Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Ten Commandments of Travel (Requiem for Anthony Bourdain)

Hello, world, it's been a while.  Missed me?  I've been doing my thing: eat, sleep, work, train, cook, drink, travel, lather rinse repeat.  The world seems crazier, but day over day besides the nonsense in the news and on Twitter it hasn't seemed to go over a cliff-yet.

Over the past year and a half I've been meaning to write something but hadn't quite solidified an idea until this weekend.  Friday morning my text messages blew up with the news that Anthony Bourdain had died, jolting me out of my commute daze.  Those of you who know me well, know I am a huge fan.  Not only have I watched most of the shows, I've read four of his non-fiction books and have been hunting down his earlier fiction since finishing Kitchen Confidential.  After his Today show appearance, I cooked his Sunday sauce recipe over several oven-braised hours with neck bones and short ribs for an appreciative special someone.  It was maybe my biggest celebrity crush since Davy Jonesfrom Monkees re-runs.  Some of you have expressed disbelief that I had a hall-pass for a man over twenty years older and subjectively “worse for wear”, but drug addiction aside, our commons passions include well-cooked home cuisine, travel to far-flung parts of the world, and punk rock.  He seemed like a good drinking buddy, the kind of friend who would tell you if you looked fat in an outfit but would care less and shovel more food on your plate.  He was a savvy voyager and approached his hosts with reverence and genuine curiosity, underneath his badass swagger.  We may never know what he suffered or why he decided to leave us, and I hope he sees how many people he inspired.  Needless to say, the past few days have been tinged with melancholy over his suicide.

While cleaning today, I stumbled across a scrap of paper with notes I've been pondering for several months.  It feels like the right time and an appropriate tribute to someone I admired from afar who validated some of my more outlandish adventures.  This one's for you, Tony, I hope you'd approve.
  1. Thou shalt not overpack.  Most of us have way too much stuff in our homes.  There's no reason to overburden ourselves on the road.  I have yet to be convinced of the need for a suitcase larger than an overhead bin.  In most locales you can buy or veg hotel reception for forgotten items, as well as find a laundromat or in a pinch do a sink scrub. Save the checked baggage fee for something more worthwhile.
  2. Thou shalt not overplan.  While having some idea of places to go and things to do is beneficial, structuring a day with military precision limits the serendipity and adventure from unstructured wandering.  Plus, shit happens sometimes, especially when you're far from home.  Too many prior arrangements can fall like dominoes if something doesn't quite happen on schedule.  Set aside some time to meander as a form of meditation, or just do nothing.  
  3. Thou shalt seek to learn.  What's the point of leaving home if it doesn't teach you anything, move you, expose you to something you may not see in the comfort of your bubble?  Travel can not only show how other people and places are, it can also reveal something about your self.  Learn a few words of another language.  Hello, please, and thank you go a long way.  Read fiction or non-fiction about the destination.  Take a cooking class.  Have a child's mind.
  4. Thou shalt be aware of thy surroundings.  This should go without saying wherever you are, yet it still shocks me how people are lulled into an unwarranted sense of safety.  Besides looking out for your person and property, what is acceptable in one place may be offensive in another.  Save the noise-cancelling headphones for the plane.  Stop staring constantly at your smartphone.  Look around.  Would you want an out-of-towner to take a smiling selfie at the 9/11 Memorial? (Please say no.)  
  5. Thou shalt not use traveler's checks.  It is no longer 1989.  Most countries have ATMs and accept credit cards, maybe even PayPal.  You don’t need to exchange prior to departure, nor should you use exchanges unless you enjoy overspending.  Many places accept more than one currency, so generally you can keep what you have, or even sell to a friend later on.  Just in case, bring some cash-the dollar is still desirable (for now).
  6. Thou shalt be considerate of both locals and other travelers.   Maybe the exotic-looking person does not want their picture taken.  Maybe some fellow adventurers want to meet new people while others are trying to work through marital issues or have some alone time.  Ask first.  Show empathy.  Don't be a dick.
  7. Thou shalt reward good hospitality.  Tip well, where it's customary.  Otherwise, express appreciation.  Write glowing TripAdvisor/Yelp/Google reviews when warranted.  If something isn't quite right, try taking someone aside and expressing what is wrong with a smile and a desire to fix it.  It can pay dividends (see #8)
  8. Thou shalt maximize thy dollar spent.  Loyalty to brands add up to points for free tickets, hotel rooms, meals, you name it.  Do your homework.  Sign up for promotions and bonuses as a rule.  Get a credit card that doesn't charge foreign exchange fees.  Take surveys.  I've received additional points for providing feedback on my stay.  Laugh off those who tease you for point-grubbing when you're sitting poolside with a cocktail enjoying a well-earned vacation for less.
  9. Thou shalt not eat McDonald's.  I can't believe I have to say this.  Avoid things you can easily experience at home.  Try something new.  If you don't like it, you learned something (see #3).  Otherwise, why leave your couch where Seamless can bring you the same ole'?
  10. Thou shalt not induce too much envy by overdoing social media sharing.  You don't have to photograph every single plate, landmark, stray animal, or facial expression.  Edit your photos - who wants to see three copies of the same building or two of your nostrils?  Plus, if nefarious people know you're away, you could be a victim of robbery at home.  A well-curated album, or even a single photo, is worth a thousand crappy shots.  

