IMG_7880I write this during a long Labor Day weekend, as we're trying to grab the last few strands of summer: A few last bike rides, wrapping up some reading, paying a visit to the Spa Castle in Queens, and more. This has not been the greatest couple of months. The economy is still in turmoil, of course, and there's a lot of fear and uncertainty in the news business. At home, we have been coping with some illnesses in my wife's extended family. So it has not always been easy to focus on coffee, though my blog quest can be a welcome distraction. This coffee in particular came and went before I had a chance to fully appreciate it. I bought it at the same time as the Koke from Barismo and Verve's El Balamo-Quetzaltepec from El Salvador. Name Kenya Kirimara

Origin: Nyeri, Kenya

Roasted: Aug. 10 by Novo Coffee in Denver.

Purchased: Aug. 16 at Café Grumpy, 224 W. 20th St., Manhattan, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description From the bag: "Full body, hints of citrus, toasted nut, slight black currant."

In the cup After a long sojourn with the coffees of Latin America, I return to Africa for this coffee. I drank this mostly as an espresso.

Kirimara is a small family-run estate on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya, at an altitude of 1,760 meters. The coffee is grown in the volcanic soil, then hand-picked and sun-dried.

The name translates roughly from Kikuyu as "near a glacier," and was given to the place by the original British settler who planted the coffee bushes facing the glacier off the peak Batian of Mount Kenya.

and the farm has a a fairly sophisticated marketing Web site.

It even offers helicopter tours for those who wish to visit:

An unforgettable experience will take you to one of the world’s highest national parks, 400 square kilometers of forest and more than thirty jewel-like lakes. The twin peaks of Batian and Nelion crown Mount Kenya, the bulk of which straddles the equator

Here's a photo slide show.

The tasting notes on the bag and at Novo's site put the words to what I experienced.

The coffee didn't bowl me over, but it has a pleasing, subtle flavor. The strongest flavor to me was the toasted nut, with the citrus/currant just a hint in the background. This might be a good coffee to share with friends who are interested in trying high-quality coffee but are not yet ready for exotic or overpowering flavors.

Posted
AuthorPatrick LaForge

IMG_7875A coffee-obsessed blogger bought three bags of beans at once, one sunny day in August. One of those bags is still nearly full. One is about half-full. And one is completely empty. This is the story of that one, which sits next to my computer, taunting me with a rich, thick aroma of beans that are no more. A couple of weeks ago, I asked what would happen if someone on the quest for a perfect shot of espresso coffee found what he was looking for? The prize-winning Black Cat from Bolivia roasted by Intelligentsia came close. And there have been a few others that I would put on that list. The sweet-tooth yellow Icatu comes to mind. When you can still remember a coffee you had six months ago, either it was good coffee, or you have an uncontrolled obsession. Maybe both.

What this coffee from El Salvador has in common with that one is the same roaster, Verve, in Santa Cruz, which has a maddeningly minimalist Web site. So finding information has been tricky. Name El Balsamo-Quetzaltepec

Origin: 100 percent Bourbon variety, Finca San Eduardo, El Salvador

Roasted: Aug. 11 by Verve Coffee Roasters, Santa Cruz, Ca.

Purchased: Aug. 16 at Café Grumpy, 224 W. 20th St., Manhattan, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description One account: "Has a nectar, clean, creamy body, juicy, ripe, honeyed, lemon, complex acidity."

In the cup This is the second coffee from El Salvador that I've tried in recent months -- the other was Los Inmortales from Intelligentsia -- and I'm impressed.

It's tough to find much information online. A search yields brief mentions in retail listings or Spanish-only sites. [Update: See the comments for informative links from a reader.]

Grumpy doesn't have much information on its Web site, either, about this particular coffee. One can only hope that Verve's promised site upgrade will be coming soon, though I guess if I had to choose, I'd rather the roaster focus on making great coffee rather than blog design.

The description above, from a Scranton cafe's Facebook page (yes, people are selling coffee on Facebook!), sounds about right.

This is a creamy sweet coffee, like the yellow Icatu. I found myself drinking shot after shot of it, until the last bean was gone, today. The Barismo Koke suffered in the comparison (an unfair one, since it's going for a completely different taste experience). For more information about Salvadoran coffees and Bourbon varieties in particular, this page at Sweet Maria's has some good information (a few years old now).

Apparently, El Salvador used to have a poor reputation compared to the rest of Central and Latin America, but I'm inclined to try more coffees from there, especially from a a quality roaster like Verve or Intelligentsia. And I'll keep an eye out for this grower, Finca San Eduardo.

IMG_7874So I was all ready to write about this espresso a couple of weeks ago, but then I lost Internet service at home for a week. Long story, not very interesting, but it was an inauspicious start with Verizon DSL service. For many years I paid Earthlink for DSL on top of my Verizon phone line, but the phone company finally found the price point that made me switch. Unfortunately, they did something to the line right away that cut off the Earthlink service before sending me the modem. Then there was trouble on the line, yada yada. I said it was boring. On to the coffee, one of three varieties I bought here in New York. Name: Koke

Origin: 100 % Ethiopia Yergacheffe

Roasted: Aug. 11 by Barismo of Arlington, Ma.

