By Dave Broom

Cape of great hope

A writer in every port or a port in every writer? Davie Broom visits Cape Town
Apparently the surf was sick, which means good in the same way as bad used to. So there you go. Travel broadens one’s linguistic skills as well as one’s mind.I gamely resisted plunging in – for starters the ocean’s temperature was the same as the Clyde and anyway glasses and surf are a bad combination – something which was demonstrated later when I bowed to peer pressure and took a dip.Around me the mountains were tumbling into the water, smooth whale-bellied granite boulders turning the colour of wild salmon, roseate clouds in a darkening indigo sky, the cliffs blushing with their beauty. How could you not love a place like this?The beach trip was a short diversion from the main reason for my visit to Cape Town – the city’s second Whisky Live. It also got me away from hanging over the fence gazing at the dry dock which lay between my hotel (the swish Cape Grace don’t you know) and the waterfront complex. I’d become a little obsessive about that dry dock.It’s rare to find one on your doorstep and this was a cracker. A trawler was beached in it and the aromas emanating from it brought me back day after day. Sump oil, fuel and grease, a hot sweet smell, an echoing smell, a global smell whose thread took me to places long unseen.It seemed to change every day, deepen, become more complex. Fish smells one day, coal tar the next. Maybe my nose was simply tuning into the new rather than constantly referring back to the old. Smell is like that. It builds pictures placing them into imaginary settings. We smell our way through the world. Fragrances are metaphors, they articulate memory, give an image extra meaning, puts it in a context. They build layers of meaning. They are sensual.These aromas took me back to the docks in Glasgow, to the engine of a puffer, to the whiskies of Islay. It was reminiscent of my childhood bait box, with its mix of dried fish scales, caked salt and lugworm. It ceased to be solely the dry dock in Cape Town, but a composite of all these things.Not that I had much time to dwell on this. Cape Town Live was rocking. The sushi bar at the bottom is doing a roaring trade, the Harley at the Jack Daniel's stand filling the tent with its throaty growl, prompting Buffalo Trace's Steve Camisa to go in search of a Vespa to compete, or if not, at least a cow made up to look like a buffalo, which shows that some Americans do have a sense of irony.South Africa is a refreshing market. It is a pace where blends are drunk because ... well ... they taste good, as well as having a fast-growing premium sector.It's a young market, a multicultural one, one where women drink whisky. It's this blend of novice, fun-lover and aficionado which gives the show such a buzz.You have to remember that Cape Town is different to the rest of the country, friends tell me. Maybe it is down to it being a port.Ports are edgy places. they seem to work in a different fashion to other towns. They are open-minded, anarchic, edgy. Centres of interaction and trade, fluid spaces where people and ideas mix.Compare Barcelona to Madrid, Glasgow against Edinburgh (or even Edinburgh to Leith), Marseille to Paris. Which of these have more life and passion? Cape Town is like that. It doesn't just have one of the best settings in the world. It also has this palpable, unforgettable, energy.So, when I now smell an Islay malt I'll also think of Cape Town and that dock as well as the surf, the roseate clouds, of late night talks, of politics and hope and forgiveness, of perfumed cigar smoke, of old and new friends.Of whisky.