Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Balzac’s writing equipment:

Without coffee he could not work, or at least he could not have worked in the way he did. In addition to paper and pens he took with him everywhere as an indispensable article of equipment the coffee-machine, which was no less important to him than his little table or his white robe. He allowed nobody else to prepare his coffee, since nobody else would have prepared the stimulating poison in such strength and blackness. And just as in a sort of superstitious fetishism he would use only a particular kind of paper and a certain type of pen, so he mixed his coffee according to a special recipe, which has been recorded by one of his friends: “This coffee was composed of three different varieties of bean — Bourbon, Martinique, and Mocha. He bought the Bourbon in the rue de Montblanc, the Martinique in the rue des Vieilles Audriettes, and the Mocha in the Fauborg Saint-Germain from a dealer in the rue de l’Université, whose name I have forgotten though I repeatedly accompanied Balzac on his shopping expeditions. Each time it involved half-a-day’s journey right across Paris, but to Balzac good coffee was worth the trouble.”

Stefan Zweig, Balzac, trans. William and Dorothy Rose (London: Casell, 1947).
The paper: “of a special size and shape, of a slightly bluish tinge so as not to dazzle or tire the eyes, and with a particularly smooth surface.” The pens: ravens’ quills. Supplies, supplies, supplies.

Related reading
Balzac’s hair-raising essay “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee”
All OCA Balzac, coffee, and Zweig posts (Pinboard)

[Coffee-and is an old-timey way of saying “coffee and doughnuts.”]

comments: 5

Pete said...

I had never seen the term "coffee and" until I read Studs Lonigan. Though the tough Chicago Irish kids there said "coffee an'", and the food referred to was a piece of pie more often than doughnuts.

Michael Leddy said...

Rather elegant. I’m pretty sure the expression turns up in Dashiell Hammett too. I’ll have to check.

Michael Leddy said...

Lots of coffee, lots of cigarettes, but no sign of coffee-and.

normann said...

I grew up hearing coffee-and, which was Mom's term for coffee accompanied by coffee cake (which might include donuts, but usually did not include pie). Mom grew up in Berwyn, a streetcar suburb of Chicago.

Michael Leddy said...

Thank you, Norman. I haven’t thought of coffee cake in years.