Teresa’s coffee and the winter nights of Riyadh

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Al-Jazirah

IT was a cool and wet Saturday morning in the winter of 2030. It was the end of a long and exhausting work week. I took the train across the blue lane from my house to the downtown, which is something I do every weekend.

The train station was packed with children, men and women, locals, visitors and passersby. Everyone had own destinations to go. The echo of the departure announcements filled the place. When the train arrived, I hopped on to a car and was barely able to find a place to stand.

I held on tightly to the metal bar to keep balance and catch my breath. The train was going so fast and the sound of the breeze outside was like a musical note to my ear. It blended with its echo as the train passed through the tunnel with interludes of silent clips when it crossed another lane, or when it stopped at a station and started off again. A symphony that I am used to hear all the time when I travel on the train, so I didn’t feel the need to look at the display screen, or listen to the announcements stating the names of the train stations. Actually, having enough experience, I could tell the names of each stop from the echo of the place as the train passed by.

A guy stood next to me, and I could tell from his features, hat and the Cuban cigar in his mouth that he was from the Gulf of Mexico region. He was muttering a tune that sounded like the opening scene of a cowboy movie. Nearby, there was a couple having an intense romantic conversation. They came to Riyadh for honeymoon.

On the other side of the car, I saw a Saudi tour guide who was helping European tourists with their next destination. A guy sitting in front of me was holding a book. On its cover, it was written something like: “Someday we will meet accidentally, and you will know me, but I may not remember you.”

The train stopped at the station near the main boulevard in downtown Riyadh. The passengers split into the urban space like a flock of birds that was just released from its cage.

Here was the busiest place in the city. Each corner filled with people arriving from all over the world. Coffee shops, restaurants, malls, theaters and exhibitions all turned this place into a perfect tourist destination. It finally came back to life after many years of abandonment.

I headed straight to a small Italian cafe run by an Italian woman called Teresa. Antico Caffe in Rome inspired Teresa to establish the cafe as a sanctuary for artists, intellectuals and thinkers. No one could resist the charm of the place, the appeal of the mirror, the marble floor, the romantic paintings and the gold-coated wooden panels on the walls. You would feel like you were in the 1960’s with Italo Calvino and Maria Gaetana sitting next to you.

Teresa keeps saying that investing her money in this cafe was the best decision she ever made, and that Italian tourists always stopped by each time they were in Saudi Arabia.

Listening to the beats of Toto Cutugno, I sipped a cup of Italian coffee and then I set off to walk around the alleys of the boulevard. I stopped for a moment to watch an open show by the Mexican orchestra. I was not surprised to see that the leader of the group was the guy who was standing next to me on the train this morning. It was like our meeting was a part of the symphony chorus he was leading.

I was meeting some friends to spend the rest of the evening in a traditional restaurant called Al-Ghabooq. This place serves camel milk in a sophisticated but traditional style. It attracts many tourists because it gives them a chance to experience the life people lived in the desert with all its details.

Merging with people from all parts of the world has become an important feature of the lifestyle in Riyadh. It feels great to have people coming from all over the world to experience life in Saudi Arabia.

At the end of that very long and hectic day, I took the last train of the day for my trip back home. The streetlight that sneaked through the windows painted abstract art on many faces that featured different cultures, which coexisted with one another. It was a great trip through the barrier of time. I am sure I am going to be there again when the day comes. Teresa’s coffee will definitely be waiting for me.


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