By popular demand, here are a few more scenes from St. Albans. (Tomorrow we’ll talk about South Africa and the Kloof some more. And then I’ll go back even further, to our Australia trip, and then … I have a lot to cover, folks. A lot. This blog NEVER ENDS. It is forever unfinished. It […]
More Scenes from St. Albans
By popular demand, here are a few more scenes from St. Albans. (Tomorrow we’ll talk about South Africa and the Kloof some more. And then I’ll go back even further, to our Australia trip, and then … I have a lot to cover, folks. A lot. This blog NEVER ENDS. It is forever unfinished. It both haunts my dreams and is the reason I wake up in the morning (along with cake).
Cake in Spittlefields.
But I digress.)
We were only in St. Albans for a day, and it rained the entire time. It was the only bad weather we encountered in England on that trip.
Normally, I overheat. I blame a slightly defective hypothalamus, which causes hot flashes that would fluster Satan. Rand has found me sitting outside on 30-degree days, with bare feet and clad in a tank top, and said he could see the steam rising off of me. I don’t know if this true, but as I step barefoot onto my deck (outside weather: 42 degrees) and think of how nice the air feels, his recollection becomes entirely plausible.
But on that day in St. Albans, wearing a thin raincoat and soaked shoes, I was cold.
It was a nice change for me. Possibly not for everyone else.
St. Albans is incredibly charming, and it’s a very short train ride from London, and there are plenty of other reasons to visit. All of them, however, are being crowded out of my memory because during our visit we ate at a place called The Cock Inn, and I find that to be utterly hilarious. […]
The Cock Inn, St. Albans, England
St. Albans is incredibly charming, and it’s a very short train ride from London, and there are plenty of other reasons to visit. All of them, however, are being crowded out of my memory because during our visit we ate at a place called The Cock Inn, and I find that to be utterly hilarious.
I wish to make many jokes. Though they are, essentially, all the same joke.
I am fairly sure that half of all the establishments in the country are named by a bunch of American middle schoolers who can’t stop laughing at how silly those words sound when someone has a posh English accent.
And let us not forget British cuisine itself: Spotted Dick. Bangers and Mash. Bubbles and Squeak!
Incidentally, that last dish was something that our friend Eric ordered at The Cock Inn (also, I just checked their website, and they refer to their establishment as simply “The Cock.” Cannot. Deal.) While I remember that detail, I am sad to say I remember very little else about the food. I think it was good. I know that Rand ordered the Ploughman’s lunch, and I might have had chicken, and everyone seemed to enjoy their meal.
In the middle of Rand’s plate you’ll see a scotch egg, which is a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in ground meat, rolled in breading, and fried. #thebodyisatemple
Also, at some point, our friends’ son ended up on Rand’s lap and my heart may have exploded. I’ve neglected to ask said friend if I can post photos of his second born, so I’m limiting myself to using this one, which is fairly anonymous, but still cute as hell.
“AUGGGGHHH! STOP IT!” – my uterus
Later it rained and rained and rained, lest all that sunshine cause us to forget where we were. And that’s how that day went.
Photo is blurry because there was skipping happening.
I’d seen London so many times before. But I don’t think it’s ever been as lovely as it was at the end of October. I’ve heard it said that living in Seattle is like being married to a beautiful woman who’s sick all the time. And while that’s clever, it’s a little chauvinistic, isn’t […]
Sunshine in London.
I’d seen London so many times before. But I don’t think it’s ever been as lovely as it was at the end of October.
I’ve heard it said that living in Seattle is like being married to a beautiful woman who’s sick all the time. And while that’s clever, it’s a little chauvinistic, isn’t it? So while I could use the same analogy to describe London, I’ve tweaked it a bit.
Here’s what I came up with (my apologies in advance. Historically, I suck at analogies): Living in London is like eating a cake that’s mostly unfrosted.
(Bear with me here.)
Even though it’s great, you can’t help but think how much better it would be if there was frosting. But every now and then, you hit a piece that’s got just the right amount on it.
And you can’t complain about a damn thing. Because it is just perfect.
It is a perfect piece of goddamn cake.
I stayed out until sunset. A sunset in London – a rarity for me. The sky usually just goes from grey to darker grey.
But not always.
I didn’t go anywhere new. I walked along the Thames. I crossed the Millennium Bridge. I wandered into the Tate.
All things I’ve done before, but in the sun, it was different.
In the sun, I saw London for the first time again.
You guys. YOU GUYS. The playoffs are this weekend and the Seahawks are playing Green Bay. I know that this probably means very little to most of you, but it’s basically a defining moment in my marriage and if we can get through this weekend WE CAN GET THROUGH ANYTHING. We’re actually both pretty psyched, […]
We’re actually both pretty psyched, because no matter who wins, one of our teams is going to the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, it also means that I’ve spent the entire week reading NFL analysis and predictions, and I forgot that it was Friday, and that I have a round-up do. So better late than never, here’s the week that was:
It’s official: the U.S.’s new trade and travel rules with Cuba have gone into effect. The embargo isn’t officially lifted, and ordinary tourism is still banned, but it’s still enough to make me look up ticket prices to Havana.
Oh, hell no: this year Cadbury creme eggs are not only going to be more expensive in the U.K., but the U.S. version will have a different recipe than the one we’ve come to know and crave nightly. It’s like they want us to form an angry, chocolate eating mob.
“I can’t figure out what this is.” “It’s … slimy.” “I can’t cut anything.” “Cut? I’ve just been using my hands.” “Speaking of hands, Geraldine, keep yours to yourself.” “GOD DAMN IT, JON. Lisa, I swear, I’m not touching him.” ————— I have heard that if you take one sense away, the others rush […]
Dans Le Noir Restaurant, London
I love these goobers.
“I can’t figure out what this is.”
“It’s … slimy.”
“I can’t cut anything.”
“Cut? I’ve just been using my hands.”
“Speaking of hands, Geraldine, keep yours to yourself.”
“GOD DAMN IT, JON. Lisa, I swear, I’m not touching him.”
I have heard that if you take one sense away, the others rush in to cover for it, like dutiful coworkers. When Molly Birnbaum lost her sense of smell after an accident, she talked about how she focused on the texture of food (as the subtleties of taste were now lost to her – she could only detect sweet, salty, bitter, and sour). When my own grandmother was near the end of her life, and nearly blind, I found she focused a great deal on touch, and she’d express alarm when she reached for me on the couch and felt a sockless foot or a too-chilled hand (“Sei scalza? Fa freddo!” You’re barefoot? It’s cold!).
And I’ve heard that eating in pure darkness makes you enjoy a meal more. You appreciate flavors and smells and texture in a way you couldn’t otherwise.
This is, in part, true. You also spill on yourself and accidentally end up eating zebra.
