Christmas 2010

Christmas 2010

A Short Report written by Bob Thurston

Here we are–from top left, Tom Bellamy, Alexander, Bob; from bottom left, Gretchen Ziolkowski, Pushkin the Wonder Dog, Lara:


We all feel like we’re doing pretty well.  In alphabetical order:  Alexander is in a PhD program at Northwestern in Sub-Saharan Islam.  He went to Nigeria for a month last summer on a reconnaissance trip, and plans to go back for much longer in 2011.  He passed his big theories of religion exam with no sweat and has only a few minor (well, not so minor) exams to go before he becomes a PhD candidate.

Bob taught at the Miami U. Luxembourg campus in the winter semester, then hung around Europe for various reasons until mid-June.  He bought a Volvo, Das the Car, in Sweden on arrival in January, and drove it in Europe for 10,000 miles.

Das Day 1 

Bob saw great coffee museums, among many other fabulous sights.  Also went to Brazil for a week in July to look at coffee farms.  You can find an awful lot more about his travels below.

Cagliari Coffee, Modena, Italy

Sertaozinho Farm, Sao Paulo State, Brazil   

Gretchen became acting chair of her department in the fall, and man, was she acting.  She had to act every day to deal with myriad problems.  We have a new family phrase that applies to some things she heard: “your words have clouded the minds of idiots.”  I think she has done a great job in really trying times, and I know that her colleagues appreciate her very much.  At least, the Chinese ones give her many presents.  She has also made a lot of progress on her book on Euro folk/fakelore.

Lara has had mountains of work to do in studio art and in art ed classes.  Artists who teach seem to be particularly disorganized, but interested in handing out massive assignments.  Several nights Lara was sawing wood and doing other things at our house until midnight, once to 3 AM.  We are going to go as a family to get her degree.  She shows signs of developing a wonderful sense of form and color.

A Lara painting.

Tom Bellamy has been taking classes at Miami’s Hamilton campus, especially, for some reason, history.  He has done really well–he could not have done better.  He makes us all laugh with jokes and constant good humor.  What is wrong with this guy??

Pushkin continues to enjoy playing with a tennis ball, hopping up on the bed after the alarm goes off, and going for walks.

The cats are tolerable.

We wish you all peace, love, jobs, warmth, publications, and relaxation.

Bob, Gretchen, Alexander, Lara, Tom, Pushkin, the cats



A chance to go to Brazil popped up unexpectedly, and I went from July 9 to 18, to look at coffee.  The trip was organized by the United States Roasters [as in coffee] Guild, so the other people in the group were coffee pros.  I remain a mere coffee fanatic who knows something about the bean, the brew, and their history.

I flew from Dayton to Houston, then from there 10 hours overnight to Sao Paulo.  Can’t sleep on planes.  Was a little bit sick before the trip–had not quite recovered from Europe after being home for a month–but the lure of Brazil was great.  It’s the largest coffee producer in the world, of course–according to the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association, in the 2009-10 season, the country produced 43.5 million 60-kilogram bags.  Vietnam was second with 18.35 million, Colombia third with 12.2, and Indonesia 4th with 7.6.  Colombian production goes up and down, and sometimes the country outpaces Vietnam; this year the Colombian crop should recover nicely and may be the second largest.  But no one will ever catch Brazil, because of the physical area that the country can devote to coffee. Remember that coffee grows only in the tropics–between the T. of Cancer at 23 1/2 degrees north and the T. of Capricorn at the same latitude south.  Then to grow the good stuff, Arabic, some altitude is necessary; even 1,000 feet will do.  I can’t find a particularly good map of Brazil for the purposes of this post, but the following link will give a basic idea of how large the country is and how much of it is in the tropics; Sao Paulo is almost exactly on the Tropic of Capricorn, so that all of Brazil north of that city is in the zone for coffee.   However, much of the territory is too low for coffee–none grows in the Amazon basin–so we are speaking of specific regions, especially in the states just north of Sao Paulo, esp. Minas Gerais.

