Monday 3 February 2014

Roads Taken, Not Taken, Retaken

Boardwalk leading to Long Beach, Noordoek, Cape Town

I went back to Cape Town at the end of November last year.  It was the first time I’d been back since I lived there for a few months at the end of 2009/beginning of 2010.  Cape Town was really where this blog bloomed: so much to absorb, so much colour and life and music to take in, so many new cultures to consider, so many stories to hear and share.  Back in those days I blogged EVERY DAY (I know, hard to believe!) and my blog became a scrapbook for everything I was seeing and doing and, looking back, my posts are permeated with the sheer joy that I felt at that time (I do generally feel a sense of joie de vivre, but Cape Town is a city that seems to externalise its energy and it’s catching.)

I loved Cape Town, but the time came to leave and I did (I cried when they stamped my passport at the airport) and went, first, back to Ireland and then on to Australia – where a six month stay turned into a three year plus Melbourne-Dublin commute.  Not long after I had agreed to extend the initial six month stay, I got a message from a friend in Cape Town – a message and a job offer.  Although it caused me some pangs, I turned down the job.  Absorbed in my Melbourne life, I mentally packed my Cape Town memories away and got on with other things. 

Four years passed.  

Then a suggestion came for a group of friends to gather in South Africa.  I booked my holiday without thinking very much about it beyond looking forward to a week renewing friendships in the sunshine.  I certainly didn’t think about what it would be like to revisit a place that had captured my heart.  I don’t think it ever occurred to me to wonder what would have happened if I had accepted that job offer, four years previously. Until I was sitting with a Cape Town friend, drinking tea in beautiful Tamboerskloof.  And drinking coffee in Woodstock – which is now hipster central and I can hardly believe I was cool enough to have lived there once upon a time.  And running up to Chapman’s Peak at sunset – remembering that the last time I was there we drank champagne on the cliff.  All week I wondered – what would my life be now if I had stayed in Cape Town?  Would the shine have worn off, or would I still be riding that wave of joy and energy?

I have a tendency to fall in love with places.  On any given day I’ll feel homesick for somewhere.  As a result there’s a constant tension between my thirst to visit somewhere new and my longing to revisit somewhere already beloved.  If I traced my journeys on the map, there’d be an interesting pattern: ever lengthening arcs out from my native island, but always this tendency to circle back.  Of course, one of the main reasons for revisiting places is to spend time with family and friends scattered around the world.  But my trip back to Cape Town made me wonder if there isn’t another reason. 

I have always had a passion for stories (hence the day job) – principally because they are the best way I know of leading another life: trying on another existence, in a different place, in a different time.  I’m wondering now if, when I retrace my steps, I’m trying to catch a glimpse of myself – another self – leading the life that followed from taking a road I didn’t take. 


Item #49 on my Life List is to visit a new country every year.  In 2014 I have three new countries lined up: Turkey, Estonia and Lesotho – via Cape Town …

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