In practically every small town in Europe you will find a café in the town square that is the living heart of the community. Here in Añatuya, ¨Jose´s café¨(as I call it) is no different. Jose and his brother Marco act as patriarchs, confidantes and general advisers to all who pass through their doors. The café, with its generous array of pastiles, is always warm and welcoming and its impossible not to be drawn into its atmosphere. When I slipped in quietly on my first day back in Añatuya last week, M, the quiet, twinkly eyed waiter simply said ¨Buen dia – long time no see¨as though I had somehow been away on holiday for a couple of weeks.
Jose was nowhere to be seen and a rather garbled conversation with my friend N led me to believe he had passed away suddenly from cancer. This was a bit of a shock to me, however a further conversation with Marco revealed that he was not dead but merely unwell – although nobody seems to know what is wrong with him – ¨it´s all in his head!¨says Marco.
The café has a different feel about it depending on the time of day, but whatever the time, the main focus inside is the large plasma TV fixed to one wall. Before lunch, the café is the province of the older men in the town – no women are to be seen (presumably they are elsewhere cleaning, shopping, washing or cooking…….). The ¨No smoking¨ rule is ignored as the men sip their coffee, smoke and debate the important issues of the hour as they no doubt have done for the last 30 years or so.
The choice of daily morning show that these guys watch on TV is completely baffling to me. The host is a very tall and somewhat glamorous transsexual male dressed in the highest heels imaginable. The show´s guests (on this particular day) are various men dressed in pink lycra tights, also tottering on high heels and sporting the oddest womens´ wigs I have ever seen! ¨HAPPY HAIRDRESSERS DAY!¨appears across the screen in bold letters. It´s so bizarre! Meanwhile Jose´s elderly macho clientele are completely transfixed!
On Saturday nights though things are a bit different. For some men there´s only one thing more important than strutting their stuff or chasing girls and that’s the beautiful game of Fútbol!
As I wait for my evening meal, a group of young men enter the café, gravely nod and wish me a good evening before sitting down in front of the TV screen. On this particular Saturday night, things are not going so well for the home team – there are no excited shouts or frenzied exclamations of Gooooooaaaaaal!
Montevideo it seems is winning. You could cut the tense atmosphere with a knife. The men don’t make a sound but you can feel their agony and their desperate hope that things will turn around in the last few moments. It´s just too painful to watch – so I tiptoe out quietly. Time for an early night methinks!