Welcome! - to my A-Z Challenge 2020 where my theme is India in 26 Objects as I blog alphabetically through April.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Write...Edit...Publish...+ IWSG Feb 2020 : Cafe Terrace



It's time for the inaugural post for the year at WEP, but it's not any old year. WEP hits a major milestone in 2020, the tenth anniversary, wow! We've come a long way together, WEP and M-i-V. I can't believe it still, the way time flies. Thank you, Denise and WEP, for the badge and the fun and the learning.

I've been a bit ambitious with this prompt and spectacularly failed to trim my post to the required wordcount, so it's broken into two parts. The first appears for this challenge, the concluding part will go live on Sunday. 


A Short History of Café. Terrace. Alfresco. Street Lighting. Pigments. And Nocturnes. (Part I)


So I could have told you how I went to MoMA without checking, unpardonable! - and found it closed for renovations. No shufti at a famous Night, no nibbles at Terrace 5. But I won’t. Let’s begin at a different point, away from the nights, away from shuftis, and most of all, away from me. Bored with staring at millions of my own reflections in the sheesh mahals of my mind.  Let’s start with…this mug beside me. With café. Which is the French word for coffee  - absorbed into other languages to sometimes mean the beverage and/or the place where it is drunk.

To do good work one must eat well, be well housed, have one's fling from time to time, smoke one's pipe, and drink one's coffee in peace.

~ Vincent Van Gogh

Coffee. It’s another religion started and propagated by Arabs which took on a life of its own, left them behind and happily traversed right round the world. Just like the other one did. Every single country in the world consumes coffee, I kid you not. And clearly coffee has done relatively better for itself than the other faith propagated by Arabs,  it’s bagged more converts and has less phobia and misconceptions attached. But it wasn’t always so. Coffee’s got enough bad press in the past, down to 17th century ladies in London protesting it was an anti-Viagra kind of stuff, if you know what I mean. But I’m getting ahead of myself.


Things kick off around 850 CE in Ethiopia. Because you know, all the good stories start in Africa. A goatherd – yes, all good stories will also have an animal flock tucked in somewhere – well, a herder called Kaldi notices his flock ‘dancing’ after they’ve munched on some berries. He takes the berries to a monk, who disapproving, throws them into the fire, whereupon issues the most delicious aroma. Other monks come to investigate, retrieve the roasted beans, grind them up and brew the first mug of coffee. This is the first reference, in a book written by a Lebanese professor of languages in Rome in 1671, of the origins of coffee. And since it is almost nine centuries that Kaldi and party have proceeded to the great café in the heavens, this is taken to be apocryphal, a legend. Except in Ethiopia, where it’s treated with due seriousness as history and where both Kaldi and The Dancing Goat are two popular names for cafés, with or without terraces.


***

Talking about terraces, I could have told you too, about their role in my childhood. The first hailstorm I watched happened on one, a small internal terrace filling up with hailstones one winter in front of my five year old, delighted-astonished eyes. About sleeping on them on summer nights on charpoys - all of Delhi did that in the 70s and 80s, don’t know if air pollution, crime and sophisticated, modern lifestyles allow that anymore?


Terraces go back much further than cafés. In architecture, they happened with the building of the first shelters. There’s archaeological evidence from ancient settlements dotted around the Levant, the oldest one dated to Palaeolithic times. Somewhere south of Haifa in Israel is a village consisting of a cluster of 12/13  subcircular houses set on artificial terraces, constructed around 10,000 BCE. Clearly, humans have always enjoyed sitting around outdoors and sipping whatever beverages were in vogue, from the earliest hours of civilisation. And alfresco dining is thought to have originated with a quick filler of baked pastries and meats before people set off on hunts in medieval times. Which then developed into more elaborate picnics by the 18th century, as pleasure gardens, public parks and outdoor spaces were developed. But eating outdoors for pleasure or as a leisure activity was restricted strictly to the upper, more affluent classes. The peasant farmer, the fisherman, the shepherd would naturally eat their slice of pie out in the open, but that came with the job. In the early 20th century, the automobile sparked off a sea change in lifestyles as more and more people could travel further afield. Day trips became part of the repertoire of family activities and work groups, picnicking boomed. The accessories available also became more elaborate and so the hasty baked pre-hunt snack of medieval times became a full-fledged formal meal taken outdoors. Okay, now back to coffee.


