Marolt: Getting jacked down with a cup of cappuccino
Starbucks has succeeded where the pharmaceutical industry has failed miserably. They’ve made laxatives into a symbol of success. In fact they have turned it into a boutique industry where you can coax your bowels with all types of variations of their brand of effective elixir: Dark roast or light? Cream or foam? Non-fat? A shot of white chocolate in there, maybe? Heck, we’ll even give it to you over ice, if you like. Some people believe a grande cup of Starbucks mocha latte in your hand is a status symbol, but how can a status symbol be something you need to keep things moving? Are congratulations in order?
I’ve heard that in Italy a cappuccino is a drink they enjoy. By that I don’t mean they sugar it all up and ask for extra foam to cool it down so they can tolerate it as they gulp it down as they rush off to work. I mean it in the sense that they use it as an excuse to savor a few minutes of quiet in the mornings. It’s a treat that is to be stretched out before the five hours of work that come before the common two-hour lunch break that for many marks the end of the work day. They might return to the store or office after that, but productivity is optional.
I learned this unsubtly in Venice. Anxious to see as many of the sights as possible on our first day, we pulled into the café next door to our hotel and asked for five croissants and cappuccinos to go. The man behind the counter said simply, “No.” If we were in a rush we could stand at the counter and sip our hot drinks, but there was no way he was going to serve them in paper cups. It was a great and unambiguous lesson in culture that I didn’t get at first. My incorrect impression was that we had chosen the wrong café and received bad service.
Then, it happened again the next day as we woke up early to send our daughters off on their own European excursion for the day. A cup of cappuccino would be nice on the water taxi on the way to the airport. No such luck. No paper cups at that café either.
Completely not getting the illogical brilliance behind the tradition, I reasoned that the lack of paper to-go cups was a result of local ordinance aimed at protecting the island served by canals instead of roads. I could imagine thousands of negligently disposed-of paper coffee cups making their messy way into the waterways that their tourist economy depends upon.
I believed this all the way through the coastal towns of Cinque Terre because the same logic seemed to apply to beach towns, too. It wasn’t until we stopped in land-locked Siena that logic was obviously trumped by tradition. There I tried for the cappuccino to go and was served it in a small plastic cup that nearly melted before I could grab it and then burned my hand trying to carry it. I didn’t make it to the door before mercifully begging for a ceramic cup to pour it into. I stood at the counter and sipped with the locals.
We stayed at a few other apartments in our trip through Italy. They all had fully equipped kitchens, but none had a device to make a pot of coffee. The coffee press was the one concession for making a cup at a time for the antisocial American visitor.
If an artist had the patience to spend a year or two carving a marble statue of the American David, its muscles from the jaw down would be tense with veins bulging in the forehead. He would stand poised with a tall, insulated paper cup of Starbucks to his lips and a newspaper folded under his armpit. In the other he would hold a smartphone below his face; a self-absorbed inward gaze directed at slaying the next business deal.
In the U.S. it has become common to worry about chasing the Chinese. Apparently they’ve got tons of cheap, uneducated labor being supervised by tons of super-educated managers plus a lot of people who want cellphones and laptops that once they get the hang of using will help them take over the world. The Jiangs are the new Joneses. We’ve got to keep up! As for me, I might like to step out of the fray and hang back with the Italians at a small table on the street while the tiger moms get their laxatives to-go.
Roger Marolt never considered that coffee could be used to slow things down rather than speed them up. firstname.lastname@example.org