Every Sunday morning, Carlos and I go out to breakfast. It’s our little tradition. Sunday is the one day of the week where the streets aren’t crowded (even in this little town) with people, babies, crying kids, drunk teenagers, old men with canes, old ladies with shopping carts, people talking, people walking, people running, people riding bikes, people having drinks at outdoor bars, people doing whatever people do outside, all day. Sunday is the day of rest.
We wake up whenever we want to, which tends to be later rather than sooner, get dressed, and head out. I stop at the corner kiosk, crowded with magazines, newspapers, lollipops, gum, books, and every other imaginable trinket, where the lady knows me well. “El Pais?” “Si, por favor.” She hands me the newspaper and the Sunday magazine, and sometimes there’s a book or pamphlet too. Today I bought a book of short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for 90 cents.
Next door to the kiosk is my favorite cafe, where we are weekend regulars. We always choose the same table, a large one at the back where I can spread out my newspaper and Carlos and read his German book. I always order the same – a double coffee, and a pastry. Spaniards are not big on large breakfasts, so this is as much breakfast as I’ll get. I love this cafe because I think, of all the cafes in Santiago, this one absolutely has the best coffee. It comes in a big cup, piping hot, has the perfect espresso-to-milk ratio, and the swirling foamy creme on top is the best I’ve ever tasted. I judge the quality of a creme by whether, upon emptying a packet of sugar on top, the sugar falls straight to the bottom or floats on top in the thickness of the creme. This one is definitely a winner. It is always accompanied by two sugars, not just one (though one and a half is the perfect amount for me), and a small chocolate, a tiny detail that is unnecessary but extremely appreciated by breakfast connoisseurs like myself.
Then there are the pastries. There are a variety to choose from, each delectable and delicate: there are napolitanas, pastry wrapped around chocolate cream, with chocolate sprinkles on top; caracolas, which are cinnamon bun-type spirals with some sort of custard and raisins; cristinas, which are simply sweet bread rolls with a sprinkling of sugar on top; and then, of course, then there is the classic, the unbeatable, always elegant croissant. The croissants at L’Incontro (the name of the cafe) are always fresh, always soft, always buttery. They are perfect eaten plain, dunked in coffee, dipped in chocolate, filled with cream, sandwiching a layer of ham and cheese, or toasted and spread with any number of jams and jellies.
Despite the fact that this cafe tends to blast techno music at any time of day or night, I find it relaxing. The decor is dark and wood-paneled, with stained-glass windows, Tiffany lamps, and painted murals. It is always crowded. On sunny days, the front wall of windows slides completely to one side, allowing the fresh air and sunlight to bathe the bar.
After an hour or two of leisurely reading and eating and commenting on world events (or a particular song blasting overhead), we usually head somewhere else. That somewhere else can be anywhere, though is usually a place called Vivacce, a wine bar about five minutes away. It’s never crowded, always calm, and has a relaxing atmosphere. We go there because, despite the pastries and coffee, we are still hungry, and Vivacce has tapas that can’t be beat. The usual fare involves a couple pieces of bread with olive oil, Iberian ham, a few pieces of cheese, some chorizo, and maybe some potato chips or peanuts or ensaladilla, which is basically potato salad. With something to wash it all down, we are content to stay there (outside on the terrace if the weather is nice) for another few hours. Today, however, we ventured to the old town to sit outside on the cobblestoned streets and watch like-minded Sunday wanderers pass by. Sometimes the pigeons coo around our table, and I throw them sunflower seeds. Today, I got a few of them to eat from my hand, and one, perching on the back of a chair and then losing its balance, hopped into my hand and stayed there for a while. I was surprised and amused at the same time. Of course, I didn’t have a camera.
Eventually we wander home, after walking around town, disturbing flocks of pigeons in our path, pausing if something looks interesting or unique or unusual, where we will finish reading our newspapers and books, and where I will complete the Sudoku Samurai that comes every week in the newspaper. It’s a simple ritual, but we both look forward to it all week – Sunday, the day of rest.