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Back Buzz - July 2, 2001

[pumping heart] Pelican Rouge/Roode Pelikaan, on the SuperSeacat between Dover and Ostende

Before I begin this column I want to mention some excellent coffee a California friend gave me a couple of months ago. When I lived in Seattle I visited It's A Grind in Long Beach [on Spring Street at Los Coyotes Diagonal] a few years ago, and I was disappointed. But since then It's A Grind has definitely got their act together. The French Roast beans Barb brought me were fresh and robust with a well-rounded flavour and an aroma that knocked me to the floor. Barb was told they were obtained from a micro roaster in Seattle, possibly called Caffé D'Oro. I haven't heard of this company, and I couldn't find anything online. If any readers can give me any information on Caffé D'Oro I'd greatly appreciate it.

Miles away from Seattle and California there is this English Channel (or La Manche, depending on your viewpoint) which separates England from France and Belgium. As one spends more time in England it becomes obvious why this boundary is probably a sensible idea. Still, times arise when even a native-born Brit wishes to visit the Continent; even a French or Belgian might suddenly get the urge to see the white cliffs of Dover or have a decent pint of real ale. In such cases there are three methods of accomplishing this task: by air, through the Channel Tunnel, or by ferry.

On the regular ferries, run by P&O Stena Lines, I'd already discovered the Harbour Coffee Company which makes a surprisingly good espresso. So naturally I expected the same satisfaction on the SuperSeaCat, the hoverspeed which travels between Dover in Kent and Ostend in Belgium. Because of all the onboard drinking, the purchasing of duty-paid liquor, and more onboard drinking engaged in by the daytrippers this particular route has earned the nickname "Booze Cruise." Still, one would expect to find a decent coffee onboard simply because of the Belgian connection. And Belgians make good beer and live next door to the French, c'est vrai? It only makes sense. So when I located the Pelican Rouge kiosk in the main cabin I anticipated a pleasantly caffeinated start to my voyage, perhaps accompanied by a croissant.

There was quite a long queue at the kiosk, most people ordering baguette sandwiches and regular coffees, but I figured it was worth the wait. The only other place I'd seen on board with coffee was the Ocean Cafe in the bar which offered that Servomation-style push-button-dispensed pseudo-cappuccino drek. When I finally reached the counter with its two espresso machines I asked the Belgian woman for "un espresso." "Ex-presso?" she replied, confused. "Oui, espresso!" "Oh, non, we do not have! No espresso. Maybe in the Ocean Cafe..." The other Belgian woman came to her rescue, whispering something in her ear. "Oh, café!" "Oui, un café!" I chimed in, remembering that a plain "café" in France is an espresso.

So I watched in anticipation -- turning quickly to horror -- as she placed a regular sized paper cup under the espresso spout, filled it to the brim, and handed it to me with a self-satisfied smile. If this had been Seattle and I'd ordered a latte I would have been horrified by the weight of the cup. And a latte has milk in it. Nobody makes a single shot of espresso with 8 ounces of water!

Back at my seat I removed the plastic lid and took a sip: it was like dishwater coffee, and way too hot to drink. I took three or four more painful sips and gave up. There's no telling what Pelican Rouge/Roode Pelikaan coffee really tastes like -- this first sample was completely massacred in its sacrilegiously erroneous preparation. And I never got my croissant, either; Pelican Rouge had none for sale, and by the time I got back to the Ocean Cafe the line was way too long for me to care enough. So I gave up, joined my friend Barb in a pint of Stella and a bag of crisps, and resigned myself to the Booze Cruise.

All I can say is this: if you're travelling across the Channel and plan to have an espresso, take the ferry instead of the hoverspeed!

Speaking of sacred customs and habits reminds of a recent e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend:

The UK Census Questionnaire is to be filled out by all residents today. Aside from asking how many rooms, toilets, working people, illegal aliens, and aardvarks are living under one roof, the questionnaire asks for each resident's religion, giving a list of about 12 religions and one other option, OTHER: __________. (As I recall, the US Census gives you the option NONE as well. So is some sort of religion required in the UK? Would someone like myself, for instance, be able to put down Bizarreal Artiologism?)

There is a huge drive afoot to get people to check the RELIGION: OTHER box and write in "Jedi." If 10,000 people do this, Jedi will become an official recognized religion of the UK with all the benefits of an organized church. My friend Andrew's already foreseeing the first big Jedi Festival in Hyde park, and another friend John's looking forward to having all those holidays off work: Yoda's Birthday, Chewbacca Tuesday, Skywalker Sunday, and May The Force Be Friday. I think if we had to wear capes and carry light swords it might be kind of fun to go to church...

I like the idea of counting the number of Jedi worshippers in England. How many would it take to make it the official state religion? What day is the Jedi sabbath? How about Thursday: the French jeudi lends some support to that idea. Do we know when Yoda was born? (I guess it doesn't matter, since Xmas is observed so far from the probable season of Jesus' birth.) Isn't Chewbacca Tuesday already a bank holiday? Would these characters' names crop up in profanities? "Darth F***ing Vader" would make a fitting curse, I should think.