NY Times & Being American

I subscribe to the New York Times Morning Briefing, appearing in my inbox six out of the seven days of the week. It’s a round up of everything that’s happened in the last 24 hours, and there’s links to articles on health, the arts, tech, recipes, and more. Since the election they’ve even started linking to right-wing news sites, at least giving readers the option of fleeing our own echo chambers.

If you’re still reading The Skint (which, although this is one of the best movie monologues of all time, reads like Cher’s Haitian speech), I’d really push you to drop it and sign up for the NY Times.

Anyway, their Interpreter columnists Amanda and Max recently traveled to Canada, and their column yesterday aimed to explore the difference between what it means to be Canadian or American, or X-American or X-Canadian. They asked readers to write in, which I did after turning it into a long-winded writing exercise. My answers are below.

1. How and when did your family come to be Canadian or American?
My mom’s paternal family came from southwest England to the colony of Connecticut in 1637. There’s actually a small island, Betts Island, off the coast of Norwalk that is named after my ancestors, although we have no vested interest.

Through my mom’s maternal side of the family I’m a descendant of Anne Hutchinson via her daughter Susanna. She survived the brutal massacre of her 15-person family in what’s now Co-op City in the Bronx by a local Siwanoy tribe. It’s possible they were the Mamaroneck Indians, whose name gave sake to my high school and town where I spent my formative years. Susanna was taken captive by the Native Americans and spent her formative years in their society until she was traded back to white settlers, one of whom she married and bore children. Her granddaughter ended up marrying an ancestor of mine.

Both my mom’s maternal and paternal sides emigrated when America was still The New World, fought in all the many wars both domestic and abroad, moved continually west in the spirit of manifest destiny, participated in the Oklahoma Land Rush of the late 1800s, and eventually struck oil. Like the United States itself, our family has continued in cycles of boom and bust since then.

My dad’s side we know less about – My great great paternal grandfather’s last name was Egan, and he was from somewhere in Southern Ireland. Really narrows it down, right? He also immigrated to Connecticut, but about 200 years after my mom’s side during the Potato Famine. Not surprisingly, my dad grew up in Boston.

2. Other than Canadian or American, what is your family’s single strongest identity? Use that in place of X in the next questions.

At this point, both sides of my family have been in America for so long that that’s all we can really consider ourselves – American. No hyphen necessary. Being American is certainly not our single, strongest sense of identity – that I believe stands alone from nationality and ethnicity altogether – but this question of American culture and identity is certainly one I thought a lot about as a white, blond Anglo-American child.

New York is a melting pot – Always has been, always will be. Growing up in the city and in the diverse-ish suburb of Mamaroneck in Westchester, my best friends were all Jewish, “half”, first-generation American (Korea, Peru, Senegal), or not American at all. My family is not religious, not into sports, or even originally from the area, so being surrounded by New York Jews, first-generation Americans, and foreigners made me acutely aware of communities within communities, and the ties that bind us. So aside from “American” I’d say growing up I most often felt “goy” :-p

While none of my friends were particularly religious, being Jewish was an entire community and a mutual understanding that I could never quite be a part of. Sure, I went to Jewish pre-school (“Are you Christmas or Hannukah?” I’d ask new friends) and heavily Jewish schools and summer camps, and attended more bar and bat mitzvahs than all the times I’ve sat through a church service combined. I ate up all the matzah and challah and bagels and lox, schlepped around searching for the afikomen, spun the dreidel and devoured my gelt, and even routinely celebrated “Hannimas” with my neighbors, our OG version of Chrismukkah before The OC even aired.

But I didn’t have a bubby and my parents and grandparents didn’t tawk with that endearing Brooklyn or Lawng Guyland accent, to me such a blind marker of commonality, warmth, and togetherness. So many a playdate ask in elementary school received a, “Can’t today, I have Hebrew school!”, and when my school merged with three others in 6th grade, I realized what Hebrew school was really about – Meeting other kids in the Jewish community! I didn’t really know anyone from other schools or from outside of my cul-de-sac, but Hebrew school and temples were always a mix of many. So while my Jewish classmates spent years after school learning the Torah for that thirteenth year right of passage that I blipped right through, they were also forming bonds with kids from other areas and widening their social horizons. Hebrew school was just a decades-long precursor to Birthright!

We moved to the suburbs when I was nine, and our first house happened to be on a block where many of the homes were owned by foreign businesses, used as temporary housing for their employees who turned over every couple of years. When we moved in, everyone asked us, “So where are you from?” Our neighbors were from all over – France, Belgium, Mauritius, Kenya, South Africa, Holland, India, and Norway. There were linguistic cliques for sure, but kids pick up English fast and our neighborhood gang bulged and boomed over the years to the squeals and giggles of English, Norwegian, Dutch, and French, amongst others. While I never picked up these languages on the mean streets of Lundy Lane, I peered inside my friends’ home countries and cultures at their dinner tables, on their bookshelves, and through scoldings from their parents in their rapid fire native tongues.

My mother is a history buff, and growing up she’d take us to sleepy, colonial towns in Connecticut bearing the names of our ancestors on ancient plaques and withering graves, trying to impassion me and my siblings about our British and Irish, American roots. But on their own, and contrasted with my friends’ spicy, passionate backgrounds complete with colorful costumes and steamy dishes, English and Irish seems so boring, the closest you could get to bland old American in terms of culture and language. My neighbors, Anna and Monica, would dress up in traditional dresses and plaits on St. Lucia Day, and I started telling people my ancestors were also Norwegian – My mom had told me they’d invaded Britain as the Vikings and were a large part of that gene pool, so I figured I was just pushing the truth. I wanted in on those candle crowns.

We weren’t even Irish and proud, like many New Yorkers are – My dad grew up in Boston, son of an Irish Catholic father and a English Protestant mother. This particular Catholic-Protestant union in 1949 was so polarizing between both sets of their parents that my grandparents ended up eloping. Even choosing which church the children would be brought up in was a family crisis. My dad ended up with zero allegiance to either side. Additionally, he’s a very laid back guy, and I think getting roughed up a couple of times by some tough Southy guys perhaps made him a bit disdainful of that hardcore Irish loyalty prevalent in that corner of the country. Our most-prized family recipe were for vanilla sugar cookies with buttercream icing, which my mom would whip up and dye green for St. Patrick’s Day, and that was pretty much it.

If they weren’t Jewish, my friends were twentieth-century transplants to America, their “other” culture still close enough to permeate the smells, style, or language of their households. Gnocchi recipes cradled through three generations of close-knit Italian-American New York enclaves. Donna seemingly knowing every owner of every single Korean deli, nail salon, or laundromat in a 20-mile radius. Clint being able to charm the English-speaking customers at our restaurant job while joking around with the immigrant cooks and cleaners who made the whole establishment possible, people I did not yet have the language skills to communicate with. The part of my friends that necessitated the hyphen seemed to connect them to other people or parts of the world that I felt I had no natural “in” with.

When I say I’m American, no questions asked. That response, paired with my looks, my name, and my background are good enough for most folk. I never get that “But what are you?” that my first-generation friends receive, based on their names or on their outsides a simple “American” is not satisfying. Funny that because of my name and my genes I can on the surface fit in so easily in this country, I look like I’m part of the club. But nothing on the surface is ever as it seems, and I think from my friends with hyphens and halfs, I coveted that sense of immediate connection and understanding on that stems from shared experiences, a common history, and being on the outside, and not just feeling like it.

So you know what I did? I studied linguistics, learned some languages, and I started traveling, started talking with people, hand motioning, smiling, doing whatever I could to cross the barrier and connect. I’m grateful for the community of communities I grew up with/around/an honorary party of, they exposed me to differences that I never truly needed to hop on a plane to experience. And as I’ve grown older and learned about my “boring” American family – where they came from, who they were, the places they moved, the businesses they started, the lives they led – I no longer wish for something more. My family history is deep and rolling and part of the fabric of this maniacal society that is America, still finding our footing and figuring out who we are, what we’re made of, and where we’re going.

3. Did you grow up feeling more Canadian/American or more X?

As I said, I grew up feeling just American. And goy. And maybe a little vanilla.

4. Does Canada/America feel like a place where you can be proud of your X identity?

Am I proud to be American, no hyphen? Yes and no. I’m a White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant – I’m a descendant of people who slaughtered Native Americans and took over their lands. I’m a descendant of people who held slaves and perpetuated centuries of abuse, marginalization, disenfranchisement, and systemic racism. Maybe through my actions or non-actions I’ve even done the same. Our history is that of a violent, racist, sexist, prejudice sweatshop and my family can be traced through its almost entire end to end.

