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?