From Ethiopia Arab traders brought it to Yemen, where it caught on with the Sufi monks – they drank it to stay awake through the nights. The Arabs called it qahwah – that which prevents sleep. Qahwah became popular with ordinary folks too, especially during the month of Ramadan, when people stayed up deep into the nights for prayer and entertainment. Mocha, an important trading port in Yemen, became a focal point in the coffee route. By 1450-ish, the Ottoman Turks had  taken coffee to Istanbul  where the first cafés, called qahwah-khane, opened. From there it was a small step to Cairo and to Mecca. The qahwah-khanes became a focal point where people gathered not just to drink coffee, but also to discuss, debate, write about the hot button topics of the day. They became so popular that the Governor of Mecca abolished them fearing the vigorous discussions and dissent would disrupt his rule. Unrest broke out far and wide,  the Sultan was finally forced to intervene. He restored coffee to the public and order in the empire. Coffee was thus established in the Muslim world. Up to late 16th century cultivation was kept a closely guarded secret. Exports of fertile beans were prohibited.


However, a subcontinental chap smuggled back some beans after a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1600. Coffee cultivation  thus started in India. And in Europe, coffee made its way through trade first to Venice. Later the Pope took a sip and became a fan.  The first settlers took coffee to Americas in the early 17th century, and by mid-17th  a coffee club was set up in Oxford in England  – the first members included luminaries like Edmund Halley and Isaac Newton. This matured into the leading scientific think tank of Britain – the Royal Society...



WC - 991
FCA




It often seems to me that the night is even more richly coloured than the day, coloured in the most intense violets, blues and greens. If you look carefully you’ll see that some stars are lemony, others have a pink, green, forget-me-not blue glow. And without labouring the point, it’s clear that to paint a starry sky it’s not nearly enough to put white spots on blue-black.

Letter  to Willemien Van Gogh, dated 8th-14th Sept, 1888, Arles.



Credit. In some kind of a cosmic coincidence, Kirk Douglas passed away earlier this month and so prodded me into watching the Van Gogh film, Lust for Life. My interest in Van Gogh started with the  original title, the book by Irving Stone (1934), which got made into the film (1956). Kirk Douglas is uncannily similar to the maestro though the film differs a bit from the actual life events of the artist.  Also itching to watch the more recent film - Loving Vincent, when I can access it finally.

Read the other entries below - 



51 comments:

  1. Colour me awed.
    The greedy reader in me says 'Is it Sunday yet?' because I really, really want to devour more of this piece.

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    1. I'm sorry EC to have to break it in the middle. I was just completely unable to squeeze the whole into the word count.

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  2. Hari OM
    Love your inspiration! I read with prejudice, however, as I am spectacularly allergic to coffee!!! (Palpitations, shakes, asthma-trigger...never mind up to four nights qahwah 8~O ) YAM xx

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    1. OMG, that would be catastrophic in my case! Can't really function without the stuff. Though have cut back majorly in recent years/

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  3. I like the concept of coffee, but at a coffee house, I'm the one with hot chocolate. Just never cared for the taste.
    Terraces - the word invokes peace to me - sit on a terrace and bask in the sunlight. It also invokes mystery - I like ones that are tucked away like a secret garden in the air.
    And I also ask - is it Sunday yet? Your 2020 writing is awesome.

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    1. Thank you. I love chocolate too, but more in solid stuff than in liquid form :)

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  4. What a fascinating account of the history of coffee and alfresco dining, which I knew nothing about beforehand. I'm looking forward to part 2. I also mention Kirk Douglas in my piece as the coincidence seemed interesting.

