Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One more cup of coffee 'fore I go to the valley below

"Everybody in America is addicted to coffee. It's disgusting. They can't do anything before having their first two cups of java in the morning." E told me one day, years before we even decided to get married and move to Chicago. We were watching the Gilmore Girls. Lorelai and Rory had just entered Luke's Diner, asking for coffee, proclaiming they wouldn't be able to function without the delicious dark brew.

Like with beer, I started to drink coffee somewhat late in life. My mother never drank coffee, neither did she drink beer (except one year, when her doctor told her she needed to gain weight, she drank a bottle of alcohol free beer every night). I was robbed of the childhood memories of waking up to the smell of freshly ground coffee brewing. I didn't spend my Sunday mornings begging my parents for a sip of that black magic juice, like so many of my friends did.

I had my first cup of coffee at 19 years old. I was studying for my finals. I had always been better studying at night, only opening my books at around 8pm, often going until past midnight. Well, if you have to study 200 pages of Marketing, Accounting and Business Administration in two nights, studying from 8pm to midnight won't cut it anymore. That's when I bought my first jar of instant coffee powder. 

It wasn't very good (I wasn't used to the bitter taste and I did not know how to make it, ending up using way too much instant powder) but it did the job. At that point I was a clean slate. My adenosine receptors were open and welcoming to the caffeine and I was able to spend the next few weeks studying for long hours and surviving on a very limited amount of sleep.

I only started to actually enjoy coffee when I moved to Holland. My first host-family who I was nannying for had a coffee-shop-grade coffee maker which would make you the most amazing cappuccino just by pressing a button. They also drove an hour to buy their coffee beans. 

You know the term social drinker? Somebody who only drinks alcohol in social situations? Well the next seven years in Holland, I was a working drinker - working coffee drinker that is.
Sometimes I would drink 8 cups a day, arriving at work in the morning shaking, craving my caffeine fix. Other times I gave up coffee for months after my friend promised me giving up coffee would not only eliminate my cellulite but also give my skin a beautiful, peachy glow. Well, it didn't.

But my weekends were mostly coffee free. I was too lazy to make it myself and it never really turned out tasting the way I liked it anyway. Also if I didn't have to get up at 7am, I didn't really need something to wake me up.

I was sure that once we did the move over the big pond, at least until I found a job I would be caffeine free.

But I was wrong. What my husband told me back then is absolutely true. In America drinking coffee is more than enjoying a beverage you like or simply needing something to wake you up. It's a lifestyle. It's a fashion accessory. Holding a cup of Starbucks in your hands makes you instantly cool. Since smoking has become a big no-no in the US, coffee is the new smoking. 

I wish I'd be above all of that. I wish that seeing my favorite Michelle Williams with a cup of Starbucks in her hand wouldn't make me crave a cup of joe. I wish that if when somebody says "Oh, I could so go for a coffee right now!" we'd go to a cafe and I'd order green tea instead of cappuccino. 

But I am not. One of our wedding presents was a beautiful coffee machine which I have been utilizing every day for the last few month. 
Despite still not having a steady job, I have two big, hot steamy mugs full of coffee with breakfast every day. I even bought a coffee grinder, so I can grind my java beans freshly every morning (which made an amazing difference in the flavor of the coffee).
At this point I am not sure if I need the coffee to get me going or if it's the taste that I can't live without. Or maybe it's the feeling that you belong to the club? The exclusive club of coffee drinkers which is really not very exclusive at all here.

I am not sure what it is but one thing I am sure of - that America has a contagious obsession with coffee.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day

It's been a long time! I know! I just haven't felt like writing at all. And I know if I don't feel like writing my posts will be very uninspired. 

The weather has been mostly great here. It's humid and somedays it has been so hot that it was almost impossible to do anything outside. But luckily we have many beautiful beaches, only about a 10 minute bike ride away.

It is quite amazing how the city changes with the weather. The one thing people often tell me they like about Chicago is how unique the different quarters of the city are and this is definitely much more noticeable now that the weather is more pleasant. There is Lakeview - where 
we live which in itself has like three different sides to it. We live all the way in West Lakeview, almost North Center. It's all families and cute neighborhood cafes here. But Boystown (the gay neighborhood) and Wrigleyville (the frat boy and sorority girl party neighborhood) are also part of Lakeview. A bit more South you have Lincoln Park and Wicker Park - full of expensive shops, fancy bars and rich girls wearing tiny sundresses and oversized bags and designer sunglasses. Even more South (but still North of the Loop - downtown) there is Old Town which is more urban and funky. It reminds me a bit of the Village in New York.
Downtown is downtown. Busy, bustling, crawling with corporate workers and tourists during the day - dead at night.
And then you have the whole South side. I honestly haven't seen much of the South side as it's supposed to be the "Bad neighborhood", dangerous after dark, don't go there wearing your expensive jewelry, don't look too white. Bladibla. But there are definitely parts of the South side that I am interested in getting to know better. Pilsen for example. A good friend of mine lives there. It's a poor neighborhood but also an artsy neighborhood full of galleries and street art. According to my friend Pilsen is not dangerous at all but the people who live there don't want their area to be turned into the hip new neighborhood. Because that has happened to a lot of parts of Chicago. Yuppies discover the area, move there and soon the area is so expensive that people who originally lived there can't afford it anymore. Apparently the gang signs on the street corners and people running around with knives in  their pocket are mostly there to scare the yuppie-crowd off. 
I personally can't confirm if this is true but it does make sense.

I also got to experience my first 4th of July celebrations this weekend. Strangely the big party was happening on the 3rd. 
We started the day (the 3rd) cycling down to Grant Park to visit the "Taste of Chicago" festival. This is a yearly food festival where restaurants sell small "taste" amounts of their food for very high prices. 
Later we were invited to a BBQ party, close to the lake. According to what I have heard there were about 1 million people BBQing and waiting for the fireworks that day. We were right next to Lake Shore drive - which is a 3 or 4-laned Autobahn - usually closed off even for cyclists. Well, at around 5pm they closed it off and people were allowed to walk on it, play on it, cycle, whatever you want (except driving). It was a strangely liberating feeling to stand in the middle of an Autobahn.

Kids playing on Lake Shore Drive

Our bike ride home on Lake Shore Drive

The fireworks weren't bad either. 

My life here has been an up and down. I have good weeks and I have bad weeks. I am glad to say that it's mostly good weeks at this point. I noticed that there are mainly two things which turn a bad week into a good week - sunshine and good company. If I have a week were I am out a lot, spending time with my new friends I feel very much in love with the city of Chicago.
If the weather is bad and my friends don't feel like leaving the house, I usually get really homesick (to Holland). 

And then of course there is the whole career thing which also depresses me. I am still looking for jobs every day. But I'll talk about that some other time.