Black as hell; sweet as love; strong as death

By Andrea Mulder-Slater

Some time ago, I came to the realization that my life is a Folgers® commercial. In order to wake up every morning, I not only have to smell the coffee, I have to imbibe several litres of it, and I'm not the only one.

Coffee, the sweet elixir of life, is the world's largest commodity (next to oil, and the Snuggie) and is produced in more than fifty countries at a rate of over 8 billion pounds annually. Wow... that's a lot of java.

It's no surprise really, when you consider that our society revolves around the dark liquid. Coffee breaks, coffee tables, coffee cake, coffee houses...

Ahhh, the aroma. Ahhh, the taste. Ahhh, the caffeine. Yes the caffeine, that's what we're really talking about here isn't it? An ordinary cup of joe contains about 150 mg of caffeine. That is roughly the amount that physicians regard as a therapeutic dose. Therapeutic? Yes. That's for all of you who think the roasted bean juice is bad for us.

Caffeine's proper name is trimethylxanthine, a natural substance that is a result of photosynthesis within the coffee plant. Taken in beverage form, the super-swell substance begins to reach all tissues of the body within five short minutes giving us all much-needed swift kicks in the pants.

The caffeine found in just one cup of coffee is enough to elevate neural activity, postpone fatigue and enhance performance of simple intellectual tasks (like breathing for example). Similar to amphetamines, the drug stimulates the brain, causing increased cerebral activity, clearer thought and quicker reaction time.

In other words, it knocks the stupid out of you.

So you see, in moderation, coffee is actually a healthful natural beverage. I suppose it should be said however, that there are some people who experience insomnia, stomach irritation, hand tremors and fits of depression if they toss back the hard stuff. But did I mention it improves sperm mobility?

According to legend, in the year 850 A.D., an East African goat herder named Kaldi, began noticing that his goats became rather excited after chewing on the cherries of a certain plant... the coffee tree.

Once Kaldi realized his discovery, one thing led to another and trendy coffee houses started sprouting up all over the African continent... or something like that.

No, really what happened is that word of the coffee tree (native to Ethiopia) spread throughout the Middle East until the 17th Century when the Dutch Merchants expanded cultivation to the East Indies. It wasn't until the early 1700's that coffee agriculture began in the Americas (which is of course when Maxwell House® got involved). Today, the coffee tree, which requires a warm climate with plenty of moisture, is grown within a belt extending around the world between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

By brewing the roasted and ground beans of the coffee tree, we end up with the beverage that we know and love. In North America, it is most often served as a clear rich brown liquid to which a sweetener or cream or packet of talcum powder by-product is added. In France, they delight in cafe au lait, in Argentina they enjoy cafe con leche and in the Middle East, heavily roasted coffee beans are ground down to a fine powder, water is added and a thick black fluid (grounds and all) is swallowed - up to thirty times a day. Now I know where I need to go for a pick-me-up.

No... Really.

Note: I posted this article strictly for nostalgic reasons. Truth is, I haven't had a good stiff cup of caffeinated coffee since before I became pregnant. And to think, I used to make fun of decaf drinkers...

A year and a day

Like most sayings - Time Heals All Wounds - is rooted in truth.

Although my emotions are not nearly as raw as they were a year ago, the feeling today is as surreal as the day I watched my father pass away.
My cousin, who experienced the devastating loss of her younger sister, was my pillar a year ago. She gave me such sage and sound advice, not the least of which included, to not turn special days into miserable ones. To put it bluntly, she said, "He was dead yesterday, he is dead today and he will be dead tomorrow." This helped me tremendously in getting through this year of "firsts".
I don't want to create some sort of sick anniversary to commemorate his death. I think of him daily, not just on birthdays, New Years Day or the day he died. Friends and family, with the best of intentions, called, emailed and spoke about "it" - the elephant in the living room - yesterday, while others looked at us, painfully - without comment. I spent the day repeating my cousin's words, like a mantra...
So, I made it through. We all did. Three hundred and sixty-five days.

Okay, we've proven we can do it. Now, just bring him back...

I miss you dad.

Love,
yerdotter

Gonna Wash That Foam Right Outta My...

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

Straight from the Who-the-Heck-Thought-of-This-and-More-Importantly-Why? files we have Foam Dancing - a groovy craze which originated in Spain.

A throwback to the days when those wacky Romans indulged in the odd before-dinner orgy, a foam party involves lining a nightclub dance floor with something akin to rubber pool toys, and dumping ten thousand tons of frothy suds on scantily clad patrons, who I might add, pay for the privilege and sign I-will-not-sue-you-if-I-slip-and-die forms. No really, club owners from Houston to Detroit take their establishments, throw a plastic wall on the floor and using a modified artificial snow machine, blow foamy bubbles all over the place.

