While no one was looking, under the cover of darkness, the magnificent Italian hand built La Marzocco machines were replaced one by one with fully automatic computerized press-a-button versions. (This took place in thousands of Starbucks across the land.) This is the day when the romance and theater of Starbucks died.
This disturbing trend is taking place on many levels of society.
Many argue that removing the human (error) factor makes for a more consist product and increased customer satisfaction. But really, truth be told, it is because of training costs, speed of service and efficiency. Not bad things in themselves from a overly worked Barristas point of view. (The solution for a busy store is to have two to four machines and double the staff, like they do in Buenos Aries. Really, they do.)
However they are ignoring the romantic factor. Where is the romance and theater of pushing a button? Where is the skill and passion of the Barrista?
For a quick lesson in romance, look to the humble Volturno. One of the things that the Italians brought with them to Argentina was this little stove stop espresso maker. (Made internationally famous by Bialleti.) While not true espresso and I am not comparing it to espresso, it deserves a place in every coffee lovers arsenal.
We brought ours back from Buenos Aires, a national brand called Volturno. Although it mostly gets it use when we travel, there are still many a days when we when we opt for the intense room filling aroma and the seductive whisper it makes to tell you when its ready. Where Bialetti has compromised to appease the North-American hordes by making a stainless version, the humble Volturno still uses the time honored and tested traditional aluminum which gets better with age.
Simply follow a few simple rules handed down from the old Italian bubbas. First, you need to condition the pot before use by brewing a pot with just water, then a second time with coffee that you leave sit overnight. The second rule is to never wash the inside with soap, just rinse with hot water and air dry. This way you do not want to disturb the coating left by the oils in the coffee. The third rule is to pile the slightly coarser than espresso grind coffee in a mound with the peak passing the top of the filter basket. This way the coffee will be compressed to just the right amount for optimum extraction.
While these basic rules seem to defy normal coffee logic, in the Volturno they unexplainable work. Enter the romance factor. While producing good coffee is based on scientific principals, fully automatic press a button espresso machines can never compute nor replicate the romance (human) factor.
Those old Italian bubbas know best. Please leave button pushing to accountants and Starbuck Barristas. Stay original… it’s only human.
Bob Geldof wrote in the song Room 19: “When I woke up I was freezing… I was stuck up on a shelf with the other guys in room 19. Tchaikovsky played the music, Pasternak wrote the poetry, Lenin never shut up talking, and every talk became a speech.”
The idea that all the brains of these great Russian thinkers and artists preserved in glass jars and on a shelf in room 19 waiting to be studied is an interesting one. It begets the question: What makes great thinkers, leaders and artists? Does it really have to do with the brain and intellect? Do these people really have superior brains? Perhaps it has less to do with the brain and more to do with the heart. (Although this view could be simply be a result of our diminished brainpower. But please read on…
From the earliest of man’s history, the heart has being used in a figurative sense referring to the inner man. “Among the Semites . . . all that was peculiar to man, in the category of feelings as well as intellect and will, was attributed to the heart. It is the sum total of the interior man as opposed to the flesh, which is the exterior and tangible man.”The Metaphorical Use of the Names of Parts of the Body in Hebrew and in Akkadian, by E. Dhorme, Paris, 1963, pp. 113, 114, 128 (in French).
For example, history tells us that Napoleon Bonaparte once ordered his own army to stand still while he rode ahead to face the opposing army of 6,000. He dismounted and walked up to the barrier of men and their guns. Their commander ordered them to fire, but in awe of the man standing before them, not one shot was fired. There is no question that Napoleon Bonaparte was a bold and courageous man, and whether for the good or bad he changed the course of human history.
Was he great because of his superior brainpower and intellect? No one can say for sure, but at least in this one instant we can say that what he did was just plain stupid. One single shot could have ended his return to power in France. We can say with great certainty however that he had heart. He had a purpose that he believed in with all of his heart. (To bring the Holy Roman Empire to it’s end. Which in fact did happen in 1806. Just in case you care.)
If we were to extend this investigation to other great men and women of history, we would most likely find that all the great thinkers and artists of all time, from Da Vinci, Einstein and Stephen Hawking (well at least he had the moral integrity to admit he was wrong), to Mozart, Liszt (there is a only a handful of people in the world that can play his original pieces, and yet he loved the subtle music of his friend Chopin) and Chopin, to Renoir, Monet, and Rembrandt, all had the same thing in common, they all had heart. (Some were probably a little loopy as well, that always helps.) They had a purpose that went far beyond intellect. Something so intangible as this can only be attributed to the heart. The sum total of the interior man. Stay original… have heart.
Substance. There is a serious lack of it in modern day popular culture. The commercial powers that be, have almost banished artistic integrity from our vocabulary. Wonder bread art rules. It feeds the mouths of the majority but sadly it lacks substance.
The over commercialization of mainstream media, music, film and literature is ruining the artistic appetites of each new generation with fluffy white bread, that has little if any real artistic value. When Mark Eitzel faced the accusation that many people find the songs of American Music Club depressing, he responded by saying that he finds the likes of (we are too nice to say who it is, but just insert the current talent-less propaganda poster girl or boy here) depressing. We agree.
