Posted on July 14, 2013
This space has been quiet as of late. Summer has taken me on a wild ride so far, all leading up to a new adventure in the place where I left my heart a little over a year ago.
I started work on my Masters in Spanish linguistics a short while ago, and will be studying exhaustively for the next five weeks. Without the time to put my heart and soul into posts, I leave you with a few shots of my summer so far.
In June I….
Wandered the streets and said ‘so long’ to my favorite corners of New York
Drank lots of txakolí at Txikifest, a Basque food & wine festival
…and wrote about it for the lovely Christine in Spain
Became a child of the mud with Kings of Leon, Alt-J, St. Lucia, Young the Giant, Foals, Kanye West and many more at Governor’s Ball Music Festival
Fell [back] in love with my hometown in Pittsburgh, PA
And headed north, to a new [to me] part of this fair country, where the green mountains roll and the sky washes pink every night.
To study in the land where Robert Frost wrote, where Lorca summered, and where Phish, and Phish Food, were born.
It’s nice to meet ya, Vermont…
Posts to follow, as soon as I get my nose out of the books.
See you in Madrid, friends…
Posted on June 5, 2013
I find myself wandering down the Chelsea Highline as the sun falls over the Hudson, turning the city a peculiar shade of orange.
Maybe it isn’t the sunset that’s particularly eerie tonight, though. Maybe, just maybe, it is the realization that washes over me as I watch my city fade into darkness…
In a few weeks, this place will no longer be my home.
My two best friends and I look at each other knowingly.
Nostalgia. Heartsickness. Excitement and worry about the future. The mixture of emotions fills our guts as the sun finally dips below the skyline of Hoboken.
But tonight is about celebrating the city that has given us so much, not about mourning the end of an era.
We grab a couple beers, find a secluded spot, and stare up at the Manhattan sky as stars begin to pop up, competing for attention with the sparkling lights of high rises and roof-top bars. We sit in silence for a while, until one of us sighs:
“We live in the best city in the world.”
I have fallen madly in love with these five boroughs living, working and playing here over the past four years, and though I know Spain will be good to me, as she always is, my heart breaks a little to know I will be leaving my first love behind.
So, as our time together comes to a close, here, in no particular order, are the things about New York City that enchant me, inspire me, and will always keep me coming back for more:
The New Yorker is inherently creative; constantly inventing, brainstorming, collaborating, hustling and trying to not only survive in one of the toughest cities in the world, but more so to make a name for herself.
The environment here encourages people to create, and the surroundings offer endless inspiration. An unrivaled destination for art-lovers, we have a museum for everything: modern art, sculpture, sex, literature, insects, classical paintings, and even elevators. Street art causes passersby to stop in their tracks, absorbed by the intricacies of the tongue-in-cheek themes and rebellious, yet refined, styles. Subways tunnels and buildings alike are tagged with graffiti, reminding observers of the evolution of urban art and hip hop, the sometimes forgotten gang presence, and underground social revolution.
Since the birth of American punk at CBGB in the seventies, New York has been a mecca of sorts for aspiring musicians. You’d be hard pressed to walk five blocks without stumbling upon players trying to make their dreams come true. From the unassuming young man that croons a chill-inducing rendition of Dylan’s Girl from North Country at the Bedford Avenue stop on Saturdays, to the Bronx family that sings acapella under Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace on cold winter weekends, the sheer talent and drive of the musicians of New York lulls you into a state of amazement and pushes you to cultivate your own gifts, as well as those that are given to you by this city.
Winter in New York is brutal. Wind whips through the streets and snow and rain terrorize the morning commute. A general depression settles over the city from January to late March, relieved only by a hearty meal and a [lot of] beer with friends at the neighborhood pub. Other than holing up in a watering hole, there are few ways to escape the cold. A New York winter teaches you to fight. To force yourself to brave the conditions and keep hustling towards the dream. It toughens you up in a way that LA la land never will.
The best thing about the winter, though, is that it ends. Come mid-April, the city thaws out and you are reminded why you came here in the first place. Your struggle through the winter is rewarded by blooming flowers in Central Park, open outdoor seating, an inbox full of invitations to rooftop parties and the beginning of the street fair and food festival rotation downtown.
