Wednesday, March 21, 2012

All along the California coast, is the little café

I acquired from my father a willing-
ness to read the same noir detective
writer, over and over, when I was a
boy. Ross MacDonald was an enormous-
ly popular writer of what Greene
had called, entertainments, albeit
in the latter's case at an unpar-
donably respectable level of lit-
erary and moral bite. Of course,
this genre was one of the prin-
cipal vertebrae if not the back-
bone of American cinema, in which
medium it still has appeal to the
young. But what I enjoyed in the
writings of MacDonald was his cap-
acity to revive for me the com-
paratively undeveloped California
of my parents' youth and my four
grandparents' wintertime settle-
ment, in which the isolated road-
side café figured both hopefully
and forlornly as an inevitable
place of meeting, rather like a
blog between hamlets too distant
to know each other's existence.

The seaside café has always stood
out, for me, as a category of dining
establishment able to claim exemp-
tion from restaurant characteristics,
for being primarily a shelter, in an
inherently romantic seascape. To this
day, of course, I retain my favourites
in my olfactories and in the creak of
my chair upon the tile or wooden floor.
They were not about being fed. They
were about what a relais is really
about. They were about being relieved
of travel, being drawn inside; about
being recomposed in being still.

Now that I am spending days and
nights after surgery involving a
leg, being still, elevating it and
doing my best to be quiet, the iso-
lation of the noir café settles in-
to me as another inherent element 
of this aedicular, littoral shelter
between progress and past, much
as a blog between footfalls, paused
in its stride. The time offers re-
cuperation, whose necessity I can
not dispute, but at no immediate or
conscious gain in replenishment.
I am sheltered, but not fed. I am
indispensably but unconstructively
interrupted, the café seeming to
have liberated me of more than my
driving jacket.

There is sometimes a sorry 
grandiosity in this, of tone, 
an incidental, not of predicate.
Even suspended, I know the pur-
pose in my journey here, but in
this café, I can cite its prin-
ciples without feeling much sight
of its resumption. I have given
such signals as I've been able,
of the vitality of a trajectory
for which I hold, in normal times,
a keen if not relentless attach-
ment, and for which the page's
immense readership is almost in-
fallibly nonparticipatory, but 
incredibly, gratifyingly atten-

I'm a pursuer from an unforgotten, 
undeveloped California, whose 
detective work continues, not for
a fugitive but for a rightful heir,
not of mine, but of his own being.

Bastiaan van Gaalen
Carlotta Manaigo, photography
L'Officiel Hommes Italia©
Spring/Summer, 2012


  1. Adored this. I'm feeling it in my fifth month recovering from foot surgery. Noir café, indeed. Great to visit!

  2. Oh, I can only dimly imagine the patience you've strengthened in dealing with foot surgery. I hope you are approaching feeling much better and I compliment you sincerely on your endurance. As to the present posting, I'm genuinely glad to have your identification with any fragment of it, it is always to nice to reach you in this way. I like the mystery of the noir café, the 20th Century's answer to the Spanish missions of the original European settlers. Travellers up and down the coast can readily speak to each other of their favourites among that unintentional "chain" of places.