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Elephant in the Closet

Most of my family voted for Trump.  There, I said it.  Some of my close friends already knew.  While I don't yet feel better, I feel a little relieved to type the words onto the page.  
  
Why does this feel so shameful?  While I have friends across the spectrum, Republicans in New York City are rare, with the possible exception of everyone sharing my last name, including those who immigrated from Italy about a hundred years ago.  My late uncle worked for Jacob Javitz and Louie Lefkowitz and lost an election for City Council in the late 70's. I myself am also registered as a Republican (another statement that feels like a coming-out), but not to make mom and dad happy or because I toe the party line.  By "gatekeeper voting" for the most moderate-to-liberal and rational GOP candidate in a heavily Democratic party-primary state, my goal is to have the greatest chance at a tolerable ballot come Election Day.  I vote on issues, not party affiliation, even dividing my vote between Republicans and Democrats for judgeships or supporting third-party candidates.  Subversive, eh?  Given my RINO status, I feel like the black sheep of the family, yet I rarely mentioned my registration to other New Yorkers.  Some friends and acquaintances, mostly those who would consider themselves open-minded and liberal, say they could never be friends with someone of the other persuasion.  Not to mention, social media rants about defriending Trump supporters hit fever pitch once he won the primary.  This election has left me feeling stranded between two extremes, and I have limited deeper conversations on touchy subjects to confidantes, and even then face-to-face over a beer, just one.  After being bullied in grammar school for being smart, I admit it's hard for me to not feel liked, and I have suppressed voicing my opinions to avoid the possibility of alienating others.  



Though the bloggerati blame white women for this mess, I did not "stand by quietly and allow this to happen."  Mom hates discussing politics, though she occasionally vents her frustration on certain issues.  Dad, on the other hand, will gladly get into it on any topic with anyone of any political bent who will engage.  Often we disagree, sometimes it gets intense, two rams locking horns on a small rocky outcropping.  Numerous exchanges with my parents, my brother, and friends happened about this election, discussing, arguing, rebutting, shouting, pleading.  Though my father admitted he thought Trump is an asshole, nothing swayed them.  Please do not dismiss them as bigoted, neo-Nazi, hateful people.  My father introduced me to a transsexual coworker when I was a preteen and told me he did not like that people made fun of her.  To this day, my parents still hold out hope that I will marry one of my ex-boyfriends, both of whom happen to be Asian-American.  

The common theme was that they could not in good conscience vote for Hillary, and they offered logical and compelling reasons for this: 

"Anyone else who transmitted classified work-related emails on a personal account would have lost their job at the very least, if not prosecuted." 

"Benghazi happened on her watch, and she ignored their requests for additional security and then tried to pass it off like a documentary caused it." 

"There's some shady dealings going on at that Foundation."
"How can they criticize Trump's misogyny after all of Bill Clinton's indiscretions with women?" 
"She said such awful things about Obama during his campaign vis a vis his attending madrasas, and they clearly don't like her.  Why are they all pretending to be friends now?" 
"My son is in the Navy, and I'm concerned her hawkishness will send him somewhere we have no business getting entangled and he'll come back in a casket." 
"Health care fees are going through the roof!  No doctors in Manhattan will take a health exchange plan.  God help us if Obamacare turns into single-payer like Europe.  Imagine the waiting!!"   

