The Cafe Algiers was my favorite place to write when I was an undergraduate at Harvard. Despite the three meals a day provided to Freshman, I had a personal need, not shared by my roommates, to procure food elsewhere. I’d go to Nini’s corner and buy an apple, a “Cosmopolitan Magazine,” and a bag of peanut M & M’s. I wanted to feel like a person, not as if Harvard owned me.
Down a few steps into a dim smokey interior, the Cafe Algiers was full of north Africans playing backgammon and scholars sipping bitter coffee. No doubt there were revolutionaries and cabals, and hotbeds of foreign student liberalism in the days of exile from the Shah’s Iran. Here I learned to drink ruby red grenadine and soda, to eat hummus, and to realize that cucumber salad would always taste better out than at home.
The waiter would flirt with me as a polite necessity. He’d say: “Maryam, that was my mother’s name…” I’d order another little dish of olives, and write in my notebook.
At that time,I cared more about where I wrote than what. I wonder if this hasn’t stayed with me. Perhaps all my journeys are just to capture again that perfect mixture of loneliness and a cold drink I had at the Algiers.