches of undisturbed flowers several centimetres thick.

All this reminiscing puts me in mind that I really ought to locate that “lost” bicycle pump and find somewhere to take my children jacaranda popping. In the meantime, if you see a vehicle driving slowly and erratically trying to get as close to the shoulder of the road as possible, it’s probably me, trying to drive over the blossoms. Wind down your car windows and join me.

Happy jacaranda season.

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