In June, I spent a good amount of time sitting in ancient Sicilian squares watching people and staring, awe-struck by the age of the enormous, intricately carved buildings surrounding the squares, the hot Mediterranean air swirling with stories from a thousand years ago and yesterday. I’m a lucky fish.
Last Saturday I sat doing the same thing, but this time on Greenmarket Square in central Cape Town, down on the tip of Africa, and I felt just as lucky. It was completely different … loud and busy … echoing African drum beats swirling and bouncing off the not-quite-as-old buildings around the square and the jangling of the dancer’s leg bracelets from street performers. A cacophony of sound as different performers sang at opposite corners, combining into the heart-swelling beat of home.
We were supposed to have gone to Canal Walk to do admin-type stuff, the stuff that fills Saturday mornings and makes everybody slightly grumpy at having to spend weekend time traipsing through the soulless passages of shopping malls where nobody sees anybody, a mass of faceless people. It was a beautiful Spring day, though, so we trashed the mall idea (it doesn’t take much for us to do that!) and headed into town instead, watched by a grinning Table Mountain putting on a Spring flower show bar none.
Parking off Greenmarket Square, we ambled down to the Golden Acre (with its Louvre-like roof, above) to do the Absolutely Necessary admin (the non-essential having been left on my desk at home, fluttering restlessly to no audience). I love Golden Acre, with its tangled chaos of humanity, all of us Getting Stuff Done, but with slightly less of an edge than on weekdays. It’s Saturday, after all, and the kids are here too and Spring is upon us and a vanilla cone is R4.50 at The Hungry Lion.
It’s GM’s niece’s 12th birthday and her only desire is a watch with a white strap. At Under The Clock we find the white strap, and meet the owner bringing parcels of slap tjips in for his staff, their vinegary scent filling the tiny shop and making mouths water. It’s Saturday after all. He’s second generation watchmaker and turns 70 next year and stops to chat. He sees his staff, he sees us.
Down in the bowels of this modern glass and steel shopping centre the history of the city sits quietly behind glass. You can see it from above, the Wagenaar’s Reservoir display … part of the brick tunnel built in 1663 to carry fresh water from the reservoir to the harbour. 1663. Ancient bricks clustered together watching shoppers file in and out of PEP stores.
Admin done, we trundle back along St George’s Mall, the trees showing off their new leaves, unfurling them slowly, thousands of tiny green ballerinas pirouetting (sorry, Spring gets me all poetical). Hawkers from all the way up Africa sell their wares, some carefully handcrafted, others imported and plasticky, but everyone is talking to each other, exchanging greetings, discussing what happened last night, humanity.
And that’s just it. It’s alive with humanity and it is home.
Golden Acre shopping centre is completely accessible (and chaotic), as is St George’s Mall (mostly), which runs up from Riebeek Street in the Foreshore to Wale Street, near the entrance to the Companys Garden. St George’s Mall is probably the most accessible route through the CBD.
Cape Town’s CBD is tricky, with some streets ramped, others not. Even crossing Adderley Street to get into the Golden Acre one side is ramped, the other side not. With a little planning and strength (or if one step isn’t an issue), it’s doable.
Greenmarket Square is tricky, with small, difficult-to-manouevre cobbles. A number of cafes around its perimeter are, however, accessible.