“I’ve always considered latte art ephemeral” Another morning at Cafe Blé in Guadalajara

ble guadalajara

I come to Blé again today because even though I don’t want to come here everyday because it would be expensive, it is more or less the perfect way to start a morning. A matcha latte. A thick piece of toast slathered with butter and raspberry jam whose seeds you can taste. My seat in the corner where I’m able to observe the rest of the cafe, observe Ulises, the owner, as he goes about his business, and look out upon the street.

Ulises asks, “Can I prepare you anything?” and I say, “Lo de siempre, el latte matcha…” and then trail off. I take my seat in the corner and pull my laptop from its case, which is actually just a tattered merino wool shirt. I plug the charger into the wall and then insert the little magnetic piece that connects to the computer. I turn it on and see that the battery’s at 19%. This is probably because I was playing chess last night before I went to bed. I’ve been playing chess against the computer more lately, because I do it on an easier setting, and thus win more, and thus it’s more satisfying. Even when the computer has one second to think between moves it destroys me. And this is one of the lowest settings. But when it’s only allowed to think three moves ahead I can usually beat it.

My latcha matte comes and I comment on the design and Ulises talks about how latte art is “ephemeral” and how some people notice it and some people don’t. We talk about for-here cups and to-go cups, and how a latte having a design and being served in a ceramic cup can influence its taste, or at least our perception of its taste. I make a comment Ulises doesn’t understand and rather than I explain myself I let it linger. My Spanish feels poor this morning. I’m unable to express even the most basic things. I probably need mate, and I probably need to play chess. I’ve been playing chess and watching chess lately to the point where I see the pieces moving sometimes as I lie in bed, waiting for sleep. Supposedly, chess is becoming more popular. But isn’t that what people’ve always said? Isn’t that what people have always said about American soccer? Though that might actually be true. It is true, even if soccer’s popularity still blanches in comparison that of basketball or football. It’s hard to be an accurate judge of the popularity of something you’re involved in.

The toast Ulises serves me is almost two inches thick. I take the spoon and hack a wedge of butter onto it, and it’s real butter, not margarine. Margarine is huge in Mexico, because people think it’s healthier than butter. This, of course, is a travesty. Margarine is a disgusting mix of chemicals and oils. It tastes like refuse. It looks like refuse. It has a disgusting sheen to it, and I actually thought the butter at Blé was margarine until Ulises corrected me. Now that I know it’s real butter, it looks and tastes like real butter. I don’t know how I ever thought otherwise.

Within a few minutes the toast is gone, and the matcha latte is quick to follow. I sit back in my chair and look at the blue door across the street. I listen to the reggae or jazz or ska or whatever it is coming from the speakers. I listen to Ulises talking to a customer. They talk about expensive coffee, and I think back to the time in Buenos Aires with A where I tried the most expensive coffee I’d ever had. It was also the best. It was a Geisha bean from Panama, and it tasted sweet and caramelly.

My time in this cafe has almost run its course, and I wish I could relive it. I wish I could walk in again and order a matcha latte and slice of toast, and greedily dig into the toast as soon as it came. I could, of course, repeat this experience, but it would be disappointing. I’ll have to wait till tomorrow, or the next day. The plate that once held the toast now only holds crumbs, and the cup that once held the matcha latte now has a green stain where the steamed milk once reached. The latte art is long gone, as if it never existed. And it’s ephemeral, or we call it ephemeral, because it existed for three minutes, or less, and then was gone forever. But I wonder if everything isn’t ephemeral.

 

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“When you like what you do, it’s really easy” A morning at Cafe Blé in Guadalajara, Mexico

ble cafeteria y panaderia guadalajara mexico

Photo credit: Blé’s Facebook page

I wake up at 7:11am, 19 minutes before my alarm’s set to go off. My alarm never wakes me up. I’m terrified of the sound, so I always wake up before it goes off. I lie in bed for a few moments, feeling confused. I get up to go to the bathroom, but there’s already someone there, and so I go back to my bedroom and brood. It’s a good morning for brooding. I didn’t sleep that well, I think because of all the caffeine yesterday. Yesterday I drank mate, which I had been drinking from time to time in my favorite cafe, El Rincon del Mate, but now I have a bag of the stuff, I can make it whenever I want, and so yesterday my intake was increased.

