Food, travel and design. Cape Town to Sydney

After the summer hols in Cape Town, it’s back to the land of the “lounge room”. Other than a diabolical new government plan for Australia to become a top global arms exporter (almost AU $4 billion in support to local weapons manufacturers is being mooted), Adani coal mine resistance continues, private school fees have rocketed as happens perennially (they have hit the $37,000 mark), Australia Day (Invasion Day to Aboriginal people) protests were duly held, and the iconic koalas and leadbeater possums have less and less habitat because of tree clearing.

A dementia patient who had always longed to go to New York had her dream come (partly) true when staff organised a visit from a uniformed detective from the NYPD. A radio conversation on where to get the best hot chocolate in the world (Perth,  apparently) segued into a somewhat less asinine but predictable discussion on exploitative chocolate production.

 Ex-Capetonian Neil Durbach's award-winning Tamarama House

Food, travel and design and the money they require still seem top of mind – it’s the order that’s debatable. Speaking of design, the architecture firm of ex-Capetonian and UCT alumnus Neil Durbach recently won for the third time the country’s highest accolade for residential architecture, the Robin Boyd Award, for the remarkable Tamarama House, perched on the coastal walk between Tama and Bondi beaches. Durbach talks about it “framing” the views, pointing out that it is not always best to overdo the glass when you have a great view.

“Throughout the house there are openings where you can see the view momentarily, and then it disappears, rather than being a sort of cinematic view on all the time.”

So, back to Cape Town. Aside from a protracted debacle over the unabridged birth certificate for my teenager (although we were waved through at O R Tambo, I was told we might not make it back out and ought not to compound one illegal act with another) and aside from having my car vandalised, and aside from short showers and smelly toilets, it was as madly beautiful and generally hospitable as ever.

No, that’s not quite right: a friend warned me of the growing hostility between races and that I would feel it, and he was right and it was disconcerting. I did, at times, viscerally, feel an outsider in the city of my birth. For the sake of the travel industry, I hope tourists, with foreign accents (and who perhaps have a different demeanour), don’t get the same treatment.

Houses in suburbs I grew up in are metamorphosing into boutique hotels called Clarendon, Hillside Manor and Acorn House and variations on the villa theme. Coffee in Muizenberg is as expensive as in Sydney, groceries are getting there. At Dalebrook Pool, in the early morning, it’s just like Sydney, when the locals talk real estate before retiring to avoid the crowds.

On the return plane, I meet a lovely woman, a doctor of infectious diseases, from Cape Town, but like me, living in Sydney. She says all her friends in Cape Town seem to be doing such meaningful work and I am reminded of something I once heard that Dorothy Driver, partner of JM Coetzee, who both now live in Adelaide, was said to have said about teaching there as opposed to South Africa: in South Africa it was a vocation while in Australia, it was a job.

My co-traveller says she does not know how it will be to grow old in Sydney, so far away from her family. I think also of my friend Neville, who says the friends he grew up with were like swallows, one after another hearing the call to leave. And I think of the departed, all over the world with our skills and education and I remember when Nelson Mandela, soon after his release, stood on the steps of the Sea Point synagogue and told the congregation, “Tell your children to come home”, and wonder if it would have been any better for anyone if we had done so. Maybe not.

Looking up Dorothy Driver, I discover that JMC is patron of the J M Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice in Adelaide, and learn a new word: preclarity. It is defined as “the lived experience of insecurity in an era of increasing environmental and economic challenges, marginalisation, mobility and social and psychological fragmentation.”

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