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Back Buzz - August 6, 2001

[pumping heart] Caffé Nero, 62 Brewer Street, London W1

Part of the pleasure of spending a day in London is knowing you can always find a place to enjoy an espresso. This isn't so easy in Kent or Sussex -- in fact, it's downright impossible in some areas. But London is where the Western coffeehouse tradition began in the late 17th century, where news was gathered and distributed. By the 19th century London's coffeehouses had become social centres for the upper classes, leaving the pubs to the working class. As the popularity of tea began to rise, tearooms flourished while the number of coffeehouses diminished, leaving Soho as the focal point of London's coffeehouses.

On a recent particularly hot June day I met an exhausted American friend at Charing Cross Station. Since a pub lunch wasn't very successful at reviving Eileen or relieving her head cold, the two of us headed off in search of caffeine and found, on the corner of Brewer Street in Soho, Caffé Nero. As we entered I thought the minimalist decor of this chain coffeeshop a bit reminiscent of Seattle's coffee giants such as Starbucks (oops! Sorry!) and Tully's. But since it was way too hot to hole up in the more comfortably furnished basement, we chose to sit at the bar and ordered two double macchiatos. They were served in nice little tulip cups and the shots were wonderfully strong -- aaaah. Even a bit acrid but nevertheless refreshing, especially on a 30° C (86° F) day, with the city dripping and hot with touristy crowds, stinky phone boxes, and sticky yuck. After a lengthy chat while browsing through some snapshots we ordered iced lattes. How wonderful it is that this treat has made it to London. They needed a bit of brown sugar added -- an iced latte should be at least a little bit sweet -- but they were very pleasant and helpful in the caffeine department. And the big bulbous plastic cups they were served in made me feel as though I were sipping aliens from their spacecraft through my straw.

The Caffé Nero coffee company was started in 1990. They use predominantly Arabica coffee beans from Latin and Central America. Their golden rule for training baristas is "No crema, no serva!" Baristas undergo 3 days of intensive training before being allowed to serve an espresso, and then they're coached in a Caffé Nero shop for a week before earning the title of Barista. After another 3 months they're considered fully trained Senior Baristas. Whether this means they earn the right to wear a special badge of honour, saffron gown, or tiara I don't know; but if they can wield a mean tamp and give me a good espresso I really don't care what they're called or what they wear. If somebody wearing nothing but a grass skirt and a chicken mask can make me a perfect cappuccino, all the more power to 'em!

I won't know until 2001 is over if this particular day in London was the hottest day of the year. It certainly seemed like it to me. Looking back in the records apparently the hottest day of 2000 was in Norfolk in June, when the mercury reached 32.6° C. (For my American friends that's 90.7° F.) But the London area has set the record for the hottest days of the year in the UK in 1999, 1992, 1981, 1975, 1965, and 1961, with Camden being the most scorching place in the country in 1968 (33.3°C or 92°F), 1956, and 1957 (35.6°C or 96°F). Does this make you hot? Good! Now go get yourself a nice iced latte...

Speaking of hot days reminds me of the following e-mail exchange from three years ago between my Bay Area friend and my former Seattle self:

T'is the heatwave of the summer. This morning when we got up at 9:00 the house was already too warm and balmy. I'm not sure of the exact temperature but I know yesterday had to be 90° at the very least, and today's supposed to be 90-95. This may seem like nothing to Texans and New Mexicans and Chicagoans and Angelenos. But considering the lack and inadequacy of air conditioning in Seattle -- another likeness to England and France -- it's quite the oppressive heatwave.

In the midst of yesterday's scorcher we had a party to attend. By late yesterday afternoon after a day of unmoving heat I was tempted to go to the party naked, but I decided the consequences would be too bothersome. (My neighbor informed me that public nudity in Seattle was recently reduced to a ticketed misdemeanor -- but then you have to deal with the problem of where to stash your ticket.) So I did the next best thing to being naked: I wore a topless -- er, strapless short rayon dress accompanied by my hula-girl earrings. Very wise choice, and strangely appropriate.

And now today feels even hotter...

It's no more than a comfortably sunny day in Oakland -- less than 80°, I'd say -- and I'm sitting in my under-cooled office wearing a previously owned Hawaiian shirt that I found recently at Buffalo Exchange. It's predominantly blue, with tiny red surfboards and large red flowers -- those waxy things that I haven't been able to remember the name of since I bought the shirt.

Today is so hot I just stepped out of the shower into a camisole and my short tropically flowered leggings, probably the closest thing I own to a Hawaiian shirt. We spent a good part of the day in a steamy hell, driving around in our non-air-conditioned car. For dinner tonight it seems necessary to eat al fresco in this heat. Or are we supposed to invite Al Fresco over? What's his phone number, anyway? I've been feeling a bit delirious all day, so it's hard to keep things straight...

...and as long as I'm on the subject of misery, here's one from a few months ago about head colds:

I've spent the past week skipping wildly through the mucus.

I've had a rather nasty cold. First it was a sort of hideous-sounding bronchial cough, producing massive waves of wheezing and sounding embarrassingly like I was about to die. Now it's graduated into hideously infected sinuses producing instant trashcanfuls of psychedelic tissues and painful earaches. Even my teeth are sore.

Wasn't that the old Scottish tune that Holden Caulfield was enamored of:

"If a body catch a body,
Skipping through the mucus . . ."

I think I've had a low-grade sinus infection for about four years now, and that's all this is. My sinuses constantly feel like I'm standing on my head underwater. Fortunately pain killers get rid of this feeling; but I really feel like I shouldn't be having this feeling at all. The antibiotics I've had over the past few years haven't solved the problem, either.

Andrew has an organ donor card sitting on the kitchen table which he wants to fill out and send in. I was thinking of calling the organization and seeing if they could come out to the house and take my sinuses now.