I come to London often. The usual tourist checklist languishes, forgotten, unless something special draws me, such as the flood of poppies at The Tower of London on Remembrance Day, or museum showings that beg to be seen.
Today, nothing harnesses me to a schedule. It’s a blessing to dawdle in the great expanse of this city’s ebb and flow. Without the pressures of time and need, I luxuriate in the moment.
The counter where I place my coffee order is rather tall and bordered by a large, glass display. Croissants, small spit loafs bursting with cheeses, hams and tomatoes, as well as sweet rolls, sit in perfect rows. The jeans and black t-shirt staff are an eclectic collection as well: tall, Italian men, short Thai women, all of them polite, but unsmiling. The Thais glide through the restaurant like apparitions, their only noise a small click as the saucers find the tabletops.
I settle into a side table for two. My coffee is what the Brits call ‘flat white.’ The Spanish would say café con leche and the French, café au lait. I am in the same coffee shop I always come to. Italian and quaint. A mix of tourists and regulars queue up, place their orders and either take away their caffeine in paper cartons, or sit and have it brought to the table. Service is rapid. Thick, white porcelain cups, resting on equally thick porcelain saucers, dot the dark wooden tables. A bare semblance of conversation floats in the air. Could be English, Italian, Greek, Arabic, or any of a hundred other languages. I catch brief whiffs of the morning patter. Weather. Destinations. Appropriate dress. My Spanish is as rusty as a weathered nail.
Outside the shop, a sandwich signboard reads, Free Croissants to the First One Hundred Customers, but in fact, croissants come with every morning cup I’ve ever seen in the place. I munch mine and contemplate the day. Flakes of my crispy roll float to the table.
Soft music, with catchy rhythm trills in the background. “You treat me like a stranger and it feels so rough.”
The walls feature evocative color photos of men, women, and tourist scenes, pasted together in random order, at odd angles, and doctored with bright colors. Under them runs a thick dark border, peppered with white writing, expounding witticisms.
Canadian Capitalism: You have four cows. An American company buys your cows, then sells them at a profit and declares bankruptcy. Communism: You have four cows. The government confiscates them. Two cows die from mismanagement and you are given only as much milk as the government thinks you deserve.
Beside me, an Italian mother and her ten year old son enjoy their breakfast. The kid has baked beans on toast and starts to pick up the whole bundle. The mother quickly intervenes to squelch this approach and the kid soon wrestles with a knife and fork. I slide a little farther away. I’ve seen experiments like this go awry.
Ever had an English Breakfast? Eggs, English bacon, baked beans, sausages, grilled tomato, grilled mushroom, white bread toast. A delicious, self-inflicted culinary punishment.