Club Amnesia - an incredibly trendy bar in Miami Beach Florida - was one of the first North American clubs to offer "Foam Nights". One such evening (it was a Thursday) was detailed by a party go-er, "Within minutes, they were up to their waists in a sea of bubbles groping each other." Gives new meaning to laundry day hmmm?

But, foam dancing is not all fun and games because as we all know, a direct result of doing anything that feels good is death... or something like that.

It seems that when this whole soapy trend was just taking off, some young lads in Houston, Texas sustained some rather serious injuries after an evening of dancing in several feet of foam.

According to the doctors who treated them, the men had various degrees of keratoconjunctivitis (eye injuries of a serious nature).

The revellers were treated and all was sort-of OK in foam dancing land once more. However, from that point on, fellas were slightly concerned with the fact that they might leave their house with a fully functioning wee willy wonka, but come home with alkaline chemical burns all over their fairweather johnsons.

It doesn't take the intelligence of dish detergent to understand that if you hopped into an industrial strength front loading washing machine wearing nothing but a smile and writhed around for three to ten hours, you might experience some not-so great effects, like a tummy full of Tide, missing socks and an overwhelming urge to... rinse.

Image: Patrons at a Foam Party. Taken at "Tequila Nightclub" in Calgary, Canada. Source: Carl Roett / HyperLight Research

The Junior Suite

By: Andrea Mulder-Slater


The Junior Suite in the Hotel Napoleon was like nothing either of us had ever seen before. Well, not in real life anyway. The bed was piled high with pillows, the heavy velvet curtains reached clear up to the 14-foot ceilings, and the marble bathroom was large enough to house three small families. It was twenty minutes before we were able to locate the toilet, which was tucked neatly away between the gold plated shower and the walk-in closest, which, we later discovered, was just off the sitting room.


How my husband Geoff and I (artists accustomed to sleeping in budget motels with the numbers 6 or 8 in their name) ended up in a luxury suite in the hotel Errol Flynn once referred to as, “The Place,” was thanks, in part, to nicotine.

We were on a European art vacation, involving visits to four thousand museums, in three countries, over a period of ten days. After a memorable train ride from London to Paris, we checked into our main floor, standard, non-smoking room at the Hotel Napoleon. As I soaked in the elegance of our art deco surroundings, Geoff, within seconds, unpacked his bag, stuffed his underwear into a drawer and placed his razor carefully on the marble vanity. “This,” he beamed, “is living.” He was about to try on one of the two monogrammed hotel robes when… I smelled it. It was subtle at first, but after a few minutes, not even Geoff (now wearing nothing but a terry cloth robe and socks) could ignore its presence.

We stepped outside our room into the lavish hallway. It was there we discovered a group of young men, talking, laughing and smoking up a storm. Geoff instantly recognized the look on my face. “No!” He begged me not to make a fuss; concerned that we would be kicked out of the only place we had ever stayed where the bed had its own halo with yards of fabric spilling out of it like syrup around the headboard. “Don’t do it,” he cautioned, as he ran his fingers over the gold embroidery on his robe. I couldn’t help myself. We may have been in a fancy Paris hotel, but I was ticked off.

I stomped to the front desk, running the only French phrases I knew through my head. “Bonjour, je m'appel Andrea.” “Quel temps fait-il?” “Parlez vous Francais?” These expressions along with dozens of French ingredients I remembered seeing on cereal boxes, (none of which were particularly relevant to my situation), all came to mind. In the end, I politely spoke to the bilingual young man behind the counter, “There are people smoking,” I whispered, “in the hallway.” He stared at me expressionless. “Over there…” I gestured delicately. He did not appear shocked. I thought this was a bad sign. I explained that we were supposed to be in a non-smoking room. He scratched his ear. I thought this too, was a bad sign. He pushed a few random keys on his computer and said, finally, “You are in a non-smoking room.”

Before I had a chance to interrupt, he finished, “On a smoking floor.”

Huh? What kind of logic was this? Putting guests in a non-smoking room on a smoking floor was like offering someone a sugar-free soda served in a glass full of sugar.

I must have appeared sufficiently puzzled because then, it happened. The manager was called in.

When I saw him, I experienced first hope, then panic. What if, I wondered, involving this stranger in my conflict was in fact, not a good thing? I thought about how Geoff would react when I went back to the room to explain how I had, in a few short minutes, succeeded in having us moved from our posh quarters to the rat infested hostel down the street. “Ditch the robe honey,” I would say, “pack your things. We have to go.”

Discussions with the manager typically take place well out of earshot of the griping customer, but in this case that wasn’t at all necessary, as I couldn’t understand a word the two men in charge of my immediate fate, were saying. Several lyrical phrases and a few quick glances later, the manager walked over to me with a look that brought back memories of my childhood doctor’s face right before he stabbed me with a needle. “This will feel like a little pinch,” he would say, while pursing his lips and sucking in his breath.

