What is coffee?

coffee

 

An aromatic, bitter strong drink with a distinctive taste that forces your body and mind to come to life.  A dark brown beverage that marks the start of a new day. A liquid that takes our taste buds by surprise and gives us a boost of energy in the morning. A mildly sweet drink that envelops us in humble pleasure. Precious fine coffee crystals that delight our smell sense. An essential product that has been, is and will be exchanged all over the globe for profit. The nectar of the gods that only high-class nobles had access to in the Europe of the Middle Ages. Odoriferous coffee beans produced at high altitudes (arabica)  and at lower altitudes  (robusta). A vital part of breakfast. An indispensable part of work and business culture. A symbol of high-class. Everlasting pride for coffee connoisseurs.

What is coffee? A means and an excuse to socialize, to spend hours talking over a cup of coffee. A magical beverage served when you visit a friend’s or acquaintance’s house and you lose track of time exchanging news and information. Something that gives you a reason to gossip forever. In Turkey, Greece and Romania coffee is closely related to foreseeing the future. Coffee is a way of passing time and taking guesses in what might happen to you in the next few days, weeks or months. Fortune-telling in coffee cups marked my childhood. It was something magical, mysterious and somehow hopeful. This cultural custom drew me in until I felt completely absorbed by the world of coffee. I was swirling in a whirlwind heading to the bottom of the cup where the gate to stories and future predictions stood. The coffee cup had agency, had a power of its own, had the ability to tell you what you hoped it might happen. How did this happen?

I remember that ever since I was 4 or 5, old enough to understand what happened around me, I was granted permission to participate at my grandmother’s get-togethers with her neighborhood friends. They would come over to our flat and sit at the kitchen table over cups of homemade coffee and small plates of rose jam. After finding their sits at the table these ladies started discussing the newest happenings of our small city, family business/ problems and future opportunities. This group of ladies, together with my grandma, functioned as an unwritten daily newspaper of our small city or the daily news radio show. As a child I was delighted to be allowed to listen to and to be included in adults’ talks. For them I was only the cameo of the movie, but I felt like the director granted me the main part. It made me feel important and I was hoping to grow up as soon as possible to comprehend even more those mysterious things they were talking about. As a child my curiosity had no boundaries and I devoured all the tittle-tattle they passed around. The conversations smelled like freshly ground coffee and tasted like sweet, pink roses. Once in a while I received permission from my grandmother to have a few sips of coffee. On those occasions, when the ladies’ had finished their coffee they told me to spin one of the cups, to turn it upside down and then to put it on a small plate. Afterwards, I left the cup there for the coffee grounds to dry up. It came as a surprise that a few minutes later these chatterers proceeded to interpret the symbols and images that appeared inside the porcelain cups. They were fortune-telling. This act felt mysterious to me. One of my grandmother’s friends was always especially good at doing this. She was a true storyteller and captivated the attention of the audience not only with her carefully selected words, but also with her imposing figure. She was a 1.8 m tall lady, with a heavy and strong body who used to read magazines about paranormal activities. and allowed me to do so to. I was a sucker for the occult and for mysterious, unexplainable phenomena. She was also the one who took delight in summarizing for me the books of Alexandre Dumas , Jules Verne and Victor Hugo. Thus, she inflicted on me an ardent desire to read, a passion for books and a wish to grow up faster in order to be capable to grasp the meaning of those books. She used to tend to me when my parents were away for work and I have to say she did a superb job. She opened me up to the world around me and fed me curiosity. The curiosity to read, to know more, to learn, to explore the universe, to listen to people’s stories and to write my own, to become an intellectual and to keep evolving. She made amazing brownies too and used green coloured lipsticks that turned red when applied on the lips.

I loved her and I never got to say goodbye before she passed away. But thanks to her, coffee became my best friend. Aid when reading and assistance when writing. A special artefact that inspires me and acts as a referee at social encounters. A beverage that hides a story at the bottom of the porcelain cup (snakes, tigers, owls, figures of men and women, bees, waterfalls that signify wealth, money, danger, betrayal, good luck, future trips, arrival of love). Coffee is a friend. A cup of coffee is, for me, full of my grandmother’s friend’s spirit. A cup of coffee is a flawless confidant to intellectual affairs. It gives an intense flavour to special books, to important life journeys, to changes, to philosophical movies, to artsy museum exhibitions, to late mornings, to good friends, to lovers, to affluent writers and famous historical figures, to choices, to travels, to my perfumes and lipsticks, to my kisses and to crossroads.