Purchased: Aug. 16 at Café Grumpy, 224 W. 20th St., Manhattan, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description: According to Barismo's site: "A delicate floral perfume lends itself to a darjeeling tea and soft caramel hot cup. Lime citrus notes add a liveliness that mingles with the aromatics in a rewarding and balanced cup."

In the cup: The barista at Grumpy made me the first shot, and perhaps that ruined me for the rest of this coffee. I've never been able to quite replicate the way they pull their shots -- full of flavor, almost like a splash of mud sometimes. It's probably the way the espresso is meant to be experienced, and I can't quite replicate that at home (instructions on bag: "pull: 16g for 25sec at 200.5 degrees F, totaling 2oz"), since I don't own a $2,500-plus Clover that lets you precisely set time and temperature. (I'll add that it was nothing like the Wondo Worka Yergacheffe I tried several months ago.)

That said, it's a bit much for a daily drink. I've never been a big fan of overpowering floral and fruit notes in my coffee, and this espresso has more of that than I'd care to sample frequently. The description above matched my experience, for the most part.  It is certainly a good coffee (Barismo calls it part of its "grand cru" series, an effort to upgrade the quality of espresso). It was something to sample when I was looking for a change of pace, a different taste, not something I felt like drinking three shots in a row, which tends to be a morning ritual lately.

But if you prefer your espressos on the lighter side, shiny and floral and citrus-y, with unusual aftertastes, you might just like this one, if you can get a pro to make it. I found myself favoring the selections from Verve and Novo roasters that I also bought on this trip. I'll blog about those next when I get a free moment.

IMG_0011I bought this coffee on Father's Day, before my daughter and her friends cooked the dads a delicious dinner of salmon, salad, fruit salad and other good stuff. It had been raining in New York City for days, but the sun came out briefly. I bought this instead of the first place winner in the Cup of Excellence, the Fazenda Kaquend, from Brazil, roasted by Ritual Roasters in San Francisco, which my favorite Chelsea cafe was offering for an astounding but perhaps understandable $35 per bag. Instead, I bought a bag of these less expensive beans from Costa Rica for about half that. I ordered a cup of the Brazilian to go, and it was delicious. But as I walked, about half way up the block to the friends' apartment where we were having dinner, I was drenched in a sudden downpour, so I don't remember much more about that cup. Oh, well.

Name Monte Crisol, Coope Palmares

Origin West Valley, Costa Rica

Roasted June 14 by 49th Parallel in Burnaby, British Columbia

Purchased June 20 at Café Grumpy, 224 W. 20th St., Manhattan, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description From the menu: "Medium body with hints of nuts, caramel and red berries."

In the Cup I gravitated to this bean because it was from Costa Rica, and I had yet to try any coffees from that country as part of this coffee quest. Later, I could not find the coffee listed under this name at the site of 49th Parallel, a Vancouver-area coffee roaster. Based on reviews and listings elsewhere, it seems to be a single-origin coffee. Coope palmeres (sometimes the words are run together) seems to be a coffee co-op representing several small growers. Here is a bit of information from the site hawaiianorganic:

This dense little "Tica", the creme of the crema, and is mountain grown, above 1,600 meters, and hails from Coopepalmares, a coffee coop which represents 1,500 small lot parcels in and around the Las Palmares region of Costa Rica. This coffee has delightful bright citrus tones with slight coco hidden in the background. Medium bodied, medium acidity allow one to enjoy naked... The coffee that is... not necessarily you!?

I'm not really sure what that means. But drinking this as an espresso or a regular cup of coffee was a perfectly pleasant experience. It was a little rich and thick in the finish perhaps, almost oily, and I would say the caramel was stronger than any bright citrus. It served me well through the week, and I am almost done with it. I found it to be quite aromatic, and the odor permeated my cloth bag by the time I got it home from the dinner party. It didn't bowl me over, but it was certainly acceptable and did the job required of it each morning.

By the way, I kept misreading the name as "Cristol" with a T, and that tempted me into the cheap word play in the headline. This would never pass muster as a headline in the newspaper, because it does not "work both ways." In other words, for good word play, as opposed to dumb puns, the phrase should fit the piece no matter which way you read it. But this post has nothing to do with that old book about revenge for a false imprisonment, which I remember from my youth.

But since this is a blog, I can fiddle around and break a few rules as I please. Sue me.

IMG_0002It has been a week for obsessions, from Twitter to a new addiction, Plants vs. Zombies. The first was the subject of a two-day conference where I was a panelist, even as social media played a role in the Iranian election unrest. The other is the latest computer game that has consumed too much time of the 9-year-old and, um, others, in our household. It is amusing and addictive. If you play it you will never look at mushrooms or vegetable gardening in quite the same way again.

Somewhere in there I helped my daughter build a replica of Brandenburg Gate out of wood and clay for a school project. I found myself drinking cups of espresso every morning in rapid succession. I was surprised to find this morning that I was nearly out of this latest selection, without having set down my impressions.

Name Los Inmortales

Origin El Borbollon, Finca Malacara, Santa Ana, El Salvador.

Roasted June 9 by Intelligentsia.

Purchased June 13 at Café Grumpy, 224 W. 20th St., Manhattan, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description "Poised and articulate with a sustaining sweetness. Notes of white grape and apple assist the acidity as the cup finishes with turbinado sugar," reads the bag.

