I was 15 years old when I first saw them: a retreating arch of dazzling purple glinting in the early morning sunlight, violet laden branches swaying in the light breeze.

What a sight it was, this avenue of jacaranda trees lining both sides of a Johannesburg street, meeting at the top to form a Gothic vault.

Covering the asphalt on our road was a carpet of purple trumpet flowers, pop, pop, popping as we knocked the air out of them, squishing them with our tyres. Even then, flattened and limp, they were beautiful, staining the road lavender, a damp floral rug.

I was mesmerised then, and am mesmerised all over again every spring in Johannesburg (although, of course, Pretoria and Pietermaritzburg are also known to boast a fair lilac showing of Jacarandas).

There are good Jacaranda years, OK Jacaranda years, but never bad Jacaranda years. This year is a spectacular Jacaranda year. As I’ve driven through the city, translucent purple boughs have leaned down as though in greeting. Sunlight is filtered through the floral abundance, the streets below bathed in dappled light. They travel in packs, our Jacaranda trees — having been planted en mass in long rows along our Johannesburg roads. These amethyst forests form a loosely woven mantle over the city, one that brings tourists to gawk and photograph. An entire bus of Japanese visitors spent an hour posing in among, under and beside the purple canvas. Somewhere in the late 1970s, my brother Anton was leaving home to study at Durham University in northeast England, and the laborious process of getting a student visa had to be endured. We, the Naidoos, had never been to Johannesburg before. Ever. When we left our hometown, Ladysmith, in what was then called northern Natal, we always travelled ...

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