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The International Writers Magazine Coffe Culture:

Joys of the Meditteranean Lifestyle 
Julia Reynolds

As an American freshly residing on the serene Grecian isle of Mykonos, there is a certain notable discrepancy (among a plethora) between the sets of traditions and priorities existing in the respective cultures of Greece and America upon the significance of which I would venture, if I may be so bold, to explore. This incongruity is a simple one, easy for a casual observer or a traveler alighting but briefly on this area to overlook, quite frivolous really but to which I attribute a deeper significance that surpasses the obvious.

The societal aberration of which I speak is the absence in the daily ritual of the Greeks of that ubiquitous symbol of the ever-increasing haste of the American lifestyle that I came to find so distasteful: the reusable, plastic, portable carrying vessel for warm caffeinated fluids known as the “to-go mug”. Cleverly equipped with a retractable opening from which to consume said beverage while statistically likely navigating a mammoth sports utility vehicle representing a wholly unreasonable drain on the planet’s non-renewable resources (another dissertation entirely) these seemingly innocent receptacles may hint at deeper and more sinister implications concerning the state of American morale.
Please allow me to elaborate.

Once upon a time in America, as well as throughout most of the Western world, it was typical for the average family to arise in the morning prior to embarking upon its respective daily routines, sit down at a table or some variation thereof, and commune in some form of the early day breaking of bread ritual known as breakfast. Be it a hearty portion of porridge and eggs in the Midwestern rustic tradition, a New England breakfast of pancakes with golden Vermont maple syrup, or a satisfying repast in the down-home Southern style of slow-cooked grits with butter, salt, and pepper and corned beef hash, Americans allotted the time necessary in the morning for a gastronomic and social communion conducive to camaraderie, discussion of daily undertakings, and a proper nutritive start to ensure an energetic response to whatever challenges the morning could hold. These invaluable and sadly largely obsolete gatherings generally involved the making and subsequent consumption of the most widely patronized and, arguably, most revered beverage in the Western world: coffee.

The coffee in those days of yore was usually sipped in leisure from ceramic or porcelain mugs, perhaps even quaintly perched upon coordinating saucers. These containers varied in size, design, and delicacy according to socioeconomic status and individual taste, but in all but a few cases included a small handle through which one could manipulate one’s thumb and forefinger in order to comfortably cradle the receptacle. This device lent a sense of security while simultaneously warming the chosen palm, freeing the opposite hand, not for manipulating one’s way viciously through raucous city traffic or helping to precariously balance a cellular phone on one’s shoulder, but instead to gesture enthusiastically to emphasize a particular point in conversation, or to pensively stir in a second lump of sugar or a drop more cream while digesting that last bite of toast.

In contrast, the modern equivalents are slippery but aerodynamic marvels of the revolution of the plastic industry, designed to be clutched in a death grip by a palm clammy with anxious perspiration, presumably constructed for maximum mobility with minimal air drag to ensure expedient maneuverability through throngs of pedestrians hurrying frantically to various occupations, more often than not imbibed with a visage of pasty dread and stress-ridden anticipation. Though clearly a device fabricated with convenience and the utmost conservation of time in the forefront of the minds in the involved engineers, it nearly invariably and inexplicably fails in several points.

One: the seemingly ingenious retractable mouthpiece often disappoints by being countered in its purpose at a disadvantageous point by a malevolently placed curb, pothole, or tailgater, resulting in that embarrassing, undisguisable, pale- brown dribble down the front of one’s thoughtfully pressed oxford shirt or, worse still, on the crotch of one’s tastefully chosen and quietly stylish Banana Republic trousers. Many an auto accident has doubtless been catalyzed by a responsible member of our workforce, conforming innocently to societal norm with nothing but the best of intentions, being spurred by an unexpected and angst-inducing stain upon one’s work garments to become dangerously distracted. While absorbed in the act of searching for a napkin in the glove compartment (more than likely obtained from one of the offending caffeinated beverage-producing conglomerates) with which to counteract the problem, this inopportune victim of chance may misjudge the distance one’s vehicle is located from the preceding one, or perhaps the length of time the traffic light has been suspended in the yellow hue. An unfortunate occurrence indeed, and a disaster which could be easily averted by returning to the morning traditions of previous generations.

Two: “To-go” mugs tend to mimic other fickle items of material comfort in the world such as sunglasses, socks, and lighters in their migratory patterns and their uncanny ability to drift into the realm of the lost but never forgotten, that elusive Bermuda triangle of transient possessions which has severed ties between so many formerly amicable pairs of gloves and earrings, and cruelly orphaned so many pairs of reading glasses. One day the cup is placed securely at the corner of one’s desk steadily forming a sticky and problematic-to-remove ring, or residing calmly in the holder worked ever so conveniently into the construction of one’s vehicle. The next it is gone, vanished abstrusely, yanked without warning from the perilously tentative grip one assumes on such objects. Is it in the greedy hand of an unscrupulous associate in an adjacent cubicle, commandeered in a clandestine manner and privately gloated over, inspiring multitudes of devious laughter among his or her unsavory cohorts? Has it crept discretely beneath the passenger seat of the car, there to congregate in quiet glee with its bottom-dwelling brethren of plastic wrappers of guiltily-consumed confections, sundry loose change and pocket lint, and possibly a pair of sunglasses or a lonely sock? One can only speculate upon such matters.

Based upon my largely inarticulate ramblings, observations, and pontifications, one can envision my gratification upon my discovery of the omission of this item from Hellenic society, as I tentatively but eagerly immerse myself in the intricacies of the island culture. Any hour of the day, as one meanders the narrow and picturesque streets of the town of Mykonos, one cannot fail to appreciate the soothing vision of its various inhabitants, of any generation, finding respite in cozy cafes, lingering with smiling companions over frothy cappuccinos, tiny black espressos, and aromatic, thick-flowing Greek coffee. This coffee is steeped not only in water, but in the rich tradition of Greek culture, placing the relish of leisure time and small pleasures in the highest of regard, all held with relaxed and slow-moving hands in smooth, cream-colored porcelain cups with graceful handles, cradled like holy grails, nary a drop of liquid escaping throughout friendly communion.

© Julia Reynolds October 2008
juliareynolds1982 at yahoo.com

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