Over a cup of coffee I started listening to Ayn Rand’s audiobook ‘Atlas Shrugged’. As a child I used to listen to immortal stories series on radio cassettes.Those fantastic stories fascinated me and accompanied my afternoon naps. When I rediscovered the habit of listening to stories I was over the moon. I had some problems sleeping and I made audiobooks my sound sleep medicine. So what impression did Atlas Shrugged leave on me? What struck me about it? The spirit of Atlas Shrugged and how I felt when I listened to it. In general and in real life I believe that economic monopolies are to be condemned and I am all for the equality of chances for small and big producers alike. Thus, I understand the side of the opposition against Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart, but I also feel for them, for their support of reason and efficiency. There is something outrageous in how they are being sabotaged. My heart goes to support them and I am on the side of reason this time. The stance of exaggerated postmodernism of industrialists, the scientists’ group, the government and even part of the philosophers in Atlas Shrugged represents yet another failure of society to reach an equilibrium. Combating Dagny’s and Hank’s cold, austere personalities and their feverish chase for profits are not justified if pursued through unjust and equally shameful and unscrupulous means. In the end all that sticks whenever I finish listening to whole passages of Atlas Shrugged is that I feel for Dagny Taggart’s and Hank Rearden’s struggles against the coalition formed to ensure their failure.

However, what strikes me the most in this book is the accentuated question : ‘Who is John Galt’?  A ghost, an unknown man trapped in the world of legends, a supposedly important affluent man who found the lost town of Atlantis, a mockery, an unresolved question, an unsolvable issue, but also a symbol of unprecedented power.

Coffee and the question ‘Who is John Galt’ helped me advance in life through hardships, through political changes, through the realization that I only have agency on myself and my life (sometimes not even that), that I am the size of an ant in the world and that I might not even be able to arrange my own life, let alone helping others. At the same time hearing and assimilating  the question “Who is John Galt’ gives me a sense of pleasure, makes me feel like I can lose myself in the absurdly gigantic world that surrounds us and in the vast array of choices we are given. It can make me disappear and live my life in my own imagination, in books and glasses of wine, in coffee cups filled and enjoyed in cottages in the middle of the forest. Atlas Shrugged reinforces my belief that nothing matters anyways (except how you make yourself feel) before you die. Hence, no matter how disappointed you are with life and what happens in your reality you can always escape for a while like John Galt and you can let absurd legends and stories form around your character. In the end you can get reborn from your own ashes and become a successful business ( like the John Galt railway line). For a while, at least. Then it’s time for another book or perhaps a movie?

Coffee and movies. My favourite movie director, Woody Allen, possesses the mind of a genius. I love the way he regards life and the way he treats it in his movies. His quotes and sentences are like a bitter-sweet muffin to me, pure delight and amazing sarcasm. His humourous dark comedies touch the insides of my soul and mind. I identify with what he created in his movies. His dramatic comedies sweeten loss and pain by transforming them into the witty  and amusing absurdities of life. These add page after page to the albums of our existence called experiences.

So let me take a quote of his and share my thoughts on it: “I am not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Let’s put this in a simple way. No one desires to end her or his life in painful ways. If we were given a choice in advance we will all opt for dying in our sleep or when we are unconscious. If we are masters of our own lives, why can’t we be the monarchs of our own deaths? I am with Woody Allen on this and I think that the best way of dying is without feeling it and without realizing it.Why is this so?  Because no matter how many times I meditate, I read Buddhist books or want to believe in an afterlife  I am still afraid and cannot conceive the moment when my spirit and my whole being will cease existing. I cannot cope with the reality of death and its implications. I can accept it, but I cannot stop being afraid of it. I think you are never really ready to die, unless you are a monk or an illuminated being (and I am pretty sure that even they have some unresolved issues related to death somewhere deep in their subconscious). I remember talking to an old person and asking her how she perceives death. She said that no one is ever ready to die because they have a desire to keep living, experiencing and seeing the changes that happen around the world. Can we really say at any point in our life that we are ready to pass on, that we can let go of all our loved ones, that we renunciate feeling, thinking, experiencing and that we have no traces of curiosity left for what another day of life might bring to us?

 

Animal Kingdom!

 

Life Goal: Open an amazing animal sanctuary for rescued buddies in need called ‘Animal Sanctuary’

 

Do we all love furry, fluffy, small softies? A pupper, a kitty, a bunny, any living, breathing animal that is naturally adorable and in comparison to fellow human beings does not talk gibberish, is sincere and lacks complications. As a companion or as a free being roaming about  our surrounding habitats, animals represent for me the ultimate sacred thing: I respect them, love them and wish to protect them at any cost. Thus, I am a strong supporter of animal rights and I believe that each country should have laws that protect animals, should have proper shelters for abandoned souls and animals in need, should have a police force encharged with the safety of animals  (like ASPCA  in the U.S.) and education for children and adults alike on how to treat and respect our lovely friends who give us nothing but love.

But, unfortunately the should I mentioned above is more like a best case scenario. In reality, society is overflowed with cases of mistreated animals, with human beings who hate animals, who don’t understand them or who are scared of them. It is all around us. Directly in the media or in the invisible web of information that flows through a city’s veins in poor, developing countries that care not for our furry friends, but for the development of their economy at any cost.  In veiled, isolated cases and in subtle informational layers of connoisseurs groups in well off countries. It is distressing to see that happening.

A few weeks back I had a revelation concerning my future goals. I would like to make my own start-up, a shelter that will function as a social enterprise. It will be a safe haven for rescued dogs, cats, bunnies, mini pigs, hamsters and so on. I imagine it to be an amazing colorful space full of pillows, shelves, books, toys, bones, snacks, small obstacle courses for animals. They will sleep comfortably there on soft mattresses, play, enjoy life and have a huge adjacent garden or forest to wander through and run around. Of course, the end purpose of the shelter will be to find loving families to adopt the animals. In order to raise the funds to feed the animals, buy toys, vaccinate them and take them to the vet I will offer animal training services, I will run a small animal cafe, produce handmade animal themed objects, offer day visits to people who want to play and caress animals for a certain cost and sell toys and food for animals. All the ensuing profit will go to rescuing animals and creating an excellent huge common shelter home for them.

How did I realize I want to do this? First of all, I love animals so much that I become miserable when I see them lonely, unloved or mistreated. And the more I live the more I see this happening all around me. In Romania, dog shelters are vile. They barely have any space, dogs are infested with ticks, flees and suffer from various health problems. On top of that they have no toys, they hardly get fed and when they do, the food is some leftover dry bread crust soaked in water. To top that they get no affection and no space to play or to enjoy their lives.

In Shanghai there is no actual physical shelter so all the rescued animals go to individuals who are willing to them for some limited time. Thus, a lot of them are left on the street, in bushes, in garbage collection areas because there aren’t enough people who are good-hearted enough or who wish to ‘burden themselves’ with these poor souls in need of help. Another problem are the so-called animal cafes in Shanghai.  I visited one recently and I was shocked. Why? Because these animals (dogs, cats, hamsters, one bunny, birds) were exploited for the sake of making private profits and they utterly were neglected. They were extremely dirty and they lived in small confined spaces. These animals are used and they have no say in it. After I felt sorry for a small Corgie who had accumulated  ear fulls of cerumen, I offered to clean his ears to the waiters/ animal caretakers of the cafe. My proposition was refused.

Two years ago in Shanghai I faced a situation when I thought that my anger would burst and I would punch a man in the face. Why? Because he was using a monkey on a tight rope leash to make money out of passersby who were allowed to touch or play with the monkey for a few yuan.

Another stomach churning instance was finding out that some pet shops in Shanghai offer boarding for animals for the ridiculous amount of 10 euros per night for caging your companion in a space where he or she doesn’t have any other option then to sleep. These spaces are horrendous and they look like insanitary basements with animal excrements flowing on the floor, disgusting smells and defecation in cages or trolleys where they leave some of the animals awaiting assistance. What is more, they also sell some pets such as dogs, cats, fish, hamsters and Guinea pigs. When I was inspecting the place I noticed 4 small white hamsters and a dead one lying belly up with an open raw wound in a terrarium. It looked like it had been there for at least one day. The puppies were begging to be touched and played with and their eyes said: ‘Take me home, take me out of this hell’. I am crying out loud…what does it take to put in an extra bit of effort and make sure these animals live a comfortable life and enjoy it? But well, in China, in Romania and in many other places on Planet Earth people care more about making money and they would do anything for it, even exploiting and mistreating animals to reach their objectives. I feel like shouting and protesting, but it might be in vain. It is a battle I would lose on a global scale, but I can start my own initiative in the future and make sure I contribute to a lot of animals being rescued and treated properly at least on one point on the world map.

P.S: Let’s all fight together and do everything in our power to improve the livelihoods of animals and our friendly companions. Let’s treat them as we would our friends, family and other human beings…..with compassion, empathy, love, kindness, care and support.

