how we learn from urban immersion

It might seem silly and elitist to talk about how we buy coffee and baked goods.

But now that I’m living in the south of France, I think that these simple interactions can teach us a lot about how to live in cities and neighbourhoods. The rhythm of traditional transactions, which has deep cultural roots, can teach us a lot about how expertise plays a role in everyday life.

This morning in Fréjus, I saw it in the coffee vendor’s wise words. In a transaction that was more of a consultation than a sale, he custom-ground “moka sauvage” beans for us after carefully listening to what we wanted in terms of flavour and how we make our coffee, which is in an Italian stove-top espresso pot. When we left his small business space, he gave us a perfect recommendation. I thought it was a good diagnosis coming from a doctor of arabica.

Yesterday, while I was drinking hot chocolate in Roquebrune-sur-Argens, I saw a man walk in and look at the lemon pastry options for the day. After talking with the vendor for a while, he chose a lemon tart over a lemon cake because the vendor knew what he was talking about. The conversation was short, but I liked that it was complete. It was like buying a computer or camera in another world. It was like time had gone back to something that has always been there or that we are always looking for.

We wanted to follow the tradition of this pastry swap, so it was our turn. How do I choose between a green tea sponge cake with blackcurrant filling and a dark chocolate mousse cake with coffee filling?

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