The Moka Pot

Bialetti Express 3 Cup Moka Pot
Image taken from the website.

I first saw a Moka pot in an episode of Cuéntame. That’s a Spanish tv series, technically “Cuéntame cómo pasó”, that is best described as a Spanish version of The Wonder Years. The show follows the fortunes of the Alcántara family of Madrid, initially during the Franco era but later into the 1980s. In one early episode there was a scene set in the family’s kitchen and on the stove was a strange metal contraption. It had flattened sides unlike anything I’d seen before and I had no idea what it was.

That must have been after 2011, for that was the year that I spent six months in Spain and first became aware of the show. The early episodes had been broadcast about a decade earlier but I watched them anyway because watching tv in a foreign language is an excellent way to tune your ear. To that end, if you’re trying to learn Castillian Spanish then RTVE is an excellent resource.

Skip forward to February 2016, when I read the Times obituary for Renato Bialetti. The Italian industrialist had died recently aged 93 and the article explained that his fortune had been made by the Moka pot. This was the flat-sided metal contraption I’d seen on tv and the obituary said that it was a coffee-making machine designed for domestic use.

But he didn’t invent it. The official version is that it was invented by Bialetti’s father, Alfonso. Another version is that it was invented by a man named Luigi De Ponti and Alfonso merely purchased the design.

What’s beyond doubt is that Bialetti senior had the means for production and began selling them in 1933. They were better than anything else on the market in Italy at the time and people could finally enjoy good coffee at home.

This is where the younger Mr Bialetti enters the story. If his father had begun production of the Moka pot, the son popularised it. With a talent for promotion he sold them in such numbers that they are considered one of the top five icons of 20th century Italian design, alongside the Fiat 500 and the Vespa scooter. Nearly every Italian household has one.

I knew all this backstory before I saw one in the flesh. A Spanish colleague in London brought one in to work. Another colleague commented on the strange device and I explained that it wasn’t a one-off but they were in fact iconic in Italy and Spain. In London they remain practically unknown.

Still, that was the only one I’d ever encountered in real life – till I found myself in a coffee shop in the northern suburbs of Melbourne and saw an entire shelf-full of them on sale. They came in a variety of sizes and were surprisingly cheap. I still didn’t buy one.

And now I’ve met a Swiss guy who has one. Turns out that they’re not just well known in Spain and Italy, they’re popular in Switzerland too. Which given Switzerland’s proximity to Italy should not be a surprise.

But you know something? Despite knowing what I know about them, and having a strong liking for coffee, I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever tried the coffee from one. That will have to wait for another day.

The Melancholy Roman

What the Opposition is for

Picture taken from the news report. Credit ABC News: Eliza Laschon

Sometimes I wonder if other people actually understand how things are meant to function.

There’s an article on the ABC’s website today titled “How WA Labor has changed its tune on Barnett government projects since coming to power.”

It points out that the WA Labor government has waxed lyrical about the Elizabeth Quay redevelopment, the Yagan Square development and the new Perth Stadium, despite opposing them when it was in opposition.

As the article points out, it goes both ways. The Liberal party was in opposition when the Mandurah railway line was built, and also when the Kwinana desalination plant was constructed. And they protested vociferously, then were very happy with these things when they came to power.

So both Liberal and Labor parties are equal opportunity hypocrites. Aren’t they?

Well, no. They’re doing what they’re meant to do.

If you ever find yourself in London in the summer and have some spare time, I recommend you go on an official guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. You have to pay but it is money well spent. If nothing else, it means you get to look inside a world-famous building.

The first time I went on this tour my guide mentioned something that I’d somehow not realised when learning about government at school: the opposition isn’t meant to agree with the government.

You know how sometimes you wish politicians would sit down and work out the best way forward? They’re not supposed to. The system is meant to be adversarial. What the government is supporting the opposition is meant to oppose.

The idea is that by opposing the government, the government’s ideas get properly tested. The opposition pulls the thing apart and tries to break it, and exposes any weaknesses. That’s the opposition’s job.

It’s not difficult to see that there are holes in this ideal. For a start, any political party in opposition is trying to win back power, so they might support the government instead of opposing them when it’s politically advantageous to do so. They also probe for the more politically potent weaknesses, as opposed to the more technical ones.

Still, that oppositions should oppose is a good general rule and so we should expect that a political party will oppose infrastructure spending while in opposition, then champion the outcome if the infrastructure is good and they’ve won an election in the meantime.

Which is why the WA Labor party is now enthusiastic about Yagan Square, Elizabeth Quay and Perth Stadium, and the Liberal party now likes the desalination plant and the Mandurah line.

I’ll go further and say that there is room for grace in politics. The current WA premier, Mark McGowan, invited Colin Barnett to Perth Stadium’s opening in January.

But still… shouldn’t the ABC, which is the national broadcaster, be aware of how politics is meant to work?

The Melancholy Roman