February 2nd, 2005


Dead cafes and the spirit of the staircase

Sometimes the worse thing about losing something quite trivial is the fact that you don't get know you are losing it until it is gone for good.

As quite a lot of you know, the Patisserie Cappucetto was my central London 'office' for most of the last two decades. They did good coffee and stenciled smiley sun faces on the cappucino. They did a good toasted bacon and avocado sandwich and a pretty good all day breakfast; latterly they did perfectly decent cheap pasta. They were the place whose cakes were good enough that, when I feel like cheating on my diabetes, I could eat them as a special treat and it not become a dangerous habit. And I was sort of friendly with the staff, especially the scarlet-haired Marika who put me onto the address of the best deli in Santa Monica.

It cropped up in a review I wrote some years agoCollapse ) which got me the best compliment I ever received for a piece of journalism - Lorna Sage said Angela Carter would have liked it.

A couple of weeks ago, signs went up in Cappucetto announcing it would be shut for a fortnight for renovation, and I registered this as an inconvenience. Yesterday, it reopened as a replacement for the sibling restaurant over the way which has closed down. No more coffee, or cakes, or breakfast, or sandwiches - I am going to have to get used to going to Patisserie Valerie or the Amalfi instead, where no-one knows me and I have an entire new menu to learn, places that have their own long-term resident bohemians of whom I am not one.

A propos of being a boho intellectual, I go, occasionally, to a pub meeting for writers and journos where we have intense conversations about writers and movies and agents. In the course of one of these this evening, we got discussing Rosemary's Baby and whether there were analogues in folk-lore. I suggested the birth of Merlin, as failed antichrist, but also remarked that we don't know because most of the collectors of folklore were also censors of it. Though, I went on to remark, the Grimms left a lot of violence in that is also sexual symbolism - dancing to your death in red hot iron shoes is fairly clearly symbolic of the punishment of female sexual energy. And Charles accused me of crypto-Freudianism and someone else said something and I didn't get to do the particular snappy comeback that was needed.

Which is that once upon a time and now again to some extent, people used sexual symbols quite consciously - it is not Freudian to say this, because Freud is a consequence of the suppression of bawdy and the reform of manners. Protestantism disliked encoded symbolism anyway, and when it was popular and sexy even more so. A lot of people have lost the ability to pick up sexual symbolism - it probably helps me to have been brought up Catholic and queer. It is interesting, though, that the ability to read symbols gets conflated with the assumption that symbolism is unconscious in folklore. Once upon a time, flowers could be bawdy - 'which liberal shepherds call a grosser name, but our chaste maids do dead men's fingers call them' - and now they are just the language of sentiment.

Rants as requested will follow as will some thoughts on recently seen movies...
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