Seattle Barista Academy

Machine

I spent a Saturday afternoon auditing a class at the Seattle Barista Academy — I was there to write a story for an inflight magazine. Alexa, the coffee goddess who runs the course was a patient and entertaining instructor, I was charmed. I was also worried that I was going to freak out when faced with my home coffee situation because I Have Been Doing It All Wrong.

Barista Alexa

Turns out that while I enjoyed learning how to pull a perfect shot and how to control the variables that affect that shot, I’m likely to keep doing it wrong. The seals on my machine are going and the steamer has never really had enough pressure, but I like my house coffee.

  • Alexa has an Etsy shop with coffee themed cuteness.
  • These pics are mine, but the mag assigned Jeremy the photographer to the story, too.  His work is here.

Full Color

Barn

Best Road (not a value judgement, the name of the road) tulip field. Though it was a good road.

It freaked my eyes out to be standing in so much color. On prior visits to the Skagit Valley flower fields I’ve seen mostly tulips — the reddish flowers in stripey rows of green leaves seem to vibrate even on days when there’s not a breath of wind. It’s a complementary color thing — theorists and arts school types will nod, like, “Oh, yeah, that…” but you’ll find them gazing off towards the horizon, as hypnotized as someone who’s got no explanation for it. Guilty as charged.

Olympic Moutains

Those are the Olympic Mountains on the horizon.

There were some tulips on this trip, but mostly it was vast fields of yellow (and some white) daffodils. The sky was soft and gray but the flowers no less bright for the muted sun; in fact, standing in the midst of the flowers was like standing in a field surrounded by knee high desk lamps, all of them shining a bright golden light up at you. I was wearing sunglasses but squinting in the glare that appeared to be coming from the flowers themselves.

Tractor

This guy’s cultivating the field of tulips behind the daffs. Daffodils are allowed to whither, then the bulbs are harvested. Tulips get topped because the flower can be a conduit for a disease that wrecks the bulbs.

In answer to your question, no, it’s not too late. Everyone I asked — and I asked several local folks — said the tulips should be prime at right around Easter, but if it’s daffodils you want, you need to go now. They’re just about done.

Magenta

There’s zero post processing on this photo. That color is real.

  • Here’s the website for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and here’s the bloom map that shows you what’s in flower where. Even though the flowers are early, the tulip festival will run on schedule.
  • Heads up for the hay-feverish: You will get a snout full of pollen. It’s worth it, but you might want to be prepared.
  • The fried oysters at The Oyster and the Thistle? Good lord. Go get ‘em. They might be the best I’ve ever had.
  • Yes, I’m still shooting that three year old Panasonic Lumix. I’m keen to get the new one when it’s out. It’s on pre-order, here (affiliate link).
  • And here is the perfect spring tune.

The Man with the Yellow Star

He was wearing a battered leather coat, the kind with pockets with flaps and a belt and wide lapels. Buttons, not zippers. It was brown. 1940s city, not 1950s biker. He had a Groucho Marx ‘stache, still dark, and Einstein hair reaching out in all directions like static. Maybe he was 60, maybe a well preserved 70? His hands were flying in the air between him and the younger woman next to him. She held the lead of an enormous white fluffy dog. I watched them out the cafe window, the dog yawned and sat down. “Look at that big fluffy dog…” I said to J. and then I stopped.

“Is he wearing a yellow star?”

We both squinted out the cafe window. Pinned to the man’s jacket, there was a faded yellow star with the word “Jude” on it in fake Hebraic script.

“You should go talk to him,” J said. “I bet he’d be happy to talk with you. Look at him, he’s a talker.”

“I don’t know.”

“Your biggest problem is going to be not enough time. He’s going to keep you. Go talk to him.”

I stared out the window some more and stirred my coffee.

§

Before Austria joined the EU, it was the far reaches of Europe, the place where Western Europe became Eastern Europe. In the last 20 years, though, it’s become less an outpost and more the middle of things. Vienna is evolving into a modern city, not entirely mired in the past. It’s a messy, complicated place and I love that being married to my Austrian means I get to visit regularly and see it change and see it stay the same.

The plazas of the first district are bordered with baroque style apartment buildings, many of them former palaces. There are fountains and manicured city parks and the splendid tile roofed Stephansdom Cathedral presides over the whole place like a judge in courtroom attire. Classic Vienna is still very present.

But there are also are loads of reconstruction era apartment blocks. Painted in pale blue or yellow or pink to make them feel like they’re dressed for something, they fail to have real character. There are failed attempts at 70s modernism, glassy exteriors that just look tired and misplaced. And there’s some brand new postmodernism, which works, or doesn’t, depending on what the buildings are sitting next to.

