Guest Blog Post, George Estreich: Americano

George Estreich, poet and author of "The Shape of the Eye"

George Estreich, poet and author of “The Shape of the Eye”

In July of 2008, the year I lived in Melbourne with my family, Starbucks responded to the economic crisis by shuttering hundreds of stores worldwide. In the letters section of The Age, Melbourne’s newspaper of record, the event registered as a triumph over an uncouth invader:

 

Good riddance, Starbucks, take your awful coffee and go back to the rat hole you came from.

            Matt Smith, Beaumaris.

 

And (huffily), under the headline “A win for good taste”:

 

Finally, the Australian public has resisted the temptation to mimic and Americanise our lives, by rejecting the Starbucks coffee model. When you consider that the average good (Italian) coffee outlet in Melbourne will charge roughly $3 for a great coffee that will be brought to your table in a china cup, why on earth would people want to pay roughly double for an average coffee, often with a fancy name, in a cardboard cup, that you have to line up for, with no service?

We are to be congratulated.

            Steven Rose, Caulfield

*

            Seven months earlier, as we prepared to leave Oregon for my wife’s sabbatical year, I’d sworn never to visit an Australian Starbucks. Why travel to a new shore, then turn your back on the continent? Why open new vistas, then shut your eyes? At the same time, I hadn’t sworn off coffee, which I need in order to avoid headaches, write clearly, and stabilize my moods. But after we arrived in Melbourne, I could not find coffee anywhere. It was only one of a long list of absences, including familiar faces, Mexican food, and rain. (To move from the Pacific Northwest in winter to a Victorian summer, from a dank, rainy perma-twilight to a surfeit of sun, is as dramatic a shift as you can make in the First World.)

I ventured into non-corporate coffee shops on Chapel Street and Swanston Street and Glenferrie Road, ready with my colorful Australian money, and asked for a cup of coffee.

What kind of coffee?

            Well…coffee.

            (Delicately.) Espresso, macchiato, cappuccino…?

Drip coffee, at least outside Starbucks, does not exist in Melbourne. The closest thing to it is what Starbucks calls “Americano,” and what Australians call a “long black.” Sometimes you can get coffee made with a French press. Once, in a Gloria Jean’s, I ordered the French Press Coffee of the Day. From the hasty conference behind the counter, I gathered that the Coffee of the Day flavor would have to be identified, and the French press would have to be located and dusted off. Eventually something smelling of burned hazelnuts appeared in a paper cup.

The brief, confused conversations I had with baristas, in early January, seemed part of a seamless web of disorientation and confusion. It included the black light that evidently flashed on above my head whenever I opened my mouth, or the awkward tack-left-tack-right stutter-step that happened every ten steps on crowded city sidewalks, where we had to remember to walk on the left side. It is, I suppose, that disorientation that we went there to find, in order to recover from it.

The absence of coffee felt like the absence of a personal history. I had grown up with the smell of burned coffee in a two-stage aluminum pot (you poured boiling water in the top, and it sank through a perforated basket full of Maxwell House grounds, producing a dark ichor, whose liquid remainder thickened and burned above a low flame all Saturday morning); I had drunk gallons of watery diner refills as a teenager, while out late avoiding the house; for years after I was married, I made double-strength Folger’s in the Braun coffeemaker given as a wedding gift; and then I learned, after moving to the Pacific Northwest, that coffee was not only too precious for free refills, but that it had its own vocabulary of aroma and taste and provenance, like wine for the productive. As a newcomer to Cascadia, I came to have preferences. When at home, I drank fair-trade organic French Roast Sumatra delivered to the local food co-op by bicycle, though none of these qualities were as important to me as its raw strength. I like coffee, I like the taste of it, and I prefer it to be fairly traded, but the truth is that it’s always been about the milligrams. Which is how I came to spend hundreds of dollars a year at Starbucks for something I once thought too bitter to consume.

