Month: July 2016

My Top 12 Quotes from “The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho

 Before I put a book back on the shelf I like to feel like I’m really ‘done’ with it. I read this book last week and did a short review, but I’ll feel like I wasted a lot of highlighter for nothing if I don’t share some of the passages I marked.

First, you should read this excerpt from Coelho’s forward to the 25th Anniversary Edition, published in 2014:

“Wherever I go, people understand me. They understand my soul. This continues to give me hope. When I read about clashes around the world — political clashes, economic clashes, cultural clashes — I am reminded that it is within our power to build a bridge to be crossed. Even if my neighbour doesn’t understand my religion or my politics, he can understand my story. If he can understand my story, then he’s never too far from me. It is always within my power to build a bridge. There is always a chance for reconciliation, a chance that one day he and I will sit around a table together and put an end to our history of clashes. And on this day, he will tell me his story and I will tell him mine.”

I wish everyone could read this. Like, could wake up and find it under their pillow and know what it means.


Here are my top 10 quotes from “The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho, presented in chronological order.

“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised.
“It is this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.20

The boy didn’t know what a person’s “Personal Legend” was.
“It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.23

“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.24

“You dream about your sheep and the Pyramids, but you’re different from me, because you want t realize your dreams. I just want to dream about Mecca. I’ve already imagined a thousand times crossing the desert, arriving at the Plaza of the Sacred Stone, the seven times I walk around it before allowing myself to touch it. I’ve already imagined the people who would be at my prayers we would share. But I’m afraid that it would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream about it.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.57

He still had some doubts about the decision he had made. But he was able to understand one thing: making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision. — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.70

“There is only one way to learn,” the alchemist answered. “It’s through action.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.129

“And what went wrong when the other alchemists tried to make gold and were unable to do so”
“They were only looking for gold,” his companion answered. “They were seeking the treasure of their Personal Legend, without wanting actually to live out the Personal Legend.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.129

“But men began to reject simple things, and to write tracts, interpretations, and philosophical studies.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.130

“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.134

“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.134

“Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.135

“When men are at war with one another, the Soul of the World can hear the screams of battle. No one fails to suffer the consequences of everything under the sun.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.140

FUN FACT: “The Alchemist” was originally published in Portuguese and its name was “O Alquimista”.

Does seeing the quotes make you want to read the book? If you already read it — put your favourite quote in the comments below!

*All page numbers taken from the The Alchemist 25th Anniversary Edition from HarperCollins.

The Sunday Letter | 2016.07.10

This week I did something small that was really important. I sat down with my Opa and recorded about an hour of him telling me about our family history. How he left Holland to join the Canadian military band after World War II, how he met my Nana, and how they started a family in Nova Scotia.

I think we often underestimate the importance of our family legacies. Because we’re in a digital age and everything is recorded, we figure it’s all sitting there, if we ever want to access it.

The truth is, some of the most important documents of our lives can be inaccessible when it matters. Disorganized = lost. In the case of my Opa, although all the family members have heard most of his stories, how many could re-tell it the way he did?

It was easy enough. I just set up my iPhone on a Gorillapod with a Rode smartLav and started asking questions.

We only took an hour (I’m sure I could have stayed for six, but I was on a tight schedule) and it’s something I’ll treasure for ages to come. So much so that I’m already thinking when I can go back and get more. Ask more questions. About anything. So many of our histories are still oral.

Captured within the hour was a few really good laughs too. It’s sad and hard to think about, but someday I think it’ll really mean a lot to me that I can go back and listen to that laugh when it may no longer be around.

via GIPHY

Also, Pokemon Go was released in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand on July 6, meaning situations like the one above are becoming more plausible!

I’ve already seen photos from around the world of people congregating around ‘lures’, an item in the game that draws more Pokémon to pokéstops, which are often local businesses and landmarks. Some businesses have already started capitalizing on it.

Book of the week

Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” is a list-maker. Meaning it’s on a lot of people’s must-read lists and one of the best-selling books in history.

The 25th Anniversary Edition book design is pretty beautiful, I have to say. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
The 25th Anniversary Edition book design is pretty beautiful, I have to say. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Originally published in 1988, the tale of Andalusian shepherd Santiago leaving home to search for his ‘personal legend’ abroad only to find it was at home all along is not an unfamiliar narrative, but it’s Coelho’s poetic verse that makes The Alchemist so long-lived.