But at the same time, I love America, or my little idea of what America is after having lived only in the liberal bastions of New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco. I love the melting pots that these cities are, the foods and the fashions and the architecture, the surface-level feels of cities touched by the world over. I love the hustle, the movers and shakers, the risk takers, the fluidity and ease of new words and ideas that spring up into our language that we move with and incorporate rapidly into spoken word and in execution. That you can be born in a small town in Korea, work hard alongside your parents to make it through life and school in another country, and become that pharmacist you dreamed of in 7th grade when your teacher asked you what you wanted to be and your English was still shaky. While many Americans are proud of where their families came from, this is a place where you can build yourself on top of their legacy or despite their legacy. Is it a surprise that I write this from San Francisco, from Silicon Valley, where people go out on a limb every day to stumble across gold or die a ferocious death like the Donner party? Nothing’s more American than at least saying you went for it, and that is something I dearly value.

5. Is your member of Congress or Parliament also X? Is he or she in touch with the X community?
No

6. For Canadian readers: What are the traits that make someone truly Canadian? For American readers: What are the traits that make someone truly American?

Trial and error. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Don’t just stand there, do something! Determination. Perseverance. Grit. Going with the flow, but also going against the grain. Idk, all of it, being American is about wanting it all, just going for it, working so hard you have no sense of reality, not wanting to do anything but knowing the government isn’t going to take care of you because you’re on your own in this town. If you can’t make it here, well, you could probably make it in Sweden or Canada or somewhere like that. Breaking barriers, climbing the ladder, not being your father’s daughter or the next in line, but whatever it is you decide to make yourself. Thinking you know how it all works … and then it’s all turned up on its head and we’ve got a nativist, robber baron for a president after we overcame so much with the one before. Fighting for change and resisting change all at once.

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Favorite Jams I’ve Been Jamming to

Today I was biking through Golden Gate Park jamming to a song I just discovered – It’s called “Weight in Gold” by Gallant. It’s a brilliant song, making want to rock my body into a sea of sequins and rubies dressed in a sparkly Versace onesie only Beyoncé herself could pull off.

I’ve hearing so much great music lately – from co-workers on Slack, Youtube to Mp3 sprints, up in the club, on Spotify, out in the streets – and it made me decide to get all my favorite jams from the last couple of years on one page together for a feel good party of sorts.

This gathering of jams has truly been a journey – Music has the ability to take me places that only light years and black holes would be able to otherwise. As I was collecting all my favorite songs of the San Francisco chapter of my life I listened to each one through. Right from the little fold out chair at my desk I’m transported back to the first time I heard it, the stage of my life where I had it on repeat, the feeling when it comes on and I haven’t heard it in a long time, when a friend and I grab hands and hit the dance floor singing along to every single word.

This post is dedicated to those feelings.

Wolf Alice: Your Love’s Whore

To me, the song is about really f*cking liking someone and just wanting them to like you back.

I discovered this female-led, 90s alternative rock style band on Spotify, tempted to hit play only by the fact that we share a name. Fronted by this sexy, sometimes brooding waif of an English chick (think Twiggy on ketamine in fishnets and stilettos whose electric guitar weighs more than she does), they rock so hard. “Your Love’s Whore” to me is very emblematic of the Wolf Alice sound that defines itself on My Love Is Cool – Part hard, hard rocking/drumming/strumming, parts atmospheric laid-back, and a tad coy all at the same time.

Their concert t-shirt of this album cover that I got when they opened for CHVRCHES last year is one of my prized possessions.

Jamie xx: I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)

Jacob asked me to contribute my three favorite songs to our Customer Success 2015 winter playlist and I Slacked over this song as one of my selections. Total no brainer. “Umm Al,” he Slacked me back, “You know I have so much love for Jamie xx but this song is wildly inappropriate for a work playlist.” Was it? I took another listen. “Imma ride in her p*ssy like a stroller”. Hmmm, okay, point taken. But this remains a classic jam with the minimal Jamie xx and his little triangles providing the chillest beats, some filthy rap lyrics from Young Thug, and the Jamaican Popcaan adding a little sassy island flavor.

Julien Baker: Something

“Whatcha listening to?” I Slacked a co-worker one day and he Slacked me back this song. I think I started crying as soon as her sun-kissed electric guitar riffs off. This girl needs a hug, I need a hug after listening to this song. The heartbreaking regret you feel during a breakup, why is this happening, what can I do, what should I have done … Why are you leaving? This petite woman packs a serious power cord, a sullen solo female alternative to Explosions in the Sky who can deftly electrify sadness.

Banks (Larse Remix): Brain

Banks has a very cool, edgy moody vibe that permeates her album covers, music videos, and sound. I’m a big fan of her her first CD, Goddess, specifically “Beggin’ For Thread” and “Warm Water”, her voice a mix of feminine frail and confident rasp, depending on whether she’s vulnerable or in control.

Brain was one of my favorite tracks from Goddess – It’s dark and ominous, Banks singing slowly but surely til she rains her rage down upon us. I find the lyrics to actually be quite similar in theme to Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” (long live summer 2003) – Basically, you’re a jerk and always putting on a front trying to act like someone you’re not, I know who you really are so come back down to earth because you’re not fooling anyone.

I came across this house remix of Brain on SoundCloud and favored its more upbeat take on a song that otherwise makes you stop in your tracks and a take a beating.

Bomba Estereo: Amanecer

It’s almost impossible for me to stop and pick my favorite song from the album Amanecer – The entire album is off the chain, an energetic fiesta of pomp, amor, hype, and spice. The Bomba concert I went to last year was hands down the greatest show I have ever been to in my life. Some songs are an homage hermosa to the tropical beaches/vibes/lifestyle of Santa Marta, Colombia, a mashup of cumbia/champeta/pop/reggae/electronic. Li sings and raps and laughs her way through a mix of tracks and color that make you want to sway in a hammock on the coast or get so far down low in a sweaty Cartagena discoteca.

I chose the song “Amanecer” for this gathering of fav jams because it’s the first track on the album and sets the tone – Beautiful and nostalgic, but also grab someone, get out of your chair and feel it together. “Amanecer” makes me feel a mix of wistful yearning to be back down traveling around South America and soaking up the sounds of a land so sizzling, while at the same time wanting to jump all around the room waiting for “Caderas” to come on next.

Nick Jonas: Jealous

I visibly remember sitting in a gay bar in the Castro called Moby Dick when this music video came on all the TVs. It was Nick Jonas raw in black and white and a simple tank top and my only reaction was, “Wow, Nick Jonas can get it.”

Dawn Golden: Discoloration

I heard this song at the end of an episode of Shameless, where Fiona and this guy she briefly marries were having f*cked up but really good sex due to some terrible situation that is common to the show’s plot. This song manages to be sorrowful but sexy all at once, which is how I remember sometimes feeling when I moved to SF.

Hugh Hardie: Tearing Me Apart

This song I came across as part of an awesome drum and bass mashup mix by Etherwood I found on SoundCloud a few years ago. I finally just googled the lyrics and found the song itself. Kind of makes me want to swing dance. Sometimes it’s nice to find a song that’s about heartbreak that just makes you want to get up and bob your head around and find someone else to tell you why I love you!!

I also liked Gravity by Shapeshifter and Souls Apart by Etherwood from the same listing. Etherwood is a go to for atmospheric drum & bass when I need to shut down and think.

GRiZ ft. Brasstacks & Eric Krasno: Gotta Push On

Jacob, my music soul mate, and I somehow discovered this song at the same time … Epic jam for the days where I’m feeling who am I, why am I here, what the absolute hell do I think I’m doing I know nothing about anything…But you know you gotta push on. Also something about the album art happens to remind me of the show Hey Arnold! so it feels very comforting that way.

Lolawolf: Jimmy Franco

I’ve always liked Zoe Kravitz, been a big fan of her dad’s. She came out with an album in late 2015 and it was totally unpretentious, a playful experiment of sounds and lyrics. One of the videos had Miley Cyrus doing a bunch weird sh*t in it. “Jimmy Franco” is cute, it’s just fun, she and A$AP look classy and cool flirting with each other all night. A song about feeling like ahhh I really like you, this doesn’t entirely work, but I’m still here so let’s just have fun and not worry about it til tomorrow.

Zoe Kravitz also held her own in Big Little Lies alongisde Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. How would the show have ended sans Bonnie?

