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Back Buzz - August 25, 2004

pumping heart Caffetteria, 1-3 Leopold Street, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

FIRST, A BRIEF NOTE: Yes, I'm still here...I would like to apologise for this column (as well as my upcoming Pint Pleasures column) being so late. But I am now working 2 jobs and my spare time is so sporadic, unpredictable, and fleeting that I can only take a wild guess as to the date by which I hope to have written a new column. So you can probably take my "next column due" predictions with a grain of salt -- but just be confident that there will always be a "next column". And now on with the show...

When I first moved to Sheffield and began my Northern search for decent espresso I had a city centre cafe called Coffee.Com on my list of prospects. Aside from the fact that I liked the look of the rounded windows on the round corner, and the fact that they served espresso drinks, my main desire was to discover why they chose such an insipid name for a cafe. I mean, come on -- Coffee.Com? How original is that? Researching the cafe on the Internet I discovered that Coffee.Com was not an Internet cafe, which I find rather refreshing. Not that there's anything the matter with Internet cafes -- they can be quite useful when you're away from home and you want to check your e-mail. But if you're like me and you want to sip a decent espresso in a pleasant environment, you might be more tempted to try out something named Cafe Montmarte or Caffeine Heaven rather than SomethingTrendyDotCom.

As it turns out I never had the chance to visit Coffee.Com, because at some point in the past few months it closed and in its place is a cafe with a poignantly ordinary name: Caffetteria. Now, there's a name I definitely had to check out.

As I already said, Caffetteria sits on a pleasantly round corner not far from Orchard Square and the Cathedral. Although the pavement tables seem like a fine place to sit on a sunny day and watch the SuperTram curve by, when I visited it was a hot late afternoon and the tables were in direct sunlight. I think it was the plain nonserifed orange letters which spell out "Caffetteria" that lured me inside where it was a bit stifling but shaded. And inside I found more orange -- the dominant colour in the current art exhibit on the walls. It's not that I'm particular fond of the colour orange; but having lived in a house with an orange kitchen for three years makes me appreciate the importance of the colour in the general spectrum.

My single macchiato, made with LaVazza beans, was served in a nice arty LaVazza espresso cup and accompanied by a demitasse spoon and optional sugar -- in other words, the essentials. So the Caffetteria staff must be trained as espresso professionals, a rarity around these parts. The espresso seemed a bit on the sour side, but the drink was still aesthetically pleasing, satisfying, and refreshing, especially after having just spent four hours walking around Sheffield delivering pizza menus door to door and then another hour walking back into and around Sheffield city centre on this hot, humid August day. And halfway through my macchiato I was almost looking forward to my mostly uphill walk home in the hot afternoon sun and heat, seeing as how the bus strike was still on. The nice little caffeine jolt would help me on my trek while jettisoning the stickiness from my pores.

As I was sipping my macchiato a familiar character stopped in. I was surprised to see Counting John, who does a regular round of the local pubs where I live. He pops in briefly and has a half of orange in each, greeting the regulars as he counts his money. But here he was in a completely different environment (orange and all), drinking a pot of tea as he counted his money. He even greeted me differently.

Caffetteria is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and drinks. Although there are ashtrays on the tables, I seemed to be the only smoker in the place -- and seeing as how I'd forgotten my lighter I didn't smoke anyway.

So why the name "Caffetteria"? It's not a cafeteria. According to the online hyperdictionary, a cafeteria is a restaurant where you serve yourself and pay a cashier. Whenever I hear the word I envision long queues of people pushing their trays along a track and being served by birdwomen in white uniforms. This comes from my childhood memories of Long Beach, California, where in fact all the cafeteria workers seemed to be skinny middle-aged women with long puckered necks and birdlike mannerisms. Being a person who enjoys quality of food over quantity I never have enjoyed the serve-yourself cafeteria experience. My mother and I both prefer to be seated at a nice table and served a meal by somebody who gets paid for such a service. Just like they do at...Caffetteria! So the name is a bit ironic -- but is it meant to be ironic in a trendy sense?

Speaking of trendy things reminds me of an e-mail conversation with my Bay Area friend from a year ago:

I thought of a great idea for a new TV series which would be a hit both in the US and the UK. It would be sort of a useful combination of "Big Brother" and "Survivors". Basically a large group of politicians would be locked up together in the Capitol Building or the White House, whichever would be more suitable, with TV cameras installed everywhere and watching their every move and all the day-to-day interactions. Each week the TV audience would vote to evict another politician, who would get booted out onto the Mall where bulls trained in Pamplona would be set loose to chase him or her while the TV audience watches and cheers. At the end of the series the last politician left would get to be President of the US. Now, is this a winner or what?

That's a great idea! Are you going to pitch it to Hollywood, or does the BBC produce things like this too?

Last week my friend Maryl brought to my attention the front page of Le Monde, which featured a photo of the guy who last week, through some bizarre twist in the unraveling fabric of reality, was elected governor of Coliphonia -- and I realized that until now I have managed to avoid looking directly at this sorry visage. I thought at first it was an impersonating clown in the photo. He looks like a caricature of himself.

So now that we in this sorry state have a gobernator and a pissident whose combined IQ adds up to one normal person and who really look like the morons they are, the fields are ripe for cartoonists and comics. How about a comedy variety show pairing Ahnold and Dubya?

What about that long-lasting popular comedy series, "California"? It's been syndicated over here in Britain for several decades, and once again it's all the rage. They still show some of the old clips with those wild 'n' wacky guys Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, and Sono Bono. Now with "California: Next Generation" everybody over here's glued to the set. Ah, well, I suppose it helps everybody forget about the war in Iraq and Tony Blair and stuff.