one night in bangkok + the business of leaving

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I’m rotten at goodbyes. Years ago an old friend from the party days and I sat on a cold Miami beach, watching the sun settle into the waves that had turned black. I told her about a storm that promised to advance and she shook her head and said that the clouds were temporary, the darkness would inevitably pass. We took this trip–a weekend in a cheap motel and dinner in a fancier one–because the following week she would pack all her belongings and travel cross-country to California. While she loved New York, she ached for home–the cresting waves and fresh fish you could tear apart with your fingers. She missed being in a car, driving it, and while I tried to convince her that she was mad for leaving–who would volunteer to spend an hour in a car to inch forward half a mile?–she wouldn’t hear any of it. What I didn’t tell her was that I liked being in a car with her. You sleep while I drive. What I didn’t tell her was the thing I’d miss most about her was the drive between West Hollywood and Newport Beach. How the darkness fell and I allowed myself to settle, to sleep. But how could I explain that? How could I tell her that I allowed myself to be vulnerable with her? Always I’d hear my mother’s voice whispering in my hair, never be vulnerable, never cry, never hold a love so deep it threatens to complete.

I don’t think she knows it, how I loved her beyond the mansion parties and bathroom stall parties. Still. To this day. But that’s the thing about goodbyes–they never are what you want them to be.

In Bangkok, another friend and I sit poolside in a posh hotel and I tell her stories. We drink watermelon drinks and watch the lights paint the sky, and I tell her about the kind of woman I used to be. We laugh like children and I try to remain in that moment for as long as I possibly can. But there are always buts, interruptions, the things that lie ahead-the storm on the horizon–that threaten the space you now occupy. I keep telling myself to come back, to sit in this moment because it’s one of the good ones. It’s one I’ll remember–an image of two friends laughing, happy.

Truth be told, this trip wasn’t what I intended. The point was to rest, get focused, and come home prepared for another storm: the projects for which I’d have to pitch, the business of book publishing, the what’s next, what do I do, and all that, and I didn’t quite get there. Along the way I encountered a stress I hadn’t quite anticipated, another friend who decided to lay down her mask and reveal the darkness underneath, and everything within me seized. There were downpours. There were Skype calls and alterations to a journey en media res, and my other friend and I found ourselves back in Bangkok. We spent the night feasting and slipping back into our respective silences; we are women who crave solitude. During the day we visited coconut sugar and orchid gardens and floating markets outside of Bangkok, and burned our mouths eating coconut pancakes served from river boats and juicy mangos cut with the sharpest of knives. This was our final day and we would toast our return to New York and close our eyes to the storm that had departed as swiftly as it had advanced.

Now I sit in a hotel lobby caught in the-betweens. Anxious. Tense. I’m not quite where I was at the start of this journey, but I’m not really where I want to be. I fly back to so much uncertainty. Will I secure another project? Will my father get his surgery? Will I sell my novel? Will I figure out what it is that I’m meant to do? Will I? Will I?

I guess the only thing I know is this: I’m finally happy. And perhaps I should hold on to that? Hold it close to my chest like a suit of armor that could battle any storm that threatens to ruin.

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when your hotel is a bucket and dish pail of fail, you go to koh phi phi

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Let’s discuss my hotel in Phuket for a moment, shall we? As I type, there are three different groups of people staging photo shoots at the pool. I’m not talking about the random selfie by the infinity pool overlooking the cliffs, oh no, I’m talking about prop placement, hair arrangement, varying facial expressions and body contortions. Basically, it’s as if Angelina + Brad rolled up with legions of paparazzi.

Believe me when I say that I’m bearing witness to the Cirque de Soleil of selfies. People who relentlessly document every moment of their holiday, giving the appearance that they’re being present while their most profound relationship is the one they have with their camera lens.

But let’s set that aside and discuss how nothing works, how everyone scowls at us when we deign to ask for an apple (WHERE THE FUCK IS MY APPLE?), salad, insert food here, and how we spent a pile of money for a hotel that’s delivering us a pile of nothing. Now that my first-world rant has come to a close, I’ll share how we fled the wackness for Koh Phi Phi (translation: my new place of residence)

When it comes to Koh Phi Phi, a group of islands surrounded by the Andaman Sea, the beauty is in the elements: the azure surf, moss-covered rocks and cool white sand. We fed bananas to wild monkeys on Monkey Island, sipped coconut water out of coconuts, feasted on grilled corn on the beach and crept under caves in a boat and swam in the ocean. Amidst all of the noise of New York–the relentless pitching for project work, the minor flood in my apartment, the novel that everyone says is utterly remarkable, beautiful and astounding yet is too dark, too experimental–it’s sometimes hard to believe I’m here and I’m happy. It’s hard to believe I held a monkey in my arms as he buried his hand in my hair (my hair is a forest).

