It’s a slow Saturday. The quick, filter coffee machine is cold. The stovetop espresso maker, the one that requires undivided attention, is brewing. The finished cup is taken outside, because it’s past sunrise, not pitch black. The autumn sun is shy and gentle. It doesn’t force you into the shade, but invites you to enjoy the dampled light, to do nothing else than sit and enjoy a proper cup of coffee.
The day hands out no obligations. It doesn’t enforce a schedule or require a watch. Not all Saturdays are like this, so it’s important to savour this freedom, this rare discovery that there is finally time.
So when the gps said it took 15 minutes to drive to the market and 50 minutes to walk, I chose to walk. What I discovered was an almost complete pedestrian route linking Cape Town’s Company’s Gardens with the V&A Waterfront and the city farmer’s market beside it
People have written beautiful things about walking. Robert Walser wrote a short story, entitled The Walk, in which he makes walking sounds like one of the most wonderful things a human can do.
With the utmost love and attention the man who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a man, a house, a tree, a hedge, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf, or no more than a poor discarded scrap of paper on which, perhaps, a dear good child at school has written his first clumsy letters.
Not every walk to the bathroom or the coffee shop can, however, be poetic. Rebecca Solnit wrote a book, Wanderlust: The history of walking, in which she says it best.
Most of the time walking is merely practical, the unconsidered locomotive means between two sites. To make walking into an investigation, a ritual, a meditation, is a special subset of walking, physiologically like and philosophically unlike the way the mail carrier brings the mail and the office worker reaches the train. Which is to say that the subject of walking is, in some sense, about how we invest universal acts with particular meanings. Like eating or breathing, it can be invested with wildly different cultural meanings, from the erotic to the spiritual, from the revolutionary to the artistic. Here this history begins to become part of the history of the imagination and the culture, of what kind of pleasure, freedom, and meaning are pursued at different times by different kinds of walks and walkers.
On this particular Saturday morning, walking to me meant a sometimes overlooked way to tread lighter. We look first to buses, trains and other forms of public transport when finding earth-friendly solutions. It gets more people from A to B in much less carbon. But walking takes you from A to B in zero carbon and many more calories burnt. Off course no one has 50 minutes to walk to work and back everyday. There simply isn’t the time, but when I finally had some to spare, it seemed the obvious choice.
The route starts along Government Avenue and ambles through the Company’s Gardens, where trees are coloured Autumn and the shy morning sun had developed into a mild, warming light. The usual by-foot commuters of mid-week have shrunk in numbers and even those in workout gear are ignoring the “power” of power walking. At the bottom end I pass St George’s Cathedral and cross the street into St George’s Mall, open-air and pedestrian-only. Vendors are selling crafts and canvases, families and foreigners are eating breakfast at pavement tables and a pair of chefs are taking a smoke break on a shady bench.
De Waterkant Street, also pedestrian-only, turns out of St Georges Mall and the fried food place on the corner’s smoky, oily odour follows me for a block. Weekday lunch and coffee spots are bolt shut. A massive bridge takes walkers over the ever-busy Buitenkant Street.
The next few hundred metres are right beside traffic, but there’s comfort in the trees on the sidewalk and the knowledge that I’m not part of the throng of cars. A quick left, a block of construction, and I’m beside the canal and the little known walkway that leads to the Waterfront. The water creates a perfectly still reflection of the luxury apartment blocks and the One & Only Hotel beside it. The echoes of my footsteps assume their inhabitants are either sleeping in or taking advantage of a windless day.
The doormen at the Cape Grace Hotel smile a good morning and the usual Waterfront crowd starts thickening at the bridge that crosses into it. The Oranjezicht City Farmer’s Market at Granger Bay is equally packed, but after a quick round of the fresh produce and a pitstop at Woodstock Bakery I find a quiet corner on the far end. Almond croissant flakes on my jeans and a juicy orange in my hand, my walk’s meaning is not only about getting from A to B lightly anymore. My walk has been an indulgence of a rarity called time.