July 25, 2008

It's the journey

They arrived late at night in a city they had never seen. It was hard to tell much from the windows of the taxi, but although everything about the lobby of the small hotel was unquestionably foreign, arriving there seemed oddly like coming home. They were too tired even to unpack, so they crawled into the high bed and fell asleep under a thick quilt. In the middle of the night he woke up to hear the sound of people singing as they walked by under the windows, and he got up and opened the shutters slightly. Groups of people were strolling by, laughing and talking, coming home very late from dinner. He woke a second time, much later, to hear the sound of rain falling lightly in the street.

The Italian word espresso means "express," which is usually defined as "fast" and thought to owe its origin to the speed with which espresso is made, a description of the sudden emergence of inky espresso spurting out of an espresso machine. But of course express also refers to an object or substance that has been "pressed out," as espresso is pressed by force out of the mixture of coffee grounds and hot water, and expressly means "particularly," as in a cup of espresso made expressly for one person.

The next morning they opened their eyes to find that the room already was filled with barred light coming in through the shutters. A bowl of white flowers was on a table next to the bed, and they could smell the closed, secret smell of the blossoms. She called for room service, speaking very slowly and clearly in her newly acquired language, then came back to bed. Both of them had drifted back to sleep by the time the knock came on the door. A young boy who seemed to have stepped out of a Renaissance painting came in carrying a tray of pastries and preserves ... fresh juice and a pot of strong, hot coffee. They ate breakfast sitting up in bed, listening to the sounds of scooters and small cars and people calling out to one another on the other side of the shutters.

They had nothing to do for days—nothing except to be with each other, to read and write, to explore the city, to sit outside little trattorias in the sun. They both got out of bed and walked over to the high windows and out onto the small balcony. In the narrow, winding stone-paged street, the morning light made an intricate pattern of sun and shade on the cornices and lintels and pilasters of ancient, honey-colored limestone buildings. The air had a fragrance that they couldn't quite identify, but after standing there a minute or two in the sunlight, they decided that it was a mixture of lemons, jasmine, and expresso.

Espresso: Culture and Cuisine, Karl Petzke and Sara Slavin

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