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Monday, March 28, 2011

Timbuktu, Guam and Siberia


If you are going to dine in New York City restaurants, it is best that you are tolerant and flexible. New York City is edgy, and, like all edges, some are sharp and others, like New York's, are rough and uneven. Even if you pick your battles carefully, there are too many elements beyond a person's control in a big city, buffeted about by whim, chance and circumstance. Like the service you get in a restaurant or the location of your table.

There are numerous metaphors for the remote. As a child growing up, the household refrain was forever Timbuktu. I did love the sound of it. It was so befitting - its very sound was exotic and remote, somewhere in darkest, mysterious Africa. It only occurred to me recently that I had no idea of where Timbuktu was or why it was such a well used metaphor for the faraway place.

In 1988, New York Magazine ran an article entitled: Table Envy. The Best Seats in Town, Who Gets Them - And How To Avoid Siberia. Siberia - another apt metaphor for the poorly located and very undesirable. The article even contained floor plans of some of the city's more exclusive restaurants, showing the placement of tables with a description of those deemed to be in Siberia (as opposed to the "Golden Coast.")

I am told by a friend who attended Elwood/John Glenn High School on Long Island, that Guam was the universal label for all things remote and that the word was used liberally. Thus, we have a trinity of metaphors, showing a nice geographical distribution, perfect for every occasion to cover the various conditions where remoteness needs to be underlined.

I have sat many times at the table at the top of the short staircase at the entrance to Olive Tree, a Middle Eastern restaurant on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. I do love the ambiance of this place, but although not remote, this table for two can at times qualify as a variant on Siberia, particularly with continuing severe drafts from the doorway in the winter. Last night's affair was like dining in the jet stream. A woefully inadequate curtain was forever billowing, acting as a poor windscreen and was left open from each customer that had last arrived. We shall see in tomorrow's story, however, that there can be pleasant surprises and warming trends, in Timbuktu, Guam and even in Siberia...

* Timbuktu is located in the West African nation of Mali, located on the Niger River at the edge of the Sahara desert. At its peak in the 16th century, Timbuktu was a thriving center of commerce and intellectual activity which drew Islamic scholars from around the world. It has been a popular metaphor for a remote or mysterious place and used this way in film, literature and conversation for over a century.

8 comments:

mark mahoney said...

Nicely turned, refreshingly brief, and charming in that 'making the other person feel that BOTH of you are wonderful' sense of the word.

Leslie said...

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...makes me shiver just reading this. I hope the food was worth it! Is it EVER going to warm up?
Speaking of Guam-at my 40th high school reunion I ran into someone I had barely known back then. He had been in the Navy in Guam, and missed it a great deal. He said the night sky all the way out there in the middle of the Pacific was spectacular, unlike anything we can possibly imagine. I hope some day he gets to go back, cause I could see that's where his heart and soul still live.

Ennuipoet said...

I'd the good fortune to live on Guam and spend my first two years of high school there. It (was) as remote as people imagine, television was taped in Los Angeles and broadcast on the island a week delayed (this was 1985, I know there were satellites, never understood that one.) The island was beautiful, the weather was incredible and the people amazing. From there I moved to Idaho, which was far more desolate and removed from civilization.

Brian Dubé said...

mark - why thank you.
Leslie - seems like Guam is the theme here.
Ennuipoet - I ilke trinities too much to break them up, but sounds like Idaho should be added to the group. :)

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geram said...

nice information~

alan said...

well it's unfortunate that American's don't know much about their own territories.
Guam's remoteness comes from America's isolating of the island, for america could care less about their territories so long as it benefits their security.

The reason why Guam was a week too two weeks behind in cable TV shows, is because Guam is ahead of the United States in time and it would only make sense to broadcast shows on the same day and time of the showing otherwise it would be broadcasted at odd times.
Today, shows are shown on the next days. Desperate Housewives is shown on Monday instead of Sunday and 30 rock shows on friday

Sally Darling said...

MY FAVORITE Little Restaurant, Oh how I have longed for the Olive Tree. 30 some odd days until I can go back again! Hope you will be able to meet us there for a lovely bite to eat and conversation there!