Writers need rituals, a way to make the world recede. Over the years in the Northwest, writing in Starbucks had become my ritual, the habit that enclosed the habit. I’d park myself by an outlet, plug in the laptop, and write for most of the morning. It was comfortable—that carefully crafted “third space,” neither home nor work, was a good fit for a writer without a job—and over the years, as the price of a grande house ticked upward, the comfort began to feel necessary. That third space is designed to be ignored, to be pleasant, unobtrusive, a dependable nowhere. Glancing around, I saw that most other customers were living in third spaces of their own, texting, surfing the net, looking at Windows or out through windows. I was no different; an unfinished manuscript is a third space too. You spend hours there, or years, but you don’t live there, and you hope to leave as soon as you can.

In Melbourne, ignoring our surroundings was not an option. The least detail demanded attention. Which tram do we take? Where can I find coffee? Why does that big cemetery have a banner announcing a website? What does “Bob’s your uncle” mean? In response, we kept our eyes and ears open, asked questions, and reconstituted a version of home. In our beige rented apartment, we slept on mattresses on the floor and covered cardboard boxes with fabric to make nightstands. Our desk was a card table in a corner of the living/dining area. We didn’t own a car; we got around on trams and commuter trains, which not only made us feel virtuous, but also made the rare car ride seem futuristic in its velocity. I joked about selling carbon credits to friends with SUVs, but our plane flights to, from, and within the continent ensured that our carbon footprint was probably less dainty than thunderous. From the atmosphere’s perspective, we were stomping around in clown shoes.

We had translated our life into Australian, and like Australian English, it was both comprehensible and different in every syllable. We had debit cards (called “EFTPOS”), cell phones (“mobiles”), my daughters attended school (in uniforms), my wife worked in a lab (but did not teach), and I cooked, hung out with the kids after school, and revised my manuscript (but not in Starbucks).

*

            Whenever I told anyone we were moving to Australia, I was quick to note that we were lucky. We were lucky. I was determined to make the best of that luck, so I began to drink coffee that was good (Italian). I developed a taste for cappuccino.

The presence of cappuccino, macchiato, espresso et al in Melbourne is not the result of a corporate marketing plan. Nor is it a recent trend. Coffee that is good (Italian) exists in Melbourne because Melbourne has Italians, who migrated to Australia and brought their coffee with them. Melbourne is often described as a “cosmopolitan” or “European” city, and in coffee is the bitter essence of that Europeanness. This, perhaps, is the source of the Melbournian reaction to Starbucks: with its ridiculous names, its grandes and ventis and Frappuccinos, the stores were one more visible reminder of Americans taking over and ruining everything authentic and good.

Leaving friends and family for a year is hard; adjusting to a new culture is hard; uncertainty, in general, is hard. Learning to drink cappuccino is easy. It is possibly the easiest expatriate adjustment on record. In Mr. Tulk (the cafe at the State Library, named for its first librarian); in Brown’s, the bakery/cafe I’d go to with my daughters every Thursday after school; at a shivery outdoor picnic table at the Collingwood Children’s Farm; in a dozen other places I walked into because I’d read about them, or just because I was curious, I learned, somehow, to cope. The cappuccino was good.

            It was always gone too soon. The bladder-straining Grande Paper Vat was now a memory, and the quality of Australian coffee (excellent) and the quantity (less than ginormous) were instructive. I was reading a lot of Michael Pollan in those days, and the cappuccino seemed part of a sensibly Australian approach to food. The portions were reasonable, not huge. Even at McDonald’s—I hadn’t sworn off McDonald’s, a practical parent never surrenders a useful bribe–a large soda was maybe sixteen ounces, not thirty-two. Also, the refills weren’t free. The middle of Australia is spinifex-filled desert, not corn, so you also paid for packets of ketchup, and for soda refills. From across the equator, I was coming to see America as the Land of Free-Flowing Corn Syrup, where you could have as much as you wanted of whatever was profoundly bad for you.

Now and then, walking up Swanston Street to the State Library, I’d pass the open door of Starbucks. It smelled exactly like home. But then, so did the Lush, which smelled exactly like its counterpart in Portland; and, for that matter, so did the McDonald’s (“Macca’s”), or the Burger King (“Hungry Jack’s”). All seemed to have drilled a pipeline of memory from Australia to America, and whenever the fragrance of Chicken McNuggets or Pike Place Roast wafted out on refrigerated air, I experienced a swell of false nostalgia. Of course, it was not place I remembered, but displacement, a familiar nowhere, precise, predictable, franchised. I walked on.

