Friday, December 09, 2005

when the world of cibo was a little younger

As I’m often occupied elsewhere, and as this blog’s supposed to be a daily, I’ve decided to pad things out with a few things I prepared earlier.

This review of Cibo café was written in 2002, and received warm responses from my legion of fans. There are some out-of-date references, but still it’s quite amusing.

There’s this new Cibo is on the corner of Grenfell and King William, and there are at least two others, one on O’Connell in Nth Adelaide and one on Rundle. I’ve not been to the Nth Ad one, but I think I get the concept; find a spot on a busy thoroughfare, preferably a corner (all 3 abovementioned Cibos - if the plural’s permissible - are on corners), with lots of thru traffic, foot and vehicular, and provide for lots of interface with the ‘natural ambience’ of the street(s). Make the walls light and airy, but also no-nonsense functional (i.e. white). The décor, the same - stainless steel and glass, self-effacing elegance, corporate chic. Avoid too much cosiness - this isn’t the place to while away an afternoon, it’s where you take a breather between deals (in your fantasy, and these places are as much about selling fantasy as providing lunch). The space itself should delicately balance between out-and-out crampedness and the streamlined, somehow mobilising effect of something temporary, almost makeshift. In fact the space should have no real interior, no depths, it should be all surface pressed to the outside. What is unavoidably within should preferably duplicate or mirror the external bustle; that’s why long, narrow, corridor-like spaces are best, thoroughfares within thoroughfares, with their own traffic snarls, sleek speedsters and ten-minute parking spots.

Above all it should be modern, even futuristic in a modest, unostentatious way. Thin lines, block colours, neat angles, a kind of near-sterile repetitiveness not unlike ambient music, that music specifically designed to lull you away from itself. Nobody should ever be able to get away with calling the place pretentious.

These eye-of-the storm little cafs should be seen as shrines to the public rather than the private persona. They have some connexion with the glasshouse that old Montaigne wished he could live in, to have all his acts publicly judged, but the emphasis is as much on seeing out as on seeing in. These cafs are for busy, wordly people, people so hungry for the Great World that they only retreat from it momentarily and with great reluctance. In fact you could say they only step behind the glass to obtain a clearer view of that World. For this reason it’s essential for the caf to be provided with a range of up-to-date newspapers and other publications, to further underline the obvious truth that what matters is Out There.

Of course Cibo is Italian for food or something, and I haven’t mentioned that side of things. No need, really.

So I bought my latte and was sitting looking out into the ambience when in walks a gentleman intriguing in his typicality, just the sort of fellow to help me round out my review by lending it a more particular, evidentiary focus. In he jaunts, trim in silken blue shirt and bright, complexly patterned tie. Not that he’s a dandy or a flash cove (as the old Bulletin used to have it), no, he’s subdued, contained, economical in all his movements. There’s something about him though that seems thoroughly modern - even futuristic in a modest, unostentatious way. He gives the leanest of smiles to the woman behind the counter, who greets him familiarly and asks how is he today? He doesn’t respond, he’s absorbed in the choices laid out under glass before him. Then, when an elegant sufficiency of time has elapsed, the servitor asks him what he’d like to eat. He starts speaking, but not to the servitor, to the space before him, and only then do I become aware of the black cord leading to a plug in his ear. He speaks quickly, flatly, nodding his head, his eyes narrowing in concentration. The servitor, cut dead, forgets to close her mouth for a while, then leans back, patiently waiting her turn.

Ten years ago I’d’ve found such behaviour pretty shitty. He doesn’t even fob off the servitor with a mollifying smile or shrug. Yet here, now, in Cibo, I realise his acts are precisely in tune with the etiquette, the priorities that are built into the design of the place. Of course communications from the Great World must always take precedence over any interactions taking place in our brief retreat - especially with a mere servitor. In fact it’s really quite thrilling to witness the shrine being used for its intended purpose.

So, message absorbed, our Corporate Model unfussily orders his lunch and sits down at the table next to me, pulling a copy of The Financial Review* from a nearby shelf. Perfeck. But is he an employee, a stooge? No matter, Cibo is here. Cibo is now. And I am in Cibo. I’ve arrived, for the time being.

For it’s inevitable that Cibo’s days are already numbered. Anyone who saw ‘The monster that ate Hollywood’ on SBS recently might recognise that the phenomenon of big money moving in, focusing expenditure on marketing and market research (i.e. creating and following trends at the same time), making as quick a killing as possible, then moving on to the next Big but KeepItSimpleStupid Idea, is not confined to the movie industry. I’m sure the moneyed movers and shakers behind Cibo are already planning the replacement of its replacement. And whatever it is, I’ll be there.

*I must admit to having a soft spot for the Fin. A few years ago, flushed from having a novel published, I made an effort to get reviewing work. I sent some brief sample reviews to a number of national papers, including the Fin, and received a nice letter back from its editor (or rather, some lowly sub-editor) saying that the Fin, being a dryasdust business paper with little space for literary pursuits, couldn’t help me at this time. He then went on to discuss - in a sort of modest, unostentatious way - various folkloric and literary allusions in one of the novels I’d reviewed.



At 11:58 am , Blogger jen.nifer said...

Enjoyed your Cibo review, Stewart.

Do we get to know more about the novel you got published? :)

At 12:38 pm , Blogger Stewart said...

I had a novel called In Elizabeth - a boring title - published by Wakefield Press in 97 or 98. It sank without trace and i don't even have a copy of it.
Hope that doesn't discourage you in your writing ambitions.

At 2:31 pm , Blogger jen.nifer said...

Hi again! I can't believe you don't have a copy of it? Is that by choice? Do you hope to publish something else in future? Sorry about all these questions - I'm always interested in this sort of thing... naturally! Heh, it hasn't discouraged me, no -- but still, well done for the year of 97 or 98!

At 6:06 pm , Blogger Stewart said...

Not having a copy wasn't really deliberate, more like carelessness. I have friends with copies, so i can always get my hands on one if necessary.
I wrote another book straight afterwards, and Text Publishing promised to go with it, but it all fell through suddenly. I'm not very good at pushing my own work. I wrote a third book but i don't like it much, and now i'm writing another, on a much more serious theme. I'm confident this one will find a publisher, because of the nature of the material.
Thanks for the interest.

At 11:26 pm , Blogger Lisa said...

Good "review" - actually to me it was neat little example of life in the macrocosm of a coffee bar. I like your writing - you manage to capture rich detail nice and succinctly.


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