I close my eyes and try to hold on to this moment for as long as I possibly can. I try to settle in it, remain it, until I have to board a plane for home and deal with everything.

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what we talk about when we talk about food in southeast asia

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It feels good to be here, halfway around the world. It’s winter in Bangkok, and during the day our shirts cling to our backs and all we want to do is crawl into the cool dark and settle there. In the morning we took a private car and toured a steamy city. We covered our shoulders in temples, took off our shoes and quietly prayed. Marveling at a buddha worth forty million dollars and built in 24-carat gold, we stood on a balcony overlooking the city and thought about how far we had to travel to shake home off our feet. Twelve hours separates us from them and it was comforting to know that we celebrated our best moments, traded stories and laughed so hard it hurt when everyone was asleep.

Normally, I travel alone because I like it that way; I prefer the company of solitude that comes with being itinerant. I like being a nameless stranger, one of the many in a car, in a train, swimming deep underwater. Yet this trip, one I’ve taken with two dear friends, has been wonderful. In the early evening I drank fresh watermelon juices with my friend Amber and talked about an old friend from an old life, and I hadn’t thought of this friend in a while, and it felt good to talk about the person I used to be, to be on good terms with her, even if the space between that woman then and this woman now is an incalculable figure.

I watch a movie in my hotel room and Thom Yorke’s “Analyse” comes on, You traveled far/What have you found/That there’s no time/There’s no time/To analyse/To think things through/To make sense. I want to be here longer because when I come home there’s so much to deal with. So many bandaids in need of ripping off. But I try not to think about that. I try not to let my mind go where it wants to go. I try to hold on to this time for as long as I can.

I’m traveling with two friend who light up when it comes to beauty and I go mad for food, and it’s good to know that the two loves have been harmonious. They waited as I raced to a corner to grab a plastic bag of juicy mango dusted with cane sugar and pink salt and watched as I poured water all over my hands outside of the temple because the sweet clung to my fingers. They marveled as my Korean lunch took up nearly our entire table. We’ve had spicy curries, fluffy seafood pancakes, slippery glass noodles and buttery beef. My friend Amber eats all of my kimchi because I can’t tolerate the sourness of it. I watch a man crush pomegranate seeds into a bottle and I drink the juice as it is, tart, a little sweet, completely what I needed in the hot sun.

Tomorrow we leave for a long holiday in Phuket, Ko Phi Phi and who knows where, and I can’t wait to tear into papayas, pineapples and have all of the greenery.

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my food journey (weeks 8-9) chowing gluten + dairy free in spain (a lamentation)

Restaurante Campanario Granada
If you love (and I mean, LOVE) fresh bread, red wine, cured sausage, seafood and cheese, you will hole up in your AirBNB apartment in Spain and never leave. You will slice into your chorizo and lap up all the spice and grease happily with a chunk of warm bread. You will worship at the altar of the mollusk and you will eat cheese into the gloaming. Or until you pass out, whichever comes first.

However, if you don’t drink, can’t consume gluten or dairy for fear of a full-body hive blitzkrieg, and the idea of fondling a crustacean gives you vertigo, Spain can be challenging. While I was away I didn’t bother with a food diary because you people didn’t even want to know the amount of sausage and patatas bravas I managed to Dyson in one sitting. You don’t want to know that my meals were a rinse, lather, repeat, because everything, everything, contains gluten. That fried eggplant with drizzled honey? Flash-fried with flour. Ah, that’s why I broke out in hives! The salad that I thought would satiate arrives on a childlike plate, and the greens are actually nearly white because cruciferous greens are not as abundant in Spain. While it was easy to stockpile food in Barcelona (and La Boqueria provided ample offerings in terms of vegetables), Granada was a real challenge. I’m sure eating gluten + dairy free can be done, however, it requires research and preparation. You can’t just walk around, fancy-free, without analyzing the menu, without alerting your server that you have an allergy to gluten and dairy, and inquiring, este tiene gluten?

Because EVERYTHING CONTAINS GLUTEN.

The other day I was reading Twitter and a woman upbraided a group of women who inquired whether there was gluten in a dip. The woman tweeted about rolling her eyes, and perhaps a few months ago I would have done the same, however, now I know what it’s like (unfortunately so) to treat every meal like it’s a miniature inquisition because gluten isn’t just about BREAD, it’s a thickener, a binder; gluten delivers perfect texture and heft to a sauce, marinade or dip. Plus, it’s cheaper. And while wheat processing in the EU is markedly different than the Food, Inc. of the U.S. (wheat in the EU is a smaller protein, less abrasive to your system), it still creates an inflammation for someone like me who can’t chow down on roasted bread slathered with Spanish olive oil and crushed tomato (a breakfast staple in Spain, one which made me weep with all my bread-adoring envy). Gluten is in soy sauces, ketchups, beef stocks, off-the-shelf salad dressings, even in gluten-free rolled oats, and you’ve got to be a food-label sleuth in ensuring that your meal won’t make you sick to the point where you feel as if your appendix might burst, which is how I used to feel when I overdosed on gluten and dairy on the regular.