Hazel English: Never Going Home

I heard this song after I’d been in SF for a year – For many years the one year mark has meant my time is up, off to the next or gear up for the unknown. The song has a very nostalgic California sound (it’s partly produced by Day Wave, another Bay Area artist) with that synthy, sun-kissed sound like it was recorded back in the 70s at a shoddy recording studio in Berkeley. Just watching the video now, which was filmed for sure up in the Marin Headlands, Baker Beach, and Twin Peaks after compiling the wardrobe from the vintage shops dotting Haight Street. And I’m not going home either …

Harpe: Kenton Slash Demon

It rained the entire winter here in San Francisco. Did not stop from December til I can’t even remember when I was emotionally removed from it at that point. There were evenings, dark nights before day lights savings time where it would be too dodgy and wet to bike home and I’d have to trudge thru the mindf*ck that is Civic Center to get home, the wind driving the rain perpendicular to my body and soaking every sediment of my being. I was into this song at that time, the blaring neon lights of 6th Street and City Hall turning my earbuds into mini raves and removing me from the sorrowful stretches of Civic Center insanity that you only find in this city of have and have nots.

Get Away: The Internet

R&B doused with that hazy California sun. I like the gender-bending Syd, she’s edgy and tomboyish but has a voice as sultry and sweet as Jhené Aiko. It’s also interesting to listen to a gay artist sing directly about being gay, ie, “Girl” being one of their most popular songs. I feel like a lot of gay artists, or maybe the more prevalent ones, still use gender neutral pronouns in their songs (Sam Smith) or just avoid the subject altogether (Ricky Martin) so definitely have to give props to Syd for writing songs about who she is, who she loves, and nothing less.

Rudimental ft. Sinead Hartnett & Will Heard: Treading On Water

Home by Rudimental was probably my favorite album of 2014, one that I listened to through and through. Every song is a completely new vibe, some heavy drum and bass, some extremely uplifting, beat-filled tracks featuring the absolute bombest of female British voices, i.e. Ella Eyre and Emeli Sandé. “Waiting All Night” is one of my all time favorite songs no matter if I’m happy or sad or heartbroken or bored or pissed off, once that song starts it doesn’t stop.

I saw Rudimental once in September 2015 and it was only pushed out of the number one spot for best show ever after Bomba Estéro. There are a total of about 10 people who make up the actual band, a bunch of blokes who are just so stoked to be on a stage playing music and dancing, and then there were the four singers featured on We The Generation who were touring with them. Bridgette Amofah is a tiny chick with one of the most booming voices I have ever heard sing live, she sang all the Emeli Sandé songs on stage at the show. She’s really cool to follow on Instagram because she dons a new daring wig almost every day.

A few months later they were playing at a festival I went to in LA, and I did nothing but hype them up to my friend and fellow festival goer. But as soon as their set started I knew something was off, and it appeared the band and the singers were having a massive falling out – They came out late, were clearly drinking out of red cups, were arguing with each other about who was going to sing (??), had a hype man who was like, “woo”, and then at the end one of the bandmates was like, “DO YOU WANT AN ENCORE??” and when the crowd responded “Sure, why not” he literally put on a CD of one of their songs and they all walked off stage. I came to the conclusion they’d been on tour for too long and it was high time for them to take a break, however, it was not appreciated.

But TBH – I would totally still go see them again 🙂

I didn’t love We The Generation like I loved Home, but I did jive with this song, “Treading on Water”. Sinead Hartnett is on “Baby” and “Hide”, which are two more laid back tracks from Home, and this particular song acts as a peaceful interlude on a rather noisy CD.

Bryson Tiller: Don’t

T R A P  S O U L. Two things is great. I read somewhere that Bryson Tiller recorded most of this album in his Louisville bedroom, just messing around with Garage Band and uploading to Sound Cloud. I thought that was kind of adorable, he’s got grillz and Nikes on in the Instagram-inspired video and is tryna be hard, but all I can imagine is him sitting around his bedroom with a box of half-eaten Dominos while on Garage Band splicing together his voice and recalibrating the levels on his beats while his mom is shouting at him from downstairs to stop making such a racket. This track is sexy cool.

If you like “Don’t” you’ll probably like “U” by Majid Jordan and “26th Floor” by Bryce Oliver featuring none other than Bryson Tiller himself.

Coma Pony: En Domingo Las Niñas Van a Jugar al Parque

I can’t truly concentrate to write – creative write, bang out an email, compose a work document – unless I’m listening to lyric-less music. Coma Pony’s LP got me into Alternative/Indie Mexican rock. And after spending a week in Guadalajara, I’m totally into Mexican hipsters. I really like calmly jamming to this band’s dreamy guitars and seventies style. Méxicanos en todos mis sueños. I think they should jam with Hazel English.

Barzo: Dear Bob

This is a song and an artist I know nothing about, but I love songs like this especially when I need some concentration. I can close my eyes and let myself be taken over by visions of heavenly springs and butterflies chirping and flowers blossoming and the world in a place of peace and wonder.

Yandel: Encantadora

After a wild night in The Mission that Faith and I will forever refer to as Empanada Night, I have been more and more down with reggaeton music. There is truly nothing better to bring you inappropriately close to both friends and strangers, grind up on each other, and wake up the next day with thigh burn equal to that of the first day back at the gym after a winter hiatus.

Fifth Harmony: Work From Home

MY JAM. Omigosh I love this song so much. While there is no piggy dancing to this song video on Youtube, I would vote for this Work song over Rihannas (sorry Rihanna!). This is the first time I am watching the music video, which is appalling.

Dojo Cat: Sometimes It Hurts

Wondering what playlist I found this song on. Deep funk, honest soul, retro heart. Cuts deep.

AlunaGeorge: My Blood

Been a fan of AlunaGeorge since discovering “Diver” on their Body Music album that came out in 2013. They blew up with “White Noise”, a song they did with Disclosure, but honestly white noise is exactly what it sounded like to me. “My Blood” is sexy creepy – George does some kinky beats, I like the trap incorporated into this one and that Darth Vader-esque ZHU voice that appears at the end. Aluna’s got a very recognizable voice and you can hear her English accent when she sings, which to me gives her songs a bit of a different flavor.

I actually heard their song “I Remember” right after discovering “My Blood”, it was the next song up on the Youtube loop. A very unique sound to it, it’s electronically wistful, sad, and nostalgic for a time and a feeling you can never have again with someone after you’ve crossed “that” line. 

At the time I first heard “I Remember” I had started dating a friend of mine and we’re trying to figure out how to navigate the other side of that line. We really tried to make it work but for some reason all we could do was mess up and hurt the other person. Without fail. It was strange, the physical connection surprisingly raunchy and intense, likely due to the massive tension that always hung between us, but we lacked a mutual understanding regarding simple communication both written and verbal. I remember listening to “I Remember” and wishing we could go back to before the first time and never actually have it, because I ended up losing a friend.

Carla Morrison: Eres Tú

I was completely taken with Carla Morrison when I first heard this song. There was a prelude to the winter 2017 deluge one weekend in early October, and I spent the entire weekend on the floor of my apartment trying to put the pieces together of a puzzle of a white bowl of wonton soup with chopsticks (it came in a kitschy carry out container). It was incredibly difficult and TBH I never finished, but I did listen to Déjenme Llorar about 100 times through as the rain hurled down outside.

As I described  in a post dedicated to this song back in October, “her sound is as if Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt had a surrogate child raised south of the border, born to strum the strings of a guitar and feel las emociones of all that is beautiful and heartbreaking in the human experience.”

SG Lewis: Warm

Another song for walks home on blustery nights last winter. Have not converted to any of SG Lewis’ other songs so far but this one gave my winter blues a comfort they hadn’t felt before.

Rihanna: Yeah I Said It

Dedicated to my Brazilian ficante. Buzz 465.

Nicky Jam ft. Daddy Yankee: Hasta El Amanecer

The ORIGINAL reggaeton jam of my life. Til Dawn, the remix. Daddy Yankee gold. Can’t wait for Nicky Jam this July. Oyéme mamacita…

Gallant: Weight in Gold

The song that inspired this post … I was apparently the only person at Alex’s pregame tonight who thought this song was turnt-worthy. I am watching this video for the first time right now as I type out these words and it’s exactly what I imagine when I hear this song. Diva lights, flossin’, and massive drops that cause your body to spontaneously thrust as it forces its way through the speakers.

Agnes Obel: September Song

A song for the days where you feel like Sylvia Plath.

Frank Ocean: Chanel

My co-worker / cubicle bud Luke OC loves rap music. He sent me this one. “Eh, it’s okay, it doesn’t really speak to me,” I Slacked him after my first listen. And then I listened on repeat all thru April, a month where I took a huge risk, threw a party, started a business, and kind of ran away from it all under the guise of Chicago and Mexico. Frank is calm and calculated in this song when he actually makes a huge statement with the line “My guy pretty like a girl” – Maybe calm and calculated resonates right now as that is what I want to be.