I pulled every card out of the deck to refute their arguments, that not liking Hillary should not default the vote to Trump - a third-party vote in a non-swing state could break the BS two-party system if they had the courage to do it; that Trump has no poise or gravitas, he's a reality TV star; his rhetoric smacks of Hitler; he called his own daughter a piece of ass; his connections to Putin would have Reagan on a spit in his grave; his big mouth could piss the wrong world leader off and get us all nuked into oblivion; his father was anti-Catholic in the days of Al Smith; his business ventures are riddled with bad decisions; his supporters now feel energized to behave as badly as he does.  I even threatened to leave the country "if things get really bad" which sent my mother into a panic.  

While I'm on a roll with the confessions, I concede that I do not like Hillary Clinton either.  She and I having the same genitalia is not an acceptable reason for me to vote for her.  Sarah Palin is female, need I say more?  Yes, she's busting through glass ceilings, she has a lot of experience, she has (of late) taken the high road.  But if you take the liberal-rose-colored blinders off for a minute, all of the above things are true.  Her suboptimal candidacy was corroborated in her own team per emails from Podesta's phished Gmail account.  (C'mon people, if you don't want to see it on the front page of the Times, don't electronically transmit it! And don't click strange-looking URLS in your inbox!!!)  Rather than let the people select their candidate, Hillary shoehorned in.  But if someone had put a gun to my head and told me to choose one of the mainstream party candidates, under pain of death I would have chosen her.  

Once Michigan and Wisconsin started toggling between baby blue and pink on Tuesday night, a maelstrom of emotion swirled in my abdomen.  Frustration that out of 320 million people, these ragtag candidates were the best each party could muster.  Guilt that maybe I should have called out extended family members on the misogyny of the "bitch of Benghazi" Facebook posts.  Regret that I didn't challenge my friends on both sides of the fence more than I had.  Anger and disappointment that my parents would implicitly condone pussy-grabbing with their ballots.  Nausea when a married Trump voter tried to put his arm around me and rationalized it with "you know I voted the same way as your friend"  when I gave him the brushoff.  Uncertainty about how the economy will react.  Apprehension of Trumpkins buoyed by victory to invade my personal safety and of loved ones who are "different". This fear persists, and so does the shame.  

The hangover from the late-night returns persists, and emotions are still running high.  It feels like the 9/11 aftermath, and in a way something massive has come crashing down right before our eyes.  Sidewalks and subways were somber on Wednesday, no one spoke or made eye contact.  My daily phone calls with Mom went unanswered because I don't want to say something that I will regret later.  Hearing about graffiti, violence and threats is upsetting, although I remind myself that the streets are not flowing with blood-yet.  I try to be hopeful as Trump softens and supportive of others as they vent their pain.  None of my "Trump friends" have gloated, although some have sparred with me.  Despite our disagreements, they're still my friends.  One thing I respect about my dad, he's not afraid of a heated discussion, he doesn't name-call, and he would never disassociate or unfriend someone who disagreed with him.  Maybe more people should emulate that behavior instead of deriding and blocking people with whom they don't agree.  Maybe if they hadn't insulated themselves in a bubble of cat videos and progressive news links in Hipsterville, they would have seen the election results coming.  So far one pro-Hillary friend from high school lashed out at me as being naive and then blocked me when I called him out on it.  The irony of people who consider themselves accepting then shunning difference of opinion is what got us into this mess, but most Hillary voters can't swallow that there is any fault in her campaign and that a Trump win was remotely possible.  As I see this, I start to care less about keeping "friends" who won't find common ground with me and more about facing these tough topics head-on.  

Where does this leave us?  Will our great country still shine as a beacon of democracy?  Will the Apocalypse happen when Trump is inaugurated?  Will the country progress or go back in time over the next four years?  Will we segregate ourselves based on political leanings or maybe get closer and be more fortright and less PC?  Will my friends still love and accept me?

Friday, January 01, 2016

Standing Resolute

Some people say it's cliche to make a pile of resolutions especially if you can't keep them.  At the gym today, it was pretty full for a holiday, but I'm sure the crowds will drift away come February when folks escape the harsh cold for warmer climes or choose to hibernate instead.

