Month: January 2014

A Trip to Boston's Brother City

I’m just back from a three-week trip to Melbourne, Australia, where I traveled to visit the family of friends and get a taste of a new city. I’ve visited the city just once before and had a wonderful time, and this trip was fantastic too. It was just delicious to get some relaxation away from all screens and devices and spend my days eating and walking and exploring. There was nothing fantastically exotic that I saw in Melbourne, besides a trip to the zoo; it is a distinctly familiar city to me, because Australian culture has so much in common with American culture. Specifically, the city of Melbourne has so much overlap with the city of Boston.

You can start with the size of the city, which at a few million, is right around Boston’s size. As an American, you’ll also be surprised to see all the usual fast food places you know lining the busy, pedestrian-friendly streets. (KFC, for one, is huge there for some reason, but you don’t get biscuits — you get chips, a.k.a. American fries). The Australian accent even shares some commanalities with a Boston accent, with its broad a’s and dropped r’s. You’d “pahk your cah” in both Boston and Melbourne. More than that, though, there’s a kind of cultural vibe that Boston and Melbourne just might share; a friendliness, business, and hopping intellectual life that I saw evidence of. We’re both small, but we act cosmopolitan.

Australia and the United States should get along pretty well, because they’re both the slightly coarser, bumpkin cousins of Great Britain, though Australia holds its ties to Britain much closer. Most of the television is British, as is the interest in British celebrities. Some people I hung out with knew all the details of the royal family, for example, whereas I think most Americans don’t know more than the queen and her direct descendants. Australia maintains a close cultural handshake with Great Britain, whereas a lot of America is disdainful or uneasy of any connection to England.

There were perhaps only two major differences I saw in my brief tourist’s view of this lovely city; the first was the proliferation of Asian culture and cuisine, and the second was something more intangible. Because of its proximity to Asia, Australia has benefitted from the things that Asian immigrants have brought with them. Just as Mexican food is accessible and known everywhere in America, Vietnamese, Thai, and Malaysian food is cheap, ubiquitous, and delicious in Melbourne. You can get fast food or street food from most countries of Asia on every street corner.

The second difference might be the most fundamental shift from American to Australian life. From the little I’ve seen, and from what I’ve heard when I questioned Aussies, it seems that Aussies are far more laid-back than Americans. There’s a certain calm, friendly laisse-faire attitude that fills every part of life. Americans are certainly casual about some things, but we are very heated and violently polarized about others. Politics are deadly serious and can divide the nation sharply. The whole time I was in Australia, the people I saw didn’t get too fussed about anything, even when they didn’t approve of the government’s latest doings. It’s a great place to spend a vacation for that reason — it’s just hard to rile the typical Aussie character.

The mirror image of Boston was presented to me in other ways, too — I happened to be there right in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave. I was watching matches of the Australian Open on a 112-degree day. I’d never felt such extreme heat; it was hard to breathe, and impossible to keep my clothes from getting soaked in sweat. This was at pretty much the same time that Boston was struggling through record-breaking lows in the temperature. Go figure.

There were a few moments of startling discrimination that came from some drunk train passengers, but you can find that kind of attitude in America as well. Again, the attitudes of Americans and Australians seem closely intertwined. It’s funny to think of a brother city, a parallel Boston, or a parallel Melbourne, almost exactly around the world.

We Did It!

GREAT news, readers — Two Cities Review’s Kickstarter campaign has been successfully funded! That means we’ll be able to launch our first issue and give it the support and attention it needs to be great. Thank you tremendously for your support; if you’re a backer, you’ll soon be receiving news via email about what rewards are available and how to make sure you receive them. You can expect plenty of exciting updates to come about our launch parties in Boston and New York and the work that will be appearing in our first issue. But there’s one thing you won’t have to read anymore: that’s us begging you for support!

Spread the word about our first issue, which we are targeting for a March release, and stay tuned to hear more reflections on city life and information about our launch. Thanks again, backers!

Countdown: My FAVORITE Read This Year Is…

I’ve been counting down my top ten read of 2013 as our Kickstarter project counts down. We now have just a few days left and we need your help! Consider donating, and in the meantime, take a look at my FAVORITE read of 2013.

