by Kevin Carrel Footer
I am sitting in the Puerto Rico Cafe on Calle Alsina. The blades of a ceiling fan are spinning above my head and the street door is open in the vain hope that either the hot air will be tricked out into the street or that passers-by will be tricked in. Neither of these two possibilities occurs and I sit mostly alone while a waiter tidies tables that do not need tidying.
This cafe is one of the many cafes that appeared in a friend’s book “Cafes of Buenos Aires.” It is also the cafe were a fitful friendship got off to its fitful start. How was I to know that the cafe was closed on a weekend afternoon? To make matters worse, she arrived first – the beginning of our problems – while I arrived late. It was a sort of omen from which our friendship never recovered; our clocks just weren’t synchronized.
Sitting at my table in the Puerto Rico, fingering the cafe’s stainless-steel logo embedded in the black, crushed-marble table top, I remember another cafe – this one on Luis María Campos – where in desperate, alcohol-tinged writhings, a true love fought tooth and nail against being buried alive. And won.
In Notorious, a jazz cafe on Avenida Callao, I fell in love. At the Cafe Tortoni amid those robust columns that so elegantly resist the wear of time, I confessed it in a glance.
At a cafe on the corner of Avenida Libertador and Olleros, I went to write each morning for years amid joggers, publicists, gamblers – the Palermo paddocks were just across the street – and a pair of aerobicized escorts in lycra who told stories about running into their boyfriend’s wives the night before.
At La Biela in Recoleta, judges, crooks and pols dose themselves in the mornings with genteel cups of coffee while reading of each others exploits in the paper. Then, with a nod to their rivals, they go out into the city to battle each other the rest of the day.
Evenings at La Biela are different. Instead of newsmakers enjoying the relative anonymity of a private club, the cafe is chock full of spectators, people whose contact with the larger world is what they read in the papers. In one corner, by the bar, there is a clique of besotted types in blue blazers with brass buttons who seem to be drinking away their remorse at not having made the morning crowd.
One evening, at an outdoor table under the vast embrace of the branches of a rubber tree, I found my voice and made headlines in a newspaper read by two.
There is a cafe in Tribunales where, at a discrete upstairs table, a girlfriend told me venomously that I would have to choose and I did, thereby increasing her venom.
There are cafes suited to work. There are cafes suited to chummy meetings with friends. There are cafes suited to the whisperings of love. And there are others – sterile, artificial places that lost their souls along the way – best suited to those encounters which are desencuentros.
These are some of my cafes in Buenos Aires.