Monday, May 08, 2006

Enlightenment: $2.72

I read a lot of books about writing and the writer's life. It's amazing how many of them mention coffeeshops.

Walk into a coffeeshop sometime in New York City or Berkshire County, Massachusetts and count the solitary figures absorbed in their laptops. Every one of them is dreaming of having a bestseller some day. I'm told that in LA you can't sip a latte without tripping over a dozen Sundance aspirants.

Coffeeshops are good places for writers for a lot of reasons. The space is free, you can get a wi-fi connection, there's the ambient sound to make you feel less lonely but still able to concentrate. And of course, there's the caffeine.

The book I'm working on is about Italy. I'm not really a coffee fanatic- my family is Irish, we grew up downing tea by the potful- but the scent of caffe latte is invaluable to my Italian memory bank. I first went to Italy in those nearly-forgotten days before there was a Starbucks on every American corner. Espresso and lattes were still unusual here outside of certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

There was something special about coffee in Italy: the thick ceramic cups and saucers, the tiny spoons, the sugarbowls shaped like stainless steel gondolas. It's just a different experience.

These days I get my lattes in a small coffeeshop near my daughter's school. There are no cups and saucers, no tiny spoons: I get a lidded paper cup and a wooden stick to stir in a couple of packets of sugar. But every time I sit down with one I can picture myself in one particular cafe in Castelgandolfo: not the posh ones on the square, but a small, barely-lit storefront that put a few tables out on the street for an hour in the morning. I can see the improbably red-haired woman working the espresso machine, her big smile and the laughing way she raised her eyebrows at our tourist Italian. (By the way, if you ask for a ""latte" in Castelgandolfo all you'll get is a glass of milk, so ask for a caffe latte if that's what you want.)

It's not exactly Proust's madelaine, but it helps.


Joke said...

Why the world hasn't caught on to the civilized way of coffee-ing, I have no idea.

Me? I'm a "due ristretti, una tazza, per piacere" sort.


Christopher McLaughlin said...

Sue you castelgandolfo snob!