The Power Plant


SEP 20 2011
by Gintaras Didžiapetris

I start my day with a cup of coffee. Currently, some traditional ways of brewing coffee are disappearing in Vilnius. This includes Turkish coffee, which commonly takes the shape of a more humble brother called “the Warszawa way” (boiling water poured on spoonfuls of coffee). Meanwhile new ways are imported, rapidly taking over the streets with paper cups carried by citizens-in-a-hurry, except that most of them still drink it just a block away sitting with friends on a bench or, even better, just outside of the coffee shop itself.

There is a wine place where I go to have coffee and read a magazine; in the daytime there are not many people and the light is beautiful. The place is owned by my friend's father and the best part is that during the day he is rarely there either. I usually have a macchiato – an espresso and a small amount of steamed milk, which they like to turn into a rock-solid hill towering way above the cup. Not so long ago I asked one of the girls working there if they could put the sugar in first, because when their macchiato is ready – with the beautiful milk castle gazing from the top of the drink – it is impossible to sweeten it: the micro-sugar cubes run down the hill, onto the plate and around the table. The girl asked, “but how would I know if you would like your coffee with sugar or without it?” to which I answered with an example from Naples, where they have a little bucket of melting, caramelized sugar beside the machine, which they add with a spoon before they fill the tiny cup with coffee. I know, though, that not everybody would enjoy that, as the tiny bucket of sugar might remind people of how (too) much sugar they have already consumed or maybe it just looks obscene. I, however, enjoy the option “zuccherato” every visit here, my beloved Cafe Mexico on piazza Dante, without thinking too much about anything.

Inhaling and sipping, sipping once more and inhaling the aroma that seems to come straight from a field, then a plane, a truck, and a big man’s hand. I don't know how you drink your coffee, but I have sparkling water in between the first and second sips of coffee. First I try the coffee and let it flow around my mouth and, when vision suddenly becomes sharper and faster – as if the shutter in a camera is now set to 1,000 – I take the glass in my hand and down the water greedily. It washes away just part of the coffee’s taste and aroma. A second sip reassures me – this is the place – as half a dozen people rub their shoulders and squeeze themselves at the shiny aluminum bar to get theirs as I take my next large gulp of water. The glass is empty and my hand reaches for the coffee cup with its last, most sugary sip left just to finish the morning and start the day.

As Mount Vesuvius appears on the horizon, I don’t say anything to the girl, as I now remember that I have never ordered a macchiato in Cafe Mexico, just “cafe.” The wine place in Vilnius opens at 11 AM and it takes around twenty minutes to warm up the coffee machine, it must be around noon by now. It is a wine place, after all, and I was planning to read quietly for some time. Drinking coffee dislocates me from time and space, as if each sip transports me elsewhere and each coffee shop exists independently of its geography. Maybe I am now sitting in the Marcel Duchamp cafe in Mexico City, where, if it existed, they would serve the same beans that made their way to Vilnius…

Gintaras Didžiapetris is an artist living and working in Vilnius, Lithuania. His work was included in The Power Plant’s Summer 2011 exhibition Rearview Mirror: New Art from Central and Eastern Europe, guest-curated by Christopher Eamon, which will be opening at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton on 27 January, 2012.