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Afternoon tea

It's difficult to feel sad in Barcelona

January 27, 2003
The Iranian

Every life has solemn moments, like the moment of introduction. My name is John, they say, or Fifi, as in grammar books. Americans may now "ask" you their name, raising the tone at the end of a statement.

Instead of the reassuring "Hello, I'm Nancy Astor", it's "Hiyya, I'm Fumi Mbelebele Kfufflebaum" or some such plausible construct.

"You're a fascist, they'll hang you one day," I've been warned. I now live by the sea so when the revolution comes, full of rage for my bourgeois jokes, I can slip away on a British warship to New York or Acapulco or wherever they welcome fallen tyrants. (Or Kabul? That could be the next fun destination, with nightclubs called Discotheque, and Pasha, rappers and illegal immigrants -- you watch that space.)

Another solemnity is when people "ask" you their job ("vo-ca-tion" Dr. Evil might say), worried lest you do know what "sales consultant" means. ("I stack supermarket shelves" is better, suggesting radicalism or passions behind the sausage counter).

Afternoon tea, like news, is not so funny: nobody laughs at tea (why is that?). It's fun though, but news can be terrific, unless it's the BBC World Service, which muffles disasters and renders them faintly menacing, like Khoresh-e Alu.

Those who know me know of my stormy relationship with fruits, including sweet and sour dishes. When I was young they would force-feed me miveh ("Beshin haminjaa! taa sib nakhori estakhr nemiree!"). Now, an independent adult (tell that to my maman-baba, somebody), I have gone my separate way, though the sight of a Khoresh with Alu reminds me of the bad old days. You cooks, you know that Alu, a rude laxative, has no place in a khoresh; why are you doing this?

Unlike the news, afternoon tea has never made me angry, unless someone takes the newspaper before I do in my regular cafe. I get angry at the news when I see the idiot brigades demonstrating against Bush's "warmongering". Excuse me, is it yet more America-bashing (yawn) or are they concerned for the Iraqis?

When was the last demonstration by American-European bien-pensants against the wholesale murder and torture of Iraqis by the Saddam regime, or, for that matter, murder and theft by those Afro-dictators that look like dolled-up monkeys? Why does America need the approval of the Security Council, which includes mafia-state Russia, murderous China and insidious France, to get rid of an evil regime?

May I take this opportunity to promote the International Herald Tribune, the best layman's daily, perfect with a Starbucks coffee of the day? Starbucks have now opened three branches here in Barcelona, a risky but now successful move. They are the only places with sofas and a friendly staff. What's wrong with telling your staff to smile or get out?

This is in contrast to Artkaffe, a cafe and art gallery in one, owned (I think) and run by a couple of French women, who carry on chatting while I, the blessed customer, stand there, like HELLO? Lordie help them when my Spanish is good enough to say "Get your $5-ass here, hunnee..."

Cakes are complex, ach, you have no idea. A small muffin will do when I'm chirpy and clever. It's a croissant (with chocolate? I don't know, I'm not Plato) to go with the Tribune or La Vanguardia (the local conservative daily, though not conservative enough I tell you).

A croissant is light: it ensures I'm alert when reading of Afghan tragedies or toxic seaweed threatening Saint Tropez. This I do at the charming Cafe Torino, which also serves lush apple pie slithers so cheeky you want to talk to them.

A chocolate brownie (served with some kind of cream-spray at Los Locos, "the madmen", corner of Diputacion/Muntaner streets) feeds a family of six for a week. A German woman invented these I think, before annexing Texas.

Concerned friends and family have told me to eat less pastry and more salad. (Will I drop dead in a cafe wonder, bits of sponge or walnut dribbling out of my mouth as I utter one last, solemn, statement - like "Tis verily the winter of our discontent.." or "naneh mordam, naneeeh...")

Now, they're screaming in the next-door flat. Is some heinous crime going on? Am I "creative-writing" metres away from domestic tragedy? "I thought they were playing," I'll tell the police when they investigate tomorrow and I open the door nude but for a kitchen apron depicting Bill Clinton and a hilarious caption.

Spanish neighbours are noisy, though usually it's the endearing noise of happy families, unlike a Tehran couple I once heard yelling at each other on a balcony. "Enqadr daad nazan, mishnavan...", the woman screamed at the top of her voice.

I hope one day to open a cafe with sofas, mock Louis armchairs, resident philosopher / socialists eating and drinking on credit, round-the-clock BBC radio, pictures of favourite singers Ricky Martin and Henry Kissinger, falafel snacks, and a catchy name like "Anva'eh Ghazahaaye Khanegi-ye Kentucky" or "Morgh-e Berian-e Los Angeles".

I don't know, try as I might, it's difficult to feel sad in Barcelona, Alhamdulillah.

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