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Author Archive: "Hanna Neuschwander"


I'm not a mom, but when I am, I will be the kind children roll their eyes at. Thanksgiving, objectively, is the best holiday ever invented. It's not just the gluttony of gravy, the four-day weekend, or the smoky fireplace smell of it — it's the forced march of going round the table and giving thanks that I love.

In my experience, most children — men in particular (and my father-in-law in particular) — are allergic to this holiday ritual. Over the years, I've learned the trick is to wait till the middle of the meal before you advance — get them stoned on tryptophan, serve up an antihistamine of stuffing, and tear down their resistance with French's fried-onion-and-green-bean casserole. Even then, eyes will roll. But you'll prevail. I am ferocious in my love of this theater of gratitude. I bake pies and candy yams in its honor. I engorge myself on its alter.

I love it so much, I start making my list in advance:

This year, I am grateful for family.
For my grandparents, who just celebrated 60 years of marriage.
For my grandfather, who taught me to

Drinking Is a Life Skill

I was in Montreal and 19 when I learned to drink. Drinking is a life skill, and I was attending university acquiring what I thought were many life skills. At university you develop talents, but you also meet people. I met someone.

Back then, he carved wooden boats and analyzed poetry. And taught me to drink, which will be his chief contribution to this story.

My favorite of the many things he taught me to drink is Ricard, an anise-based liqueur of a general class called pastis. Like its cousins — ouzo, sambuca, raki, and arak — it is piss yellow in the bottle and smells strongly of black licorice. These two things wouldn't seem to recommend it, but pastis is a drink like a man in a rumpled suit is a man. They don't seem much at first, but there's often a lot of charm under the covers.

Despite the fact that it is little known or ill regarded in the U.S., pastis is nearly the national drink of France. It is especially identified with Marseilles and the southern provinces. A sweetish, somewhat lurid liqueur made of distilled ...

Church Basement Stories

I go to church three times a year now. The church is First United Methodist in Southwest Portland. The only part of it I've ever seen is more or less a basement, a big empty room with a tile floor, folding chairs, and room to plug in a percolator.

I go to hear people read their rhyming poems and their weird monster dreamscape stories and their tales of woe. Spring, summer, and fall — like clockwork: Write Around Portland releases a new anthology of writing, and the authors gather to read from it.

Quickly, some context: Write Around Portland runs free writing workshops for adults and youth in hospitals, schools, senior centers, treatment centers, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and other agencies — many of them the forgotten people of our city. At the end of each season of workshops, an anthology is published and all of the participants gather in this church basement and read. Their families and friends come, along with hangers-on like me.

Growing up, I only ever entered a church if my grandparents took me. At my grandma Erma's church, I'd sit quietly in frilly ...

The Richard Avedon Cure for Your Civic Funk

I haven't yet been able to shake the civic funk I always find myself in around election time. The election roller coaster — an undulating set of peaks and valleys marked by anxiety, excitement, frustration, apathy, and euphoria (all that democracy!) — never fails to leave my stomach weak, a gnawing sort of ache that lasts days, sometimes weeks.

This year, I found myself thinking repeatedly of a document I first encountered in 2004 — a 32-page, 50-image photo essay called "Democracy," commissioned from Richard Avedon by the New Yorker for its election issue. At the time I recall feeling it was the best election reporting I'd ever seen. Avedon — fittingly? — died of a cerebral hemorrhage while working on the piece.

I went back to see if the images struck me as much in 2012 as they had in 2004, if they provided some tonic for my ailing gut. I was surprised to find they did. But in different ways.

The image that originally captivated me is on the first spread. A ruddy-faced young woman with a strangely textured face and crossed ...

“Last Drop,” and Other Rejected Names for My Book

I write about coffee. This is a relatively strange niche, but it's one I love. Unfortunately I, and the approximately two other people in the world who do what I do, have a problem: we have no good way of talking about coffee. I mean that literally. We don't have the words for it. We have tortured a small group of coffee-related nouns beyond respectability.

Take "java." Have four letters ever been so badly abused?

Finding a title for my book, Left Coast Roast, was therefore grueling. It's difficult on a good day to sum up in a clever phrase something you otherwise spent 45,000 words trying to explain. But the task becomes more difficult when your topic is coffee.

If you have ever been to a drive-through coffee stand in America, you know what I mean. The wordplay starts out innocently enough: Brewed Awakening, perhaps. But it quickly gets worse, and you can almost see the endorphin-riddled gears turning in the minds of well-meaning, impossibly dorky small-town espresso stand owners*: Bean Me Up Espresso. Hill of Beans. Brew Ha Ha.

If you were me or two ...

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