Exploring Cape Town with Maurice Podbrey

We have long been supporters of Centaur Theatre in Montreal, and in fact this trip is based on an ‘Auction’ item that was part of their 2016 fund raising campaign. Completely independent of that – my husband has long maintained a casual friendship based on the occasional donation with Maurice Podbrey – the founder and original Artistic Director of Centaur Theatre.

So – it seemed natural to let him know that we were coming to his hometown of Cape Town – and I guess it seemed natural to him to give us a tour of his ‘city’.

Today and tomorrow are planned to be spent with Maurice – but before we can meet up with him, we must change hotels.

I was unimpressed from the start with the Southern Sun – and after taking advantage of the two nights that were part of our Auction package, I suggested that we change locations. Our new ‘home’ is the Cape Heritage Hotel. And a lovely place it is! Where the Southern Sun Cullinan was cold, expensive, and decidedly too large for my taste, the Cape Heritage is warm and friendly – and breakfast is included. It’s a bit further from the Water Front – but in a much nicer area of town. There are shops around – which means there are people around – and it feels a lot more cozy.

The Hotel itself is small – but glorious. Hard wood floors, high high ceilings, African inspired art and furniture, lovely rooms for relaxing that are not so massive as to make one feel lost. Our room is lovely. A huge king sized bed, a full sized desk, a small fridge (I’m beginning to see a pattern – we’ve had a fridge in every room so far), and the bathroom is huge. At least as large as the one we had in Pretoria at the Opikopi – but without that insanely large walk-in closet. The decor in the bedroom is African Oriental – so red and black colours, wall hanging that vaguely imply ‘Orient’, and occasional touches that scream orient like boxes of soap crystals and a painting of a modern geisha. On the main floor of the hotel are a collection of common rooms and open spaces – two ‘lounges’, plus an enclosed courtyard with a coffee shop and bar. Called ‘The Vine’, it celebrates a grape vine planted here in 1771 – and still producing wine grapes every year. Since it is early spring here – the vine is just beginning to put out leaves – but it is massive.

On to our tour. Maurice picks us up in his ‘little buggy’, an older car that while small – completely works in this very crowded city. Our destination is ‘Fish on the Rocks’ – a Fish and Chips establishment in Hout Bay. To get there we climb out of Cape Town, over the saddle between Table Mountain and Signal Mountain, and on thru a decidedly touristy beach area towards Hout Bay. The ‘Fish on the Rocks’ lives up to its reputation – the fish and chips are lovely. Two portions is more than enough for the three of us – and there are even left overs. The highlight of my visit here is not the food – it’s the seals that are swimming and playing in the Kelp forest right below the shack that houses the restaurant. They are having such a wonderful time – floating on their backs, sunning themselves, and occasionally ducking down into the water to munch a fish (or two).

After lunch – we head on towards Noordheok thru Chapman’s Pass. This is a scenic and rather dramatic road carved into the mountains that form the backbone of this part of South Africa towards the Cape of Good Hope. I’m very glad that Maurice is driving to be honest – and rather happy that for this part of the trip we are on the inner lane! The road drops off precipitously into the rocks and water below, with little in the way of guard rails or American security features. Don’t lose control – it would not be a happy ending.

But the views are stunning – a huge and very empty beach stretches for at least several kilometres after the crest of the pass, and there are frequent pull-offs where you can enjoy a picnic lunch, or just admire the view. At one there are folks whale spotting – and we can just see the fins of at least 2 whales fishing casually in the waters far below us.

Maurice explains that this is the ‘cold’ water side of the point. On the Indian Ocean side, the water is warmer. So the fish life is different. We’re heading towards the ‘warm’ side later in this trip to see the whales. And I think the Penguins also live on the warmer side. On the ‘cold’ side is Cape Town – and trust me – it’s cold. Colder than I expected in any case. I feel a bit like my dad did on a trip to Montreal – I’m wearing everything I own – all at the same time!

Anyway – our destination is a coffee shop. Maurice loves his coffee – and this is one of his favourites. So we stop in Noordhoek, get our coffee – and head back to Cape Town.

Maurice invites us to his home in Cape Town after the ‘long’ drive – and we accept. He lives in a 2 bedroom apartment that he rents from an older gentleman in England. Since Maurice is 83, and the gentleman in question is in his 90’s – one must wonder how long this arrangement can continue – but never mind – we are invited in and it’s quite fun.

Maurice is working on a new project – a one hour version of his life story. And since Maurice has been famous forever, at least in Montreal terms, getting his life story down to an hour isn’t going to be easy. He is or was friends with Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, Peter Sellers among others. As Artistic Director of Centaur he ‘discovered’ and remains friends with David Fennario, Vittorio Rossi, and Rich Salutin. He regales us with short tales from his life – stories his father told him, stories he has told others, and summarizes a bit of his life. His wife is still living and working in Montreal – so they get together as chance and travel permits. His kids and grand-kids call him on the phone frequently – and this is probably one his greatest thrills. He quips that he must be lonely – he hasn’t stopped talking since we arrived! I disagree – he is simply a marvellous story teller – and we are an appreciative audience.

He demonstrates with a pencil how life evolves. He starts by balancing the pencil on his finger, this is middle age. 1/2 your life behind you, 1/2 ahead – balanced between the past and the future. As you age further, the pencil slips downward – more past, less future. But then you have grand-kids – and the pencil flips. Now the future extends ahead of you forever.

Beautiful.

We chat, eat a bit of fruit, and eventually decide to do a Greek dinner. Some wine – not so much song, and then Maurice takes us back to our lodging.

Tomorrow he has promised to take us to his newest love – a sports club he supports in one of the Black townships that surround Cape Town. He has described Cape Town to us as the most segregated city in South Africa, perhaps in the world. The whites live in very specific sections, often with a view of the water, and incredibly high real estate values, the ‘colored’ folks live in bands of housing that surround the white enclaves, and the ‘Black’s’ live in bands that surround the ‘colored’ bands. The bands are kept intact by several forces – the price of real estate, the value of being ‘in’ your community, and the discomfort of being ‘out’ of your community. I suspect that unspoken forces also have an impact – I’m thinking of condo and community associations that must approve new owners (and thus can control who buys in). Clybourne Park, recently performed at Centaur Theatre, referenced this issue. It’s not a new problem – but here in Cape Town, I’m guessing that this kind of pressure is real.

So – tomorrow should be an interesting day – Today was definitely a winner.

Signing off in anticipation of more to come – The Soup Lady

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