October 19th, 2012

Morning Coffee: Caffè Elena, Torino

Posted in Europe, Interior Space by Daniel Corbeil

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Marchant dans les pas de Mark Twain, Nietzsche et bien d’autres, je parcours Turin, longeant d’un rythme paresseux ces rues longues et rectilignes, encadrées d’arcades si émouvantes de par leur charme démodés et franchement surannées.

Je trouve quelques chemises, dans une de ces nouvelles boutiques qui pullulent de plus en plus, jouxtant de vieilles échoppes aux façades noircies.

J’entends les pas qui résonnent, amplifiés mille fois par ces voutes qui me surplombent : l’Italie est une patrie où l’élégance est digne d’une dramaturgie grecque.

La perspective bute soudainement sur une vaste place qui forme une sorte de demi-lune étirée sur la longueur. Puis je devine le serpent d’eau que forme la Po, écrasée sous la masse informe des collines alpines. Un pont et une église ronde un peu pompeuse.

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October 7th, 2011

Morning Coffee: Caffè Portofino, Roma

Posted in Europe by Daniel Corbeil

Via Cola di Rienzo, Roma, iPhone snapshot, Octobre 2011

Il me semble que rien ne frappe d’aplomb comme le soleil et la vitalité romaine. Et spécialement au départ de Paris, ville qui se cherche une définition, alternant entre la bourgeoise snobinarde et faussement moderne et la bohème pathétique et incohérente, formant une armée de poètes et penseurs qui, cigarette appuyée mollement au bec, s’attaquent farouchement à un système capitaliste que pourtant ils façonnent eux-mêmes et encouragent à chaque instant de leur vie. L’esprit de contradiction !

Je suis arrivé sur Roma ce matin, après une nuit folle passée à errer entre la colère et l’épuisement. Hier, un contrôleur français s’est fait attaqué près de Dijon. Cet horrible évènement – ce qui semblerait complètement farfelue en Amérique – poussa l’ensemble des contrôleurs à user – abusivement il me semble – de leur droit de retrait, faisant des centaines de milliers d’otages – ces clients dont j’étais – prient sur les quais bétonnés de Paris. Et laissez-moi vous dire que de trouver un avion à la dernière minute n’est ni facile ni agréable dans cette cité où l’internet ne se trouve pas à chaque coin de rue, comme à New York ou Montréal.

C’est avec le souvenir – et force de croire quelques courbatures – de la nuit passée justement entre deux fauteuils à l’aéroport d’Orly, que je savoure ce caffè si mérité à la terrasse de ce bar d’une grande via du quartier où j’habite l’instant précieux d’un moment.

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June 26th, 2011

Morning Coffee: Navarino

Posted in Canada, Food, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

Navarino

Eight years ago, I was an undergraduate student in Montreal, living in a two-room apartment that had nice wood floors but no natural light. One morning in early December, I awoke with my girlfriend, who had an end-of-semester exam, and as we left my building we discovered a thick blanket of fresh show that had been deposited on the city overnight. I remember a few things from that day. The first was my fatigue — getting up before eleven o’clock has never been one of my strengths. The second was the sunshine, which was brilliant in a way that it can only be on a cold day immediately after a snowstorm. The third was where we went after we left my apartment and trudged north up Park Avenue: Navarino.

Wedged between a former Banque Nationale and Lipa Klein’s kosher supermarket, Navarino is a Greek bakery-café that has been run by the Tsatoumas family since the early 1960s. Originally, it was just a bakery, but in the economic doldrums of the mid-1990s, when Montreal was still reeling from Quebec’s second referendum on national sovereignty, the younger generation of the Tsatoumas clan installed some tables and started selling coffee. That appealed to the layabout bohemians drawn into the neighbourhood by the cheap rent and good food left behind by departing Jewish, Greek, Portuguese and Italian immigrants.

By the time I moved to the neighbourhood, Navarino had taken on the appearance of a well-worn dive, with a rusted 60s-style sign in French and Greek, on which stood a comely waitress holding up a cake. For years, the staff behind the counter consisted only of young women who were called Les déesses de Navarino, according to a sign taped to the tip jar.

New Navarino

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November 14th, 2010

Morning Coffee: Caffe della via, Montreal

Posted in Canada, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

“Caffe latte, please !”, Caffe Della Via, Villeray, Montreal

Un matin à l’aurore, j’étire mes jambes jusqu’au bus 80 Nord, en direction de la bonne vieille gare Jean-Talon, frontière industrielle – le Mile-Ex comme certains le surnomment désormais – où se termine allègrement la longue Avenue du Parc. Nous sommes en novembre et déjà, les feuilles trainent au long des rues, amassées en amas aux pieds de ces arbres dès lors nus et ballotés par un vent frais.

