…as was his habit, [Bottando] had passed ten minutes in the bar opposite the office drinking two esspresso coffees and eating a panino filled with fresh ham. The habitués of the bar had greeted him as befitted a regular breakfast customer: a friendly ‘buon-giorno’, nods of acknowledgement, but no attempt at any more conversation. Waking up, in Rome as in any other city, is a private matter that is best done in quiet solitude. [The Raphael Affair, Iain Pears, pg1]
Most days I walk to work. It’s a bit more than 5 kilometres and takes me a bit under an hour. The walk is through inner-city streets so I leave home early, around 6am, to avoid having to walk alongside roads congested with noisy cars.
My rewards for this are many. An hour a day to listen to a favourite podcast or audiobook. Some gentle exercise. A smug feeling of virtue for the rest of the day. And, best of all, my end-of-journey ritual.
I stop for 20 minutes of coffee, reading and contemplation at my favourite café. The street where I stop has numerous cafés but I stop at this particular one because
- the coffee is always excellent
- the place is not part of a chain
- they use good old-fashioned washable china to serve their coffee in instead of disposable cups
- there’s no expectation I will participate in noisy, pointless conversation
This last point is very, very important. Both the staff and the other early morning regulars would concur with the sentiments of the quote above. They understand that the process of waking up has it’s own rhythm and is largely a solitary activity even when there are other people around. We’ll nod to each other and may even venture a “lovely day” or a hopeful “might rain” (hopeful because this is a city ravaged by drought) but we don’t converse.
We sit, we read, we sip, we listen, we wake up and ready ourselves for the day ahead.
But we do not converse.
This week all that changed. A woman who I’d never seen there before came every morning.
And she talked. A lot.
To me: “What are you reading?”, “Is it any good?”
To the dread-locked bloke who always reads The Australian “What do you think about that news story?”
To the chain-smoking Ad Exec who’s always on his laptop “Nice computer…is it a good one?”
And on she went. No one answered her with more than a grunted, two-word response but she seemed not to notice. Every day there were more loud, pointless questions preventing us all from enjoying our individual wake-up rituals.
By Friday tensions were a little high. We all sat, sipped and waited. Teeth gritted in anticipation of the unpleasantness to come.
She didn’t turn up.
There was a palpable collective relief.
One of the two construction workers, who each drink several short blacks in the space of a few minutes as part of their ritual, ventured a “she must have got the point”. We all smiled.
I’m hopeful that tomorrow thing will return to normal.