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The Sunday Salon: Café Comfort

The Sunday Salon.com
dogbabelI woke up to the warm clammy air that lingered on overnight. Sixty-five degrees at five-thirty in the morning. This is very unusual for San Francisco at this time for the year. The rain that poured down in sheets two weeks ago, the wetness that was tell-tale of winter’s onset, is no more. By seven-thirty, ensconced at my favorite corner table at the cafe, rays of sun tingled the back of my neck with an unusual fierceness—this was going to be a warm day. I kept my gaze focused on my new book, The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. As gurgle and sizzle of the expresso machine greeted the early birds, the cafe came to life. I lingered over my (first cup of) coffee for an hour, watching the sun shift across the cafe, illuminating each panel of window.

After the heavy reading about self-affirmation and religion that Jane Eyre has enlightened me, I have to read something lighter to ease up my mind. Although The Dogs of Babel does not fully qualify for a beach read, it’s a well-written story about recovering the loss of a spouse. When Linguist Paul Iverson found his wife dead in the backyard, fallen from the apple tree, he began a quest to solve the mystery of Lexy’s death with the help of the only witness: their dog, Lorelei, a Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Tender and down-to-earth, this novel reminds me of Enzo, the philosophical dog from The Art of Racing in the Rain except Lorelei doesn’t talk. Paul wishes. He contrives to coax words out of the canine in order to shed light on what really happened. The book also touches on the subject of dog mutilation that is reminiscent of Heart of a Dog but the extent with which this is explored is less daring and is more true-to-life. I can’t help thinking what my dog might tell me. He watches me, follows me and locks into my daily routine. What is he thinking? Does he feel comfortable at home? Does he like the park I take him to? Would dogs still be man’s best friend if they speak the common tongue?

“There is a kind of grieving that dogs do, a patient waiting for homecoming, a sniffing for a scent that is no longer there. Since Lexy died, I have often seen Lorelei sitting at the top of the basement stairs, listening for noises from the workshop below. This morning, I find her in the bedroom, sleeping stretched out on one of Lexy’s sweaters.” [63]

What are you reading this weekend?

Fly Deborah

San Francisco - Cafe FloreI walked into the mottled sidewalk that is lit up by patches of sun in the cloudless blue sky. No fog, not even a light caress of wind. The stuffy air promises another really warm day in the city, which, for the month of June, is rare but nonetheless very pleasant. Activities are sparse at about quarter shy of seven. My rut of a morning routine will begin at Cafe Flore, where I take up the corner table and read over coffee. Christopher beats me getting there first with the New York Times (crossword puzzle) in his hand. Then in strolls Karin with her trendy and chic bag. But no Deborah.

For 31 years Deborah has been a regular at Cafe Flore, where she takes her coffee, helps out with perplexing crossword puzzle clues, reads her buddhist books, and just threads everyone together. Literally she knows everybody like the back of her hand–not only the names, but their jacks of the trade, gossips, and pedigrees. Yesterday, her last day at the cafe, all her friends came by and paid tribute to her friend. They showered kisses on her. Hugs were exchanged. It was indeed an emotionally charged moment to see that everyone were holding back their tears. I cannot even imagine how tough and difficult the decision is for her to move back to Connecticut after living here in the Bay Area for half her life.

I know we are all feeling the impact of the ups and downs of daily politics and deteriorating economic news and, to one degree or another, the toll it takes on each one of us. I think she feels comfortable and at peace with the choice she has made–to retire in her hometown where gas prices are not as staggering and to be near her sister. As she has gladly puts, “Life here has been wonderful, more than I could imagined; absolutely no regrets! Now, off to the next adventure, one filled with Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring!.” Deborah, I wish you the best and you will be remembered. But the cafe will never be the same without your being there.

The Price is Wrong

That the dollar has been consistently weak (USD1 is roughly CAD1, and 1 British Pound is now USD2) not only indicates we’re bordering in recession but also implies staggering prices of our bare necessities. A parade down the aisle of the supermarket would reveal upping of prices for almost everything, from milk to bread to cheese and to dog chow. Last week my favorite cafe–Cafe Flore–posted a notice apologizing for a mandatory raise of prices in order to accommodate the rise in operation cost. My double-shot soy latte goes up by 75 cents to a whopping $4.25! In order to save money I down-grade to drip with steamed soy milk, which is $2.50.

A curious thought came to my mind this morning over coffee and reading: With money flying out of my wallet like water spiraling down the drain, what can I buy in the city with, say, 7 smackers? Let’s take a look…

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From top to bottom, left to right: A tasty, addictive sundaes from Bi Rite Creamery is $5.95, leave the change in the tip jar for the wonderful folks there. It’s not that bad consider that at most places a double scoop in a cup asks for $4.50. Two pieces of the fresh kanpachi nigiri (yellow jack) at Kabuto on Geary add up to about $7. For 7 bucks, you can still get an used trade paperback at Green Apples Books on Clement. Most Thai restaurants still charge a reasonable price for the wok-fried noodles like pad see wu in the picture. Oh, and you can get a little bit short of 2 gallons of gas at a gas station near you! At some of the more sassy, newer movie theaters, $7 is not enough for a matinee! By the way, my favorite guilty treat—the strawberry princess cake, along with most of the other offerings at Sweet Inspiration, is now $7 as well! So a slice of cake and a cup of coffee to wash it down would be $10!

Cantonese Learner

Widely spoken in southern part of China and is my native tongue, Cantonese might be one of the most difficult languages to learn owing to the fact that is is more of a spoken than a written language. This morning a macho-looking, brawny man sitting two tables from me at Cafe Flore has an English-Cantonese dictionary. Impressive. It turns out that he has been taking Cantonese course at City College and this is his second semester. His job in the garment business takes him to Hong Kong and Guangzhou twice a year so some proficiency in Cantonese will help. The beginning, three-hours-per-week Cantonese class focuses on conversation skills and phonetics. The trickiest part of the language and that which makes it difficult to master is the intonations. The southern dialect has seven tones, as compared to four for Mandarin. A slight mistake in tones will put you in big trouble as you call someone’s mother a horse!