Walking to work, taking the long way home, and yoga in the park all become acceptable again, and the smile and healthy flush returns to your face after a long season of deathly pale skin and perma-scowls.
New York’s location allows you to escape the summer heat by flocking to the Hamptons, the Jersey Shore, or City or Coney Island. Take a dip in the Empire Hotel’s rooftop pool, put on a baseball cap and head to the Bronx for a Yankee’s game, sip refreshing wine at the Txakolí festival, or take a canoe out on the pond in the park; summertime in the city does not allow for a dull moment.
The New Yorker exits the winter tougher, more motivated and, yes, maybe more cynical, but above all, more grateful than ever for all the wonders that the city has to offer once the snow melts.
For anyone stricken with wanderlust, being confined to one place can seem like a nightmare, but New York proves that you can stay in one place and still have a taste of every culture you could imagine.
Nearly 150 years after the tenements, the ethnic neighborhoods have only grown.
Greek, Egyptian, Filipino, Bengali, Argentinian, West Indian, Romanian and Caribbean in Queens. Italian, Irish, Albanian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, African, Central American, Jamaican and Cambodian in the Bronx. Russian, Israeli, Mexican, Polish, Syrian, Czech and German in Brooklyn.
New York teaches you about the world without ever requiring you to travel. Sample dishes from every corner of the world at Smorgasburg on sunny summer Saturdays, wander the halls at Harlem’s Hispanic Society of America, or exchange English lessons for free dinners in Koreatown. Here, you have five boroughs to adventure in, almost forcing you to share stories with people over food from their native land, learn about the realities of far away places, and diversify your outlook on life.
In a city where I can speak Spanish to my neighbors, feign French with the Senegali cab driver, practice the little Arabic I know with my Libyan shawarma guy, and use drunken British accents with tourists in pubs, neighborhood hopping feels a lot like backpacking the world.
There’s something to be said for a town that makes you want to go out and explore the world by introducing you to all it has to offer, all the while offering you so much itself that you never want to leave. It pulls you in and pushes you away, ensuring that even if you ever do muster up the courage to follow your wanderlust, New York will always own a piece of your heart.
No, leaving New York is not the end of an era. It’s only the beginning of the journey she prepared me for. It’s a celebration of everything I’ve seen, learned, and how I’ve grown here. I’ll carry this city with me wherever I go, in my attitude, outlook, sense of humor, and work ethic, hoping to do my town proud, and always looking forward to the day when I will be chewed up, spit out, and reformed here again.
It’s never goodbye, New York. It’s see you soon.
Posted on March 28, 2013
“Americans. You work too hard, you get burned out. You come home and spend the whole weekend in your pajamas in front of the T.V. But you don’t know pleasure. You have to be told you’ve earned it. You see a commercial that says: ‘It’s Miller Time!’ And you say, ‘That’s right, now I’m going to buy a six pack.’ And then drink the whole thing and wake up the next morning and you feel terrible. But an Italian doesn’t need to be told. He walks by a sign that says: ‘You deserve a break today.’ And he says, ‘Yes, I know. That’s why I’m planning on taking a break at noon to go over to your house and sleep…with your wife!'”
– Luca Spaghetti, Eat Pray Love
This past Sunday I found myself sprawled out on my bed in oversized sweats, furiously trying to finish a press release for work, breaking only for bites of left over pad thai (for breakfast at 3 pm..) and sips of gatorade in an attempt to recover from a weekend of birthday celebrations. I submitted my work, took a deep breath and surveyed the state of my life in that moment. Luca Spaghetti had it right. We Americans sometimes forget that life is meant to be enjoyed. Our culture teaches us to work ourselves to the bone, to gorge ourselves on oversized portions and binge on television during our precious free time. There’s something wrong with this picture. Sunday is a time for rest, but I was exhausted after a busy month at work and school, and sick from a weekend of overindulgence. My stomach sank as I thought: last year I spent Palm Sunday wandering around Rome, eating, drinking and sighing my way through the eternal city. Look at what this American life has done to me.
I was lucky enough to experience Rome for a week last spring when my mom came to visit me during my semester abroad. One of the best parts of living abroad is having visitors, especially a visitor that offers to foot the bill! I lived in the lap of luxury that week, and I want to share it with you in a little guide for the senses of la vita romana.