Lucky for me, I love pork, most vegetables, potatoes and rice, but after two weeks of a restricted diet, I started to actually crave vegetables. Since veg constitutes about 80% of my daily diet, I actually ached for cruciferous greens. I didn’t want pasta or pizza or bread–I actually desired brussels sprouts and roasted cauliflower. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s this:

1. Do your research: Before you leave, make a list of restaurants that specialize in gf/df or vegan/vegetarian food. I didn’t do this in advance and I’m a moron because of it. Even though I can’t have gluten or dairy for another seven months, for the rest of my life I have to be cognizant of my intake. I can’t ever go back to how I used to eat, so I’ve decided to make my life easier and live gluten/df 95% of the time. Going forward, I’m making it a point to consult travel magazines, blogs, WIKI pages and other resources so I have a handful of restaurants/food markets that will keep me sane during my trip. Next month I’m going to Thailand, and while everything thinks that this is easy, breezy, I have two words in response: soy sauce.

2. Rent an AirBNB, if you can: Having the ability to make breakfast (eggs every day, friends!) and dinner in an apartment saved a lot on my budget and gave me some sanity in terms of meal balance. Most supermarkets in the EU will show items that are gluten-free or dairy-free, which is awesome. Food shopping was a cinch, and I found that nut milks were pretty abundant in Spain. In advance of my trip, I asked my hosts if they could provide me with a blender so I can make my morning smoothies and protein shakes to offset the egg situation.

3. Learn how to talk about your allergies in the country in which you plan to visit: My Spanish is pretty decent, but I made sure that I learned how to correctly address my allergies in the Spanish. Most countries in the EU know about food allergies, although I didn’t even bother saying that I have a sensitivity, which would create a host of confusing questions. When in doubt, I went extreme and said I had celiac because most people in the food industry know what that means. Not only did I explain my situation up-front, but I asked about the ingredients (and how the meal is prepared) in my dish, even if I didn’t think they had gluten or dairy based on the description. I mean, do those eggplant slices look like they touched flour? Clearly I was wrong, assumed that they were safe, and paid for it in hives later than evening. Thank god I’m not celiac.

4. Bring back-up snacks: While I fervently believe that you should always eat local food, I’m finding that it’s easier to bring a bunch of bars and pre-made snacks, especially when traveling to smaller airports. I know it doesn’t seem right, but I need to plan for everything.

Now I’m back, chowing on all the veg a woman can get her hands on, and I have exciting news to report: my itch is nearly GONE and I’m at the twenty-pound weight loss mark. I couldn’t be more thrilled, humbled and excited for this marked shift in the way that I eat.

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Restaurante Campanario Granada
Restaurante Campanario Granada
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relishing in architectural wonders in cordoba, spain + some thoughts on losing faith

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For someone who no longer believes in god, I’ve been spending time in many places of worship. You have to know that for the great portion of my life, I wanted so desperately to believe that a god was real, omnipotent, that I would be among the flock that will inevitable be warmed by his presence in the afterlife. I wanted to be believe in an afterlife, because the idea that our bodies would be cindered and ashed, or withered to bone felt unbearable, lonely. That first punch of air, that great push out in eighty, ninety years time (if we’re one of the lucky ones) becomes a crawl, an acquiesce, a slumbering home to the darkness from which we’d come. And to think that the bookend of this one life is only black felt wrong.

For seventeen years I sold myself on a god even when logic (and my heart) was telling me otherwise. When I think about it now, it makes sense why I cleaved so much to a figure that was a blanket, an embrace, a warmth I desperately needed after losing my mother. Having just graduated college, I was on the precipice of a new life but when I turned around there was no one really behind me. There was only me. So maybe I needed that blanket, that cold comfort that carries you through the night because I wanted to feel loved, protected, and cared for in the larger sense of the word care.

I often think of the body of a house and our world as the country to which it belongs. I spent the greater part of my life rebuilding my house, which had fallen to blight, disrepair, ruined by drink, grief, and fear of being truly vulnerable. I did this privately, slowly, laying down brick by brick, and over time, as I outfitted my house with furniture and shutters, I saw houses sprout up around me. I saw hands waving out of open windows. I felt the tickle and warm embrace of the gardens. Blooms that broke ground and started to grow. I no longer cared about having volume, rather I thought about personal velocity. A party was no longer a failure if sixty people didn’t show up. A short story wasn’t a mess because the “right” people didn’t talk about it. And being with people just to have someone to sleep next to in your bed, no longer sated me. I said to myself that I would rather be alone for the right reasons then with someone for the wrong ones. I became confident, quiet, pensive, and present for myself and relationships with people. I traveled more, read more, became more curious, and started to question everything I thought I knew.

