Cape Town, South Africa
After a hop, skip, and a 26 hour plane journey, we are in Africa. We arrived two days ago and moved into our temporary home at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town. The hotel is a 5 star pink giant. It literally sprawls before you. The entirety of it's exterior is painted in a wash of sun kissed pepto bismal. Gsa Gsa Gabor would have loved this place. Which is a shame, because at first glance I don't think they take her kind.
Yesterday we took a tour through the city to "get acquainted", as my mother would say, with the layout of the general terrain. To my surprise the place is riddled with dutch-provincial-english-hobbit-esque architecture. All very quaint. Not stupid quaint like Williamsburg where everything seems measured and contrived in it's growth - but more like Merchant-Ivory quaint. For instance there are buildings that are nestled into abundant fruit groves that have no gift shops. Have no historical plaques out front, or 'main entrances'. They are bereft of brochures extolling the virtue of their stone fireplaces, authentic roof lines or past inn keeper's log book. People actually still live in these structures and call them home without charging you anything. And they don't even feel the need to wear pre-segregation period costume. Amazing really. Such a relief.
The houses are proud, solid, whitewashed and accented by incredibly thick dark wood framing. It looks like Denmark's version of the Bahamas' (just add class). This is not what I expected Africa to look like (in any part). I guess either Meryl Streep's home fashion savvy stuck around a bit after she passed away in Out of Africa - or I don't know shit about Africa's occupational history. I suspect the former.
Looming above the Mount Nelson (and all of Cape Town for that matter) is Table Mountain. It is imposing.
Everywhere you go in the city you check your orientation to the mountain. It could not have been less conspicuous if it was a space ship. There is an entirely different climate going on onto of Table Mountain. Clouds jump like lemmings off of it's cliff surface and fall to the city hundreds of miles below. It has an ever-changing meteorological hairdo. One that I became nervous of ever ignoring. I'm not sure what I thought might happen if I didn't keep visually current with the vista.. but I felt in my core that people had surely died for having taken it for granted.
From the top of Table Mountain you could see everything. But from that height everything looked like nothing. It was like looking at your front yard grass from the bedroom window. You ceased to be intrigued by the bunches of green and looked beyond. Beyond held Robben's Island.
This is where Mandela spent the majority of his incarceration. I could not swim there. I say that because when you are in San Francisco it seems natural to contemplate Sean Connery's escape efforts from Alcatraz. He is old, handsome and a son of a bitch... so clearly I believe I can swim as far as he. But Robben's Island does not appear to be worth the effort. You immediately decide that incarceration will keep you fed and alive, though culturally impoverished.
Looking at the island you immediately consider which death would find people more athletically ambitious. Surely there are sharks. Yes, you find without much solicitation that there are few hungry sharks in the path between island and mainland. But there are also many other formally unknown poisonous aquatic life forms. Jelly fish, sting rays, pirates, etc. But what I have failed to explain thus far - that is omnipresent - is the wind. My mother brought us up in a family ripe in sailing history and this looks like death on a cracker for boaters. Regardless of rag top or motor borne. You are going to flip over and be killed in this wind. It occurred to me, standing on top of Table Mountain that this is the very nose of the continental world in these parts. Definitely the most distinct I have ever encountered. The wind, even inland, is fun. You walk across the street and feel the wind pushing you along.
"I think I'll go to that cafe for a cup of coffee. Orrrr maybe I'll go to that one since I seem to be in it tragectoral path now. Or no... it seems I am destined to just stand in the street for a minute because there is a cross wind. fuck."
The term ' just go where the wind takes me' now has a basis.
Back at the Mount Nelson Hotel our traveling companion asked that we get a quick tour of 'the queens room'. (wtf?) And at the same time - why the hell not. I guess she has a suite of rooms on the top floor of the Hotel that are perpetually held for her. The only other people allowed to book these rooms (for some entertainingly inane reason) must have a "Royal Heritage line". (blink) This is not an economy I understand. How many Royals are there? Well I was soon to get a briefing as our tour was cut short due to the Queen of Norway had just reserved the room and we were invited to see other delightful rooms on the south wing.
So you know - the suites were very nice - but not terribly current in their interiors. There was a lot of yellow and white, velvet endowed wall papering that gave the air of a wealthy grandmother. The furniture appeared expensive but pathetically dated. I am sure it must have been Chippendale or something and I just don't know my ass from a hole in the wall about 'important furniture'. Let me die that way, comfortable in my Restoration Hardware bastardization reproductions.
After some touring we decided to visit the pool. It seemed now, in January, in the Southern hemisphere was time to show those beautiful south Africans exactly how pastie white an American can get three months after Thanksgiving.
After an hour at the pool my mother suggested that we crash the tea service. It was high tea in an amazing room that could have only been considered a daytime ballroom of sorts. Mom and I sat on the garden terrace in big bamboo chairs writing postcards and talking about how different we thought Cape Town would have been in our earlier imaginations. I had found a slew of cards at a tourist stop the previous day that had a shirt less native African woman sporting several disorienting neck rings, gravity reeling breasts and tribal piercings. I wrote to my father.
"Dear Dad, Mom got a tan!"
(to be continued) (if this is a worthwhile endeavor)