Five minutes after seven, I get off the train in “Bellas Artes,” just as the details of the city become visible. My first sight, the Art deco letters “Metro,” imported from Paris. The morning scent has always been my favorite, the smell of street coffee prepared in Polystyrene cups with instant coffee, evaporated milk, hot water, and plenty of sugar. Magic hands prepare this popular coffee. The coffee is transported by bicycle with a big basket of sweet bread. The bicycles ride all around the city starting at 5 am when most people begin their activities, and later in the evening from 6:30 to 8:00 pm, when everyone is on the street looking for something delicious to dine on. Coffee can often be a shared ending to a Mexico City evening. We can stop by “El señor del café de la bicicleta,” “The coffee man on bicycle,” anytime. At the train entrance there are always one or two. Here is my ritual: I buy a “panque” with a red bakery liner. I fold it in half and begin chewing the liner until the sweet butter flavor is all gone. The coffee costs 10 pesos (less than a dollar), maybe 15 pesos now. The street coffee is for the corner, at the bus stop, the sweet hot flavor of many city mornings on the way to work, an appointment or school. The laughs and jokes of the coffee men are the signature of their popularity. They pour the brown sugar out in a circular movement, a minute of deep observation. This is the coffee without number, brand, receipt or payment register, as it should be. Their brand is in the popular language of “The coffee man on bicycle.”
Two hundred Saturdays I have missed here.
I have two hours until the “Hombres Necios” [Foolish Men] arrive. They are called “foolish” because of their cynical approach to philosophy, like the foolish men of baroque Mexico. The poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz accused men of marking women guilty and battled resistance to have the right to study. She used her voice to confront the men of Hesiod.
I found Foolish men in secret sessions full of Bataille. These sessions were not published or named. The group was formed through a limited meeting and the desire to discuss philosophy in a non-institutional setting and with no restricted syllabus. My benefactor and partner in these sessions is Laurel, a close friend with whom I can discuss texts, art, and politics.
At the wooden door of an old colony building in “El centro Histórico” await artists, musicians, and philosophers. Marcelo (Ph.D in philosophy) opens the door and does not recognize one person –me. He looks at me up and down. “So you are…” he says with a “porteño,” an eloquent accent from Buenos Aires, empathy as immediate acceptance.
Not knowing as tension
Not knowing, you cannot access
Not knowing generates fear
Bataille and “The Men of Lascaux” come out of Marcelo´s mouth.
“Lascaux is that man that is not me […] Bataille disarms the modern experience with the order of the impossible. The impossible creates experience through fiction […] The camera accesses the cavern as a way of domination, but the painting resists the camera because the experiences cannot be reproduced […]”
Why didn’t the man of Lascaux represent himself?
I am sitting down beside Laurel. He smells like “Eau Sauvage” of Dior. Bataille and Dior together in “The Birth of Art.” I can recognize the scent and tell stories. Now the street coffee and Eua Sauvage are in competition–this is part of the experience of discovery. The Foolish men are twelve. Bataille says that philosophy is never a house — It is a construction site.
This is the Birth of Art
The Foolish Men and I walk together to the train. On every block we find old books and we wish to stay all afternoon, searching. But we keep walking, hitting “El Paseo la Condesa.” Laurel cannot help it. “Let’s take a look”. El Paseo Condesa is a corridor where street book vendors with a particular taste, settle. They have a preference for European philosophy, literature, history, Latin American tradition, and short American fiction.
The “libreros” [the book vendors] have not finished high school, but they have read Bataille, Kierkegaard, Duras, Pasolini, Derrida, Heidegger, Foucault, along with old relics of newspapers from the Colony and from the seventies. The discussions that you can take part in with “los libreros” are mind-bending. More than eighty “libreros” are stationed, and every one has a voice to describe and discuss narrative or prose to the style of a creative criticism class, but with a unique difference – they are street book vendors that hunt with a personal taste for literacy with an enviable curiosity.
Laurel is looking for “Le Ceneri di Gramsci” of Pasolini. The “librero” does not have it. Instead, he sends us with a mate that has Pasolini´s essay “Scritti Corsari,” a gem of a find.
“ The sub-proletariat young men – humiliated – erase the name of their job from their ID card and replace it with <<student>>. Naturally, since they have begun to be ashamed of their ignorance, have begun to despise their culture (small bourgeois characteristics that are immediately acquired by mimesis.)” – Pasolini.
“Scriti Corsari” price 50 pesos ($4.00 dls)
Poetry, depth and what escapes
The other coffee is prepared for reading
The coffee bought in beans at the corner
100 grams of light tan beans
Grind a little,
One single cup
Hot water and cloudy milk
A cup of mud from Oaxaca
Pasolini times, Teorema, The Decameron
Il fiore delle Mille e one note
Or coffee first of Philosophy at the Kärntner Strasse
A Segafredo cappuccino with a glass of water beside, a breviary of Art and
The (Dichtung) Poetry
Heidegger, who else
Sessions and talks
Nine and ten, Germans say
The two Austrian cups between Graz and Vienna
I ordered two coffees to go
The Austrian barista said:
Here we do not serve coffee to go, it does not exist
Coffee is for taking time and sitting down
But if you wish
Two old cups, “think of this as a gift”
The coffee is married with porcelain
It is not negotiable
Or the milk coffee glass of “ El Popular”
Coffee for 3 or 5 in the morning
After the party
Friends watching the coffee ceremony
The professional of the milk coffee glass asks you how much coffee you would like today?
Then comes the milk with a signature arm movement away from the glass while serving
Abundant foam in the glass
Biscuits to accompany
After a “Useless Concert”
Parties of Coffee and Milk
Coffee beans, cinnamon, orange peel
In a blue pot
The coffee you drink between sleep and vigil
And you can remember that you drink it
Because you dream that you travel and never come back
Until the next morning you remember where you traveled,
A coffee house that made you walked away
Coffee that cannot be replayed even by following the steps like a recipe
This coffee is
Its aroma stays on those nights of sleep
The heat comes from who cares to sweeten
And embrace a journey of no return.
A coffee that gets you up if you’ve fallen.