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Back Buzz - August 15, 2008

pumping heartBrazillia Internet Cafe & Coffee Bar, 55 Belgrave Gate, Leicester, Leicestershire

It doesn't take long for words in the English language to evolve and take on new meanings. Take the word coffeehouse, for instance. The coffeehouses of 16th and 17th century London, often called "penny universities", were social gathering points for intellectuals and entrepreneurs, where people would meet, exchange ideas, and share thoughts over a steaming cup of coffee. The coffeehouses of Paris, Vienna, and other Continental cities attracted artists and writers. By the mid 20th century the term coffeehouse described sofa-strewn oases where live music was performed, poetry was recited, and art was on display, all accentuated by the exquisite smell of espresso or gourmet coffee. Today the term is applied to any cafe that sells espresso drinks, whether it's a live music venue, a weekday lunch cafe, or an automated latte factory like Starbucks where the decor is intentionally uncomfortable in order to speed up the traffic flow and maximise profits.

Most of this evolution is merely cosmetic. What has changed the most is the loss of the coffeehouse as a "third place", eg. the place aside from home and work where one can rendezvous with friends, socialise, and share news. There are a few such coffeehouses left, but they are quite rare. The fact that most current espresso cafes offer take-away cups so people can gulp their cappuccinos while rushing down the street to one of their many daily appointments is pretty much proof.

The reason I mention all of this is because a couple of Friday mornings ago I found myself in Leicester fighting my way through a caffeine-deficient fog brought on by the lack of drinkable coffee at our B&B. As we drove around Leicester city centre in desperate search of espresso we happened upon a gem.

Brazillia is a small cafe situated on a very busy curve. Sorry, that should probably be spelled bus-y, because as we approached the cafe millions and millions of buses were passing by, coming from every direction. Once inside the cafe we were greeted by the owner, Hament Parekh. I asked him if he could make us two double espresso macchiatos. He had never heard of a macchiato, but he was eager to learn how to make one and give it a go. And I must say it was a very satisfying first attempt, with nice robust espresso shots capped with a lovely cloud of foam.

Hament is very passionate about his coffee. He uses Arabica beans for their robust quality which his regular customers prefer. And he makes his own hot chocolate to use in his cafe mochas. Having been a district manager for MacDonald's for 17 years, Hament developed the desire to open a social cafe where customers could expect more interpersonal interaction than simply "You want fries with that?" Inspired by the American sitcom "Cheers", he has created a friendly environment, sort of a coffeehouse "local", where regulars as well as those passing through can meet and chat and enjoy a fine cup of coffee and perhaps a bite to eat. There is an Internet suite upstairs as well, available at a reasonable £1.00 per hour. The menu features sandwiches, toasties, jacket potatoes, and breakfasts, and the cafe offers catering and a delivery service.

Although the sign and decor are fairly simple at the moment, Hament has lots of plans for the cafe, and he seems very eager and willing to learn all that he can to make Brazillia work. I look forward to stopping in again next time I'm in Leicester. The cafe's fairly easy to find, being located just off the Haymarket/Shires central shopping area. Brazillia stands out among all the surrounding shops, fish bars, hair salons, Asian and Afro-Caribbean restaurants, and offices -- and, of course, the buses. Lots and lots of buses. Too many buses for my taste; but I suppose because a bus ran me over a few years ago I'm a bit biased. I'm sure I can part the bus waves in order to visit Brazillia, perhaps while chanting Get thee away, ye hard metal behemoths! or something equally dramatic.

Speaking of babbling incoherently while buses whizz past reminds me of a recent e-mail exchange with a workmate:

A friend sent me the following email last week:

"Rooting round eBay, I get the following error message:
HTTP Status 503 - This application is not currently available

type Status report

message This application is not currently available

description The requested service (This application is not currently available) is not currently available." It would be great if you could click on a link in the e-mail and get the message:

"The requested service (The requested service (This application is not currently available) is not currently available) is not currently available."

And that could give you another link which would lead you to this message:

"The requested service (The requested service (The requested service (This application is not currently available) is not currently available) is not currently available) is not currently available."

...and so on into self-referential infinity. It could be called the Error Message Infinity Project. It would not be good. It would be very very frightening.

On a related subject I've been reading about the Large Hadron Collider and it's got me thinking. I like the idea of not being able to prove if anything actually exists or not. The fact is, we're all living in the past because we can't observe the present until it's already over. So the grammatical present tense is pretty much a fantasy. If we just dump the present tense it will make learning foreign languages a lot easier.

And that was all I had to say about the subject. I had to get on with the rest of my weekend. Personally, I prefer the present tense. I am a great lover of the historic present. Consequently we should all speak German. There's that great sense of surprise in German, too, that comes from verbs at the end of the sentence putting. And the capitalization of nouns is a Good Thing, as anyone who's read Milne or Sellar & Yeatman will be aware.

Now I'm getting a headache.