Dream city

The city I visit in my dreams has a car-free center with many narrow, winding alleys that morph into covered passageways. It combines features from every city or large town I’ve ever spent more than a week in, so picture a combination of Osaka; Kyoto; Taipei; Tegucigalpa; Ithaca, New York; Austin, Texas; and State College, Pennsylvania. In many dreams, it’s just a set for the usual play of mundane anxieties: losing my backpack, for example, or suddenly discovering I don’t have enough money to pay for a meal I’ve just eaten. But in some dreams it’s also a landscape of longing, and not in the sense that I wake up and wish I were still dreaming. Rather, within the dream itself, I am often searching for a place I found once, a long time ago, and have never been able to find again. I suppose that’s a kind of anxiety, too, isn’t it?

Don’t get the wrong idea when I tell you that the place in question is a bar. I’ve seldom enjoyed hanging out in bars: they’re almost always too noisy, too crowded, and too expensive for my paltry income compared with just buying a case of beer and drinking it at home, and they tend to be filled with loud music I don’t like (I don’t care for most classic rock). I much prefer coffee shops and diners where one can sit at the counter and have normal, non-pick-up-oriented conversations with the waitresses and the other patrons. I can’t tell you why I feel such longing for this bar in my dreams. It almost seems as if that’s part of what I’m searching for: some explanation for my attraction, or the memory of attraction.

All I can really tell you about the place is that it was very small, moderately well-lit, and decorated in orange and red, with maybe some green thrown in. There were no tables, just a bar on three sides of the room. The bar was made out of metal, I think, and the stools were free-standing draftsmen’s stools. It was basically a place where one ducked in for a quick drink on a cold evening, I guess. What made it seem so convivial? I remember it as virtually deserted, with just one bartender present, and no other customers. (Perhaps it closed subsequently for lack of business?) I believe I found it by accident while looking for another place where I was supposed to meet some friends. I don’t remember how long I stayed: maybe a few moments, maybe the entire evening. What’s time in a dream, anyhow?

Unless it wasn’t a dream. I visited a lot of strange little places in Japan and Taiwan twenty years ago, so I’m not absolutely sure it’s a figment of my imagination. The inexplicable longing I feel to visit it again, even now that I’m awake, is every bit as strong as the nostalgia I feel for things that I know were real. But the bar’s reality or lack thereof is almost beside the point, because I suspect that I was barely awake for most of the things that provoke nostalgia in me now. What is nostalgia, after all, but a manifestation of the desire to be fully present without the discipline to achieve it in the here-and-now?


Members Only, said the sign on the door. The room was filled with severed penises.

Some of my anxiety dreams are so ridiculous, I wake up laughing.

18 Replies to “Dream city”

  1. I think I’ve been to that bar: in Madison, Wisconsin, and in Manhattan, and last week in Ithaca, and a couple of times in Austin. Funny, it looks different every time.

    Like your recent book review, this dream narrative does something new with its form: not a plot summary but an exploration of feeling, which is something that, oddly, often gets left out of dream reports.

    It made me feel the longing — and nostalgia for times when I was more susceptible to it. I would like to dream that way again.

    It’s so rare, and moving, to feel someone else’s dream.

  2. Oh really – you can feel that, huh? Well I’ll be damned. If I hadn’t spent all morning on other tasks, I might’ve tried to make a poem out it – this felt like a half-way effort to me.

    I’ve posted quite a bit about dreams, off and on, and wish now I’d started a special category for them. I suppose I still could…

  3. The casual, conversational air of it must be part of what I like. As if you’re telling your dream over breakfast. It doesn’t feel overworked.

    Looking at it again, I see that I like the last senrtence a lot too (the last before the “Members Only” stuff, I mean). Is that what nostalgia really is? I don’t know, but the sentence is so authoritative it makes me want to think about it till I reach a point of understanding.

