On Coffee and Kentridge

Molly Prentiss

After that there were too many cups to count. At the café table, my mind spiraled outward and I closed my Moleskine; I was disgusted with my inability to sufficiently record my thoughts in words. If I could bottle all the coffees I've ever had into one bottle, I thought, that bottle would have a bottleneck the size of an ancient sea. And convening at that bottleneck would be all the people I had ever drank coffee with, sitting in rowboats painted green or orange, taking sips from ceramic cups of all sizes. The Italians would be there with their pinkies in the air; their cups so small you feared they’d finish them too fast, that you wouldn’t have enough time to talk. The Argentines would be there, trying to be like the Italians but, insecure, would have accidentally let the water run too long through their coffee grinds and ended up with a thin, bitter liquid that they’d abandon for an equally thin pastry shaped like a crescent moon. The Chileans would be there with their Nescafe and the Mexicans with their café con leche and the French with their French press and the Turkish with all that shit in their teeth from the grime of the grinds, which was actually quite charming, considering they were used to it. Then there would be my American friends, trying to steady themselves in their rickety boats, taking notes about the exotic nature of said rickety boats in their own Moleskines while sipping on grande extra hot things that cost four ninety five because of the possibility that they were organic. At that moment, bobbing on a green sea with boat loads of café memories, I would begin to think that everything is everything else and that I love everything a whole lot and equally.

You see, I drink coffee to see the whole world drinking coffee: to remember that we are all in something together. Because upon the first sip, we’re all equals. We're all tap dancing with the jitters, we've each unfolded our newspaper like a map, and we're ready to zoom around a bit, see who else is up at this hour, check out each other's brews. But here’s the catch: without the coffee you can’t see all the others drinking coffee, because the only way you can know that the whole world is having a cup, the only possible way you can begin to see something that huge, that broad, that universal; the only way you can turn your sympathy into empathy and your microcosm into a macro one, is with the fantastic mental surge that comes with coffee, that cosmic caffeinated moment where the firsts and lasts come together, where the bottleneck of the ancient sea breaks and the rowboats are sailing in unison gracefully, where your coffee cup morphs into a beating heart and your saucer is the same as a moon, where all the Pieros bleed into one and all the newspaper maps lead to the same place, and I’m not trying to get all fair trade on you now but where the importance of process and justice begins to matter and you see it mattering because in your big caffeinated moment you’re understanding where that coffee came from, all those ethical/moral/socially responsible issues like how much did that coffee picker make off your cup and it was probably not enough and you will try to fix this through your creative practice and through your own awareness and avid attention...

but then with the fade of the jolt of the caffeinated frenzy you drop back into your spot at this one particular round table at this one particular café. Kentridge, you remember, said that although he had hoped to escape the confines of his studio through the telescope of his espresso cup, he had actually ended up still stuck inside it, looking out through the window of the rocket ship, staring at a sheet of black paper pinned to the studio wall.

In the end, Kentridge and I are cuddling on a Sunday morning, waking up from our respective percolating dreams. He sighs, turning away from me sadly. I don’t deserve to be an artist, he says to the universe, because everything he says is to the universe. I am saddened by his lack of confidence, because nothing is sadder than a lack of confidence in someone you love. But then I remember something hopeful. Then lets drink coffee, I whisper into his big old ear, knowing he will understand what I mean to say, which is that coffee is the same as art.

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