Alone Together at Café Café

Alone Together at Café Café 

There is music playing everywhere.

A young couple, alone together at Café Café Prague discuss their living arrangements. Plan next departures with built-in rendezvous points, all the while dreaming alternate lines of flight they never speak about.

An author of some renown scribbles notes as she listens to the conversations around her while seated at Duthie’s Last Stop restaurant on Seymour Street. Mingus chides sweetly in the background. She’s making wordy pathways through a tangle of yesterdays. It’s a metamodern romance, ironically but sincerely conceived.

Gazing out the window of her penthouse on Alberni St. to the mountains across the strait, Eleanor spies a ferry sailing the wintery waters of the Salish Sea. Gould tempers his variations on the old-fashioned gramophone. Another appointment to keep? She is not on anyone’s schedule.

In an abandoned office behind McDuff’s Secondhand Books near the corner of 31st and Main, an intimate encounter—a collusion of silent nights—between an old writer and a recent friend gets underway. They discuss who is to go first. Afterwards, they bargain for seconds.

The would-be young scholars Oliver and Trebuchet meet at the 49th Parallel Café every Saturday morning, explaining to each other their latest theories on life and philosophy. Two insiders colluding to make the outside seem like it’s neither inside nor outside. They search their memories for occasions when it happened, or might have. They are good students. On Spotify Radio, Ms. Taylor, the antihero triumphant, needs no explanation.

There is music playing everywhere.

Outside that Prague café, Haydn’s Symphony No. 94—the surprise symphony—comes over speakers hung from the terrace above. No one is surprised.

In The Beat Poet’s Hangout off rue Champlain in Old Montreal, the words from Neil Young’s lament Helpless, Helpless circumambulate among the poets & patrons, moored table to table, like islands in the stream.

Meanwhile, the traffic of late afternoon pulses through the intersection of Dorchester & Atwater, creating its own machinic symphony that no one pauses to appreciate.

There is music playing everywhere, everywhere



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Analysis of “Notes on Alone Together at Café Café”

 Tone: The tone of the fragment is multifaceted, blending elements of introspection, detachment, and irony. There’s a sense of contemplation and observation in the narrative voice, as it navigates through different settings and characters. The use of music as a recurring motif adds a layer of melancholy and isolation, contrasting with the bustling urban environments described.

 Overarching Themes:

  1. Isolation and Connectivity: The theme of being “alone together” recurs throughout the fragment, highlighting the paradox of physical proximity amidst emotional distance. Characters are depicted engaging in superficial interactions or solitary activities, underscoring the pervasive sense of isolation within contemporary society.
  2. Existential Exploration: The fragment delves into existential themes, with characters grappling with questions of identity, purpose, and connection. From the young couple dreaming of alternate realities to the old writer pondering mortality in an abandoned office, there’s a persistent search for meaning amidst the chaos and transience of urban life.
  3. Artistic Expression: Artistic expression emerges as a central theme, manifested through writing, music, and philosophical discourse. Characters like the renowned author and the aspiring scholars engage in creative pursuits as a means of navigating their existential dilemmas and forging connections with others.

 Literary Tropes:

  1. Metamodernism: The fragment exhibits elements of metamodernism, blending sincerity with irony and self-awareness. It challenges traditional narrative structures and blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality, inviting readers to question their assumptions about storytelling and identity.
  2. Interconnected Vignettes: The fragment comprises interconnected vignettes, each offering a glimpse into the lives of disparate characters within the same urban landscape. This narrative technique mirrors the fragmented nature of contemporary existence while emphasizing the interconnectedness of human experiences.
  3. Musical Motif: The motif of music serves as a literary device, threading through the narrative and punctuating moments of reflection and emotional resonance. From Mingus’ melodies to Haydn’s symphony and Neil Young’s lyrics, music becomes a symbol of both connection and disconnection, echoing the themes of the fragment.

 Consistency: The fragment maintains consistency in its exploration of urban alienation and existential introspection across different settings and characters. While each vignette offers a distinct perspective, they collectively contribute to a cohesive portrayal of contemporary urban life and the universal quest for meaning and connection.