Coelho is poetic but not inaccessible. I love how he uses simple words and phrases to lift his story, like the alchemists, turning lead to gold. I read this book in Jr. High, but couldn’t remember much of it, so it was nice to re-visit the book and give it another go.

Embedded in The Alchemist is a lot of societal critique.

Because of that, you might be tempted to critique The Alchemist itself, saying things like:

  1. “The few women in the book are underdeveloped at best. At worst, they exist only to enhance men’s lives”; or,
  2. “Santiago was only able to go on his journey because his father gave him money to leave in the first place! Santiago’s not independent! He’s just a spoiled middle-class kid!”; or,
  3. “Coelho’s philosophy is selfish and self-centered!”, etc.

And you would be right. There are a thousand ways you can pick this book apart, and because it presents itself as this high-minded philosophical lesson on life, it naturally opens itself up to debate. Some people love The Alchemist. Some hate it.

The thing is, I think that misses the point. I don’t read the Alchemist to learn how to live my life. I don’t expect it to understand and reflect all reality. I read it because it’s a beautiful book of a boy with a beautiful, human story.

Doing too much analysis of this novel is like trying to make a concrete cast of a daisy. It’s ephemeral, it’s delicate, and it should be enjoyed for what it is.

Take what is helpful and leave the rest behind.

Take breaks between paragraphs to let your mind wander.

When reading about Santiago’s quest to find his life’s purpose, it’s impossible not to stop and think about yours as well.

Even if you don’t agree with all the religious and philosophical musings that occur in the book, its core message is listen to your heart and pay attention to the people and world around you. And I think those are pretty good tips.

At the beach with friends. Thanks Lisa for being my model! Hopefully these shots can convince your parents to visit Nova Scotia. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
At the beach with friends. Thanks Lisa for being my model! Hopefully these shots can convince your parents to visit Nova Scotia. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Good on the Internet

Turning rejections into wins. Fake animal facts all over Los Angeles zoo. The wizard of rice cooking. I’d love to be in this limo. First world realism. This guy explains perfectly why I love Cowboy Bebop so much. How “Pride” was chosen as the word for LGBTQ rights. These eye-bending statues.

Roxane Gay writes about Alton Sterling and When Black Lives Stopped Mattering, Kara Brown wonders “Am I Going to Write About Murdered black People Forever?” and StoryCorps show a beautiful video about a traffic stop gone wrong.

We could all have FM radio on our smartphones. Geeking out over Marc Maron interviewing Terry Gross in 2015. Then geeking out over this 2015 Terry Gross NYT piece again. Wishing someone would send me a mysterious package (but maybe after the Canada Post strike gets figured out). Posh political satire that’s no stretch to believe by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Who just became a mom! Congrats!). Big software is the new big pharma.

And a bunch of great coffee Instagram accounts to end on a light note. It’s rainy and grey here, so maybe that’s why I also wrote about coffee this week.

And Trout! Did I intentionally match my bath mats to my cat’s eyes? Maybe. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
And Trout! Did I intentionally match my bath mats to my cat’s eyes? Maybe. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Wisdom of the Week

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” — Paulo Coelho, from The Alchemist, 1988.

This shot I took in rural Bosnian near where I met some shepherds. It seemed appropriate for a quote from The Alchemist. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
This shot I took in rural Bosnian near where I met some shepherds. It seemed appropriate for a quote from The Alchemist. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

That’s it for me! Time to go make dinner and wish this rain would stop. This weekend was a two-day rest between modules in my Masters program, but it was just chilly and rained constantly, completely destroying my will to go in the ocean. Life, she is cruel.

Let me know what’s on your mind this week in the comments.

Encounters with Bosnian coffee

If traveling through Bosnia, there will come a time when you’ll be pulled into a street café or someone’s kitchen, seated, and offered a thimble-sized cup of what looks, smells and tastes like hot, sweet, thick bitter mud.

This is bosanska kafa. Bosnian coffee. Hot, thick and strong, it’s a staple in the region and brings people together every day and has the miraculous power of drawing conversations out of people.

