I wasn’t planning on blogging till safely back in Zurich, but turns out I have Thoughts about my homeland, so here I am, tapping away on my tiny phone screen. Three cheers for gesture typing and all but still, if my spelling goes pear shaped, there’s my excuse. And here’s thing the first: home is HOME. Always and forever. I love Switzerland dearly and I feel surprisingly at home there, but Cape Town is in my bones. There’s nothing like it, that feeling. That incredibly complicated love.
Familiarity, deep and intimate experience of a place, can make ugly things seem lovely and lovely things profound. Like the dirt and grime and noise of CT train stations. (NB, I would not actually ride a train here these days. But I used to, and we are staying next to a train station on this trip, and I wake every day to the squeals of really old and poorly maintained trains pulling in, and I love it. I mean, I’m knackered, because noise means loss of sleep. But I love it anyway.) And like the sense of peace I get from the slopes of Table Mountain, which goes so far beyond the gentle enjoyment I get from the Alps. I guess that isn’t really a sign of the immense power of Adamastor, but just a sign of nostalgia. Secretly though I will always believe that Table Mountain has the most magical and healing soul of any piece of this beautiful earth.
Speaking of making ugly things lovely, or at least, shiny… Staying in Woodstock, we got up close and personal with the worst kind of gentrification. We are in a very smart luxury development, surrounded by extreme deprivation. Ok, it’s not the townships. But we drive out of the parking garage and past the completely dilapidated station; past broken down shops and houses, but also past newly spiffed up cafés and quirky hipster shops and art galleries. Woodstock is being sold as “the creative heart of Cape Town”, bags of money is being pumped in to monetize every colourful corner, but as far as I can see NOTHING is being done to benefit the original community – nope, they are of course just being increasingly pushed out by rising rents. The cops are proud of having recently arrested everyone with guns, so the gang violence will at least go quiet for another few weeks maybe? But what are the long term prospects in a city where so many have nothing at all, and are being brushed aside to make things nice for those who just come here to get an edgy haircut? Even the distinctive street art (srsly it’s amazing) is largely done by tourists, or heavily commercial artists such as Richard Scott.
People who hear that I haven’t lived here for 20 years keep saying “Oh, you must notice a lot of change, hey?” But honestly no. No change that really matters. Anything that can be sold to tourists keeps being smartened up, and tightened up. (I’m glad for the penguins that Boulders Beach is so much more protected now, but I’m sad for me. Even though I know where I can still go to swim with penguins on the down low.) But literally everything else just keeps getting shabbier. I guess there may be superficial change, but there’s no transformation, and it’s agonising. Also, frankly, nauseating. When the view from our balcony takes in the building’s swimming pool and party deck as well as the long collapsed food kiosk that must once have served the cold and hungry train commuters from the townships who still pass by.
All this leaves me thinking of the ways in which the city is commonly personified. Cape Town is the Mother City; she’s also often called a raddled old tart. Well, tarts as a group are pretty widely exploited and traumatised, aren’t they? Would it be a stretch to say the same of mothers? (I guess not everyone can relate to my description of baby-related PTSD.) It also leaves me thinking of the old slave lodge being called “the city’s oldest brothel”, which is an interesting way of spelling rape house. Poor old Cape Town. Consent doesn’t enter into it, never mind reasonable recompense. But she’s gorgeous and she’s tough. And I love the shit out of her.