By coffee shops, I do not mean Starbucks, though Starbucks paved the way. I mean little independent shops whose staff geek out over country of origin, processing method, and extraction contraptions. It's a clean, well-lighted place like La Colombe on Van Dam Street -- supplier of my 3:00PM fix -- where the menu board, pictured above, makes no mention of "creme brûlée" or "chestnut praline" latte, let alone "regular" and "decaf." You get, instead, a connoisseur's obsessive, laser-like focus on flavor. Yes, coffee has flavor. I never knew that, until I started drinking my coffee black. There is no going back, not to the milk drinks Starbucks churns out, and certainly not to the bland ashy-tasting hot water that I'd grown up thinking was "coffee."
In Ada, there's McDonald's, which has improved the quality of its coffee. It's measurably better, compared to what had been served before, but it will be a sign of the end of days when the burger behemoth starts posting "lemon grass - assam tea - tobacco" next to "small - medium - large." There's also Northern on Main, an outpost of Ohio Northern University's student cafeteria operations. It "proudly serves" Starbucks. There's often a line out the door in the morning, not unlike the one that formed at Annex, my favorite place when I lived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. I will grudgingly stand in it when I run out of my stash of Annex's Blue Bottle coffee blends.
I could have Bella Donovan shipped to me, but there's no home replication of the vibe of New York City's coffee shops, or the cheerful fanatics who staff them. I'll miss Ron, Kate, Justin, Andrew and baby-faced Mike at Annex. I'll miss Z at Ground Support in SoHo, and its owner, Steve Sadoff, who notices, and appreciates, his regulars. I'll miss comparing iced coffee extraction methods with Teresa von Fuchs at Root Hill Cafe on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. You've kept me well-caffienated.
The Brooklyn Oratory at St. Boniface Church
I heard about St. Boniface about ten years before I walked through its wide and welcoming doors, through a former neighbor on State Street. "It's a Catholic Church, but you wouldn't know it," Sam said, or something along those lines, by which he meant that its priests weren't old and cranky, the homilies weren't harangues against abortion and homosexuality (which, during the culture wars of the 1980s, was all anyone harangued about), and the pews were filled with a surprising number of 30-and-40-somethings.
When Mark and I joined forces, we agreed we wanted to double down on our faith lives. I remembered that talk with Sam about this mythical place, and we found it, after a bit of a search. The church is surrounded by the high, buff-colored skyscrapers of MetroTech. It is a pearl of great price.
Sam's description of St. Boniface was wrong. It is very Roman Catholic. Its liturgy is solemn and beautiful. Its priests -- we have five! -- offer intelligent homilies, rich with the details of their own experiences. They don't shy away from the personal. The music is often breathtakingly beautiful. My fellow parishioners participate. They pray, they take part in the Sacraments, they show up.
St. Boniface gave me permission to be Roman Catholic in a culture that is embarrassed by religious devotion, one that takes deep pleasure in pointing out the hypocrisies inherent in any human being's attempt to live according to spiritual principles. We stumble. A lot. But this is the place that picks you up, dusts you off, and encourages you to keep going.
If you're Catholic and looking for a church to call home, look no further.
There's not a lot of Old Stuff in New York City, or in America, for that matter. And in the scheme of things, our cobblestone streets aren't really very old, either, dating back only about 150 years. They're pop culture compared to the huge flat discs that Julius Caesar walked on in the Forum. But they're still nice to see, if not so nice to cross in high heels.
Once upon a time, all of New York City's streets were cobblestone. They got their start in the 1830s, with blocks of Belgian granite brought Stateside as ship ballast. Replacing them is expensive, costing four times the amount to pave a street with asphalt. The Department of Transportation last year estimated there are just 15 miles of unpaved-over cobblestone streets in New York City. Enjoy them while you still can.
They are everywhere in New York City, as ubiquitous as corner delis without the 24-hour-a-day operations. They take you as you are, right off the street, no reservation, the (typically Korean) lady waving you toward the shelves lined with little glass jars of polish: "Pick a color!" For $20, and a half hour of your time, they erase all signs of your compulsion to chew your nails and bite the raggedy edges of your cuticles. With your hands otherwise occupied, one being groomed, one being primed in a little bowl of warm, soapy water, you have no choice but to stop scrolling through your text messages and Twitter feed and just sit. And daydream. That uninterrupted time is the secret gift of the manicure, and the real reason to go every week. Because, let's face it, the gleaming, slick, candy-colored polish gets nicked within the hour, as you reach into your purse for your keys.