Meals, entire afternoons and evenings can slip away over the table as you sip with family, friends, strangers and those you’ve only just begun to know. In Sarajevo especially, you are never out of sight of a coffee shop.

People will sit for hours, chatting or arguing. Everything and anything in a person’s life can be raked over a cup of coffee. I had a lot of Bosnians tell me their high unemployment rate is also why so much time is spent in coffee shops, so it’s both a social and economic imperative.

In modern Bosnian cities of course you can find espresso and drip coffee, but the heart of the culture really lies with this brew that matches their sometimes-dark sense of humour.

I drank more coffee during the four weeks I was in Bosnia than I had the entire year before.

The sweet comes with the rest of the coffee service on a silver tray. You’re meant to dip the sweet into the coffee to be sucked or nibbled on like a cookie. Kuca Sevdaha, a café in Sarajevo’s old town, Baščaršija, serves sugar cubes and Turkish delight. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
The sweet comes with the rest of the coffee service on a silver tray. You’re meant to dip the sweet into the coffee to be sucked or nibbled on like a cookie. Kuca Sevdaha, a café in Sarajevo’s old town, Baščaršija, serves sugar cubes and Turkish delight. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

The coffee arrives on a tray — often made of etched or imprinted copper, one of the country’s traditional crafts. Bosnia’s mines provide the metal and people here have been working with copper it since before the Ottoman era, although it was the Ottomans that advanced copper

Nijaz Jažić runs a copper etching shop with his son Kenan in Baščaršija. I bought a Bosnian coffee set from him (the one blurred in the foreground) and, naturally, as I was watching him finish an engraving he brought some Bosnian coffee for me. Their shop is called Kazandžijska Radnja and is at 71000 Sarajevo, Kazazi br. 13. Nijaz creates all his own designs (they’re on the corkboard in blue). (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Nijaz Jažić runs a copper etching shop with his son Kenan in Baščaršija. I bought a Bosnian coffee set from him (the one blurred in the foreground) and, naturally, as I was watching him finish an engraving he brought some Bosnian coffee for me. Their shop is called Kazandžijska Radnja and is at 71000 Sarajevo, Kazazi br. 13. Nijaz creates all his own designs (they’re on the corkboard in blue). (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Bosnians also have a delightful tradition of serving their coffee with a glass of water. You don’t have to ask for it, it just comes on the tray, de facto. This is perfect, because your mouth often feels dry after the astringent bitterness. I wish all coffees came with water.

Bring me all the water please. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Bring me all the water please. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

When you take the coffee, don’t drink the last sip. You’ll get nothing but a mouth full of thick sludge.

Because of their shared Ottoman history, it’s understandably similar to Turkish coffee (some would call it the exact same) and Greek coffee, for that matter.

No matter what you do, do not — I repeat: Do NOT, call it Turkish coffee in front of a Bosnian person.

Bosnian names for coffee things

On the tray you have your džezva (‘jezz-va’), the larger pot with a flared base. This is what your coffee comes in.

Then there’s the fildžan (‘phil-john’), the tiny ceramic cup without a handle, into which you pour your Bosnian coffee.

Rahat lokum is the name for the sweet we’d call a Turkish delight, and the lump of sugar is called grumen šećera.

The Doctor’s House hostel in Sarajevo offers this handy guide in their kitchen. There are many džezvas and small ceramic cups — no respectable Bosnian house is without them. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
The Doctor’s House hostel in Sarajevo offers this handy guide in their kitchen. There are many džezvas and small ceramic cups — no respectable Bosnian house is without them. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

How to make Bosnian coffee

  • Boil water
  • Add the hot water along with a few spoonfuls of fine-ground coffee into your džezva.**
  • Stir it around, like you would a hot chocolate.
  • Put the džezva on the stove and turn it up medium-high. We want to heat it up so that a thick foam called the crema forms on top of the coffee, but we don’t want it to boil.
  • When the crema forms, take it off the stove and spoon a bit of crema off the top and put it into your cup. This is the good stuff. If you’re drinking with more than one person, each one should get a bit in their cup.
  • Then pour from the džezva to finish filling each cup.
  • Sip slowly and smile.

