Thursday, 8 April 2010

Cafe Paulin, Sarmiento 635

It is 1530 hrs and we leave Escuela Argentina de Tango at Centro Cultural Borges after the milonga class with Damian Garcia and Fatima and head out along Florida. I am being told that the destination is a cafe in Sarmiento and that this visit is essential for my education in Buenos Aires. The journey is through the whole spectrum of society here. Street performers are busy in Florida and Lavalle, as are the street hustlers, recruiting for tango shows and currency exchange. A pile of street children lie sleeping in a heap against closed doors on the shady side of the street. Two bands are playing, their efforts competing with the cries of the street vendors. People press through the narrow pathways between kiosks and pavement excavations. You feel the press, body contact being part of the experience of living in the Capital Federal.

We are now in Sarmiento. The colectivos are thundering past in a street hardly wide enough to accommodate a bus and two pavements. Ahead and behind are mopeds delivering from shops and restaurants. We walk in single file to avoid stepping down to the storm drains. And here is 635. I had expected a wide restaurant with bright lights and waiters rushing from table to table carrying trays of cafe con leche and cakes. But not here at Cafe Paulin. The restaurant feels about twice the width of a railway carriage. And that is not where the similarity ends. Down the centre, the full length of the building is a narrow servery giving on to both the left and the right side of the cafe. Within the servery on a raised dias the waiters stand, dressed in olive cross buttoned tunics with floppy fawn hats. Each side of the servery there are sheer glass shelves about a foot in width. These are the tracks. Below on each side are low counters against which fixed tall revolving stools swing. Cafe Paulin is busy. The clientelle are mainly local office workers and visitors passing through. It is like an ants nest, with streams of people coming and going, and waiters calling orders to each other as there is barely room for them to pass. And now the first train passes. It seems to be going at huge speed and totally out of control. It seemed to spin, light flashed from its sides and then it docked securely into a waiter's hand. Due to the confines, orders of empanadas, salads, cafe con leche, and everything Cafe Paulin has to offer, are sent skimming along the glossed glass surfaces of the servery. The larger plates overlap the edges as they spin. Not a plate is dropped, not a drop is spilled. We order coffees and chocolate cake which speeds towards our waiter who catches and scoops the dishes and cups. And so all is revealed. Every problem has a solution. Cafe Paulin is a solution in itself. We smile at our waiter, and he smiles back. With quick fingers, Katja signs something to him, and he communicates with his hearing eyes.