The Mother City

“People always seem to have time for brunch in Cape Town.”

That was the answer I gave to a journalist who asked what I thought was the main difference between Cape Town and Johannesburg. I could have mentioned the climate, the spectacular scenery, or even the inclination to uphold (Cape Town) or ignore (Johannesburg) traffic laws, but I chose brunch.

I hadn’t visited Cape Town since the launch of my first novel in 2006. That time, I mainly attended events and explored the city with fellow authors from Johannesburg who were keen to give me a full tour of Cape Town’s kaleidoscopic nightlife, ranging from salsa clubs and poetry hotspots to quayside restaurants and pool halls. That was a fabulous experience that reopened my eyes to the country of my youth.

Table Mountain from Bloubergstrand (Anton LeRoux-Marx)

After my book tour in 2006, I began writing a blog on a South African literary website, which put me in touch with a large group of South African authors, poets and other bookish folk. I had met some of these people over the years, because I visit Johannesburg regularly to see my family. But I hadn’t met the Cape Town set before this most recent trip. This explains why there was a whole lot of brunching and cocktailing and dinnering going on while I was there. It was an overwhelming experience, partly because my friend and editor Helen Moffett had taken it upon herself to arrange a two-page social itinerary alongside my other work and promotional commitments.

Fortunately, I kept a record of my observations and experiences, and I would like share some of them here. The first set describes my visit to Noordhoek, a lovely village just south of Cape Town, where I stayed with author Sarah Lotz, who is also a collector of stray dogs and cats.

The house lies snuggled into the back of the mountain like a crooked dog in a comfortable, tree-lined basket.

With names like Kanga, Charlie and Teddy, the crooked dogs are assured of eternal youth but not immortality.

The vineyard is squared and slotted in verdant geometry into the jagged jigsaw of the mountainside.

The bedroom’s rondavelled roof spirals skywards like a reed pyramid promising boundless African feng shui.

I also spent a day talking and walking in the centre of Cape Town with poet Rustum Kozain, who has kindly allowed me to include some of his own observations of his hometown, which vividly capture its colour and dynamism.

The wakes and slipstreams of pedestrians: sweat, shampoo, rich perfume, the sharp nicotine of a cigarette nipped.

A father slaps his son’s shoulder for crossing into traffic, excited. The boy sees me looking. I cannot bear his shame.

From the corner mosque, carpets on the streets, men in suits, jeans, robes, kaftans shake hands – an African Muslim allsorts of sorts.

I realise that I actually need five or six blogs to capture the sheer awesomeness of my visit. However, I hope I have done enough to convince you that South Africa’s Mother City is well worth a visit, and that you might be tempted to share your favourite Cape Town experience as a comment below.

(Photographer Anton LeRoux-Marx is also working on an intriguing “Retropresent” series in which he combines old and new photos of Cape Town.)