Down the road from my apartment in Cape Town one of the people living nearby walks the perimeter of a small self-defined space on the pavement outside the MacDonalds every day. This ritualistic, perhaps compulsive, yet extraordinary act of enclosure – made distinct by virtue of its blackened footmark line – is such a profound reminder of the importance of recognising our attachment and relation to place: how delineation is more than an act of possession, enabling a symbolic structuring of being in time, and what a radical disjuncture it is to be displaced or out of place. He is there every day, but not always at the same time.
On a walk along the Sea Point promenade I noticed a man sitting some meters below on the causeway next to the boat sheds, vigorously scraping a thin metal rod on the concrete. It was clear that he was working it to a sharp point. My initial concern gave way however on noticing the shells. Arranged next to him were two parallel lines of quite large shells, placed the right way up, each about 20 centimeters from the next, diminishing gradually in size. There were maybe 15 shells in each line, and as I watched he used the sharpened point of the rod to carefully make a hole through the top end of a limpet. I imagined he had done the same for each shell, though to what purpose it was unclear. They seemed too large to thread onto a necklace, but too carefully arranged to not have some specific intention in mind.
This small cairn appeared mysteriously one morning, carefully balanced, across the road from 'Hakka Asian Cuisine and Take-out'. Not at the top of a mountain, but stacked on the street edge alongside an effluent down-pipe and municipal drain cover. When I returned a few days later it had been knocked over - the rock broken in half, the bricks lying either side - so I decided to rebuild it, in tribute to its maker, whose took the time to gather together the rubble. The following afternoon it had been removed completely.