Friday, October 30, 2009

Cafe Society in Antigua...or the lack thereof

La Antigua can boast a French bistro — "bistro sink" according to some of the locals I've heard speak of it — but its only real resemblance to an authentic Parisian eatery of the Belle Epoque is that it caters for people who lack the facilities to cook for themselves — though in this case that means out-of-town visitors, rather than impoverished Bohemians living in sparse ateliers.

Picasso, without either gas or electricity in the Bateau Lavoir, found he could get a substantial meal of steak frites with tart aux pommes plus an espresso at Le Lapin Agile for just 90 centimes, but was often content with a chorizo and tomato plus an extra helping of artistic conversation.

Thanks to the relentless co-option of counterculture by consumer culture, modern French boulevards have witnessed the transformation of these places of gaiety for the intellectually-gifted but economically miserable, into the loci of the sophisticated loitering known as cafe society.

There might be something inauthentic about sipping a citron pressé outside Des Deux Magots whilst scribbling in your Moleskine norebook — Hemingway's favourite, they tell us — but it still beats the whiff of garlic and phonyness I've got every time I've walked past Bistro Cinq.

I have to say that I have always presumed that the food served in there is above-averagely good, but ersatz culinary environments are usually a big turn off for me.

Antigua itself is partly to blame for this dispiriting sense of sham. Compared to say Oaxaca or Campeche, there are no obvious spots for informal al fresco beverage-sipping: interior patios are simply not interchangeable with pavement tables, because the whole point is to be able to sit and watch the world stroll by.

There are cultured people here for sure, but those with budgetary constraints are more likely to favour the typical anglo-american drinking hole, whilst those leading what Picasso and his muckers would have regarded as the bourgeois lifestyle, tend to only show up for smart vernissages at the Santo Domingo or the piano recitals held at the neighbouring Casa de los Leones. In between there's an amorphous mob of ex-pats and perma-tourists who spontaneously rendezvous whenever they catch the scent of a freebie.

1 comment:

elgordo said...

I've always wondered why I am not comfortable eating on a sidewalk. I just don't like it. If I must eat al fresco, I much prefer a courtyard, away from the pollution, the noise, and the eyes of the hungry. I would think, that in Guatemala, eating a good meal in public is indecent.