After a day at the office that seemed to consist of nothing but twelve hours of meetings, I finally returned home and decided it was too late to start dinner preparations, fusing both practicality and sheer laziness in the same conclusion.
I suppose it’s odd to find that the neighborhood I love so much for its special spirit and unique character is also evocative of so many other places I love. It looks so much like the Lower Garden District in the Crescent City, and has the same torpid languor in summer. It’s possible to savor both the humidity and the heat if you aren’t moving around too much.
But the commercial street that bisects the neighborhood reminds me of evenings in many warm climate places where dining and social life move outdoors of necessity in the summer. As soon as the sun begins to disappear, it’s cooler outside than inside, aided by misting fans and the southeast breeze.
I took a seat at the long bar of a favorite establishment that looks as if a hurricane had blown it in from Miami’s South Beach. It has a curvy Moderne feel to it down to the low wall at the sidewalk that divides diners from the evening promenade.
As far as I was concerned the bartender could take all night with the drink, and if the waiter never appeared, I wouldn’t be unhappy. Just more time to savor the scene. The low light in the interior made it all the easier to appreciate the blue hue of dusk and the flotilla of animated diners in the safe harbor of the restaurant’s garden, the candles on the tables like so many navigation lights in the marina. The picture was famed by the lace of tree canopies and twinkling lights suspended, apparently, from the sky.
I realized, like a Victorian stage, the scene was composed of layers, chattering couples in the foreground, the scrim of the windows in the middle ground, the terrace, slowly moving pedestrians beyond the wall, choreographed for act one, scene one, and drifting automobiles adding their head and tail lights to the impression of being by a canal instead of a street, cars moving as slowly as barges, but only to the left or right, like cardboard boats on a stage.
The thing I love most about this particular restaurant is that it doesn’t have an architect’s fingerprints on it, but is redolent of the owner’s personality and taste. The staff complains that he never stops adding things, especially clever light fixtures that he apparently can’t resist. Good for him. I live all day in a world of academically trained planners and architects. During the evening it’s good to be reminded that our built environment is richer for having non-professionals contribute to it.
I’m was glad that I could sit in an outdoor café and not feel the gnawing fear that all this peace could be shattered in an instant. At least I was until Orlando. Thinking of the Fourth of July, I’m glad I live in a place that still cherishes freedom of expression, the diversity that urban life provides, and open doors.
- Michael Guarino