Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Cafes and Culture

My wife and I visited Chernihiv this weekend, enjoyed the stately center, the ancient churches, autumn leaves, and peaceful atmosphere. It was chilly, so we dropped by a randomly selected cafe on the central street.

The cafe was called "Абажур" (Abazhur) and had a classy interior design, light colors, a high ceiling, a spacious feel despite the relatively small space, and classical music playing. The waitresses were wearing old-fashioned dresses reminiscent of the late 19th century, and the walls were lined with classic literature, mostly Russian and European.

Perhaps for the first time ever in Ukraine, we were in a cafe we truly enjoyed and felt comfortable in. In other cafes there's always something that bugs us -- tacky interiors, loud music, pop music, TV, crowded space, too dark, smoking allowed, etc. etc.

It occurred to me that I had never before heard classical music in a cafe in Ukraine. What a shame. Instead, music for public places in Ukraine is chosen based on the "least common denominator" principle. In other words, music is chosen that satisfies the tastes and expectations of the least sophisticated visitor.

Basically, nearly everywhere you go in Ukraine you must listen to music for young teenage girls -- unsophisticated, sexy, and pathetic pop. Baffingly, this is even what most minibus drivers turn on, and these are grown men who should be beyond girly teenage pop.

There are few places to go where you can enjoy more sophisticated tastes, aside from the local philharmonic hall. Older educated people say that the culture has degraded and that things used to be better. I wasn't around then, so I can't say for sure.

A few hours after leaving this unexpected cafe filled with sophisticated-looking people and reserved but charming waitresses, we took another break at a kiosk next to the park. We bought our MacCoffee and chocolate bar and sat down on plastic patio chairs underneath an open "Obolon Beer" cloth pavilion and sipped out of the plastic cup while trying to stay warm. A nearby speaker blared in-your-face teenage girl pop. We were back in the real Ukraine.

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