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Travelogue B7

November 17, 2014

This bar is bathed in an orange light and is dark, so very dark, its ceiling black from years of smoke pooling in its undulations. This particular black is not to be identified with that midnight between the stars nor the depths of Baudelaire ou Mallarmé’s “néant”. It is simply a profound black.

I was particularly taken with the ceiling. Its shape brings to mind ribs. An oval, itself black, smooth and further indented, resides in the middle of each inter-rib. These ovals recede into the ceiling and display small insignia in their centers rather like the obscure medieval sigils of magic. A faded gold trims the oval insets.

A deep red paper covers the walls. This paper brims with the same golden pattern, ornate and decorative. These patterns hold vines and pyramids and poorly formed shells. Along the wall to my left (or, rather, my left at that time), darkened bricks line the portal to the front room where the bar is located. There are no smokers to be found in this section, for they are confined to a back room, to be found through a portal to my right (a similar qualification applies).

The portal in question is remarkable in that it is comprised of a wardrobe, set against a wall. The structure of the wardrobe remains intact, its front doors barring entry. Yet the back interior wall has been removed and now opens onto a blue-lit hole. Black-and-white portraits hang on the back wall, visible whenever a patron moves from my room to the smokers’ room or vice versa. The rest of the room is hidden from view, a place of the cult, in the full sense of the word.

The tables, not excluding that at which I was then sitting, are wooden and scuffed and slightly sticky. The tabletop varnish has largely flaked off. Whether this is due to a lack of quality or overuse, I was unable to ascertain.

The chairs about this table and others are of incredibly varied make: leather-backed, upholstered, wooden-backed thrones, slat-backed stools, the odd fauteuil. The chair then to my left is upholstered; the upholstery holds a flower in bloom. The cloth is fraying at the corner. Petals fade in the candlelight.

Numerous candles provide the only real source of illumination. Two candles for each larger table, a single one for the smaller tables. At the table to my left, an elaborate wax formation shoots from its glass container, swept to the side in a wind that, I speculated, must rise only after hours.

The walls are similarly smoke-blackened, a note possibly lacking in their earlier description. Several windows are set into the wall in front of me. White curtains frame them. These windows, like those at the apartment, display that typical Eastern European style: triadic casements and panes. These are set in dark wood. Half jokingly, I mused that the panes could serve as a visual model for the dialectic, particularly that of the triadic teleological movements of late 18th and early 19th century German philosophy, if only because, over time, I have taken to seeing them reproduced in everything, without, at any point, knowing what the dialectic really is.

Old familial portraits, which may or may not be daguerrotypes, dot the walls and wallpaper. A young man stands in the uniform of an infantryman. A couple peers out, newly wed, he in black, she in white, a bouquet neatly arrayed between them. A man in his twenties shows a keen sense for dress in his suit and tie. A young woman, hair parted at the side, poses in a dress with a modest neckline, which is backed with white lace. I also noted an older surly couple and a middle-aged man, his portrait almost faded beyond discrimination, hovering in some gentle obscurity.

The frames are simple. Indeed, they prove to be almost forgettable. I am sometimes swift to brush them off as mere complements, only to remember that they are perhaps the most important part of the viewing, delimiting the portraiture as they do.

Were I to go to the bar, I would find that strange creatures inhabit the space above the taps and wooden counter. Doctored and stuffed, a cayman, manta ray and two highly desiccated birds take part in an invisible cortège, endlessly making its way through the absence of light.

Around me at that time, perhaps eight o’clock or so, couples and old friends chat amiably. Behind one such couple, to the left of the backless wardrobe, stands a pathetic Christmas tree. Plastic, it hides in the corner there. Its red and white ornaments hang dully in the light of the bar – meager enough already that it does not quite reach this corner.

I soon lost interest in the people and turned my attention to the mirrors about the room, of which there are three. One hides behind the hidden tree. The second is small and situated above the mantle and fireplace in the corner diametrically opposite the tree, that is to say, behind me and to the left. The blackening from decades of smoke is thick about its width and sides, and so it reflects precious little. Its gaze directs itself instead toward the light-swallowing ceiling.

The third and final mirror stands to the left of the second mirror, which, given my then position, stands somewhere behind me. It throws most of the room back on itself: friends, flickering candles, windows, curtains, tables, chairs. Everything reflects itself in its smudgy depths. The dark wooden frame is not in the style of ornamental columns that is to be found in the framing of the second mirror. It stands simple and severe.

For a time, I sat and watched with no particular object in mind, which led to a series of progressively more engrossing observations. I listened to the old Polish man across the way, seated with two younger companions, both male. The orange light renews his face though his gestures already convey a certain measure of youth. I was almost certain that he was relating a story that touched on impropriety, in a manner itself somewhat out of keeping with decorum.

Smoke hangs in the air about the immense chandeliers. The candles there have a trunk-like aspect, years of growth about them. It is not apparent from where the smoke originates, but it hangs there all the same.

Candles sprout ridges and cradle precious liquids within their rims.

Beakers and distillers hang above the bar, clustering in the corners and at the trim. The occasional glimmer that touches their surfaces is suggestive and piercing and brings to mind a piece seen at an exposition in Metz in which a metal band about the rim of a wooden water tank promises that “art is a guaranty of sanity”. Its interior holds a similar fleet of glass vessels, their purpose ambiguous and, hence, unsettling.

My attention turned to the table top. As the small flame sways, the shadowy ring about the candle moves in time, smoke and rim moving as one, in an intricate step left to chance, by which I more properly mean the unthinking movements of the table and its denizens.

I then focus on the candle. The white tongue bends and swells and abates as my hand passes back and forth and forth and back over it. I break off a wax ridge and gingerly lower it over the flame, watching with a detached delight as the solid formation unmakes itself drop by drop in the heat of the candle’s mouth. It returns to that state from which it came, each drop lost in that pool of liquid, only to swell against the rim and overflow, tumbling anew over the wax lips, forking a narrow trail down the candle’s trunk. The pool again quivers and spills.

At this time, I jotted a line from Schiller’s “Freundschaft”, the subject of an essay that I had read earlier that evening, in my notebook: “Nur in dir bestaun’ ich mich.”

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