First, Sao Paulo.  It is huge.  Considered among the world’s 3 largest cities, S P has some 12-13 million people in the city limits and some 18 m in the metro area.  It goes on forever.  But in the areas I saw, it looks pretty good–not dirty, not coated with security people, not chaotic.  Not as attractive as Bogota but infinitely better than Managua or Addis Ababa, to give a few of my other reference points.  Better than the saddest parts of Cleveland.  S P has some upscale cafes and restaurants–here’s coffee from Suplicy, a small coffeehouse chain.

A Suplicy latte with water, green (unroasted) Brazilian beans, and roasted beans.

We visited 3 cafes in S P; maybe we had the propaganda tour there and on farms, but what we saw and drank

in the city was great.  Brazil has about doubled its internal coffee consumption in the last few years, which means that more of the value of coffee grown in the country stays there, that wages paid in the cafes, which are higher than for many jobs, add to the local economy, and that there are more places to go to socialize–without depending on alcohol.

The stores we visited were beautifully designed, especially in their use of wood, of which Brazil still has a lot.

a barista at Santo Grao cafe, S P. The store has a separate grinder for each type of coffee it sells.

Octavio Cafe, S P

But the heart of the trip was to farms north of S P.  There I got see exactly how mechanized the big Brazilian operations are.  Productivity is high, partly because the landscape is fairly gentle, not the steep slopes I have seen in countries like Nicaragua.  Here are some Brazilian coffeescapes:

coffee, coffee, coffee

guess what's growing here

More to follow when I get the chance.

You must seek out and drink good coffee!  Go to a local shop, not to the Mermaid!


I would just like y’all to know that I made it home in good shape.  No one in Sweden or Denmark cared to check the date of entry in my passport, let alone to hassle me about staying too long in the Schengen Zone without a visa.  So all that worry and tension about leaving Europe was for nothing–Hey, I’m glad about that!

So now I have loads of work to do just to process the pictures, let alone the experience.  Already I have sold short profiles of cafes in Trieste and Venice, and hopefully in Heidelberg, to Specialty Coffee Retailer magazine (yes, it is a great mag, even if you don’t read it regularly).  So look for my stuff at least in the on-line edition.  Still to go is one more piece about cafes in Prague.

And I’m trying to get editors interested in an article on coffee museums I have known, from Quindio, Colombia to Forlimpopoli and Hamburg.  Everyone was so generous to me with time, conversation, gifts, even wonderful lunches.  Hurrah for coffee people!

My car may arrive in 2 weeks or in 6.  It will be great to have it here.

Viva Oxford, Ohio.  Pretty Ohio, I say.  You can live and breathe here, and if the administrators are not too dedicated to cultivating rudeness, you can work here.

Good coffee and travels to you!

Here I sit in a hotel in Goeteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden, having turned in Das the car to Volvo.  Tomorrow, unless I’m arrested for not having a Schengen visa, I fly home.

What have I learned in more than 5 months in Europe?  First, that the kind of place I fear the most is a French parking garage.  2, that coffee people in Europe are just as great as in America or Latin America.  3, that Europe is not so very green.  4, that drinking by young Americans is bad, but that the worst are the Brits.  Americans drink too much in Europe, and they should figure out the drinking culture here before they come, but the worst drinking by our students occurs at home (search for Miami U. Ohio sororities and damage at their spring “proms.”)  I think that most Americans grow out of their college drinking, which doesn’t make it any less dangerous at the time.  5, I can still go many places and survive with no great problems.  I was sick one day here, not a bad record.  6, things don’t necessarily get better any time, any place.  If things are bad for you now, some great change many come along and improve your life, but that’s unlikely.  So have fun where you are.  7, Europe has come a long way since 1945, but individual countries are still extremely important, and progress in my view will depend on reducing that individuality even more.  Right now a citizen of the EU can work in theory in any EU country–except that the taxes, prices, and so forth are quite different.  And English is the lingua franca, but knowing it hardly solves the issue of talking to people.  8, I do like the food here better than in the US in general, and it’s certain that on the road you can get edible stuff in every country.  But easy on the butter, please!  9,  the coffee is almost always bad or mediocre, and they basically only serve espresso.  Don’t drink coffee in France.  10, don’t try to drive into most Italian cities.  11, Volvo is cool to deal with–very easy.