Austria has had a metal working culture since 800 BC, so there’s a strange kind of consistency in seeing modern jewelery in the shop windows. For 15,000 euros a tailor in the high fashion district will dress your man head to toe in bespoke everything, as though he was part of the Hapsburg court of the 1800s. The wine cellar where we ate dinner on our first night in Vienna has been a wine cellar since the 1100s. Inside the Cafe Hawelka, it looks like nothing has changed since 1950, but with the new no smoking laws the clientele are not raspy old scribes, they’re tourists and young Viennese parents who leave their strollers blocking the entrance.

It’s like Vienna can’t decide what era it occupies. So the city chooses to occupy all of them, save one: 1938 – 1945 when Austria, after its annexation by Nazi Germany, systematically murdered its Jewish population.

§

Before we sat in the cafe watching the woman with the dog and the man with the yellow star, we’d visited Vienna’s Jewish Museum. There are two sites. One is on the Judenplatz. One of the grand buildings near the Judenplatz has a wrought iron balcony with three gilded crowns in the railing.

“Must have been a wealthy family,” said J. There’s a plaque by the front door with the former occupants names — and the camps in which they were killed.

There’s a Holocaust Memorial on the plaza, below it, accessible through the museum, there are the foundations of a medieval era synagogue. Things were going okay for Vienna’s Jews from the 1100s to the 1400s, but that wasn’t to last. Under Duke Albrecht the V, they suffered terrible persecution and a group committed mass suicide in this synagogue rather than submit to conversion. The remaining members of Vienna’s Jewish community were herded into a field and burned alive. The synagogue was dismantled and left to obscurity until 1995 when an archeological dig revealed the foundations.

The other wing of the museum, a few blocks away, is a less somber place. There’s a research department that works to match recovered property with its original owners. One of the exhibits displayed historical objects next to screens with photos of 60s and 70s Jewish communities and families in Vienna. There are works about the uneasy return of the Jews to Vienna after WWII. Theodore Herzl’s bicycle hangs in a greenhouse window and in the top floor archives, there are all kinds of artifacts from former Austrian Jewish communities.

There are modern objects too, Judaica that’s being made today, and unlike the crumbling stones of the synagogue under the Judenplatz, the museum is alive. “Hey, we’re still here,” this place says, “look at this thing we made yesterday. We’re still here.”

§

This is where my head was as I looked out the cafe window at the man with the yellow star. A few hours earlier, I’d pulled open a drawer to see a piece of cloth printed with the pattern of the star he was wearing. It was under a thick piece of glass, I could not touch it. I did not want to touch it.

In the foyer of many of the churches here, you will see memorials for the dead lost in both World Wars. Sometimes, they are rows of photos of men in military garb. In the WWII photos, you will see that the uniforms on some of the young men have been painted over, their insignias obscured.

This man on the streets of Vienna did not care who saw his label. Sure, he looked a little crazy, with his static-y Einstein hair, with his battered leather coat, with his faded turquoise cords. But he didn’t look dangerous crazy or scary crazy, just eccentric crazy, like we imagine old artists and writers to be, like the kind of crazy I am sure to be in another ten years or maybe I already am. He looked like a guy who was very much himself.

The conversation he was having was neighborly, animated but not angry. I imagined these two, the woman with the dog, the man with the yellow star, were talking about someone else in their building. “I’ve been looking for this book everywhere, and I finally found it on Amazon, you know, and Frau Mueller, she’s had it in her office for a week now, and every time I go by, there’s a note up that says back in 15 minutes, and you know, she’s on the phone with her sister, so it will be an hour…” Everything about him looked normal enough, save for the weight of this yellow star hanging from the front of his jacket.

§

We left the cafe and walked past the man with the yellow star. I stopped and looked back at him, at the hems of his faded corduroy pants, at his beat up shoes. It was clear he didn’t have much money but I guess the hems on my jeans are a bit beat up too. He was still talking to the woman with the dog, they’d been conversing for half an hour, easily.

He existed in this space, in this time, he dragged the shameful, shocking era of the Holocaust to the street in front of the cafe where I sat drinking coffee.  He wasn’t behind glass in a museum, he was real, and I was completely rattled.

“I think he’s speaking Hungarian,” J said. “You should go talk to him.”

“I know,” I said, “and I don’t think I can.” I think I was afraid. I would ask him about his star, and then, he would tell me.