Rome has its very own soundtrack. The pop of a cork as it is freed from an aged bottle of wine. The whirl of linguini being twirled around a hungry patron’s fork. The passionate undulation of a Roman conversation. The satisfied sigh after a first bite of gelato. This is a city where you not only indulge yourself, but also become party to the indulgence and pleasure of everyone around you. The best way to experience the eternal city is to vacate yourself for a moment or two and take stock of what’s going on around you, absorbing the passion, excitement and culture.
Allow yourself to eat without abandon. Savor the fresh ingredients, the love and tradition poured into each dish. You have one life, you’ve got to eat pasta in Rome. Order cacio e pepe for lunch and linguini alle vongole for dinner, and wash down each meal with a glass (or three..) of wine. Indulge in a different flavor of gelato each afternoon (and evening … 😉 ). Sample brilliantly colored produce at the Campo di Fiori. Mop up olive oil with freshly baked focaccia. Order to share. Try everything. Eat slowly and savor.
Make sure you find yourself a rooftop spot to enjoy a bellini and aperitivo with friends as you take in the glorious roman sunset. There are few sights as breathtaking as the orange cast on the tiled roofs and ancient ruins as the swollen sun falls over the city.
During the hours between your fantastic meals, give your belly a break and feast your eyes on the wonders of Rome. All the carbs, wine and gelato will surely be burned off as you walk all over the city. From the Trevi Fountain to Vatican City to the Coliseum, there is no shortage of sights to take in. You should set aside at least five days to truly appreciate all of the incredible museums, churches and shopping Roma has to offer.
Be sure to dress modestly at St. Peter’s, or they’ll make you cover up like a nun! I wasn’t prepared, and learned the hard way…
And, of course, you must afford some time to get lost on side streets and find hidden gems yourself.
No matter where you find yourself in Rome, you will undoubtedly be overwhelmed by delicious scents. There are freshly cut flowers in all of the markets, peeking over window boxes, and lining each street. The strong scents of garlic and simmering sauces waft out of restaurant kitchens, causing your mouth to water and your full belly to start rumbling again. Take a few seconds to breath deeply and try to pin point the source of each scrumptious smell.
Above all, Rome is a place to touch and be touched. A culture of strong family ties, Romans like to show their affection through contact. Follow suit by offering kisses to greet and say goodbye, linking arms with a friend during a stroll, and allowing yourself to be led by the hand to a vendor’s stall as you shop for homemade pasta.
Although American cities may not offer nearly as many pleasures as Rome does, the Roman way of life teaches us to appreciate all that surrounds us in each moment. Find a beautiful spot or a fantastic book for your lunch break to vacate the monotony of everyday life and stimulate your mind. Don’t buy that Lean Cuisine!! Make food you love with fresh ingredients and savor each bite to nourish your body and excite your taste buds. Splurge on a perfume you love or freshly cut flowers at your desk to make yourself feel special. Finally, make time for the people you love, no matter how tired you are. There’s nothing like an evening of laughter with your friends, affection with your lover, or conversation with your family to make you appreciate how lucky you are.
Posted on February 28, 2013
What better way to see everything than to let yourself get lost in a new city? By ditching the guidebook, you’ll find tons of hidden gems that you might have missed had your nose been stuck in a map all day! Plus, it’s a great way to meet locals. In a place like Granada, where the Andaluz people are so warm and welcoming, you’re likely to make a new friend by stopping to ask for directions. Hey, they may even invite you de marcha along with them!
I’ve put together a little guide of my favorite neighborhoods to get lost in my querida Granada. This will be the start of a new series where I’ll post my guide to a new area once every few weeks. Each of these places offers unique activities, art, restaurants and watering holes; you really can’t go wrong.
One of the most enchanting things about Granada is that it synthesizes so many seemingly conflicting elements. It’s an hour from the bright Mediterranean waters to the south, and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada to the east. It is a representation of Catholic Spain, dedicating endless landmarks to the kings that expelled both Moors and Jews, but it also represents a revival of the Granada of the past; where many religions and peoples lived in harmony. A stone’s throw from the very cathedral where the Reyes Católicos are buried, you’ll find a hub for the colorful culture they thought they drove out of this city in 1492.
