At first I wanted to write a new post on contemporary human skin luxury products (real ones). But then I realised that the fact in itself goes beyond anything I could think/write about, and the sheer mentioning will be enough. No need to follow this trail back to lamps made of human skin in concentration camps or the Scythian trophy “scalps blankets”. Or to elaborate on what a friend was telling me today, how he could have earned a lot of money (actually, half of my monthly salary) if he would have sold his hair. I guess the image of an old woman wearing his hair (as a wig) prevented this from becoming another case of consumption.
I am not going to give also too many details on my voyage to the end of the galaxy = trying to find money to go to conferences/buy books etc. As they say in Star Trek, “to explore strange new worlds…to boldly go where no one has gone before” perfectly describes what this is all about – finding 500 euros in the academic world (or managing to have a decent life, as a matter of fact) is a crusade as challenging as a trip down the rabbit’s hole.
Anyway, all this being said, what I would have actually liked to talk about is Coffee: place, materials and words.
Being an archaeologist, I am interested in materials and material culture. Therefore, I got very excited when a new Coffee place in town presented a different take on drinking Coffee, one with a strong accent on materiality. Firstly, there are the textures: the place is decorated with wood, the china/lamps/door handles are made of porcelain, the recipients and instruments are made of glass and the regni vegetabilis is represented by tea/coffee/real coffee plants. Thus, the circle is complete: from the wood of the benches, to the beans and leaves in your cup.
But there is another angle which made me go through one of those moments of “Oh, my, this is utterly superb!”: the way senses come together through the use of material culture. The experience is guided by the “norms of behaviour” in a coffee place: you start from reading the menu (in this case written in white chalk on a blackboard), then sit down, followed by enjoying (or not) the drink. In this case, one starts reading the text on the board – but it is not a simple one; the products are written in normal format, horizontally, letters followed by numbers (the prices). However, as one soon discovers, there are multiple ways of processing the coffee to reach the end product, and this processes are written vertically. Not only that this mix plays very nice with ideas of passive/active actions, but from the vertical text there are lines which lead to… real objects, as in made of glass/plastic containers used for each of the particular processing of the coffee (Aeropress, V 60 etc.). In short, one starts from white words on a blackboard, the label that names the product one wants, then moves along to “degrees” of the same product (following a different type of script). Then, the trail leads to 3D objects, which materialise the text, and then the result is appreciated through taste, smell and colour. For this synesthesic experience, inspiring on so many levels, I am truly grateful. And I find it an appropriate topic to write about.
PS: For those who doubt that drinking coffee can be a serious topic of research, I suggest reading something that I have posted yesterday on this blog’s Facebook page, “The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute” 🙂