And here’s my beloved Osho, pampered by being called at times: Oshi Boshi.

Oshi

 

Daydreaming

 

A red lucky moving hand Japanese cat

Looks insistently at a Westerner with a hat

The street barbecue floats in fat

The teachers gave a talk to a random Matt

A handsome Korean on an Alvar Aalto chair sat

Another daydreaming session in a café

With my pet the rainbow bat

The letters of a faded, burnt postcard

Rotate with fervor in a mental hospital ward

Imaginary friends eat a bowlful of lard

The emperor’s castle collapsed and killed the bard

The foundations of this fantasy story are hard

Covered in milk the lamp seems a tart

I am stuck in a corner; I am Alice in love with a leopard

At the counter full of cakes there is a clown

The odd collection of teaspoons fell down

The construction worker, the nurse, the guard are all sound

But the sofas, the fluorescent walls, the plants are bound

Are chained to my notebook while they drown

In the room there is a single crown

The queen lost, the plot was written by my hound.

Advanced society?

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I came across this poem and I felt I stumbled upon my truth, my reality. It struck me and sometimes I would l like to cry out loud and shout for people to wake up and care, care, care. Wake up from mediocrity and from the little or much you have (emotionally, mentally or materially) and share with others in order to work towards a more egalitarian society. 

Copyright: @ Fauxcroft 

Why are there still slums

And homeless people

Living in an advanced society

How we claim to be progressive

When so many actions are regressive

Cutting back on health care and benefits

Treat some people like they are less than shit

Why we think it’s OK to flaunt rich lifestyles on display

While other people having nothing at all

Why in an advanced society are people not equal

Equal chances of a good education

Equal chances of good jobs in life

Equal share of wealth that’s created

Instead we get taxes through stealth

Meanwhile the food banks are growing

And the class divides are showing

Is there help for those who fall through the cracks

No because our society lacks

The ability to care and share

And make real change that will take us there

To a world of equality without the homeless and slums

Or we will remain at the present with the trickle down theory

Where we are fed crumbs

From the table of the rich and elite

Where you get a reward if you behave like a sheep.

Christmas and Love: Controversial in Shanghai

 

 

 

It’s a rather warm Sunday, winter afternoon and it is Christmas Eve. It is one of the most charming and lovely days for me. I would have liked to admire the frozen nature and for my face to be bitten by the rushing wind, the flakes of snow and the cold air. Since mother Nature refuses to comply with my wishes I decide to make the most of my time strolling through a park. Thus, I leave the coziness and isolation of my house for a relaxing walk in People’s Park. (In China, by name, everything belongs to the people; e.g. :people’s money, people’s square, people’s bank, people’s hospital etc. Sounds like heaven, unfortunately it isn’t so).

Back to myself. I feel nostalgic and memories of Christmases past flood my mind. Imagine! Hills covered in blankets of immaculate snow, children giggling and running towards the very top of sharp-sculpted valleys with their sledges, people going to church when evening settles in, groups of boys and girls travelling from house to house to sing decades old carols, hosts receiving guests with a glass of mulled wine and a slice of sweet walnut bread (cozonac), delicious food shared by family and friends near the stove, the smell and heat of burning wood in my grandparents’ house, rosy cheeks and noses, woolen hats and gloves and vapors of hot air leaving our mouths and becoming magical floating smoke in the cold. And that is the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of winter that I am missing so in China. I did find at least a dozen small Christmas markets in Shanghai and fancy elaborate Christmas decorations in every reputable shopping mall. Probably this made it better than being stuck for Christmas in…let’s say, Saudi Arabia. However, the superficiality and commercialism of the holiday is what dominates Christmas in China. The kindness of Christmas, the spirit of Christmas, the feeling of being in a community where people share the same believes and relate to the most important festive season of the year in the same way is somewhere far away.

While all of this makes sense because Christmas is not a holiday rooted in Chinese culture my heart still aches. Why? In the upcoming years the government and certain cultural conservationist advocacy groups decided to forbid Christmas decorations in public areas. Their scope is to encourage Chinese people to concentrate on their own holidays and customs. They want to sabotage Christmas! Gosh, that is sad. People won’t even be free to enjoy Christmas decorations in public places any longer? Let’s just take it the other way around. In any of the countries I have lived before (Romania, UK, Turkey, Belgium) I was free to enjoy and attend celebrations belonging to various religious and ethnic groups. Displays of joy and decorations were welcomed and not ostracized. Shouldn’t we, inhabitants of Earth, by now celebrate and accept multiculturalism? Withdrawing into our own conservative, nationalistic corners that proved times and again to fail is not the right path for future evolution. Didn’t we learn already that not love and accepting each other means failure?