Before our South Africa trip, Rand and I spent a week in London, and had dinner with our friends Jon and Lisa (stalwart readers may remember them from our trip to Ireland a few years back). Lisa had made us a reservation at Dans Le Noir – a restaurant with a pitch-black dining room.
And when I say pitch-black, I mean it was dark. Like, coal mine dark. Like, you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face and no, your eyes won’t adjust to the darkness, even after you’ve been in there for hours dark.
The restaurant was, somewhat surprisingly, on street level, and the facade had plenty of windows. The lobby and the bar were dimly lit with dark orange lights, and we squinted at one another as we caught up over drinks. This gave everyone the appearance of being a critical thinker.
Have you noticed I’ve kind of been into gifs lately? That’s a new thing that I’m doing.
The hostess came around and showed us to some lockers where we could store our valuables (and anything that might produce light, like cell phones or watches), and took our order. The menus were fixed, and so we simply picked a protein – meat, fish, vegetarian, or surprise. She asked us about our dietary restrictions, and it sounded like the menus were all fairly adaptable.
Jon and Lisa went with meat. Rand and I chose surprise. While I am an adventurous eater, this is not something I would do again. Being in a pitch-black restaurant, I decided, was enough of a new experience. No need to push it further.
When our table was ready, the hostess led us down a dark hallway. On one side of the hall was a door that led to the dining room.
All the servers, our hostess had explained earlier, were blind. Ours was a middle-aged gentleman with salt-and-pepper hair named Roberto. He spoke with a thick Italian accent and wore dark glasses and a black t-shirt. (Someone later told us that the restaurant had been featured in the movie About Time, and Roberto made a small appearance. So he’s a bit of a celebrity.)
He greeted all of us, turned his back to me and put my hand firmly on his shoulder, so that I could easily follow him into the restaurant (for obvious reasons, patrons can’t enter on their own). He instructed the rest of the group to do the same, and we formed a sort of clumsy conga line as we stepped through the door.
There was another set of curtains, and once we passed through those, we were plunged into darkness. I held on to Roberto’s shoulder for dear life. The air inside felt still, and I could hear all the sounds of a restaurant that I usually take for granted: the clink of silverware against plates, conversation and laughing.
It was suitably disorienting, and when Roberto led me to my seat I plopped down into it. I heard Jon sit down next me, and some shuffling as Lisa and Rand sat down.
Roberto quickly told us where we could find water on our table, and explained that you figure out how full a glass is by curving your finger around the lip. You stop pouring when you can feel the water.
“If you need me,” he said, “Just call my name.”
And then he was gone, the sound of his footsteps carrying him off.
We all starting talking, trying to gauge where we were in relation to one another. I listened to the noise around us – the restaurant sounded like it was filled with people. I heard a half dozen conversations around us, the occasional shout of a servers name by a needy diner.
I couldn’t even make out shapes. There wasn’t a hint of light. Just a sea of darkness.
Based on sound alone, I was able to determine that were were seated at a communal table, possibly one of several. Here’s a helpful diagram:
Despite all the noise, I felt oddly alone and strangely claustrophobic (I found this detail to be particularly fascinating, as I willfully place a cover over my eyes whenever I get MRIs, in order to feel less claustrophobic). My fingers inched across the table until I hit Rand’s hand.
“Baby? Is that you?” he asked tentatively.
I nodded. Which is an idiotic thing to do in a dark restaurant.
“I’m nodding, but you can’t you see it,” I said, realizing what I’d done. I felt his hand in mine, and squeezed it.
The whole night, we remained like that. Either holding hands, or my feet entwined in his. This is not a normal occurrence. In large groups, Rand and I don’t even sit near each other, much less hold hands (“Divide and conquer!” we’ll say to one another, with a fist bump, before parting ways). But on this night, unable to see him, or anything else, it was something I needed.
I did not, however, GROPE JON’S KNEE even though he kept claiming I did (a joke, which, admittedly, became funny after the fourth or fifth time).
Out of the darkness, Roberto announced that our food had arrived and I could feel the brush of his arm as he placed my starter in front of me. No heat came off the plate, no steam rose from it – this was a cold dish.
I felt around for my fork, and aimlessly poked around until I hit something both firm and squishy.
I tried to cut whatever I had managed to stab with but ended up just feebly swiping at the plate and then heard a splat when I accidentally flung the morsel onto the table. I jabbed around with my fork until I found it again.
Fortunately, it sounded like everyone else was having at least as much trouble.
“How do you cut this?”
“I don’t know, mate, I gave up on cutting.”
“Oh, wow, this is delicious.”
When I finally retrieved my food from the table, I excitedly jammed the entire piece into my mouth with all the grace of a toddler. It was a massive bite of … sashimi?
While it was very, very good, there is something oddly unsettling about the feeling of raw, cold fish in your mouth. I’d never realized it until that moment.
I kept jabbing around the plate, and managed to deliver more bites to my mouth, until I could feel nothing else. I poked around with my finger. All gone.
The rest of the dishes came in the same way – Roberto announcing them, and then a quick brush of his arm. During the second course I felt the heat of the plate and the steam rising from it.
I fell into a rhythm: I’d feel around the plate with my utensils (and sometimes my fingertip) until I hit a piece of food. I’d stab it with my fork (I’d given up on cutting it into smaller pieces) and slowly raise it to my mouth.
Usually, I missed. (Try eating something when you are unaware of how big a bite you’ve speared, and when you can’t see your own fork. I implore you. It is harder than it sounds.)
I was inexplicably excited any time I recognized a flavor – I detected pancetta and couscous and … meat? Which, I realized for the first time, has a very peculiar texture. I mean, it’s kinda chewy, but also sort of stringy and fibrous.
The point is: even delicious, gourmet food is somewhat terrifying in the dark.
But what I noticed, perhaps more than the food, was the conversation and my interactions with my friends. I’m usually very outgoing. I can walk into a room where I don’t know anyone, and feel entirely comfortable introducing myself to strangers.
Obviously, there are things I’m self-conscious about, but I’ve never consider myself hindered by my appearance. I’m unconventionally cute, and my husband thinks I’m beautiful. Everything works the way it’s supposed to. That’s more than I could ever ask for.
Even so, in the darkness, I felt more confident than ever. Words flowed freely. There was no hesitation in my voice, no holding back my thoughts or my laughter. I was frustrated by my inability to see anything, but I’d never felt more comfortable in my own skin.
And, rather counter-intuitively, I found myself talking with my hands more than ever before. It was a miracle I didn’t smack anyone, because they were positively fluttering over the table. (After some thought, I realized that this was true when I was a kid, too. It wasn’t until elementary school that I stopped, after a table of ruthless and popular girls ridiculed me for my hand gestures. Apparently I’d been holding this part of myself back for more than 20 years. I never knew.)
I wasn’t the only one who changed in the darkness. Lisa, normally confident and effervescent, was quieter than I’d ever known her to be.
