Given my fascination with the quirky, novel and original, last week’s set of singular Cape Town experiences had me in ecstasies.
Because my Beloved had a week’s holiday, we decided that the time was right to doff the local tourist mantle and explore what the Cape has to offer – and where better to start than the Mother City herself.
First on the list of treats was that veritable South African institution, Madame Zingara and her burlesque spectacular, hosted by a rather sinister MC called ‘The Hot Mr C’, who struck me as a rather jollier version of Papa Lazarou from ‘The League of Gentleman’.
Approaching an almost cult-like status in South Africa, the show comprises a remarkably good four-course meal interspersed with everything from singers and acrobats to Flamenco-dancing Gauchos (cowboys) drumming and swinging their bolas to beat out the rhythm.
My favourite act though had to be the foot-juggling, where one guy from Mongolia spun another around with his feet as if he were a performing seal spinning a ball on the end of his nose. I’ve never seen anything like it. Amazing.
But the Madame Zingara phenomenon is not new, it seems. It all started in 2001 at a restaurant on Loop Street, close to the more famous Long Street in the centre of town.
After the place burned down a mere five years later though, the team took itself off to Belgium to purchase the only Spiegeltent (or mirror tent) that has ever set its pegs in South African soil.
Apparently these huge wood and canvas marquees, only a handful of which still remain, were originally built in the Flemish part of the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s to act as travelling dance halls for places that didn’t already have them.
Dressed in opulent velvet brocade, stained glass and wood panelling, these notorious venues were covered with multitudes of mirrors to make it easy to make eye contact with other revellers.
Nowadays, the ‘Spiegelpaleis’ goes on regular tours to both Johannesburg and Durban. But another trip overseas appears unlikely following a disastrous stint in London at the start of the recession, which practically bust the whole thing.
But back to our evening as the fun didn’t end there. Because this was a belated birthday treat for me, my Beloved had decided to up the novelty factor by booking us into the Grand Daddy Hotel on Long Street.
Although from the outside, the place seems like any other reasonably upmarket boutique establishment, its claim to fame is being the only hotel in the world to come with an Airstream Rooftop Trailer Park on top, complete with its own bar area.
Each of the seven silver trailers, which were specially imported from the US, has been fitted out in a different style including ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’, which houses a huge bed, musical instruments and creativity board for writing messages of love and peace.
We stayed in the ‘Moontides’ though, which was the roomiest and most tasteful done out in a modernistic silver and blue theme. Very pleasant.
To continue the American theme, the next venue on our list was ‘The House of Machines’ on nearby Shortmarket Street, which had just been reviewed by my leisure bible, www.capetownmagazine.com.
This café/glass-enclosed custom motorbike workshop/men’s clothing and accessories outlet was only opened towards the end of August by three bike lovers who combined their business interests after an inspiring trip to Brooklyn, New York.
And they’ve certainly done well in capturing that urban chic vibe – walls with exposed brickwork, ceiling beams with a suitably weathered look, and pictures that are all atmospheric black-and-white or biker-themed.
The wide wooden food counter even doubles up as “Prohibition Bar’ on Thursday and Friday nights – or will do once a liquor licence has been secured anyway.
For the moment though, it’s all about fruit smoothies, organic coffee and a selection of freshly-made breakfast and lunch bites that you can chow down on while watching the construction of one-off, retro-looking bikes. It really shouldn’t work, but it does.
Short & Sweet
And then finally onto a bit of culture – the latest ‘Short & Sweet’ season (three), which was first launched in Cape Town in 2011 to showcase short films made both locally and around the world.
This quirky and entertaining annual event, which currently comprises eight different movies being shown every Tuesday and Saturday evening for seven weeks until the end of the September, is the brainchild of Julia Stephenson.
Julia is a Capetonian who lived in London for 12 years, six of which were spent working as an agent for film directors. During this time, she was, unsurprisingly, sent loads of show reels, many of which comprised short films that had little or no chance of being aired.
So being the get-up-and-go type, she started screening some of them every Monday evening at a venue in Brick Lane, becoming increasingly convinced that they constituted a valid art form in their own right.
Since returning home, she’s started focusing on the Short & Sweet concept full-time, while her former partner has also taken it to Toronto.
A key aim in South Africa at least though is to try and provide local filmmakers with a platform to showcase their work or use as a jumping off point into directing feature-length films, commercial or music video work.
But Julia acknowledges that, unlike the UK, which has a long and venerable history of short-form cinema, it’s a little-understood concept in the country, where most people think she’s talking about adverts.
Undaunted by such matters, however, she’s currently looking for corporate sponsors to help make the event more sustainable and is even keen to expand out the idea.
When not on tour, the aim is to use Short & Sweet’s fabulously grungy base at the Wunderbar Theatre at Cape Town’s Old German Club as a space to encompass art in all its forms, with local musicians already included in the Saturday line-up.
And that simply has to be a good thing in a city that seems chock-full of artistic talent but appears to labour at times under a sad lack of home-grown opportunities.