Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009 - No comments

The Third Place

On a recent visit to Starbucks, I picked up a copy of “Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time.” Flipping through it as I waited for my friends to get their drinks, I came upon an interesting concept that struck a chord in my soul. The coffee-giant’s founder, Howard Schultz, described a visit to Italy where he encountered the “coffee bar phenomenon.” In every neighbourhood, it seemed, there was an espresso bar – a sort of community gathering place where people came to share a moment of their day over a cup of strong coffee. These were places to pause, to savour, to engage. It was here that an idea began percolating in Schultz’ mind : the idea of a “third place” – somewhere outside of work and home where one can have a taste of romance and community, a welcome reprieve from the everyday-ness of everyday life.

Every culture and every era has its “third places” – the barber shop, the beauty parlour, the tavern, the coffee house, the village well. “Without such places, the urban area fails to nourish the kinds of relationships and the diversity of human contact that are the essence of the city. Deprived of these settings, people remain lonely in their crowds.” (Oldenburg)

The Turks have this concept perfected. The men congregate in the kiraathanes to smoke, drink tea and play games. These are a place to unwind after work, to gossip and talk business, and, well, to avoid going home to their families. As a female and a foreigner, I sometimes envy the clusters of men who sit around sipping the day away. There’s something about those places that transforms you from an individual in a crowded nation to someone who belongs to the crowd, even if just for a few hours.

In tea gardens, on the street, and on balconies, there is a seemingly standing invitation to sit down for çay, to be refreshed and to be woven more deeply into the community. In most workplaces, all you have to do is ring a buzzer or yell down the street, and a boy with a platter of steaming tea glasses will come running. Most big city parks even have their own “wandering çay guys” who roam the park and keep the sugary liquid flowing cuz, after all, it is practically unheard of to go more than hour without tea in this country! And rare is the day that I can make it all the way from the busstop to my front door with out at least one neighbour calling me to come and sit down for a cup. I will never go thirsty here, that’s for sure.

My fixation with coffee has much less to do with my affection for caffeine (substantial as it may be) and much more to do with the fact that I love what it represents in my life. Hot drinks - whether they be coffee, hot chocolate or tea – have always held a special romance for me. They signify cozy-ness, comfort, intimacy and warmth. The sight of a steaming mug conjures up images of breakfasts on the balcony with friends, secrets shared at quaint corner tables and late nights sitting outside drinking in my Daddy’s love.

I, too, have felt the call of the “third place.” Even though Starbucks has taken over Turkey just like every other corner of the globe, it still holds a whiff of magic for me. Walking through the doors and inhaling the heady aromas is akin to coming home. Whether I am there to plug in and buckle down, to meet with friends, or to just curl up with a book, I feel like a little piece of it is mine. And there is just nothing like coming in off the street on a rainy day and having Merve, my favourite barista, start making my “caramel macchiato with extra caramel sauce in a for-here mug” without me saying a word.

I think Schultz was really onto something.