Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cafe Society

"If one lives in exile, the cafe becomes at once the family home, the nation, church and parliament, a desert and a place of pilgrimage, cradle of illusions and their cemetery...In exile, the cafe is the one place where life goes on."
- Hermann Kesten

I was born an American, although in my bones it didn't always feel that way. When someone claims that their culture is more ancient than another, it is all a farce, a comfortable and romantic lie. It is a lie people tell themselves to feel special. The truth is, we all come from the same ash and dust, the most miniscule particles of nothing - we mean absolutely nothing. We invent a history that makes our hearts swell with pride. We boast of our cultural superiority and try the best we can to quell the doubts that seep darkly into our empty, cavernous souls. No matter where we come from, and how far back we can trace our lineage - we are nothing. We are the same. We are not original. We are all common. We seek a place where we can belong. We seek people who we can relate to. Cafe society is about refuge.

As girl-children of twelve years old, my best friend Snow White and I were keenly aware of what being part of the local cafe society meant - we longed to be old enough to sit at the most popular cafe, Slavica, observing the passers-by and other persons of interest whilst sipping a strong macchiato and nonchalantly smoking a Rodeo Gold cigarette. The cafe is where you went to see and be seen. It was a place where intricate social rituals took place - it was where you faced your rivals, laughed with friends, and silently flirted with love interests. The cafe was a mysterious, forbidden world that we could only dream of and that we were anxious to be initiated into. On balmy Summer nights we would sneak out of our apartments after our parents had fallen asleep, dressed in flirty short dresses and Converse sneakers, and walk arm in arm to Carsija (the center of Old Town). Bathed in pale moonlight, our little city came alive with the electric pulse of Ex-Yugoslavian pop music escaping from the discoteques, kitschy neon signs advertising "American Hamburger!" or "XXX Sexy Shop", and thick, satisfying plumes of white cigarette smoke. Forbidden pleasures are always the most divine. Since we were too young to sit at a cafe or get into a discoteque, we would often buy 30 denars worth of roasted sunflower seeds in a newspaper cone and sit by the lake, just to be near the nightlife. We were on the fringes of cafe society - a complex and vital part of social status in our city. Before I could claim my place in cafe society, my family moved back to America and all my dreams were shattered. It wasn't until the age of twenty-two when I was finally able to make my debut into cafe society, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. In a small city, no one forgets, and it felt good to be remembered even after ten years of absence. But that, my comrades, is a story for another time.

 Cafe society. If there is one place I could live forever, it would be at the cafe.

Comrade Von Pussycat

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