The H Cafe

The H Cafe is a small place, sitting right on a busy, noisy street. It’s a main thoroughfare between one part of the city and the other, and the sound of cars, trucks, ambulances and motorcycles is constant. There is also a cake store on the corner next to the H, that doubles as a plain bakery and cafe. It could be said, by some people, that the H Cafe is not in a prime location.

But it’s never empty. The waiting-staff don’t wear uniforms. Not even t-shirts with the H’s cat logo. The only way you’d know who your waiter or waitress was, would be because they came to you. And they do. They’re kind, sweet, funny and patient. They don’t get mad if you order a coffee and nothing else. They don’t bug you when it takes you a long time to order. Best of all, they don’t seem like they’re suffering, and that’s a good thing to see. They look, rather, like they happen to be asking people what they’d like to eat. When they aren’t needed, they stand around the register and talk to each other, laughing charmingly, but always with an eye out. If a hand pops up or a head turns their way, they’ll be there in a flash, still grinning.

How, you might ask, does it manage to have clients at all hours on such a busy and noisy street? The H has cleverly made up for its location by simply refusing to admit to it. The outdoor seating area is raised on a wooden platform, and is bordered on three side by greenery. The lamps that sit on the platform, entwined in the bushes, look like they were taken straight out of London in the 1920s. They’re picturesque, yet simple. The tables are wooden and often wobbly, but the chairs are comfy enough and you’re never in the sun or rain. During the summer, plain white fabric umbrellas rear their heads and give a pleasant tent-like quality to the place, while in winter the area is surrounded by glass and feels like a cozy, warm fish-tank.

The menu is small but with wide variety, the coffee is superb and the atmosphere lovely. It’s the only place in which I’m ever recognized and acknowledged as a regular customer. The H Cafe is a diamond in the rough.

A Love Letter to Chicago

Dearest Chicago,

In the short time I’ve spent with you, you’ve managed to charm me. Quite apart from you keeping my brother safe and sound for four years, you have alluring qualities that are all your own. I really felt comfortable within your limits and amongst your streets, and even though you’re one of the most crime-ridden cities in the United States, your beauty and loveliness still shine on as always.

You started out as a small town and you were officially made a city when you had three thousand residents. A city with a population of three-thousand when you began! Such a number is hardly considered worthy of a town in our day and age. Still, you knew somehow that you would be grand someday, and the same went for the people who lived in your embrace. Each building was built for beauty, practicality and grandeur – all three qualities together, without ever neglecting a one. Your streets were built in such a way that you would be easy to understand and navigate so that everyone would feel welcome to rest their boots upon your sidewalks and streets.

Over the years, you grew outward and became larger and larger, but you never gave up your simple beauties – your lake-front is as bare as it ever was and your river had pathways all along its sides. Buildings were built taller and taller, and yet you still feel spacious and airy, not intimidating or claustrophobic.

Chicago, you are a city of modern beauty.

The Promanade

Every city has its wonders. Every city has its own unique little areas, places that are hip, places that are dangerous but still frequented, places that are historical or monumental or just plain beautiful. As societies have developed and more and more cities emerged, they’ve gotten their own kind of charm, and no two are completely alike.

Los Angeles is a strange city. You have to drive almost everywhere – there is public transportation but it’s not the best and most people seem to own cars. The city is more like a cluster of suburbs surrounding a few small major areas. Many people hate it for that exact reason – it’s not easily accessible to everyone, and you can never just walk out of your house and walk a block to buy milk for your morning coffee.

However, as I’ve mentioned here before, Los Angeles is also a wonderful city, and I love it. One of my favorite areas is Santa Monica, which is technically its own city, but I can’t help but just include it in LA. It’s a wonderful little area – right on the ocean, buildings ranging from beautiful to ugly as sin, lots of shops and restaurants and theaters.

The best part of Santa Monica is The Promenade. It’s about four or five blocks of closed road – no cars allowed – and it’s like an outdoor mall, only no mall could ever feel like this. There are street performers, good ones, up and down the whole street. Today, for instance, in the space of half an hour I got to see three teenaged boys perform some of the best dancing I’ve seen, a violinist playing with extreme gusto and smiling as an oddly dressed man danced with him, and a few men giving salsa lessons to random women in the street if they wanted them. There are shops of every type everywhere, and about twelve different types of food you can eat. It’s a wonderful place, and the atmosphere is simply charming, lively and fun.

My LA Haven

This is the way it’s always been:

Once I enter the large wood-framed glass doors, whether they’re in the mall or next to Ralph’s, my world shifts subtly, becoming a place of beauty and opportunity and most of all, calm. My cares drift away, and I let myself go, knowing I’m in a safe place. I wander the carpeted walkways, the halls, sometimes going up and down escalators. I gaze appreciatively at this corner or that, checking also if any of the chairs in the nooks are taken and if I might have a chance of collapsing into one later.

As a child, my steps, guided by a parent’s or relative’s hand, led me to the section with the big “JR.s” sign above it. All the shelves were at reachable child level, there were dolls and games in a corner and there was the same hand that had led me before, pointing out titles and pictures, helping me pick and choose.

Later, as I grew older, I would venture into that section alone, looking for the taller shelves. I would find my heart’s desires there – whether they were embodied by girls who rode horses and lived in the country or by boys and their dogs or detectives or super heroes. When my hands were too full to carry any more, I would plop myself down on the floor and lean against the shelves or recline in one of the comfy chairs by the windows and wait until my mother and brother were ready to go and pay.

Today, I feel the echoes of these times with me whenever I stride confidently through the vast halls and floors of Barnes&Noble. I focus my energies on the Fantasy-and-Sci-Fi section and the Young-Adult section – for it often holds fantasy novels as well and some adorable easy reading material besides. Whenever I am in the US, most specifically my beloved LA, I beg to be left alone in the shop for a couple hours so I can make my purchases and buy myself a strong coffee and read, cracking the spines of the new books with joy.