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Back Buzz - October 24, 1997

pumping heart Botticelli Cafe, 101 Stewart Avenue, Downtown

Located just northeast of the Pike Place Market, this tiny corner cafe has always intrigued me. Since it's a mere half block from Caffé D'Arte, one of the two best espresso roasters in town, I've never had any reason to stop and check Botticelli out. When I peeked in the door one day recently, however, and spotted the little red and black round tables and chairs, I realized I had to pay a visit. (Red and black are my favorite colors, you see.)

My double cappuccino was served in a comfortable black cup with white interior on a deep green saucer -- both perfectly-shaped and well-used. I was also given a demitasse spoon, an essential implement which has been sadly missing from the last few cafes I've reviewed, but which I seem to have stopped mentioning. Was I starting to get used to the lack of a proper spoon? Would I start eating with my hands if restaurants failed to provide eating utensils? Wake up, JC! You're losing your edge...

Anyway, my cappuccino was a beautiful sight to behold, but it was served way too hot and the shots were too weak. Hopefully this was the fault of the barista. Botticelli uses its own blend of coffee which it also sells, and the barista told me they'd been using the same blend for years because they'd never found anything better. So I would try the coffee again, perhaps made by someone else at a different time and in a different mood.

Everything else about the cafe seemed perfect though (except for the Golden F***ing Oldies blasting from the radio, that is. I'm getting so sick of the Sixties!) The place has a very European feel which was accentuated by the barista's non-discernable accent. Besides myself there was an older New York couple eating sandwiches and an Englishman sitting at the tall corner table opposite my tall corner table. He was writing something, too, just like I was. Perhaps he was an alternate-reality mirror image of myself -- although I think if I were an Englishman in an alternate reality I wouldn't be wearing an uninteresting nylon jacket like he was. (This said as I sit here, my black nylon raincoat draped over my chair.)

But this does feel like a small neighborhood cafe in Europe, more along the lines of Paris or London or even Amsterdam as opposed to anywhere in Italy. If I just try to imagine the DJ on the radio is speaking French -- with no blasted "Sleep Country" commercials interrupting every two minutes -- I'm almost there in the Marais District, sipping un grand crème on the rue de Temple. And the large painting on the wall helps, too: it's Venus de Milo, isn't it? Or, no, I guess it's Venus on the Half Shell. Then could that man in the corner be Kilgore Trout penning his next novel?

Ah, yes, such an adrenaline-stimulating urban European atmosphere this suggests; it's a shame the coffee's so weak. I imagine, however, if the shots were made strong enough they might taste very Italian -- especially when served in such an Italian-looking cup.

But just what are those subtle everyday qualities that make me feel as though I'm on the other side of the globe? Why is it every time my nose fills with the smell of diesel fumes and rain-wet pavement I think fondly of London? Why, when I'm crossing a downtown street and a small car nudges me in the crosswalk, am I transported to Paris? And the tilt of our hillside house -- especially the way our tall bookcase and the wall it rests against create such a startling angle -- could this be Amsterdam, with its pointy tilting buildings sinking slowly into the canals? Why does drinking a glass of cool, fresh, crisp spring water always send me instantly to Switzerland? And every time I see people sticking their heads dangerously far out the windows of trains or cars, just waiting to be decapitated by a passing freight train or truck, why do I think I'm in Germany? Yes, perhaps those pints of cask-conditioned strong ale, served at just the proper temperature in an overheated pub on a stormy day, really do transport me to a country pub in Sussex. Is this possible? Is it really an alternate reality? I'm starting to wonder if that Englishman sitting in the corner might actually think he's sipping a margarita by the beach in Santa Monica on a sunny day right now. Maybe I should go ask him. Or perhaps I should leave him to his mini-vacation and take one myself. Where shall I go -- Venice? Vienna? Venus?

Speaking of vacations, my Bay Area friend recently e-mailed me about a mutual friend who's going to San Jose next month to attend something called C++ World. In my many years of programming and computer work I have to admit I've never heard of such a place. Oh, sure, I've been to Disneyland a bajillion times, but I grew up in the LA area so that was only natural. But all those times we passed through the Bay Area on our family vacations, did my parents ever think to take me and my brother to C++World? No, never! I feel underprivileged.

Following is my response:

Is C++ World a new theme park, then? I could see a programmer's theme park, complete with a roller coaster called the Spaghetti Codester, a spooky and treacherous ride through the House of Error Codes, and the System Crash, one of those zero-gravity experiences where you're strapped into a chair which suddenly drops several hundred feet. There could be Obsoleteland, which would be kind of like Disneyland's Frontierland, where old Fortran and COBOL cowboys shoot it out on Mainframe Street. And then there's 2000Land, where an entire section full of digital timepieces and counters go crazy and delete tons of data every time the big Greenwich clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2000 (which they could make happen every hour on the hour). Other rides could include the Divide By Zero Wild Ride (where cars full of riders are seemingly flung off the track into nowhere); the And-Or-Not Obstacle Course (where riders steer themselves through a series of logical gates); a gut-spinning octopus ride called the Object Orienter; and the World Wide Web, where riders are forced to move through a giant spiderweb, jumping from link to link while dodging the hideous Computer Viruses which lurk behind every server...

Wow! I could go on forever. So where should we open the first C++ World, in Silicon Valley or in Redmond?

You make it sound a lot more entertaining than the actual event could ever be. Everything -- the System Crash, the Divide by Zero Wild Ride, the And-Or-Not Obstacle Course. Yes! And the Object Orienter; at the end of the ride I can hear our old friend Ray's voice asking "How's your object oriented?" And the World Wide Web -- how fitting a metaphor to have the participants struggling through snarls of dust-impregnated cotton candy.

But what kind of action adventure could capture the thrills of Inheritance and Polymorphism?

If you take a wrong turn down the And-Or-Not labyrinth, perhaps you should end up in C++ Hell. You might be seated in a room that appears, at first, to be occupied by friendly bears; but after the doors close and the seams disappear, you find you are trapped in a conference room, and the bears are transformed into animatronics figures of all the managers you've ever worked for, talking entirely in jargon and giving you incomprehensible instructions about the assignment you must complete before lunch. You finally locate a trap door under the table and jump in, only to slide down a chute into a dark corridor where foreign-born aerospace engineers are smoking in the shadows; they recognize you, pat you on the back and grab you by the arm, and insist that you stick around as they continue telling centuries-long jokes that are void of humor.

When you finally break free and run down the corridor, you are pursued by a marionette -- who looks remarkably like that specialist you and I once worked with who never commented his code -- who takes long flying strides after you, shouting, "No, wait! There's an easy fix! All you gotta do is . . ." At the end of the hall, after slamming the door behind you, you find yourself facing a rock wall splattered with paint. There are handholds, but the wall is incredibly high, and you're not sure you have the strength to make it. Then a strangely familiar tall, spindly man -- a spitting image of that rock climber or paintball warrior you used to work with -- appears with climbing gear. He jabs you, painfully hard, in the upper arm and says, "Go ahead -- I'll run protection."

My god, it seems so real! I'm starting to hallucinate.

Perhaps the walls of the conference room should be covered with posterboard charts printed with ambiguous ideologies like the following:

Business Improvements Governing
Total Informational Technical Support

  1. IDENTIFY What The Customer Wants
  2. HOLD An Informational Meeting Determining What The Customer Wants
  3. GET INTO POSITION To Give The Customer What He Wants

(Hey! Maybe I should become an aerospace manager...)