And I started to see the world unravel around me, and the magnitude of hate and inequality, and for me, all signs pointed back to religion–how man had managed to pervert and interpret the teachings of god as justification for segregation (gays are suddenly an other, rather as human beings who deserved to be treated with dignity). How women were second rate because of the fact that they were born women and the word said it so. How simple, fallible creatures think they know the whole of the world, regardless of whether a god has a hand in controlling it. Suddenly, there are groups of people who feel chosen while others are considered other, and death, that once great equalizer, suddenly becomes this frightening place where people are banished to burn and suffer because they chose not to believe.

All of this is a very abbreviated summary of what I’ve been thinking about privately over the past two years. While I believe in a spiritual life, while I can marvel at wonder and man’s propensity to create great art, I no longer believe in a single man (or being) who will usher me into the afterlife.

So you’d think that I wouldn’t spend the great deal of my holiday in churches and mosques, however, as an artist, I was rendered speechless over their magnitude of devotion, and how it can drive greatness in man. Yesterday, someone told me that in Islam man cannot create perfection because the only perfection is god. There is always a flaw in a painting, or a millimeter misstep in a mosaic, and I didn’t interpret this line as something limiting, rather I thought it a celebration of being flawed. We live in a society that has morphed into something strange in its obsession for curation, order and perfection. Everyone is desperate to architect the idea of a perfect life–that image of sunglasses perched on a gleaming silver laptop. The body, and all exteriors, preened to perfection. The bruise of a lip on a coffee cup. How we relentlessly edit, delete, refine, re-edit, publish, course-correct–and I want so much for imperfection, for fuck-ups, for people wearing their flaws on their skin as a badge of honor. I don’t want all this whitewashing because suddenly you become the pure definition of the color white, which is the absolute absence of all color. I rather you be like Anthony Bourdain, flawed, raw, strange, bringing all of his passions into one place and redefining his art by not succumbing to being what a food writer should be.

Today I stood in The Cordoba Cathedral centered in a mosque (Madinat al-Zahra), the creation of which found its origins in a King’s ego, how the reconquesting of the city should reflect the Cross. But in this flaw (and all the ones that have come before), as you see in the pictures, comes great artistic juxtaposition and awe-inspiring beauty.

I don’t believe in perfect. I believe in the remarkable nature of our flaws and people who love and respect beyond borders and books. Visiting places of worship didn’t feel odd as someone who doesn’t believe, rather it gave me faith in man and his ability to perpetually ferret out the light even in the midst of darkness.

I haven’t fully reconciled my feelings toward faith, but I’m open and eager to learn and love.

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the alhambra, granada spain (and tips for getting in!)

Comares Palace, The Alhambra Granada Spain

I’m Type A in so many aspects of my life with the exception of travel and writing. I don’t plan; I don’t have a grand design. Rather, I simply go where the takes me and I play my hand as it lays. Doing so has created such an incredible sense of balance in my life, and has allowed me to artistically and mentally go to places I would never have imagined going. Allowing my novel to unveil itself, in degrees, has allowed me to create a story of which I’m truly proud–using techniques in language and line that have created this sort of nesting doll effect when it comes to my novel. Independently, every layer is wholly satisfying, but when they merge it’s this magical symphony that I’ve composed that sometimes shocks me.

The same goes with travel. I used to plan everything to the letter, and I never fully enjoyed my holidays, or allowed to go off itinerary. Deviations were unacceptable, and I think about how many opportunities or moments I’ve lost simply because I’ve an obsessive need to control.

Over the past few years, I’ve loosely planned my trips (air, hotel or AirBNB, and a short list of places worth seeing/chowing), and my experiences have allowed me to befriend extraordinary people and understand a country in a more fundamental and richer way. So when folks told me that The Alhambra was a must-visit, I only half-listened, told myself that I’ll figure it out when I get there. And then I arrived in Spain and realized that visiting this site is like getting into the Pentagon. I spent hours trawling websites for information and tickets, and I nearly gave up hope until a local travel agency told me to try Ticketmaster, and boom, a tour was booked.

I’m glad I breathed through all of the logistics involved in procuring tickets, waking before daylight and making the trek, because The Alhambra not only gave me trespass to a wealth of information about Islamic architecture and fundamentals of the Koran, but it allowed me to admire a fusion of architecture (Roman: Doric/Ionic/Naves and Islamic: minarets, the impossibility of creating perfection as only Allah is perfect) and a deeper understanding of the origins of many Spanish words are rooted in Arabic. I can’t explain it, but there’s something wholly simplistic (not meant in the pejorative) about Islamic architecture in design, but the layers of meaning are complex, fluid and powerful. In the Palace, a simple line is written over and over on the walls: There is no victor but Allah. The calligraphy is entertwined with images of vegetation (in reverence of a kingdom meant to be Paradise) and geometric shapes, as images are not allowed in Islam.

