Break Fluid

On the editorial page of today’s Times there is a paean to coffee by guest columnist Stacy Schiff. I happened to read it as I was enjoying an exceptionally tasty and enlivening mug of Indonesian joe, so it was well received. In particular I enjoyed two quotes, reprinted below.

The first is usually attributed to the brilliant and eccentric Hungarian mathematician Pal Erdős, who slept little and, as I recall, did not even maintain a permanent residence, but lived as an intinerant houseguest at the homes of his many friends and colleagues around the world (though Wikipedia’s entry for Erdos suggests that it might have originated with his colleague Alfred Renyi):

A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.

The second is from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who comments on the correct dosage:

In Seattle you haven’t had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it’s running.

It’s hard, though, to top this offering from Balzac — an Olympian imbiber — who wrote, in his essay The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee:

This coffee falls into your stomach, a sack whose velvety interior is lined with tapestries of suckers and papillae. The coffee finds nothing else in the sack, and so it attacks these delicate and voluptuous linings; it acts like a food and demands digestive juices; it wrings and twists the stomach for these juices, appealing as a pythoness appeals to her god; it brutalizes these beautiful stomach linings as a wagon master abuses ponies; the plexus becomes inflamed; sparks shoot all the way up to the brain. From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.

Now there’s a nice piece of ad copy (and a puzzle for the dualist, as well). But let the drinker beware: it has been observed that there is a serious risk associated with taking coffee in the morning: if you aren’t careful, it can keep you up till noon.

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2 Comments

  1. See, I guess that’s what I’ve been doing wrong all these years… perhaps my work day would be a lot more pleasant (not to mention, a lot LESS productive) if I were to forego my a.m. java fortification; however, fuzzy-headedness aside, it’s not worth the migraines.

    Posted February 6, 2007 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Maven, that sounds like it’s not nearly worth the risk.

    Posted February 6, 2007 at 1:16 pm | Permalink