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Caj Chai and Café Politics

August 10, 2009

Since a friend of a friend turned me on to it way back in February, I’ve had many memorable and lucid moments in this place, my favorite little tea joint in Barcelona.

The name, I think, basically means “Tea Tea”: “Čaj” in Croatian (?) and “Chai” in Hindi.  Staffed by Spaniards, Argentinians, Americans, and others; furnished with lovely old mis-matched chairs and tiny lamps; and offering teas from China, Japan, Korea, India, Nepal, Morocco, South Africa, Argentina, etc., it’s the kind of eclectic den whose global-grab-bag spirit might give off a bad vibe (hello, appropriation)…if it weren’t for the genuine sense of goodwill infusing the space as a whole.  Cozy, welcoming, unpretentious, filled with music (from Oumou to ‘Trane and folks I don’t recognize), and featuring stunning work by local artists on the walls.  Sort of embarrassingly similar to the kind of spots I like to frequent back in the States.  But hey, that’s where I’m at, for now.

DSCN3622

DSCN3623

The feeling of being here reminds me of the feeling I get speaking English with a new friend in Spain or France or, better yet, India.  The legacy of imperialism, colonialism, and linguistic hegemony makes me sad.  But I’m also grateful to be able to connect with people through a shared language.  Especially when spoken with love.

On the other hand, no matter how charming these nooks appear, or how much camaraderie they harbor (wealthy shade-seeking tourists mixing with local homeless dudes reading Shelley in Castellano), there’s still the question of their origin in other people’s labor.  Who grows and picks the tea we enjoy here?  Who cuts the cane to make the sugar?  What are their lives like?

I don’t know how much of the stock at Caj Chai is fair-trade.  Next time I go, I think I’ll ask.  But even though the Fair-Trade label is somewhat reassuring, it’s no absolute guarantee.  Besides, along with “Certified Organic,” here in BCN as in cosmopolitan USA, it’s become something like a fashion-designer label.  And we all know fashions aren’t made to last.

There’s a lot to consider about our everyday places.  Even when we’re not (as I happened to be, the day I took these photos) reading up on the life of Gandhi.  :)

A sweet little informal library, with books in Spanish, English, and a few in German.  Most of the books I brought from the States have found a new home here.

A sweet little informal library, with books in Spanish, English, and a few in German. Most of the books I brought from the States have found a new home here.

I love this installation -- painted directly on the walls, and the mosaic pieces hung to complete the faces.

I love this installation -- painted directly on the walls, and the mosaic pieces hung to complete the faces.

Iced green tea with a mint sprig the size of a sapling. Little bowl of candied ginger. Gandhi's autibiography, "My Experiments With Truth." A sparkling afternoon.

Iced green tea with a mint sprig the size of a sapling. Little bowl of candied ginger. Gandhi's autobiography, "My Experiments With Truth."

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Cat permalink
    August 11, 2009 9:10 pm

    Caj is Czech. Perhaps as well as Croatian. But with the hacek (that little arrow above the C), it seems to be a Czech allusion.

  2. August 13, 2009 8:32 pm

    Thanks! Good to know.

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