Danny Ocean: Me Rehúso

The song sounds like the breakup its talking about – It starts out clear and calm, like this is a rational decision we’re making, and then slowly gets more and more pleading and emotional in the chorus, what the hell, I refuse. I like the homage to pop, reggae, and reggaeton. I think there’s more to come from this guy.

Wolf Alice: Baby Ain’t Made of China

I liked this song on Spotify right before “Me Réhuso”, so they always lead one into the other. Another great jam from Wolf Alice that starts out polite only to build to and end with riffs and shrieks til the cows come in.

Big Brother and the Holding Tank: Ball & Chain

“Ball & Chain” by Janis Joplin was never my favorite Janis Joplin song. My all time favorite by Janis is “Maybe“. But this joining of Janis Joplin + the 60s psychedelic Big Brother and the Holding Company is epic. The night I heard this song on Big Little Lies I’d acquired a considerable amount of weed from a coworker who thought I could use some. I rolled the fattest joint I could imagine, sprawled out on my bed, and smoked that thing dry while this song boomed from my speakers. I just dared my landlord to tell me to turn it down. If only it were 1969.

Sigma ft. Birdy: Come Find Me

Sigma is a drum and bass duo who produced “Nobody to Love“, which is a song so dope that can make you feel stoked to be single in San Francisco. This song is filled with anguish and angst, and there is absolutely no one better than El from Stranger Things to show us what that feels like. This girl is beyond her age by approximately a million years.

Golden Boy & Miss Kittin: Rippin Kittin

Another song from Big Little Lies, specifically from a scene where Shalene Woodley’s character does something bad. This song definitely gives you an edge for whatever sorts of illegal activities you are going to be getting yourself into.

Disclosure: Latch

Going to sound like a hipster here but I just want to say that this was my favorite song about 9 months prior to anyone in the United States having any clue who Disclosure was. Can I get a medal please?

지코 (ZICO ft. Crush, Dean) – Bermuda Triangle
This song was sent to me today by my musically-inclined, Venice Beach-raised friend Alex. I am not sure what this song is about, it’s in some combination of Korean and English but the video is lit. I’m intimidated just watching it. K-Pop and K-Rap definitely get credit for having the most swagtastic flows of all time. I can get down with Korean hipsters too.

Luis Fonsi ft. Dddy Yankee: Despacito

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who know that the original Spanish version of “Despacito” is where it’s at, and those who prefer the Justin Bieber remix (and even might go so far as to think that he wrote the song).

I have not met a single person in my entire life (or in the past two months since this song came out) who did not jam so hard to this song.

I do have to give props to the Biebs for this song because he does sing in Spanish for a considerable amount of time.

“Las paredes de tu laberinto”

SUBE SUBE!! … SUAVE SUAVECITO … POGANDO … POQUITO POQUITO …. TRECE … OH YEA … DESPACITO

Posted in FYI, Just for Fun, Music, Musing Articles, Musings, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Get Too High Tech

My mom is always making my dad get rid of things. Although she’s always telling me how many storage units she’s gotten him to parse down and empty, he pretty consistently texts me childhood drawings, old photos, or other random long forgotten items that he comes across in cardboard boxes.

Today he texted me this letter slipped into some sort of time capsule that my twin neighbors and I made almost 17 years ago to the day:

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I loved making time capsules as a kid. A few years ago I found the one tucked into the deep abysses of my grandmother’s basement that my siblings, my cousins, and I had made in 1999. The mini Entenmann’s doughnut added by my cousin Mason was still distinguishable, which was both remarkable and unsettling.

I am 90% sure the handwriting is mine – my lowercase r’s were always a bit overextended, like an umbrella to the next letter over, and I remember being so completely bummed when nothing happened on Y2K. There had been so much hype, and I thought all computers fitzing out would lead to an exciting extended blackout situation, when everything would just came to a stop and we would light candles and run around chasing fireflies and telling spooky stories till … maybe forever, if we couldn’t reeducate the computers. When I woke up on January 1, 2000 and realized I could make breakfast without having to forage for berries or hunt venison, it was a major let down.

Anyway, I guess today I’ve been wondering what my apparent concern about being “too high tech” was all about. I know when I was 11 I did not yet have AOL, which was essentially my introduction to pre-social media. I used computers for maybe a few homework assignments, but mostly for playing computer games. I distinctly remember enjoying computer games (not video games, of which the only two I had any interest in were Super Mario 64 and the sexist snowboarding game 1080, don’t even get me started) that had to do with people and places – Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? Sim City, Nanosaur, some game where you ran a Crayon Factory (weird), like every 90s American kid – The Oregon Trail, and The Sims.

Funny naming  all those games now – Come to think about it, they all contain some sort of topic I’m still interested in to this day:

Carmen San Diego: Mysteries, true crime, international intrigue, travel, badass solo female travelers

The Oregon Trail: American history, adventure, the great outdoors, camping out, purchasing supplies in bulk (Amazon = the new American general store?), avoiding death in the form of snake bites and/or cholera (in my case Langton Street splat rats *shudder* and getting hit by cars)

Sim City: Design, beautiful buildings, beautification, community, emergency disaster preparation, living in fear/anticipation of my first earthquake

The Crayon Factory: Colors, design, mixing and matching patterns, finding beauty in colors, alignment, lines, and circles, efficient processes, business practices

The Sims: I enjoyed everything up until actually “playing” The Sims. I would create all kinds of people – friends, family members, imaginary folk I made up – and spend hours designing how they looked, what they wore, what their different personality levels were. Then I’d put their lives on pause while I built them the most insane pimped out houses ever – Everyone knew the cheat code that would give you stacks of Sims Dollars, it was something like rosebud?!?!?!?! and you’d copy/paste it a million times in a row and when you’d hit Enter you’d watch your Sims Dollars go through the roof, and you could go construct yourself whatever kind of house you could think of and fill it with out of this world things. I mainly constructed Victorian style homes with lots of bookshelves and bay windows, which is not far from the real life I live today (although I must admit I live amongst the San Francisco Victorians, but not in one). Also, it was fun to get your Sims to fight, duke it out with the occasional Grim Reaper, and yes, I admit, do the nasty. It took properly configured personality levels and a lot of Simtalk (heated arguments between attractive Sims really seemed the best way to get things going), all while keeping an eye for POS (AOL speak for Parent Over Shoulder, lol). But after a quick Google search it seems that a little Sim sexual experimentation was pretty juvenile, people are really twisted (Google search not recommended).

Nanosaur: The one game that was less of a “computer game” in my mind but much more of a video game. Something about being a dinosaur and running around a violent dinosaur land in search of some eggs. Sort of the outlier here but it came on all the multi-colored Macs and was honestly a hell of a time.

All this to say that I wasn’t a young techie by any means, and I can’t really remember what I would have been so concerned about to write a foreboding letter to a bunch of unknown future folk. We’d always had a computer and by the early 2000s we had several in the house, so it would have been nothing new. I remember my dad telling us we were moving on to high speed Internet at some point, and we’d no longer have to yell at each other to get off the phone or switch out the ethernet cords or listen to that start up jangle. I can still hear it, but having a hard time coming up with the onomatopoeia to describe it. However, perhaps at the time I was reading a lot about Y2K and computer systems in the New York Post, which I read every morning since it opened like a book and was written for absolute nincompoops and future Trump supporters.

But today I realized what a little slave to technology I have become! While biking home yesterday evening from a burner party out at China Beach, my iPhone fell out of my pocket while I was crossing a major intersection. I think the cars had the right of way for about 25 seconds, and it honestly was not till the 22nd second that the final car rode over my phone. If you can even call that thing a phone anymore – Photos, Tweets, messages, messages to friends abroad, my banks, my music … And I can make calls on it if I absolutely must/sending a text would be weird/FaceTime feels too invasive. But unfortunately even the LifeProof case I bought for it a year ago (after forgoing a case and having to get the screen fixed twice in one month, they don’t call me “Spill” for nothing) did not protect the screen from shattering.

Which made me recall – When I was 16 I had an iPod mini, a bright pink little thing with a very Apple sleek white circle in the middle where you could fast forward, rewind, etc. The screen itself was still black and white, but it was simple. It played music, I had a cell phone for calls and texts and other stuff I did at the bank or on the computer at home.

