Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Bono, Conchita & Juan Valdez

This week - before the seemingly interminable rain began - I was collecting rocks from the front paddocks and bringing them up to the top of the hill for edging and other garden-y things. On one trip I passed Murphy's tree crew lopping and chipping tree limbs that were growing too close to the powerlines. I stopped the tractor and asked if I could have the wood chips. It turned out that indeed I could - for a small contribution to their xmas party fund.

So, a couple of hours later I had a huge pile of mulch to spread around my fruit trees. I love this sort of work; I love the physicality of it, the shoveling, the barrowing, the raking. I also love that once the work is done there is a visual uniformity to the base of the garden that allows the plants to be the focus of the vista. But what I love most of all is that the repetitiveness of the work affords much time for quiet contemplation.

Bizarrely, when I'm immersed in this sort of garden work - planting hundreds of trees, weeding large garden beds, cutting out thistles in the re-foresting areas, digging drains, mowing, mulching - I almost invariably end up thinking about Bono.

It goes something like this: I begin by wondering if Bono ever has to mow, or weed, or... I then wonder if Bono ever touches soil, dirt. If he ever has dirty fingernails, ever needs to scrub his hands after planting strawberry runners with his kids. Then I wonder about the nature of success, about whether an apt description of success in our modern, Western, capitalist world would be "success: never having to touch the earth"... The digging, planting, weeding, building, nurturing is all done by others, those well down on the pecking order. Success begets money (or is that vice versa...?) and money buys time, time for ourselves, but also the time of others. In my own small way I was successful enough to buy the time of my staff at the cafe, but I don't think I ever bought someone's time to get them to do things I thought beneath me (I was always the one who cleaned the toilet...), just to help me do those things I was too busy to do myself. But success buys underlings and in the hierarchies that then eventuate the successful person, in this case Bono, becomes so far removed from anything manual, anything dirty, anything real that it makes me wonder - as I mow and weed and mulch - whether that is success at all...

The other thing that happened this week is that my mum brought up her last kilo of Calima coffee beans. She thought I should have them as a final taste of #9. Given that I've been out of the cafe for about ten weeks they must be well past their best, but I put some in the hopper of the Mazzer this morning, got the grind settings right and pulled two lovely shots on the Wega. I was surprised at the depth of colour of the crema and the general aroma of the coffee - it was one of those moments when your senses take your consciousness somewhere else... This coffee is so familiar, so ingrained... I made thousands of coffees over the almost six years at the cafe, the vast majority of them with Calima beans. Recently though, as third wave coffee roasters and sellers have pushed their specialty beans at the expense of the larger roasters I'd begun to doubt the quality of Calima: I needn't have worried. 

Calima is the only retailer of FederaciĆ³n Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (Colombian Coffee Federation) coffee. Founded in 1927, the Federation was fair trade three generations before Fair Trade. My brother and his partner found Calima coffee at a little cafe outside Ballarat and arranged for it to be our house coffee while I was still in Darwin. I trusted them and I'm glad I did. It fitted in with our ideals given its mode of production and profit-distribution, it was small enough that we could deal with the owner of Calima directly, and by the time we opened the Ballarat cafe had closed and no other cafe in Victoria was using their beans.

Making and drinking my first Calima coffee in a couple of months this morning was revelatory. It was at once so familiar and quite novel. It was exciting the same way that getting out my woollen jumpers and scarves has been this week: comfortingly familiar and pleasantly sensual.

And so we come to Conchita and Juan Valdez. The logo of the FederaciĆ³n Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia is a coffee farmer - Juan  - and his mule - Conchita. And I bet that Juan Valdez touched the earth. That is success...

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