Intensité glaciale.

La lumière timide du soleil traverse par l’oblique cette brume si commune à l’approche de l’hivers. J’ai un frisson qui me parcourt le corps, des pieds à la tête et qui se finit par me faire tressaillir maladroitement au débarcadère de la station.

Des métros Parc à Castelneau, deux courtes minutes qui me propulsent à la frontière Nord de la Petite Italie, et puis je poursuis mon chemin vers l’Est. La rue Castelneau forme un bel ensemble de plex en briques rouges ou brunes, avec au rez-de-chaussée quelques commerces agréables – affichant parfois des noms aux sonorités maghrébines – et à l’offre hétéroclite. Quelques pas de plus, et puis une imposante église, au coeur de ce qui semble être un de ces milliers de petits villages-quartiers qui forment un Montréal cohérent et diversifié.

Face au balourd monument néoclassique, ce café.

Étroite vitrine à l’angle de la rue Henri-Julien, lumières tamisées en ce levé de soleil. Promesse d’intimité.

L’enseigne réclame le Caffe della Via. Trois mots qui parlent des évidences: ce lieu est définitivement le café du quartier.

8h37: une foule se bagarre au comptoir, afin de réclamer un de ces déjà si bien réputés espresso.

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October 15th, 2010

Morning Coffee: Cappuccino with Salami

Posted in Europe, Food by Daniel Corbeil

Bier und kaffee, Jena

Le matin se lève doucement à Jena, dans une brume lourde, qui flotte au travers de la petite cité universitaire. Dans les rues, le bruit de mes pas donne le rythme, alors que le calme respire aux alentours.

J’habite, l’instant d’une nuité, dans le Quartier des Dames – Damenviertel – où les hautes demeures de la fin du 19e siècle sont, malgré leurs étages, dominées par les collines environnantes, aussi colorées que celles de l’Amérique du Nord. Ces maisons aux couleurs contrastantes – du bleu à l’orangé, jusqu’au jaune, en passant par le vert – sont aglutinées dans un petit quadrilatère, entre le centre-ville et la campagne. De grands appartements, par moment partagés entre cinq ou six locataires étudiants – souvent propriété d’un riche enseignant de la prestigieuse université centenaire de Jena.

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October 12th, 2010

Morning Coffee: It’s the Rats

Posted in Asia Pacific, Food, Public Space, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

The only way to properly explore a city is to walk, walk, walk — and take frequent breaks, especially in a place as hot and humid as Kuala Lumpur. By the time the sun was setting on our meander through Pudu, an old Chinese neighbourhood, we needed a sit down and a nice cup of tea. Emerging from the brilliantly unrenovated, 1970s-style Pudu Plaza shopping mall, we deposited ourselves on the plastic stools of a tea and coffee stall across the street.

Ordering coffee or tea in Malaysia involves venturing far away from the familiar Italian espresso territory of ristrettos and caffè lattes. Do you want kopi (with sugar and milk)? Or kopi o (with sugar only)? Kopi teh? We opted for teh tarik, a mix of black tea and condensed milk not dissimilar to Hong Kong’s milk tea. Instead of being thick and creamy, though, this teh tarik was light and frothy, with earthy undertones from the tea.

A number of other people were sitting around us, sipping a late afternoon tea or coffee: an old man reading a Chinese newspaper, two other older men eyeing passersby as they chatted in Cantonese, a young pair of Tamil guys immersed in conversation. As we sipped our delicious teh tarik, we noticed a commotion nearby as a group of young guys leapt up from their table at the sight of a rat that was scurrying underneath.

“So that’s why the tea here is so good,” said my girlfriend. “It’s the rats!”

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May 6th, 2010

Morning Coffee: Tao Dan Park

Posted in Asia Pacific, Canada, Public Space, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

I knew I would like Ho Chi Minh City the minute I had my first cup of coffee. Any city where it’s normal to take a leisurely mid-morning coffee break is fine by me — especially when those coffee breaks take place with birdcages and newspapers in a public park.

Last year, I wrote about the coffee-on-demand service available in one Saigon park, but the city’s parks are home to more conventional cafés, too. One year ago, on a sunny morning in early February, I found myself sitting with two friends in Tao Dan Park, on the west side of the city’s colonial centre, where a concrete terrace is filled with low plastic chairs. We sat and ordered two iced milk coffees and one hot black coffee from a woman who wandered over from a small outdoor kitchen nearby. Around us, middle-aged and elderly men read newspapers or chatted as they slowly nursed their coffee. Some birdcages sat prominently in the middle of the terrace, reminding me of the old Hong Kong cafés I’d seen in films, where men bring their birds out for milk tea.

There’s something plainly civilized about park cafés — they help make public space comfortable, complete and less banal. So I was happy to hear yesterday that in Montreal, the Plateau Mont-Royal’s new Projet Montréal administration wants to introduce a café to Lafontaine Park. As long as the café is affordable and its revenues used to maintain the park around it, I can’t see many downsides to this idea. Maybe Montreal will end up with a bit of Tao Dan on the Plateau.

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April 23rd, 2010

Morning Coffee: Toronto’s Café Aesthetic

Posted in Canada by Christopher DeWolf

I Deal Coffee

The Communal Mule

I was looking forward to spending three days in Toronto last year: good food, fun times with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, aimless autumnal wandering. Instead I was waylaid by a terrible cold I developed on the train from Montreal. I spent much of my time drowning my miseries in the city’s cafés — about five over the course of the weekend, if I recall correctly.

It turns out that drinking lots of milky, caffeinated beverages is the last thing you want to do when you have a horrible respiratory infection. (Also a no-no: hanging out in public places and spreading your germs.) Even if it didn’t make me feel better, though, I appreciated Toronto’s café aesthetic, which seems to lead towards messy spaces with rickety furniture, limited signage and casual, almost indifferent service.

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January 19th, 2010

Morning Coffee: Café Olimpico

Posted in Canada, Fiction, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

DCORBEIL | Un caffè et un rêve, 2009

« En chemin, la pluie reprend vigueur et me rattrape rue Saint-Viateur. Je plonge, tête première, au Olimpico. La terrasse, partiellement à l’abri de notre climat capricieux, est déjà bondée par une foule bigarrée de fumeurs, accrocs du caffè, de Bobos, de m’as-tu-vus et autres lesbiennes dépravées. Aussi quelques habitués : le fou du village, le boulanger du coin. Une petite fille seule, l’air débile. Et moi, un peu à l’écart, un peu inclus dans le groupe.

Caffè macchiato, que je commande dans un italien trop confiant. On me sert, et je demande un verre d’eau, pour authentifier mon origine catanaise. Je donne un pourboire généreux, nonchalamment, tout en jetant un regard rassuré sur la mine heureuse du barrista. Les affaires sont les affaires, et je ne suis pas un cheap. De toute façon, je calcule qu’on me sert ici un café parmi les meilleurs en ville, pour un prix dérisoire. J’investis donc dans le service, même si ce dernier est toujours un peu laborieux. Et pas très volontaire.

M’installant sur une des tables qui longent la large fenestration, je constate que je suis bien seul ici. Même le fou du village se retrouve au centre d’une petite bande d’hurluberlus. Il reçoit un appel, ça semble important. Peut-être brasse-t-il des affaires. Des trucs louches. La drogue ? je m’interroge. Je penche davantage pour la porno, avec son air de pervers, ses culottes noires et délavées. Son veston vieillot, trop petit pour son ventre protubérant. Sa tête échevelée. Son regard perdu. Il est grotesque et se couvre de ridicule. Malgré tout, le barrista l’interpelle comme on le ferait un ami. Malgré sa mine bête, il fait partie de la place.

Alors que moi je suis seul. Un imposteur, une imposture. Un voyeur même. Un autre type de perversion.

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October 10th, 2009

Morning Coffee: Bo(ok)hemian

Posted in Asia Pacific, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

Bookhemian Cafe, Phuket

Sometimes good things do come from the pages of Lonely Planet. Normally (in Southeast Asia, at least), visiting one of the bars or restaurants recommended in its pages will lead you to a place filled Lonely Planet readers of the most insufferable sort. Bo(ok)hemian is not one of those places. Despite its goofy name, it’s a nicely ramshackle hangout in the oldest part of Phuket, stocked with used Thai books and local art. The coffee is great, too, and cheap.

It was a quiet evening when I visited late last month. Most of the nearby shops had already closed for the day. Two Thai twentysomethings sat at a table on the sidewalk, eyes fixed on a white Macbook, while a Chinese couple looked through the books. Gig posters and indie CDs were on display near the cafe’s entrance. I couldn’t help but think that Bo(ok)hemian represented another face of globalization, the kind described in Andrew Potter’s book The Rebel Sell: a localized version of the same indie culture that can be found in Mile End, the Lower East Side and Kensington Market.

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February 7th, 2009

Morning Coffee: Coffee on Demand

Posted in Asia Pacific, Food, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

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Coffee is a big part of the social life of Saigon, a city that somehow manages to be both languid and relentlessly energetic in nearly equal measure. Hundreds of cafés and coffee stands dot the city: relaxed neighbourhood hangouts with a few plastic seats out front to watch the city go by; leafy park cafés where middle-aged women chat and men bring birdcages; multistoried cafés with elaborate fountains and gardens, oases hidden in unremarkable lanes. But even when there isn’t a café, it’s still easy to get coffee.