In the Cup I picked up this bag of beans on my way to an "Iron Chef" competition at friends' co-op in Chelsea. The woman ahead of me in line at Grumpy was also buying a bag, skeptical about the fruit flavors. She said she was not a big fan of fruit overtones in coffee, and I have to agree, but I decided to give this a try.

The Iron Chef party was an elaborate affair with multiple courses, judges and appreciative crowd, including children running wild from apartment to apartment. Fresh tomatoes were the mystery ingredient in every dish from the martinis to the dessert. That can be tricky, since tomatoes at this time of year can be a little green and not quite in their prime, I was told.

The food was great, and the week was a whirlwind, from the school project to Twitter-Twitter-Twitter to the other obsessions, including all the iPhone mania and my attempt to find a good netbook (more on that later, perhaps). I have good memories of the espressos I made from this bean all week, moments captured looking out the kitchen window, on my way to something else. Sweet, rich, a good coffee, a strong candidate in my ongoing quest for the perfect cup.

I did not have much time to research Los Inmortales, or its possible relationship to this Cup of Excellence winner from Finca Malacara. That would at least suggest a good pedigree. (I also stumbled across this ironic Iranian coincidence regarding "The Immortals.")

Intelligentsia gives this extended description on its site:

Poised and articulate in its expression, Los Inmortales characterizes grace and refinement in a glassy clean cup. The sweetness is nectar-like and threaded through the entire taste experience while the acidity curtsies to notes of white grape and apple. The silky mouthfeel glides into a gentle finish of roasted hazelnuts and turbinado sugar.

What can I say, I'm a sucker for sweet coffees that have a creamy or silky mouthfeel (what a word) with a hint of sugar, caramel or chocolate. The acidity is kept in check, and the flavors progress from a slight hint of fruit -- grape, apple, maybe, or something vaguely tropical, that hovers in the back of the throat -- to a warm, rich finish that goes down smoothly and sweetly.

It makes you want to pour another shot. Which I have just done. And now the beans are nearly all gone, and I must make a trip to get some more. It will be a Father's Day present to myself.

IMG_0737These days, I seem to be on a musical nostalgia tour. A couple of weeks ago, it was The Dead. Then last night, my wife and I found ourselves in the crowd for They MIght Be Giants at Le Poisson Rouge, on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. The crowd of people in button-downed shirts and khaki was enthusiastic. But it did not have the same energy we recalled from the late 1990s, when the band could fill the Bowery Ballroom, and nerdy fans sat in circles in the line outside singing angst-ridden lyrics they knew by heart. That was long before the band transformed itself a Grammy-winning act for children known for TV and movie theme songs. Anyway, the last thing I did before leaving the apartment was to pull another shot of this coffee, from the Yerga Cheffe region of Ethiopia. It kept me bouncing. Name: Wondo Harfusa

Origin: Yerga Cheffe, Ethiopia.

Roasted: May 18 by Verve Coffee Roasters, Santa Cruz, Ca.

Purchased: May 25 at Café Grumpy, 224 W. 20th St., Manhattan, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description: One account: "begins with a hibiscus aroma followed by ripe red fruit flavors of raspberry, red currant and cherry finishing with notes of black tea."

In the cup: In this ongoing inquiry, I've been intrigued by the coffees from this region (notably Wondo Worko). And I know I'm in for a treat whenever I see the Verve Roasters bag at Grumpy.

I tend to be suspicious of "fruit flavors" in coffee descriptions, but these tend to be just traces. In most cases, the underlying flavor is coffee, a category unto itself. That said, I personally think fruit and flower notes can sometimes overpower a coffee, making for a tasting experience that is unpleasant. I can happily report that is not the case with Wondo Harfusa. You can definitely find the ripe cherry and raspberry under the coffee, but it works with the whole. More and more I find I enjoy tasting for these secondary flavors more than I ever expected when I started learning about culinary coffee. Before long, this will probably turn me into the worst sort of coffee snob.

But for now, I'm enjoying my third shot of espresso of the morning and early afternoon, having been up a little too late (after the opener by Mixel Pixel and the somewhat short TMBG set, we headed over to another place in the Village, Cafe Vivaldi, for some more music, and drinks). I thought about finding a way to segue back to the show, maybe with some coffee-related lyrics. Something about getting older, and holding onto the moment, and all that. (I didn't even mention the helicopters overhead and the motorcade tying up traffic. Barack and Michelle Obama were also having a date that started with dinner in the neighborhood.)

For now I'm content to just let the coffee do its job: Wake me up.

IMG_0733It was a beautiful Memorial Day in New York, and I was getting down to the dregs of the bowl where I throw the leftover beans from my coffee experiments. It was starting to taste a little too much like the bitter Starbucks mistake from quite a while back. I took a bike ride down to my favorite indie coffee shop, Café Grumpy, using the newish Ninth Avenue lane, encountering just one illegally parked delivery truck that forced me to divert awkwardly into the street. On the way back, up the older Sixth Avenue lane, it was a nightmare of hazards -- cabs veering into the lane to get fares, jaywalkers, wrong-way cyclists and bladers, and, incredibly, a row of half a dozen police squad cars parked neatly in the lane in Herald Square. The N.Y.P.D. does what it pleases.

