Cape Town Contradictions


Cape Town Reading history as a boy, it was hard not to be moved by the stories of the ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of Africa and then heading off to the Indian Ocean and yet more adventures in the days when spices from the Far East were worth more than their weight in gold.  Landing in Cape Town from the first minutes when one feels the warmer breeze against your face in the night air after the concrete cold of Jo-burg, you can physically feel yourself perk with excitement.  You know there is something in this town. 

 Johannesburg had felt like Detroit with hills: a paved, modern city with a hard edge.  Everything was walled and gated everywhere.  Running in the morning, one could only guess what was behind the wall in the barrenness all around.  In one open pocket park near the City Hall on an early dawn morning I could read the posted sign alerting me — and any others — that they were not responsible for my death.  Sobering!  Quickens the step mightily. 

 Cape Town was inarguably beautiful.  Table Mountain was a giant presence defining the perspective of the entire city as it ran from the edge of the mountain on down to the waterfront.  When the fog would come in as regularly as San Francisco, it would seem to be falling off the tops of the mountains and rolling downward toward the city.  Unable to climb over, but with nowhere left to go, the fog rolled back to the sea again.

 Compared to Johannesburg, everything seemed open and accessible.  The first morning I ran from the hotel out past the new Convention Center trying to find the waterfront that I knew had to be near.  Gradually I found the water and began running parallel along the street following the signs that said V&A Waterfront.  After some time I ran by tall, high prowed boats obviously made pushing through high waves around the Cape.  A little further and I found the working waterfront with silos that looked like the grain elevators along the Mississippi River that I called home.  Too much like home the working waterfront seemed to be competing for space with new hotels and high-end housing complexes.  Running further, I was delighted to discover harbor seals cavorting in the water next to the gateway to Robbins Island.  The V&A Waterfront turned out to mean the Victoria and Albert Waterfront — great travelers in their empire were the queen and her consort, and the V&A Waterfront looked exactly like a Rouse mall development along the Baltimore Harbor, which was without doubt the inspiration and direct model. 

 Running back as dawn was breaking I was moving against a tide of people, mostly black men, going the same direction that I had just left.  They were walking quickly and sometimes breaking into a job to hasten their way.  Perhaps they had jobs on the waterfront or in some of the service establishments.  The stream flowed right back to my hotel and then onward past the monument to Vasco de Gama and Bartholomew Diaz, old sailors on the routes of discover here.  I then found statutes at the heat of the waterway memorial to two typical Dutch burghers erected in memory of days best forgotten here.  Finally, the end of the trail turned out to be the train station not far from our hotel which was pouring people out from the surrounding townships where they lived into the emerald city looking for work.

 Cape Town was so beautiful that it was almost sad.  A city of such natural charm that it took centuries of men with nothing but the worst intentions to create world shaking disparities between rich and poor and rainbows of races and colors in order to produce something sordid in the midst of the spectacular.

 In my travels there are very few cities in the world whose pure beauty sears so deeply.  Cape Town will be hard to easily put aside in my mind and the dreams it stirs for the future.