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The Buffalo Citizen: our search begins.

April 17, 2011

To close my eyes, swing my arm in circles, then bring my finger into random contact with a PC screen showing a google map of Buffalo City, is all very well. But knowing that this process, repeated 5 times by me and collaborator Andrew Mogridge, provides our points of reference for a significant project demanding our creative focus, is worrying. Mogridge is well aware I’m not the random type, so if the project goes wrong he’ll be responsible.

That established, my story continues. The fingers find their places, map co-ordinates are fixed, time arranged, and off we go on our search for the Buffalo Citizen.

First stop Reeston. Never heard of it, and neither has Mogridge, who’s more Buffalo native than I am. Friday afternoon, schools just closing for the week, dirt roads settled by earlier rain, deep green bush, valleys and ridges. A blend of formal and informal dwellings, a landscape formed by the reality of habitation that maps can’t hope to suggest.

Reeston goat, disturbed by our vehicle probably because its moving. Most others in the area are stationary, and have been so for some time.

I don’t know how the Buffalo Citizen will finally appear, but can see this network of roads and lives and valleys, every part of it, contributing to the form.

We meet Sidwell on a street corner, where google says we should be. I can tell by the blue arrow hovering above Sidwell’s beanie. We ask if we can retrieve the arrow & move on quietly to our next destination, but Sidwell will have none of it: he pins us down with his rich recall of a life far from Reeston, underground in the Free State, Western Deep and other places … shows us the scar on his leg, hard evidence of hard times.

Sidwell’s near-neighbour sees an opportunity: out-of-towners, camera, car that moves. We’re amazed, when the furore around her subsides and she goes back into her 1-room home, to see how many people go with her, they can’t possibly all fit. This sardining, this cram of human life, is surely rich stuff for the citizen.

Then Cambridge (fingers had fallen on 2 sites here). Cambridge, Buffalo City. Well, it also contains East London, so there you go. I was worried about this part of the search: Cambridge is as 1960’s middle-class as you could ever hope to see. What limb or organ of the Buffalo Citizen will be found here? And how can the Reeston bits relate?

We’re approached by someone who works for the local Spar, he’s helping with something on the roof – we’re busy taking pictures of the establishment – “so, you’re taking photos – yes, we were just at Reeston taking some pics too, do you know it? – Reeston, yes, jeez – actually I’ve been working in Joburg and just came back to east london, this is a good place to be, hey – what? oh, we think there’s a tennis ball up there, prob’ly blocking the drain …”  

Cambridge legs, Friday afternoon. The google arrow told us to be here, and I thought: the back of a facebrick supermarket, what hope can there be? But these legs and their owners put on a great show, they too will contribute invaluably.

And the see-saw boys, trying to carry the longest plank i’ve ever seen, offering it to us for 50 bucks, we decline, they go off in search of a buyer. Apparently they have another 4 of these profitable planks, I just don’t see how they’ll deliver them anywhere – the plank is so heavy it swings the person precariously from one side of the sidewalk to the other as it sways. Then as we drive on to the next arrow, 300 metres down the road, I see the plank making good progress toward its unknown end, determined salesman somewhere underneath.

Tree man, Cambridge. Maybe our search is over before it's begun?

Our third blue arrow hovers over an even more anonymous site. Also Cambridge, but this time a small business between houses of no particular description. The business: Lawn Care! And across the road, braai fuels (wood, charcoal, and so on). Things are so slow, I can’t see any good coming of this spot. 
Soon enough though, things start to happen: an airliner arcs slowly overhead, a busdriver (unusual in East London) stares suspiciously at the camera as he swings out from collecting his lone passenger, and (among other things) someone stops to collect some braai fuel. He’s in a raylon golf shirt, matching shorts, long socks and shoes I’ll have to check from the photo.

I’m really enjoying this. More soon.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 18, 2011 8:35 pm

    Intruiging. I like Tree Man!

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