Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cape Town: Museums and Galleries

My last full day in Cape Town, Brigid had a busy class schedule, so I decided to see some museums in town.  I headed first to the Bo-Kaap museum, around the corner from my house.  I really liked the neighborhood I stayed in, with its brightly colored houses, the call to prayer every morning, and the noon gun booming out from Signal Hill every day.


Bo-Kaap is also known as the Malay Quarter.  It's located just on the edge of the city center, and many of the houses date to the 1830s, although I believe the area was first settled in the 1700's, and the Bo-Kaap museum itself was once a residence and dates to the 1760's.  Slaves were brought to the Cape by the Dutch in the 1600's and 1700's, of whom some came from Malaysia, hence the "Malay Quarter."  The streets are narrow and cobblestoned, there are numerous mosques, and the houses are painted with saturated colors.  There's also a cookbook highlighting recipes from the area (Bo-Kaap Kitchen) and now I am kicking myself for not buying it when I was there.  It looks like they sell it at Woolworth's, one of the main grocery stores in Cape Town.  Maybe I can ask Brigid to bring me back a copy.

The Bo-Kaap museum exhibited the history of the neighborhood and described the affects of racial segregation and apartheid.  There were also some lovely artifacts, such as this mother of pearl plate.

The Castle of Good Hope was built by the Dutch as a defensive fort, in 1666.  It's a massive, pentagon-shaped, stone structure on Strand St--the main road into town if you're coming from the airport--so you can't miss it.  I almost didn't bother to visit the castle.  I grew up near another 1600's fort (Fort Niagara, built by the French in 1679) and we would swim and picnic there practically every weekend of my childhood.  I figured if you've seen one 1600's fort, you've seen them all, and that's almost true.

Actually,  I'm glad I went to the Castle, because it has some fantastic exhibits, such as the William Fehr Collection--exquisite furniture, art, and domestic objects from the period which furnish the residential part of the castle.  There is also an installation of photographs by Per-Anders Pettersson, a Swedish photographer who has lived in South Africa for twenty years.  Pettersson himself was there, willing to answer questions, but I was too shy to approach him.  I do feel privileged to have been able to see it.

Below, one of the paintings in the William Fehr Collection of Cape Town, seen from Table Bay.  (Image found here.)

Pictured below is a bit of wit carved into the doorway of the officers' prison.
Miss Reece's Hotel Lodging for Single Gentle Men

I took the guided tour, which does not take you through the exhibits, and then spent quite a long time in the castle's three museums.

Wandering around the Castle

This beauty was roaming free throughout the castle grounds

Eventually, I ended up on the roof of the castle's outer wall, which I had all to myself and where I could sit down and rest my back on the sun-warmed stone and study my map and guidebooks.

The upper walls of the fort

Cape Town, with Signal Hill in the background

Table Mountain, obscured by clouds

I was pick pocketed after leaving the Castle because I'd put my camera into the pocket of my hoodie, which I knew was stupid.  The moment it happened, I knew and I turned around and saw a man hurrying away.  Reacting purely out of instinct, I caught up to him and said, "Excuse me, you took my camera."  For a moment, he looked surprised, then sheepish.  He said, "Eish," a South African slang term*, which expresses an inability to explain something, and he handed it back to me, and I said "thank you."  A nearby street vendor was amused and laughed.  It felt more like a game than a crime, but I still felt a bit rattled and walked home because I wanted to be off the street for a while.

Later, I stopped at an Italian restaurant for a late lunch because I wondered what in the world South African pizza would taste like.  (Quite good.)  A note about the food: Every meal I ate in Cape Town was delicious.  As far as restaurants go, Cape Town reminds me of the United States because you will find ethnic restaurants from all over the world.  I even saw a Mexican restaurant.  

While I waited for the pizza to be prepared, I watched a small flatbed truck, already loaded with a pile of logs, attempt to tow an old BMW, with what appeared to be a frayed bathrobe belt.  The truck started driving, the bathrobe belt stretched and stretched, and incredibly, the BMW moved.  At which point the truck stopped for a red light, and the BMW, now moving on momentum, nearly crashed into it.  

In the evening, I met Brigid at the Hidding Campus, where UCT's art school is located and she took me to the Dawn of Apartheid exhibit. Margaret Bourke-White visited South Africa in 1949, and in this exhibit, her photographs from that trip were displayed along side photographs from the American South and the dust bowl; a moving display.

It happened to be First Thursday, which is just like First Friday here, in which all the galleries are open to the public and serve wine.  We met one of Brigid's friends and set off on a tour of Cape Town's galleries. This was tons of fun, though it was raining and we got utterly soaked.  We went to several galleries.  I think my favorite piece was a video installation--a sped-up film of Cape Town's minibus cab terminal.  We were mesmerized by it for quite a while.  (Mini bus cabs are a Cape Town institution.  They're minivans and function like a bus/taxi hybrid.  One guy drives, and another hangs his head out the window yelling at people to encourage them to board.  They're notorious for maniacal driving and packing as many people as possible into the vans.)  I liked seeing the local, homegrown art.  Not that I'm qualified to be a judge of these things, but Cape Town seems to have a lively arts scene--tons of people came out in the pouring rain to tour the galleries--and it is the World Design Capital for 2014.

We ended the evening with dinner at a restaurant on Long St.  I had an ostrich burger and it was fantastic.  This might have been my favorite meal of the trip.  Ostrich does not taste like chicken--or duck, as I was expecting.  The meat is rich and tender and crumbly.  It went marvelously with the beet pickle which was served with it.

Thus ended my last full day in Cape Town. Brigid had an early class the next morning so we said a sad goodbye in the cab. :( 

*You might enjoy this guide to South African slang. 


  1. Those colors! So lovely to see.

  2. You called out a pickpocket! You are amazing!