Capetonians are generally fiercely proud of their city. They’re proud of the mountain and the beaches and the beauty and the quality of life. This has the (amusing) effect of perplexing many Joburgers. And yet, many Cape Town people spend very little time enjoying the amenities which make their city so attractive to people from across the world.
One of these is the Company’s Garden (also called Company Gardens). The garden was first planted by the Dutch who came to the Cape in the late 1600s, as a source of vegetables to restock their ships. After changing hands several times – along with the rest of the colony – the gardens were eventually opened to all and have been maintained, ever since, as a sanctuary of peace and greenery in the heart of Cape Town city bowl.
I was in town for a meeting one morning, so I took a walk. I was 30 minutes early thanks to traffic – leaving the Southern Suburbs at 7:30am gets you to town around 8am, but leaving any later means sitting in traffic for ages. So an 8:30 meeting means having half an hour to kill in town. What a joy! My meeting was at the café at St George’s, so I was in the perfect spot, too.
The sun was out in town. It had been misty and chilly when I left Mowbray, but coming around the bend to Salt River, Lion’s Head rose before me in glorious sunshine. The sunshine followed me all that morning. Between the trees, the sun flickered and filtered down on the path beside the cathedral. Homeless people gathered their belongings from the benches along the Avenue and headed off to start their day. Business people and morning runners hurried past dawdling groups of school children.
I turned off the main path in the Gardens, and found another, quietly set among trees and flowers. The bougainvillea was flowering purple. The breeze rippled the South African flag on the steps of the National Library. Along the path, I came upon a pretty stone lantern. The lantern, said the information board, was “presented to Cape Town by “the Government of Japan as a token of appreciation of the kindness and hospitality shown to Japanese immigrants”, erected 1932.
I spent a few moments enjoying the peace and symmetry until a man with a leaf-blower came and chased me away. As I turned back onto the main path, the sun was just catching the orange stringy parts of a palm grove and turning them to flames of light.
Further along the path, I stopped to look at an old stone sundial and turned just as the sun lit up a Madonna statue off to one side. A small, grey squirrel scuttled ahead of me and then rushed off on a side path and up an old, old tree.
Rhodes’ statue, standing proud and tall, made me think of the words of a Klopjag song: “…maar Rhodes staan, sonder woorde, in die tuin en wys my waar die noorde le, en weet ek dis na jou wat ek verlang..” Ek verlang, elke keer as ek aan daardie woorde dink, na Stellenbosch dae en Stellenbosch vriende. Rhodes’ plaque, “your hinterland is there” stands perhaps as true now as ever, although I suppose the more correct expression now would refer the markets to the north.
At the top of the path, looking out across the rose garden, the cloud was lying on the mountain like a lazy table-cloth, resting half way across, instead of covering the whole thing. The mountain, as always, lay sharp and beautiful against a blue, blue sky.
As I walked back, towards my meeting and the day ahead, I stopped to take in the ‘wishing well’ lit up in the morning sun, a pool of light in the midst of shadow. The sprinklers came on as I neared the gate, shooting sprays of sparkling drops across the paths and creating gentle magic for anyone willing to watch.
By 8:30am, I was sitting in the café at St George’s sipping a cappuccino and enjoying the quiet and the sunlight on the old, old stone. My busy day of work was just beginning but already I’d spent time in beautiful gardens and smelled the roses, enjoyed the stunning mountain and wandered half-forgotten paths. Ou Kaapstad was van altyd af nog baie mooi vir my*.