Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Before the Storm

Bench&Co Cafe+Bar on Urbanspoon

The world appears in technicolour - somewhat brighter, sharper, as I trudge my way around an unknown suburb in search of sustenance. My overnight bag is snug against my back, handbag, consciously under my arm like a coddled child nestled against an over-protective mother.

I amble down unknown laneways in search of unknown manna.

The drizzle fogs my glasses and I can feel my hair frizzing with the damp. I didn't bother to straighten it this morning. Too damp. The rain started in the night, but it's not a hard rain - more the gentle tinkle that you know will become unrelenting in time. This is the time before the storm.

I feel alive. More alive than I've felt in ages. I've not felt rain on my face for months and I'm not fussed as the warm water gently massages my face. I'm more aware of my footfalls than normal, wearing rubber thongs my feet are prone to slipping on the wet cobbles. I feel long limbed and agile, dressed in trousers and a sleeveless, flimsy, silk top that encourages a Bohemian feel. A not-so-young Bright Young Thing, picking a nimble Charleston among the uneven flooring, hoping to stay upright before the waves of change start to crash.

I can't work out where to place my head. Do I look down and watch my feet aquaplane along the street stones, keeping the mist from my glasses, or do I look ahead, unphased by the weather?

The crowds of the day before have dispersed, the suburb now has a seaside-in-winter feel, party because of the rain, partly because the party is over. The festivities of the day before passed, only the acrid whiff of spent fireworks and stale beer remain in pockets not taken over by the rain.

The cafe is nothing out of the ordinary, cafe umbrellas in a courtyard shelter school desk tables and stools. Standard fare for a Sunday morning. The staff, well muscled men of undefined European extraction - all surfer tans and lazy smiles, sapphire-stained blue eyes under clottled, black lashes, with the look that they've only just wiped the sleep and sex from their eyes just before facing you.

"Ciao. Pour una?"
"Si, gracia."

I come from Melbourne. You learn to answer wait staff in Italian. And Spanish. And Vietnamese. And Greek. A polyglot's trait. Order coffee and beer in fifteen languages. A table for one is standard. An index finger is raised by the wait staff. You nod. They know. Happens around the world.

I take a seat. My standard morning coffee is ordered as I peruse the breakfast menu. A mug of skinny cappucino is promptly ordered. I'm not expecting much - I just need caffeine to wash away the last remnants of Bombay Sapphire from my cells. I don't have a hangover, but I can feel the languishing of juniper mist about me. I don't find that gin brings on depression - more a sedate mellowness that brings on thought. There is something reflective about the pale blue bottle. "You are a woman of quality," the bottle beams back at you as you dunk a lime in the glass with the gin. "I will not let you down." is it's last statement as you recap the bottle. "You are in safe hands," it tells you as you take a seat on the balcony and take up at the end of your last chapter. Bombay Sapphire doesn't have the rough-readiness of Bourbon or the mean-spirited angst of vodka - you're looking for mellow. Bombay Sapphire oozes mellow - and mellow is what you found the night before, as you smile at the memory of the rain and the book, and the balmy night, and the comfy chair on the balcony at the bed and breakfast. The space you were making the most of after dinner with friends and the quietness that encapsulated you the evening before.

A perfect solitude.

But I digress.

The coffee. You're not home. It's a bonus if the milk is steamed to an acceptable temperature and the beans aren't burned you tell yourself. I'm not in Melbourne any more - good coffee is not a given. I know it does exist outside of Melbourne, but I'm not expecting greatness. Acceptable will do. The caffeine hit is a few hours overdue.

Breakfast is ordered as my coffee arrives - my holiday weekend standby of Eggs Atlantic - poached eggs with smoked salmon and hollanaise. I like my holiday stand-bys. Eggs Atlantic is not something I have often. Eggs Atlantic is something I don't make at home. At home it's poached eggs and grainy bread and smoked salmon doused in tomato sauce. I know - plebian. Absolute philistine. Eggs, salmon and tomato sauce. I say you don't know until you try it. My breakfasting mates in Melbourne forgive this bogan trait.

There is nothing common about a good Eggs Atlantic, however.

I perch my book on the table. My companion for the day, a novel of two sides and two stories that is taking every twist and turn with the intensity of a Spanish Inquisitor. The writing is making me laugh and gasp out loud in turn. I like it when books do this for me. It's rarely that I'm left speechless, but this book - a 450 pager is three quarters done and I'm wondering where the rollercoaster will take me next. Even better - I like neither of the main characters - can't stand them. Wouldn't piss in a cup for them if they were thirsty. People bent on self-destruction. I can't relate to them - but I am in awe of the writer's talent.

Note to self - WRITE! Or at least try and write more than what you write at work.

A bedraggled man sits at the table net to me, all scraggy hair and shabby chic of the careless moneyed. In tow, an aging Labrador, which at his bidding, lies in growing puddle. I say that the dog is welcome to come under the umbrella and sit in the dry, but the man waves me off, saying the dog is fine. I feel a bit sorry for the dog. He and the dog leave after a quick espresso and talk about the surf with one of the waiters.

To my surprise, the coffee arrives and it is spectacular. Smooth, hot, scented and it slips down with glee. Some of the best I've had outside of Melbourne and Italy. An aromatic, double shot of espresso, hot milk and dash of dark chocolate on top. Bliss.

Is there anything better than enjoying a book over a cup of coffee on a damp morning? Especially a near perfect skinny cappucino?

Breakfast arrives and I'm taken aback a second time. Amazing Sonoma seeded rye bread, fresh eggs, hand cured salmon and a thick, gooey hollandaise. Bliss, especially with the bread which yielded soy and pumpkin seeds with every bite. With the book going into its crescendo, a second coffee was ordered.

Replete, I left the half full cafe just before midday, still reeling from the quality of the food and coffee. After paying the bill, I picked my way carefully to a waiting ferry to skate me back home.

My only regret was not having somebody to share this meal with - a book is adequate company when the food is ordinary. This was a meal that required the sharing of tastes, the dunking of a crust into the egg or a wandering finger making the most of the last of the cappucino's chocolate dusted top.

This morning's meal was not what I was expecting.

But these were the hours before the storm, the hours of normality before the wall of water hit. A time of relative calm before people would start to hide away, waiting for the water to pass.

A time for blessings to be counted.

The cafe:  Bench, Manly   http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/70/1427128/restaurant/Sydney/Bench-Manly

The bread:  www.sonoma.com.au

The coffee:  http://www.belaromacoffee.com.au/

The book:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn  (http://gillian-flynn.com/gone-girl/)


Kath Lockett said...

I feel as though I shared the Bombay Sapphire the night before *and* the breakfast with you. :)

'Gone Girl' you say? Now added to the list....

Jackie K said...

OMG I just started that book too! I'm not as far in as you, just a few pages. Seems very good though.
Those waiters sound alright...