“You guys,” she finally said, in a voice far softer than usual, “I guess I must be really visual or something … because I can barely talk.”
Jon, Lisa’s partner, had the opposite reaction. Normally he almost verges on taciturn, but on that night he was a riot. Chatting a blue streak, while periodically accusing me of grabbing him inappropriately.
“Geraldine, keep your hands to yourself!”
“I HAVEN’T TOUCHED HIM, I SWEAR!” I shrieked, my hands waving frantically in the air.
My husband, usually impervious to everything, noted that he felt no difference in his demeanor (nor did I notice one). He was simply annoyed that he couldn’t see his food.
By the time dessert arrived, I felt like I’d gotten the hang of it, before accidentally sticking my finger in what felt like custard.
When we were finished with our meal, we called for Roberto, and he led us out into the darkened hallway, which felt bright by comparison. We all shook his hand and thanked him before heading out to the lobby. There, we grew accustomed to the light and accustomed to ourselves once more.
One of the managers asked us what we thought we’d eaten.
“The first course was raw fish,” I said confidently. “Sashimi of some sort.”
He nodded, delighted. I was spot on about dessert too – profiteroles with chocolate sauce, and the custard that I’d dipped my finger into had been just that – a type of creme caramel.
It was the main course that I missed entirely.
“It had pancetta and couscous,” I said, my confidence waning, “and … some kind of meat? Lamb or beef maybe?”
He laughed and shook his head, before turning the menu so we could see it. There were three different elements to the second course: a wild boar stew with root vegetables (really?), venison with pancetta (YES!) and a third dish which had couscous (I knew it!) resting under a filet of …
“Zebra?! We ate zebra?” I was dumbfounded.
The manager nodded.
I had no qualms with venison, which you often find on menus here in the Pacific northwest, or boar, which is prevalent in Italian cuisine. But zebra? I’d just been in Southeast Asia, and I knew how awful the exotic food trade could be. Was that even okay to eat?
Turns out that yes, it was (or about as okay as it is to eat any kind of meat). There’s only one kind of zebra that can be farmed for food, and the UK has fairly stringent laws about the meat it sources from other countries. What bothered me, I realized, is that this is not something I would have normally ordered.
It occurred to me how vulnerable an experience dinner can be when you don’t know what you are eating. But I realized that even if we’d been able to see our meal, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. A filet of zebra probably doesn’t look all that different from beef or deer or lamb. The issue that got me was not knowing.
I think we all ended up having fun – perhaps some of us more than others. I’m glad we tried it – it was a unique experience shared with good friends. I’ll probably be telling the story for months to come. I just hope that when I do, I’ll remember how I felt sitting at that table in the dark, confident and self-assured.
Maybe as I’m recounting it, I’ll gesture with my hands a bit too much, and I won’t think twice about it. Maybe I won’t be afraid to be who I am. Because in the darkness of that dining room, realizing how much I hold back … well, that was a real eye-opener.
I’m working on a post about a pitch-black restaurant we visited in London, but it’s taking me longer than I thought to pull together. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some photos from our trip to California over the holidays. These were taken by our friend Dawn at dinner on our last […]
All I Did Was Blink.
I’m working on a post about a pitch-black restaurant we visited in London, but it’s taking me longer than I thought to pull together. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some photos from our trip to California over the holidays.
These were taken by our friend Dawn at dinner on our last night in San Diego.
Pardon the graininess – they were taken on Rand’s cell phone camera in a dark restaurant (we were eating by candlelight). But they delight me, regardless.
This was my and Rand’s fourteenth Christmas together. This is a photo from our first:
We’d been dating for a few weeks. He wasn’t my boyfriend. I wasn’t his girlfriend.
Notice that my shirt is too-sheer and my skirt is sequined and Rand doesn’t have a beard and I might be wearing pantyhose. I am no longer friends with the women at the right of the photo. I still have those jeans, though they no longer fit.
At midnight, I might have kissed someone else. That might have happened. I told Rand about it the next day (or that night?) and he shrugged. But after that night, I never kissed anyone else but him.
Time is weird. Some times I look at old photos and feel like a lifetime has happened between then and now. I can’t believe we were ever that young. Other times it feels like all I did was blink.
“Promise to love me when I’m old and incontinent,” I demanded the other night. And he does, without hesitation.
Promise to love me when we look back at this picture and marvel at how young we were:
When I know it happened a lifetime ago, but I swear, all I did was blink.
“I wonder why some croissants are straight and others are curved.” “It has to do with butter content.” “Wait, what?” “The ones that are straight are made from butter. If they’re curved, they’re made from other fats, like margarine or whatever.” “WAIT, WHAT?” “Yeah. In France, it’s the law. I don’t think the rule […]
Why are Some Croissants Straight, and Others Curved?
“I wonder why some croissants are straight and others are curved.”
“It has to do with butter content.”
“The ones that are straight are made from butter. If they’re curved, they’re made from other fats, like margarine or whatever.”
“WHY HAVEN’T YOU WRITTEN ABOUT THIS ON YOUR BLOG?”
“I … I guess I didn’t think it was important?”
“It is literally the most important thing you have ever told me, ever.”
And so, at my husband’s request, today is about croissants. And yes, there are laws about this in France. Actual laws. Can you see why I love that country so much? They take their baked goods seriously, damn it.
The law, as I mention above, is pretty simple – if you have a straight croissant (which is kind of an oxymoron, since the word croissant actually means “crescent”) in France, it will be an all-butter croissant.
Croissants that use any other type of fat (even if it’s something like 95% butter and 5% margarine) cannot be straight (and will usually be in the iconic crescent shape).
Here’s the thing, though – even though all straight croissants are made from butter, not all butter croissants are straight. They can be whatever shape they want to be. (It’s like the rule about how all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares.)
I have made a few relevant doodles to help illustrate this, per my husband’s request. First, a quick way to remember that all-butter croissants are straight (hint: straight croissant = straight stick of butter.)
Fact: It is very hard to draw a straight croissant that doesn’t look like a sweet potato.
And because I realize that the drawing above is an oversimplification (and that a curved croissant isn’t necessarily not all-butter), I made this Venn diagram:
You don’t put butter on an-all butter croissant. Jam is totally acceptable, but butter is overkill. -
You can put butter on a not-all-butter croissant, but you should not cut it in half and smear butter on the halves. Instead you butter the end, take a bite, then butter it again and take another bite. Butter, bite. Butter, bite.
And there you have it. The most important piece of information to have ever appeared on my blog. Bon appetit!
Hi! Um … Wow. It’s been … a while. How are you? Me? Oh, I’ve been good. Yeah. And yourself? Man, it feels weird to be back here. Familiar, but also really weird. Like when you bump into an ex-boyfriend long after a bad break-up. But when you first see them, your brain doesn’t […]
The Week: Jan. 9, 2015
In case this weekend goes awry, I’ve always got last year.
