May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
I noticed it right away. The scent. The thinness of it. It’s my favorite part of the transition from travel to arrival. The first gulp of air in a new place. A piece of this new place in you, flowing.
The Asheville air became a thing this past weekend. An item. It was the Asheville air or maybe it was the mountain air, either way it was crisp, fragrant, invigorating. In the morning I would slowly open my eyes and gulp it down. Take my coffee and sit outside where the trees felt primordial, like ancient giants that passed the wind to each other in whispers.
We had conversations with our friends about it as we rolled through the Blue Ridge Parkway to the soundtrack of Hozier. We talked about how this thing felt like it was cleansing us. About how we wanted to bottle it up and take it home. All the while it painted the vast mountain range in the distance blue.
The second to last night we pulled into a dirt parking lot. We were at a brewery but by the looks of it we had just pulled up to a long-forgotten industrial building. As we walked closer to the entrance it was apparent we were at an Asheville brewery – all the token landmarks were there: open garage doors, picnic tables, cornhole, and some of the most relaxed, makeup-less people I’ve seen in a while – (coincidence?). We settled into a spot on the grass that was dappled in sun. Slowly, it transitioned to shade as the bluegrass music filled the mountain air. An outdoor bluegrass music festival at a mountain brewery. Even just writing those words conjures a generic nostalgia in me that has nothing to do with my actual experience. Some combinations of words just do that to me. But I was careful leading up to this trip to not imagine what this place was, what pictures I would get, what things I would see and do and eat.
I’ve learned through much trial and error that sometimes the idea of something is better than the actual thing (and vice versa). Imagination is a beautiful thing. A wild thing. It gets away from us sometimes.
It seems things, too, have taken on new dimensions and definitions for me. Can air be a thing? Surely it can. It felt as real as the bubbling cider I held in my hand on that mountain brewery. A commodity, the cider is. Something that gets made and acquired. And then consumed. “Commodity” sounds weird applied to air and “resource” sounds bureaucratic. But it’s a thing. Real. Wild. Nothing for the imagination to improve upon. I feel myself drawn to these invisible, indelible things more and more.
We left Asheville early in the morning. It was so early our hour-long drive to the airport was the same shade of black. Despite the darkness I knew that the mountains were out there in the distance, I knew the trees were swaying, and I knew we were all breathing in our last gulps of mountain air. But we didn’t talk about it. We didn’t talk at all.
March 31, 2015 § Leave a comment
I have a tendency to ask people what they think of the places they visit. I like to ask myself what I think of cities I visit. We tend to keep it brief – we like it or we don’t like it. It’s interesting or it’s not interesting. It beautiful or it’s not beautiful.
We got robbed in Cajamarca, Peru. It was two days before my sister’s wedding on New Year’s Eve a few years ago. It was at her home where we were staying. Where we were playing cards when we heard the dog barking furiously outside. The men were masked and strong and demanded money by the tips of their machetes. Physical shocks of fear, as real and debilitating as a punch in the gut, rushed through my body and continued after the robbers left and through the rest of the night. Sleep was as distant as the sun I prayed to come up because the nightmare was real for as long as it was dark. They would come back, I was convinced. I shivered in my bed, my dad standing watch at the window. It wasn’t until the first peak of light made its way through the window that my adrenaline subsided. But never again could I sleep in that house.
I still shudder when I hear dogs bark loudly at night.
What is it to know a city? Is it to know its history? Does it happen when you visit every street in the city or go inside every building? Is it a certain amount of time spent there? Is it who we are with or is it when we are alone?
During a trip to Puerto Rico a couple of years ago Mike and I took a jog one morning. We didn’t want to stray too far from where we were staying so we opted to run laps around the nearby hotel/casino. It was morning and the thermal blanket of the Puerto Rican sun was already in full effect. The hotel workers and cab drivers sitting around playing dominos looked at us like we were crazy. Hell, the lizards scattering across the sidewalk to get into shade, were very likely questioning our intelligence. I didn’t make it long. I’ve never done well in the heat and after three laps it felt like a dentist had suctioned out all liquid from my mouth and I was inside an oven. Mike and I found some shade and I collapsed into the lukewarm grass. Not a minute later a hotel worker, in a long sleeve shirt and pants, walked over and gave me his unopened bottle of water. He must have thought we were crazy for running in that heat without water but it didn’t matter. A man I didn’t know in a place I didn’t know reached out and I still think about it to this day.
A dreadful moment. An transcendent moment. But neither can define those places.
Made it south by the sea. I had a five hour drive today. I am sitting in a restaurant by the sea with jazz music waiting for my fish and chips. My phone is almost out of battery. Will write more when I get back to the airbnb. That was the email I received this summer from my dad who was traveling around Europe. I saved it and re-read it from time to time. I’m not exactly sure why. I wonder if it’s the amount of beauty in the brevity. A still moment hanging there without judgment – like a picture infused with mystery and expanse.