After four hours wandering the palaces, gardens and medina of this sprawling site, I spent the rest of the day in the city, in the brief rain, and came home to revise two chapters of my novel. Perhaps it’s no surprise that an awakening (and education) in the morning yielded creativity in the evening…

How to Buy Tickets to the Alhambra: You can either plot your trip months in advance by purchasing tickets directly from the Alhambra website, or you can live your life like a person (as my friend Amber has been prone to say) and purchase a terrific tour, complete with an Alhambra guide, on Ticketmaster. If you simply want to roll out of bed and live your life all laissez-faire, very few people know that Ticketmaster has a hidden kiosk (beyond the entrance Pavilion, across from the cafe), where you can purchase same-day tickets, albeit with a few Euros tacked on to the normal 14 EUR price. Or you can wait in the Odyssean line (the queue when I arrived at SEVEN A.M. was monstrous) as tickets are routinely set aside for tourists, students and seniors who aren’t able to pre-order online.

How to Get to the Alhambra: If you love a good walk, the Alhambra is a 35 minute walk for those on the opposite side of town (read: me). It’s a quick, lovely walk from Plaza Nueva (although I’m not sure I’d walk to do it in the dark as you’re winding your way up the hills to the entrance gate, even though Granada is quite safe), or you can get a bus at Calle Pavaneras, which takes you to the Alhambra (bus tickets are 1.2 EUR). If you prefer a taxi, you can phone at 011-1-958280654, but if you don’t speak Spanish, you’d better take one at the roundabout of Avenida Constitución, the one with the Spanish flag. I speak decent Spanish, but combined with the early morning call, the terse, rapid barking from the dispatcher, I’d only advise this option if you actually can carry on a conversation in Spanish. This isn’t a se habla ingles kind of party. Apparently, I did something right since a taxi was outside my door within 10 minutes. And if you’re obviously staying at a hotel, tra la la, your problems are all solved by dialing the concierge.

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Medina, The Alhambra, Granada Spain
Puerta de Siete Suelos, The Alhambra, Granada Spain
The Alhambra, Granada Spain
Palacio de Charles V, The Alhambra, Granada Spain
Palacio de Charles V, The Alhambra, Granada Spain
Palacio de Charles V, The Alhambra, Granada Spain
Facade of the Comares Palace, The Alhambra Granada Spain
Comares Palace, The Alhambra Granada Spain
Comares Palace, The Alhambra Granada Spain
Comares Palace, The Alhambra Granada Spain
Comares Palace, The Alhambra Granada Spain
Comares Palace, The Alhambra Granada Spain
Comares Palace, The Alhambra Granada Spain
Comares Palace, The Alhambra Granada Spain
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when every street is a photograph worth taking: granada, spain

Alcaicería, Granada

There was a moment of anxiety under the bridge of the River Darro. The journey across was precarious as the rapids were fast and furious, and a crowd gathered to watch the journey. Many whispered, Ay pobrecita!, and all the while I was transfixed as if I was in the midst of a night terror. My journey was interrupted, and nothing would be resolved until I knew this little one’s fate.

You should know that we gathered to watch a scraggly cat cross the bed of one side of the river to another. We watched its many attempts to find different rocks as a means to cross, because can you imagine the current carrying the kitty downstream? I mean, I can’t. Don’t ask me to. I would’ve had to fly home to hold Felix for an uncomfortable period of time. That cat eventually did make its way across to then rest on a Panama hat someone must have lost, and all of us who were watching on Plaza Nueva thundered with applause.

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In the midst of this, I was speaking to a group of college kids, in Spanish. Granted, my Spanish was appalling and halting, but when I heard them speak–all rapid flash in their native tongue–words careened back in a way that I can only describe as an assault. Words I could understand in context with other words. I guess this is what makes comprehension and reading easy for me because I become a sleuth in figuring out the meaning of the sentence once I know the verb (my strong suit) and some other words which will help with the pile of nouns of which I don’t know or remember. Or perhaps the easy way of Granada, a city that reminds me Of Biarritz with its lazy cafe culture, minus the sweeping cliffs, barnacles and the ocean. The water is replaced by towering majestic mountains, rendering a certain kind of calm I only thought I could have when being by water.

The Cathedral in Granada
The Cathedral in Granada
Main front gate of The Cathedral, Granada
Plaza directly facing the front part of the Cathedral
Fuente de los Gigantones fountain
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Granada
Parque de las Ciencias de Granada
Cartuja Monastery (outside)
The Cartuja Monastery (inside)
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Granada (loosely translated to “Hill of Strangers” in Arabic) is a small city, easily navigated by foot, and the furthest point clocks in at 34 minutes. Unlike Barcelona, the Arab influence is pronounced here–from the famed Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace, to the Andalusian fare and colorful silks and jeweled slippers in the souks, to the Islamic architecture, which oddly (and beautifully) complements many of the Baroque, Gothic, and Roman pieces to the slight shift in how Spanish is spoken (clipped, with the ‘s’ excised)–rendering this city rich in culture and flavor.

