I am on the road for a few days. In San Francisco and beyond. It is a beautiful city. Everyone always told me that it reminds them of my hometown – Cape Town. I don’t see it. Superficially yes. The layout of the city with hills everywhere and the sea all around. And the people. The wild and open people of San Francisco. Just like Cape Town. We’re wild and open. And pretty stubborn in our belief that Cape Town is God’s gift to the world. Once you get there you will never want to move away. It gets to you in a way now other place will. Well, that’s what us Kaapies believe in any case. And too many people who went there on holiday stayed – because the city got to them. Got into their blood and into their soul. And it’s when I am on the road like this with only my thoughts and no rock (my wife and daughters) to keep me anchored that I miss my people. My people from the Cape.
There is something there that is just difficult to comprehend – it’s almost untouchable. There is something in Cape Town that makes us different. And it starts with the city itself. We have our mountain – Table Mountain. The most beautiful mountain in the world. Flat like a table. And sometimes the gods smile on us and leaves a little cloud hanging over her like a tablecloth.
As the story goes Van Hunks, a pirate in the early 18th century, retired from his eventful life at sea to live on the slopes of Devil’s Peak – next to Table Mountain. He spent his days sitting on the mountain, smoking his pipe. One day a stranger approached him, and a smoking contest ensued which lasted for days. The smoke clouds built up and a strong wind blew them down towards the town. When Van Hunks finally won the contest, the stranger revealed himself to be the Devil (hence Devil’s Peak), and the two disappeared in a puff of smoke. Legend says that the cloud of smoke they left became Table Mountain’s tablecloth – the famous white cloud that spills over the mountain when the south-easter blows in summer.
That’s our little mountain. With a tablecloth. She is our anchor. We can never get lost, because she is always there to show us the way. You can’t miss her. I was born with no sense of direction. Why? Because you don’t need one in Cape Town. You just look at the mountain and she’ll show you the way. She’s your home and we play in the backyard – never losing sight of our home. I get lost in every city I visit because of her. I walk or drive and after taking one turn I am lost. Because there is no mountain to point me in the right direction. Ask me directions anywhere outside Cape Town and I would strongly advise you to take the opposite direction I am pointing you to. Our mountain is our beacon. Without her we are lost. Without her we are not Kaapies. Just people roaming the streets in cities far away from our soul.
And then we have the sea. We wake up to the smell of the sea every day. Sweet, crisp and full of life. The smell of Cape Town. The smell of home. The sea gives us the food for our bodies and the food for our souls. We play with her and we feed from her. The little fishing boats go out every day from fishing villages like Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town. They go out. And most of the time they come back. Filled with the gifts of the sea. And you can go down to the harbor and haggle over the price of the latest catch. Oh, and if you are lucky they might have a Snoek. Our little Cape Town secret. The best fish of the sea is reserved for us down there at the bottom of Africa. But the taste of Snoek… Nothing like Snoek. I am not even going to try to explain it to you. But if you ever land up in Cape Town please ask your host for some Snoek. On an open fire. Cut open and split. And let the debate begin about what is the best way to braai your Snoek. I like it with a little bit of lemon juice squeezed by hand from a freshly cut lemon. And just a little smear of apricot jam. Yes. The sea. She gives us our food. And she feeds our souls.
But she also drives us away. We look at her and stare over the horizon and wonder what lies on the other side. Who are those people who come with their ships and never return? Who are those people who never live a life in Cape Town? She feeds us with the soul of Van Hunks. The pirate. We sit in the shadow of our mountain and wonder what lies on the other side. And we go and explore the world, but she never truly lets us go. She teases us with freedom. Knowing we can never be free from her. Like a true love we can never take our soul away from her. That always stays behind. In the shadow of the mountain and the smell of the sea. We might go somewhere else, but we never truly leave her.
But most of all – you should meet my people. Those bleddie Kaapies. They have laughter in their souls and life in their eyes. Naughty as hell 100% of the time. Always ready with a joke. Always ready for a friend. And the two goes hand in hand. They want to be your friend. And they want to hear you laugh and see you smile. Naai man, moetie fightie. You should hear them. The poetry that comes from those Kaapie mouths are just something to behold. I can hear it even though I am listening to my iPod right now. A sucke to make you wakke! (A rhyme saying “an ice-lolly to keep you awake” – doesn’t work in English.) See – I can’t write it, but I can hear it.
They are not perfect people. Oh no, they are not. But they are my people. All of them. No matter how much we try and say we are different. We always knew. We always knew that we are one. The blood that runs through our veins are from the sea and the color of our skins are given by the mountain – sometimes shady and sometimes sunny. My people.
They are an irritating bunch. Those Kaapies. They won’t leave you alone. They want to be with you. If you are alone in a bar. Not for long. They will come and sit with you. And talk with you. And poke fun at you. And ruffle your hair. And joke and laugh. And share a beer or a dance. And invite you to their homes. And share their last meals with you. And share their lives with you. And in the morning. In the morning they will phone you and ask you what are your plans for the day. Because if you don’t have any… Then they have plans for you. Yes. They are an irritating bunch those Kaapies. Irritating if you want to be alone and sad. Because they won’t let you be alone or sad. No. You are there to be happy – and they will make damn sure you are. And happiness is a bunch of Kaapies hanging out and having a laugh in the shadow of our mountain and on the beaches at the sea.
I close my eyes and I can hear their voices. There are the flower sellers making up songs – “Two Rend a bunch“. Here are two people play fighting – “Djy, ek slat djou met a pap slang ne“. Another one over there bragging about the fish he caught – “Ek se vi djou. Hy was ne su lank soos Kobus Wiese“. Yes. My people. They make music with those voices and those words. I can hear them in my soul. Those bleddie Kaapies. They don’t leave me alone. They are me. And I am them. They are in my blood. And in my heart. They are my people and I miss them and love them.
Tonight, my friends. I have the Frisco blues.
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