I spoon froth into pale brown ripples of coffee and ask for more of the story of this place. Floor-to-ceiling doors wide open bring in a breeze from the bay, and here comes the owner, friend of these friends. He brushes feathery wisps from his brow, tucks some grey behind his ear, and rumbles a bold orange chair across the painted cement floor.

Everything in here is a find, he tells me– a wicker windsor, an antique chandelier, a sturdy wooden table, treasures that surfaced in someone’s attic or in the junk pile at an old school. He repaints this, leaves that distressed, or maybe just throws on a tablecloth. He’s always looking. I wonder at the art and science of how to collect without looking like a hoarder as so often “the acquisitive instinct is incompatible with true appreciation of beauty.”

The answer is that he lets some of it go. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, said “I began to discard from my possessions, to select.” And this man did the same. He singled out a few keepers and opened up the rest for his customers. Sometimes they’d come for a Cuban sandwich and leave with a painted metal chair. Their purchases made room for the owner’s creativity to play out, “for it is only framed in space that beauty blooms.”

This place is a microcosm. Under a leafy light fixture, women of all ages circle a table. Here, a middle aged Afrikaaner couple. There, a family of Indian-descent. On the deck, a group of friends clicking in Xhosa. The owner knows them all, or at least acts like he does. And, so the guests begin to meet each other. Like AML, “I discover here what everyone has experienced on an ocean voyage or a long train ride or a temporary seclusion in a small village. Out of the welter of life, a few people are selected for us by the accident of temporary confinement in the same circle.” And this interaction invigorates, makes us want to stay on the “island”. But in our everyday life, in big continental living, what do we do when there are “too many worthy activities, valuable things and interesting people” and we don’t think we have the space to seat them?

Nearby, a whole different kind of table rises out of water and lays covered in cloud, ready for conversation. Table Mountain, the centerpiece of Cape Town is up against Devil’s Peak on one side and Lion’s Head on the other. And don’t we sometimes face our own two predators, sometimes take our meals in the presence of enemies, those that seek to devour simplicity and beauty by snatching us into purposeless things? Mrs. Lindbergh wrote, “When I go back will I be submerged again, not only by centrifugal activities, but by too many centripetal ones? Not only by distractions but by too many opportunities?… Values weighed in quantity, not quality; in speed, not stillness; in noise, not silence; in words, not in thoughts; in acquisitiveness, not beauty. How shall I resist the onslaught?”

I think Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s ideals, “simplicity of living….space for significance and beauty….life of the spirit, creative life and the life of human relationships,” find themselves in the snapshot of this creative eatery in the Cape. We can take these “island-precepts…signposts toward another way of living.”

We can collect the things that catch our eye. We can beautify them. We can loosen our grip to share them and make room for more gathering of goods. We can set empty chairs around cleared tables and gather people around us, too. We can put a notice on the wall to show maximum occupancy and a sign on the door that tells what time the doors will open and what time the lights will dim, providing ourselves islands of time in the seemingly endless sea of our everyday.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 7, “A Few Shells” in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. View all entries in the series here.}


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