It shall be a good lesson to me, to take a picture of the place that featured in my work in one way or another. I quite liked Caffe Uno, located in the basement of Heron House in Manchester, opposite the Town Hall and the famous fountain with gargoyles. It never occurred to me that the day may come when this cafe would no longer be. Alas, as you will know if you live in Manchester, Caffe Uno has now been changed by Brasserie, and I was lucky enough to find this picture by Neil on Flickr.
The poem below was written on a small envelope. I don’t know why it was in my bag, but it was, otherwise I’d have to deploy a paper napkin. It was my first ever visit to CaffeUno, it was in January 2005, and the story of how I ended up there is quite trivial, I suppose. I was meant to meet up with the only Russian person I know in Manchester. We were actually going to meet at Mark Addy, then known as the Russian hub in this sunny city. Not only would this be our first meeting, it was also the Orthodox Christmas, January 7th. This lady and I decided to meet at about 9pm at Mark Addy, but I first needed to actually get to Manchester, so I took a bus and reached the city at 7pm.
The evening was incredibly cold and windy. I remember wearing a long coat and a trilby hat, and all the way I had to hold on to my headwear, otherwise it would fly away, surely. I somehow decided to kill time drinking coffee at Caffe Uno. I think one of the reasons may have been that I had wanted to go there for a while, and it now seemed like a perfect occasion to finally pay a visit. I sat in the bar, at the tall table near the window, and drank Irish coffee. The weather outside was getting worse. The Christmas decorations were already taken down, except perhaps for a few garlands left randomly on trees. The wind, however, was so strong, that the bollards at the cafe’s entrance were overturned a few times. The streetlamps were glowing in the ghostly fog which was becoming denser and denser as the evening advanced. And then there was this music: a strange collection of rockabilly, soul and Italian pop songs.
I have long noticed that when you write a love poem or a poem about love, the question that inevitably rises is – was there a protagonist? My answer is always “yes” and “no”. There may be a certain person involved, not necessarily on an intimate level. They may be a good friend of yours, but something they said or you said can suddenly acquire a totally different meaning. Or the person in question may be an amalgamation of several people, and therefore thoughts, experiences. What I enjoy the most about writing is the experiment, which is why I very rarely dedicate poems to anyone because, in the end of the day, the text will not be about them, even if it might allude to them.
This poem, however, is about me. The question that I now must ask myself is – since I am the protagonist of this poem, is this me? My answer is “yes”. However, I was alone in Caffe Uno. I wasn’t looking at anybody in particular, although I probably wanted to look at somebody. The text dwells on the experience of that creative loneliness which is enhanced by the rather Gothic weather. There is no rhyme in the Russian text, but the rhythm, which I tried to replicate in the English translation, is in tune with that musical vinaigrette I described above. Having said that, the mood of the poem is closer to soul than to pop.
The poem does read like a romantic poem. But since I was looking at someone imaginary, it is rather likely than not that I was ultimately looking at myself. And little did I know, being at Caffe Uno and scribbling the lines on a tiny white envelope, that at Marc Addy I would also be on my own, and that this Russian friend wouldn’t turn up, and that, sitting in MA and gazing at the black bitter waves of the river, I would finally decide that I somehow belonged to England and wanted to stay here. The poem thus becomes Romanticist, rather than romantic, and indeed it marked yet another stage in the series of changes that started during my visit to London in April 2004.
Imagine this: the lights of night-time city
Are drawing me beguilingly to you.
I drink cognac which taste is blent in coffee,
And soul chords caress my ear fondly.
The cars are flying with the blowing wind;
The leaves, umbrellas, hats are flying after.
I’m thinking; in the rhythm of rockabilly
My recollections move; and I feel good.
You’re thinking too, but nothing do you know.
And so I gaze with a mysterious smile:
Imaginary flame ignites the lantern,
And all streetlamps are like the burning bushes.
And we don’t speak; sometimes an odd talk
Intrudes upon us from the corner table;
It’s ghostly; nightly; beautiful; and empty;
I drink cognac; I’m being drawn to you.
Manchester, Caffe Uno,
January 7, 2005
English translation © Julia Shuvalova 2007
Вообрази: огни ночного города
Меня к тебе влекут неодолимо.
Я пью коньяк, чей вкус разбавлен кофе,
И блюза гаммы слух ласкают мне.
Летят автомобили ветру вслед,
Им вслед летят листва, зонты и шляпы,
Я думаю, и в ритме рокабилли
Воспоминанья движутся; мне хорошо.
Ты тоже думаешь, но ничего не знаешь.
С улыбкою загадочной смотрю:
Воображаемый огонь зажегся в лампе,
И кущами пылают фонари.
И мы молчим; случайный разговор
Доносится от столика в углу;
Все призрачно; ночно; красиво; пусто;
Я пью коньяк; меня к тебе влечет.
© Julia Shuvalova 2005)