Hi! Um … Wow. It’s been … a while. How are you?
Me? Oh, I’ve been good. Yeah. And yourself?
Man, it feels weird to be back here. Familiar, but also really weird. Like when you bump into an ex-boyfriend long after a bad break-up. But when you first see them, your brain doesn’t quite process that it’s your ex. It just thinks, “Oh, HEY! I know that guy!” and you stop and smile really brightly.
But then your brain catches up and realizes who it is, and you can’t just start walking away again or pretend that you haven’t seen them, so you stop and have a really awkward conversation about their lives now and it becomes a whole thing.
Also, they have their kids in tow. None of them are named after you, which is both a relief and sort of disappointing.
This is the first weekly round-up I’ve written in ages. And it’s the first time in months that I’ve gotten a post out for every day of the week. These are the things I used to do before I decided to write a book and disappeared into a cave for five months.
(Cave being my office.)
But for the next month, at least, I’ve decided to leave my cavely comfort, and let the book rest for a little while (it’s exhausted. Being a book is hard work, y’all). So, for the month of January, I’ll be posting more regularly.
It might feel a little awkward at first. Like when you bump into an ex. (And their wife, who looks nothing like you … which is both a relief and sort of disappointing.)
But don’t worry. We’ll get the hang of it soon enough. Anyway … It’s really great to see you again. I mean it.
And with that, here is the sad week that was.
Unless you were living under a rock, you’ve heard of the Charlie Hebdo massacre that occurred on Wednesday. 12 people were killed, including several cartoonists, and as of me writing this, 2 of the suspects are still at large.
One of the most incredible pieces I’ve read regarding the events is the essay “Je Suis Ahmed” by Christine Gilbert of Almost Fearless. It’s simply beautiful.
Now, as difficult a transition as this may be, let us talk of happier things …
Like how Chris Evans (a.k.a., Captain America), escorted Betty White to the stage at the People’s Choice Awards. FYI, Hollywood: if you decide to make a May-December rom-com featuring the two of them, I will will be first in line.
If you haven’t already, watch Jimmy Fallon’s reaction when he learns that he blew a chance with Nicole Kidman. It’s delightful and cringe-worthy (especially the way he avoids her eyes during the last half of the interview).
The Seahawks have their first playoff game this week against the Carolina Panthers. And though it’s a home game, and we’re favored to win, I am nervous that an upset might happen. Fortunately, I just found the Twitter account for Ruffell Wilson, an adorable puppy named after our adorable QB. It’s helping take the edge off.
That’s it! I’ll see you all on Monday. Enjoy the weekend. Be safe, be kind, be respectful to one another, and speak your minds. I’ve missed you all so much, it’s crazy.
Yesterday afternoon, after a surprisingly productive few days, my brain broke and refused to yield one more word of content. I tried bribing it with promises of a new pair of jeans, but that didn’t work, and so I ate an entire half cobbler, thinking maybe that would do the trick. It did not, […]
A Look Back at Ashland, Summer 2014
The sky in Ashland during our last trip.
Yesterday afternoon, after a surprisingly productive few days, my brain broke and refused to yield one more word of content. I tried bribing it with promises of a new pair of jeans, but that didn’t work, and so I ate an entire half cobbler, thinking maybe that would do the trick.
It did not, but I got to eat half a cobbler (I’d eaten the other half the night before), so I guess that counted as a win.
I finally accepted that the words would not be coaxed out of my dented head (and perhaps rightly so, because yesterday was not a day of words but of images), and spent the rest of the afternoon uploading photos to various online platforms. It was the perfect kind of activity – mindless but still satisfying, though ultimately pointless when the machines take over.
(Their first act will be to delete our photos. Once our memories have been eradicated, they will erase our Facebook accounts. We won’t know who we are anymore, and the human race will be much, much easier to enslave. Parenthetically, if you haven’t liked The Everywhereist on Facebook, please do!)
Much of the afternoon was spent trying to organize and locate photos that had somehow become jumbled together. I am unsure if the memory card had become corrupted, or if my computer decided to be ground zero for Skynet, but one file was particularly messy. Images from multiple years had essentially been shuffled; pictures of a trip to Italy were interspersed between photos from Bavaria. Every fourth or fifth snapshot was from my cell phone.
At one point I was disappointed that I had lost a series of photos from Boston, only to find them a little while later, sandwiched between a video of Rand playing the ukulele and a self-portrait of me wearing a lampshade on my head.
I DON’T KNOW WHY THIS EXISTS.
The point, if my rambling has made it unclear, is this: there is very little order in my life. Often, if I don’t write about something on the blog, it runs a very real danger of being lost forever. It is not because of a poor memory, but rather one that retains a little too much. Like the files on my computer, the past is mixed in with the present, and it’s hard to recall what happened when. I simply know that it happened.
But if I come here I find the overarching story, post by post. Miraculously, this thing I created helps to make sense of my life.
All of this preamble is why I find myself writing about our annual Ashland trip, six months after the fact. I realized that 2014’s installment of that anniversary trip could easily be lost, both on my computer and in my brain, if I didn’t tell you all about it.
We had a great time, like we almost always do – though in hindsight I guess there wasn’t anything terribly special about the trip. Nothing that makes it stick out in my mind. Except perhaps the sky at sunset.
It was stormier than I’d ever seen it before, the colors made deeper and sharper by distant wildfires. Miraculously, we managed to miss the rain (we were either tucked into our rental cottage, or in the theater, or at the movies every time), but caught the clouds.
The taking of too many self-portraits while kissing:
A no less than giddy appreciation of the poetry of small towns:
There were the countless moments that were brief but still pithy, ones that I don’t want to lose. Because my hair was lovely that day, and he is lovely always.
There was, as usual, a frenzied consumption of many plays. We saw The Great Society and Richard III and The Two Gentleman of Verona and A Wrinkle in Time and Rand’s favorite, Cocoanuts. The cast improvised scenes in the latter, introducing new jokes in every show in an effort to crack one another up.
During the performance we saw, one of the actors launched off the stage and accosted a friend of his in the audience, tearing off his shirt and shoes (and nearly his shorts, too, before they headed his pleas of “I’m not wearing any underwear.”)
As we watched it unfold, I recognized the poor, half-naked theater goer.
“That’s David DeSantos,” I whispered to Rand.
He’d been part of the company a few years before – we’d seen him in shows, and he was our guide for the OSF backstage tour a while back (in that post, I somewhat jokingly requested that he take off his shirt. IS THE OSF DOING MY BLOG’S BIDDING, YEARS LATER? The answer is yes. Obviously.)
Seeing him, playfully accosted by a cross-dressing, all-too-eager John Tufts was almost too much. I felt like we were privy to an inside joke, one that only OSF diehards and the cast themselves would get.