I'll note that 21st Street also has a great bike lane, except on Grumpy's block, where the police personal vehicles are parked at a slant. There's also a lack of good places to lock a bike. But I managed. There was quite a selection of beans waiting for me, including a big supply of Intelligentsia's delicious Micay Finca Santuario, but the white bag of this guest espresso from Barismo caught my eye. Name: Soma espresso

Origin: A blend: 75% Guatemala Finca Cardenas, 10% Guatemela Nimac Kapeh, 15% Kenya Kiandu.

Roasted: May 20 by Barismo of Arlington, Ma.

Purchased: May 25 at Café Grumpy, 224 W. 20th St., Manhattan, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description: According to Barismo's site: "Syrupy body and silky mature fruits. Thick and complex yet balanced. An espresso that exemplifies the character of its components but melds in harmony. From a light cask conditioned wine note to a syrupy body with a dash of mellow cocoa."

In the cup: My coffee quest was derailed in recent weeks by a variety of things -- work obligations, mainly, and no time to pick up some quality beans.

I've enjoyed every coffee I've had from Barismo, and this was no exception. When I got home and finished showering, I made a fresh shot of this (I had bought another coffee, but stuck that in storage for now). I should note that I did not replicate the precise instructions on the bag: "Pull 19 grams in a double basket for 26 to 28 seconds at 198 degrees Fahrenheit totaling 1.25 ounces." Basically, a smaller volume shot and a high temperature. I used my lazy Barista method, which is dictated by the lazy automated Jura machine that I own. It does the job, but I could be accused of "noodling around" in a manner that compromises quality for convenience. Guilty as charged.

The shot had a foamy creme -- almost like a head on beer. It was definitely syrupy and silky, and I'll have to take a rain check. I couldn't pick them up. Not that I cared much. Barismo's blog says there should be "deep red flecking and a heavy mouth feel." I didn't really see the flecking, but it was definitely a heavy espresso, which I like. It was a good espresso, and the components do blend together nicely. I made a second shot and definitely picked up the wine note and mellow cocoa. Barismo selections tend to grow on me as I drink them, and I think this one will follow the same pattern.

It certainly erased my irritation with some of the cycling obstacles on the trip down to Chelsea.

This was a good ending for a beautiful sunny weekend of cycling solo and with my daughter and some romping about with friends. As I was writing the date above, I was reminded that this was my mother's birthday. It had somehow slipped by me. I guess it was fitting to mark it with two of my favorite rituals, a ride through the city and shots of espresso from her native state of Massachusetts (born and raised in North Cambridge). Rest in peace, Catherine Gallagher LaForge, May 25, 1924 to March 26, 1985.

Posted
AuthorPatrick LaForge

img_0692Earlier this week, my quest for a perfect cup of home-made coffee took me to Chelsea Market, where I picked up this direct-trade coffee from the outpost of Ninth Street Espresso at the market. This was part of my at-home vacation, or staycation, which mostly entailed watching my daughter do gymnastics; taking her to a bookstore, a tea house, and a museum; reading some books; sharing fresh Belgian beer with some friends; working out; updating my Twitter status; and, of course, drinking coffee. Name: Agua Preta, Brazil.

Origin: Produced by Antonio Pereira de Castro and Glaucio Pinto of Fazenda Tijuco Preto in the Carmo de Minas region of Brazil.

Roasted: April 6 or8 by Intelligentsia.

Purchased: April 13 at Ninth Street Espresso, Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets.

Description: "A silky yet buoyant mouthfeel combines with notes of brown sugar and caramel to create an exquisitely delectable cup. A tamed acidity allows for notes of fudge to blossom right before the buttery finish."

In the cup: I was at first taken aback by what appeared to be a very old roasting date, which I just found in very tiny type on the price tag. But Ken Nye of Ninth Street Espresso has corrected me in the comments, noting that I was probably misreading the tag and that no coffees he sells are older than 12 days. I'm sorry I doubted. The coffee certainly tasted fresh.

This Yellow Catuai was grown at 1200 meters and harvested in August. Here is an excerpt from the tasting notes from Kyle Glanville, director of espresso at the roaster (full PDF is here):

Agua Preta is our first DT Brazilian coffee for filter, and this first lot comes from Fazenda Tijuco Preto, itself a two-time finalist in the Cup of Excellence competitions. Tijuco Preto is blessed with natural springs and a high-altitude plateau that makes harvesting cherries an efficient and easy task. This pulped natural coffee offers striking balance and drinkability with soft acidity, a perfect cup for a lazy morning with the paper.

Well, where to begin. I've been drinking this as espresso for much of the week. This morning I tried it as a regular coffee. Setting aside my ambivalence about the term "mouth feel,' it was definitely silky in both cases. I don't know about buoyant. The acidity is low, though the espressos were slightly more acidic. The hints of chocolate, caramel and fudge were there, more or less, especially in the espresso version, but the finish -- I guess it is buttery -- it is most noticeable in the filter version for some reason. Is "buttery" really the right word? Oh, I suppose. It's a tasty cup of joe.

img_0676I'm on vacation from the job that pays the bills this week, but vacationing is hard work, especially since our daughter is off from school and my wife has to work. I need many shots of espresso to keep up my stamina. On Monday, I hustled my daughter off to a playdate, then wandered off on a chilly but sunny day to the Ninth Street Espresso outpost in Chelsea Market. I was on a specific mission: All of NInth Street's coffees are roasted by Intelligentsia, which has a roasting lab but no shops in New York. I had been pleased with several Intelligentsia "guest" coffees purchased at Cafe Grumpy, including this Colombian. I'll have more on the results of the expedition later. How did this bean fare in my ongoing coffee quest? Name: Micay, Finca Santuario

Origin: Cauca, Colombia

Roasted: March 31 by Intelligentsia

Purchased: April 5 at Café Grumpy, 224 W. 20th St., Manhattan, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description: "Almost candy-like in its sweetness, notes of licorice root and milk chocolate sustain the acidity as a finish of tart dried fruit and praline linger pleasantly."

