It’s hard to contribute to a blog entitled “La Dolce Vita” (The Sweet Life) at a time when life actually feels quite bitter. The Coronavirus pandemic has levied incalculable hardship, despair, and uncertainty on such a broad scale, altering our individual psyches and the safety of entire nations. For the housing insecure, shelter in place order cannot easily be met; for the food insecure, grocery essentials and group meal resources are scarce; for the immuno-compromised and elderly, every human interaction carries great risk. Health and safety precautions have been meted out, landing us in quarantine. And yet, despite the closure of standard commerce, this is a time of great work. That is, there is challenging, creative, and necessary work to do with and for those who are most vulnerable at this time, whether by encouraging local governments to open vacant hotel rooms, providing food goods to shelters and community centers, or by maintaining physically distanced emotional and social connection with loved ones. It is also a time for self work, and for many, there has indeed been a lot of time. Exercising our mental and emotional wellbeing is a constant effort and is of utmost importance regardless of circumstance – at this time, we happen to be facing more as a more collective unit these challenges that we often grapple with in isolation.
The increased time spent at home has significantly restructured the paces and routines of our daily lives. For many, without the constancy of our jobs, time may feel it has folded upon itself and expanded in size. This is, in fact, a blessing – a resource we can utilize for greater work, both unto others and for ourselves. We have greater opportunity for unmitigated introspection, deep thought, and reflection. I have revisited memories through emotional recall, searching my mental rolodex for the soft, satiny, warm-glowing experiences of my life to buoy the current turbulence. Often, I find myself returning to the spray of wind biking Umbria’s rolling hillscapes, preparing a soffrito at Chef Simone’s restaurant in the quiet hours between late-departing lunch patrons and late-arriving dinner guests, the tip-of-the-tongue, tingly adventurousness of accompanying an Italian host on a seemingly straightforward errand only to find yourself in a fully unexpected and delightful series of cascading circumstances, often including free beverages and new friends made. I am saturated with the feeling of Umbria, my breath is enriched, my heart beats slower and more fully, my taste buds begin to salivate. I experience relief, gratitude, excitement, tranquility. For me, this is the happy place people tell you to think about in times of distress. In quarantine, I have discovered a tool that without fail allows me to remember these times spent in Umbria, re-center, and find some emotional sovereignty: the Moka Pot.
I have never entered a home in Umbria without being offered un caffe by its resident. Most homes now have a Keurig or Nespresso machine that makes a concentrated shot out of a pre-packaged pod. Every home has a moka pot, or more typically several of varying size. The moka pot is an iconic Italian totem, an understated and finely elegant machine of great utility and exceptional function. The octagonal-designed stainless steel is ubiquitous there, and even to those here who’ve never seen it before, its shape and structure suggest it as innately Italian and absolutely coffee-related. The moka pot is my twice (sometimes thrice) daily ritual. Everything that goes into making coffee in the moka pot – the deliberate and structured pacing, the emblematic design and Bialetti logoman, the finger-smoothing of the grounds in the brew basket, the rich expression of color and movement as the coffee percolates, the essential smell of thoroughly extracted coffee – returns me to my experiences in Umbria. The roughly 10 minutes I spend in the morning getting water hot enough to steam through ground beans transports me in place and temporality to another country, and the few sumptuous sips I consume can extend my mental stay there throughout the rest of my day – or until I get the craving for another cup! And despite how good it tastes and what could easily be ascribed to a mild caffeine dependence, I insist that my drive to “bang a ‘spressy” in the morning is founded upon the ritual of it. I could get caffeinated from tea, or stoop so low as to reach for the fresh-brewed pot of “American coffee” in the carafe on the counter, right next to my beloved Bialetti. For me, such a simple thing as still having coffee in the morning – coffee the way I like it, the way I make it, to drink at my pace – builds an amount of certainty that helps soften and reframe the perilous situation we face. It is part of my self-work of preservation and comfort in tumultuous times, and it also illuminates the perspective of privilege from which I am able to be relatively safe in a time where great masses of people are not, the work for others that stands as an imperative. I endeavor to unbind my empathy, apply thoughtful circumspection, and generate actionable plans to help meet the needs of communities and individuals struggling through this global health crisis. There are few things like a good cup of coffee and plenty of time on your hands to help get work done.