Start at the base of the hill off of Calle Elvira, where you’ll smell the mint tea and incense wafting out of the many cafés, and know you’re in the right place. The streets are lined with colorful fabrics and tapestries, glittering lanterns, handmade stained-glass tea cups and endless treasures. Be sure to pop in for a te marroquí and traditional Moroccan tapas at my great friend’s tetería, Dar Ziryab on Calle Calderería Nueva. You’ll be treated like family, and feel like you’ve been transported to Morocco. Your senses will be overwhelmed with the pleasures that surround you.
On your way to the top, follow your curiosity. Wander down the tiny side streets that smell of wisteria, and keep an eye out for the small wonders that are hidden all around you. El Albaicín is filled with love notes and poetry scribbled on the cracked white walls. For an artist, writer or photographer, it promises endless inspiration.
There’s beauty around every corner, be it a pop of bright flowers hanging over a white wall, or an open patio offering a rare glimpse into the private lives of the Andaluz. No matter what you see, you’ll feel like you’re in a different world. The enchanting sights, and the sound of spanish guitar that is always echoing down the cobblestone paths, will make you stop and pinch yourself.
If the base of the Albaicín represents the Moors of Al-Andalus past, the top is all about the fabled gitano, romanticized by Cervantes, Mérimée and my beloved Lorca. The gypsy culture is still alive in Granada, though nowhere near as visible as the days when these men haunted Andalucía. If you’re lucky, you may find a small band of gypsy men de toque y palma under the late afternoon sun.
The real jewel here is, of course, the Mirador San Nicolás. The plaza offers the perfect ending to a long day of wandering and sensory overload. Pick up a bottle of Rioja, find a seat on the stone ledge, and enjoy enjoy the sounds of the city while you watch the sun fall over Granada and her Alhambra. Reflect on the art, the mix of cultures, the love letters, the colors and the history that you’ve seen in this little barrio and let the wonder wash over you.
Posted on February 21, 2013
I awake with a start to the sound of feet padding softly outside my tent.
It is so cold that I can see my breath; I start to freeze both literally and figuratively. Still pitch black outside, I can see nothing through the flaps of canvas above my head. We’d been warned that lions frequently passed through camp on their way to drink from the marsh during the dry season. My tent is equipped with air horn for just such an occasion.
Just as a panic starts to warm my chilled limbs, I hear the soft, familiar call of my guide, Mox.
5 AM. Time to start the day.
I crawl out of my bed, already fully clothed. It is winter in Botswana. Too cold in the mornings to undress. Three days in; my clothes are stiff against my goose bumps.
I wrap myself in even more layers, grab my fuzzy hot water bottle and shuffle to breakfast for hot oatmeal and red bush tea. Our last day at the camp in Chobe, we are determined to find the leopard we’ve been tracking for days. I shovel down my breakfast and hop in the open-air truck for yet another freezing drive through the bush.
The wind whips my face and I am suddenly wide awake. I wrap a scarf around my head, so only my eyes are exposed, scouring the area for the elusive cat. The bush is eerily still, and I brace myself for another morning of defeat.
Out of nowhere, the birds and monkeys start going crazy in the trees. Warning of danger. Mox slams on the gas, driving over bushes and small trees towards the noise. We spot a family of baboons fleeing. I notice something coming towards us in the clearing.
A pack of hyenas surrounds us. My breath catches in my throat. I’ve been warned that hyenas are not only the most dangerous animals in the bush, but also the most ruthless. Three of the dogs are fighting over the remains of a small baboon, while the rest circle us, still hungry.
As my fear builds, I notice something darting out of the trees a few hundred yards away.
She appears with the other half of the poor baboon. Mox chases the leopard down, fleeing from the hyenas and following her to the base of a tree.
She waits there, breakfasting on the prey she stole from the hyenas. Ready to climb the tree if they decide to come for revenge.
Never have I been so terrified, thrilled, horrified and amazed in such a short period of time. This was the circle of life, in real life. The female leopard had challenged a group of hungry hyenas on her own, stealing the majority of their prize. She did what she had to to survive the winter.
Posted on February 19, 2013
“Verde que te quiero verde…“
One line and I was hooked.
