In Europe, the café, tea room or coffee shops have always been a place where one meets up with friends for a chat or a discussion, places that have become an extension of home. Or it served as a place for reading the newspaper and for watching the passerby on a crowded street. It gave a view of the world, if only a microcosmic one. One could almost think of it as a club albeit, without a hefty membership fee.
In North America, to me at least, coffee culture has deployed in altogether different ways. No doubt it is related to the differences in the way’s inhabitants live in our cities in the new world. What I miss most about the experience of coffee in Europe, whether it is a quick expresso taken standing at an Italian bar or a more elaborate affaire in a Viennese coffee house, is the ambiance and the feel of real China or porcelain and solid silver spoons between my fingertips. To my mind the enjoyment of coffee has not been improved with the introduction of paper and Styrofoam cups. Nor do I feel the need, as many young Americans apparently do these days, to sample the ever-changing menu of soy latte, caramel macchiato, sprinkled with Ethiopian cinnamon or some other exotic invention. What happened to Arabica and Robusto and Café Crème or expresso, sans exotic extensions?
My local café is the case in point. The menu is full of varieties and strange combinations of exotic brews; all offered in paper cups or large heavy mugs served to upscale professionals or a scattering of graduate students glued to cell phones and lap tops. You can even bring your own coffee cup and they will willingly fill it! The growth of electronic devises that have become an extension of the human arm and brain makes it easy for the café patrons to feign being busy and thereby avoid conversation; or in some cases any human contact at all. While sipping a low-fat soy sprinkled with organic cinnamon up-rooted yesterday somewhere in Zanzibar.
Just yesterday, I witnessed one woman sitting on the table next to me trying to manage some lose papers, a laptop, two phones and a small IPad, holding a conversation on one of the phones while at the same time creating an SMS message. The sheer complexity of her one-person management operation made my head spin.
Happily, I have come to know a few of the patron’s, and we have accepted each other’s foibles and idiosyncrasies and now feel free to discuss almost anything. Politics being the area where we most often agree to disagree. The little group is now made up of a professor of music, a retired businessman, a wholesale merchant, a young teacher of mathematics at a high school, two medical doctors and myself, a retire economist. Today’s insight was given by Allen, the surgeon and his unlucky take on the current health care problems. He got rather excited, waving his arms about, nearly knocking over his paper cup of coffee. He was lamenting the disintegration of rural health care, explain things in great detail……until he had to take a deep breath!
“Have any of your patience ever seen you like this?” Janice the attractive young school teacher asked, as she shifted her own coffee cup further away from Allan to a more secure place.
“Are you kidding?” Abet, the young female surgeon coughed, nearly spitting out the coffee. “….if they did, they would never let him operate! At work, he has a cold as a cucumber façade and only you guys see the true Allan.
“Hm are you implying there is a real Jekyll and Hide slumbering in me?” Allan laughed.
And so, we spend most early mornings. Chewing the fat, as they say here in the deep South. And who can blame us, having completed the nine miles of walk along the newly developed green space path, getting to the café to have some nice refreshment and getting a chin wag. Particularly if the alternative is staring at a student plugged into a laptop with earphones that look like mufflers texting at the same time with her free hand, eyes glued to the screen and a paper cup full of caramel macchiato in the other hand!
©2019 ajs – Bert Berger
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