Friday 1 May 2020

Coffeecore: On The City

for r. a. p.


I'm doing it just this once our of respect for the good coffee.

That was always a lie, my little flâneur. Just this once? How many times have you walked the streets of our handsome metropole, on the pretence of a latte? How many times have you traversed the never-insurmountably-wide avenues, on the summer nights pulsing with the afterglow of their own heat? The Coffeecore Extended Universe was always, by nature, an urbanism. It is made that way by your walking it. The city is always and never completely in its cups.

Look out your pleasingly round window. Watch your breath fog up the glass. Watch yourself being alone, frame the image in the mind, and file it away. It is time to go out and see the city your coffee made, and the transient beauty of just this cultivated loneliness.


The Terraces glimmer a contented peach to those who walk below them, envying and at once finding somehow unimaginable the lives of those above. They are not quite sakura pink, but in the right season, the leaves fall down the sides like independent drops of light, or creamer. In the winter, the snow hovers pleasingly as you stand in front of the two glass double doors in the entry, regarding the mailboxes, waiting for Jeffrey or Lara or Jorge or Sally to emerge from the humming elevators, in camel coat, clutching gloves just a little worn where the knuckles of the fingers hit. You, symmetrical, hold your travel thermos and and smile as the door dings, opening just as the steam rises around your flushed cheeks.

If the models indicated a city in the sky, however budding in its form, might prove a little stark or even sterile, the Terraces disprove this. Everything in the Coffecore Extended Universe is cleaned to a shine, but nothing is ever sterile. The light itself is a caress here. The hallways and lattices of the flooring know no virginity of material. The Coffeecore Metropole is, and always has been, occupied.

Some say it is older than Paris, even, or Rome, that if you dig down far enough you will find catacombs full of skulls on careful, modular shelving. Between their teeth is not a coin, but a disposable drink stirrer, hammered leaf-thin out of gold.

Why would you, though, my flâneur? You wander idly, you wonder easily, but you never earnestly investigate. That would break some sort of unspoken rule of boulevards, where you and Sally walk in tandem now, the gum soles of your spring shoes soft on the pavers. There is a slight breeze, but no threat here of a chill. There is no cruelest month, because the calendar is round and evenly glazed like a pastry.


You stop to have lunch in the department store boulangerie, where they make special cakes shaped like the diamond rings in jewellery. The faint strains of Satie emanate from some deftly hidden stereo. You have met Jeffrey here, and he slides into the leatherette booth with a practised ease.  You smell faintly of the sample perfumes, which here are all lavender or lemon verbena. The perfumes, like the counters and the floors, are sanitised, but only so that they can be cut with the musk of sweat, the way Jeffrey's hair comes to a little peak at the root of his neck as he hangs up his coat, warm from the escalators. Is this what we mean when we say desire? The water dazzles as it percolates the Chemex filter, just as the glass cases dazzle, forever populated by something new. You peruse them together. 

There are long unbent lines of a lagoon green, just so that you can lean over them, and from a distance, look like a Hopper painting where melancholy is expressed instead as a gently bewildering plenty; the possibility but not the actuality of over-consumption. The recessed ceilings make the stores here feel like holy places, like you could buy a whole new life one day, and stroll out, nonchalantly swinging it in a thick cardstock bag with a ribbon for a handle. For a second, your hands brush his. You both studiously watch the new shampoo in its glass cube; a nexus, an orbital point of the shopfloor; an altar. The columns, too, are hexagons suggesting an affinity. The geometries of the Coffeecore Metropole are just complex enough to cast the ever-present light, and just simple enough never to intrude, or dominate. 

You could kiss someone against the flat sides of that rising polygon, accented with gold lines. The orders: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Longing.


There are many swimming pools in the Coffeecore Extended Universe. They suit the horizontality of the gaze, the need for open space in which the light percolates, and the ritualistic display of perfectly tapered hands and feet. Sometimes a new one pops up at night, just like a new street or side garden, that you have never seen before, for all your walking. This is the city, re-inventing perpetual motion so as to optimally enchant and sooth. The assembly, the undergirding of all this-- who knows? 

You asked Lara this after work once, in the lobby bar, and she laughed quietly into a fern. Were there ferns here in this bar before, rounding out the corners? You cannot remember. You trace your own name in the water left by the glass. You draw a box around it. You slide the bills across to the jovial bartender. As you turn away in your shoulder-padded dinner jacket, the lines, quicksilvered and untraceable, move. The next week there is a new disco three blocks away.  It has a tray ceiling, and you think that in the rigging of the lights, that you again see the looping characters of your name. You smile, an ineluctable contentment that percolates through the streets like the slow indentation of an ivory piano key just before it sounds.


