09 October 2008


Prompted by TTMF's comments, here I am: sitting in a café, laptop connected, making notes on the people I am watching.

I don't know why I don't do it very often . Like Jim, I'm an inveterate people watcher. I often sit in cafés, as I am now, watching people. I often have the laptop wirelessly connected as I do so. I often tap notes on the observations, and take photographs, but rarely upload them at the time. I used to do it quite a lot (see, for example, Musing in the Museum and Report from a bubble) but not recently. These days, I take notes and photographs but keep them, think about them, draw on them later.

So, then: here I sit, in a small sunlit Bosnian café full of warm golden wood, with a bowl of delicious lentil soup and a chunk of bred before me and a small subnotebook machine beyond. The place is busy, and I'm spoilt for choice.

The patrone sits at the back of the room, joking and exchanging stories with friends. She is wheelchair bound, but doesn't appear to let that get in the way of enjoying life. Her grandchild sits on her lap, reading a book and completely ignoring the gales of (probably lewd, but I don't have the vocabulary or listening speed to confirm it) laughter from the group of elderly women around her.

The café is a family business. The patrone's husband prepared the "supa" and bread, served it, brought it to my table; he has returned twice to chat about this and the other, to ask after my health. One of his daughters, a grave young woman with serious eyes from which brilliant smiles sometimes flash without warning, brought me a jug of ice cold water to accompany it and stopped to beat me in a quick game of checkers. A son is out front, cleaning tables as customers leave them; he whistles a folk dance tune as he works.

Straight ahead of me, at a table against the opposite wall, sits an elderly man who says nothing but plays chess with himself, left hand against right. His face and hands (all that are visible inside a duffel coat, muffler and beret) are a maze of old scar tissue. I wonder about his story.

In the far corner are a young couple in love. They hold hands, both hands, leaving them no way of eating or drinking what they have bought, and stare into each others' eyes and they whisper an intense nonstop exchange which nobody else can hear. Every now and then another customer of a family member will call to them, teasing, and they both blush to the tips of their ears but otherwise do not respond.

A young mother has come and sat in the window, reading a magazine, one eye on her small son who has toddled off to try (unsuccessfully) and tempt the patrone's grand daughter out of her book. A man of about my own age, at an adjacent table, takes pity on him: he lifts the small boy is onto a chair, gives him a glass of lemonade, talks seriously with him while simultaneously doing sleight of hand magic tricks which make the boy laugh.

There's a lot of laughter. It's a good place to sit.

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