Tuesday, February 23, 2010
You can't live here long without realizing that Santo Domingo is an exercise in contradictions - the lazy island vibe in the middle of a bustling metropolis, a city brimming with workers going about selling their trade coupled with an often fiery disposition that in the US would send buyers running for the door, the stark poverty of a four year-old hand outstretched, begging for ten pesos at the window of the Lexus driving fashionista.
Caffe Milano (Avenida Tiradentes, Naco), the location of our last date night, somehow made these contradictions, and the volatility of the city seem more vivid. The food was excellent - they specialize in a wide array of Italian inspired fare including pizzas, meats, salads and pastas. The service was the best we have had here so far. We had a couple of perfect glasses of red wine (after simply ordering the house red, we meant to ask about the name, but forgot). The dessert (la bomba de chocolate) was an absolute work of culinary ostentation, if not art or perfection of flavor. The restaurant is open air in the middle and the walls are draped in white. All of the lighting is dim and blue. It vaguely makes you feel like you're in Express for Men, but it's not as bad as it sounds. It's fun. It's like a club. There's even a DJ.
So, here we sat in the middle of this swanky place, surrounded by the most chic members of Dominican society overwhelmingly aware of the imbalance of it all. This nation has a long history that is not unlike the surf that surrounds it - a waxing and waning between independence and occupation, democracy and totalitarianism (or worse). The scale at Caffe Milano was tipped in favor of its patrons - overwhelmingly white, wealthy, visado (with US tourist visas that is) and worldly. The side we see most days is not these things. It was striking. It is still striking. It has left me wondering if the rich and the poor remember the volatility of their positions in the history of things here and feel daily that it would only take one coup d'état, one brand new Constitution or even one surprise earthquake to send things flip-flopping back the other way. I find I want to learn more and wish I could find a class on Dominican identity - perhaps a good honest book would do the trick…or at least shed a bit more insight.