One afternoon, you go alone to the Business District. It is a holiday, and even the street shops, with their charming, gauzy baldachins, are closed. It is getting late. You duck into a cafe and order your latte, iced. There are so many signs and portents, only some of them literal and neon. From a gachapon machine in the street, filled with little mystery capsules for a coin, you win a set of miniature schoolgirls. They adorn your cup, diving in at odd angles. 

Tomorrow you might see them walking to school, or fading gently into the background of the road crossing. In the mirror-like linoleum of the floor you become unreal. They are are the real ones, and their city is your cup. They are as real here as stocks or bonds or shadows. You wonder if it is possible for you to fade away too, but it is all so real and so empty, and you are the only one making it so. You couldn't. This city built itself for you, little flâneur. It's a love story in acres of industrial glass and strategically placed planters. Perhaps you will come across it someday, hidden in full in a copy of Balzac.


"How do you hold a city, how do you make her?"

Jorge is at home in the capsule tower, typing frantically on this computer. The bottle of wine and flowers he bought for dinner lay beside him, nearly forgotten. The present, wrapped in pink paper and grosgrain from the department store, is a snowglobe. You can see him from the street below, his round window lit up, his books and papers, his feather-like dressing gown. You watch the motion of his hands, the tipping of his sailor's beret, just as the streetlights hum up and on for the evening.


In 1847, Kimura Tōsen commissioned a book to illustrated his collection of potted miniature landscapes. They are each of the 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō, an important road from Edo to Kyoto. As Tōsen himself would likely remind you, bonkei is not bonsai-- he is allowed to build little structures and furnish his landscapes with people. Such are the rules for making worlds.

Below the Coffeecore Metropole, below even where the catacombs might lie, there is a bonsai and not a bonkei. No human has ever seen it. It is maintained in a robotic terrarium, an ecosphere that self adjusts. There is a bonsai in Omiya-- in our world not yours flâneur-- that is a millennium old. The Coffecore Bonsai fogs up when it rains inside the ecosphere, and in turn, on the city. It is said the steam smells faintly of the pressurised interior of a Faema E61 espresso machine.


Gachapon capsule machines are very popular, both in the Coffeecore Metropole and in ours. One set of toys made for capsule machines is of Hario coffee sundries: the Hario Technica Syphon, a hand grinder, a coffee pitcher, two pourover kits, and two kettles. 

Put in a coin and turn the lever.

You watch a Hario Technica brew in Jeffrey's kitchen at 11:45 PM. It feels like a chemistry experiment. All his mugs are dainty and Pyrex, and he doesn't use sugar. The coffee is very clear and strong. For hours afterwards, you taste it on each other's lips. 


In the morning, at your local, there is an unexpected flurry of spring snow. You watch each flake hit the window and melt accordingly.  Incidentally bonsai, like the giant trees they model, experience the seasons. They blush in autumn and shed their leaves. If they are cherry blossom trees, they bud and flower, and their petals, too, fall. 

You are distracted and fiddle with your straw. Lara chides you.  How could you be distracted in so lovely a place as this? She cups her mug and feels the warmth spread into her fingers. The blue table juts out into the neutral space of the cafe, defining for a moment, your little group as sealed off, an enclosure. The floors are as purple as the imagination of lilac.

You think watch yourself watching the snow through the window.  Or someone does, anyway.


Little flâneur, would you want to know even if I could tell you?

You stand on your balcony at night, watching the curtains blow and leaning over a railing. Tomorrow you will find a new pool around the corner, go for a long swim, and let your ears fill with water. You will watch the light dapple the surface of the lanes with blueprints you will never learn to read. You will look into the black of your espresso fondly and sigh, not without some wanting, as you slip into a booth, planned and symmetrical as any other.

You will walk the boulevards and alleyways of your city. You will long. You will sleep. You will sip, in turn, each radiant drink.

Bonus soundtrack to play while reading:


Image and descriptions of the 1847/8 Bonkei book from this article I read about them on Public Domain Review. The capsule apartments in the first section are from the real Nagakin Capsule Tower. The imagined sky city next to the Terraces is actually the work of architect Arata Isozaki, who won the Pritzker Prize in 2019. Similarly, the capsule city by the swimming pool gif, and various mobile city sketches that inspired much of this piece are by Yona Friedman, also a visionary architect and urban thinker. He died recently, in February of 2020. The futuristic bonsai ecosphere is real, and part of an exhibition by Azuma Makoto. As usual, the other gifs are drawn from mostly 80's/90's anime in the pits of the internet. 

Other Coffeecore Reading On Indoor Voices:

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