There is a painting by Edward Hopper called Automat, publicly shown for the first time on Valentine’s Day in 1927, in which he depicts a young woman sitting alone in a café drinking a cup of coffee. It’s hard to know what her situation is. She appears sad and somewhat disappointed, as if something about her evening, or her life in general, did not go the way she hoped it would. There appear to be no other patrons in the café, or if they are there, we can’t see them, so our focus remains on this young woman and the story that we invent for her. Hopper is one of those painters who portrays a lot of sadness and loneliness in his work. Many of his subjects can be found in similar situations, pensive and alone in a place that seems far from home. Yet somehow these images do not necessarily evoke sadness in us, but more often have the effect of making us feel comforted in some strange way. It may be because we’re able to identify with the woman’s loneliness, and so we can appreciate the universality of it, and value the idea that as humans, we all share in these emotions. If we’re going through something similar, it helps so much to know that we are not alone, that this is not happening only to us, that there are others experiencing the exact emotions that we are. It makes us feel less bereft, it brings us hope, and it unites us with a higher power in a way that we know will eventually bring us great strength. Like so many other people, I too have constructed a story for the woman in the café. I think she is very sad, with the introspection and thoughtfulness that come from losing something or someone that brought her great joy. She is allowing herself to remember, to mourn, and to be alone, but she is also hopeful about what will come next for her. We’ve all been in this place at some point and we know the patience and strength that it requires.
I love this particular painting, especially the way the woman is holding her coffee cup. We all have a different way of doing so, and when you have coffee regularly with a person, you get to know what that looks like, and it becomes one of the little details that you love and remember. This woman holds the handle with two fingers and guides the cup with her other hand. That’s one way of doing it. I slip my middle and ring fingers of my right hand through the handle and cradle the cup with both hands. People also have different postures when they drink their coffee. Some people sit back in their chair, or totally upright, while others lean in, loving the intimacy of sharing coffee with someone. I am a leaner. Both of these things are such habits for me that when I came across a photograph of a woman drinking coffee on a blog I love called The Sartorialist, I showed it to my son and he immediately said. “she looks just like you.” She didn’t really, but she held her coffee in the same way I did, and she leaned in toward her companion, ready to talk and willing to listen, and that was what he reacted to. You’ll pay attention to this now if you don’t already. Am I right? I hope I am. I’m here to make you think about these things.
Over the years I shared many cups of coffee with my mom. I know just the way she drank hers. She was not a leaner, nor did she cradle her cup with both hands. She hooked her fingers through the handle with her left hand and sat back, with her other hand usually emphasizing something she was saying. I also think it was an old habit from when she would smoke cigarettes with her coffee. She needed her right hand to be free. Yesterday was the six year anniversary of her death and it’s very hard to believe she’s been gone for so long. When I gave her eulogy at her services, I said that I’d miss her all the days of my life, but I’ve never felt the weight of those words the way I have in the past six weeks, when I’ve felt like I’d come to the end of my patience with everything. While I’ve been recovering, I’ve been having regular Reiki sessions with the incomparable Julie Goeltz from Living Tree Wellness in Haddonfield. As she was working on me this past Wednesday, she had a strong sense of seeing her own mom, which she translated into knowing for certain that my mom was right there with me. And so when I’ve had my coffee the past two mornings I’ve leaned in as if I had something to tell her, and I could feel her there, waiting and listening. It has brought me so much peace, and finally, despite my firm belief that this day would never come, I feel the beginning of real healing.
For today’s cocktail, I combined Bluecoat’s Barrel Rested gin with Sukkah Hill Spirits Etrog liqueur and the American Juice Company’s Salted Expresso Martini cocktail syrup. I also added one dash of DRAM Apothecary’s Citrus Medica bitters. The final result was a cocktail that had lots of warm coffee flavors that married perfectly with the aged qualities of the gin and the bright citrus notes of the Etrog and the bitters. It’s meant to pay homage to the woman in the Automat and the story behind her sadness. It’s meant to be a celebration of the people with whom we share our coffee and all the little details about them that we’ll remember forever. It’s meant to be a tribute to my mom, and all the years we had together, and the way in which I still seek her presence in my life, especially now. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday.
Have Coffee With Me
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into an old-fashioned glass or a footed mug over a large cube. Garnish with an orange peel. Enjoy!