That iPod mini also fell out of my pocket while crossing an intersection (this time I was walking) and just like yesterday evening I stood on a corner with bated breath, watching as every single car miraculously passed over it, til that last car’s front right wheel flew over it, jolting the device around on the pavement. I ran out and picked it up off the ground – The crazy thing was, it still worked! The screen was about 3/4 not broken, so I just couldn’t see the album name of the song I was listening to. The white wheel worked well enough for me to scroll and select songs, music played into my ears, and the best part? When the car had driven over the iPod, it scratched some of the pink color off of the skin in jagged edges, revealing the cool silver color underneath. It looked like a very edgy pink/silver zebra pattern that today they probably make cases for. I used that iPod for many years.

And my iPhone 6? Well the LifeProof case is actually fine (they would have gotten a letter if it wasn’t) but the screen is totally black and cracked. I thought it was dead as a doornail, but all day today it acted as my little beeper, buzzing or vibrating each time I got a text or an email. So there’s still some little sort of light inside.

I had a Skype call scheduled at 8am with my friend Julia today, she lives in Israel and has a one year old kid. I knew I couldn’t oversleep this call, I barely have enough time to get myself to bed on time and she needs to tuck in a baby boy with a man bun.  As I drifted off to sleep last night I wondered how I would wake up without my alarm – Should I email Julia and let her know that I might be late because I’d be waking up on my body clock?

But I didn’t, the sleep catching up with me before a decision could be made, and I ended up waking up around the time that I normally do – 6:15am. Granted, I had fallen asleep at like 10pm. But there’s something to be said for routine and  an earlier-rising sun.

After we got off the phone I was feeling a little anxious as I have been lately, and decided to go lie out in the sun at the pool for exactly one hour. I lay down on the beach chair and immediately felt the urge to tune out the chorus of happy children in the wading pool, and thus reached for my bag to pull out my phone and earbuds. Nope, no phone today Alice. Just relax, sit back, and think of nothing.

So I immediately starting running through pricing models for my mom’s business, and all of the sudden needed a calculator at that very absolute instant, and reached for my bag again – No phone, no calculator. Shucks.

Then I realized my Airbnb app was on my phone – I hadn’t checked today for messages because I couldn’t get any notifications! What if the guest had written me and I wasn’t responding and then she left a bad review and the house burned down and Airbnbettr up in flames along with it??

At this point I realized I was the opposite of relaxing, and it was about five degrees too chilly to be sitting out in a bikini anyway. I biked home in defeat and immediately checked all my emails and texts and Airbnb messages on my computer when I walked in the door.

Nada. Absolutely nada. What a feeling. Technology, I thought, who needs it?

I had to go over to Brian’s to talk shop, and I knew I needed a walk. I love listening to music when I walk, I’ve graduated from CD player to built in Nokia radio to iPod to iPhone over the years. I can walk without but really prefer not to – For these situations I still keep an old iPod that came with the laptop computer I purchased in 2009 (they’d throw one in if you were a student).

The UI is totally different – The background is just black, the apps are shaped differently, you can’t navigate from app to app by hitting the home button, and you can hear the phone sort of recalibrating when you switch from song to song before the first one ends.

I only actually found out about the fingerprint recognition feature a few months ago, it was something I always just clicked “Skip” on figuring it was still in beta and would just piss me off. But I’ve gotten quite used to it since let’s say last January, my thumb even hotter that it has become in recent years.

While walking over to Brian’s I couldn’t figure out what mood I was in, and kept getting fed up with a song halfway through. And so many times, just out of muscle memory, I’d place my silly thumb on the 2009 iPod home button and wait for the magic to happen. Just like those videos of babies trying to swipe paper issues of Time Magazine, I was waiting for the device to recognize ME, my thumb, my digit, and for the screen to change before my eyes and present me with something tantalizing. Only this time I had to press, swipe, then scroll. Oh the horror.

Even though my computer has everything on it – Gmail, iMessage, FaceTime, Airbnb – the works, I still felt some sort of lack today without my phone. I couldn’t pull it out to take photos. I couldn’t pull up Spotify. I got home and checked my email and had two new messages! I’m usually notified on my phone beforehand, and realized it’s now less of a feeling of “Ah, mail!” and more of a “Wow, that message is stressful, I’m going to mark as unread, block it from my mind, and deal with later” or a “Damn it, wish I was at my computer right now so I could respond with a real keyboard”. Because no matter what I still hate touch screen keypads. Long live Blackberry #bbm.

So that’s the end of a long free write on technology, new and old, and how today I am a semi-slave to it. I have gotten high tech enough to the point that I’m on my computer but still yearning to reach for my iPhone so I can hold down my thumb print, open an app, and scroll through a bunch of memes while simultaneously watching a TV show, building a website, responding to a work email when I’ve said I won’t til tomorrow, and spending an hour or more free writing on WordPress when I really should be going to bed in the hopes of the natural sunlight waking me up yet again to start another week of LIFE AS I KNOW IT!

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Translation, tears, titiliation

When Zhu’s latest album (GENERATIONWHY) came out a couple of months ago, a colleague of mine sent me the song Palm of My Hand. “It’s got a verse in French, sounds real sexy,” he said to me. I took a listen to the song, the melancholy but soulful electric guitar whirring behind an ambient tune, police sirens wailing in the background. It sounded like drug-fueled sex in Paris in a forbidden place with dimmed, red tinged lights.

And then the French. I was working on something on the computer, listening to the song, not paying close attention to what the silky voice of the jeune fille was saying. But all of the sudden I found my eyes starting to blink back the formation of tears, my face turning red. I rewound the song and took in the lyrics. How terribly, deeply sad! I translated them into French for my colleague, and have pasted them below.

J’crois que je poursuis un rêve impossible
J’pense que ça marchera pas mais j’y ai cru quand même
Je me revois, je revois tes yeux, je revois ta bouche, je revois tes cheveux, ton visage
Je me demande si toi aussi t’y penses
Je me demande si toi aussi tu
Tu me revois quand tu fermes les yeux et quand tu rêves
C’est un rêve impossible, tu m’avais dans la paume de ta main
Tout ce que tu avais à faire c’était de me dire de rester
Mais tu es reparti, puis tu es revenu et puis tu es reparti et puis tu es revenu
Encore et encore et à chaque fois c’est la même chose
Tout ce que tu avais à faire c’était de me dire de rester et je serais restée
Je serais restée pour toujours, toujours avec toi
Alors pourquoi tu es parti, pourquoi tu m’as laissée?
Ça va nous échapper entre les doigts, et un jour ou l’autre de toute façon, tout ça va s’arrêter

I think I’m chasing after an impossible dream
I think don’t think it’s gonna work, but I believe it anyway
I see myself, I see your eyes, I see your mouth, I see your hair, your face
I wonder if you think about it too
I wonder if you,
If you too see me when you close your eyes and when you dream
It’s an impossible dream, you had me in the palm of your hands
All you had to do was tell me to stay
But you left, then came back, and then you left and then you came back again
Again and again and every time it’s the same thing
All you had to do was tell me to stay and I would have stayed
I’d have stayed forever, forever with you
So why did you go, why did you leave me?
It’s going to slip out from beneath our fingers, and one day or another in any case, it’s all going to come to an end.

Ouf. Quelle tristesse profonde, l’amour perdu.

I Googled the song on Google France and Google USA to read reviews, see how it was received by French speakers and English speakers. All the English blogs concentrated on the music itself, mentioning the “sultry” or “seductive” French at the end, never once bothering to look up the meaning! One blog simply mentions “a female voice speaking in French”. On the other hand, the first French blog introduces the song as one that “nous a bouleversé”, or that “moved us deeply”…”un brin déprimante mais résolument sublime”, “a tad depressing but resolutely sublime.” I couldn’t agree more.

Now obviously it makes sense the French are going to immediately understand the lyrics and react to the song differently. I was just a bit surprised by the English-speaking music blogs – Were they not at all curious what she was saying? She goes on for about a minute, she’s sort of poetry-jamming, and it just sounds intense. But, ah, I suppose maybe it doesn’t matter, for a non-French speaker perhaps it just adds to the exoticism of the song, the darkly sensual vibes, the allure of the unknown. But, if you are interested, you can thank me for the tears streaming down your face (I only stole half that line from Coldplay, come at me Chris Martin).

Funny how songs hit you differently after you’ve been in love, or after you’ve just lived a bit longer.

Posted in French, FYI, Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Cartagena, November 2016

Although I respect that on a global level it’s been less than stellar, I have to say all in all, on a personal level, 2016 has been a pretty good year. However, by the day before Thanksgiving when I packed up my suitcase (I just don’t do backpacks) for a two-week vacation to Colombia, I was feeling a bit burnt out. Let’s put it this way, startups do not become Facebook over night. Additionally, Trump had just won the election;  the guy I liked had just left San Francisco; and my shoulder was starting to hurt in freestyle. As the days became shorter my life felt increasingly vélo, boulot, dodo – Ugh!

