Monday, September 7, 2009

From the grounds up

Of an evening I like low light, maybe some hooch and, later, a bit of navel-gazing. By day I like to work, and to get there, I like a cup of coffee. Lately it occurs to me how this fancy has mapped both my own a career path as well as the gentrification of parts of Cape Town, with little tendrils of development inching their way from the city centre through some less salubrious nieghbourhoods all the way to Observatory.

My first studio was in a beautiful old building in Gardens, owned by a cranky old carpenter who lived upstairs. Coffee, when I could afford it, came from a vending machine at a garage shop around the corner. It had an afterburn like avgas but I grew fond of it. If I felt daring I would meet my girlfriend for a take-out cup bought at a gondola in the Gardens Centre.

As is the way of things, that building was bought by developers and jazzed up beyond the reach of the likes of me. I then moved to an old industrial building in what many of us call Woodstock but Telkom insists is Zonnebloem.

There was no gagarge shop nearby, but the greasy spoon across the road sold some cans of grounds that probably 'fell off the back of a truck'. This was of varying quality but without fail left in its wake a trail of uncleaned cafetieres and a kitchen sponge filled with coffee grounds. All of this drove me to a habit of stopping at Lola's on Long Street. I'm generally there too early, but the likes of Ed Young, Andrew Lamprecht, Ronald Suresh-Roberts and Dan Halter have been known to darken that doorway, either working off today's hangover or working on tomorrow's. And the place has provenance: Brett Murray lived upstairs for years, and Julia Clark did some time downstairs from him.

In the last year or so things have changed between there and my current studio in Salt River. Firstly, as gentrification nibbles at the city's edges developers have been snapping up old buildings with alarming frequency. Of course this meant that we had to leave our studio. Almost simultaneously the Goodman, Michael Stevenson and the now defunct Bell-Roberts took up residence on the same block.

Following this came Karen Dudley's Kitchen. So now chi-chi gallery staff and goers alike can get a fix. Be warned though, the Southeaster can blow the top of your cappuccino all the way to the Good Hope Centre. More importantly, this gives me another option on the way to work, especially now that Lola's has gone straight.

But I don't generally travel on Sir Lowry Road anyway. I prefer Albert Road which is narrower and where cars move slower. And besides I got into the habit a long time ago of not riding past the top of Gympie Street where cyclists regularly used to get mugged. No, I take my chances with the Red Door Crack House down below, and the Salt River traffic cirlce further on. I'd take a pic of the crack house but I'm concerned their security cameras will nab me.

Now, as if those folk from Whatiftheworld needed anything more to do, they've gone and launched Superette, on the corner downstairs from the gallery. I'm too fussy and like too much the semblance of poverty to eat lunch there, but this is one more coffee option, and could serve to settle my nerves between the crack house and the traffic circle.

But, there's competition - Espressolab at the Old Biscuit Mill further down the road. Although the coffee's not cheap, the staff are amicable and there's a large I-beam to lock my bike to. If you're lucky you'll catch them while they're roasting.

Oh, my exhibition. Well, things proceed as they must at this stage, let's just say that the thing that was giving me gip last week has kind of sorted itself out and bifurcated at the same time. Here's a glimpse of what's happening in my studio right now:

Now, where's that hooch?

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