Mamma Mia – Here we go again…

Too many times we see and hear about non-acceptance of diversity and difference. And whether it’s about race, culture, sex or sexuality, people can shun, disregard and hate what they don’t understand. They really don’t know what they are missing out on.

As a displaced Boulevardier I always try to embrace diverse and different behaviours and people, and learn to laugh and love our differences. I wanted to share a few experiences with Catia, also known as the Roman Drama Queen. She says that in her native land, Italy, she is viewed as laid back and chilled. I’ll let you decide.

In 2006, and amid an exchange of words, I met my good friend Catia in San Antonio, Texas. We had vehemently disagreed about a situation which had occurred on the forum on which we were both members. However, disagreements in new friendships help us to better understand each other and it’s not the disagreement that matters but the way we deal with it.

She is still a good friend today and we have not disagreed since our initial period. She can’t live without a displaced Boulevardier in her midst and I couldn’t live without a true Italian drama queen in mine. Regular readers of my blog will have seen her appear in the previous entry ‘Breakfast at Prada’.

Let me expand.

A small contingent from various parts of Europe decided to descend on Rome to visit Catia in 2007. We came from Austria, The Netherlands and England. Marc and I stayed at a local hotel on the outskirts of Rome while Martina and Florian resided at Catia’s well-appointed apartment.

On our first evening together we met at our hotel and were all catching up over a glass or six of Prosecco while waiting for taxis to transport us to the centre of Rome for dinner. Catia disappeared and I suddenly saw her in the reception area taking deep breaths with her hand poised dramatically on her brow. I wondered what had happened and mused whether poor Catia had received some dreadful news. I left our party and moved to the reception area.

‘Catia, is everything OK? What’s happened darling?’ I asked in a concerned manner.

Catia took several deep breaths and looked it pain. She threw her arms in the air and declared ‘It’s the taxis. They are going to be twenty minutes late!’ She paused dramatically between the last three words as if announcing a death.

I hugged Catia and asked her to calm down and reassured her we were in no rush and would simply enjoy another cold bubbly Prosecco. Every cloud eh. And there Prosecco comes in the most commodious large glass sized mini bottles. Genius.

She subsequently informed me that this was not really a dramatic reaction and I had yet to see a proper Italian dramatic reaction.

Catia and I have often visited each other. She is passionate about the misappropriation of Italian food. On one of her visits we met some friends in Pizza Hut, Colchester. One of the party declared

‘Oh ‘ow funny. Ca-ia (t dropped in an Essex style) has visited us from Rome and we took ‘er to an Italian restaurant.’ This was followed by cackles aplenty.

Catia did not cackle. She took several of her now infamous deep breaths and announced

‘There is NOTHING Italian about this place. It’s American. That is why I order salad!’

It doesn’t stop there. Italians, or rather serious foodie Italians, don’t allow any consumption of milk after midday. It’s apparently something to do with the digestion of dairy products. I would like to ask how they manage to consume cheese on their evening pizza but would not dare.

I may not partake anymore but I used to enjoy a café latte at most times of the day, but particularly after a meal. Not only is warm milk something of an acceptable evening habit in the UK but I like to dilute the taste of coffee. Yes, I like coffee but not when it’s really strong and lashings of milk make it significantly more palatable.

When in Rome eh.

Catia was quite determined that I would not have a latte after my dinner. I implored and pleaded and basically begged. After many deep breaths and sighs Catia attracted the waitress’s attention and I heard the following.

Catia “Guardi, lo so che e’ terribile, ma potrebbe portargli un caffellatte? Abbia pazienza, sa, e’ Inglese…”

Waitress: “Ma come si fa, dopo i ravioli?!”

Catia: “lo so lo so, non ci faccia caso”

Waitress: “Vabbe'”…

I didn’t need an explanation to know that my request was not appreciated. The word Inglese with the accompanying rolling eyes told me all I needed to know, but the translation is as follows:

Catia: “Look, I know it’s terrible, but could you get him a latte? Bear with him, he’s British, you know”

Waiter: “For god’s sake, after the ravioli?!”

Catia: “I know I know, just don’t mind him”

Waiter: “Whatever'”…rolling her eyes…

This was of course delivered in the best Italian dramatic but good humoured way.

We learn to accept each other’s cultural idiosyncrasies and enjoy what had drawn us together and made us such close friends.

A few weeks ago I had a wonderful weekend when Catia visited me in London.

My coffee taste had moved on and I was proud to tell Catia that I now enjoyed Americano. She huffed and called it soup!

photo 1

Apparently it’s espresso or nothing.

photo 2

We went to a café opening on Friday evening where we were treated to an innovative blue grass band (you don’t see much country in London), and headed on Saturday to Turville, where not only Vicar of Dibly was filmed, but also the windmill from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I can tell you that the windmill is on quite the hill. There is no way that Truly Scrumptious’ car would have made it up there. I guess that’s the magic of film.

We sat in a picturesque pub in Turville along with another great friend, Sarah. I was feeling a little chilly due to the November temperatures and blood thinning medication, whereas the two ladies (of a certain age) were feeling rather warm. They are of a certain age but apparently not of that certain age. They were however experiencing hot flushes usually experienced by ladies of a certain age. I was told in no uncertain terms that both were having earlier than expected symptoms.

It would seem that our differences are not only cultural.

We spoke and laughed and ridiculed ourselves about our differences and differences in culture. Catia said that ‘Brits talk about the weather and Italians talk about food!’

I did manage to persuade her to embrace one cultural difference…


Isn’t that what we should focus on? Let’s celebrate our differences and find a way to truly love each other. There is too much hatred and negativity in the world.

