Blowin’ In: Shop Small, Eat Local, Love Large
By Susan Mangan
We all have that place where comfort surrounds and peace is silently written into the texture of the walls. Patrons may sit in well-worn chairs sipping coffee, seeing no one in particular, but observing everyone. Others may linger over cups of tea that have gone cold minutes ago, just to look into the eyes of the one sitting across a table that is a foot too long.
For some, it is the bustle of a shop filled with obscure French cheese and Catalan olives, or a variety store filled with bric-a- brac and wistful memories of familiar clutter.Whether it is an hour spent with a loved one, old or new, or much needed time spent with oneself to reflect, indulge, relax, the shared commonality is indeed joy.
The first time my husband and I traveled to Montreal, we wandered aimlessly among the cobbled walks of the Old District. The streets are narrow and shop fronts meet the uneven streets marked with names that roll about like a creamy liqueur on your tongue: Rue Saint Paul and Avenue Papineau.
We sampled crepes and smoked meat, purchased t-shirts, drank French beer in an Irish pub, and settled into a window seat perched romantically on a bustling corner in Place Jacques-Cartier. We dined on pizza and house red wine, all while watching snow fall in early April.
Over the next few years, we traveled back and forth to Montreal for Irish Dance competitions with the family. Although we enjoyed warm summer afternoons eating poutine in open-air cafés, we always found our way back to the charmingly kitschy Italian restaurant and the same window seat, now set for five. This had become our place.
Part of the fun of travel or even exploring your own hometown is the quest for “that place.” Wanderers are seekers who sniff out the best winter farmer’s market or the quaint distilleries with Saturday afternoon whiskey tastings. Shoppers quiver over small batch olive oils in local Cleveland stores, and gather armfuls of fennel and blood oranges at the West-Side Market to recreate that bracing salad shared on a Tuscan honeymoon.
Recently, I brushed elbows with holiday travelers from Philadelphia who were gathering up sopressata and cured sun-dried tomatoes at Mediterranean Imported Foods for a little snack before embarking on an Ohio City pub crawl. Much like my husband and I found our spot in Montreal, seekers are finding their way to the local treasures of Cleveland.
At times, that special place is right in front of your own fireplace on a snow swept Saturday night, or the kitchen table early on a Sunday morning where you are enjoying the late winter sunrise and a perfect cup of espresso. The spaniel never moves from your feet and the birds feasting on suet cakes are unaware of your presence.
Your home can be “that place.” As long as I have my coffee in the morning and my herbal tea at night, I am content.
This past summer, my family traveled to Ireland and we were fortunate once again to spend time in a beautiful home belonging to my husband’s uncle. The windows are large and look out onto pastures, hills, and Croagh Patrick Mountain. The light changes throughout the day and is particularly peaceful in the morning hours before the world awakes.
My husband understands that he has to share my love with my penchant for hot beverages, especially good coffee. A coffee a day improves my mood and makes me rather more bearable. As a surprise, my husband visited a variety store in Westport. After much searching, this was the only place he could find a small coffee pot. He shopped local and was rewarded with a shiny silver stovetop espresso maker. After our many years together, little treats are all we need.
Each morning, I would brew a small pot of strong coffee on the stove and watch out for Ruby, the blind, orphaned lamb who became a pet of sorts. I always heard her bleating before I saw the sightless toss of her sweet lamb head. I looked forward to my small, but mighty cup of coffee and the view, one I travel back to in my mind’s eye when I want the comfort of that place.
The day came when I needed to wander, to stretch my legs and explore. Rather than walk the hillsides or embark on an arduous climb of Croagh Patrick, I wanted lunch in a little outdoor café and a walk among the quaint shops of Westport. At times, Seekers want the company of other patient wanderers, and so my daughter and cousin joined me on my journey.
After a delicious lunch of mussels, chowder, brown bread, and locally made black pudding at JW’s Brasserie, we stumbled upon Market 57, a charming mercantile store. One wall was filled with jars of sweets, and a vintage cash till sat behind the counter in a place of honor.
As we touched the various souvenir trinkets and ogled over bottles of wine, I noticed a small silver espresso maker nestled on a shelf next to a tea cozy and an eclectic selection of ceramic mugs. During this epiphany, I realized that like myself, my husband might also be a Seeker and discovered my new coffee pot in this very store.
The manager enquired about our specific needs and I told him that he apparently has a monopoly on espresso makers across the West of Ireland. We laughed and he treated me to a complimentary refrigerator magnet featuring a lamb, of course, and a Springer Spaniel.
As we left the shop, I saw a lovely older couple sitting outside on a bench. They were eating ice cream cones, while their liver and white Springer Spaniel remained by their side. His name was Jack and he bore the most unique tuft of auburn hair atop the crown of his head.
Knowing that it was a matter of seconds before I stopped to pet the dog, my daughter began pulling at my arm in embarrassment. I shrugged her off, of course, and began to chat with the couple. After all, I have my own black and white Springer at home named Lucy, who I missed dearly, and this encounter seemed rather serendipitous. Did I forget to mention that Seekers also tend to engage in random conversation with strangers?
This Valentine’s Day, give in to the call for idle ramblings, near or far. Search out that coffee shop you have been meaning to try, or the boutique with the beeswax candles. Time spent wasted can be invaluable. Your heart will thank you, and so will the kind folks who love large and are passionate about their small business ventures.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at su*******@ya***.com