This week I dredged up a photograph of Julián, our landlord and next door neighbour in Panama. He was tickled to pose for this photo—he always enjoyed sharing cultural differences.
In this photo, Julián was grinding coffee in a massive mortar and pestle called a pilón. These tools get near-constant use—grinding coffee, pounding rice to remove the hulls, grinding corn—and I loved to hear the deep, rhythmic thud, thud, thud of the neighbours at work.
And I was always grateful to buy my coffee already ground…
A pilón is carved from the trunk of a tree, and when it’s not in use as a grinder, often serves, tipped on its side, as a bench in the kitchen. Every family we knew had one, but they must last forever, because I never saw a new one. They were all beaten and dinged, and I imagine they must be able to tell some great stories.