na foine ting

Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Coffee has been a recurring theme in conversations recently.

I mean, coffee's always a recurring theme: I have to have it to function.

But the other day a coworker watched me put around a quarter of a cup of sugar and seventeen shakes of creamer in my coffee in sick fascination and finally asked me "OK, Kate, what's the point?" since obviously by the time I'm done with it it tastes nothing like coffee anyway.

I started drinking coffee at the age of four.

No, seriously, four.

In Burma, we'd sit on our neighbor's porch to wait out the power outage, and watch the rain come down like Armageddon, so loud you almost had to shout to be heard. There we'd drink a mixture of espresso-like coffee and sweetened condensed milk, the kind that comes from a can. This was less like coffee and more like dessert, and remains to me the ideal, virtually mythical "perfect coffee" to this day.

In Ghana, I drank coffee with my Norwegian best friend, Lise. Lise's father Kare was a highly successful commercial fisherman, who was about seven feet tall, had a huge personality and a booming voice to match, and made coffee of similar size and volume. Coffee was served with every meal--whether or not there was also beer available--and also drunk between meals from thermoses you could find in any room in the house.

My recollection of time spent over at the Wiedswangs is mostly of two serene adults reading the Oslo daily newspaper amid a sea of caffeine-crazed children, who careened around the house along with the Wiedswang's pet monkey, screaming and breaking things.

Between Ghana and Samoa there wasn't much coffee, except for special occasions. Sometimes I'd get a cup when we had company, part of staying up late and being allowed to share in all the fun, semi-illicit adult things.

Coffee in Samoa was had compliments of our German FAO neighbors, who shared the Wiedswang "all day long" philosophy of coffee, and brewed it to match. So that even by the end of the day, a cup still had flavor and authority, if you could only manage to bring your quaking mug to your stuttering lips.

For the Winklers, coffee was as integral to hospitality as the couch. Come in, have a seat, here's your mug. So how are you, anyway?

We'd look out on a Saturday morning to see Claus and Dorette seated in their folding chairs on the lawn, that tamed carpet of docile green beaten out of the jungle that surrounded our little 3-house compound in all directions.

They'd sit out there and drink their coffee and eat home made pastries off of good china. Crisp in their white linen and with the smoke from Claus' cigarettes wafting over it all.

Coffee's ritual now, and memory, and of all the disparate places I've lived and stayed, a familiar thread of continuity.

In one cup, home.

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