The cappuccino did come in a china cup. You sat and drank it, and when it was gone, you left. In an American Starbucks, customers tend to either rush off with to-go cups or loiter for hours over laptops. In Australia, these extremes were harder to find. To-go cups were unusual, and we never saw anyone with coffee on a tram. In these practices were an echo of teatime, which in Theresa’s lab was mandatory. No conversation about work allowed. No drinking tea at your desk. You stop what you’re doing and have tea. It was one of the many reminders that though Australia and the United States had their origins in a single empire, they were traveling on very different vectors.

The cappuccino was very, very good. It was good (Italian); it was good (Australian); it was good (Melbournian). But it was, emphatically, not American.

*

            Reading the letters to The Age—“good riddance, Starbucks”–I experienced an odd flicker of patriotism. Since arriving from the Superpower Rat Hole I was born to, I had been bumping up against my foreignness. I was the one with the accent. I was, for better or worse, the representative of a clueless superpower. And while I found, as many have, that Australians are extraordinarily generous and kind and open, there was also a sort of unexpected ironic reserve, a skepticism, not accurately represented in the commercials for Outback Steakhouse. No one ever told us to go back to the rat hole we came from, but Theresa, at work, was asked in all seriousness if she carried a handgun back home, and I was asked more than once (in a tone of hopeful absolution) if I might perhaps be from Canada.

Because we made friends over the year, because we attended school plays and soccer games and visited places like Merimbula, where American tourists rarely go, we came to see that this attitude was far from rigid. Australians always seemed happy to be proved wrong about Americans. We were not necessarily assumed to be gun-toting, Palin-supporting, Frappuccino-swilling rats, but there was a tone of relief when we turned out not to be. This relief became general in Australia at about 2:30 p.m. on November 4th, when it became clear that America would have a President who was black and Democratic–and a Vice-President who was not Alaskan–and from that day on until we left in late December, the mood was palpably different. There was hope for us, after all. On the day Obama was elected, Laura’s bus driver was in tears, she was so happy, and Theresa’s lab stopped work for the afternoon. Instead of teatime, they had champagne.

*

            Five years later, I feel less inspired than disappointed. The hopes attending Obama’s arrival don’t change the facts of climate. We live in the Anthropocene now, and one peculiar fact of our manmade era is that it is all too comprehensible. Ice melts, the temperature goes up, the species go extinct, the birds’ ranges alter, and the CO2 continues to accumulate. We know what we need to know, and we know that we know it. To have this kind of awareness is to feel less certain about ordinary life. Its solidity shimmers, as if seen through the fumes rising from a gas can. We are compromised Zen masters, enlightened but culpable: the world is impermanent, and it’s all our fault.

To live in Victoria in 2008 was to feel large-scale climate change, in a way western Oregon does not usually allow. Though the blazing heat wave that welcomed us to Melbourne was weather, the eleven-year drought in Victoria was something else again. By the time we arrived, that drought was simply the new normal. The climate had changed. The signs were everywhere, in water restrictions, in the black pipes sticking up from the bases of trees, in patchy cricket grounds, in news reports about irrigation conflicts and the Murray River turning to acid. On February 7, 2009, about a month after we got back home, days of record temperatures and wind prepared the way for the Black Saturday bushfires. Marysville, northeast of Melbourne, was completely incinerated. Thirty-four people died in Marysville alone, one hundred and seventy-three altogether. The smoke cloud was visible from space.

We’d driven through Marysville on our way to Healesville Animal Sanctuary, where my younger daughter, who’d once been terrified by a wallaby hopping through a campsite in New South Wales, successfully petted a kangaroo. I remembered Marysville as one of dozens of tidy, friendly Australian towns, with an Australia Post, an op shop (thrift store: “op” is short for “opportunity”), a few restaurants, a few stores for tourists. Online, you can find photos before and after the fire. The photos before the event correspond to memory, the photos after do not. The aerial photos show an apocalyptic plat map. At ground level, it seems as if color itself has been burned away. Our connection to the tragedy is so slight, it is almost obscene to mention it, except that disasters of that scale are becoming more likely as the world warms, and our chances of escaping them, or avoiding them by travel, are decreasing.

