Babylonstoren is where the profits of media money comes to cut shapes on the landscape like crisp clean lines of a Dutch font. In the middle of 590 acres of the Drakenstein Valley the thatched 17th century Amsterdam townhouse-themed gables and soft whitewash walls arrange themselves in letter-of-alphabet plans. T’s and H’s. Kids play in waterways like living Hallmark cards and bird logos fly on pipes into design awards. The place is so perfectly over-curated that for a few moments I was worried about the life of a duck who had a small limp. The huge beautifully arranged grids of garden are inspired by the first clipped and trimmed accounting scratches of land made by the Dutch East India Company in Cape Town’s original Company Gardens. The garden speaks the VOC’s multinational tone. Neat grids, rows and lines aligned like a ledger ready to feed the conquerers of companies. Credits and debits running up and down werfs ordering and numbering, watching and watering. As if this garden is a factory for proof that companies really can do good. Wholesome creature comforts from conquered land. Fresh rye bread oven-baked, duck, beef, pork and other delicate charcuteries come together in delicious sandwiches and salads like a heavenly apparition of a scurvy sailor.
Rich people flock here from everywhere. For the very rich time is not money. Time is luxury. Lounging under the garden’s Babylonian shade, debating if they’re really too classist while feeding cupcakes to their kids and ordering more perfectly chilled viognier. Are we just too liberal? as salads arrive in custom furnaced glass. I imagine the illuminati come to talk here about betraying some business partner between rows of citrus lemon and weeping boer-bean. A corporate Judas weaving tangled conversations into the porkbush labyrinth. Through the apricot bushes presidents, CEO’s and chairmen whisper the secrets of media moguls like Greek gods. Controlling the passions of the people and swaying public opinion around like a joystick. Pastels of grandmothers are left alone to roam the gooseberries and pick figs under sun hats and bouquets of soft laughter. There’s always something about these Franchhoek Paarl spots that seem tainted by a bit of Durbanvillanism; a pair of Oakley glasses on headband or a flash of Joburger rhinestone.
This Disneyland of Cape Dutch seems like a treasure chest buried in press and public relations. A manufactured museum which is the architectural equivalent of commissioning your portrait by Rembrandt. Make sure to portray the benefactors as visionaries, brave curators of culture. A tableaux of the merchants leaders, Koos and Karin amidst a gang of international advisors both in pin stripe and polo neck. Often the most enigmatic cultural artifacts survive because they can be read into so many times and the owners want to ensure that culture remembers them in English, Afrikaans and especially Mandarin. The Chinese signage around the farm a quiet prediction of possible African futures under new colonisers. Hopefully the future won’t forget this culture like pieces of Delft pottery with Simonsberg appellation motifs on a sunken trade ship. Or forgotten in a land contract scribbled in an incoherent local dialect. Things to think about while falling asleep in the designer nest hanging in an afternoon of sunflowers.