The Travel Blogging Summit that I attended in D.C. last month was held in the Eisenhower Building, around the corner from the White House, and a formidable structure in its own right: But perhaps more miraculous than its exterior were the spirals inside of it, ones I think I would have missed had it not […]
Spirals and Geometry in the Eisenhower Building, Washington, D.C.
The Travel Blogging Summit that I attended in D.C. last month was held in the Eisenhower Building, around the corner from the White House, and a formidable structure in its own right:
What it looked like when we left. Moments before, a motorcade carrying Joe Biden based us. Apparently he waved, but I missed it.
But perhaps more miraculous than its exterior were the spirals inside of it, ones I think I would have missed had it not been for Lillie.
I was lucky enough to spend most of the summit seated next to her, and found her instantly engaging and mindful (on her own blog, she noted the lack of diversity among the attendees, something she voiced to me during the summit.)
During a brief break, I saw her photographing a spiral staircase just outside our meeting room and had to follow suit.
Pretty fantastic, isn’t it?
As the day went on, I would repeatedly tell her that she reminded me of a friend back in Seattle, so often that I’m sure she found it annoying. A more apt thing to say would have been this: she felt, even after minutes of meeting her, like a friend.
And the best sort, too: the ones who are able to show you things that you would have missed on your own.
After visiting the Petersen house, and indulging in an absurdly expensive lunch, I headed to the National Mall. It was not, as the name more commonly would suggest, an indoor building filled with retail stores dedicated to all things Americana. Nor did it possess that cornerstone of the suburban retail mall: a group of disaffected teenagers […]
Scenes from D.C.: The Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial
After visiting the Petersen house, and indulging in an absurdly expensive lunch, I headed to the National Mall. It was not, as the name more commonly would suggest, an indoor building filled with retail stores dedicated to all things Americana. Nor did it possess that cornerstone of the suburban retail mall: a group of disaffected teenagers hanging around the food court, sipping on Orange Juliuses.
This was the seldom-used, alternate definition of mall – a word that refers to wide promenades and sheltered walkways. Not the consumer playground of my teen years, but an elegant, almost-regal-but-clearly-not stretch of land dotted with picturesque monuments. There was not a Wet Seal in sight.
This quote managed to be both feminist and absurdly dated, all at once.
The map on my phone made the distance between Petersen House and the Washington Monument seem minuscule, but it proved to be roughly a mile between the two. I’d soon learn that distances in D.C. were hard to judge, and that the Lincoln Memorial, which also appeared close by, was another mile away.
So close, and yet …
Fortunately, the day was cool enough to keep away crowds, but I still found it comfortable enough for walking. I suppose I’ve spent enough days wandering through frigid cities that I don’t find sub-40-degree weather to be a deterrent. Not in the least.
Besides, it was gorgeous out.
I tried again to take a few selfies, this time with the Lincoln Memorial in the background, and enjoyed more success than I had previously.
And, because why the hell not, I gave it one more go with the Washington Monument:
Look! Almost success!
It’s better on its own though, don’t you think?
I have trouble sometimes with my national identity, a result of being the child of immigrants, I suppose. But in spite of an upbringing largely influenced by Italy, in spite of the cynicism I have whenever the issue of politics emerges, I felt acutely reverent as I walked across the mall. Felt a glow of pride and connectedness. This was my country.
I love America. Just because I think gay dudes should be allowed to adopt kids and we should all have hybrid cars doesn’t mean I don’t love America.
Maybe I’m being a little bit naive, but I still found it remarkable: that I could be sarcastic and jaded and really, really angry about this and this and this, yet still be completely and utterly enamored with the nation’s capital. With places I’ve known about since I was a kid but had never seen until then.
In particular, that glorious structure on the flip side of so many pennies:
I walked around wide-eyed and took pictures and even asked someone to snap a photo of me (which I never, ever do).
As I walked away I heard a snippet of conversation between a little boy and his mother:
“Momma, did King Lincoln-”
“Did President Lincoln …”
It made me giggle, and feel grateful that it took me so long to get here. That I could still marvel at it all, and feel hopeful and patriotic, despite all my criticisms. To be there, as an open-eyed adult, and still be moved by it all …
I feel this is a rather critical piece of information that you should know before visiting D.C.: if you endeavor to take a selfie at the Washington Monument, the task will not be an easy one. From a distance, it is incredibly easy to take some pretty fantastic photos of structure, especially if you are […]
Taking a Selfie at the Washington Monument is Impossible
I feel this is a rather critical piece of information that you should know before visiting D.C.: if you endeavor to take a selfie at the Washington Monument, the task will not be an easy one.
From a distance, it is incredibly easy to take some pretty fantastic photos of structure, especially if you are by the Lincoln Memorial and looking across the reflecting pool:
I mean, COME ON.
But if you are standing next to it, it is infinitely more difficult.
Though I do really like the light in this picture, and damn it, I look pretty.
The tower is tall. Like, really tall. 555 feet, to be exact.
I am a sugar fanatic. This should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who’s visited this site at least once (I have a category of posts labeled “Cupcake Death Match“). When the debate between sweet and savory comes up, I scoff, because it’s no contest. When I snack, it’s something sugar-laden, like a bowl of […]
What Happens When a Sugar Junkie Gives it Up for 30 days?
From a night market in Barcelona, where I wanted to eat all the things.
I am a sugar fanatic.
This should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who’s visited this site at least once (I have a category of posts labeled “Cupcake Death Match“). When the debate between sweet and savory comes up, I scoff, because it’s no contest.
When I snack, it’s something sugar-laden, like a bowl of frosted cereal, or an entire sheet cake. I have a bag of peppermint M&Ms in my fridge, and I regularly pull out a few candies throughout the day to munch on.
Starting at 8 in the morning.
My sugar consumption is slow and constant (indeed, the pound bag of peppermint M&Ms has lasted nearly 6 months). Occasionally, though, I’ll bake something, and then demurely eat half the pan. It’s an impulse control issue dating back to my childhood, when sweets were rare (no one in my family has a sweet tooth, and they are not bakers). If you happened upon a plate of cookies, the only sensible response was to mash as many into your face as possible in as short a time, because there was no telling when or if that would happen again.
Literally some of the best cupcakes I’ve every had – from Philadelphia’s Brown Betty Bakery.
In college, I started baking. This was problematic for several reasons:
I now had easy access to dessert, but no willpower. Deep down, I was still a sugar-starved kid. I’d eat half a pan of cookies in a day and think nothing of it, and then feel sick.
I am a really, really good baker. People were always asking me to make treats, and I’d gleefully oblige. And then eat half the pan. And feel sick.
The easy out, of course, is to avoid baking, but that hasn’t really worked, because I love to do it.