We live in the shadow of unimaginable numbers, the sum of our routines. We drive to Starbucks, because it is raining; we fly to Australia, because we want a change; we take the tram to the State Library and sit in the Australiana Room, the light filtering from a high window, because we want to write about a life. These acts consume energy, and while individually trivial, they are significant in the aggregate. Tim Flannery, the Australian scientist and author of The Weather Makers, explains the “telekinetic” nature of the atmosphere: wherever the carbon comes from, it quickly distributes throughout the system. Whether it’s the black Land Rover wedging itself into a Chadstone Shopping Centre parking space, the hunter green Outback pulling up to a Trader Joe’s, or the Prius in the Starbucks drive-through, each of us contributes our parts per million. Our routines produce the crisis, but the crisis also threatens our routines.

*

            When we came back to America, I decided to buy a new coffeemaker. Even after two weeks back in the States, it seemed as if the year abroad was already dissolving. We blinked and returned to the same house, in the same Northwest winter, except our children’s friends were suddenly taller. We stepped outside the bubble for a year, and the bubble welcomed us back. It was eerie: I felt too settled in, as if the trip had not happened. As if some part of me, altered by the trip abroad, refused to root and flourish. Perhaps that dislocation was my way of honoring the fact of the year away.

So I drove to the Fred Meyer store and bought a new Black and Decker coffeemaker, which, when I plugged it in and filled the filter basket with fresh-ground bicycle-delivered organic beans, produced four cups of watery swill. I drove back and returned it, then drove to the ARC on 10th and Beca and found a used Mr. Coffee brand coffeemaker/cappuccino maker for eight dollars. It was so old, its instruction manual did not even list a website. The manual was precisely written, by someone who clearly cared about espresso (the proper grind was “like salt, or sand”); but strikingly, it was written, in English, and not composed of generic, globalization-friendly icons. (These are handy, if you want to sell an appliance in eighty different countries; but they are limited. You can show someone a generic hand filling a carafe with water; you can demonstrate the concept of “plugging in”; you can show not doing something, or rudimentary concepts like “hot” or “shocky” or “ouch”; but you cannot, without words, demonstrate the proper fineness of an espresso grind.)

It took awhile to get the cappuccino maker part to work, but it works. The coffeemaker part works too, but most mornings I make cappuccino; it reminds me of another home. As for Starbucks, I don’t go there as much as I used to. The book I was writing is done, and it’s quieter at my desk.

Esalen: A Place for Exploration

Intern Guest Post: Esalen: A Place for Exploration

Earlier this millennium, I learned from my friend Stan about the Esalen Institute a remote 27 acre retreat on the Big Sur coastline between Monterey and San Luis Obispo, California. Digging, I learned that Esalen was founded in 1962 as “an alternative educational center devoted to the exploration of what Aldous Huxley called the ‘human potential’—the world of unrealized human capacities that lies beyond the imagination.” I was intrigued. So in the summer of 2004, I made my first journey to Esalen.

I arrived at Esalen with my friend Stan after driving the better part of a day from Orange County, departing from civilization at San Luis Obispo and another 90 miles of the 2-lane Pacific Coast Highway, California 1. Arriving, I was taken by the striking beauty of the place. After checking in at the lodge, we found our simple but very comfortable accommodations. After a brief exploration of the grounds, we headed to dinner at the lodge. Esalen’s meals are served camp style and the food is excellent. Meat, dairy, vegetarian, vegan, and raw foods are served at every meal and produce is picked daily from Esalen’s five-acre organic farm.

Stan and I had enrolled in a five-day workshop led by Steven Harper, an eco-psychologist, wilderness guide, author, and artist. At 8:30 p.m. on arrival day, we had our first session, an orientation to the week’s activities and brief explanation of the goals of the workshop. Harper’s work focuses on wild nature as a vehicle for awakening. For the remainder of the week, he took us for practiced meditative walks through four diverse natural areas in Big Sur’s Ventana Wilderness—a deeply satisfying, introspective experience. After 20 or so years in business, I so needed to reconnect with nature and Steve’s workshop was the ideal medium.