** This is actually what distinguishes it from Turkish coffee, where the grounds are mixed with cold water.

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So that’s the spiel on Bosnian coffee. Even for a tea drinker like myself, a small but mighty cup of bosanska kafa in the morning just felt like the right way to say hello to the day in Bosnia.

Have you tried Bosnian coffee? Have you been to Bosnia? Did I get anything wrong? Let me know in the comments below!

The Sunday Letter | 2016.07.03

This week we looked really good. First there was the touching New York Times article on how Canadian families are getting in line to sponsor Syrian refugees. Then there was the adorable reception from Canadian Parliament in Ottawa for President Obama, then Friday was Canada Day, where we turned 149 as a country (next year’s the big 150!). In the global popularity contest, Canada is creating a good impression for itself.

via GIPHY

Here’s to more multicultural three-way handshakes in our government’s future.

Book of the week

This week I read “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi.

This is the autobiography of a neurosurgeon who discovers in his last year of residency that he has lung cancer that will kill him. This causes him to suddenly reconsider his life, a life that has largely been built on investing for a future that will now never come.

Get ready to cry. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Get ready to cry. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

I bought this on a rainy summer Tuesday, expecting to pick it up and pick through it during the week. When I got home I picked it up and started reading on a whim. Three hours later, I had finished it. I only stopped once, in between Part I and Part II to make a salad for lunch and text my friend that I was in the process of having my heart shattered.

Here’s the January 2014 op-ed piece he wrote in the New York Times after his diagnosis that spurred the writing of this book.

Sadly, he did not live to see it published.

You may not think a neurosurgeon would be able to write such human and heartwarming prose, but Paul was a lover of literature all his life and a bit of a philosopher king. This shows in his writing. His wife’s epilogue about Paul’s final days alive also destroyed me. I was just balling on the couch.

After I finished reading it, I went for a walk and bought a brownie and ice cream to bring me out of the sad state I was in. Much like the patients in psychogenic comas he describes in the book, I was a bit of a zombie afterward.

Was I failing his moral quandary of what it means to be alive as I shovelled chilly vanilla ice cream and warm brownie into my mouth?

Maybe yes, maybe no. But if no then I quickly forgave myself, becauseif one thing is certain, it’s that when compared to regret, time is better spent eating ice cream.

Classic Nova Scotian dusk — the colour of moon mist. Looking across the Northumberland Strait. PEI is out there somewhere. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Classic Nova Scotian dusk — the colour of moon mist. Looking across the Northumberland Strait. PEI is out there somewhere. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Good on the internet

What happens when your investigative journalism is labelled a North Korean version of Eat, Pray, Love. I love this article on how Obama works at night – getting a Words with Friends invite from him is my new fantasy. Where athletes learn to be physically umcomfortable, intellectuals must learn to bear mental discomfort to advance their careers. Reducing decision fatigue also helps; here’s how Obama does it.

Haruki Murakami has a new non-fiction book coming out in November (!!!). This comic about a woman who discovers her feminine side through dance. Female explorers who didn’t get enough credit. A supercut of John Oliver freaking out.

The Ebola crisis in West Africa might be over (for now), but people are still dealing with the aftermath. This man survived his own lynching in 1930 Indiana – scroll down for the haunting photo of the mob. Notebooks are making a comeback in the Instagram era. What LGBT tourism looks like after Orlando (hint: not Bosnia). This 19th century Scottish scoundrel changed the way we visualize data. How 30 year olds are traveling better than 20 year olds.

Wisdom of the Week

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” – Mark Twain, from Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1935, p.240

Wisdom by Mark Twain, photo of path by me. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Wisdom by Mark Twain, photo of path by me. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Hope you’ve got a great week coming up. This morning I’m waking up in Nova Scotian cottage country smelling like a bonfire and bug spray, watching friends play a game of Fluxx, listening to the sizzle of bacon and looking forward to french toast. So far, I’m off to a pretty good start. Be good to yourself, and I’ll see you back here next Sunday! If not sooner. Happy Canada day weekend.

Happy little Canadian lupins. I’ve been watching a lot of Bob Ross lately. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Happy little Canadian lupins. I’ve been watching a lot of Bob Ross lately. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)