Chapterhouse Cafe

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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If I had to walk another 50 yards in my heavy trenchcoat and longjohns carrying my 30 pound pack, I would not have made it. Although the promise of hot black joe did not seem to be an antidote to the unseasonable heat and the sun which pummeled the back of my neck, it was the sun, which would foil the rest of the day’s perambulations, that would serve as the delicate saviour of Chapterhouse in the little moments to which it brought solitude.

Chapterhouse Cafe

I will not ever understand why the uptight prick who moderated my paper session at the ACSA conference felt my 8 months of solid work less worthy of discussion than 2 folks who preferred, like the opportunists they were, to deify an architect and his process, hoping to support some kind of myth of the virtuoso or the master. It was clear that these people had never worked in an office. Built architecture is not and cannot be the realm of the virtuoso. Who is going to draw the interior elevations of the janitor’s closet, ‘Rem’? Although it is indicative of these hacks’ opinion of what architecture is. It is the ‘big picture.’ It is not the moment, the tall entry stair designed with abnormally tall risers to keep stay-at-home moms at home and not chilling in cafes with their giant strollers, or the discovery of a schizophrenic restroom that the master had not even seen the drawings for as he would certainly not have thought that pixelated wainscott a fair idea but it is there now nonetheless, or the way the light peeks in from around a corner where you can barely insinuate a window with sheers. But for us, that is life and architecture and space and memory. It is not the process or the ego, it is what we steal from it and them.

In the far rooms, the sunlight pulled back linen curtains, slightly, and poured over the sill, like from an overflowing basin of soy milk.

Chapterhouse Cafe

The sunlight, just barely, like a kiss from a face being hauled away by archangels into white skies, gathers into the space. Afternoon in a room, any space where sunlight is alien, to me, most spaces, has the most melancholy of touches. An afternoon that I came home early from work, to an empty house, shortly after it had been robbed, the sun looked like an intruder. I sat at the kitchen table with a box of empty spice bottles, a sheet of adhesive paper with the names of spices printed on it, and several tubs of spices from the farmer’s market. I listened to one of the only CDs I had at the time, Arvo Part’s ‘Spiegel Im Spiegel.’ It was barely there, just a violin and a piano somewhere in the shadowless house, slowly growing dim. The methodical process of trimming out labels with an x-acto knife, peeling them from the backing, affixing them to a bottle, and funneling spice into the bottle, and not belonging there at home, where, because of the hour of the day, I also felt like an intruder, was quite possibly the most disembodied moment in my life.

The cast of characters could be distilled in Chapterhouse, swimming through the tangible milky sunlight. The tall girl with her sweatpants tucked ironically into her fancy boots as if to celebrate the fact that she was wearing sweatpants. The bro with the ipod. The bro with the ipod who took the opportunity when the girl who asked him if she could plug her laptop into the outlet behind him to take off his ipod and leave it off and chat her up as she tried to work. The gentlemen on the tete a tete chair, one facing into the corner and one watching the world go by dimly. The gentleman facing the room sees in the sunlight an apparition of a breeze which does not cause the curtains to stir and dries the sweat on his lower back. He feels as though he is in a ‘cool dark place’ and has stripped down to his shirtsleeves in order to drink his coffee without throwing up or passing out.

Chapterhouse Cafe

The only social reward I received from my academic labours at the conference was to be asked whether I had read ‘Invisible Cities’ by the golem who had played a more melodramatic Arvo Part piece, Fratres or Summa or something, during his paper presentation. Had we seen him back in the sunny streets, walking west, he walking east, he might have been the one on whom Thos. had pulled out his knife, flicked it open with his thumb, and showed his ‘war face’ whilst pretending to drive the knife up through his chin, the sun glinting off the blade.

Chapterhouse Cafe is a member of Philadelphia’s Independents Coffee Cooperative.

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Chapterhouse Cafe

620 S. 9th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19147

2 Responses to “Chapterhouse Cafe”

  1. saul brimms

    thos. himself has a hole in his chin. this anecdote regarding him and his knife suggests that his scars run deeper than the mere gaping chasm on his jawline.

  2. saul brimms

    i just wanted to chime in to say that chapterhouse has become my dissertation-writing go-to-cafe. this will be mentioned in the acknowledgments.

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