The biggest drawback to working from the library is having to pack everything up in order to get a cup of coffee or lunch or run to the bathroom. I suppose it will help me to travel light and clean out my laptop bag a little more often. I get used to gypsie living and taking all my files with me; frankly that’s going to make me resemble a pack animal moving through the urban jungle. Not a great look for anyone.
By 11:20 I was getting hungry and productivity was waning. This is the point where I realize there isn’t time to get a lot of anything done; it’s no use starting that homework unit or assembling that article. Facebook and Twitter are perfect (at the moment) for that kind of time. I checked the Jacksonville Landing’s website to see what could be for lunch and headed out, down 3 flights of marble stairs and into the mid day sun.
25 feet away from the door was the first intersection and the revelation that I didn’t need to haul the laptop bag and textbooks all the way down to the river in order to eat. On the next city block were 3 cafes: one specializing in lunch, another in bagels and coffee, and a third that I never quite got down to. Sandwiched in-between was a wine restaurant with little white table cloths and an “open at 5:30” sign. Looks romantic and I mentally book marked it for some further urban experiment.
The chalk board is what caught my eye. I’m not a “tuna fish on white” kind of girl. I usually want what I call “hot food” for lunch, which I only eat if I’ve skipped breakfast. This is most of the time. The Magnificat, curiously named and across the street of a church known for its soup line, is on the corner, with an iron fence porch an happy jazz playing. It has a sort of European feeling; a set identity as a cafe (not to be confused with a deli). I got the idea it’s been there a long time, a popular spot, with newcomers like me every bit as welcome as old regulars hitting it for years on their lunch break. The listed food on the board sounded artistic, which suited my mood. Today I’ve wandered into the Museum of Modern Art, had all my creative juices flowing, and lunch needed to rise to the occassion. “Foccaccia” is a good start and so is “field greens”. Nothing from the deli slicers please.
I have a new habit when I eat somewhere new: I just ask the server “what’s good” and take their word for it .They always have a favorite. Plus, they usually feel good that someone asked and sort of adopt a responsibility or interest in your liking it too. The result is greater satisfaction, I promise. So, that’s what I did, and I ended up with the fish sandwich, side greens, and a mix of sweet and unsweet iced tea.
I don’t really know (or care) if anyone else would agree with me, but I feel I was having a good hair day. I like that I wore black today and that I feel happy and strong. I heard something about this moon meaning we tend to ourselves and organize; I only marginally buy into that but hey, today it works. I’m tending, I’m organized, I’m strong. I’m also enormously grateful that today is Friday, I have a date tonight, and my kids are happily settled into their new school down the street. Life is good. It was with that bounce in my step that I headed to my metal table on the porch, chose my typical “back corner” location, and started to observe.
“There’s a Farmer’s Market across the street in the square; somewhere out of site, a line of tents. People meander comfortably, the way we kind of do on Friday. The jazz here is upbeat and happy without being chaotic; it suits the day. If I close my eyes at first I only hear the traffic: cars that whizz too quickly for such short city blocks, lumbering trucks on the cobblestones. I notice someone needs a new muffler and right behind it, the heaving sax…I’m getting there, past the first layer of sound into the nuances of where I am. An intercom calls number 39 to come receive their order and my mind pulls at another sound somewhere deep…..water. Where could water be coming from in the city? It’s not the little trickle of a table top fountain but rather, more mellow. Almost languid and certainly out of place. I reluctantly open my eyes and spy the wall fountain, water coming out of the god’s puckered lips into the basin below.”
Right in front of me a mother pushes a stroller with a toddler’s little pudgy hand clutching her skirt. She’s headed to the farmer’s market. I miss my kids.
Number 40 is up. The gentleman sitting alone to my left graciously keeps an eye on my gear while I go inside to get my tray. He’s growing pork chops on his cheeks and I remember when my then-husband did that in ’04. I thought red pork chops were less than attractive. This guy’s aren’t so bad, but only marginally better. I suppose men play around with facial hair the way women experiment with nail polish. Or something like that.
I should probably make it pretty clear right off that I don’t like sandwiches much. I find them overly carby and unsatisfying. I always need something salty with them. There is a rare day when a carefully crafted PB & J washed with milk will hit the spot (creamy Jiff, strawberry jam, fresh homemade white bread). I’m not a picky eater until someone says, “Why don’t you have a sandwhich”. Ew. That usually means I’ll be skipping that meal. And if anyone wants to have a problem with that, let’s remember that just about everyone on the planet doesn’t like to eat *something*. Liver? Spinach? Lima Beans? Well mine is mostly sandwiches. Subway gives me the heebies. The caveat to sandwiches is if they are a) hot and b) are served with freshly cut, homemade fries. Anything is better with fries.
Still, this country seems hell bent on insisting they are the perfect lunch food. My plate looked very promising. The roll was a garlicky/cheesy foccaccia and round. Round is better than long because there’s less bread. Instead of a side of chips I’d gotten the salad. Smart move aesthetically speaking. The lettuce was chopped well and it was generous; my plate just looked sort of bright and happy and healthy. I like to feel good about my food so at this point; the Magnificat sandwich was scoring well.
Bravo on the fish! It was warm and seasoned well. I’m guessing they baked it rather than fried it; the coating probably wouldn’t have stayed on like that in oil. It was a crumb breading, perfectly seasoned. The mayo was tangy and seasoned; not overly strong or bland. My mouth was getting smiley…an odd experience sitting alone in a café. The best part was that there was just the right ratio of “stuff” to bread…no “where’s the beef” bites of missing filler and no bites so large it’s embarrassing to eat in public. Good job.
The bass was playing more quickly now with a saxophone running up and down the scale. Under that, the piano danced. I took some time to watch the pedestrians at the halfway point of my sandwich.
And you know? City women come in a pretty vibrant variety. About a third of them had visible tattoos, even the mommies. One chick strutted by as if she was trying to see how wide her stride would go…a glance down and I saw she had on flippy heels that she was probably trying to keep on her feet. But girls? She had on skinny jeans which made her bubble butt look even bigger. Why do women think this is a good look? There were office girls obviously watching the clock, overweight people moseying and looking tired; lots of people sucking on cups with straws. Not many were sitting down and taking that “break” part of “lunch break”.
Next across was the jaguar player with little braided extensions and a leather briefcase. Those boys are just BIG. Probably even the “little” ones are BIG. This guy walked like he owned the sidewalk and no one was arguing with that.
At the corner, seemingly looking at the posted menu, stands a young black girl in a pink shirt. She’s got a tiny purse slung over one shoulder. She’s staring kind of blankly as if she doesn’t really see what she’s looking at. Her real preoccupation is the vigorous picking of her nose. I wonder if she can see me, if she knows I’m sitting just a few feet away watching. Then I realize that whether she does or not, she doesn’t care. Her aura seems to defy the tendency around here to take everything a little too seriously. There is no pretention in anything about her. Just for a second, I’m jealous.
I finished the other half of my lunch. “I’m a Little Jazz Bird” is playing now, a flock of pigeons swirling through the alley. Pedestrian traffic to the Farmer’s market increases at high noon. There’s a little breeze. Oh the tales those old oak trees in the park could tell. Two city engineers noting the cracked brick outside the café’s porch came in and asked me what was good. I recommended the fish sandwich.
(p.s….later, I looked them up online and inserted this link. The menu is fantastic and service was incredibly fast and friendly. I will definitely be going back.)