Coffie in Kotor
It was the middle of November when I got to Kotor, Montenegro. The old town is a 16th century (or 15th, who’s counting?) city of the Republic of Venice, with stone fortifications, stone buildings, and stone streets, though there are records of a town here dating back to 168 BC. (Kotor sits on the Bay of Kotor at the bottom of a steep-sided valley, and being November was basically dark by 5:00.) My first evening in town I followed some of these stone streets to a small piazza and took a seat at one of those quintessential European cafes.
It was off season, where the waiter shows up every half hour or so, and the street has a stillness that remembers the passage of centuries. Locals come and go, everyday life. The city has a stable cat population, who seem well cared for; there are no stray dogs in Kotor. Pigeons stand around in the square, unconcerned by the cats, who are well fed enough that they watch the birds with intent eyes belied by lazy bodies.
I asked for a cup of coffee, expecting the small espresso, probably Italian, that I had found in the previous twelve European countries, but I was in the Balkans now, close enough to Turkey that instead I got a slightly Montenegro-fied cup of Turkish coffee. Whereas Western coffee is hot water steeped through coffee grounds, Turkish coffee is when you boil the water and the grounds together, which end up as a thick muddy layer at the bottom of a fantastically strong cup of blackness. No filters, no strainers, and definitely no stirring.
Coffee this strong has its own schedule, so I sat patiently, taking miniscule sips and watching the piazza.
Three sides were lined with medieval-sized houses, mostly converted to cafes, most of which were shuttered up, waiting for the tourist season when wealthy Russians and Eastern Europeans come down to the Mediterranean. The fourth side was the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, one of two Roman Catholic cathedrals in the country, and which was consecrated on June 19. Can you guess the year? Would you believe 1166? Me neither, but it’s true. Twelfth century. That’s older than a middle-aged redwood tree, for crying out loud.
I was sitting in that café, across from that cathedral, in that town, all alone except for my occasional waiter and the old man meandering outside the cathedral, ostensibly it’s caretaker but in this season he was mainly occupied with feeding the cats and pigeons.
The air was still. Then there was half a pitter and most of a patter, and then it was a deluge, rain belly-flopping into the enduring square, instant waterfalls off the tilted edge of the umbrella that I had luckily sat underneath. Under my table the water followed mortared seems between flagstones, dust swirling on the thickened fronts of the streams as they washed the formerly dry stone.
The old man moved under the arch of the church and the two of us watched as the rain was the only movement in town.