In the cup: For the last several days, this Colombian single-source bean has been loaded up in the Jura and ready to go. I've had it as an espresso and as a regular coffee, no milk. It's hard to say which I prefer more. It seems sweeter as an espresso, though I'm not sure I agree with the "candy-like" description the bag, which is just as well. I've certainly tasted coffees with more of a hint of chocolate than this, and too much fruit aftertaste, but this goes down smoothly and pleasantly from start to finish.

This direct-trade and in-season coffee is a Bourbon grown at 1,900 meters or so above sea level and harvested last summer in the Cauca region of Colombia at Finca Santuario, a plantation operated by Camilo Merizalde, which I wrote about earlier. His beans seem to be a favorite of other coffee bloggers. Regrettably, the Intelligentsia blog post about Mr. Merizalde's farm and methods, quoted in my earlier review of his Heliconias variety, seems to have vanished from the roaster's blog. But you can find an updated version [also in pdf] (with pictures) with the Micay description:

This coffee marks the first time that we are offering two different botanic varietials from the same farm. This is a rare opportunity since it is not possible to separate most coffees in this way. Many farms are basically monocultures, with 80 percent or more of the crop coming from a single variety. On others with greater diversity, coffee varieties are usually not separated well enough in the field to allow for individual/selective harvesting. On smaller farms, even when varieties are well identified and separated, the volumes are just too tiny to be workable as individual lots.

So, one farm, two great coffees. I'll keep an eye out for more from Finca Santuario. And Intelligentsia is fast converting me into a believer in its experts' ability to find great coffees. My Ninth Street expedition this week yielded a couple of other beans from this roaster, a direct trade coffee from Brazil and Intelligentsia's "Alphabet City" espresso blend. More on them later this week.

Several years ago, I was on a suburban commuter train in warmer weather, and I overheard a man who claimed to be a psychiatrist, a big man festooned with silver rings and bracelets, sweating in a suit, talking with an incongruous companion, a tattooed young woman in a skirt. He told her he sometimes worked in a clinic where there were currently 20 men claiming to be Jesus. O.K., I thought, sure, right. Nice round number. I've heard that joke. The man and the woman were just getting acquainted. Perhaps it was a blind date of some sort. He told her how he would never greet patients on the street until they first greeted him, so as not to violate doctor-patient confidentiality.

And she asked about his rings and bracelets, and he told her that he loved silver, that he had shelves and shelves of it, but that he had to spend a lot of time caring for it, that it was interfering with his social life. He would put a big white towel on his lap and watch TV while he cleaned it.

His patients would sometimes ask him what he was doing that night, he said, and he would answer, "Polishing my silver."

If the young lady was perplexed by this, she did not let on.

I thought of my parents' silver, tarnished, in a box in a closet, and wondered if I should ask him if he wanted to buy it. But I was sort of hanging on to it in case the monetary system collapses. You never know. This was not long after 9/11, so apocalyptic thoughts were in the air.

On that train trip, I had my folding bicycle, and had been exploring possible towns to live in north of New York, in Westchester County. I had ridden down through several, on a bike path, and along the river, before getting back aboard the train before dark. I imagined us raising our daughter there, commuting into the city every day. The towns seemed pleasant enough, but a little too "Mayberry RFD" crossed with "The Stepford Wives." (Let's stipulate that is a terribly unfair characterization.)

On the way up, a different man had had an altercation with a Metro-North conductor. He had tried to sneak some of his kids on board without paying. He seemed a little buzzed. The conductor threw them off the train at the next stop. From the station platform, in front of his small daughters, the passenger cussed the conductor out, called him fat, a stream of vitriol that lasted until the doors shut again and we were moving.

I can't say for sure, but that might have been the day I decided I didn't want to move out of New York City. Something caused me to write this all down afterward, and I recently stumbled across those notes, a form of time travel.

What do I do at night, when work is done? I don't polish my parents' silver. It's still in the box.

Posted
AuthorPatrick LaForge
CategoriesNew York

img_7720One notable aspect of the 21st Annual Indie & Small Press Book Fair this weekend is the location, the members-only library of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, at 20 West 44th Street in Manhattan, which is also home to the New York Center for Independent Publishing. The free book fair (donations accepted, in exchange for homemade baked goods on each floor), which lasts through Sunday, is a great excuse to wander up and down the floors and halls of this fascinating building on one of the more interesting blocks of Midtown. The Algonquin Hotel, another literary landmark, is across the street. (Times have certainly changed: The hotel now lends Amazon Kindles to its guests.) It was busy with people skimming books, talking about books and buying books. Who said print is dead? We strolled about for a couple of hours, and I came home with a bag of promising oddities, including a few entries in the Continuum Books series on significant pop albums (Radiohead's "O.K. Computer" and Neutral Milk's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," for example) and some gifts for others that I can't list now.

