Friday, July 9, 2010

Café in the Plaza

Trying to channel my inner artist and writer, I searched endlessly for Cuatro Estaciones Café, a café known as a popular meeting place for artists and writers.

After asking hotel guest services, several locals on the street, the girl behind the jewelry shop counter, and the man in the restaurant opposite the plaza, all of whom had no idea what I was talking about, I thought I might never find it.

But lo and behold, the third person we asked at the tourist bureau knew what it was and where to find it. And when I finally saw it, I understood why no one could help me.

It was just a kiosk in the middle of the plaza. A place that locals have probably passed by and frequented a thousand times without ever realizing it had a name.

At first glance, it does not look like the type of place that would draw artists, writers, or anyone that is even remotely interesting. There are pigeons that will be glad to escort you to the window while you order your café con leche, and are even kind enough to return to your seat with you and keep your ankles protected. You can only hope that their friends in the trees above don't decide to drop any surprises in on you.

It seemed highly anticlimactic after all of my searching. But considering that the temperature was reaching new levels of sweltering and we had been ambling through the cobblestone streets of Viejo San Juan for some hours now, we stopped to have a drink anyway.

As I sat in the iron chair under the cool shade of the trees and took a look around, I realized why people come here. They come here to feel the daily life of San Juan. They come here to see the people, the culture, the highs and lows of society, and everything else that passes through the plaza.

They come here to grab a coffee en route to work, or to sit and enjoy one, not in a rush to anywhere at all.

The women across from us sit together on their lunch break discussing el color de su pelo. They are not talking about work, what happened at work, or what work they still have to do; they are taking a real break and hair color is at the forefront of their minds.

The businessman shares a bench with the homeless man and enjoys a laugh at his crazed rants; they almost look like friends. The security director outside of the Departmento de Estado greets the female police officer with a standard kiss on the cheek as she arrives.

In my world, I can hardly imagine any male officer of the law greeting any female officer with a kiss on the cheek, under any circumstances. At least not in public anyway.

Things are different here, I like this world. It is quiet and busy at the same time. The wealthy and the poor share space as though it were natural. Life takes priority over the rigors of work, and things still get done.

As the subtle Spanish music plays, setting the scene perfectly, I really almost feel like I could sit here and paint San Juan. The old doors, the colorful buildings, the cobblestone streets, I can see them all from right here. I get this place.

Channel inner artist and writer: check. It was worth the search for my café in the plaza. 


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