While lying in bed someone comes into the kitchen and starts making breakfast. I immediately want to strike them. How dare they make such noise. I think it’s Rodolfo. His phone beeps from time to time from (probably) messages, and I want to get up and scream at him to turn it off. But instead I lie in bed rating Instagram ads for Appen, the job I still haven’t been fired from. I rate six ads in 21 minutes, deliberately taking a long time to do so. If I rate the ads too fast I won’t work the full hour, and won’t get paid the full hour. So I take my time. I minimize my usage of my phone’s speech to text capabilities, since that generally makes things go way faster. While I’m rating I continue seething at what’s going on in the kitchen, the beeping of Rodolfo’s phone, the sound of whatever he’s frying, probably heated-up chilaquiles from the day before. And then when I’m done I get up and get dressed so fast I almost pull a leg muscle, and then storm out of the house in a huff.

And all is well.

It’s cold outside. Daylight savings just kicked in, which means what’s 7:30am used to be 6:30am, which means when I wake up it’s much colder, and in the evening it’s hotter longer. The temperature change came quick. In February it rained and I wore my hat everyday and sometimes even my wool jacket, and now every night while going to bed I lie on top of the sheet with no shirt on, covered by nothing, listening to whatever TV program my neighbors are watching. My neighbors are an older couple often visited by their wayward son who has a dog that might be a boxer or a pitbull. They  mean well, but I don’t know how conscious they are of how close I sleep to the entrance to their house. I essentially live in their living room. I can hear almost everything they say and do. I can hear when they yell at each other. I can hear the dog eating its dog food outside, and I can hear the woman filling up her bucket with water every night, though why she does this I still have no idea. I’m separated from them by a single plate of glass, and in the middle of the window there’s not even glass; it’s just a sheet of plastic. To say the neighbors and I live in close quarters would be a statement.

I get to Ble, the cafe I’ve been coming to lately, and say hi to Ulises, the owner. There’s no one there. I’ve only ever seen one customer there besides myself. We make two seconds of small talk and I order the matcha latte and slice of toast with butter and jam I get every time I come here. There’s good, hipster music playing on the speakers, which he quickly changes to something softer. I wonder if this is for my benefit.

The first thing I do when I sit down is deactivate Facebook, and then I start looking for flights. I think about where I’d like to go in 2018. I decide the following places are must-go’s: Svalbard, Norway, and Bergen, Norway. Svalbard I must visit because it’s the furthest north place in the world that has commercial flights. And Bergen because my favorite author, Karl Ove Knausgaard, lived in Bergen ( for 14 years?)  and wrote Book 5 of his series My Struggle about it. Those are the only two places I must go. There are other places I’d like to go. I’d like to go to Siberia. I’d like to get lost in a small, Russian town. I’d like to go to Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. I’d like to go to Vladivostok. I’d like to go to South Korea. I’d like to go to North Korea. I’d like to go to Bhutan. I’d like to go to Japan. I’d like to go to Little Diomede Island, and Big Diomede Island, and Quebec City, and Chicoutimi, and Ushuaia. But Bergen and Svalbard are the only places I must go.

I sit in the cafe staring out at the street, listening to the music, wondering what I’m going to do until I teach online at 2pm. I’m getting sick of teaching online. I’ve stopped planning the classes, and the quality has suffered because of it. I don’t care. These classes will run their natural course. My teaching career will run its natural course. I think I’ll always be a teacher in some capacity, from time to time, sporadically, but I think what I teach will vary, and that will allow me to keep my sanity. I think about how I have exactly a week until I leave for Lima, where I’ll stay for at least a week. I think about the chess video I’m going to watch when I get back to my apartment after Ble, the mate I’m probably going to drink, and the Instagram ads I’m going to rate. I wonder if something extraordinary will happen today. I decide it probably won’t, and the thought briefly makes me sad.

And then I get up to pay and leave.

 

A special thanks to EAW and RR for their contributions to this blog.

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