Since that first workshop, I have returned to Esalen four more times and each experience has brought new perspectives and opportunities for inward exploration. For instance, a workshop with cultural anthropologist Dr. Angeles Arrien, The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer utilized Shamanic dreaming techniques and practice that allowed me to reconnect with long forgotten experiences in overcoming personal and professional challenges today.

Another time I came with my wife and young children for a week-long session with Rick Jarrow that helped me change course in my career, providing the impetus for me to return to school. Esalen has a children’s program for seminarians through its Gazebo Park School Early Childhood Program and babysitters are available during evening sessions.

In addition to the workshops, Esalen is known for its Arts Center, distinct Massage style, movement and activity programs, and mineral Hot Springs. Esalen produces two catalogs per year covering 500 workshops on diverse topics including writing and visual arts. Here are a couple of examples of courses from the July – December, 2012 catalog:

Writing the Wild led by Marisa Handler, author of Loyal to the Sky, which won a 2008 Nautilus Gold Award for world-changing books. Her essays, journalism, fiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous publications, and she teaches creative writing at Stanford and the California Institute for Integral Studies.

Framing Nature: Photography as Meditation and Mirror led by Andy Abrahams Wilson, an award-winning filmmaker and photographer. Recent projects include the Academy Award semifinalist Under Our Skin and the PBS broadcast The Grove. His focus is using the camera to create a bridge between ourselves and our environment.

Generally, depending on my level of stress it takes up to two days to melt into the Esalen experience. It is for this reason that I recommend at least a five-day workshop, ideally seven-days with a five-day and a three-day workshop.

Announcing: Matthew Gavin Frank

In our Issue 7, Superstition Review had the honor to publish poetry by Matthew Gavin Frank. We would like to share that Frank’s new book Pot Farm (The University of Nebraska Press/Bison Books), is now available for pre-order on the press website and on Amazon. The book is a behind-the-scenes exposé of a Northern California medical marijuana farm.

Praise for Pot Farm:

Pot Farm is the curious and compelling tale of a hazy season spent harvesting medical marijuana. The cast of characters rivals those found in the finest comic fiction, except these folks are real, and really peculiar. Pot Farm is smart, sly, revelatory, often laugh-out-loud funny, and entirely legal.”—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire

“Sex, politics, intrigue, crime, adventure, life and death—it’s all here, in a strangely compelling hybrid of action flick meets postmodern philosophical meditation meets Cheech and Chong. This compulsively readable exposé from a self-proclaimed ‘unreliable narrator’ has it all, including a cast of outcast characters who simply jump off the page.”—Gina Frangello, author of Slut Lullabies

Frank’s book Barolo has gone into its second printing in paperback, and will include links to Italian Piemontese recipes. This new addition is available for preorder here.

Congratulations, Matthew.

Announcing: Kat Meads

Kat Meads headshot_300+In 2008, in Issue 2, Superstition Review published Kat Meads’ essay Relativism: The Size of the Tsar in Vegas.We were honored for her contribution, and we are now very happy to share the news of her recently released novel.

Announcing:

when the dust finally settles
by Kat Meads
A novel about land, loyalty and racial politics in the 1968 South
Ravenna Press, September 2011
http://www.katmeads.com

Advance Praise for when the dust finally settles:

When anyone asks if Southern Literature has a future in our internet, iPhone, jet-lagged, speed-of-light world, I point them to Kat Meads. Her fiction is Southern through and through even as it embraces the dilemmas and contradictions of 21st century life. Simply put, you must read Kat Meads.
—Jason Sanford, Founding Editor, storySouth

Kat Meads’ writing is keen and precise; her stories, populous and lively. In when the dust finally settles, she employs a staccato, rhythmic prose in the service of a narrative both beautifully imagined and wildly exotic. when the dust finally settles will keep you up nights reading its propulsive story, but will also reward the reader who loves finely crafted sentences and pitch-perfect dialogue.
—Corey Mesler, author of Following Richard Brautigan

In The Invented Life of Kitty Duncan, Kat Meads created a 1950’s-era Scarlett O’Hara in eastern North Carolina. Now, in when the dust finally settles, she speaks through Faulknerian voices as white and black members of her small eastern North Carolina community desegregate the schools in the 1960’s. Meads’ Clarence Carter, speaking from the dead, provides a surprisingly upbeat (and humorous) perspective on the events unfolding in the community he has not yet quite left. The other voices, young and old, share Clarence’s openness to change—a refreshingly different Southern story.
—Dr. Margaret D. Bauer, Rives Chair of Southern Literature, East Carolina University;
Editor, North Carolina Literary Review

_______________________

The Reading Period at Superstition Review has opened. Please send us your submissions of art, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction  between now and October 31st.

