Saturday, January 31, 2009

Keep it real

"F*cking espresso, Cappuccino, we invented this shit. . . now all these c*cks*ckers are making money on it . . . It's not just the money, it's a pride thing. . . This? this is the worst, this espresso shit."

-Pauly Walnuts-

So we're sitting at this rustic, open air coffee shop in Port Salerno, looking over the Manatee pocket and the old fishing docks where slick yachts, beat up trawlers, catamarans and open fishing boats are moored. The building is a collection of old fish houses that went bust years ago when commercial net fishing was outlawed in the area. A glass blower rents a corner and a potter, and there is a gallery and some workshops -- and a coffee house that's a great place to enjoy the view, the breeze, the sounds of a harbor; maybe have a cup of coffee, eat a home made cookie, play some checkers in the shade and watch the boats come and go. It's the kind of American ambiance that attracted me to the coast and to this part of Florida; an island in the river of change; a river that's ever rushing toward commercial strip mall plastic mass produced national franchise sameness. Panama hat and Ray-Bans, flowered shirt and deck shoes; you feel afloat in the serenity, you're part of the scenery. You remember why this feels like home rather than an address.

So when a young dude dressed in Urban Black sidles up to the counter and asks, without apparent embarrassment, for an "Americano" with soy and demerara sugar, I could feel the air turn stiff and brittle as a plastic strip mall sign.

Am I wrong to single out Starbucks as a singular agent of phoniness in America? Rightly or wrongly I do just that. Of course you can't cheat an honest man and you probably can't make a pretentious ass of him either. It was all here, that sense of provincial inferiority that makes people who've never been near Europe feel good about paying more for a 20 ounce coffee by calling it a Venti even though in Italy and the rest of Europe they don't use ounces. Perhaps we could solve the problems of General Motors by having them sell Voitures because for all our narcissistic nationalism, Americans hate being Americans -- or so it seems at Starbucks.

No matter how you feel about Starbucks, I had to smile at the planned closing of 600 locations in July and the additional 300 announced this last week. Perhaps now, that piece of untouched Florida wilderness still remaining where Bridge Road crosses US1, Starbucks has been trying to get a zoning variance on will remain the home of Sand Hill Cranes and alligators and not be replaced by "baristas" (baristi in real Italian) serving up overpriced, oversized plastic buckets of Italian breakfast coffee to pretentious lunchtime provincials.

Trying to open a Starbucks in the real Italy, where people want a glass of Vino Bianco with lunch and the salad comes after the main course and no two coffee shops are the same, would be as difficult as opening a Chop Suey joint in Shanghai. To the locals, as it is with Pauly Walnuts, our phony expropriation of their culture is just that: phony.

Truth be told, I find the coffee in Vienna - and the pastry that goes with it - far better and a morning "bica" at some hole in the wall shop in some Portuguese fishing village is incomparable. It's also not separable from the matrix. I do love espresso and I do love a plain ordinary cup of drip coffee from one of those Bunn coffeemakers you see in every diner on our continent. It's authentic, it fits, it's real and as American as red checked table cloths and waitresses named Flo.

So they've stolen one more piece of America from me. Oh sure, I can still go to Dunkin' Donuts or a Waffle house and get served a cup of coffee by a waitress and a damned good doughnut too and I don't have to feel like a jackass with pretend Italian nomenclature either. You can't see the water from there though.


Anonymous said...

Each morning about 6:30 I arrive at the small outdoor coffee shop for my two cups before going to class. The coffee is thick like syrup and black as a moonless night. The pourer extends his arm high from the cup so I can see two feet of liquid between the pot and the cup. Its boiling hot. It's strong. Its bitter and sweet at the same time. It's heaven. I always have two. 60 cents apiece.

Capt. Fogg said...

That's life as it was meant to be.