Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Life can be funny :)

“Coffee Doodle,” by Jacob Yona

I just woke up.  My first major decision is which coffee mug to use.  I often prefer insulated glass mugs, but today I take an exciting tour of what’s in my cupboard.  This act is either out of boredom or an attempt to humor myself.  It’s also to remind all of us that life can be funny.

Before me is a display of 10 amazing mugs, my personal coffee minyan.  Over the years I have tried not to show preference to any of them. It would hurt them deeply. As a result, I try to honor each one of them once a month by a slurping coffee salute. As I study them I notice the obvious:  five of them were “made in China”.  So it looks like my first stop is the Far East.  One question plagues me: With reports of massive air pollution especially in Beijing, is it healthy to drink from Chinese porcelain?”  Phooee!  What about the paint? Pure paranoia I tell myself.

Suddenly a bolt of lighting strikes my hippocampus.  Behold the month of Adar! Soon it’s Purim!.  So why not give these Chinese mugs a break?  I promise myself not to look down on them and to accept them for what they are, with all their faults, weaknesses and innocent simplicity.

Group #1: There are five beauties:

The first is light blue with a cheery design, sort of a built-in gratitude journal that cries, “What a beautiful day!” even when there are massive clouds in the sky and unbearable cacophony from the five Tama 38 building projects around my house.

The second is perhaps my favorite, though I am sometimes embarrassed to drink out of it, especially when we have guests.  The face is a gigantic Disney tiger (presumably Tigger from The House at Pooh Corner).  His smile is invigorating. I forgive him for inspiring the overly-thick orange paint and pray that it isn’t full of lead.

The third is a plain white mug. It’s a no-brainer.  The  fourth is the epitome of Americana, “Tommy’s Brand Coffee”, done in black and red (my high school’s colors)with a cream background.  Of course for me the effect is all subliminal.  My brain floods with high school memories: smiling cheerleaders, teenage crushes and cringing under the table during the Cuban missile crisis.  At the cup’s base is written “balanced blend.” I have been drinking coffee since I was born, but can anyone out there tell me what on earth is a “balanced blend”?  I know what this means only for Scotch. Toward the bottom of the cup the following is written in small print: “Thomas W. Simms Coffee Roasters, Alamo Calif.”  I  always thought Alamo is in Texas, no? (if there is anyone in Alamo Calif. reading this, please do not be insulted by this remark).

The fifth has a portrait of me and my three kids when they were young whippersnappers.  This cheers me up.  The only problem drinking out of this cup is the huge chip strategically placed over MY head.  There is also something else weird about this cup.  On the bottom someone has written: “QLT coated in U.S.A. Super Mug”.  What on earth is “coated”in the USA? And just what is a “super mug”? This all seems suspicious. Are we being deceived? Are they trying to hide the fact that the mug is actually MADE in China?

Group #2: After perusing my Chinese brothers and sisters, I then proceed to the second group of five, all made in other countries. Four out of five are handmade.

The first’s shape is striking but is impossible to drink out of.  It is a replica of the leaning Tower of Pisa and “made in Italy.” Many of my guests have had problems drinking from this one because it doesn’t go straight to your mouth. You have to mathematically adjust the trajectory of mouth placing, which, if you are an intuitive morning coffee drinker, can prove to be challenging. If you tip the cup too far, the coffee spurts out on your shirt. If you look at the cup too long you get dizzy, something that could be counter to your attempt to wake up in the morning!  (I generally give this one to guests who I think need an existential challenge, especially those who have steady 9 to 5 jobs and rarely encounter strange things in their life.)

The second of this group is a stately deep green, hand-made in Sedona, Arizona.  I bought it there while traveling with my son Yona on our way to the Grand Canyon. Sedona is known throughout the American West as the “Jerusalem” of many Native American tribes. It’s caldera (gigantic bowl of mountains) is an energy vortex. The energy is carried over to this stunning green mug, with a signature vaguely reminiscent of  POTUS Trump’s (but we won’t go there).  Drinking from this cup has a similar challenge as the Italian one, because if one likes drinking from mug’s front, it is built as a straight (vs. curved) line, making casual drinking nearly impossible.  However, I personally forgive this, because drinking out of this work of art is a mystical experience.

The third of this exotic group is from Prague, in honor of its rich musical tradition! The slanted design is less a challenge then Pisa’s because it is meant for espresso.  The music “handwriting” looks like Bach’s and the effect is like Kafka’s.

The last two mugs are made in Israel.  The first (by artist Boris Katz) not only has pictures of fishies but also has a ceramic one affixed to the handle.   This tiny fish is also a one note flute, something which can prove to be highly impractical if all you want to do is drink your morning coffee without distractions!

The second Israeli-made mug is a work of art designed by Galilee artist and ceramicist Talia Bensabath. The colors are exquisite, the design soft and original; the shape and color remind me painter Hundertwasser); this cup makes life pleasurable!

I ask my myself: “Steve, when have you ever thought about your mugs?” Yes, how easy it is to forget the simple things around us. Everywhere there are “funnies”. The most therapeutic thing we can do for ourselves is to laugh.  The Greek philosopher Aristophanes knew this.  Anyways, please excuse me,  I must go back to drinking my coffee. Written on the bag of souk-roasted coffee is written: “Fidel Robust Filter, Black Cherry. Almond & Fudge, French. Roast Whole Bean”.  There is an illustration of Fidel Castro’s hat.  I say to myself “This would never sell in USA, given American’s history with Fidel (for a minute I forget I too am part American). Also, can coffee be so subtle in taste like the best blended Scotch?  I give the roaster company the benefit of the doubt.  Unlike good Scotch at 4am coffee is just coffee, as long is it wakes you up and the mug you are drinking from gives you joy!

Happy Adar, Happy Purim!

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About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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