There is a bar in Córdoba which is like Heraclitus’ river. Or rather perhaps, like all rivers as described by Heraclitus. You can never, strictly speaking, visit it twice.
I live in a town not so far away, and I have been there many times. It’s not a disco or a jazz club. It isn’t filled with drunks with smelly armpits crying in their beer, or prostitutes pretending to be something else. It doesn’t smell of overused oil and there is never football on the television. It provides food but only symbolically, for show rather than nutrition. It serves coffee in the mornings, wine at midday and strong liquor in many colours at night. It always smells clean and slightly evocative. We might call it a cocktail bar. It is many things, but it is never any of the things you expect a bar to be.
You can hear the music, but you can hear yourself speak as well. You don’t have to dress up to go there, but you do anyway because if you didn’t it would be like going anywhere else. The lighting is sufficient to see the beauty of the women, but too dim to show their flaws. They serve beer, but only out of bottles, and no one would dare drink it after nine in the evening.
Despite being recognisably the same place, and retaining a very distinct feel, which is what takes me back again and again, every time you go there it has changed. The art discreetly hanging on the walls, the tone of the ceiling, the play of the lights on the walls, the nap of the light rugs, the refined shoots of Brazilian bamboo or bonsai behind the bar and in the alcoves, are different. The faces are not the ones you remember. Their clothing changes only slowly, with the seasons, with the fashions, but the people are never the same. The music is always exactly suited to your mood, but you only notice when you hear it that your mood has changed since you were last there, and so has the music.
The barman remembers you, of course, and he knows what you want before you order it. Which is odd, because I’d swear he’s not the same one as last time…