These problems don’t abate while I’m on the road. If I’m in a new place, I want to try all the regional desserts. I feel the strange pressure of missing out (the concept of treats being scarce hasn’t left me). If there’s a bakery, I’ll walk into it, even if I’m barely hungry.
And if I am hungry? Brace yourselves, hide your children, and pray I don’t mistake your finger for a madeleine.
Our South Africa trip wasn’t different from the norm. We traveled, and I ate a lot of desserts.
Dessert at Bushman’s Kloof: creme brulee, honeycomb ice cream with brandied cherries and macadamia nuts.
I even made cookie bars twice in our rental house. But as I was cramming these sweets into my mouth with all the restraint of a baleen whale inhaling krill, I realized something:
I wasn’t even enjoying my dessert.
I was skipping indulgence and going straight into overindulgence. It’s not really all that surprising. I’ve read countless stories about the addictive nature of sugar. One study claimed Oreos were as addictive as heroin. (I promise not to try heroin.)
So on the flight back to the U.S. from South Africa, I decided something: I was going to give up sugar for a month. My friend Marshall had done it with his entire family (including his children). I figured I’d give it a shot.
Or, at least, I’d try to.
I also resolved to give up artificial sweeteners and natural ones, too. So no honey, maple syrup, aspartame, corn syrup, stevia, or anything else. I’d also avoid fruit juices, and try to limit my fruit intake to two servings a day. And I don’t drink anyway, so adding alcohol to the off-limits list was easy.
I was going to start the second our plane touched down, so I desperately crammed a few more cookie bars into my mouth as we began our approach to SeaTac.
And then I started my month without sugar. Here’s the play by play:
Day 1: Despite eating half a pan of cookie bars on the plane, I am still not satiated, and have no idea how I am going to last a month. I begin to pout. Rand laughs. My friend Sarah predicts I will last 3 days. Her husband Eric says I’ll survive for 3 hours. I think Eric is right.
Day 2: Discover that all my breakfast foods are filled with sugar. Even my supposedly healthy wheat bread has sugar in it. I make myself plain oatmeal with berries on top. I want to weep.
I find myself eating a massive amount of carbohydrates to make up for the lack of sweets.
Day 3: THERE IS SUGAR IN MY CORN CHIPS. What in the actual hell. Also, all I can think about, at any given time, is dessert. I realize that I’m an addict. There’s no other term to describe it.
Day 4: Rand notices that I’m quieter than normal. “You just don’t seem like yourself,” he says. And I’m not. I’m sluggish. And exhausted. And I really want a cookie. I guess this is withdrawal.
Day 5: I start looking up frosting recipes. Reading them makes me feel both better and worse. I start making plans for what I will bake when the 30 days are up.
Day 6: Go to a catered dinner with Rand and Nicci. Dessert is served, and they both encourage me to try some. I decide to break the rules, and take a few forkfuls. It’s wonderful – I feel like I can actually appreciate dessert again. But I can’t stomach more than a few bites. I start to wonder who I am.
Day 7: No, really, WHO AM I?
Day 10: Starting to feel a little better. Like myself again. When Rand eats dark chocolate at night, like he always does, I don’t try to make out with him just to get a taste of it. I still try to make out with him, though.
Day 12: Thanksgiving. I accidentally get sugar-bombed – there is definitely sugar in the cornbread stuffing. I’ve told myself that I would allow myself a slice of pumpkin pie, but decide not to after last week’s half dessert and today’s accidental indulgence. It’s difficult … but not that difficult.
Day 15: We walk into a froyo shop, as Rand is considering getting dessert. Without thinking twice, I find myself eating a sample of white chocolate peppermint frozen yogurt. The reaction is mostly involuntarily – I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I understand now what addicts mean when they talk about triggers. This bite of froyo will haunt me for the rest of the month.
Day 17: We go out to sushi, and I learn that there is sugar in sushi rice.
Day 21: We go out to eat Korean food with friends. Everything tastes weirdly sweet. I know that there is sugar in bulgogi – I just didn’t realize how much. I only have a few bites – it’s not at all appetizing, even though this is a restaurant I love.
Day 22: THERE IS NO ADDED SUGAR IN GRAPE NUTS. I am so excited by this, I eat a bowl every morning for a week. It’s wonderful. I’ve finally stopped counting the days, too, which is nice.
Day 25: I eat an entire bag of corn chips in one day. What was the point of this sugar strike again? To be healthy?
Day 27: I tell Rand I’m bored. He stares at me, confused. This is one of the first times in the history of ever that I’ve said this. I’m never bored. It takes us a while to figure out what’s wrong, and finally it hits me: “It’s evening,” I tell him. “And cold out. You have work to do. What would I normally be doing right now?”
He doesn’t miss a beat: “You’d be baking.”
I realize I miss that process even more than I miss sugar.
Day 28: Everything that isn’t entirely savory tastes too sweet to me. Like eggplant. Eggplant tastes sweet. If it isn’t sour, I’m kind of grossed out by it. I eat fruit for dessert, and it’s plenty sugary for me.
Day 29: I’ve eaten dinner, but I’m still peckish. This has happened a lot this month – I normally save room for dessert, and since I haven’t been eating that, I’ve found myself still hungry after a meal. I have a craving for a cookie. Not the obsessive, gotta-have-it craving of earlier in the month. I just kind of want a cookie. Like a normal person. Instead, I make myself a glass of warm milk.
In my PJs, drinking warm milk, and having an existential crisis.
Day 30: I kind of can’t believe it. Besides the bites of dessert during week 1, the froyo incident, and the times I’ve been accidentally sugar-bombed, I’ve managed to do it. A month without sugar. I figured I’d spend today doing nothing but cramming sweets into my mouth, but right now I feel fine. I do want to bake, though. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll make some cookies. Maybe.
Mostly, I just wanted to see if I could do it – if the girl who adores sugar could actually kick it for a month. And I’m a little surprised that I managed to. It honestly became much easier as time went by.
I wasn’t trying to lose weight – it wasn’t a goal of mine. I’m okay with how I look, and I’m not really one for weird diets. I do like feeling healthy, though, and a month without the sick feeling of overeating is pretty great. And I happened to lose four pounds, despite the massive quantity of carbohydrates I ate.
I think that I’d become desensitized to sugar, and I’m really glad that I was able to take a break from it. Part of what I wanted to do was make sweets special again. To make dessert something singular and rare – something to be savored. In my world, that was no longer true. And now I think it might be again.
I’m pretty excited about that.
Isn’t it awesome that I get to live in a world where food is so plentiful, the only thing I have to complain about is voluntarily giving up sweets? It’s something I take for granted a lot, so I made a small donation to Northwest Harvest to celebrate the end of my 30-sugar-free days. If you have plenty to eat this season, and your biggest food worry is overindulgence, please consider donating to your local food bank. It’s a great way to feel awesome and get a little perspective.
