Strange fact: poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller kept rotting apples in his drawer. Apparently, the ghastly smell inspired him to work.
I read it on Daily Rituals: how artists work, a collection of famous people’s daily routines that can be devoured in a couple of hours.
Saying devoured I really mean it. It’s one of the most addictive books ever. Every time I re-read it I get inspired by the quirks and daily routines of the famous people and instantly feel a craving for MORE as if under the influence of some kind of literary monosodium glutamate.
Since a second part of the book is not coming out any time soon, I decided to take the matter into my own hands and interview a couple of friends and ask them a few simple questions: what does their day look like, what tools do they use in their work, how do they unwind if things get tough and what are their bad apples — quirks or strange rituals that help them work better. I hope this would sate the hunger, at least temporarily.
Emanuelis Ryklys is the first on my Bad Apples list.
Blessed with a name well suited for a mafia don (Ryklys means a shark), he is nothing like it. Calm, kind, outspoken and dealing only in legal stimulants — caffeine to be exact.
I visit Emanuelis at his minimalist coffee bar expecting some dark coffee and a good story. The bar looks more like a modern art gallery than your usual coffee place. White walls, a minimalist white counter, some wooden shelves with a bunch of Chemexes, French presses, some odd looking alchemist coffee drips and an ever-turning coffee bean roaster in the corner. That’s pretty much it.
I admire the elegant simplicity of the place. And I’m definitely not the only one — the bar was recently featured in Dezeen magazine and Ryklys himself is the person most often photographed by the Monocle. Well, at least in Vilnius (twice and counting).
It’s 9 a. m., the bar is not opened for business yet. We’re both still pleasantly groggy, but to my surprise Emanuelis is preparing cocoa, not coffee. I was expecting a caffeine kick to fuel our chat, but he obviously wants to show that he’s not so orthodox with his morning beverages.
“How much coffee per day do you usually drink?” — I fire away with the first question. I want to compare his answer with my own achievements as I’m an avid coffee drinker.
Emanuelis looks at the ceiling, counting. “Not so much, actually. I have the first cup just to wake up and then I can taste and appreciate the second. I already had around 200 ml today”.
Counting coffee consumption in millilitres like a true professional, I think. That’s a promising start.
He wants to prepare some breakfast snacks for us and is washing a banana — I can tell he hasn’t properly woken up yet (I mean, who washes a banana?), so perhaps some good strong coffee would be a better idea than cocoa for both of us. But I don’t want to interrupt his morning rituals and I just smile and nod. Emanuelis brings me the cocoa and some green tea for himself (another blasphemy by a coffee man). I take a sip and we talk. We start with the mornings.
Ryklys usually gets up somewhere between 7:30 and 8 a.m. His ringer goes off at seven thirty exactly, but often is followed by a couple of snoozes. There's a painting called Bedman just in front of the bed which reminds him of the importance of a good night’s rest —I'm assuming Bedman is the one to blame for all the snoozing.
Finally risen, he starts with the everybody's usual – a glass of water, a yawn, brushing his teeth. Refreshed he says good morning to his significant other. Ryklys says it's an important part of the morning ritual. I think it's sweet of him to mention that.
Then the ritual of the first coffee follows. Weighing and grinding the beans, taking the glorious sniff of the fresh grounds (called the angels’ share).
“Breakfast is quite important to me,” says Ryklys. I can tell — the beforementioned banana is now cleaner than ever and is sitting on our table split into several small parts. “I like sweet stuff,” he says. “Buns, oats, fruits stuff like that. I like deserts.”
“A carbs man” — I jot down in my notes.
“I like jelly with yoghurt. That’s my biggest culinary discovery of this summer,” he laughs.
Despite all the sweets, Emanuelis is slim, energetic and has been like that ever since I remember him. So, I am naturally intrigued what's his metabolic secret, is it coffee or intense cardio or both. “Snickers is one of my classic favorites,” he says. Mystery of slimness remains unsolved.
“Do you do sports?” I ask.
“No, I wish I could do more. I don’t do sports, but I still move a lot. I stand at the counter all day. Some days I even miss sitting. As for sports, last year I had several sessions of badminton and developed what my doctor effectively named a “Sunday Athlete’s Syndrome.” Nothing too severe, a slight ache in the knees. I wish I could run since everybody’s now praising how great it is, but I never was much of a runner, “ he says.
“Neither was I” — I say, “But then I got a good advice on running and now I run a lot and I love it. First you have to run as slow as possible and then you will get the hang of it” — I share my pearls of running wisdom.
Ryklys nods politely, sips his tea and continues the story. I capture it hastily in my notes, which now have spatters of cocoa on them.
He lives near his coffee place, just a couple of blocks away, on the first-and-a-half floor of an old building. He usually takes the same route to work. “Do you walk with earphones in?” — I ask.
“No, there’s no reason for earphones. There was a time when music was very important to me, but other stuff took it’s place. I listen to NTS radio and I like movie soundtracks, which are great for the comforting background noise.
