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Back Buzz - January 17, 1997

pumping heart Caffé Vita, 813 5th Avenue North, Lower Queen Anne

If I'd started this column series off by reviewing Caffé Vita, there would have been nothing left to aspire to -- not to mention the fact that it would have ruined my credibility as a cappuccino critic if I began raving at the outset. But I can't wait any longer: Caffé Vita is the best espresso cafe in Seattle. They roast their beans at their other cafe located within walking distance; the Del Sol beans they use for their drinks are always fresh, robust, and wonderfully flavorful. The default ristretto shot is double, so if you want a single cappuccino you'll have to specify.

When Vita first opened, every cappuccino and latte would be a work of art, with a pretty leaf or heart design etched into the milk foam. Those days appear to be over; the excellent quality and fine artistry of the drinks remains, however, with the first sip always promising an extraordinarily satisfying espresso excursion. In a caffeine-addicted city like Seattle, presentation is an often-overlooked aspect of the entire cappuccino-drinking experience; Vita's presentation is splendid, with the cappuccino served in a classic white china cup.

On sunny days you can enjoy your drink on the sidewalk with a fine view of the Space Needle as well as the nearby 7-11 and the Hampton Inn. I like to sit inside, however, particularly in the cavelike booth built into the wall. The cafe, a former hair salon, possesses a simplistic but cozy feel, with warm wood walls and a rotating art display. It's a close walk from my house, too: a mere three blocks if I walk straight there. If I prefer to take my typical roundabout route, however, I can rent a video at Crazy Mike's or Tower on my way, have a cappuccino, and then browse the menu at the nearby Greek taverna -- or the other way around, depending on if I'm walking clockwise or counterclockwise.

But why not just walk there and back, you ask, instead of in circles? Because, as a daily walker, I like variety in my walks. I often take unnecessary but intriguing detours, passing through blocks I don't usually see. There's a whole world of diversity out there that can only be experienced if one veers from the straight and normal. When I lived in the Los Angeles area and had a long commute to work, for instance, I often tried to drive a different route each day. Not necessarily circular; attempting to drive clockwise or counterclockwise on a 20-mile drive would add a bit too much driving time. If you want to make a perfect circle, for instance, this would add approximately 31.4 miles to your commute each way; not exactly practical.

But on relatively short walks with relatively little time available, walking clockwise and then counterclockwise -- or vice versa -- adds just enough variety to keep the trip amusing.

Why is it that so many people and animals, once they start walking in a clockwise manner, find it so difficult to change directions? At the San Francisco Aquarium in Golden Gate Park there is a fish roundabout where the fish unanimously swim in a clockwise direction (or is it counterclockwise?). Occasionally you'll see one fish turn and swim in the other direction, but not for long; as soon as the deviant realizes its mistake, it turns and rejoins the masses.

The same thing seems to apply to the 2.8-mile path around Green Lake here in Seattle. At this time the path, which provided one lane for walkers and one for cyclers, is being remodeled and widened -- undoubtedly to provide separate paths for walkers, joggers, cyclers, skaters, rollers, hoppers, skippers, crawlers, and wrigglers.

I once had an e-mail discussion with a Bay Area friend about the Green Lake phenomenon, as follows:

If you walk, bike, or skate around the path that circles Green Lake, you will find that almost everybody moves in the same direction, i.e. counterclockwise. Only crazy people, recent immigrants, and rebels like myself dare to walk in a clockwise direction. Since the majority of the population around Green Lake consists of breeder families with children, perhaps walking counterclockwise is the same as walking upstream to spawn and produce babies. Therefore I must be walking downstream.

Regarding Green Lake, how long has this unwritten rule about the prope direction to walk been in effect? On my last visit to Seattle, when I walked around the lake with my cousin, we went clockwise, but I didn't notice large numbers of fish migrating in the opposite direction.

For some reason, on the two or three occasions when I walked around Lake Merritt in Oakland at lunch with co-workers, they insisted on going counterclockwise, too. Does it have to do with the Coriolis force? If I were in Bolivia, walking around Lake Titicaca, would the natives tend to go clockwise?

Now you've got me curious. I'd like to walk around a lake that lies directly on the Equator. I wonder:

A second theory I thought of has to do with left- or right-hand drive. In North America, where we propel our cars from the left-hand seat, we have more visibility when we veer to the left than when we veer to the right. On my next trip to London, for instance, I should take a stroll around the Serpentine in Hyde Park, noting in which direction people tend to walk around the lake.

Actually, now that I think about it, I've never noticed anyone walking around the Serpentine. Perhaps walking around the lake is a uniquely American invention, clockwise or counterclockwise...