The books at the tables are from small literary presses -- offbeat novels, noir story collections, journals, poetry and alternative comics that don't get promoted with big ad budgets or displays at corporate bookstores. I picked up a few that piqued my curiosity, including Dzanc Books' "Best of the Web 2008," a collection billed as the year's best writing from online literary sites. It is an interesting idea, curating all those millions of online words into something manageable.

Many of the tables at the show are staffed by the editors or publishers themselves, and sometimes the authors. You can sometimes sense waves of eagerness and anxiety as you peruse their wares, which are mostly labors of love not likely to grace best-seller lists. It was hard not to muse on the technological and economic changes faces print publishers and creators. (Notably, one of the fair's sponsors was Sony, which had a table promoting the latest model of its digital book reader.)

These small publishers will probably fare a lot better than the big ones in the webby future. Even so, the digital revolution and the country's economic problems are a subtext of the book fair's lectures, readings and other presentations on topics like memoir writing, getting an agent, comics and "the next digital age."

One of Sunday's main events is a 1 p.m. "debate" between Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone and the cartoonist David Rees ("Get Your War On") . The topic: "How Doomed Is America?"

That is to be followed at 2 p.m. by a panel on the future of independent publishing. The description reads:

As new technologies once again turn the publishing world on its ear, small presses are surviving -- and thriving -- by embracing alternative publishing models, from limited editions that treat books as collectible objects, to innovative multimedia that make digital books more fluid, interactive and open source.

The final event of the day is a 4 p.m. trivia smackdown pitting representatives of PEN versus a team of literary bloggers, billed jokingly (I think) as "a showdown between new media and the old guard."

img_04741 The Post Office has become the department of print spam, an agency that delivers trash for us to recycle. I pay most of my bills online, and do most of my reading digitally (computer, iPhone or Kindle); I subscribe to fewer and fewer print magazines and have no use for catalogs. So it's great when the mail includes something I want to read. Last week, that was the 200-page issue No. 7 of N+1, entitled "Correction." A few years ago, Tony Scott wrote an essay about the earnest young New York writers who started N+1. On a whim, I bought a lifetime subscription. (They still sell them for $200.) It seemed like a good deal, even for a journal with an uncertain publication schedule, now described as twice a year. The cover price is $11.95 per issue, so I have yet to break even. (The founders went on to write first novels -- both enjoyable but slight -- or become literary fixtures, and they have tangled with the gossip blogs now and then).

N+1 feels right in print. Despite the promise of "Web only" content once or twice a week, I rarely visit its Web site, which is odd behavior for me, given that most of my news is filtered through blogs or social media like Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed and Delicious. (There is some good stuff there, like this article about being a student of David Foster Wallace). An infrequently published print journal of incoherent aims is an anachronism, to be sure, but an enjoyable one -- the news writ slow. I devour it in a way I do not devour The New Yorker, which tends to pile up into a tall stack that taunts me until at last, weeks behind, I skim wildly, looking for the articles people went out of their way to mention. "Did you see in The New Yorker..." Well, yes, I saw it.

This issue of N+1 was not a disappointment. It was perfect like hot coffee on a cold November morning. Here's how it went down:

  • The Intellectual Situation The front of the book is usually engaging, and this issue does not disappoint, with a humorous series of "ironic" corrections. Other items include a discussion of the next president as an American Gorbachev ("The America our new president inherits bears an uncanny resemblance to our old enemy, the Soviet Union -- right before it went under"), an overview of the new Jewish magazines, an argument for literary incoherence and a few other odds and ends.
  • Politics/Blood Sausage The highlight of this section is the continuation of the series of enlightening interviews with an anonymous hedge fund manager as the economy collapsed this fall. It is insightful and the best article in the issue. I won't be surprised if N+1 relocates from New York to a squat in an abandoned Florida McMansion. The onetime blogger A.S. Hamrah (Suck.com -- now that takes me back) delivers an interesting overview of films released during the Iraq War, from "Pearl Harbor" to "The Dark Knight." Then we have three poems by the cult poet of dogshit and ball gags, Frederick Seidel. The rhymes seem cheap, but he's won some big awards, so what do I know? ("The homeless are popping like pimples," he writes. Sure they are.) Mark Greif delivers an entertaining but slightly hard to follow high-concept essay, "On Food." (Greif, incidentally, doesn't care for the show "Mad Men," but he wrote the best essay about it anywhere, for the London Review of books.) I wasn't in the mood for the play that followed, something about Nazis, so I skipped it.
  • Home and Away And so we find ourselves in the middle of the book, with a story "The Family Friend" by Ceridwen Dovey, the author of the novel "Blood Kin." It's like one of those New Yorker stories I never read. That doesn't mean it's not good. It just means I didn't finish it. This is followed by a Benjamin Kunkel essay about anonymity and identity on the Internet, with charts. I like anything with charts, but I think Greif has won this issue's high-concept contest (there is nothing in the issue under the byline of co-founder Keith Gessen, though perhaps he wrote this). This is followed by Elif Batuman's "Summer in Samarkand," and Jace Clayton's "Confessions of a DJ," neither of which I read. Sorry! Maybe I'll get back to them.
  • Reviews Wesley Yang writes about the rise of the sleazy "seduction community," young men who practice a form of sexual manipulation, which started out before the Web on Usenet and found its way to best-selling books ("The Game" by Neil Strauss) and TV shows ("The Pickup Artist," starring Mystery), with concepts like the "neg" and the "wingman." Then Molly Young -- also a contributor here -- reviews Adderall, the much-abused ADHD drug (My advice: Stick to espresso.) A version of this article was first published as "Web only" content on N+1 in January when it drew some attention. Maybe it's not real until it sees print.
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    When the news of the day seems particularly big, I wonder what my parents would think about it all. They're dead, and gone with them are all the stories and family lore that I only half-listened to when I was younger. Rattling around in my head are half-remembered snippets of conversations about their childhoods in the Great Depression, long-ago presidents and wars, those scary Beatles with their rock and roll, pulp fiction and radio dramas. They lived through World War II, the atom bomb, the invention of television, Vietnam, hippies, Watergate, pet rocks, disco and the bad old 70's, the Cold War, the Iranian hostage crisis, recessions and more. They never saw my journalism career leap beyond the small-town stage. They never met their granddaughter. Then again, they haven't had to live through the worry of my blood-clot scares nor their other son's repeated deployments to wartime Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I wish they had kept journals, or blogged, so I could show what they wrote to my daughter. But they didn't keep diaries, and there were no blogs then, and I can only make out every other word in my mother's cursive script in letters that she wrote. She had me late in life, and she died in 1986, when I was 24, just starting out. Leukemia, after she beat colon cancer.