I spent the days from May 27 until June 8 partly at a conference on lynching around the world in Heidelberg.  Talk about mixed feelings–the issues are so emotional and political.  A valuable conference, and kudos to the German organizers for putting together a truly international cast that occasionally moved off the epicenter of lynching in everyone’s mind, the American South.  As for me, no more mass murder.  Once my book on lynching is out, I hope never to think about it again.  Fat chance.

But except for those 3 days at the conference, I was back in the world of coffee.  Have I said that the people are great?  I went to see wonderful cafes in Trieste, Venice, Padua, and Heidelberg (having seen some fine ones earlier in Prague).  Better yet, I went from coffee museum to coffee museum, in Forlimpopoli and Modena, Italy; Zuoz and Lugano, Switzerland; and Hamburg.  In Zuoz they simply unlocked the door for me and let me wander around.  In each place I was given books and other gifts–wine, coffee, shirts, e.g.  I saw gorgeous machines dating back as far as the mid-18th century.  People took me to lunch.  I took many pictures.  Why did I get such generous treatment?  Is my mug?  My manner?  Maybe–but people could simply tell that I was really interested.

I’ll put in a few pictures.  If you see this before the morning of June 10 arrives in Europe, say a prayer or cast a spell for me, so that I get home with no great trouble.

Home!  I will be so glad to get there!  There is no place like it, dontcha know!  An excellent sojourn in Europe, for the most part, but now I want to see my house, my dog, my bike, my yard, my wife, not necessarily in that order.  I don’t want to be a tourist for a long time.  Dealing with coffee at the end of the trip was not tourism, thank goodness, and I have sold some profiles of cafes to one mag, Specialty Coffee Retailer (catchy name, eh?) and hope to do more for them and a serious article on the museums.  But home is where I want to be.

A Vercelli steam coffee maker, early 20th c

Cagliari Coffee museum

The Burg Museum, Hamburg


Florian Cafe, Venice

Cafe Pedrocchi, Padua

And so ciao for now, Euro buffs!

The royal bed at Versailles.

I haven’t posted anything here for more than a month, because I’ve had family in Europe for 2 weeks and I’ve been on the road, often without a decent or any internet connection.  It would be hard to summarize the past month, but here goes:  Blois, Chenonceau, Paris alone for a week to do some research, Paris with wife and grown kids, Metz, Nuremberg, Prague, Munich, kids and wife leave, Austrian Alps, Trieste, Venice, Forlimpopli, Ravenna, then back north at last (feels like I’m on my way home) into the Swiss Alps.  I’ve concentrated in the last few days on spectacular cafes and collections of coffee machines and other artifacts.

Das the car has been magnificent.  Here are a few road pics:

Albula Pass Rd, Switzerland, May 31

Bellinzona-Chur Rd May 30

Chenonceau, France, a playground for royal mistresses

And we saw a lot while the family was here.  Prague is awash with tourists, but it’s still stunning.  Here is a stained glass window by Mucha in the Hrad (castle).

And if you like bones, a church at Kutna Hora, east of Prague,

is for you.

The Ravenstein coat of arms, in bones, with the bird supposed to be pecking out the eye of a Turk.

Love what you’ve done to the place,


Actually, Prague is beautiful.

View of the Hrad (castle), Prague

early 20th c

I’ll try again.

Now get in a royal bed somewhere:  (oops, the royal bed got put at the top of the post somehow), rest your bones, and don’t drink too much coffee.  But drink the best!

The Italians want you to!