I think about all of the places I’ve visited and the words I’ve used to describe them and the memories and feelings that have stuck with me from those places – and still I wonder can we ever really know a city? Will our descriptions always fall short? Or are our descriptions simply describing us – an amalgam of our tastes and fears during that time of our life?
Maybe simple, physical descriptions are all that we have to know a place, and the rest, well that’s on us.
January 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
The rain was incessant; hell bent on hanging around for our entire three-night stay in the Guatemalan rainforest, and completely apathetic to our need to cross the river to continue with our next phase of the trip to Antigua.
So it kept going with the consistency and voracity of a percussion line.
One might think that after 48 straight hours of rain that it becomes white noise, retreating into the vast spaces of the forest. It was, rather, the opposite. Amplified by the innumerable and dense vegetation, the sound of the rain reverberated in our ears and bones. It was unhinging, save for a couple of hours on our last night.
My sister’s friend, who was also serving in the Peace Corp., had set up a dinner with one of the families that lived in the rainforest. We had to walk down a narrow path through the forest to get to their home – a one-room piecemeal wood structure. The host family welcomed us in with smiles as big as the rainforest trees. Sans electricity, the room was lit solely by candles, allowing only bits and pieces to come alive, the rest fell away into blackness. Our feet made imprints on the dirt floor as we settled into our seats, and the sound of the rain on the tin roof melted away like the dark corners of the house, as if it wasn’t there.
They served us eggs, beans, tortillas and coffee; simple and exquisite. We ate by the pulsing light of the candles. Stories were told in English and Spanish, with the majority of the sentences lost in translation and laughter.
Outside the rain carried on without our attention and the river engorged itself with those drops. But inside for those couple of hours it felt as if the world could wash away and leave what we had there and everything would be ok.
January 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
It’s quite rare to see a city from the perspective of its foundations – to be below it’s entryways and streets. On our last night in Amsterdam we stepped down into a boat with our friends, Bryan and Danielle, and Danielle’s parents, and meandered through the canals of Amsterdam. It was a stark contrast from both our 4th floor canal house that we were staying in, and our daily walks – both vantage points were thrilling – but to float below the canal houses and through the bridges afforded an unrivaled peace in this flowing, effervescent city. So, if you go to Amsterdam, pick up some cheeses and salami, two bottles of wine, and get yourself on a boat an hour before the sun sets, ok?
August 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
A few pics from Amsterdam. I don’t know how I feel about the color chartreuse. I like it a little bit and I despise it a little bit, and apparently those two are not mutually exclusive because I feel both and have no conclusion. Back in January I read Lynne Tillman’s “Someday This Will Be Funny” and was quietly changed forever. Her story Chartreuse is still a favorite piece of literature.
How was I changed you’re probably wondering? After reading her I realized writing could be more like how we think – scattered and seemingly random. And that short stories can be immense.
I like this write up about her: “…everything she writes is like a neatly packed suitcase full of ideas for the reader to take with them on a short trip.”
August 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
This past Sunday’s slow morning transitioned into whizzing pavement, trees, shrubs and cornfields. Around noon Mike proposed the idea of biking near Port Washington. By 2 we were all packed up and on the road. We rode from Port Washington to Belgium and then over to Harrington Beach State Park. The sun was starting to make its way below the tree line by the time we got there, which scattered light on the sand and water. The lake was churning and we stopped, closed our eyes and listened to it.
We rode back to Port Washington and ate dinner at a restaurant just off the water. The food was ok but the Moon Man’s, Dave Matthews Band (hello 1994!) on the speakers, and fresh lake air made up for any culinary shortcomings.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, might I suggest biking 25 miles and drinking two Moon Man’s? It’ll tucker you right out.
(Or if you don’t have a bike, just listening to Remember When (Side A) by The Black Keys and drinking two Moon Man’s is suggested as well.)
August 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
Another week has gone by which means it’s been two weeks since we returned from our Europe trip. I feel like a computer with an annoying pop up that alerts the user for endless amounts of minutes that it’s processing…
Slowly, though, we’ve gotten back into a routine. Meals are being cooked at home, regular bed times are, for the most part, being followed, and jobs are being attended. This last bit of summer is being enjoyed and the yearning for more travel is a lovely accompaniment to warm, sticky nights drinking beer with friends.
Here are three pics from Budapest. I think I’ll keep sharing short sets of pictures from the trip.
Also wanted to share a couple of things I loved this week:
– This interview with writer Paulo Coehlo. “You have to accept your contradictions, and you have to learn to live with your contradictions. Otherwise, you become a block of stone that never changes.”
– This interview with photographer David duChemin. “I have a lot of ‘aha’ moments. My friends say one of my biggest talents is my ability to reinvent myself. I think it’s the ability to wake up one morning and realize that I’m becoming a different person and the labels that have been applied for one part of my life no longer apply.”
– This blog post by photographer Brian Ferry. “Put away your precious spoons and mason jars and other props, and stop purposefully styling the food to look artfully messed-up.” Also, all the pictures on his blog.
– This photo set by Viviane Sassen. I can’t stop thinking about it.
– This sourdough starter I just got in the mail. Stay tuned on that…