But now the roaster is mainly my music,” he says without a pinch of pretentiousness.
I know it’s true. I’ve seen him roasting, grinding and brewing coffee plenty of times. He doesn’t rush, he meditates upon these simple tasks. One magazine rightfully dubbed him a coffee poet. More precise label than my own invention — man with the name of a mobster, but a heart of gold.
Back in the day Ryklys used to do a podcast called “Bangos” (waves). It was one of my personal all time favorites. I still listen to it sometimes, even to this day. Beautiful, easy, nostalgic music. Perfect to relieve anxieties of too much coffee, which is often my case. Pity that it had to go.
I ask him about some of his favorite working tools. He thinks for a moment. His studio is pleasantly airy and uncluttered, so it doesn’t take long “I really like my towel” — he says. “I like the texture and the weight when it gets wet. It was a gift from a Japanese friend Saori. The towel has this ethnographic Lithuanian pattern but is sold somewhere in Tokyo.
We go to see the towel.
“Although the motif is Lithuanian, the patterning itself is purely Japanese, look” — he folds the towel only to reveal the exact same pattern underneath the fold. I am mesmerized. “You fold it, and the pattern remains uninterrupted. It’s a trick they use for kimonos — they have a lot of folds, but the pattern is still continuous.”
I admit that’s the coolest towel I’ve seen in a long time.
Next thing Emanuelis is really happy with is his kettle. “It’s name in Japanese is “rabbit on the moon” — he says. The kettle is obsidian black and glittering like a scarab’s back with an elegant slim trunk attached at the very bottom of the tank. "It's quite delicate and should be handled with attention. The water starts pouring as soon as you tilt it a few centimeters. You have to be precise and gentle, otherwise you'll splash boiling water all around"
“One more thing I’m really satisfied with are these jeans ”— he slaps his thigh. “It was a good purchase, I like the color, I like the texture. The brand’s “Edwin” and the sales guy said it is the return of Japanese jeans.”
Japanese again? Three in three of your favorite things are Japanese?”
“It seems so. It’s not intentional, honestly,” smiles Ryklys.
I ask about books and writers. He says he reads quite a bit, has just finished Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us. “Some technical literature” he says. The book covers both physiological effects of caffeine and cultural implications of it. If Ryklys is interested in something, he goes deep into it, he even has a verb for it, which would translate as something like “to deepen”.
“You know, sometimes I want to buy a book but I dislike the design so I hesitate.” He recently bought Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks after much consideration. He didn’t like the cover, but finally gave in. It’s a good read though.
He mentions Vonnegut and Bukowski and the copywriter for his brand Solveiga as his favorites stylewise. It doesn’t come as a surprise. Their simple, yet juicy writing style is similar to Emanuelis own writings. Straightforward, but not plain. Short, but meaningful sentences. He writes the posts for social media himself and even contributes to a blog of a celebrity chef writing about, not surprisingly — coffee.
“When I was in advertising, I used to have coffee breaks. Now I sometimes have advertising breaks,” he laughs.
He has read and liked C. G. Jung’s autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, but somebody had borrowed the book and now won’t return it. Coffee and psychology seem to dominate his interests at the moment.
I ask how does he keep track of the important stuff, such as the books he lent out.
A simple sheet of paper and a pencil is his favorite technique for notes. He splits it into a grid by the weekday and fills it in with a good old to-do list. For appointments and meetings iCal is convenient. It's easy to use and has reminders. Wunderlist is handy for sharing tasks with somebody. "I used it when we were working on our coffee conference Dark Times. Useful to have your to-dos synced with the team". However, all apps aside,
Ryklys still chooses a simple pencil as his favorite. Simplicity of writing by hand is relaxing.
"What are your other ways to relax?" I ask.
“If I start feeling overwhelmed, I go for a walk. That’s my most basic way to unwind”, he says. However, Ryklys doesn’t seem like a stressed guy to me. I remember a quote by some elderly gentleman that I read somewhere. When asked about relaxation, the old timer answered simply: “I don't get tense”. I think it's Emanuelis' trick as well.
As our time is coming to an end we talk about sleeping habits. Ryklys tells me 10 p.m. is the mark at which he changes the gear and is ready to sleep. He rarely goes to bed without the one last offering for his sweet tooth. Usually it’s a glass of milk and a piece of chocolate followed by a movie or an episode of TV series. He anticipates the new season of The Knick. I note that as to-watch as he describes the costumes, plot and some gory details of it. He liked the first episodes of House of Cards but then it got too political. I suggest Broad City as an easy entertaining watch. He says he will check it out.
As we conclude our talk, his girlfriend walks in and finally calls for some coffee. Ryklys is off to brew a Chemex of Malawi coffee called Mzuzu. I chat with Inga for a while. She is the one who created the interior of the bar.
Inga tells me the color of the floor is called Princess Grey. We joke about interesting color names. She says their second best choice was called Wet Dolphin. I wish they had picked that one. I finish my coffee, say bye and leave with the first bad apple in my folder.
Next time — rich and famous illustrator.