Riga Through A Hailstorm: On The Reporter’s Red-Eye Life

Thursday, 16 July

It’s the first time I’ve heard an entire airplane applaud a safe landing, and I’m sure I didn’t sleep through any turbulence. After an early flight out of Edinburgh and over five hours in London’s wifi-less Luton Airport, what I’m convinced is hell’s mop closet, I’m safely in Riga, Latvia, ready to cover the 9th Positivus music festival for The Skinny. There’s the kind of naïveté in it, the clapping, that makes my still hands look jaded – as if the miracle of flight really is a miracle to these nor’Eastern Europeans – and in fact it reminds me of naïveté‘s etymology, from the Latin nativus, “not artificial”: it’s honest applause. And what service employees deserve our thanks and amazement more? Quickly I’m ready to adopt the attitude, this way of being, that recognizes the incredible for what it is, everyday occurrence or no.

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Every Starbucks in Edinburgh (A Celestial Cartography)

I should start by apologizing to my friend and frequent traveling partner, Steve Coffed.  I used to give him grief every time he suggested going into a Starbucks, anywhere in the world.  The coffee, I said, is inconsistent from city to city – and nothing to write home about even at its best.  The atmosphere can be sterile, the clientele often a mix of high schoolers, bluetoothing businessmen, and the unfriendly type of medical student.  But shortly after I came to Edinburgh (a city awash in espresso, with enough comfy unpretentious top-notch java joints to give anyone a caffeine headache), something changed: basically, my parents sent me Starbucks gift cards.

What can we send our poor starving postgrad son? they thought, Our son drinking pint after pint of Tennent’s Lager, because it’s only £2.50?  Money?  No, that would send the wrong message, he’ll think he can come home and move right back in … So they settled on Starbucks gift cards, and I settled back into a comfortable middle class lifestyle – at least, that’s what it feels like every time I pass beneath that fish-woman’s spreading tails to wait for a cup with my name on it, or whatever variation of a loosely A-sounding name these Scots come up with, from “Owen” to “Hadrian’s Wall.”  I started to take my Starbucks breaks further afield from the university, trying to see if the world’s biggest and best-known coffee chain could produce any significant change in atmosphere.  A project began to take shape: I would visit and review each Starbucks from New Town to Newington, and share my findings with the world.  [Nota: I’m not the first with this obsession.  See the folks at Every Single Seattle Starbucks.]  I found out that the Starbucks locations scattered across Edinburgh do vary, if sometimes subtly, in atmosphere and clientele – even while some franchises in Edinburgh are within a Frisbee-toss of one another- and even more interesting, my Starbucks survey soon turned into a new way of mapping this strange and diverse city: A Celestial Cartography of Corporate Coffee.  Even if I can offer nothing more than tips on hidden views, rush hours to avoid, and, of course, musings on jams and jellies, I hope something in what follows is of some small value.

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