Saturday, September 1, 2012

An American Icon - The Diner

John Baeder, Bell's Pond Diner, Oil on canvas,
30"x36", 1990
(Private Collection, Paris, France)

Every country, every culture has its icons that tells the story of that civilization which resonates with its residents and to a certain level with  outsiders.  To the members of that society these icons represent all that is good and home and to outsiders they are familiar sights they may have encountered from popular culture.  The American Diner is one such icon. They can be found all over the country from small winding country roads to State Highways, with counter space seating, non-stop coffee refills and round-the-clock service they are an ingrained part of the fabric of this country.  Sometimes, they are what we miss when we are away...  I still smile as I recall my father's vexation at the price of a cup of coffee when we were in Italy many years ago and his reminiscing about the local diner with the waitress coming up and asking him "You want a refill honey?"

John Baeder, Rosie's Diner, w/c, 2003
(Paris, France)

As opposed to my brother who loves diners and goes to one of his favorites each week, my husband and I are not really avid diner-goers.  This morning was an exception. Having an early doctor's appointment, we didn't have time for breakfast before we left the house. After a not-so-pleasant appointment  we went to the most convenient place for breakfast, to the diner right across the parking lot. As soon as we were seated, our server, Linda, came by with a smile on her face and a ready quip on her lips.  She was so warm and so pleasant that she revived our lagging spirits... she even got my usually austere husband to smile. Linda with her sunny disposition turned a visit to the local diner for a cup of coffee and an omlet with toast into an experience akin to sitting to a comforting breakfast at an aunt's kitchen table. We left the diner with a much lighter heart, ready to face whatever the new day may bring.

Coming from a Mediterranean culture, we are used to having interactions with everyone we encounter during the day from our neighbors to all the clerks and owners of the local stores.  In my hometown, Istanbul, everyone is genuinely interested in one another and their well being. As soon as I arrive, the owner of the little restaurant around the corner from our apartment inquires about my children and how long I plan to stay.  The lady who owns the tiny dress shop, asks how my mother-in-law is doing. The greengrocer sets aside the best figs for me because he knows I can't find them here. Living in New Jersey, these are the kind of interaction we miss out on where everyone is too busy to get to know their neighbors and lately, simply suspicious of their fellow man. But today, thanks to Linda I feel I have found a small vestige of a world where people can show genuine warmth and be more than just civil to each other.

While I was trying to find visuals to portray what I wanted to express in this post, I came across a wonderful site belonging to an artist who is a photorealist, John Baeder. Mr. Baeder's paintings truly captures the spirit of this American  icon and I am grateful he has allowed me to use them on my site.

For anyone, visiting the United States, I strongly recommend a visit to a diner to get a feel for the "real" America, even if it is just to hear those famous words..."You want a refill honey?"