Saturday, July 13, 2013

Coffee, Wine, and the Crepuscular War on Truth

Every morning around 5:30, I go downstairs, let the dog out on his leash, feed the cat, drink two glasses of water, and fire up the coffee. I drink my coffee from a green mug decorated with shamrocks, tattooed with the traditional Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
May the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

The mug was given to me by my mother-in-law, and it’s my principal hot liquid delivery device (HLDD). Before that, I drank my coffee from a Goddard College mug. I ostensibly bought the mug for my wife, but as soon as I got it home, I coveted it, greedily guzzling tanker-truck loads of coffee from it.

And until the Goddard mug came along, I took my morning brew in a United States Military Academy mug given to me by my brother-in-law. It was a stout, unbreakable mug. “Like an army infantryman,” my brother-in-law, le colonel, told me. (As of this writing, my sister-in-law, Pat, has not contributed to my coffee mug collection. Ahem.) Those three mugs have covered my last ten years of coffee drinking. So the question is, Why do we have favorite coffee mugs? Or wine glasses? Or pillows? What the heck’s going on?

On the surface, it would seem that the manias of the human mind would be responsible for these compulsions. While Freud might blame the sexually aggressive id, there might be some real biology--or anatomy--behind our choices. I like my green mug because it’s Irish-y, and I love Irish-y things: “Oh, look at me, aren’t I Irish, drinking me coffee from a green mug, in the pre-dawn darkness!” (For full mocking effect, the preceding line should be spoken in the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun, the mascot for Lucky Charms cereal.)

But I also like my mug because of its weight and balance. The shape of the handles fits my index and middle finger smoothly, allowing me to easily grasp my mug without looking, while I see who got drunk and posted on Facebook the night before. The thickness of the rim of the mug is perfect for my thin, bloodless lips. I’ve never lost a drop sipping from that mug. To contrast, we also have Green Mountain Coffee Roasters mug. This mug is the thick-walled, solid variety found in diners across the world. It’s a serious biceps workout, and it can be used as a defensive weapon, with the right training.

I’ve never loved drinking coffee from these kinds of mugs because unless you get free, unlimited refills, it feels like you’re getting cheated. Chantal refuses to drink from this mug. It’s too lumpy and ungainly, and the collagen-injected rim overwhelms her smallish mouth. The same thinking holds true for wine glasses.

While we don’t serve wine for breakfast at the Auberge, we do host an open house every Friday evening from 5 to 7. An eclectic collection of lawyers, cops, retirees, ski bums, artists, Auberge guests, family, and any random visitors can be found toasting the end of the week. We provide the cheese and crackers, they provide the vino. This kind of regular gathering requires a good stock of wine glasses, and like our coffee mug fetish, we have our preferred wine glasses.

When Chantal first met my mother, my mom was into gigantic balloon wine glasses. You  could fit about a gallon of Carlo Rossi in the glass and it would only be half-full. Having emigrated from parsimonious France, which, in the early 90s was still recovering from the ravages of World War I, Chantal was aghast at the amount of wine she was expected to consume. I quickly learned that she preferred much smaller wine glasses--19.5 centilitre (7 ¾ ounce) Vicomtes from Cristal d’Arques--a set of which we later received as a wedding present.

I’m okay with this smaller presentation, though it makes it more difficult to mask my consumption of wine. Over the years we’ve managed to accumulate a diverse collection of glasses that we break out on Fridays. I like to set out the glasses, then open a bottle of wine and look expectantly at our guests to see what kind of scrum will ensue--sort of a musical chairs for claiming wine glasses. Choice is usually divided according to gender, with men choosing biggest wine glasses to go along with their 16-ounce Heady Topper double IPAs.

This devotion to style is really kind of silly on the surface, but it speaks to a deeper longing within us, a longing for stability and permanence, the two things our human condition denies us. So we evolve manias and rituals to combat the eventual and inevitable, and we take our victories in small sips, at daybreak and sunset, a crepuscular war on truth that we fight with coffee and wine.

No comments: