“I live in the most beautiful city in the world,” said my buddy Rob, a long-time expat American living in Cape Town. He’s been saying this, in one way or another, for the past several years. And it only took until this year for me to visit and, sooner rather than later, for me to agree with him.
Cape Town spills around the bottom of Africa, just north of where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, so far away as to be on another planet. Table Mountain and Lion’s Head and Cape Point stand, alternately shrouded and ominous or windswept and proud, testifying to the city’s singular place in the world and daring any other pretenders to make themselves known.
Yet despite this singularity of place, Cape Town recalls at once California and Florida and the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and Rio de Janeiro and Savannah: the arid mountains, the pastel buildings and turquoise waters, the lingering sun and undulating landscape, the laid-back atmosphere, the luxury hotels and marinas full of yachts, the unresolved social inequality and unearned entitlement hard-baked into the South African soil, a Southern soil if there ever was one.
The secret to Cape Town’s beauty isn’t that it is so immediately apparent; it’s the elements of the familiar and the unique that reveal the city’s kaleidoscopic aura. I sensed this aura on the rocky flats atop Table Mountain and in the sapphire surf that plays on the beach at Sea Point. I sensed it on the buzzing commercial strips of Bo-Kaap and Brooklyn, districts containing all the various and new South Africas, where the intrepid shopper could procure any good or service, legal or otherwise. I sensed it in laughter- and light-filled conversations with Xhosa radio DJs and Afrikaner waiters, Coloured publicists and Indian receptionists, French journalists and American models, portending, possibly, nascent lifelong friendships.
Which brings me back to Rob, who I’ve known for a decade. Well-versed in my cultural and intellectual leanings, he’s been championing South Africa to me for years, even as I moved to other continents. But it only took a single fantastical moment, stepping off of Rob’s porch at twilight, Table Mountain looming black and matte against a watercolor sky, for Cape Town to prove him right. He lives in the most beautiful city in the world.
Oh yeah, did I mention that I went to Cape Town Fashion Week, and associated parties?