Around 16 years ago, when I moved to Spain, I began a ritual. Every Sunday morning I’d go out to buy the Sunday papers and have a cup of coffee at a local café. It was a five minute drive. I’d usually wait ’til about 10 when the papers were delivered from Malaga airport in a little white van. Maybe: sometimes they were late. Sometimes I cut the banding round the bundles of papers and put them out on display for the owner. I’d buy a broadsheet, usually the Sunday Times. These British papers were printed in Madrid, so, in The Times, there was a digest of all the supplements and there were no annoying advertising inserts.
In general, I’d buy my paper in the Estanco Santiago Carnero on the corner of the Calle de Coín and the Avenida de Mijas. Then I’d have a brew in the Caféteria Castillo which was cater-cornered opposite. Sometimes, I’d go into Coín instead and have a look at the flea-market, though I can’t say I ever bought much. Eventually, in cafés in both towns, people would say hello to ‘Professor Longhair’, although it was Profesor* they were really saying, of course. For me, these little excursions became less and less about buying the newspaper (we all know what has happened to The Sunday Times in those intervening years) and more about the coffee and watching the world go by.
Now, I live in West Yorkshire. I still go to a café most Sundays. People say hello, though it’s only a few months, and perhaps they do recognise me. What I like best about the café in what’s now my town is that it has a map of the world the length of the wall inside. In my head, I think of the café as La Cafeteria del Mapa del Mundo†. I stare up at the map and look at all the places I’ve been; all the places that have been called home, but which maybe haven’t really been that, or all the places I’ve stayed for a week or a month – or three – flying over fighting or at cruising height over conflict, or just the places I went on holiday in an effort to say goodbye to all that, if only for a few days.
It’s funny, though, every week, I lift my cup and toast the map, before I take my last sip of coffee.
† The World Map Café