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    1. Kirk Douglas looked like a reincarnation of Van Gogh!

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  5. I love the history lesson, and I truly love the terrace. I sit on my own daily, but with a cup of tea. They waves are hypnotizing and the few stars that do shine look so distant and small. We're too close to the city lights but when a full moon rises, awesome, just awesome, and so inspiring. I write all my WEP stories on that terrace. Lovely, Nila, thank you!

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    1. Your terrace sounds to die for! Just the thing for tea and books.

      The sea is not far from where I am, an island after all, but no views from where I write. The light pollution in cities bugs me a lot, however the desert skies are something beyond spectacular.

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  6. Fascinating! I didn't know a lot about the history of coffee (I'm a tea drinker and I don't know much about the history of that either... :P) and this was a fun read!

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    1. I drink both tea and coffee, though way more coffee. And both have fascinating histories in their own ways. :)

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  7. So glad that you didn't get in at the MoMa - because it was in Berlin during the renovations! So I was able to gain entry - purely to see Vincent van Gogh'd Starry Night. It was much smaller and darker than I'd imagined - but great to view it!
    I love your story - you make history come alive - I was rivetted from start to finish!

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    1. Oh wow! I didn't know that SN wasn't even there - so I wouldn't have got to it had the MoMA been open also. Wonder till when it's on loan?
      Glad you liked the history.

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  8. So much cool information! I never knew that Café actually means coffee or that there was a hailstorm in Delhi. The 'dancing' goats are just hilarious.
    Can't wait for part 2!

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    1. Hailstorms are unusual in Delhi, that was the only time I witnessed one. Happened one winter early 70's. Global warming has changed Delhi completely in the last 40 years.

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  9. Hi,
    I read the book about Van Gogh that was written by Irving Stone and I loved it. In fact I have read many of Irving Stones Historical Fiction Books,

    You have a beautiful art of spinning history so that it is fascinating. You brought out facts in your submission that I didn’t know. It enlightened me.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

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    1. Hi Pat, that book by Irving Stone was my first intro to Van Gogh :) and I've been hooked to both Stone and Vincent ever since. Another one I remember reading was the Agony and the Ecstasy, on Michaelangelo. In fact got hooked to historical fiction as well because of Stone.

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  10. I surely did not know this very rich history of coffee or terraces. Thank you!
    I'm not keen for religion, but I do like coffee. I cold brew mine and then use a lot of some sort of nut milk and a little flavored creamer. Coffee purists would probably find my version of coffee blasphemous.

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    1. Coffee is had so many different ways...so is tea. I have no patience with purists. Or strict people who apply the word 'blasphemous' to food items. :) Each to his own. Who's to say what's 'pure'?

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  11. History of coffee - how lovely. I read about coffee's triumphal march through Europe (probably the topic of your next post), but I didn't know about the dancing goats or Mecca or anything that happened before the 16th century. Obviously, my historical education was lacking.
    I love coffee too. I'm an absolute adherent. I drink it black, although not strong.

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    1. Yup, me too a total adherent. Though I don't drink it black, and not in half the quantity I used to even a few years ago.

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  12. From Kaldi and The Dancing Goat to Kirk Douglas you had me fascinated and wanting more. You wove so much around the theme - more please.

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  13. I love the style of this, and I've learned so much in reading! The origins of coffee are truly fascinating. I am indeed a convert of coffee. Thank you for sharing! I can't wait to read the rest!

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    1. History is truly gripping, and the more in everyday use a thing is, the more gripping its history is usually...

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  14. Fantastic, Nila. I began reading this during my 'night' and came across to finish now it's day. I'm awed as always by your writing and subject matter. I need to come back later and immerse myself again. (One day I plan to write a book on the history of coffee).

    A superb entry for Cafe Terrace!

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    1. It came about because I was totally stumped about what to write :) I'd buy that book on coffee, pre-order it in fact.

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  15. Absolutely gripping. I love Ethiopian coffee. Brought a whole lot of it along when I visited Africa. Your piece read like a story that I didn't want to end. And it just gave me an idea how food stories can be explored and written. I am looking forward to the next part. Will be revisiting you on Sunday.