I first read Romancero Gitano in high school, falling madly in love with Federico García Lorca at age 17.
So in love that I spent a semester researching the symbolism of nature in his poetry, exhaustively scouring the library for works that could help me expose the metaphor of Lorca’s moon, wind, and the color green. The granaíno took the nature that surrounded him in southern Spain and made it speak.
You could say I came to Granada chasing Lorca’s luna. I romanticized the city; loving the the olive groves, the mountain winds and the gypsies from afar.
I wasn’t disappointed. There was not an evening in Granada that I didn’t find myself in a dream-like state. It is at night when the city grabs your heart. From dusk til dawn, the city is alive.
On a 6 am bus ride from Granada to Sevilla, surrounded by sleeping friends,I found my nose pressed to the glass window. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the full moon hanging low over the rolling olive groves. The fog rose to meet the hovering ball of light. The luna granaína spoke to me, just as she speaks in Lorca’s Romance de la luna, luna. There was something magical about it, something that can’t be put into words. Something that simply washes over you.
After that morning, I found myself constantly staring at the night sky. Upon leaving one of our favorite discos in the caves of Sacromonte shortly before dawn most weekends, I’d sit on the city walls and just watch the moon lower itself over the Alhambra, slowly disappearing behind the breathtaking fortress. I couldn’t tear my gaze away.
Then, there were the gypsies. Hearing the toque gitano, the soft olé‘s that seemed to rise up from the soul, and observing the strong presence of tradition in barrio Sacromonte at sunset gave me chills.
I came chasing Lorca’s inspiration, and Granada guided me to it without me having to look. It’s a magical city. A sensual one that makes you feel deeply. A city that speaks to the heart in both culture and nature, and promises to enchant you each and every day.
I leave you with some words I wrote for the magazine Por Granada at the end of my time living there:
“Quien pasea por las calles del Albaicín o las cuevas del Sacromonte puede imaginar la historia de los árabes y gitanos que una vez poblaron estos barrios granadinos. Esta imagen necesita como complemento indispensable una banda sonora de guitarras y quejíos flamencos. La música de la historia de Granada parece sonar a través de sus calles.“
“Los últimos meses han sido unos de los mejores de mi vida, llenos de diversión, risa y aventura. La historia, la poesía y la música del pasado aún viven en las calles de Granada. Cada vez que salgo de tapas o a las discotecas, la vista de la luna de que habló Lorca y la belleza de la Alhambra me deja sin palabras. Para mi, Granada es un sueño.”
“Whoever walks the streets of the Albaicín or explores the caves of Sacromonte can feel the presence of the Arabs and gypsies that once populated these neighborhoods. This image is complemented by a soundtrack of guitars and the sounds of flamenco. The music of Granada’s past seems to play throughout its streets. The past months here have been some of the best of my life, full of fun, laughter and adventure. The history, poetry and music of the Granada of the past still live in its streets. Each time I go out for tapas or to a club, the view of the moon that Lorca spoke of combined with the beauty of the Alhambra leaves me without words. For me, Granada is a dream.”
Posted on February 16, 2013
This past summer, I spent some time in Ecuador. After exploring Quito and the Amazon, my family and I hopped over to the Galapagos for an incredible week cruising the islands.
This is a trip that promises to keep you in a constant state of wonder. From the surreal views of bright water contrasted by volcanic rock and towering mountains and volcanoes, to swimming with sea lions, penguins, turtles and sharks, to watching a sperm whale and her young baby frolicking at sun rise, I was amazed for a week straight.
The same morning we spotted the whales, we were witness to another miracle.
While hiking through Isla Fernandina, we found a mother sea lion and her very young pup.
After observing the scene, our guide Juan informed us that “young” was an understatement. The pup had been born just hours before we got there.
We watched in awe as the momma and baby bonded through cuddles and vocal recognition. Even though they were right next to each other, they were constantly grunting, as if they were just trying to get to know each other.
This baby was a healthy, bouncy little thing, hopping all over his mom and repeatedly making a dash for the water. His mom could definitely have used a nanny. I would have been happy to volunteer!
Do you have any travel memories that took your breath away? Are you an animal lover? I’d love to hear about your experiences!