Wednesday, October 18, 2006



Earlier this week I had the immense pleasure of getting a cappuccino at the Blue Bottle with my best friend, neighbor and all-around partner-in-crime, Emily Dixon. Emily and I have been going out for coffee together on a very regular basis since about the early 90’s, so the Blue Bottle in Hayes Valley is still kind of “new” for us, as it opened in 2005. But it has very quickly become one of my favorite cappuccinos in San Francisco. This is partly because they do the drink right – not too hot, 6-ounce(ish) porcelain cup, delicious, caramel-y espresso, and exceedingly lovely crema del latte on most days.

But the Blue Bottle has also become one of my favorites because I love the atmosphere. It isn’t really a coffee shop. It’s more like an espresso speakeasy - just a garage with an espresso machine in it and a teeny little bar protruding from the counter, so you pretty much have to stand up to drink your coffee. As a result, the Blue Bottle has that feel of conviviality and human warmth that makes coffee bars in Italy so charming. I always wind up chatting with someone new there, or at least enjoying the human spectacle. And yet the Blue Bottle is utterly without the irritating pretension of coffee shops that go out of their way to try to be “authentically Italian.” A number of espresso joints in the states try to achieve that Italian feel by putting Italian words on the menu, photos of Tuscan hillsides on the walls, Andrea Bocelli on the stereo (ack), and calling out “ciao” instead of “hello.” Which always feels a little funny to me. It just calls attention to where we AREN’T. But the Blue Bottle seems to have captured some of the best of Italian culture without even trying, and that just tickles me. Sipping coffee there is just like being in Italy, only I can wear flip-flops or drink a cappuccino in the afternoon without catching disdainful stares from the passersby.

(OK, I recognize that my bellyaching about “irritating pretension” is totally hypocritical when here I am calling it crema del latte instead of microfoam. Maybe it’s time for me to give in to the dark side and just call it microfoam, for pete’s sake. I think I’m really turning myself around here. But can I just go on the record one last time and say that “microfoam” is one of those words that just makes me HATE us English-speakers for being so literal and pragmatic?)

Even better than going to the Blue Bottle, though, is going to the Blue Bottle with Emily. Emily has been my close friend since the first day of 8th grade, almost 20 years ago, and it’s hard for me to put into words what an outstanding, stupendous, hilarious person she is. But – sticking to the ostensible reason for this blog’s existence – Emily is as interested in the minutiae of cappuccino quality and variation as I am. We have been constant companions on many travels to Italy and in years of exploration of what makes a good cappuccino good. Emily inspires me, eggs me on, and keeps me honest. I often suspect that my documentary would have died a slow death from self-doubt if Emily were not around.

So the other day when we were at the Blue Bottle – doing our usual dorky photo shoot and enjoying our cappuccinos – we met a 20 year-old girl who was about to take her first trip to Rome, at which point we kind of attacked her with unsolicited advice and reminiscences about living in Rome. And it got me thinking about the sheer longevity of our friendship. Emily and I started taking Italian together in 9th grade at Lowell High School (Miss Nicora’s class. “Adriana! Adriana! Telefono! E’Gianni! Gianni, ecco Adriana.”) We took our first trip to Italy together with that class when we were 16, during which time we spent 3 days in Rome and vowed to live there together someday. I am still a little surprised to be able to report that 12 years later we actually DID live together in Rome. In 2002 - after both of us had lived in Italy at various times and after we both spent our college years studying Italian literature and culture in spite of its apparent lack of utility in the job market - I got a grant to live in Rome for a year, to start work on the cappuccino documentary. Emily was living in Washington, D.C. at the time, working for a software company. As soon as she heard that I’d be moving to Rome for a year, she determined to find a way to move there with me. And after a good deal of haggling, she not only talked her employers into letting her set up shop in Rome, she ended her year there by addressing Italian parliament on her employers’ behalf (on issues of internet usability for the disabled. Very smart girl, Emily.) So… Emily is that kind of friend. Dogged, loyal, and very adventurous.

I guess my point is that something truly amazing happens when you manage to stay close friends with someone for so long. When Emily and I were 16 and taking goofy pictures of each other in front of the Vatican and chit-chatting about how cool it would be to live there someday, I don’t think I really believed it would happen. Or at any rate, I couldn’t foresee HOW it would happen. But then when the opportunity arose, there was Emily, ready to make good on a 12 year-old wish, ready to remind me of a hope I had uttered a very long time ago.

We live in such a mobile culture; my family and “closest” friends are literally scattered all over the country; places like the Blue Bottle that actually encourage one to talk to one’s neighbors are very, very few. So I am all the more grateful for Emily. Having someone around to gently remind you of the person you’ve been all your life and the person you’ve supposedly wanted to become is no small thing. And now, at age 32, I’ve found that I feel a sense of possibility that I just didn’t feel when I was younger and wondering and fearful, and I think that’s partly because of having seen, over time, that some of the things I wished for myself have actually come to fruition. Emily’s presence in my life encourages me not only to believe in the positive visions I might idly have for my future but to run toward them with all of my might.

So as Emily and I spent a half-hour chatting over our ONE ZILLIONTH pair of cappuccinos, I felt really grateful for her continued presence in my life. And I didn’t even have to point out how much the Blue Bottle reminds me of Italy; she got it immediately.

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Hi Amy,

It's been almost couple of months since you posted last. We miss your cappuccino stories... touraj
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