Saturday, October 25, 2014


I ate lunch at my desk.

The leftovers from home are a healthy choice but the venue sucks. I've got to get up and get out.

Amid the vibrant colors and the warm bounty of Thanksgiving, fall has its mornful tendencies.    A decent brisk walk in the city is a fitting way to embrace the season and shake off the grief of summer's passing.  Yet a good walk without a destination, is a pointless stroll.

I set out heading north on Mountain and then east along Ste-Catherine.  As I make my way, the chill in the air prompts the thought of a nice rich cappucino.  An exceptional cappucino.  Not Starbucks, not Second Cup, not even Java U. Sorry guys.

I'm thinking more along the lines of Jean-Philippe Tastet's top five list of independent micro-roasting barrista-venues in the city.

As I continue on a northeastern tack I pull out my phone and call up his recent blog post.  Well, not his post, actually. His daughter Élise penned this particular review.

I scroll Élise's shortlist with one eye on the screen and the other bent on dodging lamp posts and pedestrians. I'm headed the wrong way for Café Myriade and don't want to double back.  Another of the top five is definitely a walkable target.  And a very pleasant walk at that.

When the Indigo store looms into view it jogs my memory and I stop to pick up a book that Susan expressed an interest in. It only takes five or ten minutes.

I walk north on McGill College, past the Roddick Gates and through the urban park that is the centerpiece of the lower campus.  It feels good to be among the students. I pick up bits and pieces of earnest chat about courses and other seemingly timeless trivia that animate the conversations drifting by me.  Not much has changed, really. I could be heading to class.  The words and occasional laughter float above the footsteps and the rustle of leaves littering the sidewalk.

Pressing east once more along Milton, through the student ghetto, I see Park Avenue four or five blocks away. In no time I'm there. I turn right and begin paying attention to the addresses, with a lookout for the storefront signs.

And there it is. Café Pikolo.
It's a small space. Bohemian, with a pronounced hipster vibe.
I order the cappucino I've been anticipating.
It comes with a milk foam heart gently etched into the crema. Now there's something I can't do at home with our Nespresso machine.
I spy a seat at the end of the bar and settle into the tiny spot. On the other side of the counter a senior barrista is instructing a colleague on how to infuse some concoction of herbs. He treats it like a Druid's potion, with minute attention to the ministrations of his fingers gently positioning the herbs for ideal infusion, or so it seems to me.  Much as I enjoy the proceedings I can't help thinking that if you just dumped the herbs in the water without the benefit of the ritual, no one would be able to tell the difference.  That's my inner philistine expressing itself.  Coffee and tea are the new wine.  We are so self-indulgent.

That said, my coffee is everything I hoped for.  Strong yet smooth, full-bodied but not bitter.  Maybe the rituals do the trick after all.  I soak up the atmosphere.  Pikolo seems to express McGill's vibe as Myriade does for Concordia's. The one more traditional, more victorian, the other firmly rooted in the mid-20th-century ethos, yet both sharing a very present dedication to the coffee culture. I'm glad I made the effort.

Office duties drag me from my reverie and off I go.

This time it's a beeline west along Sherbrooke.  Passing the McGill campus on my right a curious thing happens.

I have my head down as I walk with a purpose, less attuned to the walk, planning my afternoon.  The old imposing greystones of the music faculty, the elaborate black wrought iron fence, the towering trees, and then, on the sidewalk at my feet, the pedestrian traffic has shredded and ground the fallen leaves into a dry mulch ranging from recognizable leaf bits, to small dime-sized shards, and then down to a kind of leaf dust.

That sight triggers an utterly vivid memory. The sidewalk, the ground up leaves, the city sounds and sights, the musty smell of fall, the grey sky... I have experienced exactly this, six years ago almost to the day, on the left bank in Paris. With Susan, a world away.  The memory is so present, so tangible I am briefly overwhelmed by it.


VStar Lady said...

Nothing beats a real cappuccino. It would be so convenient if Starbucks would learn how to make one.

SonjaM said...

Methinks this is not just about satisfying a coffee craving but the beginning of a story. Nicely written, David.

RichardM said...

Sounds like a great place for a good cup of coffee or tea though the senior barrista's attitude would have insured that I wouldn't return. I'm sorry, it's just coffee...

Trobairitz said...

Serendipity that you were meant to go on that walk just to remember Paris? Perhaps.

Cappuccino is a perfect excuse to get out of the office.

I suffer from the eat leftovers at my desk syndrome every work day. Healthy diet, but it would be nice to get out once in a while.

David Masse said...

I actually like Starbucks, but these independent guru coffee places just provide an experience that the chains can't match.

David Masse said...

Ah Sonja... in some ways I make my living by writing things I think about. Law is like that.

Yet I much, much, much prefer just writing about what I experience. Now if I could make some kind of a living at it, I'd leap at it.

Maybe in the not-to-distant future.

David Masse said...

I share your appreciation for straightforward simplicity, Richard.

In fairness to the barrista, he was in a teaching moment, and his actions were only directed to his colleague. And yet there was an element of excess in the way he was preparing the infusion. I couldn't make out his instructions, but it was likely something akin to "... be very careful not to compress or bruise the herbs..."

David Masse said...

You may be right Brandy. Every now and then events conspire to spark what seems to be a conjuring or magic trick.

VStar Lady said...

Unfortunately, the last time (last week) I ordered a cappuccino at Starbucks it was all foam, no cappu. Today in Merrickville - I got the real thing ... ummmmmmmmmm! I love the independents.

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