Bottom Places

I”ve shared my personal “top places” list. We all like to talk “best.” When we travel, we tend not to seek out “the worst.”

But what about “bottom places”? Uh, I knew you’d ask that. ;-)

A “bottom” issue is one to be approached cautiously. We know there are “bottom” areas in any major city. The U.S. certainly doesn’t lack for them.

Outside of the U.S., if we say London is a great destination, we are likely not referring to certain neighborhoods in the north of the city, which are clearly not “tourist areas.” Similarly with Paris. Same Rome. The list could go on.

And there are many places I have never visited. And I hate criticizing. All that said, if I have to offer up a “bottom” major central city destination I have encountered traveling outside of the U.S., it was probably Johannesburg’s central business district.

Overlooking central Johannesburg in the 1970s, on the cover of an apartheid South African government “information” publication. [Book cover photographed by me, 2014.]

South Africa is a difficult case, of course, owing to its history. Yet, comparatively, Cape Town’s downtown was excellent. Even Pretoria’s was fine.

My experience in Johannesburg was also in the late 1990s, which is now, naturally, a relatively long time ago. Years fly by so quickly. To end on a positive note, I have read Jo’burg’s CBD is somewhat improved, and working hard to improve further since then.

Name Your Favorite Author

I find naming a “favorite” author a tough question to answer. My fiction likes have varied over the years. If I think on a novelist I have liked consistently for the longest, probably at the top of my personal favorites list sits Alan Paton (1903-1988), the South African anti-apartheid author of “Cry, The Beloved Country,” “Too Late The Phalarope,” and “Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful.”

I suppose – given what I have composed – it is no surprise I greatly admired Paton’s ability, especially in “Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful,” to produce “fiction” from history, and to create “fictional characters” based on real people. (Yet it is pretty clear as well to readers reasonably familiar with South African history of the 1950s, that, say, “Dr. Hendrik” in “Land,” is future apartheid prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd. Obviously there were times Paton’s “fictional” characters were meant to be easily identifiable, real people, as interpreted “fictionally” by Paton.)

After “Land” was published in 1981, Paton admitted that its white liberal politician, “Robert Mansfield,” was based on himself. “Mansfield” eventually emigrates to Australia as a result of the apartheid government’s harassment. The real Alan Paton never fled the country, but of “Mansfield” Paton told interviewers:

“I didn’t like him, so I sent him off to Australia.”

True, writing a novel in which a main character is based on yourself is not exactly groundbreaking. Yet, in that same novel, written by you, you do not like “yourself” all that much, so you send “yourself” into exile? Brilliant.