Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Cafe Tortoni revisited

Some say that you should not re-track your past adventures and often they are right. Last time I visited Cafe Tortoni you will recall that I was accompanied by Miriam, tall, elegant and fascinating Argentine friend. You will remember how we sat, with the focus of other women on her, and how she basked in their fascination. Today was quite different in character but similar in effect. Again my table was the subject of avid female attention. This time the glances were stolen by the eyes of pretty women who appreciate a handsome man. Yes, I was to enjoy this visit with my son, tall, strong, manly, and strikingly good looking. Unlike Miriam, he sat coolly oblivious to their borrowed contact.

Our arrival was low key as we simply slipped into the salon of Cafe Tortoni to find our own table. Today there is no buz or parade, the atmosphere is unhurried. Above us, the coloured glass ceiling reflects a warm glow driving away the rainy coldness of the afternoon. I notice that, unlike me, some of the waiters have aged since my last visit, but the room still carries its timeless quality that takes the events of life in its stride. Since 2007 there has been a change of government, Cristina Kirchner is now President, replacing Nestor, her husband. I sense the echoes of Peron and Clinton in their dynasties. Cafe Tortoni is a cafe of dynasties, political, social and cultural, many underpinned by tango which adds its particular focus to this place.

Our waiter brings cafe con laiche and torte. The chocolate cake is moist and sumptuous, the coffee strong and dark like my companion. His eyes to float round the room, taking in the portraits and plethora of photographs which capture the seminal events of this city. Cafe Tortoni is the history of Buenos Aires. In its timeless interior the events of passing years are freeze-framed for ever. Our moment together seems like one of these. That father and son can spend such time together, deep in conversation about life and opportunity is rare and so needs to be preserved. I try to capture the essence of it in my heart, to enjoy in years to come when distance or distraction will reduce its intensity. For this trip we have but two days left and I am savoring them as you do a delicious meal. And this moment, at Cafe Tortoni, is like a special delight on the plate that you leave til last.

After further coffees and more conversation he lifts his hand casually to our waiter who responds with the bill. He pays. How life changes. We rise, and with us the eyes of our neighbours. I notice the smiles on their lips and sense the energy of youth. Just as we entered we slip out the way we came, into the street, with umbrellas against the drizzle.