But now, I can’t stop thinking about him. “Hey,” he says, “I am still here. I am still here. I am still here.”

judenstern

Hungarian Jews, 1945. Photo: Yevgeni Khaledei / Camera Press / Keystone

Flea Market, Vienna

Flea Market Vendor, Vienna

The guy behind the card table is turning a watch over in his hands. “It’s broken,” he says, to the guy that insists that it’s not, that it’s a good watch, that it’s just the watch band that needs replacement. “No,” says the guy behind the card table, this pin on the side needs fixing, see, it’s hardly worth my time to take it apart, so, three Euros, I am not going to give you more than three Euros for it.”

The woman in the headscarf is shouting at the guy pointing at the flat screen monitor. “Look, you think I’m some kind of an idiot? I know it’s not junk, it works, we tested it at home before bringing it out here. It’s a perfectly good flat screen monitor, good luck to you if you can get one this good for 20 Euros somewhere else, but don’t be talking to me like I’m some kind of an idiot.”

The guy in the expensive sweater gestures at the pile of green rusted objects, little iron age and Celtic style shapes, a crescent, a horse, and asks where they’re from. “From here,” insists the seller, “they’re from here.” “No, where did you find them?” asks the potential buyer. “They’re from Austria, of course they’re from HERE.” This pile of oxidized metal is as likely to come from an unknown Celtic burial site as they are to come from a shed in the backyard of a house near the Hungarian border, recreated to look like Celt artifacts but in fact, no more than a few months old.

The flea market in Vienna is a confusing mess of multiple economies all happening at once. On the surface, it’s just a big messy garage sale, but if you listen to the conversations, there are other things going on. Sketchy looking guys are hard at work trying to sell things to vendors who are barricaded in behind great piles of their belongings. Sophisticated, well dressed curatorial types are hunting treasures, turning over the paintings to examine the construction of their elaborate gilded frames, perhaps they’ll score something that they’ll resell tomorrow in their antique gallery in the First District. Rough looking, gold toothed women in head scarves smoke with great intensity while refusing to lower their prices on anything, whether they stand guard over a pile of second (third?) hand clothes or a display of sculpted porcelain figurines.  Tourists flip through shoe-boxes of postcards, gently turn pocket watches over in their hands before returning them to the seller, or shudder at the Judaica and swastika emblazoned ephemera.

There is a place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The currents of the ocean act in such a way that it draws plastic objects — some as large as fishing nets, some tiny plastic particles — and there they remain indefinitely. The flea market in Vienna feels this way, though the driving force behind it isn’t current, it’s human culture. War and trade and the redrawing of borders and the tides of consumerism, of what’s in fashion and what’s out, what’s valuable today and yesterday and one hundred years ago, all swept into this crowded plaza near Vienna’s biggest outdoor food market.

Flea Market Vienna

I come here whenever I’m in Vienna on a Saturday. I imagine buying a chandelier, an accordion, an entire set of fine china from Prague, a coat made of lambswool and perhaps the hat that goes with it, but lambswool only, I couldn’t wear fur. I never buy any of those things, though, and in nearly 20 years of coming to Vienna, I have spent money only twice. Once to buy three little porcelain harlequin dolls with articulated arms and legs and heads that turn, they are pretty and delicate and surely replicas of a more expensive Victorian era toy. And once to buy a handful of photographs of some boys on a ski vacation in 1936. The remainder of the time I’ve just wandered with the crowds, stopping to flip through a German movie magazine from the 60s, to run my hand down the length of a black three quarter length mink coat, and to listen to the weird surf of commerce.

“All the pieces are here,” says the younger man, handing the board game box to the man behind the card table. “It’s worth more than I’m asking,” he says, but the older man behind the table declines. “I don’t think so,” he says, and the younger man puts the box under his arm and moves through the current to the next stall, where he will try again.

 

La Luna

Grimming
There’s a certain way I look at the big mountain that marks the end of the valley when we’re driving the long side of it. If I can get the right perspective on it, I trick myself into thinking it’s the moon, hanging in space, just beyond the horizon. It’s too far to touch, but it’s still so close that I can see all the crannies and textures and scrapings and gray rock that make it up. It’s almost like we could go there, not by rocket, but as in The Distance of the Moon by Italo Calvino:

“There were nights when the Moon was full and very, very low, and the tide was so high that the Moon missed a ducking in the sea by a hair’s breadth; well, let’s say a few yards anyway. Climb up on the Moon? Of course we did. All you had to do was row out to it in a boat and, when you were underneath it, prop a ladder against her and scramble up.”

On the east side the big mountain is just, well, a big mountain, like you might draw not as a child, but maybe as someone a little bit older who understand that mountains and pyramids aren’t the same thing. But on the north side, I see the rounded curve of granite against the sky and then, I see the moon, floating in space, just… there.