So just because I am not Buddhist or because I am not Asian, it does not mean that I should not be allowed to  celebrate or share the meaning and joy of Chinese New Year. Many other people and I are curious about others’ holidays and their meanings and would like to celebrate along with them.  And we usually have the freedom to experience that in any European country. But tables might turn in China….Chinese people might not have the same privilege in their own country and with them everyone else will be denied Christmas.

Now, let me tell you what Christmas was all about in People’s Park. The main scene was occupied by a huge marriage market. Middle-aged people and a few youngsters arranged colorful open umbrellas on the sides of alleys on the ground and stuck A4 papers on top. These sheets of paper contained the personal information of the elders’ daughters, sons or other related singles who wanted to get lucky in love. If you have ever been to a market: vegetable, fruit, flea market, etc. you will have an idea of how things were displayed here. Every person was standing next to the other and was advertising attractive marriage partners on A4 papers placed on top of her or his umbrella. They were also calling attention to more than one person. The most interesting part was that the man or woman who was mentioned on the sheet paper was not present and there wasn’t even a picture of them displayed. So what did this paper contain? The year of birth, age, job, height, university attended, phone number, what was their material situation (whether they had a car or a house), what province they were born in and future requirements from a partner. Everything was so chaotic and there were probably a few hundred people circulating through the market. There was a constant flow, a vibe of looking for the right arrangement. Old people were walking around and engaging in talks with one another exchanging information about their ‘goods’. The ones who were publicizing and trying so hard to find suitable partners for their offspring were calling out to passers-by. According to which principles are these marriages arranged? Who is considered a potential suitable partner for one’s daughter or son? What are usually regarded as good marriages in China according to parents and grandparents? Most old people or middle-aged ones resort to traditional matchmaking methods. Thus, they try to match future partners by analyzing their birth dates and their representative animal signs. Due to the unequal ratio of men to women (too many men and not enough women) brides-to-be require houses and cars or other monetary gifts as wedding dowries. Where is the love in all of these? Potential partners contact each other by phone or wechat (the Chinese version of whatsapp) and end up going for blind dates. Arranged marriages or at least arranged blind dates are all too common in China. Why? Because parents and grandparents pressure young people to get married and have children. That is the ultimate goal that young people should fulfill in China. The pressure is even higher for women, who come to be considered leftover women if they reach the age of 30 and they are still single.

Where is the love in all this affair? The delight and freedom of selecting one’s partner, the spontaneous first interactions and innocent flirts, the idea that you are independent and that you are in charge of selecting whom to share your life with, the ideal that love is not material, that love is not something that should be arranged or advertised or sold? That love happens in mysterious ways and exactly that is its charm? Well, that concept of love, that construction of the feeling of love varies from individual to individual and from country to country. Love is nothing but a made-up cultural and psychological concept which we learn from childhood onwards. We acquire the information on how to live it, how to feel it and how to think about it from our surroundings and experiences. The concept of love: what I described above, the ‘genuine love’ that some might say comes spontaneously and is partly based on shared interests, personalities, physical attractions and common goals is something we see in movies, in magazines, on TV shows, at celebrities, in articles, in books, idealized in our own minds and most of all in talks with people who share the same ideas about what love is. However, in China love can happen in arranged marriages, love can happen through blind dates, love can happen through negotiation and love can come if material requirements are met.

Becoming

 

He called me frivole!

Cold in the wind of winter

I saw the word as a binder,

Hot, bitter, sour in a mug

Frivolous!

He called me addicted!

Flinging and clinging with desperation

The word brought into mind frustration,

Illusion, delusion, necessity are sweet

Addictive!

He called me désolée!

A fading color leaf in autumn

I took the word as utterly forgotten,

In flight and dance of rouge created

Desolated!

 

Childhood

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In the middle of the green fields

I was alone,

I was in reverie

Thinking, dancing, mumbling

Existence was soft

Was as easy as picking scented flowers

Nectar filled plants

Listening to bees

Tasting the grass

Hearing the wind whispering

My dreams of growing up

Got caught up in spider’s webs

And playing games

Was not for wining, was not for losing

Running around

Stealing fruits

The value of goods

Was in sharing

Children on the streets

Jumping in the rain

Building bridges in the mud

The sweet taste of childhood

Lies in its simplicity.