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Tuesday, January 31, 2012


In January of 2000 I went on my first trip to Italy. Three days after a job interview in Tartous with a visiting delegation I received a call asking me to attend a meeting in Treviso. The company had applied for an expedited visa on my behalf and one week later I was there, at headquarters.

We sat in a very large and Italian meeting room with glass all around instead of walls. The ceiling and the floor were mostly made of transparent panels too. It was fantastic architecture by all means and although I'm no great fan of cutting edge modern design I was impressed nevertheless. The same 3 men who interviewed me in Tartous walked into the room with an amicable disposition. They inquired about the flight, if my room in the hotel was comfortable enough and whether breakfast was to my liking. Then we sat down to business. I neglected to tell them that I didn't have time for a proper breakfast but instead only had a cupcake. Most importantly there was no coffee in the breakfast area and before I had a chance to order it from the bar the dispatched car and driver had arrived.

15 minutes into the meeting I was dying for a cup of coffee. I was also reflecting on how differently business in Syria is conducted. The first half an hour or so is mostly spent on pleasantries such as talk about the kids, the weather and world economy, in Tartous at least. Coffee and/or tea are brought in by an attendant. Sugar is premixed as per each individual person's preference. Then ever so slowly the talk tangos into the business at hand. One of my hosts, more attentive than the others and who eventually became a personal friend, noticed my discomfort and asked if he could get me something. Yes please, can I have some coffee?

I was surprised that in a company with over 800 employees worldwide and with an office staff of 150 there wasn't a single person with the designated job of making and/or serving beverages. Of course that was my first venture into the world of big business abroad. It's true that I worked in the US before and that there was no one to serve coffee either, but I only worked in a university and a small general aviation company. Carlo, logistics and international crew and recruiting manager, got up himself and fixed me an espresso.

I was 40 and I just had my first real Italian espresso but I got hooked since. There's nothing in the world, not a single dish or beverage that comes close to an Italian espresso. But more than their cuisine or their wines, the football or the super cars, architecture, painting or sculpture, Italians reached their true height in art and science with their espresso machines and coffee.

I bought my first and only espresso machine in February of that year as a birthday present for myself. It was simple and actually the only one I could find, a French Moulinex Gusto. Unlike fancier machines, which contain a stainless steel or a brass boiler, an exchanger, complex plumbing and a powerful pump to flash-heat the water to precise temperature on its way to the basket containing the ground coffee, minee had a plastic water tank, a small heater in the head and an electric pump. Once the water temperature gets to a certain degree in the head itself the thermostat light comes off. I push a rocker switch activating a pump which in turn forces a jet of water over the coffee. I had it for 12 years and it served me at least one cup of coffee every morning I've spent at home since. I never filled it with anything but Lavazza coffee, the brand that I chose as my favorite after my maiden 5 days visit to Italy.

Last week the Moulinex started leaking on the sides around the filter holder. I fiddled with it as best as I could but I realized that it had reached the end of its useful life. This morning, my cup of espresso tasted almost as bland as a cup of American coffee with the consistency and suspended particles I so much despise in Turkish coffee. I cleaned the machine reverently for it had served me well. I even spoke to it and promised that I'll try to fix it but with the relegated role of a backup.

I just bought a new machine, a steam powered espresso coffee maker and an Italian at that. My DeLonghi is set up and ready. I can almost smell the fresh brew and the temptation is killing me. But that will have to wait till morning. For now, a shot of Grappa to celebrate the change of guard is in order. Salute!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


It hurts not to write, to wean my imagination by damming the river within or to trickle updates and comments on a bedlamite Facebook. With premeditated arrogance I pronounce that I’m too good for politics, but even a lofty leopard is distracted by buzzing flies. I should be writing about the beauty in and around me. Whether they are about the woman perched on a throne of clouds or the city I see in my childish eyes, I miss the echo of my own words. The music they make when they meander around in my head then dance to the drumming of my racing heartbeats. Leave the grease and the exposed hairy cracks to the mechanics, I tell myself then zoom past the desperate crowds in a dream powered Ferrari. I have the heart of Gawain and the ardor of Adonis, the Syrian God not the grovelling poet. I am the Tartoussi, Ibn al-Balad, who’s known the before and after, standing by and waiting for the end of this long day and a new beginning.
I'm coming back.