On a warm afternoon earlier this week, a few friends and I found ourselves in a small park in District 1, just around the corner from the Notre-Dame Basilica and Saigon’s tourist hub. Not long after we sat down, a woman came up to us and asked us if we wanted any coffee. We ordered three cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed milk) and one black iced coffee. About five minutes later, a man on a motorbike arrived with the coffees in a wire tray and the woman brought them to us. We paid 26,000 dong (about $1.80) for the four drinks.

Somehow, the fact that the coffee woman was wearing a Parasuco t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Montréal, Québec, Canada” made the candy-sweet coffee even more delicious.

June 22nd, 2008

Morning Coffee: Coffee on Cuba

Posted in Asia Pacific, Interior Space, Society and Culture by David Maloney

Coffee and Tea

Midnight Espresso Cafe on Cuba Street in Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington has more cafes per capita than Manhattan. At least that is what I was told numerous times by New Zealanders when I mentioned my impending trip to their nation’s capital. Upon arriving in late April, I discovered that the coffee houses of Wellington are indeed plentiful and quite cool, offering a great assortment of coffee and some absolutely delicious cafe fare. Some of Wellington’s best cafes are located along the city’s peculiarly named Cuba Street in the Cuba Quarter.

Cuba Street, and Cuba Mall in particular, is the hangout for many of Wellington’s university and college aged residents. The Cuba Mall refers to two pedestrianized blocks of Cuba Street, between Manners Mall and Ghuznee Street. In addition to numerous cafes, Cuba Street is also home to trendy clothing stores, record shops, small art galleries, ethnic restaurants, and a gay bar, each catering predominantly to an eclectic mix of students from the nearby Te Aro campus of Victoria University, and of course tourists.

Cuba street gets its name from a ship which arrived from Britain in 1840 carrying with it some of New Zealand’s early settlers. Despite it’s British roots, many Cuban flags are visible along the street and there is even a cafe called ‘Fidel’s Cafe’ who’s decor pays homage to the Cuban dictator. The oddity of this Cuban connection in New Zealand’s capital city gives the neighbourhood an intriguing, almost altruistic feel. The area is clearly the epicentre of Wellington’s counter-culture, where, local establishments, the cafes in particular, have cultivated a vibrancy not usually found in a city of its size.

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March 17th, 2008

Morning Coffee: Bombay’s Zoroastrian Cafes

Posted in Asia Pacific, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Patrick Donovan

Zoroastrian
Zoroastrian carving, Bombay. Thanks to Toreajade.

Bombay’s Zoroastrian community emigrated from Iran about 1,000 years ago and brought their religion along with them–the oldest living monotheistic faith. They are also known as Parsis, because of their Persian origin. Since they cannot marry outside the community, they have retained a distinct identity and appearance. They worship in Bombay’s towers of silence. where sky burials are also performed–a practice that has come under scrutiny in recent years because of the declining vulture population.

Though Zoroastrians represent a mere 0.005% of India’s population, they have had a considerable impact on the country. In the West, the best known Parsi is probably Queen singer Freddy Mercury, who grew up in Bombay. Indians are more familiar with the Tata family, who seem to own everything–you start your day with a cup of TataTea, pay your TataPower bills, drive to work in your TataCar, and make calls on the TataSky network. In recent years, the Tatas have moved outside of India, acquiring Tetley tea, Ritz Carlton Hotels, and Jaguar.

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Kyani Café, Bombay

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February 2nd, 2008

Morning Coffee: Café Ekberg, Helsinki

Posted in Europe, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Patrick Donovan

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Inside Café Ekberg, Helsinki

Most people don’t think of coffee when you mention Helsinki. The usual things that come to mind are death metal bands, formula one racers, and blonde people. Nevertheless, statistics show that Finns are the biggest coffee drinkers on earth. They drink almost twice as much coffee as the French, and nearly three times more than us. It is no surprise that Helsinki, the capital city, has loads of great coffee shops.

But I don’t drink coffee, though I still like to linger in cafés. So I stopped by the oldest café in town: Café Ekberg, which opened on February 3, 1852. It is small, yet quiet and sophisticated. More importantly, it provided me with the instant shelter from the chilly Finnish winter I was seeking.

I went for a delicious frothy hot chocolate. The place was full of formal Finns in evening attire. But then the sun rose and I remembered it was daytime, 10:00 AM, still somewhat dark, not really helping my jet lag. I looked around at the stiff elderly blond women and quiet gentlemen serving themselves heaping plates at the Nordic breakfast buffet table. I felt surreal, like an extra in a David Lynch movie, or should I say Aki Kaurismäki.

But that’s how I expected to feel in Finland, so there wasn’t any culture shock.

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Outside the Bio Rex Cinema café, Helsinki