  4. Look, Dave and Richard that bar is in an airport. I think it is in Spain. But if I recall rightly….it was moved to South Omaha and is in a hotel on S 24th St….they did not move the mural. It is still in Spain.

  5. Ah, Fred, I was in Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, and Valencia last September. Got to like Carlos I brandy in a cafe on the royal palce square. There’s a place here in Austin that sells it, and I smile when they’re in stock. Omaha, and airport bars, I leave to you.

  6. I could be wrong, but I think it was that little dump at the edge of the little town here in Japan, the one with the old lady behind the bar who spangled gold teeth and squinted so hard when she laughed that I thought she’d squeeze out her tear ducts. She served beer and chuhai over the counter with a shaking hand and had to whip out her old rag to mop up the drink she spilled. She loved going on about the quality of the boiled soybeans that she served with the drinks, and asked you if you ever sang “Otoko to Onna to Sake to Namida” (Men, Women, Liquor and Tears) to the karaoke box while the other old cronies sat around crooning in terribly off key falsetto. I think that’s where I saw you Dave, no?

    One of the best descriptions of Tokyo and Japan was in a blog I recently happened upon: Conversations from Tokyo.

  7. Dreaming of bars appears to be a guy thing, looking at these comments. At least as far as associations with longing. My dreams that evoke longing don’t involve places, as far as I can remember, only people. Though I do sometimes go back to certain places that seem only to exist in my dreams.

  8. butuki – When I lived in Japan, I did know an old lady barkeep like that. She was my main Japanese teacher, in fact – very bright woman, and a total nonconformist.

    leslee – I suppose a Freudian would tell us that bars are really women. I don’t know how common it is for places rather than people to evoke longing.

  9. I feel much as you do, Dave, about bars. I’ve always felt there was something sexually decaying in bars, as if the healthy erotic connection between people was somehow drugged and made to appear whole. It’s the only reason I can come up with for why so many people coming out of bars sport greasy, unkempt hair. People say bars tend to be very male, but it’s not that, I think. I think it’s more of a longing for males to be male in an atmosphere where perhaps a lot of them feel they don’t need to explain themselves to women, but where women are very often uncomfortable and vulnerable. And while I feel that men shouldn’t have to constantly be on guard about being male, I am simultaneously not comfortable in an environment that so often puts women on the defensive either. Give me a good cafe any time, where the emphasis is on taking your time to talk with another person, male or female. I guess pubs in Britain are more like that? That’s how gastatte always felt to me in Germany.

  10. Yeah, I’ve heard that a lot of British pubs have more of a family atmosphere. I think that’s also true of many of the new brewpubs that are sprouting up all around the U.S., too. Maybe cutting the ties with BudMilCoors also symbolically separates the brewpub from all that boneheaded TV beer commercial stuff.

  11. I always liked bars that had live music in them. Although I guess that’s more likely to be a club than a bar, however tiny the venue.

    I have felt intense, physically-felt longing for certain places, just not in dreams.

  12. Good point – a half-decent live band redeems the scummiest, most crowded bar.

    Feeling longing or nostalgia for some place (or someone) only encountered in a dream seems like a Pisces sort of thing to do, I must admit. As does not being able to tell whether indeed it was only encountered in a dream!

  13. I would think of the bar less as a typical or specific bar, and instead maybe: bars are places where people go to unwind, vacation spots are places people go to unwind, and this is one bar where you actually feel comfortable. Sounds good. Next time you are there, you might try exploring it a little, talk to the bartender about the place and what goes on there (acknowledging it is a dreamspace), if you’re curious try going out on the street or into the back room, or just sink into the moment. When you’re having trouble being in the now in waking time you might try imagining the place before going to sleep, with practice you may end up there, unwind and maybe get some clues as to how to be as present as you want to be in the waking time.

  14. Good suggestions. I never thought about visualizing it before going to sleep, but it might work – I’m a fairly lucid dreamer sometimes.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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