This is the first time I have been to South Africa in a purely touristic role. It allows one, as DeLillo has pointed out, a prophylactic amnesty from all transgressions against local cultural codes, a temporary exemption from the status as functional, decent adult and a precarious force-field shielding off the harshest effects of empathy with ultra-visible poverty/destitution/injustice. I did not feel remorse about staying in iKapa as a tourist since my previous efforts  to come here and do some minimum of good, whatever that might be, had faltered on the socio-economic intransigence of the city. More clearly: as an NGO intern I had simply been let go for lack of a budget [all the while the head of the four people outfit, to my disbelieve, was zipping around in a spanking new Benz] and then later was offered a position to assist German on-line gamblers, which with the remains of my jack-hammered idealism, I turned down.
So I felt fine about my role as tourist. I didn’t even bother to catch up on any Bond or Marais analysis, knowing it was going to be a depressing iteration of what I already knew: that CapeTown is a staggeringly unjust, divided city in which the Black African proletariat services the White Upper Class. Enclosed in that albuminous Upper Crust one can find a few Black Diamonds. And to adduce a further metaphor and get them thoroughly mixed up: there is a reason it is called the Rainbow Nation – the colors are next to each other but nicely separated. If that sounds extreme or simplistic go there for three or four days, have a good look, come back and say it ain’t so.
Still, I didn’t feel bad being a tourist. Didn’t even make a trip out to the Eastern Cape for want of time and a travel budget, didn’t go mingle in the townships, enjoyed my guesthouse in Tamboerskloof, now and then rather sensibly telling myself that neither the fate of CT nor SA nor global poverty should weigh entirely or painfully on my shoulders. That another window of opportunity will present itself, down the hallways of the future, to do my tiny good part. It might sound apologetic but it’s how I felt.
Irregardless what we did do in the Tavern of the Seas is indulge over-indulgence. This is easily one of the top two cities I’ve been to from a culinary p.o.v. Every day we had at least one dish that tasted like it had to be in my imaginary, unwritten, unremembered top ten gastronomic experiences.
To begin with there was Societi Bistro’s Aubergine Canneloni: quinoa, basil, pangritata, pomodoro and lentils; the Broccoli Fettuccine with cherry tomatoes, Grana Padano. There was also: Coca Sofia – sweet garlic, tomatoes, mozzarella, baby marrows, olives, feta and roasted peppers / Haloumi Frito– deep fried cheese wedges with grilled cherry tomatoes and balsamic honey reduction. Then: Fettucine “vierge” – fettucine pasta tossed in a herbal blend of mint, parsley, coriander, basil, olive oil, nuts & parmesan, topped with roasted baby tomatoes AND Mirriam’s veg special (on brown bread) – avocado, tomato and melted cheese in a layered sandwich, served with potato wedges. And leading the pack by far was the seven-course X-Mas dinner at The Aubergine [where plenty of melanzzane jokes were cracked]. In contrast to many of the other Capetonian restaurants who suffer from marked US-style serving-size gigantism [“The cook must certainly be aware that no non-professional eater could possibly finish this, so wtf?”], they are on the diminutive nouvelle cuisine side. I’ll admit that the salad was unpalatable because it tasted like grass garnished with too much lemon dressing but the remaining courses were a vegetarian tongue’s delirious delight: Buffalo Mozzarella & Aubergine Pockets with oven-roasted plum tomatoes and rocket coulis / Green Asparagus, Goats’ Cheese & Pecan Nut Salad set on a beetroot carpaccio with a balsamic reduction / Spicy Indian Lentil Dhal Vaddes fried and accompanied by pineapple relish and crispy lettuce with yoghurt dressing… and other stuff which I couldn’t find in the menu. Part of what I found so enjoyable about these dishes was that ¾ of the time, due to its visual appearance, I hadn’t the remotest clue what I was eating.
Breakfast was usually lots of scrambled eggs, fried tomato slices, cheese and fries either at the guesthouse or around the block at a joint named Belezza, which was also prone to over-serving. Ok, of course, now and then I did feel a slight sting of bad conscience. I was eating two or three times a day, to bursting, a significant departure from my recent caloric asceticism. I can only conjecture that there was a part of me that wanted to indulge, wanted to be outrageous as an outlandish form of revenge for how my professional aspirations foundered on the harsh NGO cliffs of iKapa. Or I had managed to fully conform to the gestalt of the tourist – the faceless, camera-flashing, taxi-driver cursing, local etiquette violating, globe-trotting, paying-power-disparity freeloader. Or, for once, for twelve days, I managed to let my soul hang loose. Either way, we had unrivalled culinary times in Cape Town.
As for placating our munchies, we supplied ourselves at Woolworth’s: topping out on Blue Berries, also baby carrots, plus tiny, crunchy pretzels and the occasional chocolate-covered raisins. We also developed a taste for Savanah Dry, a cider that will hopefully land in our grocery stores one of these years.
The apotheosis and nadir of all this was my purchase of a monstrous, lead-ingot fruit cake, which I had intended as a collective pre-dinner desert [the idea seems a bit odd, w/ the benefit of hindsight] but which was shot down, unfortunately, by my sister who set a precedent of sensibility. Nor did we follow up on the plan of eating the mutant, 1000 gram monstrosity upon our return to Bergzicht HQ that same night. So now the malevolent fruit-cake, covered in adamantine, white sugar coating sits in our fridge, awaiting the day of consumption if at all it can be cut by a regular non-diamond bread-knife.
Nonetheless, the touristic force-field of insouciance did not always hold up well. For instance, despite my dire finances, I over-tipped waiters and drivers almost every single time, leading both to profuse thankfulness and perplexed re-counting of bills. Between the drop-in-the-ocean-theory and the better-something-than-nothing-theorem, unaware of other positions, I adhere to the latter.
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