Literary Event: Sherman Alexie at the Tempe Center for the Arts

As part of Project Humanities launch week festivities, they will be holding an event at the Tempe Center for the Arts on Monday, February 7th at 7 p.m.  The keynote speaker for the event will be author, poet and screenwriter Sherman Alexie and he will speak on the topic “People, Places and Stories.”

Alexie, currently residing in Seattle, Washington, bases much of his writing on his experiences as a Native American. Some of his best known works are a book of short stories entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1994), the film Smoke Signals, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, an autobiographical novel for young adults.

In 1999, Alexie was named as one of The New Yorker’s top 20 writers of the twenty-first century. In 2007, Alexie was awarded the National Book Award prize for Young People’s literature for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Last year Alexie won the PEN/Faulkner Award for War Dances, the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the recipient of the Puterbaugh Award and holds the distinction of being the first American to receive the award.

The event takes place February 7th at 7 p.m. at the Tempe Center for the Arts located at 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway Tempe, AZ. 8528. Parking is free for guests in the lot adjacent to the facility. No tickets are needed for this event; seating is on a first come first serve basis. Guests may arrive at 6 p.m. and doors to the theater will open at 6:30 p.m.

Reading Series Reminder and Author Stella Pope Duarte Wins 2009 American Book Award

Don’t forget, Superstition Review‘s Reading Series kicks off this Monday, September 21, at 7 p.m., held at Changing Hands Bookstore! The reading will feature some exciting names, including Rita Ackerman, Annie Lopez, and Stella Pope Duarte.

Former intern for SR, Veronica Martinez, interviewed Stella for Superstition Review last semester about her newest published book, If I Die in Juarez, for issue 3. It’s with great excitement, then, that we announce that this very book has been awarded an American Book Award for 2009. This is a prestigious award given to an author who accomplishes diversity in the literary community, presented by other writers.

A lot of the interns will be in attendance so don’t forget to say hi if you see us, we’d be happy to talk to you. We will also be live-tweeting at the event so, if you can’t make it, you can stay up-to-the minute with the event on our Twitter account (add us!).

Come on down to Changing Hands, at 6428 S McClintock Dr, Tempe, 85283, at the southwest corner of McClintock Dr and Guadalupe, to hear one of this year’s American Book Award winners and her accomplished students celebrate the first reading of the SR Reading Series!

Stella Pope Duarte’s Official Homepage

Changing Hands Bookstore

Superstition Review on Twitter

Local Event: Chris Crutcher at Chandler Gilbert Community College

Chris Crutcher, notable young adult novelist and former family therapist, is going to be making a stop in the valley to give a lecture in a couple weeks as a way to kick off Banned Books Week (September 26-October 3).

Chandler Gilbert Community College, located at 2626 E Pecos Rd
Chandler, 85225
, will be hosting Chris for his lecture titled, “Banned: When Real Life Fiction Meets the Censor.” The lecture will be held at 9:40 a.m. 11:05 a.m. on Monday, September 28, in CGCC’s Performing Arts Center (PAC building) on the Pecos campus.

Having been challenged and banned numerous times for his own writing, Chris is a strong advocate for freedom of fiction and is constantly participating in freedom of fiction events. Particularly because he has experienced tough stories as a counselor, and he knows that life is not always easy especially for young adults, he challenges bannings of his books quite often–he not only argues for the books to be allowed to be printed, but he also argues that banning is belittling real-life situations and disallowing young readers to connect to the books they read.

We hope you can make it to this free event!

Chris Crutcher’s Office Homepage

Chandler-Gilbert Community College Campus Map

CGCC’s Event Page