|Jacob Jordaens, Feast of the Bean King, 1640-45|
I had an extraordinary amount of free time last Wednesday. So, I sat on the beach in the morning, gazing out at the ocean in relative quiet. Kaimana Beach is my favorite mostly because the hotel shades a good portion of the beach well until noon. And, because most people like to sunbathe, I get the shady part nearly all to myself... I mean, who goes to the beach to sit in the shade anyway? But, then a woman with her son came over and we struck up a conversation. It turned out that she was from Vienna, doing a home exchange. I told her Vienna remains dear to my heart, being the first European city I had ever visited. The one thing I missed the most was Viennese coffee. Throughout all of Vienna, from the hotel to the grocery to the cafés, without fail, the coffee is the best I have ever had. It is bold, aromatic... but not like the ubiquitous Starbucks, burnt, too strong, with a horrible acid aftertaste. After drinking Viennese coffee, I could not touch American brews for months. And the memory of it after all these years is still there. We were living in Boston at the time and Boston was not a Starbucks city. It was a Dunkin' Donuts city. The coffee is weak, sweet, and creamy... and delicious with a nice donut. Vienna ruined it for me. I could not drink Dunkin' Donuts for months afterward. It tasted to me like hot water. A little on the chemical side. I admit, I go often to Starbucks nowadays, as well as Seattle's Best (owned by Starbucks, of course) and Coffee Bean, and I order my iced concoction or latte... but something is missing, something else. The coffee is bland or burnt, but more than that it is also the coffee house itself. What is missing is the Viennese decadence, the gilding, the elaborate decorated interiors, the beautiful cakes evoking a long history of cake-eating and coffee drinking on slow slow afternoons, discussing art and life with friends. American coffee houses have become work places, second offices, not places to gather and chat. I can't tell you the number of dirty looks I have gotten when I disturb the quiet at one particular place (which I won't mention the name of). And, I hate it. I hate that people use it for study and work instead of a place to socialize. Our society has gone completely cock-eyed. It is no longer a refuge for pure relaxed socialization, or maybe it never was? Is it any wonder why Americans feel so isolated? Or overworked? Or feel that having that nice beautiful cake is a "sin"? Why, as a matter of course, people won't order an "eis caffee," which is not an ice coffee, but rather a cold coffee with two scoops of vanilla ice cream? Hmmm.... I dream of Vienna!