Imagine a cafe with 5 different rooms, each room representing an iconic city and featuring food, chat and most notably coffee (some wine & mint tea too) …. that is the basis of a most excellent book by Chaelli Cattlin that I had the pleasure to review over the summer. Due to COVID-19 putting a dampener on my summer travels this year, having this book to read in my garden chair during lockdown was a real boost. Like always, I read the book and then got the urge to chat more with the author! But first, my review:
I used to work in a village cafe that used to be full of regulars and I often thought a book on overheard conversations would be very interesting reading. The regulars in my cafe talked about similar issues, often with the same amount of intensity and repetition; that a newcomer would bring a breath of fresh air and a welcome change of topic. So, The Cafe With Five Rooms, was the sort of book I was subconsciously searching for. I absolutely adored the travel stories, the characters themselves were believable, loved the themed room idea, love the food and drink descriptions, love the details about coffee making – although I’m not a coffee drinker Chaelli so my drink of choice would be an Algerian mint tea! Or a glass or two of the Lebanese red wine 😊Maybe with a slice or two of Hungarian cake…..
LET’S MEET CHAELLI ….
Hello, I am Chaelli Cattlin, an author and a trainer working in the field of English language teaching, a job which has allowed me to travel all over the world for the past 25 years.
Your book, “The Cafe With Five Faces: What The Walls Heard 2018-2019 – is an engaging collection of short stories, presented as snippets within a fictional cafe with five rooms. Each room is themed and named after a location – Beirut, Budapest, Cape Town, Granada, Hebden Bridge. The stories feature everything including travel, gossip, politics, food , romance, and coffee. What made you decide to write a book of this nature?
While visiting Granada several years ago, I was sitting outside a cafe in the Albaicin district and surveying an empty property opposite, thinking what a nice cafe it would make. It had a few rooms / spaces and it occurred to me that it would save me from choosing between a Hungarian-style cake shop, a Spanish tapas bar, a Lebanese manouche shop and a CapeTown breakfast bar. So I decided to call my provisional cafe The Cafe with Four Faces. When I chose to make a book out of it, rather than a real cafe, I added my local village (Hebden Bridge) to the rooms as it fitted some of the characters I wanted to include. The five rooms of the book / cafe also allowed me to focus on different topics, each of which I wanted to discuss but wouldn’t necessarily fit comfortably in one setting.
I enjoyed reading the book – I liked the mix of characters. I adored the travel anecdotes. My favourite characters were Zoe, Misha and “The Presence”. What character did you enjoy writing about the most? Who was the hardest?
Misha was one of my favourites as he was so like me when I first moved to Poland 25 years ago and I quite enjoyed describing myself in self-deprecating but hopefully humorous terms. Mike rants in the way I like to rant myself, but rarely have the nerve to do so in real life, so he was a favourite too. And possibly Jimez, as I think he is such a lovable failure! The hardest ones were the minor characters who made infrequent appearances, like Anna and, I suppose, The Presence, because I would like to have made more of them, but seemed to let them down a bit.
The Five places featured as the rooms obviously hold a place in your heart – why did you pick Beirut, Budapest, Cape Town, Granada and Hebden Bridge? Were there any other places you considered having as a “room”?
Beirut and Cape Town just picked themselves – they are unique cities and I just feel at home the second I arrive in them. Hebden Bridge was local – I could have chosen Haworth, but that is already very well-known for its Bronte connection. Budapest represents Eastern Europe (in its 1990s definition) – I could have chosen several others, principally Katowice, MInsk and Ljubljana, but I lived in Budapest for 7 years (just a little longer than in Katowice) and it has the old-style cafe society with its literary connections which I love so much. Granada represents the good life / place in the sun – it could have been anywhere in Andalucia, Sicily or Provence, all of which have very fond memories, but Granada is the city of most recent and lengthy acquaintance.
So, as we are talking travelling, where has been your favourite place you’ve visited or lived in so far?
In terms of full-time living, outside of the north of England (Lancashire and Yorkshire), I have lived in Opole and Katowice in Poland, and Budapest in Hungary. However, I have spent periods of 2-3 months in countless places and enjoyed so many of them for very different reasons, it’s rather hard to choose! As I mentioned above, Beirut and Cape Town are really special and I have lived in each for a total of around 3 years and 1 year respectively, and they really feel like home.
You are a coffee fanatic – that goes without saying – and I liked how you incorporated your coffee knowledge into your book. What is it about coffee that really caught your attention?
This has been a slow burner for me, having grown up on Nescafe with milk and two sugars, and then Nescafe with milk without the sugar. I finally bought a percolator and started having one cup of ‘real’ coffee a day with fresh cream, Then I discovered speciality (third-wave) coffee shops and filter coffee where the addition of milk was frowned upon. It became a real interest to visit such cafes in every city I visited, and since 2016, there has been a dramatic growth in such establishments, which led to me wanting to own my own, In the meantime, I started buying a range of alternative brewing equipment for home use and then started taking training courses.
If we were in your cafe, about to indulge in a drink and nibbles – which room would you feel most comfortable in? What would you recommend we ordered?
Every room suits one of my moods. I am the political ranter (Cape Town), the failed musician (Budapest), the ardent traveller (Granada), the bohemian floor-sitter (Beirut) and the aging reminiscer (Hebden Bridge), so it depends how the mood takes me. In terms of order, however, it would have to be a Chemex and a slice of Eszterhazy (cake), Jen’s favourite in the Budapest room.
When it comes to your personal reading delights – what genre/authors do you read? Kindle or book?
My tastes are rather random. I have a real liking for the humour of PG Wodehouse, while loving the gritty Italian crime of Michele Giutarri. I have also whiled away hours in cafes reading the Brontes, Jane Austen and, particularly, Thomas Hardy. I also read the entire Harry Potter series more than once! Ironically, I prefer paper copies!
Are there any other book ideas in the pipeline for 2020 and beyond?
Yes, but they’re still in formulation!
Is “The Cafe With Five Faces” available to purchase worldwide?
Yes, through Amazon, Apple and Google Play, with Barnes & Noble and Kobo on the way.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I can hardly remember pre-lockdown! There were some comments in the book about Matthew (Granada room) and his love of Armani jeans, and I have 5 pairs, accumulated over many years, which I wear till they fall apart (and beyond) because they are so comfortable. I have a substantial collection of headgear, including a Colombian hat just like that of The Presence (picture attached) and a larger choice of bandanas than Jimmy. At the moment, T-shirts are it (with the names of assorted cafes if I can manage it), because I’m not working in public, and I have a range of shoes which would terrify many women by their quantity, my favourites being Doc Martens and trainers.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
Armani Jeans in Milan! For certain items of clothing, I like the street markets in Hanoi, while for shoes, I always check out the windows of Vagabond in Budapest and those of a shop in Palermo the name of which I simply can’t bring to mind. Otherwise, I only seem interested in cafes and online coffee retailers!
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
I daren’t buy any more shoes for a while as I bought some pre-lockdown I haven’t worn since I left the shop. I love the shirts on the Konrit website, but unfortunately don’t like buying clothes online – I prefer to try them on and see before buying, so it may well remain on my wishlist rather than become reality
Boots or Shoes?
Doc Martens are a nice blend! Otherwise, comfortable trainers; nothing which comes up too high as I find them really uncomfortable.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc.
Fabulous to catch up with you “virtually” Chaelli and I really look forward to reading more adventures of the Cafe in the future. Thank you also to Ben Cameron for the copy of The Cafe With Five Faces to review. All photographs have been published with kind permission of Chaelli Cattlin.