Friday, January 17, 2014

Woodstock: An urban renaissance

I'm moving from the sedate and gentrified suburb of Newlands to the grittier and in-transition Woodstock at month-end.

I'll only be living 3.9 km from my new office - my media and journalism campus has thankfully moved from the ugly and depressing Bellville, about 22 km to the east of Cape Town, to Roeland Street just off the heart of Cape Town - and I expect to either walk, cycle or bus it between home and work, depending on the weather. And the wind.

I fetched my Giant mountain bike, which still looks brand new despite it being a gift from a lover way back in 2007, from my house 1800 km away in Waterval Boven in Mpumalanga province; I was there at the beginning of last week, which feels months ago.

I took the two pics from the living room of new apartment; they are of Woodstock, which lies between the railway line spine through the southern suburbs and the slopes of Table Mountain's Devil's Peak.

According to John Muir's 'Walking Cape Town' (2013), Woodstock is steeped in history:

"...this old suburb east of Cape Town was originally called Papendorp, after Pieter van Papendorp, a farmer who owned land between the Castle and Salt River.

"The name changed when the first Village Management Board in 1809 proposed the name New Brighton - after a local hotel. At a public meeting, a large group of fishermen who patronised the Woodstock Hotel outvoted the others and the neighbourhood acquired the name of the more popular inn.

"Dom Francisco de Almeida, the Portuguese Viceroy of India, was killed on Woodstock Beach on 1 March 1510 during a skirmish with the Khoikhoi. He was returning to his homeland from India. This event played a role in Portugal's decision not to colonise the Cape [I cannot even imagine how different things on this southern tip of Africa would have been if they had... a swarthy and Catholic Mediterranean influence, in every sense, as opposed to the conservative Dutch Calvinism and French Huegonot influences that gave birth to, among other things, the Afrikaans language and culture.]

Muir continues: He writes that "[t]he arrival of the railway in the early 1860s contributed to the development of the small suburb, and by 1881, it formed a separate municipality together with Salt River.

"Woodstock is undergoing an urban renaissance, and a number of buildings [like mine] have been restored or redeveloped, housing a range of creative enterprises from decor shops to art galleries to markets."

John Muir's handy and well illustrated book is available at most bookshops, including The Book Lounge (the wonderful independent bookshop two blocks away from me here in Roeland Street), CNA and Exclusive Books. I bought my copy for R185 at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens' shop. 'Walking Cape Town' is published by Struik Travel & Heritage.

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