Today I took over 200 photos because every street is a photograph waiting to be taken. I didn’t have an itinerary, just a book, a ticket for a hop-on, hop-off tour (since a great deal of sites (and food markets!) are closed on Sundays, and a bottle of water. I wandered through the famed Cathedral, spent a great portion of the day in the two predominant Arab districts, The Bib-Rambla (famed for its gastronomy–I had an unforgettable lunch at Restaurante Campanario Granada–and the Alcaicería market, which occupies a half-dozen small, winding streets and alleyways) and the Albayzín (a UNESCO site) (the ancient part of the city, home to a slew of small shops, tapas bars, artists). From violet perfumes to teas (I’m bringing home SACKS of them) and hand-sketched drinking glasses to iridescent lights, I got deliriously lost weaving in and out of the small streets, which was such a sharp juxtaposition to the ornate churches, cathedrals and monasteries.

Restaurante Campanario Granada
Restaurante Campanario Granada
Restaurante Campanario Granada
Alcaicería, Granada
Alcaicería, Granada
Alcaicería, Granada
Alcaicería, Granada
Incredible teas at Herbolario Esencias de Granada
Incredible teas at Herbolario Esencias de Granada
Alquimia Pervane. I scored a gorgeous violet fragrance
Iglesia de Santa Ana
Puerta de los Tableros, Granada
Casa de las Chirimias, Granada

Later, I walked from the Plaza Nueva (where I encountered the cat in the midst of an intrigue) and climbed the steep hills to the Sacromonte, a district that offers breathtaking views of the Alhambra as well as cave apartments, home to gypsys who started flamenco dancing. The steep, pebbled hills offered quite the workout but also a great deal of quiet and calm after spending a day in markets and immersing in Spanish.

After seven hours, I made my way back to my apartment. But first, I picked up a lemon Fanta (!!!) and noted that the pup game in Granada is pretty strong and the Spanish are incredibly kind, friendly and chill in a way that makes coming home to work on a novel a retreat rather than an escape.

A few bits of touristy bits:
*Tours + Getting Around: I’ve been booking all of my tours via Viator, and I highly recommend the service. They aggregate tours for most European countries, and offer a one-stop shop system, and their app is pretty awesome. However, as I learned today, some tours don’t accept mobile vouchers, which made me fleeing to find an internet cafe quite an adventure. The hop-on, hop-off (red bus) tour was pretty meh, so I’d recommend Feel the City Walking Tours (free!) and The Grayline Tours. Though, most of the city can be viewed by foot with a guidebook, or navigated using their convenient bus system (1.20 Euro/trip).

*Language: I’ve noticed that most people who own businesses speak Spanish, Catalan, French and English. Although most people (except university students) don’t speak English, so when I asked for directions I used Spanish.

*WCs/Bathrooms: Free toilets aren’t abundant, so you normally have to buy a drink to get access to the bathroom code.

*Tapas: The cool thing about Granada is the FREE FOOD. Most bars offer free tapas with drinks (wine, beer, coffee, tea, refrescas, or sodas!) They’ll vary in terms of allowing you to pick your tapas or eating what they serve. The drink + tapas deal is normally 2-3 Euro.

*Museums/Tourist Sites: Most churches and cathedrals are closed on Sundays, as are the food markets (which are only open in the morning, Mercardo San Augustin is the one I plan on hitting this week). The Alhambra is open, most restaurants and smaller attractions are open, and the Cathedral is open at 4pm on Sunday.

*Cost of Goods: WHOA. Compared to Barcelona, Granada is CHEAP. I went to the supermarket yesterday to load up on groceries, and a pile of greens, fruits, gluten-free goods, sundried tomatoes, almond milk, etc, ended up costing me $22. The same sack of food would’ve costed me double in Barcelona, same in New York. Overall, the cost of things here is fairly inexpensive, unless you hit the tourist spots or fancier restaurants.

*New Food Obsession: Tortilla Espanola. As my friend Amber so sagely says, GET INVOLVED.

*Choice Finds: Herbolario Esencias de Granada (for teas), Alquimia Pervane (for extraordiary oils, essences, and fragrances), Antigua Bodega Castañeda (tapas/bar), Exceliente Comida Sin Gluten (great shop with loads of yummy GF foods)

The Climb to Sacramonte. View of the Alhambra, Granada
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The Climb to Sacramonte.
The Climb to Sacramonte. View of the Alhambra, Granada

the salvador dalí theatre museum + dalí’s jewels, figueres, spain

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I might have fallen in love with Salvador Dalí the first time I saw Un Chien Andalou, his masterful short film collaboration with another famous Spanish surrealist, Luis Buñuel. The film opens with a score befitting a circus–very pomp, parade and the like–and then you see a man (Buñuel) casually smoking a cigarette while he sharpens a blade. A woman, practically muted, endures the severing of her eye by this man and this blade and so the film begins. It’s not really a real eye, rather it’s the eye of a calf, no less horrifying, but the optical illusion will become one of Dalí’s many talents.

