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lundi 26 septembre 2011

Generosity and Gratitude: Says the Philosopher of Sioux City

Where else in USA would the owner of the coffee shop would give his keys and say: you guys are deep in conversation, I am closing up but when you are finished, switch off the lights and close the shop! The person in question is Ron who is the brave owner of the Coffee Works, the oldest and the best and perhaps the only Coffee House or Café in the sense we know it in Sioux City.
The person he was directing this request was none other than Steve Avery, the Sage of Sioux City. At one time I thought Sioux City is a place humans went AFTER they died, such was the impression the decaying city left upon me. On a Sunday morning, at this very same café, Steve Avery changed all that, all those many years ago when New York Times in these parts were rarer than tooth of a whale!
I had just finished a simple lunch at Café Danh, the only authentic Vietnamese resto for at least one hundred miles, the usual Bung Ga Xao and decided to finish the lunch with a good coffee from Coffee Works in Pierce Street in Sioux City.
Today the coffee was especially good; a Café Americano with warm milk, Ron the owner himself concocted it. He also kindly did the favour of calling Steve to say that an occasional visitor was in the café.
I will be right over, said this busy man who with his brothers run a successful enterprise in this city which had seen better times and a large Jewish community of 2000, now dwindled to a few. The metaphor is not lost on me. I saw the old synagogue still sporting the Ten Commandments in Hebrew proudly has a sign in front of it Iglesia Cristiana!
It was interesting to note that there were many notices upon the community bulletin of this café urging people to come for free or very expensive Yoga classes and I was astounded that there is a Yoga College here. The popularity of Yoga as an exercise form is not lost even in a city, with its dying embers to light it up …
Steve would always have a book, his editor had advised him to read Alain Robbe Grillet so that he can learn a little bit more about tidying up his novel which he is attempting to publish. He is a writer, he proudly says, that I can write something so unique that another writer had not done it. His passion for literature, and his writing and the devotion to his land (terra not country) of his birth, the people from whom he had risen, all are evident in this man of conviction. I am a Rebel, because the people here allow me to be a rebel, I am not a revolutionary (a la Che) because I don't want every one in Sioux City to change so that I will no longer be a rebel! Open and honest, liberal in a country where being labelled liberal is worse than being labelled a Nazi in Europe.
Ron got caught up in our conversation and he stayed yet another hour. At this time our conversation was into its second hour. A true discourse I thought. This is not Face Book or Twitter encounter but an exchange, an archaic form of exchange of knowledge between people. This art form is lost. Where else, if you are not willing to sacrifice that you can spend three hours in the late afternoon talk about a range of literature from Faulkner (the Count not Count) to Alain de Botton to Virginia Wolfe to Gabo and many many many more including Harm de Blij…and his slightly Christian orientation. We wondered whether this Dutchman didn't have an Afrikaner education so that his worldview was influenced by the strict Calvinist traditions of the Afrikaners?
On and one, out and about, he respects his town and its people, he is not judgemental but wears his difference like a badge and he is proud of it.
We ended talking philosophy and it was amazing how clear he was in his head. Clarity is what I associate Steve with, his thinking is clear. We talked about eastern philosophy and the ingredients for happiness, summarized by him The Two G
No one including Dalai Lama would oppose to that.
He had also words about this country which would save failing corporations but not pay for the health care for the disadvantaged, the power of the corporations over the government, the powerful forces acting in this country of children of mediocre immigrants of Europe. He was horrified at the ineptitude of the politicians of the right who would like to see the poor slithering away to their death, and asked, regardless of the party, when would be the next time we would get a President as intelligent as Obama?
The People deserve the people they elect. They only have to go back and see what Bush did to this country. Obama was a beacon of light and there is darkness ahead.
We had been talking for three hours; the sun was still shining brightly. It was time to say good-bye, reluctantly to this man of wisdom from all unlikely places in the USA, Sioux City, USA
I proudly say to anyone. I am a Doctor but I do not know a single doctor practising in Sioux City (full of doctors intending to make money, according to him, heath care is only secondary, but they may be technically good) but I am proud to know the best of Sioux City: the sage Steve Avery and also Ron the photographer who is tireless in his efforts to provide the sole café in this city where like minded people may find refuge.
Thanks to both of you, from a traveller, you both are assets to your city.