That is why the role that original art plays is more and more valuable in modern society. Artistic integrity IS still alive. It is just that we need to look a little harder and a little deeper to find it. But when we do find it, whether in the form of an inspiring independent film, some brilliant and virtually unknown musical group, or in some obscure author, it is so worth it.
Take for example espresso. (You did not see that one coming, did you?) If you have a decent espresso machine, please don’t settle for the convenience of mass marketed espresso. Rather seek out a good artisan espresso that has substance. We are very passionate about Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso Blend which fuels our studio. If you live in Canada you can have it shipped direct to your door from Caffe Tech based in Edmonton. Better yet, if you are in Edmonton drop by and visit their Italian inspired Cafe.
When we make little choices based on substance instead of advertising, we find nourishment and preserve artistic creativity and integrity. Stay original… choose substance.
First, Apple’s Get a Mac ads were voted among the best ads for 2006 according to The Wall Street Journal, and then Steve Jobs stole the show from CES (Consumer Electronic Show) with the iphone and Apple TV, holding in his hand the future of electronic convergence while Bill Gates just stood there at CES talking about it. Now micro-softies are really getting nervous and defensive (or at least more nervous and defensive than usual).
What they really need to do is relax, stop fighting (why can’t we just all get along?) and read the Stanford commencement speech given by Steve Jobs (highly recommended reading). It explains why Apple is always on the cutting edge of industrial, artistic (this is an art blog, so I had to find some way to get art in here… I even resorted to getting Eva to quickly paint this great Apple still life just for this blog! Now, don’t ever say that we did nothing for you.) and technological design. Once Bill Gates (before the messiah complex hit and he decided to resign as CEO of Microsoft and save the world) was posed with the question, what is your vision? He replied: “to see a personal computer on the desktop of every home.” Good one Mr. Bill, but hardly what one would say is visionary (it was kind of obvious that would happen).
Apple, on the other hand, seems to have no such simplistic vision. They innovate instead of follow. They reinvented the mp3 and now the smart phone. Their products are far more than technology, they become part of our lives, they even become our friends. (Yes, even minimalists need some kind of friendship.) They say that it was Steve Jobs who insisted that the Mac Plus have no fan as the noise took away from the beautiful design and user experience. (Turned out to be a lesson in form follows function as the solder joints would fracture. Of course, hard core minimalists were few and far between back then… come to think of it, we actually still are… I guess that makes us kind of minimal… you don’t have to read anything that appears in parenthesis by the way.) Of course they have had their other failures (the bright colored clamshell notebook with a handle was kind of embarrassing), but when something comes together, wow, it really comes together. Just like great art. (I know, I know, another very weak link to art… did I mention Eva’s great Apple still life… my goal in life is to write a whole article in parenthesis. That would make Penn Jillette proud.)
Of course the micro-softy masses always rely on the same old argument that if Macs are so good, then why do they have such a small market share. (Love that one, because then you have them right where you want them.) Based on that same logic, they should all be driving Honda Civics. Porsche has a very small market share. I guess then it is a failure as well. (Don’t get me wrong. Honda makes respectable cars that sell very well, but no one compares them to Porsches.) Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are both very rich men. Both companies are doing very well. Which one is bigger, richer, or sells more, is of no consequence. (At least to us peons who get excited about finding 25 cents on the street.) One has a rather simplistic vision that has already being accomplished and doesn’t seem to know what’s next (except of course to continue copying, ‘borrowing’ or buying other people’s ideas), while the other, continues to innovate.
Why are micro-softies so defensive? Relax amigo, we don’t really care if you choose to use inferior software on ugly hardware. No one is twisting your arm and forcing you to change. We are happy to keep quietly driving our Porsches and when we pass you by in your Honda, we will even give you a friendly smile. You see, we CAN all just get along. Stay original… Porsches are.
One of the first things you notice in the charming old neighborhoods of Buenos Aires (such as the antique and tango district of San Telmo) is that even the doors are unique, each one having a personality of its own. Many of these doors have inspired paintings here at the Underground Art Project such as the one here. They are truly beautiful works of art.
To this day, the art of fileteadores (artists who practice the art of folk art) is alive and strong in B.A. It gives you a sense of comfort and general well being to see doors still viewed as something inviting, welcoming and full of artistic expression. When did doors lose their soul? When did they become something negative? When did they become solely a means to shut out and lock out, instead of to welcome in?
We propose that the door is a social commentary as accurate as any other. We trusting Canadians rarely lock our doors. Perhaps this embodies the spirit of the painted doors of old San Telmo, but sadly this is changing with the passing of time and is being reflected in our societies, communities and yes, in the families that live behind the doors. Sadly in our modern world of apartments, condos, controlling developers, and city by-laws, most people have little choice over what their door says about them or what they want them to say to others. Have we not lost a little part of our artistic expression, which contributes to the quality of life? But if we did have the choice, if YOU had the choice, what would your door say about you?
Stay original… express yourself.