From sadism, confused priests, the peanut-crunching crowd, rotting donkeys and ants pouring out of a severed hand, the film is less a meditation of the grotesque and more of a celebration of a mind left to its own devices. You imagine the unfathomable and make it come to pass. You imagine a voice smothered rising above the din to a shout to a curdling scream. I remember watching the film while I’d started reading T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and watching Weimar films. I was young then, 23 or 24, and I felt a strange kinship with these oddballs. Poets talking about people spouting out of the dead land as if they were harvested, and a piano being hoisted up in a living room as if this was the sort of thing that happened.

What I loved about surrealism and the poetry and films of the teens, 20s, was that it challenged our perception of what was normal. We are trained to believe what we see. We’re realists, pragmatists–we look for the plain and simple, yet some of us look beyond what is in front of us and see something altogether different. You see a woman walking down the street and she’s a woman, but I see her as a container, a vessel, a house filled with drawers and windows–some whitewashed shut, others flung open, and so the story begins.

The story always begins when you dare to venture just beyond your reach. Beyond what your mind instinctually tells you what your eye sees.
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barcelona, spain: just when you think you can’t fathom having mas jamon, spain invites you to rise to the challenge

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The first time I flew to Europe my plane ticket cost $250 and was procured through a travel agent. Back then we carried our paper tickets, accordion maps and guidebooks in our hands and changed dollars for pounds. This was 1996, and my friend and I flew across the Atlantic to visit our roommate studying abroad, and my god, British food was terrible and everything was expensive. Little did we know we booked what we thought to be a fancy hotel in a posh neighborhood when really it was a hovel where we paid a pound an hour for heat and a communal bathroom was located on every other floor.

We took an overnight flight and I remember the cab ride to the hotel–how we pressed our faces to the glass just to see everything, and we did the thing we weren’t supposed to do: we dropped our bags and collapsed into a deep, uninterrupted sleep. Come nightfall we woke, ate and drank, and we proceeded to do that for the days that followed; our bodies never really adjusted to London time.

Perhaps this is a long-winded way of saying that after 18 years you would’ve thought I learned something because the first thing I did when I arrived yesterday morning in Spain was SLEEP. I’d sleep for two hours, walk to the supermarket, ramble in Spanish, walk home, eat, sleep, edit my novel (how?) and sleep again. I woke at seven to darkness and I spent thirteen hours combing Barcelona and falling in love with a city that reminds me of Paris, minus the caustic attitude.

If there’s one thing I hate doing is planning an itinerary before I go on holiday. While this may sound odd for someone as Type A and methodical as me, however, vacation is the one time I have when I can play my days as they lay. I can wake to a new city waiting to be discovered and there’s a thrill in that, moving amongst strangers and navigating a language that isn’t your own. Yet, I booked two AirBNBs (one for Barcelona and another for Granada), and I decided the day before I left New York that I would book a couple of excursions and I’m glad I did.

After scanning the web, I came across Julia Tours, a reputable, well-rated tour service that covers the basics and beyond. Today, I took a full-day tour of Barcelona, and I’m presently lying supine on the couch with my feet propped up on cushions they ache so much. But it’s a good ache, and today was a magical day.

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We started out wandering the medieval streets in the Gothic Quarter, where most of the buildings date back from the 15th century, including the Barcelona Cathedral. We headed toward Plaza Sant Jaume to view the political buildings, including the the Palace of Generalitat and the Town Hall. Most of the tour was on foot, and our expert guides were funny, deft, and shared little known facts about the sites we were seeing. We heard a story about a virgin martyr, Eulalia who was left naked in the city square and then the snow fell, miraculously covering her nudity. She was buried in the crypt of the Barcelona Cathedral and 13 geese are kept in the cloisters to honor her sacrifice.

Leave it to me to remember the macabre.

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Back on the bus to take in views of the Mediterranean Sea and the Barcelona Coast on the way to the Olympic Village, home to athletes during the Olympics, and the Port Olympic. Nearby, we took an aerial cable-car and I was in awe of such a beautiful, vibrant, yet oddly serene city. Perhaps it’s the fact that Barcelona is married to so much water. I’ve always been partial to the ocean. Finally, we visited the Spanish Village (Poble Espanyol) to see typical architecture and traditional crafts from different regions of Spain. I managed to sneak in some chorizo, potatoes with aioli, and copious amounts of dark chocolate.

