one of the greatest pleasures of living in a city is the twinning of neighborhood and food. for a summer, i lived in new york, and i joke with philadelphia friends that if i take them to manhattan, they will be given a summary tour of hole-in-the-wall finger food places up and down the island. in my mind, sense of place is intricately bound up with the gastronomic as well as the aesthetic, and this morning was a lovely example.

friend c. picked me up at my apartment and we drove over to the italian market section of the city, which is a sheer delight for anyone who loves the pleasures of interesting food. within a few-block span, there are three excellent places for brunch (or, anyway, three that he and i have collectively discovered — there are probably many, many more). as you stroll from one to the other, searching for the shortest line, you see others in the neighborhood doing the same thing, or nearly the same — but the point is, there are PEOPLE in the STREETS — native city dwellers will not realize the impact this has on an ex-suburbanite. it’s actually quite revolutionary! uniquely in the city (in my mid-Atlantic city, anyway), there are spaces, and people move through them in an un-insulated (read: not sealed in a car) fashion. they are open to hearing the sounds and smelling the smells and seeing the textures of the people and structures in the space. i love this! there is community… in the very best sense described by Jane Jacobs (see favorite book section for more of her layman’s observations of urban design — i’m a fan). There are eyes on the street, and they’re not afraid to look around.

little places, like the butcher’s cafe, where we ate today, seem to me to be touchstones for this sort of community — they are destinations for the strolls through the streetscape, places where the neighborhood pauses to interact with its own or to allow outsiders to slip inside. we were outsiders today, but even outsiders can appreciate that kind of food! wow… conversation kept either of us from finishing our dishes (frittata primavera with turkey bacon (him) and challah french toast stuffed with summer fruit (me)), and i, lucky girl that i am, got to bring home leftovers. sooo… when i am done updating the internet on the pleasures of interesting neighborhood food enjoyed in situ, i will go remind my palate of same.

whole books could be written, as well, on the wonder of a thickly potted, grey-white glazed stoneware mug filled, always and as though by magic, with diner coffee. to me, it is the single greatest catalyst for conversation. sit two people down at a table across from one another and feed them — they will first have to wait for their food, and after they finish the food, they will wait for the check. the waiting time before and after will be without props — and two people forced to converse without props have no little bit of anything to hide behind. — there’s no warm-up: it’s just you and him, and you have either to dive into each other’s expressions or to remain silent.

IF, however, you have a warm mug of coffee, conversation can ramp up gradually: coffee arrives, along with small bowl of creamer… open creamer, pour in — add sugar if you must — and stir… words begin, but eye contact can be spotty….(clank, clink — find a place to lay your dripping spoon — ah, the napkin — and now…) the stirring finished, you wrap your hands around the mug (assume position) and sip slowly, peering over the rim at your dining partner… sentences can flow, punctuated by measured sips when pause is needed. lest even this early stage ramp up too quickly, one of the incredibly attentive wait staff apparates at your elbow, and though you have a strict two-cup limit on per-meal caffeine, you welcome about a half-dozen half-fresh cups that she will pour for you between now and when your food arrives (followed by a symmetrical portion after the plates are cleared). by the time forks and knives are picked up to begin the entree, conversant rhythms are hitting their strides, nursed from infancy by the screen of the grey-white stoneware filled with — as friend n lovingly coined — the golden nectar.

hmmm.. saturday mornings were made for such things.