Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Cafe life

I am sitting alone in a cafe here in San Telmo. The day is bright and sunny. Rather than the pavement table, I have chosen one by the open window, the casement pushed high and I rest my right elbow on the window ledge so the sun catches my sleeve. Jackie, the waitress smiled a beam, just like the morning sunshine, and without a word exchanged, returned with cafe con leche, two media lunas and a tiny glass of sparking water. She also must have sensed my hunger as the media lunas were joined by two small squares of cake, little gifts that sometimes accompany an unaccompanied coffee.

Today the light is special in the way in which it flashes - with the occasional high passing cloud, and the windows of the passing colectivos. Whilst the city council has sought to address the plumes of diesel smoke emanating from their engines, they have not got on top of the sound. I hear them approach, their engines whine, the brakes squeal, the doors bang, and the gear change is many decibels too late as they scream away from the bus stop. The one opposite as I note is decorated inside with mirrors and plush blinds at the windscreen; the control panel is covered in simulated fur. The driver adds to the noise with his transistor radio that is playing tango. It is now departing with a flurry of activity, and as it shakes and screams off, there are more flashes of light from a dozen rattling windows and the eyes of crowding, standing passengers.

Here inside the cafe is relatively peaceful. The oak panels are dark as are the table tops which display large paper placemats and a chrome container of the most fragile tissues bearing the cafe logo. The cafe con leche is hot and strong, and the media lunas deceptively sweet. I dip one into my coffee and taste Buenos Aires. I sip the sparkling water, which effervesces on my tongue and gives intensity to the coffee. Around me, just as in the street outside, is all of San Telmo society - the tradesmen, the tourists, the shop workers, the street workers, the lovers, the retired, simply meeting to chat.

It tells me what I most miss about Buenos Aires when I return to England. It is the natural contact between people who live to share their thoughts, views, worries and delights. I watch the touches, the smiles, the caresses, the gestures and the kiss. Opposite, two elderly men rise from their table, their small cups of cortado empty, and they hug - an embrace that speaks of parting with respect and affection, of shared past and wishes for the future. It is both strong and tender, and utterly un-self conscious. In leading our lives, we still have a lot to learn from other cultures, connections and ages. Perhaps now is the time to put away the the cyber contact and to feel something real. So, as you close my blog today, sense the hug like a breath and feel the value of something very real.