portrait of a barista, desired
Unobtainable desire haunts me everyday.
You would think a Sunday afternoon could be spent minding your own business, visiting a cafe with the intention of catching up on some bricked texts or light reading. Right now, it’s Diane Keaton’s Then Again. I’m where she dissects her relationship with Woody Allen. Comically matched in their own romance on-screen and off-screen, she repulsed Woody with her nostalgic yearning, her memories full of incessant nurture, a part of her nature.
Needs and wants fall flat in the turbulent affair of obsession and desire. The differences between the two are exercised in Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Céline Sciamma plays with the authoritative boundaries between an artist and their muse, and how the ‘object’ becomes ‘subject’. And when art becomes the reason why you exist, especially in the form of a human body, you pledge to un-see distinctions. Barriers break down, touch in reach.
Diane and Woody both used to be in a relationship together, played themselves, strikingly, on-screen as they created fictional material in their own lives off-screen. It can’t be helped to mention Sciamma’s decision to cast her former lover and longtime muse, Adele Haenel as the muse herself.
Sciamma says, “I wanted to...talk about the dynamic collaboration between the model and the artist, to have a love dialogue that was also a creative dialogue and that was the plot.”
Throughout the film, there were so many ways to declare love for each other without cliched verses or gestures. Rather, the art of creating a first time is to re-invent the cliche. The first time we see the first kiss is shrouded by the sound of the sea, by floating silk veils in overcast winds, but, quit visibility, we see their breaths buffer under their veils, in anticipation, on the edge of our very seats, of tension between two bodies in rapturous love.
Dialogue enriches what is kept quiet, but I found in my own life that the quietest moments speak volumes.
My heart murmured when I met eyes of quiet couples already seated. Their judgemental pity slumped my slouch, weighing down a bag I carried in.
To be alone in Korea is a tough job all on its own. Passing judgement is common in the eyes of Koreans when they see someone eating alone, walking alone, hell just even being alone.
I always tell people it’s so easy to be alone in Japan. No one cares. You could snag a seat for yourself at any restaurant and no one would pay any mind. But here, it’s such a big deal because everyone’s playing each other on the same standards. Whether you’re cards are in or not, you’re held up to the standards much like everyone else.
So not only did my heart murmur, but it ached in anger to all the inference. And when I reached the register, my heart murmured again.
I was met with a smile. It was one of the first times I ever felt genuine invitation in the form of a human gesture in Korea. This wasn’t the charade of a tired twentysomething at a 24/7 convenience store. Because the rest of the space filled me in on the smallness of the cafe. Its Japanese-inspired woodblock minimalism in tables and chairs. Square pillars held up a low hanging ceiling. Warm lights. The cafe divided off into a more intimate seating along the wall, carpeted in deep lush blue.
Dewy locks of hair. Dimples. Japanese 80’s pop off his cobalt black iPhone Pro. A silky blazer hung loose off his shoulders, boxy enough to give it weight, but light enough for him to move around the tight amount of space to make mochi and serve coffee. It was just him. Workers denim and Doc Martens. Sleeves rolled up just above his thin wrists, bringing cups of coffee to tables without a spill, without a bump of a chair. He knew his way around such a small amount of space.
I got the Tenu coffee served in a latte with a heavy foam sweet cream. I tasted hushed almonds with sprigs of dark chocolate and rum. An IPA in coffee form, best described.
But as I continued reading about Keaton’s love failings, I could not stop watching his movements, fluid poetry, darting back and forth between tables, cleaning glasses and wooden trays, swapping through songs, all at the same time.
My eyes could not unmatch the detail of wet swipes on a soundcloud mix with the way the blazer swished in the quietude of hushed conversation and ice clinks in glass, the way mugs floated over saucers. I could not un-hear his voice, the way he told guests to wait while he brought drinks to tables.
To run a business and ask guests to wait in the way he oftenly did astounded me. In Korea, service industry standards steep high that it’s unlikely you’ll have to wait at all. Customer service lines aren’t like what they are in the U.S., thirty minutes of awful elevator music and a fake A.I. Tops, you’ll only have to wait two minutes, and that’s pushing it.
I finished the coffee, leaving a bit of foam to soak up the rest of my running imagination. I looked at him, and he looked back with a smile. His eyes lit up, and motioned to his lips. I waited on words, something to translate into comfort, warmth, but he gestured to the invisible milk mustache above his lips that physically crumbed over my lips. The back of my hand wiped away embarrassment from his laughter and I shrunk away, bussing my own table, and leaving.
Hours after, I could not stop thinking about the blazer. The faint air that would make it quiver in daybreak couldn’t leave my mind. I was on Instagram, mindlessly scrolling, when an ad showed up for it. I ignored it at first, in denial that it was the blazer itself, but I swiped back, and lo and behold, it’s been sitting in my cart, in imaginary possession to bell jar the marriage between obsession and desire.
241–89 Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
sun — sat, 12.00 - 21.00