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Back Buzz - June 23, 2003

pumping heartHavana Internet Cafe, 32 Division Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Every city centre has one particular street or area which tends to burst at the seams on sunny summer days. In Sheffield this is definitely Division Street, which stretches between Devonshire Green and the Peace Gardens. On one recent scorcher of a Saturday afternoon, as an antiwar concert and festival was in full swing on Devonshire Green, we sat by a window at the Havana Internet Cafe and watched the crowds of trendy and not-so-trendy pedestrians pass by. Located on the corner of Division and Carver -- across the street from two almost identical Italian restaurants -- this pleasantly coloured cafe features seven Internet terminals and a full cafe menu with plenty of vegetarian options. The falafels are apparently quite good, and they also offer breakfast, burgers, pancakes, regular and grilled panini sandwiches, wraps, pastries, a wide selection of Twinings teas, and LaVazza espresso drinks.

Our double macchiatos were served in oversized cafe-au-lait cups, which was an aesthetic disappointment. But at least we were provided with demitasse spoons, a rarity in this country. And fortunately when I ordered our drinks I spotted the jar of chocolate sprinkles next to the espresso machine, so I made a point of requesting no sprinkles on mine. Sadly our macchiatos were a bit scorched -- not volcanically hot on the tongue, mind you, but they tasted as if the ground beans had been burnt by overheated water. Other than that they were quite enjoyable -- and at £1.55 the price was pleasing as well.

The price for Internet access also seems reasonable: 15 minutes online for £1.00, which is long enough to quickly check your Hotmail if you're passing through town -- or one hour for £3.00. While we were there a couple of people were browsing the Internet, one woman was writing a letter, and a man in a vest and leather jacket was playing Internet chess with an unseen opponent. The Havana offers computer courses and services such as printing, copying, faxing, CV services, scanning, and laminating, and there is no need to book ahead for online time.

What attracted me most about the row of Internet terminals were the wiggly-pole frames around each terminal, stretching from the ceiling like giant aluminium spider legs. Aside from the fact that I've always been attracted to wiggly things, my partner and I were impressed by the fact that a certain amount of privacy for each terminal user could be created by such a minimalist construction. I suppose in this Internet-and-spam-driven world the simple concise solutions are often the best.

Speaking of a simpler, more concise world reminds me of a recent e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend:

An interesting writer has just passed away. Augusto Monterroso, a Guatemalan novelist, wrote the shortest story in the history of literature. Following is "The Dinosaur" in its entirety:

"When it woke up, the dinosaur was still there." I remember from childhood that the shortest Bible verse is "Jesus wept" -- which may be handy to remember for one of those worst-case scenarios where a crazed religious fanatic is holding a weapon to your head and demanding that you recite a verse. And it may be marginally more interesting (at least to Christians) than the short story you cite, which seems a bit flat. (Perhaps it lost something in the translation. Do you have it in the original Spanish?)

Are there records of the most concise condensed version of an epic novel? I think you and I have both seen Shakespeare plays distilled to one minute. Could one reduce a Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky work to a paragraph? A phrase? One haiku? I didn't realise "Jesus wept" was an entire verse! It's also a popular British interjection, similar in spirit to "Oy vey!"

All this reminds me of one of my favourite poems (was it by Ogden Nash?) which is short but fully descriptive:

There goes the wapiti,

I can see a new terse form of autobiography for today's Internet generation, especially useful for small gravestones and memorial plaques in crowded cemeteries. How's this:

"I was born. I did whatever. And then I died."

As to a Dostoyevsky haiku:

"Young Raskolnikov
murdered the landlady and
felt bad about it."

Yes, I can see it this rushed, overloaded Information-glutted age, there's just no time for people to take a year off to write the Great American Novel. How about just allowing a day off to write the Great American Haiku?