City Diaries: Americano at a Lebanese Cafe

It was another morning and another bus journey. She looked out of the window, taking in the same sites she saw everyday. Today a shop window caught her eye. It had Arabic writing frosted on the glass wall of the shop window. It wasn’t the ‘حلال’   sign carried by stores indicated that they didn’t serve alcohol or pork. The text  was curled in a sort of calligraphy, the letters illegible to her without a clear font and visible vowels. She pressed the red button labelled ‘stop’. She had two hours until her first class, enough time for the cheapest thing they had on the menu.


The cafe’s decor was rustic. There were wooden chairs and wooden floorboards with obscure but colourful paintings adorning the walls. Apparently they shared this space with a little gallery upstairs. She chose to order an Americano and a croissant. The waiter placed the Americano on her table wordlessly. He went to the front  and continued to converse with the owner. She enjoyed the lack of music or unnecessary things cluttering the table. Restaurants and cafes in Cape Town were so fixated on their vibe and aesthetic. It was to  attract the elite hipster crowd with their Diners Club and American Express cards – the same crowd to which she did not belong.


She sipped her Americano, while  the impassioned lilts and phonetics of the Arabic spoken between the waiter and owner filled the background. She paused to take out her phone and googled the restaurant. The only thing that came up was a place by the same name in Lebanon. The Lebanese version of the place’s Facebook page was filled with photographs that depicted smiling people tucking in to cakes and teas. The tables were filled by people sitting around them. She noted that the reviews were excellent. And yet, the place seemed to be a stark contrast to the other. The minimalism of before made it appear almost barren and desolate. She could not imagine Lebanon with its cedar trees and Francophone Arabic speakers. All she had ever known was this city. A place that she knew too much of to reduce it to one sentence.

She later changed her route and began to  walk instead of take the bus through that street. When she passed by that way again, she saw that the Lebanese place was gone. It had been replaced with a hipster joint. All she had ever known was a city that took special places and replaced them with profitable, elitist ones. Perhaps she ought to consider becoming a hipster.


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