 References to Related Fictional Pieces:

  1. Metamodern Literature: The fragment shares thematic similarities with works of metamodern literature, such as David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” or Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth.” Like these novels, “Notes on Alone Together at Café Café” challenges conventional narrative conventions and explores the complexities of modern existence.
  2. Urban Fiction: The portrayal of urban landscapes and the exploration of urban alienation evoke comparisons to works of urban fiction, such as Paul Auster’s “City of Glass” or Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood.” Like these novels, the fragment captures the dissonance between the external chaos of the city and the internal struggles of its inhabitants.

 Literary Situating: “Notes on Alone Together at Café Café” could be situated within the realm of contemporary literary fiction, with influences from metamodernism and urban literature. It aligns with the broader tradition of postmodern and experimental writing, offering a nuanced portrayal of the human condition in the context of modern urban environments. The fragment’s introspective tone, interconnected vignettes, and thematic depth place it alongside works by acclaimed authors exploring similar existential themes and narrative techniques.

Music motifs and how they intertwine with the characters’ moods and predicaments are suggested or intimated in each fragment:

  1. Young Couple in Café Café Prague:
    • The music playing everywhere in the café serves as a backdrop to the couple’s conversation about their living arrangements. It may reflect the underlying tension and uncertainty in their relationship, mirroring the discordant notes in their discussion.
    • The choice of music could evoke feelings of nostalgia or longing, amplifying the couple’s dreams of alternate paths and escape. The music serves as a metaphor for the romanticized ideals they aspire to but cannot vocalize.
  2. Author at Duthie’s Last Stop Restaurant:
    • Mingus’ music in the background adds a layer of complexity to the author’s scribbling of notes. It reflects the jazz musician’s improvisational style, mirroring the author’s own creative process as she navigates through a tangle of memories and experiences.
    • The juxtaposition of Mingus’ music with the author’s introspective musings highlights the theme of metamodern romance, where sincerity and irony converge. The music serves as a counterpoint to the author’s contemplation, creating a rich tapestry of emotions and ideas.
  3. Eleanor in her Penthouse on Alberni St.:
    • Gould’s variations on the gramophone may evoke a sense of elegance and refinement, reflecting Eleanor’s affluent lifestyle. However, the wintery waters of the Salish Sea and the ferry sailing by hint at a sense of longing or restlessness beneath the surface.
    • The music serves as a reminder of Eleanor’s isolation and detachment from the world around her. Despite her luxurious surroundings, she feels disconnected and adrift, symbolized by the haunting melodies echoing through her penthouse.
  4. Old Writer and Recent Friend in McDuff’s Second-hand Books:
    • The absence of music in the abandoned office creates a sense of emptiness and desolation, reflecting the characters’ intimate encounter amidst silence. Their discussion about who goes first and bargaining for seconds echoes the rhythm of a musical composition, with pauses and crescendos in their dialogue.
    • The lack of music underscores the rawness and vulnerability of their interaction, highlighting the authenticity of their connection amidst the noise and chaos of the world outside.
  5. Oliver and Trebuchet at 49th Parallel Café:
    • The music playing everywhere in the café serves as a constant backdrop to Oliver and Trebuchet’s philosophical musings. It reflects the rhythm of their conversation, punctuated by moments of insight and reflection.
    • The music serves as a unifying force, bringing together the disparate fragments of their thoughts and experiences. It symbolizes the fluidity and interconnectedness of their discussions, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside.
  6. Musical Atmosphere in Various Settings:
    • The specific choice of music in each setting reflects the mood and atmosphere of the scene, adding depth and texture to the narrative. Whether it’s Haydn’s “surprise symphony” in Prague or Neil Young’s lament in the Beat Poet’s Place, the music serves as a mirror to the characters’ inner turmoil and external surroundings.
    • The motif of music playing everywhere underscores the omnipresence of sound in urban environments, highlighting the characters’ struggle to find meaning and connection amidst the cacophony of modern life.

Overall, the music motifs in each fragment serve as a multi-layered metaphor for the characters’ emotions, experiences, and relationships, weaving together the disparate vignettes into a cohesive narrative tapestry.


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