Back in the early 1990s, I discovered the Chamber Music Society of Oregon, and its incredible program offering free instrumental music classes to Portland children. Pavel and I quickly signed up our two children for classes. I can't remember whose idea it was that they study violin, or even where we got the violins. What I do remember is the painful attempts at getting them to practice.
I enjoyed the classes, especially the hour and a half that I had to kill downtown. I started my escape at the pre-renovation (1994-1997) Central Library. Back then, so many books were stored in closed stacks that I often had to fill out a call slip and take it to the clerk. He would put it into a plastic cylinder, and lift it up to the pneumatic tube, which would suck my request up and away to a librarian working the stacks. Don't start me on the silent 'p' in pneumatic; I have similar feelings about the 'p' in pterodactyl.
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Anyway. The icing on my cake, as it were, on those Saturday mornings by myself was a visit to a café whose name I've sadly forgotten. It was across SW 10th Avenue from the library, close to Willamette Week's old offices. It was the kind of place I considered, then, very Northwestern, different from the cafés in California. The inside was dark and cozy--there was no attempt to hide the fact that Oregon is dark and rainy. I think this café was where I learned how much easier it is to give in to the rain, and hunker down with a hot beverage and a comforting cookie, than to pretend it's sunny.
I took to hunkering down with a cookie and coffee like, well, a duck to water. The café made a brown sugar shortbread cookie that I ordered each time. The color of light brown sugar, it was (at least in my memory) dipped in caramel. The cookie was crumbly and slightly sweeter than regular shortbread, but still less sweet than most cookies. The caramel picked up any sweetness slack.
The café, sadly, is gone. Its name is forgotten by me, and by the people I've asked. But the cookie is remembered and still appreciated, as is the luxury of a snatched hour spent by myself in a warm space. I'm pretty sure I can trace my appreciation of time spent in cafés to those quiet hours I spent there, nursing my coffee and nibbling my cookie.
As I recall, the classes were as painful as the practicing. Pavel took to bribing the kids with visits to Martinotti's for candy after each class. The classes didn't last, but Christmas isn't Christmas without a stop at Martinotti's for marzipan fruits from Italy and all sorts of Italian stocking candy. The end finally came one day when my son threw his violin down in frustration--with the violin, with his teacher, with himself, and, most of all, with his parents.