La Dolce Vita at an Autogrill on the tollway outside Milan

You remember the chateau in snow, dear readers.  No?  Here it is again.

The chateau in January, from my apt. window

And here it is in late April.

The green thing is trying to eat the chateau

Now, I will not say when the chateau is prettier; but the weather lately has made not quite everything seem fine, but most things.  Fruit trees and magnolias are in bloom everywhere; the forsythia is almost gone, but the tulips and many millions of dandelions (from the French, dent de lion, tooth of the lion) are wonderful.  Who cares if the lawn is taken over by lion’s teeth?

I will leave the chateau, if my plans go according to my plans, on Friday evening, heading in an arc to the south and then the southwest of Paris, along the Loire Valley.  I rode through part of the valley on a bicycle in the fall of 1971.  Funny, what I remember most is the many signs offering free tastes of wine.  This time, I am determined to see some of the glorious French chateaux in the valley, e.g. at Blois.

This old chateau, I mean my abode of the last several months, has a particular smell–old stone and young hormones.  I do like the smell of most of it, except for the dungeon laundry room, which smells like old dirty wet laundry.  Until just now, I had not thought of taking pictures of the interior.  Well, I’ve just corrected that.

part of the dining hall as seen from the balcony of the library

So I came here with vast expectations, of teaching, of research, of driving, of social life, of improving my French and German, of seeing many new and familiar things.  Many of my expectations have been met or exceeded; it was, for instance, great to teach here.  I love my car, as some of you may know.  You go somewhere with extravagant ideas of what will be and what will change, and how you will change.  You change and you don’t, but maybe you realize that many of the things that come to you are excellent.  Maybe you don’t take the rest of life too seriously, except when you forget to dwell on the good stuff.  Remember that deep thoughts are free. Anyway, it has been a good several months here.  Soon I will move on to new smells.

Karma, karma, karma.

I still don’t have a visa, but tomorrow is supposed to bring a telephone call to the associate dean here from the HEAD of Lux immigration, so apparently I have a chance to get one.   Got a whole pile of documents from the US today, proving, at least to me, that I was born and that I have a PhD.  Also that in the last 7 years I have not made it onto the national register of sex offenders.  You can’t have everything.  We will see if all this impresses the guardians of the gates of Lux.

In the mean- or downtime, I have been active!  Yes!  I saw happy children who don’t know yet that they are not supposed to smile at strangers.  They were here, way after Easter, I don’t know why, for an Easter egg hunt–which they had never heard of–on the chateau grounds.  They seemed to be having great fun.

Last weekend went to Bastogne, the city held by American troops and surrounded by Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, Dec.-Feb. 1944-45.  Actually, it was only surrounded for a few days, before crazy George Patton drove his troops through the Germans and opened a corridor to the city.  Then he held the corridor despite massive German counter-attacks from both sides.  It made me feel proud for a while to be an American; the citizen-soldiers faced massive German superiority in men, artillery, and tanks–yes, the last German punch, but with men who had been in combat before vs. essentially untested Americans.  Our lines buckled but never broke, and there was some heroic fighting.  And this while Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin were meeting at Yalta.  Roos. had to ask Stalin to step up a planned attack on the Eastern Front in order to relieve pressure on our guys . . . and you wondered why we made key concessions (not really concessions; we didn’t have anything or any territory to concede) to the Soviets at Yalta!  That was only one of several good reasons to do so.

The museum at Bastogne and the memorial to US casualties there did move me.  80,000 on our side, 100,000 on the German side.

Got to drive the dean’s almost new BMW X3 SUV today.  Nice, but after Das the Auto, I’ll take Das.  Sticky on the roads, it is.

But then had pate de foie gras and sweet wine with the dean.  I know about the geese and how they get stuffed in order to get them to produce the pate, but it is so good on fresh bread, with a little onion preserves on top.  You have to have this with sweet wine to do it properly a la francais.  Man, sign me back up for another tour here!  Well, maybe not, esp. if I don’t get a visa.  Stay tuned for the latest hot news!