The manager held out his hand, and asked for my room key. I knew it was too good to be true. Geoff and I really didn’t belong in “The Place” and really, who needed it? Who needed the chocolates on the pillows, the tiny French soaps, the moisturizing hand cream, and the 4000 thread count sheets? I felt a tear come to my eye. I needed it - all of it!

The manager spoke. “Please, do accept our apologies,” he said with a smile. Then, he handed me another key. “We are moving you upstairs.” Upstairs seemed like a good thing. Either that or it was hotel code for, “We are sticking you next to the maintenance room.” I decided to take my chances, thanked the manager and headed back to our now smoke-filled room, with the new key.

Geoff was not happy to hear the news that he was about to become uprooted, but that was mostly due to the fact that during the time I was away, he had become somewhat engrossed in a rather open-minded European television program. Even so, he packed his things, uttered a few well-chosen expletives and headed with me, upstairs, to... the Junior Suite at the Hotel Napoleon.

Who said smoking was bad for you?

A very virtuous and moral saint


by Andrea Mulder-Slater

Valentine's Day has long offered many the opportunity to make up for a year's worth of neglect. It’s the one occasion where a few gooey chewies and a single red flower will make your sweetie swoon like there's no tomorrow. Give her a gift - for no reason - any other time of year and she wonders what you're trying to make up for.

Am I right?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for this Valentine's Day stuff. Flowers, candy, cupids, hearts… it’s all so very special. But, have you ever sat wondering, hoping, that someone - anyone - would tell you how this whole ritual got started? Sure you have - and that’s why I'm here. So go ahead, put on something red, drink something warm and cinnamony, curl up on a fluffy pink chair, and read on.

First off, lets clear one thing up.

Valentine - a very virtuous and moral Saint - the man after whom this day is named - really had absolutely nothing to do with love and all things mushy. The only connection he had with February 14th is that in the year 270, it happened to be the day he died in a pool of his own blood. Poor bugger. Good old Valentine, was executed after being thumped with clubs and having his noggin chopped off on the evening of what we now call Valentine's Day.

Swoon?

However, there is a small connection between the headless one and all things passionate.

In Rome (where the Saint lived and died) there was a festival of sorts that took place every spring - every February 15th to be exact. It was known as Lupercalia, a feast of "purification" and believe you me, it was a very singular, very strange ceremony.

In a nutshell, it involved sacrificing goats and dogs, smearing blood, the cleansing power of milk, and running around the streets naked (except for teeny, tiny thongs made of dead goat skins). And, as if that wasn't carnal enough, the young women of Rome would, well, offer themselves to the naked men, otherwise known as helpers of conception and delivery.

Now there's a pick up line.

Seriously people?
All of this went on for years and years and years and, well Rome wasn't built in a day and all that. But then, the Romans invaded Britain and all sorts of  history-type stuff took place.

The Romans, hip as they were, were kind enough to introduce the British folk to their religious ceremonies and in this way, the festival of Lupercalia was established there. Eventually however some Fathers of Christianity with all of their immaculate conceptions, busied themselves by obliterating pagan superstitions and dates by substituting those of the Christian belief. Names of many of the martyred (slaughtered) Saints were used to replace old festivals. In this way - St. Valentine having bought it on the eve of the Lupercalia (February 14th - remember?) was to perpetuate forever the memory of this orgy - excuse me, festival - that celebrated the return of spring when "a young man's fancy lightly turns to thought of love."

Quite a legacy.

Speaking of love,  it does make one do strange things doesn't it?

I'm not talking strange as in dancing around the streets wearing goat flesh. No, I'm thinking more along the lines of giving you're one and only a gift that screams I love you. A gift like - a pair of gloves. That was the thing to do in the 16th century. In the 17th century, things turned raunchy as silk stockings and garters were gifted.  In the latter part of the 18th century, things simmered down a little. During this time, young women would give their one-and-only a piece of silk with an embroidered message which said things like, "I dig you the most" (or something like that.)

One particularly odd Victorian Era custom, inspired by Lupercalia, involved the names of young women being dropped into a box. Then, young men - guided purely by luck - would draw a name. A seemingly harmless pastime until you find out that the one you chose would be your Valentine for that ENTIRE year. Most certainly, there were occasions when chance was unfortunate in providing the wrong sort of partner, and to have to endure this kind of Valentine as one's "special friend" for one whole year must have been trying, to say the least.

Needless to say, not many participated in such recreational activities, especially those who's intelligence rose above it.
 
Valentine's Day rituals and customs evolved and experienced both declines and resurgences in popularity throughout the years. One practice that has more or less stayed with us is the sending of valentines to the ones we admire. The forerunners of today’s valentines were love knots - decorated hand written and coloured letters with sets of verses and sentimental messages of love.

Today, things are much simpler. Just pop into the corner store, grab anything with a heart and voila, the deed is done.


 No, really.