Once upon a time, when I was in my early twenties, I thought I was a hippie and signed the lease on an old house set against the mountain in Muizenberg with a pokey lounge and a lemon tree and a windy view of the sea. I imagined myself wearing sarongs, taking early morning swims and spending my days writing and doing hippie-type things. In reality, I spent most of that year on the side of the M3 waiting for my rusty red Cortina station-wagon with its malfunctioning fan-belt to stop spewing steam long enough to get me to my job in the city as I battled rush hour traffic and was perpetually stressed out and chronically late for work. Reality didn’t quite live up to the fantasy, and the following year I moved back to a flat in more manageable Tamboerskloof.
But I love that part of the world, and I always have. It’s so different from the rest of Cape Town and, despite its proximity to the city, Kalk Bay particularly has managed to retain a real fishing-villagey kind of feel. One of my favourite things about living on the that side of the mountain was breakfast on a Saturday morning at the Olympia Café, home of some of the best omelettes in the universe which, despite being enormous, they have the audacity to serve with fried bread. We took the grannies there for breakfast on Tuesday, and the omelette of the day was mushrooms, mozzarella, pepperdew, avo and pesto, and it was – as always – delicious.
What I hadn’t realised, as we strolled up the road afterwards, was how many fabulous new places have opened up in the last while, and we made mental notes to visit all of them in the upcoming months. It’s done itself up, that main road, and if you’re hungry you really are spoilt for choice. And the new cafes are funky and interesting and command a great view of the street and its passers-by, but despite all the newness and the fact that it was mid-morning on a week day, Olympia was still full, many of its patrons chatting away to the waiters, obviously locals who were better at doing hippie-type things than I was. Just make sure, when you go there, that you don’t have lunch plans because the meals are substantial enough to last you until dinner.
As we meandered along, we noticed throngs of old ladies in head-scarves emerging from the station and making their way to the quay, no doubt to enjoy an early fish and chips lunch. Being incurably curious, I accosted a small woman passing by and asked her what was going on. She told me that on a Tuesday pensioners get to take the train for free. ‘From where?’ I asked. ‘ From where we live,’ she answered, ‘Mitchell’s Plein.’ And while she didn’t exactly lower her eyes, when she said ‘Mitchell’s Plein’ something subtle but significant passed between us – a hint of embarrassment on her part, as she confessed to the white girl in expensive sunglasses that she is nothing but a poor coloured woman from the sticks; the vaguest hint of defiance in her tone as she (rightly) assumed I know less than nothing about what she’s lived through in her 70 years on earth, and that she’s answering me out of politeness and that’s where it ends. For me, it was the ever-present longing to take an eraser and just rub out the details of our past like we used to do in Standard 3 when we made a mistake with our HB pencils; make it that it never happened the way it did so that I could just talk to a human being on the street without all that stuff hanging over our heads all the time.
Because, of course, when she was my age, she would have had to take a special ‘non-Europeans’ train carriage and when she got to Kalk Bay she wouldn’t have been allowed to go to a ‘white’ restaurant for a calamari roll and a coke and have a swim in the sea to cool off on a hot, Indian Summer’s afternoon. While I could – and still can – pretty much do whatever I wanted. And I know it and she knows it and all we can do is try to relate to one another as normally as we can now on a crowded, sun-strewn pavement two decades later and hope, eventually, we’ll be able to move on. Or that the new generation is so different none of it will even matter anymore. I don’t know what the deal is with the free tickets, but I think it’s a great initiative. These ladies were chatting and kuiering like it was nobody’s business. Tempting as it might be, we mustn’t allow ourselves to forget the newness of these freedoms. As we were leaving the Olympia Café, we stuck up a conversation with one of the locals who was polishing off the day’s special, about 70 chippolatas served with scrambled egg and mushrooms, and she told us they’re open till 9 o clock at night, are licensed and that the dinner time fare is just as yummy as what they serve in the morning. I believe her. We’ll go back soon to see for ourselves.