Sitting at the Black Duck

May 29, 2013

IMG_1780Sitting at the Black Duck Coffee House in Sackville, an Americano in hand, as I do everyday, my mind wanders off to all of time I have spent in cafes drinking espressos and thinking great thoughts or at least what passes in my mind as great thoughts. Granted sitting in cafes is a sure way of avoiding work, but as I am retired from the workaday world and, in my past profession, as a professor of fine arts, wasn’t really work as most people know it. The state paid me for my gift of gab and it did keep me off the street where I might have caused trouble for them. I think the first time I really discovered the joys of cafe sitting was in the early 1950s in Paris where, as an impressionable teenager, I found myself sitting at a table at Cafe de la Prix drinking real coffee instead of what passed for coffee in America at the time. Even at 14 years of age the French were more than happy to sell me glass of wine which was even better than the good coffee. It was right there and then I decided to be an artist.

Certainly the blue striped shirt and beret I purchased along with strong French smokes and teenage fantasies of sex with French women helped complete the image. I thought where would French art be without cafes? All of that good thinking served me well when, a few years later, I started art school in San Francisco and found a job in North Beach to help pay the cost. Now I was an adult, or at least a semi-adult, and could pass in the tourists’s eyes as a Beatnik. There I sat in Mike’s Place in all my glory. While that was over fifty years ago, I am still sitting in cafes trying to figure out the meaning of life. What is it about coffee houses that bring out the philosophers in us?

IMG_0083I like to think of myself as a sitting intellectual here at the Duck; I do subscribe to the TLS after all and besides that standing is too painful at seventy-four years old. I am not alone at my cafe, as happened in other cafes in my life, there are a regular cast of characters that share my table; a couple of fellow codgers; younger self-employed people who need to talk to real people once an awhile; local artists who have the same need and, sometimes, university students. The real change in the world of cafe sitting over the last half century which may turn out to be its ruin is technology. Looking around the cafe, everybody’s nose is into their laptops, pads and smart phones connected to the world, but disconnected to the person on the other side of their table. In many cafes, but not the Duck, than God, there is loud music which make conversation painful if not impossible. I too have all of toys: smart phone, iPad, iMac and I am firmly connected to the web or I wouldn’t be using this forum for my musings.

I am not asking for a return to postwar French cafe society or Beat times in San Francisco although they were fun and I was glad to be there. (I would not mind a return to my twenty-five year old body, but I would keep my mind, until it fails, as it is.) I do believe what we do need is a time to sit for an hour or two in a quiet cafe, drink really good coffee and read, talk or just stare blankly into space. The latter used to work in San Francisco when I was trying to look poetic and draw the attention of women. Now they just think that I am just suffering from memory loss.

The day often begins arguing with another curmudgeon, a retired copywriter, on a subject that both agree on. We wouldn’t want agreement getting in the way of a good argument. Later, if it is a good day, we can argue with our younger middle aged friends about how books are being replaced by newer technologies. I having invested in several thousand books over my lifetime, am firmly convinced in the supremacy of books and don’t get me started about my collection of CDs and vinyl compared to iTunes and MP3s. The morning slips into afternoon and lunch. It’s a wonder that I ever find time to write.

I am writing this in my basement office buried in the fore-mentioned books which does give reason for me to get out to the Black Duck and talk to someone other than my dog Clover although she does give the impression of being engaged with the quality of my conversation, but that might have something to do with the high end dog food I bribe her with. Art is a cruel master and I do need real people to bore with my mastery of this tedious subject, hence my need for a coffee house. Cafes have a rich history in providing outlets for artists, and those who want to be artists, to pose unanswerable questions to one another.

The difference between a coffee house and donut shop is about a buck a cup and they don’t try and chase you out after twenty minutes. A real coffee shop will give you coffee in a real cup not a cardboard one. In the case of the Black Duck Coffee House they have a high quality espresso machine and make very good coffee. It is also not a chain and the owners often sit down with the customers and give the impression that they find you interesting. There are other places like the ‘Duck‘ all over the world, but there is never enough of them. I have brought up the idea with the owners that after I die of being stuffed and placed in my favourite booth for coming generations to admire or, at the very least, have my ashes in a box at the counter, but there would always be the danger of someone stirring me into their coffee. Well, easy come, easy go and I really must be going for another cup of coffee.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Saturday, 25 May, 2013.


  1. Une allongé s’il vous plait.

  2. Good blog. The other codger just had a Beegle, Quinoa Salad, and Lemon Spritzer at the Duck, read a real newspaper (well, the G and M) about the latest Regressive Conservative atrocities, and is about to make a cappucino at home. Great day for taking photographs, eh what?

  3. Good column, Virg. The other codger just came back from the Duck after doing some photography on the Marsh. I read a real newspaper (well, the G and M), with an eye to getting caught up on the latest Regressive Conservative atrocities, ate a Beegle and a Quinoa Salad, and quaffed a Lemon Spritzer. I am now now about to make a cappucino.

  4. I’m glad we chose Black Duck for our lunch wrapping up my weekend trip to Sackville and had lovely chatting with you.
    I liked the coffee house, and wish I could have it in my neighborhood.

    • It was a pleasure to meet you and your daughter. Hope your photography goes well and the next time you are in town let’s continue our conversation at the Duck over a cup of coffee.

      • Certainly,

      • Just send me an email before you come at vhammock@mta.ca

  5. Just found this today Virgil. Great entry. I feel oddly calmed just reading it…thanks.

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