05 February 2010

An adventure

I have never had so much trouble boarding a bus in my life. It helps, I think, if you speak the language of the driver fluently -- and, simply put, I don't. Three years of French in high school is not enough to help you understand the rapid patter of an STM bus driver in Montreal. Gestures translate rather well, however, so when he taps on the fare collection mechanism as he tells you that you have to pull the fare out of the coin return and reinsert it, it all kind of makes sense.

I like a good adventure, I really do. And yet I find myself taking comfort in the familiar: cities are cities, and although each has its own character, it's hard to feel completely out of place in a city like this. There are universities, after all. Universities are, in a strange way, universal.

I suppose I could have gone to a coffee shop in a French speaking part of town, but instead I'm hunkered in the Caffé ArtJava among faculty and students from McGill, working.* It's comfortable in part because I've been here before, and in part because, well, it's a coffee shop. Much like universities, there is something universal about coffee shops. At least in North America.

It's a slick place, this. There's jazz playing over the speaker system. It has perfectly-spaced laminate-topped tables, black plastic and vinyl chairs with aluminum legs, a counter along the streetside window, and a back room with red vinyl chairs, a couple of end tables, a TV or two on the walls. The bar itself is split in two: there's the counter where you order and pay, and where all the food is, and beyond it, tucked neatly into a corner of the shop, is an L-shaped counter where the barista makes all the espresso drinks. It's a good system they have.

I wouldn't say it's inviting, exactly. It's not warm and homey like some places -- but it's not sterile either. It has character. It's not huge, but it doesn't feel cramped. Somehow, they've managed to avoid that pitfall most of my favorite places suffer from: overcrowding. Then again, it fits perhaps half the number of people.

Business is bustling today. There's plenty to see here. I won't be moving along anytime soon.

* Of course, I'm at a coffee shop, which means the prospect of "work" is questionable and must be read with scare quotes around it.