As you step through the ancient-looking wooden doors of Caffè Florian, the pleasantly-fast-paced life of daytime Venice is tied to the white-grey walls by the entrance like a trained dog on a leash. Even though this stunning, blue-eyed husky puppy that is the exhilarating and royal atmosphere of Venice awaits your return right outside the door, its comforting and friendly presence is carried inside with the live classical music gently gliding in through the gold-framed windows. As the scores on papers turn into a feast in attentive ears, biblical and medieval portraits on the three walls are transformed into a living audience to accompany you even when there is nobody else but you inside the artists’ church in Venice.
The faces on the walls are subtly reflected on the marble tables with a little help from the chandelier-like wall lights resembling a herd of five-headed dragons. These glass lamps almost defy the sunlight entering through the wide windows that cover nearly the entire front side of the café in all its six rooms in the lower-front section. Even though Florian offers an outside seating area right in the heart of Piazza San Marco, overlooking great structures such as Basilica San Marco and Palazzo Ducale, our imagined dragon lights, provide enough lighting in the window side of the café. Towards the back of the room stand two other lamps in two corners, which I’d like to perceive as the tamers of the dragons lighting up the front side. Unlike their subjects, though, these humanoid dragon tamers only carry one whip of light each. Thanks to their struggle to keep their subjects in line with their bright whips, the portraits and landscapes in the corners also join in the festival of reflections on marble tables and shiny glasses with Caffè Florian’s name and sigil placed with gold-colored engravings on them.
As I take up my pen, which I’ve proudly named Éowyn, and lay her ink on my paper, I cannot help but feel the everlasting presence of all the authors, artists, poets, and philosophers who must have sat at the same table that I am sitting at, writing down thoughts that I didn’t know existed before I started writing and listening to the symphony of chatters and Bach and Beethoven that slither in from Piazza San Marco. This presence is perhaps hidden inside the golden lines running up and down the walls or behind the portrait of a man who might have been a mediocre lord some centuries ago. I couldn’t point out to you where all these long-gone artists and writers whisper to me from as I jot down a few lines by Lord Byron on my new notepad, but I can assure you that if you pay a visit to Florian with the hope of finding nameless creators of art from the last three centuries, they will come out of their refuges and immunize you against the false distractions of the outside world, allowing you to become more than who you believe you are, and create more than what you think is possible.
Some of us are not so keen to befriend people of the past through drawings, poems, music or even simply mutual values of art and creation. One quick glance at the interior design of Florian will reassure you that the minds behind Florian’s birth have considered that possibility, and altered the average café interior to accommodate their less romantic guests. Although you can absolutely separate yourself from the rest of the café by occupying a single table with comfy chairs, the more common and preferred seating option is the strip of red couches that encircle every one of the six rooms on the lower-front side. My only personal recommendation regarding a visit to Caffè Florian would be to take advantage of this particular seating option in one of the outer rooms if you would imagine the lobby as the centre of the lower café. The continuous and vibrant redness of the couches connect all the different individuals and groups of people inside the room. The energy is indisputably present and the shared vividness of the color red around the strangers in the room encourage them to transform their coincidental meeting at a Venetian café into an accidental friendship, as I have experienced during my relatively short visit to Florian with a lovely lady and her eighteen-year-old son.
Beware; this is not a cheap place, but what you pay for is not the food or the drinks or the live classical music (even though they charge you for the music with the first order). Was my €12.50 worth the coffee and the music? No. Was it worth the experience? Absolutely. I did not know if I would love, or even enjoy Caffè Florian, but I chose to spend my daily budget of time and money on it all the same. And Caffè Florian did not disappoint. In the two hours that I spent there, it gave me a glimpse of a different kind of history of Venice that I could not have found in books. And above all, it gave me a reason to risk wasting my resources away in pursuit of the possibility of a unique experience that no single cup of coffee or a well-designed café could offer without a well-written and well-preserved history. From now on, I will be looking for look-alikes of Caffè Florian in the cities I travel to, and constantly remind myself that what a café has to offer has not much to do with how elegant it looks, but everything to do with whose faces I see and whose voices I hear under its graceful decorations.
Take Care, and Treat Coffee like a Friend.
Alp E. Türkol