Postcard from New York IV: 'Coffee with all the Trimmings'
Perhaps I've just had an unusually bad run of it, but I am developing a theory that this is Latin-America's revenge for years of heavy-headed intervention: supplying the US with the rubbish-est dog water excuse for coffee ever. Percolated dregs strained of all flavour and then further diluted, burnt crayon topped with bitter froth, variations on that theme but none of them pleasant. Until I discovered the best cafe. You know that your coffee habit is getting compulsive when you've seen the same guy behind the counter 6 days in a row, and are wondering when he's going to ask you if you ever get a day off? It's on a little unassuming corner, a crossroad and doesn't appear to have a name. Outside are some old leather boots from which pansies grow. It has all of about 6 seats and the furniture looks like it was picked up on a retro-skip. It also has the added bonus of selling (for reasons still unclear to me) a little treasure of British food imports. It's interesting to see what count as foreign curiosities here, and adds up to an evocative compendium of childhood memories; yes, Bird's custard (I remember my mother making this with bananas and it being so hot it scalded me and my brother's tongues...but we...couldn't wait!), lemon barley water, Hayward's pickled onions (eaten with roast beef) and Lyle's golden syrup (trickled over porridge on sleepy mornings at my grandparent's Scarborough house by the sea).
Sunlight still streams most days through the windows as I sit at the counter and work. The air has a new little bite to it, but so far more of a playful kitten than the full on jaws of cold that I know to expect from the winter proper. In anticipation, I went shopping to find a down jacket, and en route discovered the magical world of "M&J Trimmings" on 6th Avenue.
Like a housewife at a fairy tale market, I fingered lengths of organza and eyelet lace, the crystal sewn fabrics (tiny bead clusters, pearlescent barnacles), tin and flint buttons; I drew out spools of feathers - guinea hen, ostrich on their satin tapes, silver studs and perfectly round paillettes. And watching the other customers was an equal treat, some lolling past with a dreamy look, others purposeful and brisk, their baskets filled with buckles and maribou. In the same way that I choose my cloth of words and music, cut and tease it into eventual form - I wondered what they were planning to pin and fold and finally drape over skin and bone on that dusky evening?