What’s in a Name?

I’m reading a mystery that takes place in a historic coffee shop, which is interesting in itself because I didn’t realize how far back coffee shops went — way back to the 1700s, actually. And maybe even before. I thought they were a more recent idea, though I don’t know why I supposed that — after all, beverage restaurants go back to the beginning of time. (The time of commerce, anyway.) Grog shops, pubs, taverns, wineries, tea houses, so why not coffee shops? I’m sure when chocolate became popular in the 1700s, there were chocolate shops, too, though a cursory look at Google’s offerings didn’t tell me if my surmise was correct.

But I should have known about coffee shops; after all, the term “café society” was coined in the early twentieth century, though the custom of literati, artists, and socialites gathering at coffee shops after attending cultural activities stems from the nineteenth century in the United States. Although coffee shops were prevalent in European culture, they didn’t become the cultural icon they are today in the USA until the later part of the twentieth century.

So, here I am in a fictional coffee shop that has been around for a hundred years, “listening” to the manager of the shop ramble on and on about the different coffee beans, the different ways of brewing, the different tastes and smells (particularly smell since apparently half the appreciation of coffee lies in the scent), as well as the various undertones, overtones, and aftertastes.

Reminds me of wine. People always taste more in wine than I’ve ever been able to even guess. Maybe it’s like music — even a good barbershop quartet grates on my poor ears because I hear only a single discordant sound. Afficionados and others with a musical ear can hear each tone separately, and so they can appreciate the harmony.

I’ve never been able to taste anything in wine but . . . wine. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that my tastes run more to a slightly sweet sparkling wine, though the last time I had any wine (a glass of Seven Daughter’s Moscato) was a couple of years ago when a friend took me out to dinner to celebrate my buying a house. So you can see, I am not a big fan of fermented grapes.

And coffee? It all tastes the same to me, so I find it amusing that I am drinking a cup of instant coffee doctored with honey and lots of cream while I am reading what amounts to a connoisseur’s guide to coffee sandwiched between a couple of murders.

It’s a good thing I never aspired to be member of café society. There’s just no getting away from my plebian tastes when it comes to . . . well, almost everything. Books, movies, art, coffee, wine — plebian all the way. It’s ironic, really, when you consider that my name comes from patrician, which is the exact opposite of plebian.

I guess the answer to Shakespeare’s question, “What’s in a name?” is “Nothing.”


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Being Important

I’m feeling restless tonight as if I should be doing something important, but here I am at the computer, playing games of solitaire. (Well, I was playing games. Now I’m playing a different kind of solitaire called “What will I blog about tonight?”)

When life is all about family, spouses, soul mates — creating a shared life — everything you do seems important, but when you are alone, importance is hard to feign because the isolation of being the only one in the room makes even breathing seem unimportant.

Despite the way it might sound, I’m not depressed or sad today. I’m feeling good, actually (probably leftover endorphins or adrenaline from dancing). I’m not lonely, either, just alone, and sometimes aloneness echoes in empty rooms, making it seem like some sort of lack. It is a lack, of course, but it isn’t a lack of life or . . . importance. It’s a lack of companionship and maybe a lack of “other energy.”

fireThere are some things I don’t necessarily understand when it comes to dancing. I call myself tone deaf, but I’m not — I just hear a single track of melodic (and not so melodic) noise and find it hard to separate out one particular sound or thread or beat from all the rest, which is why barbershop quartets hurt my ears and simple tunes are soothing. (I can count, though, and as my dance teacher says, if you can count, you can dance. Or something like that.) One woman I particularly enjoy dancing with (she’s so very elegant and graceful she makes me look good!) hears sounds and beats that pass me by  even when she points them out, but I pick up on something she doesn’t — the energy of the group. When we are all dancing as one, I can sense the energy we generate, as if we are tied together with invisible strings, moving arms and legs, heads and torsos in perfect rhythm. There’s nothing quite like that feeling, at least not in my experience.

Even when we are not all in harmony, as often happens, there is an air of connectedness in the studio, with all of us focused singlemindedly on the steps. One woman came with her husband last month, and though he didn’t bother anyone, it gave those classes an uneasy feel because it disrupted the flow of electricity of connectedness among the dancers. (This isn’t as mystical as it sounds. The energy I sense is more of a focus rather than waves of electricity, though I know we all respond to the electricity we generate.)

That energy from another person or a group — that “other energy” — is missing in a solitary room.

Some people spew energy even when they are alone, so rooms don’t seem as empty to them. I don’t spew energy, which makes my presence in a room even smaller and quieter than it would normally seem. And makes whatever I do seem unimportant, as if I am just passing time.

But the truth is, “being” is important, so even when we are alone, regardless of how it feels, we are being important.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.