Wednesday, October 17, 2007

cinema verite, rain, and the Famous Bar

The rain is still coming down and the wind is alternately whining and screaming through the gangway at my house. I spent the afternoon at home napping, wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, watching the big drops fold sideways into the screen on my windows. And I read a book. It seemed like luxury, and after meetings and work all morning, it was all I wanted to do. As I was lying there, thinking, I was trying to put into words why I like the rain so much.

As people, we fall into two categories: those who like the grey and the rain, and those who only want sunshine. Naturally, I am suspicious of the sunshine variety and wonder mostly why it is that they cannot cope with the ups and downs and spontaneity of life. Of course, perhaps I just like the rain because it begs you to slow down, to turn off the television and be alone and quiet. Maybe I just like it because somehow every time it rains, it seems exactly like the rain somewhere else at some other time, and I am whipped back through a memory, to a place. And then, the obvious-- I spent six years living in Central Illinois and 2 in England with nary a spot of sunshine except in the strictest confines of August heat. For a good quarter of my life, I had to learn to love the weather or completely miss the day. I learned to love the weather.

I’d get all cozied up in warm clothes, a coat, and boots, grab the umbrella (mine has a poem handwritten in the top-- a gift from an old friend), and out I’d go. In Illinois, I’d drive or run; In England, I’d walk through the muck of the fields, in the fog... or swap my boots for heels and window shop in the city centre, the smell of roasting chestnuts permeating the damp air. Sometimes there would be a movie, and usually I’d make a big pot of soup at the end of the day, but always I’d go to the pub.

Here, I have never established much of a rainy routine. The skies open up less often and I am usually content to take the day as a hint that I should slow down, rest, take stock of the world, or maybe just watch it a little more closely than usual. This morning, I was in U. City for a meeting, and I planned on window shopping the grey noon away, strolling up the street to Subterranean Books (my favorite), and then visiting some folks in the Loop. But the rain angrily switched to a downpour, and I found myself in the dimly lit interior of a restaurant eating lunch on the South Side and laughing with friends.

Very rarely these days do I leave the comfort of my warm house when it’s raining and I have an afternoon free--- which is rare unto itself-- but as I sat there reading, I kept thinking of the Famous Bar. The same thought I always have when it rains and I think of slinking into pubs for a quick cuppa or a Guinness in the cold of my younger days, and then the Famous pushes itself right behind my eyes until I cannot ignore it. Perhaps it’s because it’s just there, like a little pocket on Chippewa which everything else continues to happen around. The cars still splash in the water outside, people still walk the street. But there’s more to it. The Famous is anything but a dive. It impresses me as classy without pretention, mature without being matronly, comfortable without being dowdy. It is a place to be seen and to be quiet, one where people are as likely read the paper in the afternoon as they are to play an almost rowdy game of pool. It is not a sad bar, but it is my favorite place to go for an afternoon nip. Just enough of the sky peeks through so you know what time it is, but not enough to make you think you need to be doing something else. The drinks are well priced and range from my beer moods to the tasty Manhattans of my more cosmopolitan days. The bartenders are friendly, and moreover, know when to let you have a rainy day and when you need a bit of sunshine.

I didn’t go to the Famous Bar today, but I did think about it all afternoon, as I often do. I don’t know what it is about that place; I am nowhere even close to being a regular, but it pulls and works at me. I think part of it is when it rains, life begins to feel very cinematic. I watch myself as if I am narrating my own close-up. And in my movie, the Famous Bar is always where my character goes when it rains. That’s how the scene opens, a shot of an inauspicious bar on Chippewa, barely recognizable as a watering hole except for a couple of Schlafly neon signs, the cars whizzing by, whipping up water in a fantail, and then the woman at the bar, watching the rain and thinking. She knows, somehow, something new will come next, but even as she waits, you can tell she’s someone who would still jump in a puddle just because it’s there. Even at thirty, sometimes the rain’s there to make you have fun.

The Famous Bar
5213 Chippewa St, St Louis - (314) 832-2211
(opens at 3pm each day; open Sundays now, too-- yay!)

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