Luxury Latte

A coffee purchase has always been a special treat that wasn’t a daily task, but a weekly splurge.  This is different when I travel, and don’t have my own luxuries at hand.  I buy coffee frequently when I am on the road, as a way to merge with the time zone I am residing in, get wifi, or even as a way to bond with my mom over a latte.  

But what has happened to people and their caffeine purchases?  Starbucks drive thrus are the rage in American suburbs.  And when you enter the infamous facilities in NYC, there are less and less Starbucks that have tables.  People aren’t standing at an espresso bar taking their espresso shops with other customers.  They are taking their orders and leaving.    People have a mobile order, enter a coffee shop wearing headphones, search for their printed name on cups, and do not even have to greet the baristas or any other people in the shop.  Human interaction and engagement is limited.   

What has happened?  I think what many coffee chains have turned into is simply adrenaline stations. It’s as if everyone has morphed into zombies and this is a zombie station.  We travel to and from work uber caffeinated.  We are paying loads for a caffeine boost, but do we even taste what we are drinking anymore?  Although espresso has caffeine in it and it definitely fuels you, the point of drinking a latte is to drink it slow.  Mobile orders are the rage here in America.  The world is not immune.  I recognize people opt for Uber Eats deliveries at my local Parisian Starbucks.  

Is cafe culture dead? 

  If I could, I would sit in coffee shops for hours.  But it seems others do not look forward to this.  They want a packaged prompt drink, not a crafted experience that takes time to appreciate.  This is all an example of time poverty.  We may be an affluent culture that can spend money on luxury items, but many are lacking the luxury of time.  This is a concept in positive psychology called time affluence.  We feel we are abundant with time in our lives.  This concept is not reserved solely for the youth or the retired.  Anyone can have it?  It’s how you interact and engage with time, with your commutes, with your loved ones, and even with your latte.

So next time you order a latte, slow down and drink it, maybe even while sitting in a café.  

The End is Our Beginning

            We had arrived in Santiago de Compostella, which is the endpoint for many people who choose to do the pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago.  The film The Way popularized this bucket list journey.  The most traditional path is to take the Camino Frances route, which begins in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port France, and then transitions into Spain through the Pyrenes mountains and traverses for 500 miles.  Generally, one needs to do at least 100 kilometers to receive a certificate of completion.  Regardless of how many miles one walks, generally the destination was our starting point.  

            It was our initial day in Spain, and we were beginning our journey at everyone’s end.  On our first night, we went into the Cathedral, that houses the remains of the apostle St. James.  For hundreds of years people have walked to this location for this specific purpose, to see where St. James lies.  It seemed taboo.  Had we earned the right to visit without yet putting on our walking shoes?  Our walking journey was to begin the next day, but we could take in the evening’s festivities of this celebrated town. 

            I am not new to the Spanish culture.  This was my 21st trip to Spain, and my second time embarking on this pilgrimage in Santiago.  Yet this time our route was to end in Finistere, also known as the end of the world.  It’s been said that this Celtic path predates the Catholic pilgrimage.  We were hopeful the exploration of the city that evening would massage out the kinks that occurred at the airport hours before.  We were lucky it did.  

            After securing a walking stick, a delicious meal of tapas and patatas bravas, a tasty pastry, and rations for the next day’s journey, we strolled the streets to see what the night would reveal.  The tourist shops had now closed, and it was solely bars that were open at this hour.  Then we stumbled onto an archway by the church.  It served more as a portal.  Generally during the day, a musician plays his bagpipe, demonstrating the Celtic traditions that still exude in this land of Galicia.  But at this hour, the bagpipes were packed away, and were replaced with an opera singer.  

I love most street performers.  They move an audience to stop the busy-ness of their lives and slow down, and simply take in the gift of music they are sharing.  The opera singer sang several popular opera songs, the crowd slowly started to build.  Then the tunes changed, and he began singing “My Way,” which generally isn’t my favorite song, as it reminds me of an American middle aged drunk man’s go to karaoke song, as a bar closes.  But there were other people in the audience that seemed to enjoy it.  A tiny group of three older people who looked as if they were tourists and friends had their arms around each other.  They swayed and sang.   The opera singer appreciated their immersive experience.  When it was time for the chorus, the opera singer pointed to the trio and allowed them to take the stage.  “I did it my way.”  People had stopped to sit on the steps, and observe this magical moment.  For a brief passing period of time, we were all connected.  I couldn’t help but cry witnessing this beautiful example of collective gratitude and mindfulness.  These were not tears of sadness or worry for my future.  These were tears of joy I was able to experience this moment of collective bliss.  

            Perhaps starting at the end wasn’t a bad decision.  It was how this journey was to begin.  We could harvest the beauty and love shared from the evening onto the next day’s 23 kilometer trek.  I couldn’t wait to see what was next in store. 

Everyday Observances

            There’s a magic you forget, when you live in a touristy town.  I live two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and a 10 minute walk to the Seine River.  Some people save money for their whole lives awaiting to simply visit this town, and take their obligatory photos.  And in the midst of everyday life: days that are too hot you just want to stay indoors, or days you have too many errands to do, or days you just are feeling down, you forget the majesty that lies outdoors.  I try to remind myself that.  It’s still less than eight months that I have lived here, and I am aware my time is limited. 

            I go to the Champ de Mars daily now, which is my closest dog park.  I notice the tourists, as they dress in their finest and pose for outlandish photos in front of the La Tour Eiffel.  Some try to look sexy with flowing dresses and high slits, cheesy with making peace signs, some jump in the air, or have accessories such as a bicycle held high in their arms.  And I watch their glee, as the moment is captured. 

            But what is interesting I find in the park, is the routine.  The same people who walk in the park at the allotted golden hour before the sun exudes too much heat.  There is the lady with a tan hat who walks laps with a cane getting her steps in, a yoga teacher who takes her studio outside for visiting tourists, a retired couple who work out daily, the staff members that keep the park clean, the homeless person who takes in a nap, and all of the dogs and their owners.  I don’t know any of these people, and have talked to few of them.  But they have become familiar, and in a town of strangers, the familiarity has become something I’ve learned to find most beautiful about this city.  And the irony is that this exists in every city, if you are patient, walk the same paths, and observe closely enough.  You can witness beauty unfolding all around you. 

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. “Marilyn vos Savant