Wednesday, 25 March 2009
Internet 0-1 Library
I am undertaking more freelance writing now that French Magazine is a bi-monthly title (Issue 74 will now be on sale April 24th, dear readers, so many apologies to those of you awaiting your French fix) and the first commission I have received is to write a brief social/cultural history of coffee in France.
Naturally, my first port of call for research was t'interweb but I soon realised that certain dates didn't tally from one so-called "expert source" to the next. So, for the first time since I was a student, I went to the public library to do some work in situ, and to sniff out some facts from actual - don't tell anyone! - books.
And what a treat. As I plonked myself down amongst the undergraduates and pensioners, I felt completely at home and instantly more studious.
As for the research, the archives of Bath Library offered up a rare beauty – a photocopy of a pamphlet written in 1845 by a local coffee merchant, one Samuel Bennett. It detailed in fine olde Englishe the Coffea Arabica plant's origins and the relentless spread of its boiled, then roasted and percolated, seed throughout the world from Ethiopia to Arabia, Cairo, Damascus and Constantinople, and eventually to the coffee shops of Venice, Amsterdam, Paris and London.
The librarian, an upbeat and helpful chap, had to go into a back room to dig the prized document out for me, and insisted that under no circumstances did I take it anywhere. All very cloak and dagger and, more excitingly, a rare victory for the printed word over the internet's presumed omniscience.