A moment of understanding sparked last summer when I watched Iole mix espresso into the pert foam of her cappuccino with a tiny spoon. We began the day with a late start, waking at 9:30 am after lugging Iole’s impossibly heavy red suitcase, Signore Rossi, up and down the bridges of Venezia with Denis and Klevis until 4 am.
For me, that tiny spoon had always gone unused; I assumed that baristas included it for those who preferred sugar. Sitting outside at a cafe on Rio Tera S. Leonardo, we planned out that day’s exploration of the Biennale as Iole turned her spoon over again and again, mixing the thick coffee into the milk froth.
When I inquired why she did it, she shrugged and said that she always had. “It tastes better to have the espresso mixed in with the foam, veramente? And, that way, the foam isn’t left behind.” Since then, I’ve taken pleasure at mixing espresso into my cappuccino foam bit by bit until it’s no longer white but fawny brown. It does indeed taste better; it’s richer, more complete.
I thought of that small move—the coffee and the milk close enough to enhance each other, yet destined to remain separate unless a human hand unites them with the push of a spoon—during a recent design crit when someone noted how “little moments affect the big picture.”
This concept is easily forgotten, especially in a world littered with a multitude of monumental milestones, long stretches of apparent nothingness, and the expectation for everything to happen faster than we believe it should.
Relationships, career advancement, rites of passage—we agonize about these big moments in serial, orbiting our lives around them until they come about—and then moving on to the next one after barely appreciating any details of the one we just experienced.
This is also true of our most beloved places. On the surface, our awe easily gravitates to a monolithic cathedral, but what we actually connect with are its well-crafted details, its perfections and flaws, and the effect of time taking over. Our bodies perceive these layers, absorbing the complex simplicity of each—and the ways they work together. When we say that we love a place, what we love are its patina and oxidation, the settling of bricks and columns, uneven wood floors and hexagonal tiles, and the beauty captured in the scar of cracked travertine.
It’s the perception of those little moments that make up our larger emotional connection to places—and people—yet we sometimes fail to recognize that phenomenon in our own human experience. We love something, but we don’t always question why we love it. Oftentimes, what we call beloved is actually quite flawed; after all, flaws are what make us human, and the combination of small moves—little flaws in action—are what make us interesting.
Yet, despite the abundance of these engaging imperfections, they often go ignored.
This has been on my mind lately. These small moves or little moments—flaws, delights, surprises, random encounters of awesome weirdness—they are what makes life worth living. Exploring them requires, and is worth, time. These days, I’m unsure of how to reconnect with little moments. I’ve allowed myself to become so busy with the business of busy-ness that I’m failing to pause, unable to appreciate unique little moments the way they should be discovered.
I was reminded of this on the way home from yoga, hearing a friendly beep-beep-beep pass in front of me at Pike and 14th as I was about to make a right turn.
Three scooter riders with furry animal helmets zipped down the street, switching up their configuration with happy horn honks, which served as communication between themselves and acknowledgment of people on the street, many of whom stopped to wave. After following them for blocks, I felt disappointed when I lost them after they cruised through a yellow light that stopped me at Pike and Boren.
Minutes later, I was surprised at how I twinkled with delight when I found them again at the corner of Fairview and Denny. I realized that this was one of those random, odd little moments: watching three friendly scooter riders in silly helmets buzz around spreading happiness like rainbow waves behind them. The call and response of their horns, the way they high-fived each other at stop lights, their youthful laughter that tumbled gently through my open sunroof—I felt wistful when I saw their left turn signals blink at Second Avenue, their beeping horns fading as I took a right turn at First.
And so, too, did I reflect on small moments last night as Dan and I caught up over dinner at Tilth—a string of finely tuned discrete bites—followed by warm hugs from Marcus, the owner, and beloved fellow bar-fly, Steve, at The Sitting Room. After a toast (“To Africa!”), Dan and I played a travel fantasy game using the bar’s well-loved illuminated globe, creating trips that spanned the world: from Boston, Barcelona, and Berlin to Tokyo, Thailand, and Turkey.
I thought back to the first time I visited The Sitting Room in 2009, taking what would become a familiar seat at the bar as I prepared my NIAUSI proposal. That small move would eventually lead me to Civita, a place whose individual stones are themselves distinct, rich experiences—small moments weathered by time that have a profound effect on the big picture, especially for Fellows like me.
As we played back and forth, leaving our own layer of fingerprints on the warm plastic during our imaginary travels, I felt reassured that life’s small moves were still accessible—and perhaps not so hard to find if given an occasional pause, a glass of Campari, and the company of good friends.