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    1. Ethiopian coffee is the best! Glad this seeded ideas on food stories/histories for you. Looking forward to reading them on the page/screen.

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  16. That a brilliant essay. I loved the history of Coffe. Ok, I will have to come back for the second part.

    Well done Nila.

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  17. Mila - your paen to coffee and to terraces was such a delight to read and so skilfully put together I didn't even realise how informative it was. Wonderful essay, flowing playfully from one topic to another.

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    1. Paen to coffee is just what I'm about :) thanks.

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  18. What an informative and entertaining piece. I love learning new things. This history of coffee and outdoor dining is fascinating. I'll have to come back Sunday to read the rest.

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    1. Outdoor dining - once upon a time in our ancestral past all we did was have barbeques in the open :)

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  19. As a coffee devotee I really enjoyed reading about its history. I loved your line "And clearly coffee has done relatively better for itself than the other faith propagated by Arabs" Great contribution to this month's prompt.

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    1. There is certainly less phobia about coffee than about Islam right now in my own country so that tends to colour my perspective a bit.

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  20. I love the speculation on the origin of coffee (and the associated 'dancing goats'!) I often wonder about how foods come to be. Who looks at something and says 'yes, I think I'll eat that'? As a coffee lover, I am thankful for this fascinating history.

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    1. That question - I think I'll have a bite of that? Think of that in conjunction with eggs and marvel at the intrepid pioneer :)

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  21. A very interesting read, thank you. It's so nice to learn about the origins of something as normal as coffee.

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  22. Hi Nila - loved reading this and so am looking forward to tomorrow for part 2 ... coffee and terraces - and history - which you manage to bring in on areas I know little about. Great 'essay' on 'cafe' and Turkish coffee is delicious ... I'm not so keen on our type of coffee, nor tea for that matter - in fact I'd say I'm a heathen in that direction!!

    Wonderful read and so pleased there's a part 2 - til tomorrow ... cheers Hilary

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    1. I love burrowing into the history of ordinary stuff and ordinary people. Part 2 has more to do with the actual image.

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  23. Love this meandering history of coffee with fascinating bits of how it made its way west. Makes me appreciate my milk-and-coffee even more. Looking forward to tomorrow and am grateful you exceeded the word length — and that you reminded me of that classic film about Van Gogh with Kirk Douglas.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it. The Kirk Douglas movie was made for interesting viewing.

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  24. Wow!Reminds of Kolkata's Coffee House, the addas, and Manna Dey's song "Coffee houser shei adda ta aaj ar nei aaj ar nei. Kothay hariye gelo shonali bikel gulo " The addas are gone and so are the people that coffee and Charminar cigarettes brought together. People met over coffee to discuss politics, art, literature, and films and ended up launching movements of great significance.
    The African history taught me lots. Looking for more.

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    1. Africa indeed has a lot to teach, a never ending source of learning and inspiration. Taught me a million things and continues to do so years after I have come away.

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  25. Thank you Nilanjana for this lovely historical take to the prompt. I realise I said a load of crap in a comment on Bernadette ‘s post . My deep apologies to her and you. True the beans come from Ethiopia, stupid me. However, in the French African colonies they were only introduced in the 19th century as a full grown culture to be shipped to France ... and enjoyed in cafés for everyone.

    Of course Marie-Antoinette and the like had their private stash when most people only drank wine and eau de vie (a variant of vodka), little water in
    Russian. Oh dear, doing it again ....

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    1. The first French coffee houses opened in 1670's as far as I recollect, they were of course based on imported beans, which the Middle Eastern traders controlled. The first cup of coffee in the court of Louis XIV was introduced by the Turkish ambassador and then it became all the rage and coffee houses opened up after that. Coffee then went on to become a plantation crop in the colonies and was cultivated and processed by slave labour as is the case with many commodities.

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  26. What an original take on the prompt. Learnt something new too.

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