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Back Buzz - November 11, 2001

[pumping heart]Caffé Imaginaria, High Street, Writton-on-the-Flye, Kent

Errrr -- CRASHHHHHH!!!!!

Yep, that's the sound of me running into a brick wall. I've tried and I've tried and I just can't seem to find any more coffeehouses in Southeast England, at least in Kent and East Sussex. I know there are plenty of places in and around London I could review, but I just don't make it into the City very often. Perhaps -- in the interest of my love of coffee and the need to express it to the world -- I should plan at least a week's holiday in London specifically to try out as many coffeehouses and cafes as I possibly can.

But that's not going to happen this month. Instead I'm going to review a coffeehouse I wish did exist. As you cruise up the A260, taking a left at the little-known B276893, you'll drive through a series of twists and turns over hill and dale through woods and valleys, eventually coming to the village of Writton-on-the-Flye. As you cross over the narrow bridge spanning the River Flye you'll see a thatched cottage on the right: this is Caffé Imaginaria. If you pull into the little car park you'll notice the lovely back garden overlooking the river. This is the place to sit on a pleasant day, watching the sheep graze in the meadow adjacent as swans fly across the sky and the occasional hare scurries through the hedge.

As you enter the coffeehouse you may be greeted by Caffeine, the owner's black Labrador, or one of the two white cats, Latte and Panna. Comfortable armchairs and settees are arranged around heavy wood and glass coffee tables in the cosy room, and a wood fire blazes away in the large hearth. The background music, although quite varied, usually tends toward classical or jazz, making it easy to read or write without distraction.

At the counter you may be greeted by Mimma, the 50-something manager. If not, one of her trained staff of baristas will serve you: James, Sarah, Brendan, Anabella, or Roberto. Your espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, latte, espresso con panna, espresso brêve, mocha, Americano, or iced latte will be expertly prepared, starting with a perfectly tamped shot of fresh-roasted espresso brewed at the optimum temperature and finished with beautifully steamed or foamed milk, rich Belgian chocolate, or luscious Devon cream. To accompany your drink there is a wide selection of breads and pastries including freshly-baked croissants and mini-baguettes brought over that morning from France, bagels from an excellent North London bakery, and scones and sweets freshly baked on the premises. At lunchtime there will be a small selection of gourmet sandwiches, salads, and freshly made soups as well as daily specials.

Ah, yes, and the crowning touch: if you prefer your cappuccino with a little punch, you can order it with a shot of cognac, rum, whisky, or liqueur.

As you sit and sip your perfect espresso out of its beautifully sensual white china cup, you can browse through the cafe's library of books, magazines, and newspapers, or check your e-mail on one of the Internet terminals located in the small room off to the side. On Saturday afternoons a small jazz combo will often perform, and on Sunday lunchtime a string quartet is likely to entertain you. Friday evenings offer poetry readings, small-scale performance art, and occasional one-act plays for your amusement.

Have I forgotten anything? Oh yes -- all the drinks and food are, of course, very reasonably priced. So...if anybody can find this place, please e-mail me the exact directions pronto!

Speaking of total fantasies, I'm reminded of an e-mail exchange from earlier this year with my Bay Area friend which was inspired by a mutual cab-driving friend with a ph.D. in physics:

After responding to your latest e-mail messages I took a break and went outside to enjoy a lunch al fresco in the untended garden in the chilly April air. Between bites I was overcome by uncontrollable spasms of laughter. When I was in my twenties and thirties I feared I might turn into our chaotic-thinking friend Dr. Ray, who used to reminisce about being in his twenties and thirties, and now -- it's too late! But I don't care; it comes as a relief. And maybe it explains lots of things. As some people -- linear-thinking people, I suppose -- get older their decades of career experience in one area like employee benefits or hospital administration or entertainment law (to name what some of my highly successful friends are doing) seems to converge into a single line of thought that allows them to make high-level decisions, stick to their choices and hold strong convictions. I visualize all of their neurons being harnessed into parallel paths. But as free-associating people like you and me get older more and more neurons seem to bifurcate, creating a geometrically increasing number of routes and outcomes for every stimulus, every thought. Maybe our 40s is a turning point, when spontaneous ideas reach escape velocity and break radically from the plane of convergent thought. Dr. Ray was clearly beyond that point and, damn! We must be older than Dr. Ray was when we last knew him.

And we're definitely older than Dr. Ray's mother was before she conceived Dr. Ray. But we'll never hope to be younger than the "We" that Dr. Ray hoped to know when he was in his 20s and 30s.

The problem with all these bifurcations and fractal thought patterns is the fact that I can't seem to make any sense of anything other than thoughts anymore. And they all crash into each other and never seem to resolve anything, and they never make me any money. See? I'm stuck in a Klein Bottle that keeps spinning me back to "clever but penniless".

Is there any financial security in a superstring world?

...and on the same subject of fantasy, another exchange from a few years ago about imaginary creatures in Seattle:

We've got some sort of heavy-footed animals living inside the roof of our bedroom. In the middle of the night we'll be awakened by the noisy din of what sounds like very large raccoons scurrying back and forth over our ceiling. Perhaps they're peccaries, or maybe wallabies -- they sound too big for squirrels, rats, or gremlins. Since our upstairs neighbour's apartment isn't nearly as big as ours, the outer walls of her bedroom stretch just a little way beyond the inside wall of ours. We've determined there's a crawlspace which starts in the wall below her window and runs out to the eaves, following the slant of the roof, and this is where somebody lives. What we haven't determined is who.

Last night Max dreamed he ran out in the middle of the night to see if he could see anything on the roof. First he saw what looked like squirrels, but then they looked more like raccoons; and then he finally decided they were small ponies. That would explain the galloping sounds...

Perhaps we've got yetis in our ceiling.

Whatever it is in your attic, I hope it's not pooping up there. What do your cats think about the noises?

The cats react to the sounds of the creatures in the ceiling about the same way we do: they wake up, watch the ceiling intently for awhile, and then go about their business. At first they were running to the closet and scratching the doors to get in, because it does sound like the critters run across the ceiling from the window side to the closet. But the closet ceiling and walls seem intact, and none of our shoes are gnawed or trompled or shat upon or converted to nests.

Last night I slept fitfully, awaking with a jolt every time I heard what now sounds like a herd of buffalo running across the ceiling. (Have they gained weight? Had babies? Invited their friends? Started a metropolis?) At around 4:30 this morning I heard the sounds again. I must have awoken either still dreaming or hallucinating, because I distinctly saw a fuzzy creature the size of a large guinea pig wriggling slowly down the wall between the two windows. I grabbed Max and shrieked, "Look! Look! On the wall!" By the time Max awoke and put on his glasses the animal had vanished in front of my eyes, and I realized I'd just imagined it. It took quite awhile to get back to sleep after this one.

Am I suffering from monsters-in-the-attic anxiety? What do small children do? Perhaps I should get myself a nightlight, start wearing dinosaur sleepers, and drink a cup of warm milk at bedtime while I'm read a bedtime story.