Wednesday, October 11, 2006

BOOKS: Portrait of an Increasingly Unhinged yet Highly Caffeinated Blogger

I'm pretty tired today. I mean, I'm always tired, but today I'm a bit more so than average. But I'm nowhere as tired as I was several days ago. In fact, last week marked an exciting new parenting milestone for me. I hit a previously uncharted level of exhaustion, rendering me THE MOST TIRED I HAVE EVER BEEN IN MY WHOLE LIFE.

If you've never parented a child with erratic sleep patterns for months and months and months, then I hate to sound all exclusionary, but you don't know from tired. I'm not talking "tired from pulling an all-nighter to write an essay" or "tired from a three-day long-weekend bender" or "tired from having awesome beginning-of-relationship sex for days on end." I've been all those kinds of tired, and they don't even come close to comparing with the limp, demoralized, soul-deep fatigue that comes from being denied a healthy amount of sleep night after night for more than a year, interrupted every few weeks by bouts of almost total sleep deprivation that make you realize you have absolutely no reserves remaining in your sleep tank. Last week, my needle was buried waaaaay to the left of "E."

What would I do without coffee? I've written about my recent love affair with the magical beans, but it wasn't until yesterday that I realized that my passion has escalated to nigh religiosity. I worship coffee with the kind of athletic reverence that used to see monks flagellating themselves with whips or the faithful making lengthy pilgrimages on their knees. If required to do these things to get my daily brew, I'd seriously consider it. Dignity? Dignity is for chumps.

Sometimes I almost believe in Providence, though. Because mere days before the advent of Sam's latest bout of nocturnal shenanigans, my closest friend, The Glorious Nomadic Suzi Bicyclefish -- a woman who clearly peers through some kind of mystical window into my future -- brought me this fabulous gizmo all the way from the motherland:

You're perplexed, I can tell. What if I told you that you are looking at the most beautiful gadget ever devised to take simple coffee grounds and alchemically transform them into deep, rich, perfect espresso? It's called a Presso, and not only is it pleasing to the eye and to the touch, it's also so simple to use that even I can't fuck it up -- not even on three hours of sleep while a toddler tries to pull down my pyjama bottoms.

And it doesn't even use electricity! Anyone who thinks England's glory days as a world power are behind it has another think coming. The British are a superior people and they deserve our unmitigated admiration and respect.

In celebration of love, life, and humankind's intrepid spirit of inventiveness, I was GOING to make a list of my favourite books and passages that, in their own small yet potent ways, demonstrate their kinship with me in their love of all things caffeinated. But then I couldn't find any.

I know that these passages exist, yes, indeed. I can recall specifically a gorgeous description by Hemingway of a café au lait he enjoyed in Paris in the '20s... or perhaps it was one of the characters in Garden of Eden? I don't rightly recollect. And I remember Kerouac wrote something delicious in Dharma Bums about coffee prepared à la hobo, simply with hot water and grounds in a frying pan or an old bean tin or something like that. But can I find these passages? No, I cannot.

I did manage to find this little bit from Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, one of my favourite books:
I poured him a cup of coffee. It seems to me that coffee smells even better when the frost is in. "A little something on the side?" I asked. "Something to give it authority?"
"No--this is fine. This is nice."
"Not a touch of applejack? I'm tired from driving. I'd like a spot myself."
He looked at me with the contained amusement that is considered taciturnity by non-Yankees. "Would you have one if I didn't?"
"No, I guess not."
"I wouldn't rob you then--just a spoonful."
So I poured each of us a good dollop of twenty-one-year-old applejack and slipped in on my side of the table. Charley moved over to make room and put his chin down on my feet.
That's the best my addled memory can serve up. So instead I turn to you, o wise friends of the internet, to help rustle up some memories. What are your favourite coffee-related literary passages? (How's that for an overly specific request? I'm just trying to keep you on your toes.)


Anonymous said...

Oh, Doppelganger, how I remember the days when my younger daughter and her asthma prevented me from a decent sleep for the first few years of her life! I did not believe how long a person could go without sleep until it happened to me. Just so you know that it can all turn out all right - that same daughter is now a healthy 41 year old woman and I am an old person who forgets things someimes - but
I will never forget how it feels to have little or no sleep for weeks and months and years!

Anonymous said...

Maybe the quote you are thinking of is from a Moveable Feast?
"It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waither brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write."

Anne-Marie said...

Is it bad to invite oneself over to drool over a perfect latte??? Gawd, I am so jealous it's embarrasing!!!

Matthew E said...

Steven Brust writes often about a coffee-like beverage called 'klava' in his Vlad Taltos series (and in his Khaavren Romances).

Spider Robinson has some passages about Irish coffee in... somewhere in the Callahan's Place series. 'Callahan's Legacy', maybe, or 'The Callahan Touch'.

Liz said...

How about, from The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, "For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
        So how should I presume? " I love that image.

Em said...

Some idiot ripped off a fourteen dollar bag of dark roast from my display last night, so thinking about coffee sends me to a very bitter place right now.
Then I remembered this one from A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke, regarding trying to order coffee in Paris that doesn't come in a cup the size of a paddling pool:

"...Tell me--what do you say to the waiter when you order a coffee with milk?"
"Un cafe au lait, s'il vous plait."
"You need help, man. Meet me at the usual cafe tomorrow, eleven o'clock."
"Un creme, s'il vous plait."
"Creme--doesn't that mean cream?" I asked.
"Yeah, but it's the name the waiters use for a cafe au lait. You've got to use their language. Hasn't anyone told you this yet?"
"Merde. You are so going to get ripped off. An espresso is un express, okay? An espresso with a bit of milk in it is un noisette. A weak black coffee is un allonge. And so on. You use their words and they know you're not a tourist."

Anonymous said...

I am in love with that machine and I have to have one. I have a love affair with caffeine too and I don't have your good excuse of exhaustion (although, I am a teacher and am, by definition, sleep deprived) I can't think of any good coffee passages right now and although I know it is a cliche, I have a big old soft spot for Proust's massive ramble about madeleines. Yum....

Beth said...

I have no literary passages about coffee, but I have recently discovered a fantastic, organic, fair-trade coffee - Cafe La Paz - and it's on sale at Stong's. You should totally try it. Mmmmm... coffee.

BabelBabe said...

It's not particularly literary but Laurie Colwin has an essay on coffee in More Home Cooking. What I remember about it is that she quotes from Bach's Coffee Cantata:
"Coffee! Coffee! I must have it! If I do not have coffee, I will die!"