Sometimes it irritates me that Cape Town is a bit of a village. There’s very little social anonymity. If you go out for dinner with someone, chances are the next day your mother will have heard from her best friend’s auntie that they saw you out, and who were you with, and so on and on. (It amazes me that anyone gets away with their extramarital affairs in this city.) You’re lucky if there are more than two degrees of separation between you and the next guy. Kolya’s doctor is an old school friend; my dentist is the brother of the headmaster of my old middle school; and so on and so on. (OK, it’s not entirely that bad, and actually I have a new dentist now, and I should give you his number, ’cause he’s funny and fabulous and doesn’t mind going heavy on the anaesthetic when you ask nicely.)
OK, so the small-town thing can get a little stifling at times. But then there is proximity. None of my friends live more than about a 25 minute drive away. The beach is ten minutes from home (30 minutes if you want the warm south peninsula side). You’re never more than ten minutes away from a mountain, no matter where you are.
This is fortunate, as Cape Town’s highly changeable weather dictates that most arrangements require a degree of spontaneity. Sunny – walk on the beach, or go out somewhere with a sunny garden, or head to Kirstenbosch. Saturday mornings there are the various markets if you get up earlier (the Biscuit Mill for pancakes and fresh watermelon juice and French pastries or felafel and mojitos if you’re feeling strong; the Porter Market).
Rainy days mean homelier pursuits, and homes here have the space for lounging around, for entertaining, for cooking up sprawling lunches. (I was at an acquaintance’s house a week or two ago and noticed a folder labelled FIVE-HOUR LUNCH. She explained that she and a bunch of old varsity friends have a longstanding tradition; every other month, one of the families hosts a five-hour lunch – a spectacular multi-coursed extravaganza with a miniature set of multi-coursed pleasures for the children. I’m still trying to figure out how to get invited. Five hour lunch, there’s a tradition I could work with…)
But this post is now turning into an Out&About In Cape Town. My point was just that nothing is far away. Which means that people do things. And see each other. It makes for a rich quality of social life. Friends are people you actually spend time with (rather than, say, people who happen to have your number in their mobile phone, and might or might not have any idea what’s going on in your life, which I’ve noticed to be the case in larger cities.) It also makes for a vibrant sense of possibility – nothing’s too far away, nothing’s out of reach.