… and I’m pretty okay with that. I am conflicted and hopeful. I guess politics will do that to you. I got home last week from my first trip ever to D.C. It was brief, yet felt monumental in all sorts of ways. Perhaps because I was surrounded by monuments. It was my first […]
The White House Wants You To Travel
… and I’m pretty okay with that.
I am conflicted and hopeful. I guess politics will do that to you.
I got home last week from my first trip ever to D.C. It was brief, yet felt monumental in all sorts of ways. Perhaps because I was surrounded by monuments.
It was my first trip to the nation’s capital, and my first truly solo trip. That seems strange and almost impossible – I’m a travel blogger, after all. I should go places alone (and, indeed, I spend most of my travel days by myself, roaming around the city). But the actual traveling aspect of the trip has never been solo. I’ve always flown with a friend, or Rand, or arrived somewhere and met family or loved ones. I’ve never landed in a strange city, truly on my own.
This time I did. And it was kind of wonderful. I prefer to fly with my beloved, prefer to curl up in a hotel bed with him at my side, but it was nice to see that I could go at it alone, and be totally okay.
As a friend put it, “This means that you are officially a grown up.”
The impetus for my trip was an invite to an event at the White House, targeted primarily to travel bloggers and a few educators (and a few traveling educators). The State Department is opening a new office with the specific goal of sending more college students to study abroad. Presently, fewer than 10% of all college students study abroad, and that number is disproportionately white.
I think it’s a noble goal, if a self-serving one: there is a strong correlation between holding a passport and voting Democrat. That’s not to say that getting a passport will ensure the Dems easy wins in the future, but there is something to be said for making your citizens more worldly, especially if it helps you get into office.
I was initially unsure of whether or not to attend, as I don’t go on promotional trips, and while this one was not technically sponsored (hotel and transportation were not included, but there were hosted meals and various freebies), the State Department clearly had an agenda.
However, I felt that was something I could get behind.
I’ve been working on my book rather steadily for the last few weeks, and one of the biggest lessons to emerge from the manuscript is this: Get a Passport (and yes, I’ve capitalized the P, because it’s that important). My mother got me my first Passport when I was only a few months old. This is not a contradiction to my values.
So I went to the event. They began with a tour of the east wing of the White House (which had been decorated for the holidays), and I am not above being charmed by portraits of former presidents and twinkling lights.
OMG SELFIE WITH BILL.
Later, we listened to various speakers, including the White House’s Chief of Staff, Denis Donaugh. Here he is looking enthralled that I am taking his picture.
I stopped taking photos of speakers after that, because I was scared to. (Were we not supposed to take photos? NO ONE TOLD ME AND EVERYONE ELSE WAS AND … oh, god. I go to the White House and act like a middle schooler.) We also heard from other staff members that day, including Tina Tchen and Ben Rhodes.
There were panels of speakers as well, including Carrie Hessler-Radlett, the Director of the Peace Corps. While I think she did an excellent job, this still made me weirdly uncomfortable. The Peace Corps’ track record with protecting and helping female volunteers who have been victims of sexual assault is not great. Hundreds of women have been attacked, and many have felt unsupported in the aftermath (the organization has not helped volunteers get abortions when they were impregnated by their rapists, but has offered to cover parenting classes). I said as much on Twitter.
I appreciate that Director Hessler-Radlett is new to the post (she’s held the position for less than six months) and I’m grateful for her dedication to maternal health and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Also, I realize that she’s trying to make things better for female volunteers and encountering problems with the organizations itself. But I’m still upset that safety wasn’t brought up.
I have other criticisms with the event – like, I don’t think the plan is a perfect one. The officials who spoke talked about making travel – and college in general – more affordable to young people, including those underrepresented members of the population. Obviously, I am for that, but I am inclined to think that the problem starts earlier. In order to attend college and study abroad, you need to be address economic and education disparity that kids face beginning from when they are in diapers.
Concerned a/b how economic disparity influences travel. You can’t study abroad if you don’t graduate h.s. #WHTravelBloggers — Geraldine (@everywhereist) December 9, 2014
That doesn’t, of course, mean that we shouldn’t make travel easier for people who are in college now. No. Absolutely not.
I say none of this to be disrespectful – this was the stuff that stuck out to me. Things that I wanted to comment on, and did (at least, on Twitter). It was validating to think that my opinions had value, and to be able to voice them. To be surrounded by a lot of accomplished writers, especially when one considers that my blog largely covers issues like eating dessert and making out with my husband. And yes, these proclivities also made themselves known as I spread the word about the new program:
Because college is about figuring out who you are, and making out with people in foreign lands can help you do that. #StudyAbroadBecause — Geraldine (@everywhereist) December 11, 2014
I guess there’s something nice about realizing that no matter the circumstances, no matter where this blog leads me, it will always, fundamentally, be a reflection of who I am. That I can find myself in my country’s glittering hub, and still be able to think about matters critically (mostly). That I can wander to ends of the earth, and my priorities are the same: liberty, cake, and justice for all.
That’s a pretty damn good feeling. And I hope this program enables others to feel the same way.
This is a photo of me and Rand, at the Cape of Good Hope. I like the way the wind picked up my hair. The gusts were so strong, we could barely stand straight. There was a crowd of people waiting to pose with the sign, and we all had to take turns. We […]
To the Ends of The Earth and Back
This is a photo of me and Rand, at the Cape of Good Hope.
I like the way the wind picked up my hair. The gusts were so strong, we could barely stand straight.
There was a crowd of people waiting to pose with the sign, and we all had to take turns. We jumped in, took a few photos, and jumped out. When we kissed, a crowd of tourists cheered.
I love that this photo exists – this image of the two of us at the edge of the world.
And then there’s this one, of Rand skipping down a walkway to go see penguins. I caught him mid-air:
And this one:
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that I still like him as much as I do. I dare you to look at this picture and not fall in love:
But every now and then, it catches me off guard: the realization that even after six years of traveling together, I’d follow him to ends of the earth without hesitation.
That I’d see so much of the planet, and still manage to feel like the luckiest person on it.
We took a three-year-old to South Africa. Actually, that’s not technically true. Our friends Sarah and Eric took their three-year-old to South Africa. It was our crazy idea to do it, and they listened to us. They listened to their childless friends about how it was a good – nay, GREAT – idea to take a toddler […]
Traveling to South Africa with a 3-year-old (In Microcosm)
We took a three-year-old to South Africa.
Actually, that’s not technically true. Our friends Sarah and Eric took their three-year-old to South Africa. It was our crazy idea to do it, and they listened to us. They listened to their childless friends about how it was a good – nay, GREAT – idea to take a toddler across two continents.
Look at these crazy, sleep-deprived kids.
(I’d like to think we kind of helped out by interrupting his nap time and feeding him snacks.)
