Friday 03 September, 2010
Early morning, sunny, 25ºC.
My idea is to spend another day in one location: the café which I observed on Day 1 and which I’m thinking of making the focal point of the end of my story. But I get out of the Metro further up the Avenida at the Metro station – Avenida – in order to see whether there are more posters alleging wrongdoing in the state-controlled orphanage Casa Pia, and sure enough, there are:
(Coincidentally, today sees the reading of the decision and sentence of the notorious Casa Pia paedophile case that has been going through the courts for around six years: almost all of the accused are found guilty and will serve prison sentences of between six and 18 years … subject to appeal).
As I walk down to the café, some scenes strike me as interesting:
– A couple of girls sit chatting on a bench and smoking: the smoke they exhale is almost incandescent with the low sunlight of early morning.
– There’s a man rolled up in a quilt next to a fountain: the contrast of tourist attraction vs reality.
The Baiana café is at the bottom of the Avenida on the western side. I enter.
– A man with a briefcase under his arm stands at the counter of the café speaking with the head waiter (owner?) in what seems a rather conspiratorial fashion. Later it transpires that he’s a supplier and he notes down the owner’s order on a form taken from the briefcase.
– A middle-aged, grey-haired man enters with a Brazilian-looking woman half his age; they sit at the other end of the café.
– A Portuguese woman in her 20s enters with an Asian-looking woman in her 30s. The latter has masculine features and dresses like a man: shirt and trousers, cropped hair. Later, she speaks: she’s American. They leave and get into a car parked opposite the café.
– In a moment of calm, one of the waiters steps into the kitchen, eating a roll and chatting with the cook.
– A man in a suit comes in, smirking to himself. The owner doesn’t wait for him to order but calls through to the kitchen: “A cheese roll!”
– There are three men in suits standing at the counter. Then a construction worker comes in: he’s dirty from work, has a sleeveless fluorescent jacket on with no shirt, a tattoo on his upper arm and a cigarette behind his ear. He stands next to the three men at the counter.
– A heavily pregnant young woman struggles in with her husband (?) behind her. She has a glowing smile. She leans on a chair for support while her husband orders for them, then slumps onto another chair.
– A woman in her 30s, smoking, stands at the open door and shouts her order in. A waiter takes her an expresso and stands chatting with her until she finishes it. She’s incensed about something (the word ‘car’ is mentioned a lot), and waves her arms around, bangles rattling. She leaves and the waiter brings in her cup.
– A hunched man, tongue lolling, orders two custard tarts to take away. The waiter is very patient with him, caring.
– A waiter sets the tables for lunch, laying a chestnut-coloured tablecloth, then a plastic cover, then a paper cover. Then he lays glasses, cutlery and serviettes. It’s 10.15 …
– Two young men in white coats (doctors? dentists? ophthalmologists?) stand at the counter chatting with the owner about football.
– The owner has an early lunch, sitting on the table next to me. He looks a little vain: his grey hair is carefully combed back, he has a well-trimmed moustache, a gold chain around his wrist and another around his neck, and gold rings.
– A large man with a wheezy laugh and an enormous belly sits with the owner and has lunch also. He teases and flirts with the lady with a stick, and she enjoys it, giving as good as she gets.
– Various delivery-men bring in boxes of wine, whisky, soft drinks, cooking oil, tinned tomatoes, rice, meat … the post …
– Outside, a grimy woman in a thick coat, despite the heat, shuffles past, bends down and picks up a half-smoked cigarette that she puts in her mouth.
– An old woman struggles in on crutches and sits at the far end of the café; she is one of the women I saw here on Day 1. The owner of the café goes over to her, leans to give her a little hug and asks: “Are you a bit better today?”
– She takes out a fake Burberry purse, empties it on the table and begins counting coins, squinting at them. She’s wearing a bright medallion (Virgin Mary?) and a bright, clean, gold-coloured watch.
– She has a milky coffee in a glass and toast, which she chews with difficulty – she later dunks it to make it easier to eat. She tries to throw a piece of toast out of the open door for the birds, but it hits the side of the door and falls down the stairs to the toilets.
– She’s obviously a regular, but this doesn’t stop her being very polite: “When you can, can you bring me a glass of water, please?” she asks a waiter.
– She tidies up the table after she’s finished her breakfast, stacking the glass and saucer on her plate.
– She asks the waiter to help her open some medication which she pours into her glass of water, downing the red liquid in one.
– A short, balding woman joins Maria. She is also unsteady on her legs.
– Maria orders another glass of tap water.
– An old woman, more refined than Maria sits at my end of the café. She throws a weak “good morning” towards Maria and her friend, but gets no response; she has pearls, jewelled earrings and an elegant blouse, and is well manicured and coiffed. After having her juice, she wobbles out, waving goodbye to the others by wiggling her fingers: “See you again one of these days, God willing.”
– Maria has what looks like a constant scowl – like the mother in ‘Throw Momma from the Train’ – but she suddenly laughs out loud at something, revealing a gold tooth in the front.
– A new old woman arrives, this one with a stick. She sits at a table next to Maria and the balding woman and the three exchange the latest on their medical problems. This woman was also in the café on Day 1.
– Maria holds her head in a hand, elbow on the table; she looks tired and closes her eyes for some moments. She looks at her watch, but she doesn’t have to be anywhere …
– A waiter helps Maria to stand and gets her the key to the toilet. She goes down the steps with difficulty, one at a time, holding onto the banister and the sides of the narrow stairs. When she returns up the stairs, there are two delivery men behind her, unable to pass; they have to wait for her to get to the top. Her movements are snail-like, and she has to hold onto furniture as she returns to her place.
– She changes places: from the other end of the room to the corner where I saw her on the first day. But there are people there – two young men and a woman:
Man: “Do you want to sit here?”
Man: “Well, then – we’ll be going.”
Maria: “Is that your girlfriend?”
Man: “No, but she should be; pretty, isn’t she?”
Maria nods a yes in appreciation. The three young people laugh heartily, but there’s the feeling that a nerve has been touched.
(Maria as matchmaker?)
– The three get up to make way for her. She takes her cardigan off and settles with difficulty into the corner. “Ai, ai,” she sighs. Then at various points later: “Ai, vida!” (Ah, what a life!). She leans her head against the wall, looking weary.
– A slightly effeminate-looking young boy in his teens, possibly the son of one of the waiters, comes from the other end of the café to sit opposite Maria. She laughs with him but he takes no notice, reading his book in front of her.
– The woman with the stick also comes over from her first position and assumes the same place she had on Day 1, at the next table to Maria but with her back to her. She sits writing things on a serviette – possibly a shopping list – and talking to herself.
– Maria collects some crumbs from the table with her knife, sweeping them over the edge of the table into her hand and dropping them onto a plate.
– She orders beef stroganoff for lunch – she turns her nose up at the codfish. But when she’s finished the beef, she orders a second lunch: the codfish!
– The occasional whirring of the coffee grinder: it’s pervasive and obliterates all other sounds.
– The clunk of a plate on the glass counter.
– The incessant “good mornings” (later “good afternoons”), “thank you’s” and “see you’s” become a part of the ambient sound of the space.
– Conversations overlap and become a hubbub, each conversation inaudible in itself.
– The clink of plates and rattle of cutlery being removed from the dishwasher and being stored.
– The click, clack, clunk of the expresso machine being loaded, and the clink of a glass of water placed on the counter.
– The shrill hiss of steam from the coffee machine, used to heat milk.
– The open glass door and the café window with a side mirror create a ‘hall-of-mirrors’ effect that means that people entering the café from a certain angle appear to enter three times …
(End of Day 5)