I was a little nervous – The last time I’d taken an trip down below the border I’d come back, quit my job, and gone on a year-long odyssey across nations. What if I felt compelled to do the same? Would I ever want to live a normal life?

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The view from the hostel I stayed at in Cartagena, The ViajeroI shared a cab to my hostel in the Centro Historico with a couple from Barcelona and Uruguay on whom I practiced my rusty Spanish. Not yet used to the currency (1000 Colombian Pesos is about 33 cents),when the cab driver dropped me off first I accidentally paid for the whole taxi ride , and the couple tracked me down at my hostel to pay me back! The whole cost of the trip amounted to about $4 USD, but it was appreciated nonetheless. Realizing it was 85 and humid, I put my suitcase down, changed out of my long sleeve black shirt, long black pants, long black socks, and heavy black combat boot high heels (I consider these my signature shoe), changed into the fewest amount of clothes I could find, and set out to eat and take pictures of buildings.

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Lonely Planet recommended a delicious seafood restaurant, Espiritu Santu, just a few blocks from my hostel, and it was there I met my first temporary companion of the trip, another American female solo traveler named Latricia. She was from a rural part of Beaumont, Texas but worked for the city of Houston, and I immediately liked her friendly Southern vibes. Her mother was from New Orleans and she spent her summers as a kid under the guise of her grandfather in the Ninth Ward. In typical Southern fashion, she was eating pork ribs; I ordered the bass above complete with patacones (fried plantain slices), avocado salad, and my new favorite, arroz con coco (coconut rice). I do not know how I’ve lived my 27 years of life up until this point without it.

Latricia’s clothes that day, a marigold blouse and deep lavender shorts paired with the brightest magenta she put to her slips were just made for posing against the brightly colored facades of Cartagena’s oldest neighborhoods. I convinced her to leave the Old Quarter with me to go to Getsemaní, a lower-class neighborhood on the other side of the Avenida Venezuela. Only a few years ago it was off-limits to gringo travelers like ourselves (although Latricia blended in much more naturally with the locals than I did), but like many underdog neighborhoods around the world,  it’s experiencing swift gentrification – As of November 2016 is a central hub for hostels, hip coffeeshops, and dance halls, and of course, street art and graffiti. I acted as Latricia’s paparazzo and managed to stop every couple of blocks for some Beauty in Buildings shots, one thing I was intent on doing on this trip.

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That night Latricia and I went back to Getsemaní to Club Havana, a popular salsa club known for its mojitos. We showed up early, and the lack of people made me assume it was a dud. We sat at the bar and talked life and politics over mojitios (I caught on that she was not a Texan who had voted for Trump). All of the sudden we realized we could barely hear each other anymore – The club had swelled to maximum capacity with the arrival of the female-led salsa band, and more and more tourists screamed their drink orders to the bartender through the small space that was open between me and Latricia. After a bro-esque gringo, attempting to impress a local chick and her friend, had his credit card decline three times (so cringe), we decided to squeeze our way out of the bar and walk down the street to the Plaza de Santísima Trinidad. It was full of people, lots of teenagers dancing in the street, food vendors, groups of tourists, stray dogs. The plaza was lit up and it appeared that this, in fact, was the place to be on a Friday night.

A friend of mine had recommended Cartagena Connections, a walking tour company, so I signed up on my second day for their food tour. Led a a German, Jonas, and his apprentice, a French guy named Nico, they were both in love with Cartagena. Like many foreign men I’d meet on this trip, they’d met Colombian girls abroad and had moved over here to be with them and found jobs in tourism.

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The food tour was strictly fried food, but I snapped this photo on of a bunch of kids at one of my favorite things about Colombia – fruit stands! At any time of day or night you can buy cheap, freshly prepared fruit. In The Mission each cup there would go for $6! I actually don’t really like mango (unless it’s dried and from Trader Joe’s), I find ripe mango a little too gooey and sweet for my taste. But in Colombia a speciality is to serve mango slices unripe, drizzled with lemon juice, and topped off with salt. It is a bitter recipe for sure, but nice and tart! What’s more, fruit stands seem to understand that everyone has their own preference for mangos, so most of them offer an array mango in about 10 different states of maturity, so you can always pick the level of tough, sweet, or bitter that you desire. They’re very pro-choice.

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Arepas. Colombia’s national snack, I would describe these as cornbread pancakes. You fry them up on a stove, cut them open, stuff them with mozzarella and / or meat, fry them again, and then serve them with one last dollop of butter on top. The yellow-corn arepas (arepa de choclo) are sweeter than the white ones (arepa de queso), and each region of Colombia has their own take (and opinion on who makes them the best) on the arepa.

Costeños (people from Cartagena) were lined up all over eating arepas with that extra slab of butter on top. Good genes I guess, because most Costeños to me some tall, skinny, and lanky, and with well-defined muscles. On the busy streets where we stood enjoying the deep fried food, the people watching was incredible. What the average Colombian looks like is impossible to say. From the deep black of the descendants of escaped slaves to the dark brown of the indigenous so to the paler descendants of the European and the Lebanese, the people bustling their way down a hectic Cartagena Street tell the history of all the different people who have done the same over the course of pre-Colombian & Colombian times.

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More arepas! This woman was preparing arepas de huevo (arepas with egg). Yellow cornmeal is rolled and flattened, and then thrown into a deep fryer. It emerges looking like a taco and pita bread had a child. It’s then cut open, filled with ground beef and a full raw egg, and then thrown back in the fryer. Top it off with pico de gallo, spicy sauce, guacamole, and finally, suero (a sour-cream-like sauce). The Cartagena Connections guys explained that arepas de huevo are very indicative of many of the people that have settled in Cartagena – The egg was brought by the domesticated chickens brought over with the Spanish. The corn was already being grown by the indigenous populations. The frying and the seasoning of the beef was brought over by African slaves. And the suero, the fermented milk-based sauce was brought over by Syrian and Lebanese immigrant merchants, the same ones who would later spawn Shakira (Paste Magazine).

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I was not convinced I was going to like this treat – Dried guayaba (imagine a very thick fruit chew) with queso costeño. The latter is cheese from the Caribbean coast – It looks almost like a block of feta, but the texture is quite soft and the taste a bit salty and at times almost flavorless. Fruit and cheese? I don’t have synesthesia…But I liked it! Interesting textures together, a surprise fiesta in the mouth.

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There was a Scottish man staying in my hostel, he taught Spanish and French at a private school down in Cali. I thought he was Colombian at first, his Spanish without accent to my ears. Two of his friends had arrived from Medellin for the night, would I like to go out to dinner and salsa with them? It was exactly what I had had in mind. A Brazilian they met at the beach that day joined as well – Aside from the Scottish guy, no one spoke a word of English, so it was my first experience of the trip not just to communicate i.e., ask the price of something or for directions, but really to converse entirely in Spanish. And I held my own! Although I was pretty jealous that the Brazilian, with no formal training could find himself completely fluent after just a few weeks of traveling through Spanish-speaking South America.

Back at the hospital we scooped up our newly arrived Dutch roommate, and were off to salsa. We ended up at a small but maze-like Cuban club where tables and chairs formed small alleyways for a dance floor. Fidel Castro had died the day before, and patrons were dressed all in white, eyes transfixed to the screens of the television broadcasting images of memorial service for Fidel.

The party moved next door to a proper nightclub, filled with gringos, locals, and prostitutes dancing to salsa on the first floor and imported jams on the second. We moved from the second to the first, where the Colombians were teaching me the ways of salsa. Then the police showed up and shut the place down. I couldn’t confirm the rumors in the chaos. We spilled out into the plaza with hundreds of other party-goers, street vendors, and performers. The effects of having given in to the guys standing on the street corners whispering “Marijuana! Coca!” to passing-by tourists had finally caught up with the Scotsman, and the group slung him between their shoulders and ushered him back to the hostel together. I decided to call it a night too.

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Outside of the Centro Historico, Boca Grande is an area of Cartagena that from afar could be Miami – It’s beach and condos for miles. Boca Grande is also the name of a beautiful old fashioned Florida town near my grandma’s, and these associations, conjuring up images of flat paved highways, pristine sidewalk, newness of Florida convinced me that it would be the same here in Cartagena. The Brazilian, Wellington aka “Tom”, from the night before had taken a certain liking to me, and said he do whatever I wanted that day. And I wanted to rent bikes and bike to Boca Grande. I also wanted to know why his name was Wellington, but he didn’t know.

