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Back Buzz - April 10, 1998

pumping heart European Flavor Cafe, Wallingford Center, 4400 Wallingford Avenue North, Wallingford

I bumped into this place purely by accident one Saturday. A friend and I had just had lunch at the Taco Del Mar downstairs (which, by the way, makes the best burrito in the world). Something -- perhaps a timely craving for caffeine, or maybe just the draw of a subtle smell -- propelled me upstairs where, to my delight, we happened upon the European Flavor Cafe. Even more to my delight was the fact that they use Caffé D'Arte coffee and serve their cappuccinos in perfectly-shaped D'Arte cups. The barista was extremely pleasant as well.

European Flavor is located right in the center of the top floor of Wallingford Center, next to a frame shop, so you can have a little art while you sip. "An intimate ambiance" is how my friend Robert described the place. (And Robert, who was visiting from Chicago, should know ambiance; he's a very atmospheric kind of guy.) Capping off the ambiance is this wonderfully smooth and huge flat-light lamp fixture hanging from the ceiling. It made me feel like climbing up and rubbing my face against it; but that's a weird little obsession of mine we won't go into right now...

There is also a double light fixture over the main door to the mall. This fixture is totally cool, post-modern, oversized, and voluptuous. It reminds me of the round, smooth fingerpuppet eyeballs I had just bought that morning at the nearby Archie McPhee. Or, if the globes had nipples, it would have reminded me of a pair of lovely, ample breasts. But then, there I go again...

The term cafe changes its meaning at European Flavor. This "cafe" is an entire floor of a shopping mall, where you can buy toys or clothes or incense or eyeglasses or burritos or haircuts. The "cafe" also sells sandwiches, soups, and ice cream. It's hard to tell exactly where the "cafe" begins and where it ends. I like to think the table we sat at, over in front of the frame shop and overlooking the grand stairway, was part of the cafe, but then again it could be not part of the cafe. I suppose it depends on how possessive one feels about the space. Perhaps the entire Wallingford Center is actually a part of the European Flavor Cafe, as opposed to the other way around. Who's to determine what parcels of space belong to whom? If the entire shopping center were a Klein bottle, not only would it be impossible to tell which space belonged to what establishment, but it would also be quite difficult to drink a double cappuccino in such a four-dimensional environment. I mean, I'd give it a try, of course, but I'd probably end up spilling it all over myself -- if I could determine the boundaries of "myself", that is.

And that would be a terrible waste because it was quite a nice double cappuccino. The D'Arte beans helped a great deal, of course, as well as the presentation. The barista was a little concerned at first because he'd inadvertently created an unusual wedge of milk foam to one side of my drink, giving it sort of a cubist appearance. But I would think drinking a cubist cappuccino would be easier than drinking a four-dimensional one. Or would it be the same thing? It's hard to say. Just as long as you could locate your mouth; that would be the important thing.

As we sat at what Robert claimed was his kitchen table -- a metal lattice patio set -- I felt as though I were sitting at an outdoor cafe. All that was missing was the sky and the pigeons. Oh, yes, and the pigeon shit, of course. So if we really were sitting on the inside of a Klein bottle, would we actually be sitting on the outside and the inside simultaneously? Or would "sides" be completely irrelevant?

On the subject of cubism, one night a few months ago I dreamed that we were all simple cubes, perhaps 4 or 5 inches in size, and each cube was wrapped in festive wrapping paper or a colorful poster. It was hard to determine who was male or female or how old anybody was; the only way you could really tell was by the person's voice. And we would all spend our time rolling around on our sides or twirling on our corners, and we would trade wrappings regularly. Occasionally someone would find a brand new wrapping to try on; this was always an exciting event.

I wonder what it would be like to drink a double cappuccino if you had six sides...

Speaking of mathematical problems and Chicago, following is an e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend from last year:

I just read in the book City Life by Witold Rybczynski that the world's first Ferris wheel was featured at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The Ferris wheel was 250 feet in diameter and could carry 1500 passengers at the same time. Max and I were trying to figure out just what such a Ferris wheel would look like and how it could possibly handle so many passengers. I think this warrants further investigation...

I read about that one somewhere, but I don't recall if I've ever seen a photo. So that would be about 750 feet in circumference. If the people were strung out single file, that would be one person every half-foot, which is a bit tight. With 10 to a compartment, that would still only allow about 5-1/4 feet between each group. I wonder how they did it?

And if Chicago hadn't grown from a village of 300 on August 10, 1833, where would all the riders have come from? From Colombia, I suppose. And if they didn't toke a little Colombian before boarding, would they have been brave enough to ride 250 feet into the air? How long would it take to recycle a load of 1500 riders? You'd be waiting a long time up there.

According to a web page I found about the Ferris Wheel, there were 36 cars carrying 60 passengers each -- 40 sitting and 20 standing -- for a grand total of 2,160 riders at once. It took 20 minutes to load the Ferris wheel, with the two-revolution ride lasting 10 minutes. According to my calculations, that would allow approximately three tenths of a second to load each passenger.

So here's my math questions of the morning:

  1. How fast did the gondolas move?
  2. What percentage of the late-1800s passengers -- most of them probably overdressed and tightly corseted -- were likely to faint or panic?

This page also states that the 1893 fair featured the debut of picture postcards, CrackerJacks, Pabst Beer, and the hamburger -- although a timeline I recently found says the hamburger wasn't created until 1900. So did the Columbian Exposition also feature the world's first time machine?