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Back Buzz - July 31, 1998

pumping heart Credenzia Village Bakery, 10 Mercer Street, Lower Queen Anne

Since Seattle has been experiencing a major heat wave this week, I decided to pay a visit to the most likely place in my neighborhood to be air-conditioned. Lower Queen Anne's newest cafe, Credenzia, is in a newly-remodeled building which, if not actually air-conditioned, at least has very high ceilings which lend the desired coolness.

Besides Credenzia the building houses Slaegger's Juice & Gelato and promises to be the future home of a fondue restaurant. It's down a couple doors from Tower Books and directly across the street from Title Wave Used Books, making it the perfect location for a coffeeshop. The seating area is very roomy, furnished with mismatched wooden tables and chairs and benches (a la Still Life in Fremont or Uptown Espresso), and the wonderfully high ceiling is so, well, high. It would be a real challenge to work up a case of claustrophobia here.

Credenzia serves their cappuccinos in pleasantly-shaped cups with the Vivace logo on the front. My double short dry ristretto cappuccino wasn't exactly the driest I've had -- in fact, it was pretty damn wet; but the medium-roast Vivace beans, although very smooth, stand up to the treatment. This was a very good-tasting cappuccino, making me think they probably have a well-maintained espresso machine and take their drinks seriously. Besides coffee and freshly baked bread they also offer panini sandwiches, pastries, and desserts. In fact, Max and I took a couple of their lemon tartlets home for a dinner party, and they were quite good.

The centerpiece of Credenzia is its huge stone bread oven which rises up toward the ceiling like some giant sea creature. The wall behind it is painted a vivid spongy blue, as is the small wall in the back. Yes, that blue really stands out and commands the attention! "BLUE!" it seems to scream, bringing to mind the Krzysztof Kieslowski film of the same name. This is definitely BLUE, no question about it, even to my mildly colorblind eyes. And the bee-motif panels which form the back wall go well with the scheme. Although I can't help wondering, why bees? Of course, on the other hand, why not?

Ah, yes, sitting in this delightful room, away from the miseries of the heatwave outside, makes me so thankful I live in the heart of a vibrant city as opposed to being stranded in some distant suburban vacuum -- which reminds me of an e-mail exchange from last year with my Bay Area friend:

After spending just a day and a half in Sacramento in a desolate housing tract on a warmish (but not overwhelmingly hot) day, I felt really depressed on my drive home. I felt like I was ready to cry. Fortunately, it occurred to me to sing out some happy songs, and my spirits started coming around. (No, not "My Favorite Things." The song that came to me was the Beatles' version of "My baby's got me locked up in chains . . ." Old songs of love gone awry have a way of restoring me to mental health.)

I'm not sure what made me feel so sad. I can enjoy sunshine and blue skies to a point (and there were some nice clouds). Was it being exposed to the mass materialism of owning a new house in the distant suburbs of an agricultural town? Was it the idea that these people look forward to spending the rest of their lives in this place? No, I think what weighed on me in so short a period of time was being removed from trees. At the house I visited there are three little redwood trees in the dirt backyard against a tall wooden fence that completely obstructs what would be a view of an open area (protected from development by two rows of high-voltage lines). Trees and shrubs there are like little museum exhibits. They won't seem like living entities, dominating the landscape, for another twenty years. I would die within a week of separation from nature.

Growing up in a brand new housing tract in Southern California, with newly-planted treelets and shrublets bordering the spanking-new construction, I didn't have anything to compare the experience with until I was a good deal older. As soon as I was old enough to become aware of the rest of the country and the world, I learned people just like me were growing up and living in beautiful neighborhoods with classic two-story homes shaded by huge trees and vines -- it wasn't just a fiction invented for movies, TV shows, and comic strips. Since the time I was 18 and moved away from my parents' home for the first time, I never wanted to live in a brand new suburban house again.

Even though my childhood neighborhood is 42 years old now, it still gives me this icy jolt of virgin ennui whenever I return. The house Max and I owned for two years before moving to Seattle was one of the biggest compromises I've ever had to make: buying a house a half-mile from the neighborhood I was dying (of boredom) to leave. I remember practicing my own denial-filled explanation of why this house wasn't the same as my childhood home: it was older (by only five years), it was on a short curvy street with giant trees instead of a long straight street with few trees, it had a huge back yard, it had European door handles, the interior was decorated with toys and wild art, etc. But that experiment lasted only two years.

So I can empathize completely with that terrible depression a normal-sighted person can suffer when visiting brand-new housing tracts with no trees. It's like walking into a small plain square room furnished with nothing but a small cheap brown loveseat, a badly-chipped Danish modern coffee table, and a small TV perched on a rusting TV tray. The TV is turned on -- it's "Oprah" or "General Hospital" or "Password" or something like that -- and there's an empty can of Tab and a half-eaten bag of Doritos and a couple of Fig Newtons on the coffee table, along with a big sticky orange stain. And there's a small stiff pillow lying on the floor with a "cute" hippopotamus embroidered in pastel yarn, and it's 105 degrees outside and a third-stage smog alert is in effect. And the next-door neighbor is a 50-year-old lady who weighs 350 pounds and has bad varicose veins, and she's sweating and her hair is gummy and her house smells like deep-fried baby food. And -- with apologies to Tom Waits -- I might as well throw in the 18-year-old Chihuahua named Carlos with a skin condition...

But I suppose this is just my own personal vision of suburban despair...

Yes, you've described it exactly! With slight variations. No empty can of Tab; but my hosts took the bottle of fine Napa Valley Pinot Noir, put it into the refrigerator, and served it to me cold the next afternoon. (Fortunately, although cool, it was not icy. Perhaps the refrigerator in that huge kitchen was a side-by-side-by-side model, with a third compartment set to cellar temperatures.) Because of the high fences and lack of windows on the sides, I was unable to see the fat lady with varicose veins. And instead of a chihuahua they have two obese geriatric border collies.

You have this talent for inflating mildly annoying scenarios to the extreme, so that their virulence becomes wildly apparent. Isn't that the way a vaccine works -- getting the body a heavy enough dose to recognize something as harmful before its effects become deadly? I suspect that you are on track toward developing a verbally administered vaccine that might save the world from the cancer of housing tracts!