Underthecurrent


One Weekend in Kaapstad
June 14, 2011, 11:49 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

(LG had to write an exam proving he is adept at English. The problem is he is an artist and prone to sudden tangents and unconventional speaking patterns and there was both an essay portion and a speaking section and it is unclear if he will conform to the marking model and be deemed sufficiently bilingual even though he graduated from an exclusive English private school, holds University degrees where instruction was completely in English, and spends most of his day around English people including his boss and me.)

On the drive there we went past Monkeytown, a primate sanctuary with the tag line “where people are caged an monkeys run free!” I found a flyer mentioning wedding facilities and proposed that we get married there, with a monkey bridal party. So far, response has not been enthusiastic.

I will say that Cape Town is beautiful, the way the roads wind up into the mountains and suddenly below there are orderly homes and sparkingly ocean panoramas. I do not love it, but it is beautiful.

He studied, I wandered. Through the hippie luxe stores in the Cape Quarter where I bought things like giant macaroons and wild game pate. Up and down Long Street with its cheap lunches and African art. Past the anarchist bookstores in Obs and up the steep slopes of UCT.

Killed time over nice coffee in shops with artsy magazine piles, had beer in the afternoon with Mexican food that tasted like Mexican food*. Dressed like I was living in a city and not in leggings and a hooded sweatshirt in a seaside cottage a long ways away. Spent a morning in the enclave of Camps Bay and a night in Gardens.

I don’t really love Cape Town the way I have loved Johannesburg or Durban, no matter how many times I visit, and I can never really explain why (but will try). Maybe it’s because Durban, to me, has always felt like Havana, a faded holiday playground post-revolution. Charming grit. Joburg, on the other hand, has shown me things I have never seen anywhere else in the world. A megalopolis on the precipice of gentrification, and one dealing with a fairly intense level of organized crime, when I lived there things had not yet become twee. Cape Town, sometimes, with its eco friendly developments and shabby chic wealth feels like it could be Vancouver, or several parts of Toronto. It is a microbrewery and organic farmers market sort of place, a little too succeptible to the whims and trends of globalization. Soft.

What I am seeking in a city is not a city that fulfills my every demand, especially those planted by excessive consumption of newspapers and magazines, but one that orders for me and tells me what I will be having. I don’t really want to sit in cafes designed to feel vaguely like New York or Paris, and I have a distinct disinterest in most tapas (or claims thereof) outside of Spain. It is not a selling feature, to me, if the club DJ has played in London and has brought back the latest tracks.

I think Cape Town is a great tourist town. It caters to the comforts people miss when abroad while having just enough character and beauty to make nice pictures. It is the perfect stop on a multi-leg trip when a person cannot handle another serving of starch plus meat and would kill for a 200-count sleep and the ability to communicate in Western standard English. The people are well groomed and there are a charming variety of accents. There is wine for all and moderate night life and a comfortable amount of well-labeled history.

It’s just not my town.

*Point one: there are a strange variety of Mexican restaurants in Africa that serve things that frankly have nothing to do with Mexico or mostly food at all. Point two: to be female and drinking beer is so weird in some places a guy actually looked at my cafe table as he walked by, leaned in, leaned out, and muttered “drinking beer!”

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