For me, I've always been a goal-setter.  Even if I feel a bit short of an ambitious high bar, the results were generally admirable.  Often I find myself slacking or erring on the side of laziness when I should be stepping up my game and going all-out hardcore.  This year, I feel no different.  In fact, I want to set the bar really high to keep me focused and working hard.  My childhood love of Zelda and Might and Magic see these more as quests.  And they say that make a very public statement about your goals helps keep you accountable.  So here goes:


  • Finish small projects in my apartment, like the living room light fixture and the towel warmer
  • Save more money than last year
  • Read 35 books
  • Do some form of exercise every day
  • Unassisted pullups
  • Sub-2 half marathon
  • Face my fears and get my bike mojo back
  • Lose 10 pounds, some of which has creeped on with my new job (talk about cliche)
  • Complete Toughman
  • Visit Portland, Colombia, Cuba, Denmark, and Sweden
  • Get more serious about writing.  A family friend said to me on the phone, "you do so many interesting things.  Have you ever though about writing it all down?" Hey, why not?
  • Remember to take care of myself

May 2016 bring the realization of many of your own dreams.  At the very least, with the US presidential election, it's going to be one hell of a ride.  Please keep your hands and arms inside at all times and secure hats, glasses, and bags.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Open Letter to Random Drunk NYSE Trader at Dead Rabbit Last Night

Dear sir:

Allow me to recap how our exchange began, seeing as you appeared quite intoxicated. Earlier in the evening you told my companion she had beautiful eyes, and I asked your work colleague for two vacant barstools. That was the extent of our interaction.  So there I was, enjoying a drink with a close friend, minding my own business, when you and your associate started a typical bar chat.  This quickly devolved from the norm as something inspired you to want to talk politics.

Now, I tend to shy away from intense political discussion unless face-to-face with fairly close friends. However, I am happy to engage if the tone remains respectful and will go toe-to-toe when verbally assaulted. Perhaps I can give you some pointers so that the next unlucky victim you chat up doesn't walk out:

  • Reserve prejudging my political leanings and opinions based on my occupation. 
"Where do you work?
"A nonprofit."
"You must hate me."  
"Really? I worked in financial services for nine years, do I hate myself?" 
"You're a Democrat."
"Am I?"

  •  Start off with lighter topics. It's Thursday night, we are all trying to relax. For most people, that doesn't include statistics on crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Can I suggest how well the Mets are doing? 
[shooting sideways glances at my friend to save me, but our attempts to change the subject failed]
  • Review your high school biology textbook. 
"Lady, if you don't want to get pregnant, control your vagina."
Methinks that's under control if I'm thirty-something and childfree. Last time I checked, a man needs to provide a sperm delivery to conceive a baby. (NB: I passed the NYS Biology Regents with flying colors.) Control your penis, dickhead.
[asked for the check]
  • If I have a valid viewpoint, lashing out and calling me stupid is an ineffective debating technique. I will not be shamed for disagreeing. Don't tell me that your daughter will be smarter than me. Go live your values and spend time with her at home in Westchester rather than getting wasted and acting like an ass at a FiDi watering hole. 
[friend and I get up from barstools] 
  • Yelling at me to get the f- out of the bar only makes you look even more boorish. You claim your wife is "so happy", but if you treat her the way you interacted with me I would beg to differ.
You seem very angry and tormented. I hope you find something in your life that gives you peace and fulfillment. In the meantime, you are the reason this country is going down the tubes, as much as you want to blame our sitting President. I lament the loss of dialogue and finding common ground. Defunding Planned Parenthood will not restore the fabric of our society, minding your own business and your manners will. Gentle-man up.

"You are very rude and disrespectful."[exit]

Monday, June 08, 2015

Reunion, Take 3

In the blink of an eye another five years has passed, and the Class of 2000 made the pilgrimage up The Hill to relive our undergraduate shenanigans.  Though fewer took part than the five- or ten-year edition, there was a good turnout of old friends and new (to me) faces in Low Rise 9.  Made the drive up solo Thursday night with Spotify loaded for 240-mile trip from NYC and anticipation of fun times.

In short, the weekend included:
- corn nuggets at The Nines
- morning run up The Slope - feel the burn!
- Cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee - shout out to MFL and the fabulous trip to Vietnam we planned at the ten-year)
- saying hey to my academic advisor and talking about life post-ILR
- Junot Diaz keeping it real
- laughing at frat-tastic bruhs who snuck Mad Dog into the dining hall
- stealing wine from the lounge to drink upstairs
- snickering at same bruhs unsuccessfully kicking it to any XX chromosomes while wearing their wedding rings
- rained-out tents, whomp whomp
- Rulloff's, one of three bars left, and probably the only good scene left
- lamenting abovementioned changes in Collegetown
- Reunion 5k in the Plantations, including a warmup run there - kill me!
- morning coffee at Stella's
- aimless meandering around campus
- heel clicks with the saxes
- Chi-O Meetup at CTB
- Dino BBQ
- more tents, including lots of cutting the rug (grass?)
- late-night karaoke, where I may have put my hair in pigtails and sang a few bars of Baby One More Time

Driving two friends back made the trip home, including lots of bad drivers and the Tappan Zee/GWB traffic, all the more fun.  They may never want to ride with me again after hearing me sing along to my favorites.  If only I had the same company on the drive up.  No matter, I had a good amount of me-time on the trip, not only on the drive but also long walks reminiscing of the glory days of college.  The solo wandering gave me an opportunity to reflect on life and where I think I'm going, also considering some big decisions looming on the horizon.