    My father, Ed, or Eddie, depending on who was talking, lived about 11 years longer than my mother, Kay, a surprise to him, considering his fondness for booze, cigarettes and red meat, and her abstention from most vices. He was a man of the old school, reserved when it came to affection, but often loud, angry, not always kind to her, or any of us. Before he retired, he worked as a bureaucrat for the national security state, and the cold war defined his adult life, as the war in the Pacific had defined his youth. He flew to then-exotic places like California and Florida when jet travel was still in its golden age, returning with stories of the Magic Castle, the Playboy Club, and beaches in January. He was a wit, sometimes the life of the party, always ready with a joke, the center of attention. My brother and I were his TV channel changers, his butlers. "Get your old man a beer out of the fridge." Indeed.

    My old man kicked the bucket from lung cancer complications in 1997, and my uncle was the executor of his estate.

    Long after the paperwork was done, my uncle mailed me a package of documents -- Army records from my father's Philippines tour, various vital documents, security clearance forms for the job with the Defense Department, a weathered brown wallet with a Playboy Club card, a stopped watch. And there was a spiral notebook, too, of some jottings, from mid-1986, not long after Ma died, leaving him rattling around alone in that big old house up in the frozen wastes in that rural air force town that he thought would be a great place for us to grow up (it was) and maybe even stick around (boring and in decline, so we didn't). They had lived for several years in the vicinity of New York City, but I know little about those years, apart from left-over photos (like the $1.25 souvenir shot above from Nick's in Greenwich Village, a jazz joint) and stories of living in Shanks Village, an outpost of former barracks turned into housing for veterans in Rockland County.

    Ed was never a good investor, lost his shirt in mutual funds once, but stuck with the old standbys of passbook savings, mortgages, pensions, certificates of deposit, a federal pension. In the end he ran up a lot of credit card debt, and nursing home expenses, and my uncle sold off the house to pay off the bills. But creditors can't touch life insurance, and it isn't taxed, and that nest egg got me seriously started as an investor.

    He wanted to be a writer once, so maybe I got that bug from him. He used to write wonderful jeremiads against banks and utility companies and, after he retired, politicians and the like. When he was young, he wrote some short stories. One was about a World War II veteran who was suffering from what today we would call post-traumatic stress syndrome. The guy blew his head off at the end, sort of an obvious ending, and Salinger did the same thing better, but his prose was just fine.

    After he quit the fiction game for a salaryman's life of paperwork, my old man spent the rest of his life reading impossible stacks of books and magazines (Gourmet, Playboy, Esquire), with the TV on most of the time, from the moment he walked in the door until he went to bed. His other hobbies were outdoor activities without a lot of talking -- golf, fly-fishing and ice-fishing, hunting with bow, rifle and shotgun. If there was a gutted deer hanging in the garage in the fall, it was a good year.

    He was the one who told me to learn about computers, there's money in it, and he logged me onto the Arpanet back in the 1970's with a terminal from work. It didn't have a screen -- it had a roll of paper. It connected through couplers that you screwed onto the telephone handset. The only people on the pre-Internet were military types and academics, sharing research and occasionally furtively playing text-based games and chatting. I caught the bug then. Networking. Talking. BBS's and Usenet newsgroups, eventually the Web when it was just a handful of sites. People looked at me funny when I talked about how it was going to change the world. Yeah, right.

    But then came the 90s, and the Web explosion, and I put my money in tech before it was a bubble. And when I got out, it was partly dumb luck and partly the old man's voice telling me this was a little crazy, slow down, they'll skin you if they can. He knew about hardship. When he was growing up in the Great Depression, his parents shipped some of the kids off to an aunt because there wasn't enough food for all of them at home.

    When I want to remember his voice, I read the few words he ever bothered to set down in his later life, mailed to me in that envelope from my uncle, painstakingly printed by hand, a blog before there were such things:

    4-28-86

    +Four weeks yesterday (27 April 86). Still seems unreal. Mass cards/ letters are trickling after the initial flood.

