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Marco's April 4, 2009

Posted by Anna in Cafe Exercises.
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The writing book that I’m reading suggests that every time you go to a cafe to write, you should try to describe that place – sights, smells, sounds, scenarios, etc. As I spend a reasonable amount of time in coffee shops, waiting while an external class is attended by my daughter, that sounds like a fairly interesting exercise to me. I’m sure the Cafe Exercises category of this blog will swell rapidly, hopefully with quite a variety of pieces. This is my first attempt.


Marco’s is a busy place. Long white counters protect the kitchen staff from the ravenous hordes and the barista from the coffee-deprived masses, large windows open out into the square in summer, and the cheerful, efficient staff ensure a happy throng of regular customers.

I’ve been here of a morning sometimes, and two baristas work frantically, clanking the grinder’s distributor mechanism, banging and tamping the grinds, espressing the inky black elixir of life and zhoozhing the milk. For half an hour or more, the bank of bleary-eyed customers at the coffee counter rarely numbers less than a dozen.

Where I sit today, inside the café, there is a constant hum. The timber-look flooring is probably lino, because my heels don’t echo on it as they do on the laminate at our place, or on the real timber floor’s in my friend’s home. Movement across the floor is like a hum. Banter between the staff is a hum; customer conversations are mostly a quiet hum; the fridges hum, and the lights hum along with the fans.

The ceiling fans gyrate laconically as they spin, adding just a hint of chill to the otherwise mild autumn atmosphere. They are no doubt partly to blame for the lack of intense food smells in the air of the café, although the massive extractor fans in the kitchen would have something to do with it too, of course. Apart from an occasional waft of something delicious, I feel deprived. I’m not eating, but aromas are good.

Behind me, a table of schoolgirls sip their milkshakes and chomp on tomato sauce drenched beer battered chunky chips, while they giggle over puerile gossip and teacher gripes.

Along the opposite wall, a mother and grandmother, clearly related, try to hush a boisterous girl-child of about four. The three of them all have the same bobbed blonde hair: the child’s is pale and gossamer-like; the mother’s tousled and frazzled; the grandma’s a little wild and tinged with an awkward unnatural red.

“Be quiet, honey,” Grandma suggests in a whiney tone, “and I’ll buy you an ice cream.”

“I don’t want a ice cream!” the child retorts in equally whiney tones. “I wanna baby ’cino!”

“All right,” agrees the mother, her tone every bit as whiney as genetics apparently dictate. “But only if you’re quiet.”

Behind me, pots, pans and dishes clank and bang in the back kitchen. While all the food is put together in full view of customers behind the sleek while counter at the front, used dishes disappear mysteriously to that out-the-back place. At other times, a trolley of clean crockery emerges from there, destined for the front kitchen. Only occasionally have I seen bowls of pre-chopped fruit, vegetables and herbs emanate from out-the-back, but it has led to my assumption that Out There houses another kitchen of sorts.

The woman at the table in front of me refolds her newspaper – a big one, like the Australian or the Sydney Morning Herald. After a while, she gets up and goes to the counter. Apparently the dull-looking waitress with the lank dark hair who didn’t bring me a spoon with my tea, and spurned my request for one, has also neglected to take this lady’s order. I stir my sugar into my tea and watch her as I move the capped end of my pen around in my teacup until no more sugar scrapes around the bottom. She places her order, to apologies from the manager, and returns to her seat. I lick my pen-cap as unobtrusively as I can, before turning it so I can write again.

The girl child swings by, on her way to the loo, loudly informing her pursuant mother that she will be having a bickie with her ’cino. She has forsaken whiney for tyrannical, and although her mother applies conditions valiantly, her voice is still whiney, and I just know that her defeat is inevitable.

I straighten, and stretch my hands out on the sticky, heavily-lacquered timber tabletop, just as a rumple-haired young man in jeans enters the café. He claims the table recently vacated by an argumentative, white-haired, bird-like old lady and her equally argumentative, obese, haggard-looking middle-aged son. The young man sits, facing the same direction as me, and I can’t help thinking that his shoulders, even from behind, look sad. The dull-looking waitress arrives instantly, and despite her suddenly engaging tones, he even sounds cheerless as he asks wearily for a macchiato.

Miss Four strides past again, advising sharply that choc chips will be included in the bickie that she will be having with her baby ’cino. Mother no longer contradicts her, or even applies conditions to the child’s orders. Miss Four will be obeyed.

The gaggle of schoolgirls chatter their way outside.

As the child of angelic appearance scrapes her sticky wooden chair out and clambers up to their table, a couple several tables down are served their food. They look like business colleagues – both very smartly dressed; both on their best behaviour.

The tall, sleek couple nearby are clearly lovers. They shared their food, conversation was low, and their fingers often entwined. They rise to leave, smiling at each other as they fall into elegant step on their way to pay the bill.

Grandma snags the attention of a passing kitchen hand and demands that their order be taken. He apologises genuinely and glares in the direction of the dull waitress, who is delivering coffee to the sad young man two tables ahead of me. Miss Four commands her own requirements with authority from her ‘house’ beneath the table, and the seconded waiter bends low and smiles for her indulgently.

The café manager refills the water fridge with tall bottles of complementary water and clean glasses, to chill. She is quick and efficient. She’s been there a long time, and she knows how the place should run. She has heard the order being given to the kitchen hand, and I can’t help wondering how long the new waitress will last.

A bohemian looking couple peruses the menu, and the dull waitress passes them repeatedly, without stopping to check if they’re ready to order. Their conversation is animated though, so they may not notice for a while.

I finish my tea and gather my things. The sad young man has finished and gone already. For him, service was swift. I hope his coffee was good.

As I pass her table, the lady with the newspaper receives her coffee, and the manager is delivering the requirements of Miss Four and her minions. She scrambles back up onto her chair eagerly.

The door is open and I am about to leave the café, having paid, when I hear a wail. “There’s not enough choklit on my ’cino! An’ I want red dots in my bickie!”