Café Satan: A Theme Camp Proposal

Or should I say, "mini-theme camp proposal"? This would be a small group, appropriately sized for Midwestern burns, which would join up with a larger camp should it go out to the Playa. Here's how I explained the concept initially:

I got this idea when I encountered some people from Moody Bible Institute who seemed greatly worried for the souls of anybody who couldn't get out of earshot quickly enough. They explained to me how the Music Clubs which people were headed to were the work of the Devil. As were the art galleries, comedy clubs, theatres, and most of the university departments we got our degrees from, it seemed. "Wow", I said, "I never knew that Satan was such a civic minded fellow. Do you think that the city should name a street after him?" "Sir, I don't think that you're getting our point". "You're right", I had to admit, "a street would be nowhere near enough. What could I possibly be thinking about?"

I thanked them for setting me straight, and walked off. They were too choked up with joy to speak.
This is Café Satan. Think of a dinner party at which Satan is the guest of honor. Sort of a Last Supper for the Antichrist. The other guests/participants are the truly damned, sort of a group of anti-apostles. The Café is the pavilion at which this dinner is to be held. So, of course, we're doing this for laughs, because we're not insane. At least, not by Chicago standards.

Anybody interested in this idea? Depending on how much one gets into this, this could be anything from an event to a full blown camp.

The idea has mutated slightly since that time, though it still calls for a celebration of the seven deadly sins. Sort of.

Question : What's different?
.. Answer : Nothing that wasn't overdue for change, anyway.

The above was a fun piece of sarcasm to toss out, but it left more questions unanswered than answered. An obvious one would be, what are we eating? How are we going to decorate the Café? What's outside its doors?

For that last question, we need to give the camp a storyline. Here, we're going to assume that Hell is on Earth. As part of their punishment, the damned wander the earth, intangible and unseen, able to see life all around them but forever unable to take part in it. For one week out of each year, though, the Demiurge relents and allows them to take on flesh and be seen, but only within one small place, far from home or any place that might even remind them from it. That one place is the Cafe, which is located in a small village in the tropics far from the major trade routes.

The villagers, being a little starved for novelty, look forward to the coming of these spirits ever year, even if they have learned to be a little wary around them. The spirits bring stories, in return for which the villagers bring them food and drink, and maybe even a little entertainment to those who must pack a year's worth of the pleasures of the flesh into a very short time. Their hosts do their best to make them feel at home, but the West is far, far away and largely unknown to them, so what results is a melange of that which is native (African with a few Latin American and Carribean influences) and Western. The Western influence shows up in the area of alcoholic beverages especially, because after a few centuries of being able to incarnate only in what they regard as being the middle of nowhere, more than a few of the damned have taken to drinking like fish.

"When's dinner?"

The Café, should it ever happen, will be a part of something called "The Lushes' Kitchen", at least tentatively. I think that if one were to try to live the mock Satanic thing 24 hours a day for 5 days in a row, it would stretch a little thin after a while, so the Café is going to be surrounded by something a little less out there, a place to catch a breather and come down to earth a little more.

I call it "the Lushes' Kitchen" because one of the things that people would come to visit our chill space for would be for the tasting of a variety of homemade alcoholic beverages. "You mean, like moonshine? Damn, you people really ARE Midwesterners." No, we're not going to be doing white lightning. What we would be serving would be things like my sister-in-law's mother's homebrewed mead, redcurrant cream, homemade cherry brandy ... actual distillation we leave to the professionals. What we do is maceration, percolation and maybe a little brewing, if we get really ambitious. These slightly more aggressive (and more alcoholic) drinks would not be served on their own. Traditionally, you wouldn't do that around here, and with good reason. You'd get rip-roaring drunk. These things are sipped on a full stomach, hence the second part of the name : the Kitchen. Good, solid, slightly heavy food will be served before the tastings. It's the best way to enjoy the drinks, and it insures that our contribution to the festival won't be to add to the population of out-of-control drunks the rangers have to deal with.

What kind of food? For these purposes, I'm leaning toward a variety of African foods and have already been looking through a few cookbooks for ideas. Virtues : It's certainly filling. It's different enough to be a novel experience without being so different that people new to it are going to have trouble enjoying it. It is a part of Chicago's culture, which would help give the camp a little bit more of a regional identity. If one doesn't run wild with the chiles the food often has a very soothing, homey quality to it. And, it can be done very cheaply. What would be offered to visitors, as per somebody's very prudent and well-taken suggestion, would be strictly vegetarian. This allows us to feed more guests with fewer worries about food poisoning, and the whole gumbo-like stew-over-starch genre of dishes we'd tend to focus on makes for unusually filling vegetarian cooking.

Some of you can probably see a tie-in to a different discussion : the suggestion that Xara might be made even more interesting by the inclusion of details from a variety of traditional jungle cultures. (The African immigrant population of Chicago seems to be more West African than South or East African, including a heavy Nigerian contingent). As it turned out, that didn't fit in very well with Xara's vision of what it wanted to become, but it was an entertaining idea in its own right, one which fits in well both with our local cultural resources and, one might say, a more conservative, typically Chicagoan approach, one that places a greater emphasis on our existing cultural traditions.

Does this fit in with the whole Café Satan concept, though? My answer: why not? We're not really looking at Hell in terms of any serious Christian doctrine. The Satan of the Café is a sympathetic figure played for laughs. Besides which, Christianity itself isn't really a Western religion; it's a Middle Eastern religion which the West adopted. Why would our little café be any less at home in a semi-African setting than it would be in a more European setting? So, really, what is being done here is nothing more than fleshing out a sketchy concept.

"The decor will be African, then?" some might ask. Hmmm. Probably not. Ever notice how flammable a lot of African art looks? It's a little too easy to picture one of our neighbors from Edgewater putting his heart and soul into a carving only to have some wandering yahoo torch it on Saturday without asking first. I can ask, but most likely the artist will say no, and who can blame him? As for the physical setting, looking at pictures of more traditional structures, even if I could find somebody who knew how to build these things, what isn't heavy appears to be friable. Picture a structure which shreds itself on burning and then picture trying to clean up the moop. (*) Probably best to stick with tents.

modification of a photo from 
Poffett's Pics,

What will it be instead? My contribution to the decor, for what it's worth, would probably be some amateurish effort at Op Art revival, with lots of bright colors and blacklight. (Op Art was a non-representational artistic movement usually associated with the 1960s which focused on perceptual effects as its subject matter. Sorry, but I can't show you any illustrations of this style, as the copyright won't run out on these images until the 2020s. However, look up the names Vasarely and Bridget Riley (1 2) on, and you will at least get a taste of it). As for what your contribution would be - you tell me. Be sure to sign up for the Café Satan/Lush's Kitchen mailing list, as it is where things like that are going to be discussed.

If you have a Yahoo membership, you can go here to register for our list, or use the button below if you don't. I'd suggest using the first option if you can; a few friends tried a dry run on the second one and it didn't work very reliably. But it's there if you need it.

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Where would you like to go now?

(*) "MOOP" is an acronym standing for "Matter Out Of Place". The site of the festival must be returned to its original, pristine condition at the end of the event. Picture trying to sift endless pieces of shredded, burnt crumbly straw out of a bed of desert dust, and you'll see why we're going to stick with canvas.