    +My feelings are more in check except when answering a letter or note from a close friend. Better than letting it build up destructively, I guess. Still having trouble concentrating on the job, or the so-called important things (ie. income tax, bills, refinancing the house.)

    +Worked in the garden yesterday for a while -- too hot. Planted some broccoli. Nabbed the boy next door to cut the grass -- explained the do's and don'ts. Trying to civilize this barbarian was probably one of my better ideas -- he won't kill the golden goose. Maybe!

    +My favorite fishing rod and reel (the ultra lite) has disappeared -- no idea where to! Must replace!

    +Got to get things sorted out.

    12 May 86

    +I never said this was a diary. It's a way of me communicating with myself, I guess. Mr. Y--- of C--- and Sons and I have struck a bargain of sorts. The head stone should be ready in about 6 weeks ($875). That, plus the funeral, took about $5,000, which is what I had figured. Another 20 years, it will be triple!

    +I planted some Impatiens on the plot on Mother's day -- she always loved them -- it would be nice if someone could do it every year.

    +I scared the shit out of E---- the other night, I suppose. I told her and B-- if it wasn't for you guys, the obvious solution to my grief, at first, was the obvious one. I think I meant it but when you're in deep distress, what the hell do you really know. I still cry every day! Oh God, how I miss her.

    13 July 86

    +All it takes sometimes is a little thing; a song that reminds me or a phrase in an old movie (e.g. "Chapter 2" when James Caan says "How dare she die -- I'd never do that to her"). Jesus!

    It ends there. I am impressed by the economy of language. He had a need to say something, write it down, and he did for a while. Then he moved on.

    But he kept on living, for years, in that old house, giving up fishing and hunting eventually, slowly losing his lungs to emphysema, driving down to his favorite Italian restaurant with an oxygen tank on a little wheeled cart, breaking his hips a couple of times, calling me with me updates on the upstate weather (136 inches of snow!). When I showed him the early Web, he was impressed, but he waved off my offers of a computer. By then, it was too complicated to learn something new. He spent most of his spare time gardening and running VCRs in every room to tape all his shows. He would have loved TiVo.

    My parents' relatively early deaths, their setbacks, their stories of growing up when everyone was poor, the 1970s with their cultural chaos -- all these experiences have made me skeptical of progress, not quite believing the balance in my 401K or that the good jobs would last, that my health would hold out, that anything awaits any of us at the end of the line besides a shrinking circle of pain. It's the kind of outlook that leads my father, a proud atheist married to a daily church-going woman, to let a priest mumble by his deathbed, I suppose.

    It was a few years ago that I got this stuff in the mail. My daughter was young, and I was inspired to write down some thoughts on my laptop:

    I spent part of this night sitting up with a toddler who had been throwing up periodically for hours. She will never know her grandparents, though she has her grandfather's eyebrows, as do I, and a little of her grandmother's smile.

    After she finally fell asleep, I sat for a while on my little bench in the darkness, listening to her breath, listening to mine, then to hers, then to mine, hers, mine, inhale, exhale, our mortal bodies sharing certain pieces of code, strands of DNA, mixed up and handed down through the generations, destined one day for cold stillness.

    But not yet

    Zibetto is right around the corner on Sixth Avenue, near 56th Street. You drink your cappucinos or espressos at the long bar or at a shelf in the opposite wall. There are no chairs. New York mag summed it up when Zibetto opened in 2006: "It takes nerve to open an espresso bar across the street from Starbucks—especially an inconspicuous nook without drip coffee, free wi-fi, or even seats." The service is friendly, with little or no waiting -- Anastasio Nougos owns the place and pulls all the drinks. The coffee is great, though I am still partial to Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea. Zibetto is an old-world experience that transports away from a part of the city where it's rare to find a place that isn't a chain or a ripoff. I find it hard to believe he can stay in business at this spot, but I'm glad he has. Today I knew I was running low on beans when we walked by, so I picked up a can of Danesi espresso beans imported from Italy. When I got them home, I decided to make myself another shot in the Jura. The top popped off the vacuum container with a satisfying whoosh. Fresh. Aah.

    City Room has posted a chart showing the most popular baby names in New York City in 2007. Most of the popular names have the whiff of daytime dramas (Madison? Justin?), even among those from non-European backgrounds. The No. 1 name for Asian boys? Ryan. For Hispanic girls? Ashley. But, I wondered, what happens when you dig deeper into the health department's full list [pdf]? You find boys with somewhat unusual names for this day and age, like Achilles, Shemar, Shiloh, Orion; and small clusters of baby girls with names like Dakota, Essence, Heaven, Serenity, Shiloh again, Treasure, Precious and Princess.

    Somewhere in this city, 13 baby girls were named Harmony (No. 148 on the list) and 12 were named Lyric (No. 149).

    There were 17 girls given the name London (No. 144) and 24 named Paris (No. 137). For the city, we hope, and not the presidential candidate.

    Just 18 were named for Milan (at No. 143).

    And, continuing a trend first noticed a couple of years ago, there were 126 baby girls given the name Nevaeh (No. 53) last year -- "Heaven" backwards.

    And, underscoring the importance of spelling even early in life, 10 were named Neveah.

    Posted
    AuthorPatrick LaForge