Easier said than done. From the Centro Historico the sidewalk edging along the coast to the wealthy, condo-heavy area of Boca Grande was covered in rubble or gaping holes, and ran along a highway. It was rainy season and the roads were flooded from between a few inches to three or so feet. The bike ride was not exactly what I had in mind, but with my mother’s classic credo, “You’re not leaving until you have a good time,” in mind, I persisted along the muddy potholed highway, Tom pedaling behind. If he was unnerved biking along a Colombian highway on a rickety rented bike with shady gears, he didn’t show it.

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Once in Boca Grande, we pedaled along the beach until we let ourselves be roped in by a very salesy fisherman, we had a full meal of fish and arroz con coco. I freaking love arroz con coco. Tom watched our stuff while I plunged myself into the ocean and then fell asleep on the sand, lulled to sleep by his endless repeating of “No gracias” to the many vendors of massages, marijuana, jewelry, cigarettes and whatever other things are for sale on a beach.

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We biked back to the Centro Historico as the sun was just beginning to set, and we made a few circles around the walls of the town. We crossed through a park in Getsemaní, it was nothing special, but when I glanced to the left there was a massive king iguana! It was just lounging on the grass and trying to eat as many tuffs of it as it could. Tom and I took a million photos, the iguana practically posing for us. A mother and her two young sons stopped to ogle the creature as well, and the mother confirmed that it was not every day she saw a king iguana in her city, and that these are not the Colombian version of squirrels. He was really guapo.

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Tom and I biked through to Plaza de Bolivar to sit down and eat the cups of fresh watermelon and mango we bought from a black woman in a traditional dress selling fruits and chasing her rambunctious 3 year old down the street. As there had been on my first night a group of eight or so teenagers were dancing traditional dances to the heavy beat of some drums. Flashbacks to traditional dances as I watched in Senegal and New Orleans, the music and movements forced from one side of the ocean to the other to reproduce themselves and evolve in a new land with new people. Sometimes the kids stripped down to nearly nothing, loin cloth and tassled bikini tops, feet and hands moving to an almost dangerous African beat, faster than your eyes can keep up with. For other dances the girls donned long hooped skirts and the boys danced around them in a manner more Spanish.

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For my last night in the city I wanted to do something bougie, so Tom came with me to a semi-fancy restaurant, La Cevicheria. On the corner of a busy area, it’s still manages to having relaxing atmosphere despite the impromptu singer who set up a boom box and mike across the street,  the writhe dancer she brought along, and the infamous rap duos with boomboxes tangled around their necks harassing locals and tourists alike. Somehow I was able to tune all that out and enjoy the subtle lighting, the nautical blues, the colorful combinations of fish in my ceviche, a crisp glass of white wine. A classy end to my first leg of the trip – I wouldn’t change out of my bathing suit for the next week up on the coast in Santa Marta.

To be continued!

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Amy, Translated

When the Wifi and TV are out on a four-hour flight, and you’ve got a journal and Frank.

I couldn’t resist him
His eyes were like yours
His hair was exactly the shade of brown
He’s just not as tall, but I couldn’t tell
It was dark and I was lying down

You are everything, he means nothing to me
I can’t even remember his name
Why’re you so upset?
Baby, you weren’t there and I was thinking of you when I came

What do you expect?
You left me here alone; I drank so much and needed to touch
Don’t overreact, I pretended he was you
You wouldn’t want me to be lonely

How can I put it so you understand?
I didn’t let him hold my hand
But he looked like you, I guess he looked like you
No he wasn’t you
But you can still trust me, this ain’t infidelity
It’s not cheating, you were on my mind

Yes, he looked like you
But I heard love is blind

Je ne pouvais pas le résister
Ses yeux étaient comme les tiens
Ses cheveux étaient exactement le même teint de châtain
C’est juste qu’il n’est pas aussi grand, mais je n’en ai pas rendu compte
Il faisait noir et je m’allongeais

Tu es tout, il ne veut rien dire à moi
Je ne me rappelle même pas son nom
Pourquoi t’es tellement vexé?
Bébé tu n’étais pas là, et je me pensais à toi quand j’ai joui

A quoi tu t’y attends?
Tu m’a laissé ici toute seule; J’ai bu tant, il me fallait toucher
Ne le dramatise pas, j’ai prétendu qu’il était toi
Tu ne voudrais pas que je sois seule

Comment je peux le dire afin que tu comprennes?
Je ne lui ai pas permis de tenir la main
Mais il t’a ressemblé, je suppose qu’il t’a ressemblé
Non, il n’étais pas toi
Mais tu peux toujours avoir de la confiance en moi,
Ceci n’est pas l’infidélité
Ce n’est pas tricher, je t’avais dans l’esprit

Oui, il t’a ressemblé
Mais j’ai entendu que l’amour est aveugle

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Brussels Writing Workout Workshop

Prompt 1: I forgot to turn off the oven!

Marie shut the dresser drawer with great finality. She had the proof, that lying, cheating bastard. How did he think she wouldn’t notice? Was he really so daft? The brown hairs in HER hairbrush. “It’s winter, your hair gets dark at this time of year,” he had quipped. The unrecognizable, silky black thong in her underwear drawer. “I bought that for you two Christmases ago,” he thrown back at her. “I can’t believe you don’t’ remember! Or even wear them!” The late nights at the office…so cliché, so typical.

Marie had brushed these incidents off, but deep down she knew her husband was playing her for a fool. But she had no definitive proof til yesterday when she’d seen them making out at the grocery store. Yes, in Aisle 7, next to the tea and coffee selection. He’d told Marie he had left town for a conference in Los Angeles the day before. But there he was, deciding between Earl Grey and Peppermint with his tall, leggy brunette lover. It irked her – tea? She would have been less upset if she’d come across them in the wine shop together, buying a few bottles for an alcohol-fueled, forbidden romp, pre-drinking to quell the guilt. But tea? It was so homely, so cozy, so comfortable in terms of what a married man goes shopping for with his mistress. He might as well have been buying soap and laundry detergent for a spring-cleaning Saturday morning at home.

Marie had just finished decorating her husband’s birthday cake. A small blue candle was enforced into every square inch of the rectangular vanilla cake. She had also packed her bags, loaded the boxes into the car, and put Leo, their five-year-old tabby cat, in his carrier in the backseat. Seeing to it that each and every candle was aflame, she stuck it back in the roaring hot oven and closed the door. As she drove away from the house, she thought of the phone call she’d get from her husband upon his return from “Los Angeles”, and ask if she had any idea how their lovely home had burnt to the ground.

“Oh,” she’d reply, “I must have forgotten to turn off the oven.”

Prompt 2: Unavailable at the moment

“Sorry miss, but Jonathan is unavailable at the moment.”

“Umm, okay, well, can you tell him that I found his phone in the back of a cab? He can call me at this number if he wants it back.”

“Okay, I’ll let him know.”

Jeez, this guy was pretty hard to get in touch with. I’d found the phone squished into the seat of the taxi, I’d heard it ringing after I hopped in out of the rain, scooching down the navy blue, faux-leather backseat. Melissa, the caller ID said. I’d picked up and before I could get a word in edge wise, a concerned voice hissed, “Jonathan, where are you?” I told Melissa that this Jonathan she had called had left his phone in a cab, did she possibly know where I could find him? I heard the phone click, she’d hung up without saying a word. I tried calling back but it went straight to voicemail.

I looked through his recent calls and found a “Work” number, but it led me to the voicemail of a sultry female named Jessica. Puzzled, I scrolled through the contact list, settling on “HQ” for a second shot at getting this guy’s brand new iPhone 6 back to him. I’d want someone to do the same, right? The secretary of a large, well-known bank answered, I explained the situation to her. She recognized the name and number and told me she’d let her boss (Jonathan) know. But he never phoned me back. After a day or two, I decided this Jonathan guy just didn’t want his phone back. No problem, I thought, I could use an extra 300 bucks or whatever it was worth.

But then the calls started coming. Blocked numbers with tough, angry male voices at the other end. “Jonathan, ya jerk off, we know where you are, and we’re gonna find ya. Aright??” Jenna, Elise, Samantha. “FUCK YOU JONATHAN, FUCK YOU. YOU SACK OF SHIT,” the women would scream into the phone and then hang up violently before I could quietly tell them Jonathan was long gone.

And so curiosity killed the cat – I clicked open “Messages.” It had felt like a private zone before, but all of the sudden I felt like I should find out whose phone I was about to trade in for Coachella tickets. There were messages to and from men with foreign-sounding names, written in what had to be some sort of code. Messages of the most sexually graphic nature from all kinds of exotically named women. And then updates from “Melissa” on “the kids”. Lena was five and judging from a text on February 2nd, had lost a front tooth. Milo loved Legos, there were lots of photos of his colorful, blocky creations on warm fuzzy play rugs. Jonathan seemed to respond sporadically to Melissa, and when he did it was sweet and kind.