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We broke for lunch, and I need to tell you that I nearly ran down to Las Ramblas–all to see La Boqueria in all its glory. And BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY THAT THIS OPEN-AIR MARKET DID NOT DISAPPOINT. Yes, I used all caps because The Boqueria deserves nothing less than bold font. It’s a market I’ve never seen. Rows of tapas bars with hundreds of people pulling apart shrimp and oysters with their slicked fingers. Beer spilling, the quick slicing of raw fish, the sizzle and hiss of pork hitting multiple skillets, and throngs of people sipping on psychedelic-hued juices–the cacophony of the music the food made and the people who gathered around it was unlike any I’d ever heard, and I felt dizzy wandering the stalls, sampling scores of ham and ham, and oh by the way, the juiciest figs I’ve ever had. Cut open, they were practically violet.

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Some people travel to see architecture. I travel to fondle fruit. I travel to have six meals a day–just so I don’t miss a taste. I was so delirious I photographed a MUSHROOM. And you guys know how I feel about the WRETCHED MUSHROOM. Of course I didn’t touch it or taste it, but I did admire its composition. I was feeling generous, you see.

Later on, I boarded a bus to survey the façade of La Sagrada Familia (the line to get in was bananas foster, so I plan on returning so my photos don’t honestly do this basilica justice), and continued on to enjoy more of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces, including the sculptures, terraces and mosaic-embellished walls at Park Güell. To say I fell in love with the modernist pieces–many of which influenced a young Picasso and many other cubists–would be an understatement. I was particularly drawn to the Gingerbread House (shocker, the macabre fairytale I adored as a child) and how the roof was adorned with inverted coffee cups, symbolic of Gaudi giving up coffee in his 70s.

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After thirteen hours, I hobbled home, fixed a HUGE salad (salads, as we know it, aren’t really big here) and some gluten-free pasta with sausage, sundried tomatoes and fried chickpeas.

Tomorrow I’m off to Dali’s seaside hometown and museum. Bring me all the surrealism.

By the way, I’ve consumed more pork today than I have in the past year, and I’m not tired of it yet.

By the way, way, I’m posting a pile of my photos on Instagram. Follow me!

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you’ll never find me consuming airline food // the contents of my food bag revealed

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Unless TSA agents have confiscated my food bags in some underhanded attempt at mind control, or my bag mysteriously disappears into the abyss that is the seat pocket, I never, ever consume airline food. Packed with sodium and preservatives, airline meals are never a memorable event. Mostly you find yourself playing the role of an investigator, sleuthing through the contents of your tray–all the while wondering if that misshapen blob hidden beneath a layer of opaque sauce is indeed chicken.

Ignore the lies the flight attendants tell you. It’s never chicken.

Many of my friends make poking fun of my food bag a national pastime, however, invariably, they’ll crave a piece of my homemade cookie, beg for a carrot, or express heartbreak over not bringing aboard an almond-crusted chicken of their own. For international flights, I tend to pack a carry-on filled with snacks, a proper meal, fruits and cut vegetables. I also pack a couple of bars for when I’m walking around all day or I’m in a pinch between European meal times. And over the past year, I’ve booked AirBNB apartments so I have the option of either dining out or cooking up a dish with local ingredients from the market.

Today I’m leaving for Spain, and to say that I’m jubilant is an understatement. I AM OVER THE MOON. Two weeks without the company of people is glorious, and I intend to trek to Dali’s house and museum and eat all the gluten and dairy free tapas a woman can endure in one sitting. I’m all packed (one small rolling bag, a purse and one carry-on bag), with the small exception of gathering some fruits (apples, raspberries + blackberries) + cut veg (carrots, edamame) for the flight.

The contents of my food bag are abundant. I tend to overpack because you just never know if your flight might be diverted and you end up having an Odyssean layover in some airport where the main culinary attraction is the rotating hot dog (Exhibit A: Fiji’s airport). I focus on GMO + gluten-free snacks that pack a protein punch, teas, nuts, fruit, vegetables, treats (my lemon poppyseed cookie + some dark chocolate-covered almonds), as well as packing a full meal. Today, I’ve got these DELICIOUS sundried tomato meatballs, which are just as good at room temperature versus heated, and I plan to pick up a plain green salad at JFK. I always check the food options at the terminals in advance of my flight. Most places will sell a simple green salad.

Want to make these meatballs? Super simple. 1 lb ground sirloin | 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes | 2 tbsp parsley | sprigs of rosemary | 1 egg | salt/pepper. Blitz the sundried tomatoes, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper in a food processor/blender. Add the mixture + egg to the meat, mixing with your hands, gently. Shape into meatballs. Add them to a large oven-proof baking dish. Cover with your favorite tomato sauce and cook at 400F for 25 minutes.

This post was inspired by my friend Hitha, and her enormous propensity to make travel simply luxurious.
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