from ‘A Slightly Sweeter Insanity’
Hi, my name is Mandy and I have a complete inability to walk past any Australian bakery without eating a veggie roll or hedgehog slice, or whatever other delicacy is beckoning me through glass. There’s just nothing in the world that compares to it… although, there is that Cuban bakery in Los Angeles on Magnolia Boulevard in the valley. People line up half way down the street eager to get their daily fix.
I discovered this place when a buddy and I were in LA thrift store shopping, we caught a whiff of the coffee the moment we opened the doors of my car. Dark roasted beans and frothy milk aromas drifted along the footpath forcing us to forget about old clothes and dumpster diving for a few minutes. Instead we joined the line of mesmerized fellow bakery addicts oohing and aahing over the abundance of sweet and savory goodies up for grabs behind the glass petition.
My mind was repeating over and over to itself, non-fat latte, non-fat latte, non-fat latte, but the minute I arrived at the counter I spat out the words, “a non-fat latte and an apple cinnamon muffin, please.” Right then, that familiar conversation between Mandy the health fairy and her evil sister Mandy the ‘oh for God’s sake, you only live once – live a little’ degenerate erupted in my head.
No one would ever realize that there was an outright war going on in my brain about ordering a slice of decadent chocolate cake at 10:00 A.M. or attempting to pretend that an apple muffin was sufficient and a hell of a lot better for my arteries. I even managed to smile at two little girls in their ballet tutus who danced into me as they pulled on their parent’s caffeine depleted bodies, and the elderly couple complaining about the lack of seating. Good grief, Grandma - are you serious? It’s Sunday freaking morning, the busiest brunch-time in California, stop complaining and just tell the coffee elf what you want. I wanted to scream – but I remained calm. Just give me my Goddamn latte!
I must admit, their coffee wasn’t too bad, maybe a six out of ten, but I’m a tough sell. I’ve been known to refuse to go back to restaurants whose food I adore, all because they’re lacking in the latte department. Don’t give me cinnamon or nutmeg, I asked for coffee. Chocolate on top I love, but please, let me put it on, and really - that’s more of a ‘to go’ condiment. And unless I request, ‘to go’ or ‘take out,’ please serve my ambrosia in a real cup.
Speaking of Cuban delicacies… during my costuming days in LA I was introduced to caffeine of a different kind. Approaching our seventeenth hour of a music video shoot with a beautiful Cuban singer, we were beginning to fade. She whispered something to her husband; he nodded, gave her a kiss and left the set for about an hour.
When he returned he had a box that contained tiny paper cups filled with a thick, dark brown liquid. Handing his love one of the small cups, she smiled in delight as she downed it in one gulp. They invited each of us in the ‘glam squad’ (hair, makeup and wardrobe dept.) to join them explaining that this was the best coffee in the world – Real Cuban coffee, it helps when one gets sleepy, they explained.
This beverage was the strongest and sweetest coffee I’ve ever consumed, but my god when the sun finally came up after hour number twenty-three and that wonderful sentence, ‘that’s a wrap,’ echoed on the stage, my eyes resembled a deer in headlights and I couldn’t stop talking.
The lattes I’ve had in Australia are mostly magnificent – I tend to order cappuccinos in my homeland, as they are closer in definition to the American latte, more in the neighborhood of what I’m used to. The foam is perfect, the flavor of the coffee bean rich and full – not bitter or burnt, a true delicacy. I drink lattes the way others savor wine, ordering one the moment I sit down in a restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner and I like it brought with my water, before I eat.
Upon arrival at Sydney International airport, I take the bus ride over to the domestic terminal, go through security and head directly to a little café to the left of the escalators where I order scrambled eggs, served with basil and tomatoes, two slices of thick white toast and the much anticipated ‘skinny latte.’ It’s always divine, but then again that’s after being on a plane for fifteen hours where they serve something similar to coffee, a distant relation – distant, as in from another galaxy.
Once settled in Tasmania, I lurk through streets searching for the scent of the perfect coffee bean served sometimes with that Australian delicacy, ‘the slice.’ A sweet sensation with a mix of crunch and creamy chocolate, a perfect side dish to the Apple Isle’s cappuccino, in a cup, no cinnamon or nutmeg. I take a sip and let the flavor erupt on my taste buds before swallowing, a momentary out of body experience washes over my soul releasing a pleasurable smile on my face. A little too close to orgasmic, perhaps.
In 1987 while working in Vienna, I escaped to the central plaza and found myself in paradise. Delicious aromas seeped out of numerous restaurants lighting a fire in my solar plexus, it was all I could do to contain myself. Drawn to an outside table with a view of the festivities of a Viennese morning, it was time to order a much anticipated local coffee. It came in a small cup on a saucer, a dollop of cream and the perfect amount of grated dark chocolate delicately placed atop the rich liquid dominating the cup.
I appreciated the surrounding beauty, the Viennese women looking chic in their fitted Chanel suits and the men strong and virile in tailored shirts and pants that rustled around their strong, European bodies. I lifted the cup to my mouth, luxuriating in the moment before allowing the nectar to pass through my trembling lips. My body shuddered as the flavor released itself in every cell. There were no arguments between the conflicting Mandys that reside in my head – this delicacy tortured them both – it was the yin and the yang of coffee. Now there was but one more thing to do while in Vienna.
The weather was perfect as my pal and I set off to meet some local friends of hers for a swim in the beautiful Danube. They waved excitedly when we approached the area they’d claimed as their own marked with colorful beach towels and various bottles of sunscreen and wine.
We took out our embarrassingly ordinary towels that we’d borrowed from the hotel and laid them out then headed for the river, carefully stepping over Viennese locals with impeccable hats that I’d seen on recent couture runways. They smiled and waved; I did the same, muttering something about how much I loved their coffee before reaching the edge of the water and realizing how bloody cold it was. Encouraged by the fashionistas to jump in and enjoy, I did my best standing swan dive followed by a good quarter mile freestyle river swim.
When my face hit the sunlight I was once again in awe of this city – it has everything I love. Cobblestone streets, history, gardens, art, museums, couture fashion, splendiferous coffee and cakes, even a place in the city to swim, and my body was already used to the rather ‘refreshing’ water temperature. My eyes drifted to the myriad of locals walking along the footpath beside the river, the bicyclists pedaling by and the lovers drinking wine and eating cheese with chunks of thick, white bread. This was living.
A tall woman caught my eye as she walked by. She looked exquisite in a delicate pair of high-heeled red sandals, sunglasses, her large designer sun hat and a matching handbag draped over her arm. I love that about the European woman – shoes and handbags always match. This woman didn’t need clothes to look classic; this was the nudist part of the Danube after all. How I adore Vienna.
It’s Tuesday and I’ve just ingested the last of my morning latte, made with love by me, and served in my favorite, tall, hand-thrown ceramic mug. The sky is blue, the trees are green and the lavender is in sweet, aromatic bloom. A bunch of birds sound angry outside my window, which tells me that Dracula the feline is out and about early. I gently put down my empty cup giving it an eight out of ten. Oh, how I look forward to the bakeries of Australia, from airports to The Rocks, Salamanca and Launceston’s hip Charles Street café’s – I’ll search out all of you from dawn ‘till dusk… such simple bliss awaits me.