10 October 2009

Pictures at an exhibition: The waterhole rant

The area inside was thick with cigarette smoke. Where we wanted to be—at one of the tables in the outdoor patio— was impossible because by the time we arrived about 7:30 p.m. they were filled with revelers, who were virtually all First World ex-pats, just like us.

See, I went to the bar and restaurant last week to see a former university colleague, now on the faculty at an American university in the Gulf. I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I am often invited by co-workers by join them on their weekend excursions, a kind gesture I appreciate, but I usually come up with some lame excuse to avoid the risk of offending them with a more blunt.

Bars are about the most toxic environment I can I imagine, the legal equivalent of a shooting galley or an opium den, but with even greater risks because excessive alcohol is more likely to make you irrational and violent. The opiates may make you dull, cannabis makes you goofy, but booze beyond a few drinks makes you stupid. Stooo-pid.

Now the air in Kabul, without smoking anything, is damn near poisonous—it’s even loaded with fecal matter, according to the best available health information. Add a roomful of cigarette smoke to the mix, and my eyes and throats were wailing for mercy. Yeah, I’m a lightweight.

Another reason: Most of the bars I have been to over the last three decades—admittedly not too many—play a steady diet of music that is at least 20 years old. Classic rock, classic pop call it what you want, good or bad I don’t care, I call it a retreat into nostalgia, either for people who quit listening to new music after turning 21 or for people who fear the present and prefer to exist in an idealized past whitewashed with their selected memories. For someone with an appreciation of many genres of music, I find it unforgivable that more gathering places aren’t playing contemporary music. Beside the pap shoveled out by the music industry mega-corps, there is so much outrageously creative music being produced everyday that it almost seems vengeful to play the same playlist most people have already heard thousands of times already.

Plus with all the crowds and competing noise at this bistro last week, I hardly exchanged five minutes of conversation with the friend I went there to see. What the hell was I thinking?

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