Shattering the euphoria and sleep-deprived daze was sad news that a fellow alum and bandie died suddenly Sunday.  It is very trite and overplayed but still true that we don't appreciate the special times and the small moments until the carpet is ripped away from underneath us.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Thank God That's Over

Another year has come and gone.  It feels like each year passes faster than the previous, and in 2014's case I'm glad that it's over.  There were many ups and downs, trials and travails to struggle through.  It was not all down, and the troughs definitely helped me appreciate the bright spots and fun times with cherished friends and loved ones. In the past 12 months, I lost a friend/lover, my aunt, dad's cousin, and three former coworkers.  Throwing my back and my neck out right before the marathon was a double whammy that wounded my confidence and added five pounds to my midsection.  My problems are not as bad as others', and I know I should not complain.  It was also hard for some of my friends, with bad breakups and divorces thrown in the mix.  I think the ball drop this morning was a sigh of relief for many who fought through the curveballs life threw at us.

For the life of my home search, it seemed like my dream of finding a "big-girl" house would never be realized.  A year ago, I still hadn't closed, and even the closing was a nailbiter until the bitter end.  That experience taught me that having a strong advocate are absolutely key.  After that, the daunting task of renovating and decorating seemed to drag on.  At first I thought that painting and sprucing up would bring me and TT back together.  Unfortunately, it often felt like the apartment was more important than our relationship.  As a result, our separation turned into a full breakup, and I had to find a painter on a moment's notice.  Getting the other work done went from "two weeks" to three months when my contractor took a three-week-turned-five-week vacation.  There are still a few items I need to take care of, like a living room light fixture (and according to my mother, blinds in the sun parlor should be my highest priority).  The waterbugs have also diminished, although I've had two waterbugs get trapped in my bathroom light fixture and die - yech.  It feels like the apartment will always be a work in progress, but it's finally at a point where I can sleep, eat, cook, watch TV, work, and have friends over.  It's my sanctuary, my nest, my little slice of peace.

That peace has been desperately needed when I found myself single again.  Living at home again became very stressful.  Downsizing from an already small studio apartment to my childhood bedroom was very stifling, as well as navigating through my family's stuff and cope with the house breaking down piece by piece.  Having somewhere else to live couldn't have come at a better time.  It also became apparent this year more than ever that my parents are aging, and instead of leaning on them for help I now have to give them that support.  This very much hit home during my aunt's declining health and at her funeral.  During that experience I had to have strength to support my parents during their grieving.  In other areas, I had to put my big girl pants on and take on more things alone.  Instances like that made me wish I had a partner just to hold my hand, and I missed TT a lot.  The training wheels are off, I have to ride the bike myself now.  After my fall in Croatia and the month of agony while my forearms recovered, that is terrifying for me.

I'm grateful to have come out the other side stronger and in a better place.  Through many of these tough situations, I sought the humor and the positive side as well as a lesson.  My goal to face life with equanimity helped me ride the rough surf this year.  If I could name a resolution for this year, it would be fearlessness to continue pushing myself out of my comfort zone and tackle things that scare me.

May 2015 bring you the realization of your wildest dreams.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

DobrodoŇ°li u Hrvatsku!!

Everyone has been asking about my trip to Croatia in July. It has taken me a long time to get all my thoughts down mainly because I may have an exciting opportunity related to my trip. More on that when the time is right. For now, here's the short-short version:

Go. To. Croatia.

It's friendly, safe, relaxing, delicious, stunning, and less expensive than other parts of Western Europe.

Traveling solo, which I was encouraged to do by everyone except my mother, was treated strangely over there. Sometimes it allowed me too much time to think about stuff from which I was trying to distract myself.It was especially hard when I fell off my bike. You don't appreciate how much you use your forearms until turning a key or getting dressed is excruciating.

Despite the pain and the loneliness, I loved it. Would do it again, in a heartbeat. Book your trip before it is overrun with Russians, hipsters, and other undesirable tourists.