Cape Town’s City Bowl is a geographic oddity: it describes the part of the city that is cupped by the Table Mountain on the one side and hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean on the other side. The ocean is noisy, in its way, and smelly, too, when the wind blows in a certain direction. Even houses without the coveted ocean view are permeated with its overpoweringly fishy smell.
Auralgraph: Seaside, Cape Town, South Africa, 2020. © Vasti Calitz & Andri Burnett.
The harbour is a varied space: an economic hub flooded with activity, but difficult to access except from a distance. More accessible (as a pedestrian at least) is the harbour at the Waterfront. Yachts and catamarans bob and creak near the restaurants and bars. Seals sun themselves undisturbed. In the current COVID-19 world, there is almost no one there. But the businesses remain optimistic. A masked DJ bops to his choice of music blasting through an entirely empty lounge, hoping to convince the few passers-by, or perhaps himself, that this is a party.
Auralgraph: Harbour & Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa, 2020. © Vasti Calitz & Andri Burnett.
The hooting and yelling in areas like Woodstock is distinctive and overwhelming, but there is still an underlying COVID-19 hush that is apparent and unsettling in the quieter moments between traffic. Those who still have jobs, but who cannot work from home, commute as normal; others who can afford to sit outdoors in restaurants and bars do so in twos and threes. The diversity of voices belies how contested the space really is. Leaving the city streets below and walking up to Bo-Kaap, a historically Muslim neighbourhood, it is noticeable that many buildings are marked with a sign: “This Heritage Site is Under Threat”. One of the mosques has just been charged with a noise complaint for its call to prayer.
Auralgraph: City, Cape Town, South Africa, 2020. © Vasti Calitz & Andri Burnett.
Frustrations about different inequities of the city often erupt in front of Parliament. This protest is both more confusing and more aggressive than many others that take place there. There is a contingent of young people protesting gender-based violence. Another has hundreds of bikers in leather and helmets and no placards: Twitter later reveals they are protesting (white) farm murders. The revving and whooping on one side of the intersection feels like a biker convention, while in front of Parliament, the protesters and their posters become increasingly soggy in the rain. Still, the two factions seem united in their rage towards the police officers forming a line between the protesters and Parliament.
Auralgraph: Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa, 2020. © Vasti Calitz & Andri Burnett.
The geography of the city means that nature is never far away, and with it a sense of peace, however artificial. A twenty minute walk uphill from Parliament ends at the entrance of Table Mountain Nature Reserve. The view of the city from up here is always calm and offensively beautiful, the drone of traffic drowned out by the rushing river: in Cape Town, there is no silence – there is always traffic, water or wind, and where you are standing will determine which one drowns out the rest.
Auralgraph: Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa, 2020. © Vasti Calitz & Andri Burnett.
Vasti Calitz is the festival coordinator of the Open Book Festival, and the host of the Book Lounge’s podcast, A Readers’ Community.
Andri Burnett is a podcast producer of A Readers’ Community. She has been a jeweller, a props master, a videographer, and a dancer.