Who was this Jonathan and what was his deal? I was enraptured as I read through his multitude of messages, peering into his life. Or lives. He seemed like a pretty messed up guy. And possibly dangerous. Was he an illegal arms dealer or something? Was this just one of many phones with which he trafficked drugs or Eastern European women? Did he lose this phone or was he trying to get rid of it? Was his name really Jonathan? Whose phone did I have in my hand?

Like I suspected Jonathan had been in the backseat of that cab that day, I was suddenly overcome with the overwhelming sensation that I needed to get rid of this phone. NOW.

Prompt 3: Car crash

Mrs. Wilkins was sharp. While her voice was wobbly and her knees knobby, her back a bit curved from the scoliosis and her skin thin and veiny, Mrs. Wilkins had an upbeat sprit and an unwavering love of life. Even as many of her friends at the retirement home were losing theirs minds or spirits seemingly every day, she always woke up on the right side of the bed. At 93 years old, she was still the life of all the parties at the Boca Grande Home for the Elderly. Even the younger men, still in their 70s and usually new to the home, often following the death of their first wife or pressures from their adult children, would ask her to dance before any other lady in attendance. She had a fiery spirit and a delightful Southern accent from living her entire pre-retirement life in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Maisie, as was her first name, had been rising at 6am on Sunday mornings for years, and it was tradition to meet Daisy Wheatly at 7am for the Early Bird Special at the Nautilus Diner. It had been like this since 1995, which she and Daisy had met at a local Bridge championship and had fallen head over heels. Maisie’s husband had died in 1985, and he and Maisie hadn’t had sex since 1955. Joe had been a jerk and Maisie a lesbian, but it simply wasn’t an option for a good Southern girl like Maisie Wilkins to run off and leave Joe behind. For Maisie, even at this age, it still wasn’t an option and would never be, but that’s what Sunday mornings were for.

The Nautilus Diner was about 20 miles from Maisie’s retirement home, far enough that she and Daisy wouldn’t run into people they knew. Old people, Maisie had realized, were the worst gossips. The retirement home functioned just like high school had, with its residents retreating into almost teenage-like states, forming various clicks and lunch groups, with rumors still spreading about who was going steady with whom and who’d winked at whom during afternoon water aerobics class at the community pool.

Maisie enjoyed the long, predictable, early-morning drive to the diner in her 2002 beige Buick. It was definitely an old person-mobile, her grandkids always told her she should trade it in for an Audi. It was grandiose and spacious, unnecessary for a little old lady like herself, but it reminded her of the days when all cars were gigantic, elegant driving machines, when her children were still children rolling around in the roomy backseat before seatbelt laws were enforced, and when she hadn’t a single gray hair.

Maisie was driving along at a steady 35 miles per hour, but in these parts of retirementville, Florida, it was almost considered on par with drag-racing. She kept eyeing out for any radars or cops, seeing as the local police took no pity on the elderly drivers. They were known to give out tickets to the old folks for a mere mile over the speed limit. It was extortion. She didn’t want any trouble that day – she and Daisy hadn’t been able to meet the week before because of the annual Boca Grande BINGO tournament, and she missed her Daisy.

Maisie sped down the long, smooth, stick-straight road typical of south Florida, pushing her foot ever so gently on and off the accelerator, her eyes squinting through her thick-rimmed glasses ahead. And then out of the bush, an alligator darted out onto the road from nowhere. And Maisie’s big old Buick was headed right towards it.

Prompt 4: Deviant workplace behavior

Joann had been an employee of Hasburger Paper Industries for 33 years. As executive secretary, she’d sat behind the front office desk for all those decades, years, days, from 9am til 5pm, save her 21 vacation days per year. Joan always took her full vacation, treated herself, even though lots of her co-workers didn’t. Typical New York workaholics. In her tenure she’d seen all sorts of employees come and go, the dramatic exits of those “let go”, the lunch-time trysts, the jittery first days of the recent grads who still looked uncomfortable trading in the college sweatshirt for a suit and button down.

But management had changed and Joann knew she was going to be pushed out. She couldn’t use the computers like these new young office assistants, with their fancy spreadsheets and Google search prowess. When Joann had started out they still had her on the typewriter. She was not happy about her job loss looming in the distance – While she’d never really needed a job (the massive trust fund Joann’s grandfather, a shoelace tycoon, had left her cancelled out any real need for gainful employment), she had always liked the routine and responsibility of a job. No husband, no kids, not even a cat, just Joann. Work got her out of the house and always had. Thirty-three years she’d put in and management would one of these days kick her to the curb, her desk packed neatly up into a cardboard box.

Her revenge had begun as petty. Taking printer paper home, a few paper clips. Then she’d gone for the coffee filters in the breakroom, and then to the bags of gourmet coffee itself. She knew how much the office spent on all the supplies, she’d done the bookkeeping herself after all. They spent $35,000 a year caffeinating all the employees. Who’ll really notice if a bag or two is missing? But her pilfering habit had begun to intensify. The week prior she’d taken home $500 worth of toner, three boxes of ink cartridges, a 5-pound hole puncher with the brawn to punch through 200 pages at a time. Joann neither drank coffee nor had ever purchased a computer for herself, let alone a printer. The unused office supplies began to amass untouched on her dining room table.

Prompt 5: Snow Day

Principal Sanders looked at his clock. It was 4am. He flicked on the TV for the weather report. There was already three feet of snow and it wasn’t about to let up. He felt around on his bedside table in the dark til he found his telephone, and called Beatrice, the school secretary, to let her know that school would have to be cancelled. She would call the parent representatives, who would spend the pre-dawn period calling all the parents of the school to tell them to keep their kids at home that day.

If he had paid a little more attention to the weather reports, he might not have done what he did the day before. He sighed, lying in his bed and staring up at the ceiling. His eyes adjusted and readjusted to the light from outside hitting the white paint of the ceiling above. The refractions projected different images on the ceiling, morphing into subsequent images like moving clouds on a summer afternoon, changing outlines with the passing of a carefully driving car with its brights on, a next-door neighbor switching his hall lights on for a quick trip to the bathroom, a streetlamp finally flickering out after years of functioning.

Sometimes the shadows danced into her shape, into her face. Not how she’d looked yesterday when he’d left her, but from the first day he’d made her acquaintance, her first day of teaching 11th grade English five years ago. She was fresh out of the Teacher’s Certificate Program, bursting with energy and enthusiasm for the written American word. Her red bob bounced up and down with such thrill when you got her going on Steinbeck.

When he’d locked her in his office yesterday afternoon, after the bell had long since signaled that it was time to go, well after the last janitor had swept up the last of lunch, her hair fell flat and dull around her face. Her cheeks were red, not with the excitement produced by the finalization of the Summer Reading List, but red with rage for him locking her inside his office, the principal’s office.

As he walked towards his car, he felt unsure of the events that had just transpired and that would transpire. He would deal with her tomorrow, he had thought to himself, I’ll come to school early, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Prompt 4: Blank fortune cookie

The plates of General Tso’s chick and beef with broccoli had been cleared, the white tablecloth stained with scattered spots of brown, orange and yellow sauces. Soy sauce, duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce, they were hard for children to contain to their plates. It was a tradition for the Macintoshes to go out for Chinese on Christmas day. Eloise, matriarch of the Macintosh clan, didn’t like cooking another huge meal so soon after Thanksgiving. When you have six kids and a husband, it’s just too much.

The waiter came by and plopped two baskets of fortune cookies on the table. The kids flew at them, the three teenagers grabbing the baskets and taking first dibs over their equally eager younger siblings. Carl wripped the plastic wrap off with his teeth, spitting the transparent cover out of his mouth so it fluttered down onto the table. He snapped the cookie in two with his beefy hands. Once she’d shed the wrapper, Erica bit the end off the right side and slid the little white slip of fortune out between her thumb and index finger. Jacob drew his hand into a heavy fist and crushed it down upon the cookie, still wrapped in its plastic protective shell. He didn’t even want the stupid cookie or lame fortune. The collision of fist to table made it shake and wobble, sending water spilling out of the sides of the half-drunk glasses, diluting the stains on the dirty tablecloth.

Ten-year-old Phil threw his cookie at Lily, seated next to him, who swatted it away with excellent reflex, and it hit the bald man seated at the table next to them square in the bald spot. Eloise swiftly took away their cookie-eating privileges, picking up the delinquent cookie from the floor and stuffing it in her purse, apologizing profusely. That left Annabel with the last cookie in the basket. The last child in the family, she felt it was fitting.

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