My shared experiences with my gorgeous Italian friend are superficial and slight, but surely if we learn to love and laugh in whatever situation we find ourselves true karma with find and bless us.


Anyone for Coffee?

What is happening to the High Streets in England? A metamorphosis is afoot.  The advent and popularity of internet shopping and the digital age have certainly changed its personality. The book, record, video and pretty much anything you can buy from eBay shops are fast disappearing, some to the point of extinction. The hairdressers and similar where a digital replacement is not available will survive for the time being but some High Streets will not survive these changes and are becoming the home of wall to wall Poundstretchers and pawn shops. However, in areas with more available and disposable income (or that’s the way I see it) restaurants and coffee shops are taking over and whilst in one sense it’s sad to see the demise of an institution I see evolution rather than destruction.

Crouch End fortunately has embraced the changes and with the loss of Propero’s the Bookshop, Woolworths and Blockbuster to name a few, has seen lots of new individual coffee shops cropping up. I quite like the addition of multiple choices of atmospheric inspiring places to enjoy some writing over a coffee or to ponder the next moves for the Boulevardier! 

Not all are inspiring and I have taken the time, all in the name of journalism you understand to have a look, a coffee and slice of Battenberg in to present you with a guide to coffee in Crouch End…      

There are the usual Starbucks, Costa and Harris and Hoole (controversially owned by Tesco) which are worth no more than a mention.

The Honeycomb was in situ before the recent resurgence and is the place to pick up a free copy of TimeOut each week but I fear is not moving and responding to the change in competition and other unique artistic coffee shops and culture abundant elsewhere.     

The Rocking Chair Cafe has a great name and nice but nothing makes it stand out. I could not even see the rocking chair from whence the name came. Surely there should be at least one chair to rock in whilst dreaming in the Rocking Chair Cafe.

Coffee Cake is an eclectic chic fail! It is billed as an Artisan Boulonger, which it might be pastry wise, but the furniture is multiple big heavy wooden tables which would not look out of place in my Grandmothers vast farmhouse dining room, but not in such quantity. It was overpoweringly depressing.  

My Kind of Coffee deserves a mention for the rather odd Union Jack chairs! Perhaps bought in a cheap lot post Jubilee celebrations?

Hot Pepper Jelly is my third favourite and only a small place with a rustic orange facade and been established for a long time but feels right in Crouch End and advertises lots of local artistic events. The coffee and cake are divine.

Second favourite is Coffee Circus. It has a 19th century Parisian feel with a contemporary twist. The coffee is fantastic. There is a long slim salon with the coffee bar adjacent to the front door and a rich red crushed velvet bench with small tables, perfect for one with a vista to watch the patrons come and go. There is a larger area towards the back with walls covered in sheet music. Its inspiring and relatively child free which can be a blessing in Crouch End! They also have a jug of tap water readily available with glass tumblers for self pouring which is a nice touch. Only downfall is that some coffees (and not just the correct warm rather than hot lattes) are served in glasses and not heatproof ones at that. They may look good but are impractical.

Some of you who follow my writings will already by acquainted with The Haberdashery which is not only my number 1 coffee shop (and so much more) in Crouch End but conveniently close to my residence, i.e. maximum 2 minutes walk!

Its situated in a Victorian parade on Middle Lane en route to the Broadway. The large front windows are always filled with advertisements for upcoming artist, music and reading events in Crouch End and many in The Haberdashery along with tempting freshly made cakes. In fact I was just there this morning for breakfast before heading to the gym and being good and having porridge with blueberries and an Americano with skimmed milk and Massimo (one of the owners) almost paraded through with an enormous fresh cream sponge cake FULL of fresh strawberries. He delicately placed his prize on the top tier of the display plates in the window. It was very difficult to not gorge the entire cake on the spot despite it not yet being 11am!

Inside in the main cafe the tables and chairs are a mish mash carefully put together to present a stage not out of place in Rome, Florence or Paris. The walls are adorned with more art, and the shelves full of vintage tea and coffee sets which are for purchase. At the front adjacent to the serving area are displays of muffins and other treats, elderberry, blackberry, orange, raspberry and chocolate brownies to name but a few available. It’s a vintage and gastronomic treasure chest.

There is a wonderful hidden garden at the back and a new conservatory area with enormous concertina doors to flex with the changeable English weather. The back room has a New England feel with lots of wood and skylights flooding in additional light.          

The staff and owners are lovely and really embrace the Crouch End spirit of community and they are absolute patrons of the arts.

The only thing I would change, and this rests more with my snobbish and boulevardier tendencies is some of the patrons (not good business sense I know)! I would quite like to see a Steve Strange at the Blitz approach at the door with entry only to correctly styled individuals and have an upper limit of children allowed in at any one time! Crouch End is (unfortunately) a pushchair friendly environment, and it’s quite the assault course to navigate the number of perambulators and high chairs stationed at each table. But in true Crouch End style there are a few Dads in there too on a Friday morning, youngsters in tow, which they tend to dressed in black skinny jeans, v neck sweaters and thick rimmed glasses whilst reading the Guardian.        

Also there are those that ‘try’ to be Crouch End and fail miserably! Enter couple with gent attired in a tight winter neck scarf (its 15 degrees – he obviously thought it was a substitute for a silk neck cravat) and a pair of beige and cream spats! I would have stopped him at the door and sent him to Coffee Cake where bad taste flourishes!

Once over all these eye horrors I took another spoonful of my creamy porridge and my ears are massaged by the sound of the Andrews Sisters jazzing up Roll Out The Barrel.  The Haberdashery rules! Come early to get a good table.