Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

As I sit alone with these words, I think about how brave he was in so many ways, and how brave he was to go into that studio every day with his demons and his angels, and labor to put them on canvas. Nulla dia sine linea, No day without a line, is the motto at the Art Students League, from Pliny the Elder, derived from the Greek painter Apelles. The devotions.

— Elizabeth Alexander, “The Light of the World: A Memoir.


Elizabeth Alexander was married to Ficre Ghebreyesus from 1997 until he died unexpectedly in 2012 days after his 50th birthday. Her memoir, “The Light of the World” is a story of her loss and her love.  The painting above was Ficre Ghebreyesus’ Middle Passage Figures with Solitary Boats (c. 2002–2007) (detail). Acrylic on canvas. 24 x 30 inches; 26.5 x 32.5 x 2 inches.

inviting them to fan the coffee smoke to smell it

The last word we heard Zememesh Berhe say was “bun,” which means coffee, in Tigrinya, and which stands for so much more that is encompassed in the Eritrean coffee ritual. Green coffee beans are roasted in a long-armed aluminum pot with the onomatopoeic name menkeshkesh, for the sounds the beans make when the person roasting shakes the pan gently, carefully watching for when the oils began to gleam and the beans to brown. Once the beans are roasted to the desired depth of flavor, the roaster takes the pan around the room, beginning with the eldest person present and going to each person, inviting them to fan the coffee smoke to smell it. We gave this job to Solo when he was just old enough to carry the hot pan. Then the beans are spread to cool on a straw mat called mishrafat, then ground and brewed three different times and served in tiny, handle-less china cups called finjal, almost always with sugar and sometimes with warmed milk. I learned to say “tu’um” for delicious. It is considered very rude to leave before “third coffee,” for each stage comes with its own blessing and marks more space for communal chat. How I loved to watch Ficre perform this ritual, and then to see the pride with which our eldest son learned it from his father. Coffee ceremony was the most sacred home ritual there was.

—  Elizabeth Alexander, The Light of the World: A Memoir (Grand Central Publishing, April 21, 2015)


Photo: Benoit Cappronnier, Eritrean Coffee Ceremony, Asmara, Eritrea

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