The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner

I just can’t get over Rachel Kushner’s The Flame Throwers. It is so wildly exciting as a story for so many reasons. It’s dark and dangerous; it’s cold and clear and beautiful; it’s got some kick-ass female characters; it’s sensitive and sad; it enlightened me about what a few corners of the world looked like in the 1970’s that I knew virtually nothing about. It does all these things, and is also just a rip-roaring good read.

The story follows “Reno” as she’s known, a young female motorcycle enthusiast who somehow ends up in the landspeed motorcycle racing time trials across the barren salt flats of the western United States. Reno loves racing for the speed, but somehow she becomes caught up in the 70’s intellectual art scene of New York. In this crowd, every act is a statement, every event a creation of art. So her focus on motorcycle racing becomes something of an artistic statement, and it grants her entry into a very exclusive club.

As we’ll see, the world of the 70’s art scene is cruel; even as it claims to espouse liberation of every kind, it actually polices its members. Gender and sexuality are explored here with a stunning eye for detail and nuance of meaning. And that’s only the beginning. The Flame Throwers captures the world of a youthful, transgressive, and misguided, or self-deluded, culture. It captures revolutions in Italy and slave labor in South America. Its reach is truly global, even as its story is inherently personal. I can’t recommend this stunning, original book highly enough.

Thats my top ten! What are YOUR favorite reads of 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014? And can you help get our magazine launched? Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

Countdown: My Second Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year, and we’re almost at the end!. My second favorite read is the oldest book on the list; it’s a classic I only got around to reading recently. Read on to find out that my second favorite read this year was…

Middlemarch, George Eliot

I’m not the biggest Victorian lit fan. Jane Austen has some good moments, but overall I’m usually bored; the writing can be very dry, and the reflections of people and their doings too outdated to apply to people today. I therefore avoided George Eliot and her Middlemarch, thinking it would be typical nineteenth century British literature. How wrong I was!

It’s hard to describe what is so profoundly moving in the large, leisurely story of Middlemarch. Here’s what I wrote in an earlier review:

Middlemarch succeeded in utterly beguiling me. It’s less like Austen to me, and more like Henry James; it is passionate, realistic, and willing to gaze upon the lives of unhappy individuals with great clarity and compassion. Unlike the stories of Austen, which generally bear toward a marriage, several marriages happen in Middlemarch right at the outset. The drama will stem not from who will marry whom, but what life will truly be like after these matches, for better or for worse, have been made. One storyline follows Dorothea, an enlightened, modern women with great wisdom, ambition, and intelligence. She is a wonderful character to follow, full of identifiable emotion, passion, and loyalty. She marries an older man who is a respected scholar because she believes she wants to support him in his great work; but to Dorothea’s dismay, and the reader’s as well, we discover that his work is useless and backward, the scholarship that he has been devoting his life to an utter waste of time. Through Eliot’s graceful writing, we can see a marriage, having lost its foundation, crumbling from within.
There are other married-life dramas within this story, including another marriage that seems to begin on the best of terms, but begins to fall apart as husband and wife discover how little they know about each other and how unwilling they are to understand each other. Eliot’s descriptions of the small bitternesses of relationships, and how wounds can fester, or how chasms can open between people who once loved each other, are sensitive and real. They feel as relevant to relationships today as they must have been about marriages of a previous century. Frequently I felt myself associating guiltily with the character of Rosamond, whose utter self-absorption causes rifts to open in her marriage. She firmly believes each new hardship is done deliberately to spite her or marr her happiness; it’s these sorts of perspectives that I feel I take when I’m at my worst. And it’s these sorts of perspectives that can make relationships fall apart.
Of course, in the time and place of Middlemarch, divorce or breakups are not an option; so the members of these unhappy unions must struggle along the best they can, facing a lifetime of dischord. They realize that unhappy marriages can mean a lifetime of smothering their true selves, or subjugating their wills to others; but a chance for freedom, even at the risk of social disapproval, might just be worth taking.
Middlemarch is a small-town gossip novel; it’s a gripping portrait of troubled family life; it’s a coming-of-age novel; it’s even a murder mystery. I found it riveting, honest, subtle, and true. It’s the first book in a long while that I’ve felt a real, personal connection to. Finally, I get what all the hype was about.

Stay tuned for my FAVORITE read of 2013, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!