Monday, November 15, 2010


For those of you unfamiliar with our ongoing feature at Vancouver Slop, we routinely ask people we look up to to tell us what their three favourite restaurants are.  For Slop Press, we've tweaked this slightly and asked these folks what their three most memorable meals are (or variations thereof).  Here's our inaugural post.

In The Penguin Anthology of Canadian Humour, James Martin falls between Stephen Leacock and Stuart McLean. In real life, he falls somewhere between unrealistic ambition and chronic fatigue. Here, he gets it together just enough to ramble:

Golly gee, do I love coffee. The in-house munchkins might have the power to drag me from slumberland at unholy o’clock, but they know that F-U-N has to wait until Dad gets the Kontessa Oro (12 cupper, natch) onto the burner. So they patiently cover their ears while I grind the beans, and less patiently watch me fuss over which Royal Copenhagen annual mini-mug will play grail for that vital first jolt. It ain’t just about getting the day going, either. The same giddy anticipation happens again a few hours later, when I unscrew the trusty thermos and fill my chipped Donald Duck Federal Glass mug. (Mug fetish? Guilty.) Mid-afternoon espressos are known to happen, too. So it’s hard to believe I came late to java. Somehow I got through (cough) five years of undergrad—which saw me write every essay in a frenzied last-minute all-nighter (often, incredibly, followed by a second all-nighter at the campus radio station)—without a single drop of coffee. Since then, I’ve enjoyed a lot of coffee. Some incredible (including Phil & Sebastian and Bumpy's in Calgary, Cafés Myriade and Olimpico in Montreal). Some crummy (won’t get into it). And some that transcended the contents of the cup. On that latter note, here are my Top Three Formative Coffee Experiences:

1. Fall 1993. This is where it all began, on the requisite post-graduation reading-Hemingway-while-hunting-absinthe-and-scowling Eurail tour. Every hostel’s gratis breakfast was the same: a hunk of crusty bread and a steaming bowl of either coffee or hot chocolate. After three mornings in Northern France, the unbearable babyishness of ordering cocoa shamed me into taking the coffee plunge. Heavy on frothy, vaguely sweet milk, I wouldn’t call that stuff “coffee” today, but it made the transition easy. Gateway joe.

2. January 1994. Back at home (Calgary), scowling, stocking bookstore shelves with The Celestine Prophecies of Madison County. Because I didn’t have to report to the mall until, like, 4, I spent many wee hours hunkered in a booth at Denny’s (Crowchild Trail + Trans-Can), journal at hand, trying to learn how to write. The coffee stunk (ditto the writing) but, crucially, I learned how to drink it black and savour its inherent coffee-ness. (Clocking five-six-seven cups a night, sugar and milk seemed unwise.)

3. I puked up white rice once when I was 7, and it turned me off the stuff for a decade. Wasn’t the rice’s fault (flu), and it’s totally nutbar behaviour, but there ya go. Fast-forward to June 1999. I’m living deliciously downwind from the Calgary coffee-roasting heaven that was The Planet on 4th St. S.W. (R.I.P.—but, thankfully, mastermind Shawn McDonald’s still in the roasting biz) (including fancy stuff that’s been crapped out by weird cats). One night, on a total whim, I ordered shepherd’s pie—a dish I loathe, despite loving its constituent parts—at a since-closed restaurant that shall remain unnamed. Cut to: 18 hours of the worst gastro heave-ho I’ve ever known. The puking was bad, but even worse was despising the smell of roasting beans drifting in my windows. Still, I was determined not to let my beloved coffee suffer a white-rice-style psychological embargo. As soon as I could walk, I hunched down the alley and forced back a cup of The Planet’s finest. It worked. Ol’ Tommy Eliot was being nasty when he wrote of measuring out one’s life in coffee spoons, but it sounds pretty darn good to me.

James Martin is a writer living in Montreal, featured in The Penguin Anthology of Canadian Humour, the editor of Irresponsible Freaks, Highball Guzzlers & Unabashed Grafters: a Bob Edwards Chrestomathy, the author of Calgary: the Unknown City and the co-screenwriter of waydowntown.
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