Here are a few of my favorite Jack moments from South Africa.
“Jack, there are penguins right there. You don’t even need to move. You just need to turn around.”
“I FOUND SOME SAND.”
“Jack, look – a hyrax! Don’t shout, or we’ll scare him, okay?”
“What’s he doing?”
“Well … yeah. It does kinda look like noodles.”
(They were actually little branches.)
“I can touch it?”
“Jack, look! Zebras!”
“Jack, look. They are literally RIGHT BEHIND YOU. You just need to turn around.”
“ANTS. I FOUND ANTS.”
“Rand, you’re the best guy.”
“Aww, thanks Jack -”
“I’m the best guy, too!”
“Yeah you are, buddy.”
“Daddy’s the best guy, too.”
“I found an ant.”
“That’s a beetle.”
“I found a beetle.”
“I’m hungry, momma.”
“Sweetie, you just ate.”
“I want a snack.”
“We can’t have any snacks right now, because we’re about to have dinner.”
“Are you guys seeing how I deprive my son?”
“Yeah. This trip is actually an intervention.”
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing. What are you doing?”
“… What are you doing?”
“Hey, Jack, I think those binoculars might work better the other way around.”
“Jack? … He doesn’t care, does he?”
I don’t know how much of this trip he’ll remember, if any of it. All of our adventures might eventually be lost to him, caught up in the cloud of amnesia that envelopes our earliest years.
But maybe one day, years from now, he’ll look at photos from the trip and realize that the world was never off limits to him. That his parents didn’t hesitate to take him to the ends of it, even when he was small.
When presented with the opportunity, they just said, “Yes. Yes, that sounds like a great idea.”
On the flight back from Africa, which clocked in at a momentous 21 hours and 25 minutes, with an almost-comical 8 hour layover, I finished Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman at the suggestion of a friend. It is an excellent missive on feminism and growing up, altogether hilarious and at times touching. […]
How a 5-Year Old Post Shaped My Policy on Blog Comments
Sign in Roseburg.
On the flight back from Africa, which clocked in at a momentous 21 hours and 25 minutes, with an almost-comical 8 hour layover, I finished Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Womanat the suggestion of a friend. It is an excellent missive on feminism and growing up, altogether hilarious and at times touching. One that I highly recommend.
Many of the chapters resonated with me, but one story in particular struck a cord. She describes an article she wrote early in her writing career, in which she skewered an album by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. She talks about how the album itself wasn’t that bad – innocuous really, and perhaps not all that interesting, but not terrible. Mediocrity is, as any writer or reviewer knows, a notoriously difficult thing to write about. “It was okay” is not that compelling of an experience. It dooms all criticism about said experience to occupy that same space. Rarely is a review about something mediocre better than the subject itself. But give a writer something truly wonderful, or, better yet, truly terrible, on which to express their opinion, and watch how they shine.
Moran decided to rip apart NAD’s album, admitting later that the album probably didn’t deserve such a ribbing, but that she was trying to show her talent, trying to figure out who she was as a writer, trying to make something interesting from a topic that was rather dull.
She went on to apologize to the band, many years later, for the youthful indiscretions of a writer trying to find herself.
In the early years of my blog, I remember encountering a struggle similar to Moran’s. There were things that we saw and visited that fell firmly in the “meh” category – there was nothing particularly notable to write about, nothing that interesting. For someone trying to find their voice as a blogger, this was altogether excruciating. And so I tried everything in an attempt to see what clicked, what felt natural, and what did not.
I published the occasional illustration, I made “helpful” lists. I was at times emotional, at times snarky, at times altogether boring. In some respects I haven’t changed at all – I still experiment with the blog. I still toy with new concepts and try to be creative. I write the occasional haiku. But now, unlike then, I know exactly what my voice is. I know who I am as a writer. Hell, I might even know who I am, period.
In the early days of the blog, I wrote a post about Roseburg, Oregon. We’d visited on a scorching hot day. That’s the most distinct thing I remember about it – that, and the occasional delightful artifact from the past (those ancient store signs or antique vehicles we seem to only find in small towns). I mentioned those, too, in a voice that was snarky and sarcastic (a rough precursor to the voice I now use – the one that I know is true to who I am as a writer). I complained about the lack of restaurants, my sheer disappointment when I discovered there wasn’t actually a restaurant called “Cheese Garden.”
What I looked like back when I wrote that post. Yeah. It was a LONG, LONG time ago.
It was an uneventful visit, but I was trying to make it interesting. Tried my damndest to impart something into it. To make the review better than the subject. In my efforts to do so, I inadvertently created one of the most consistently reviled posts on this blog. I have written about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, apartheid in South Africa, The Troubles in Ireland. But the post that has gotten me the most threats of violence, death, and dismemberment, is the one I wrote about Roseburg, Oregon.
The milder of these comments I’ve approved. Even those that carry with them a promise of violence:
I figured that the whirlwind around the post would eventually die down. In the years since, though, I’ve gotten a spate of hateful comments every few months. Some of these I approve. Those which are too graphic or violent, I don’t approve. I consider screen-capping them, wonder if I’m being too reactionary, and decide not to.
Instead, the person who told me that I deserve to be kidnapped, raped, and murdered for my assessment of their hometown just gets their comment deleted.
“People are commenting on my Roseburg post again,” I tell Rand.
“Ugh,” he says. He’s heard all of this before. For years. What he says next is a direct response to the feedback I’ve gotten on the post:
“Let’s not go back there.”
“We can’t any way,” I reply. “I’ve been run out of town.” And we both have a bit of a laugh, because there’s little else to do.
Here’s what makes it truly ridiculous: I don’t really care about the piece that started it all. The issue of whether or not Roseburg is a viable place to live is not one that I consider pressing in my life. This is not like the shitstorm I got when I tweeted about Ray Rice and the oft-ignored issue of domestic abuse in this country. That is a fight I am happy to engage in. That is an important discussion, and one that I am more than willing to have.
But I’ve been on three continents in the last week. A few days ago, a little girl in a South African orphanage OFFERED HER LUNCH TO ME. She was perhaps 2, maybe 3 years old. Her hair in tight little buns on her head, she looked at me, dipped a plastic spoon into her bowl and held it up to my face.
I think it might have been one of the most important things that’s ever happened to me.
The point is, negative opinions on a blog post I wrote more than 5 years ago don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. I don’t care enough about that post to put up with the backlash it has created. There are far, far bigger things to worry about. There are far more important things which deserve our attention.
I should, say, for the record, that unlike Moran, I am distinctly not apologizing for the post. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think my assessment of Roseburg was that negative. I was trying to convey the quirkiness of the town, trying to make light of this strange place in which we found ourselves.
The only issue I have with the piece is that it isn’t indicative of me. It’s not my voice. But I had to write it to find that out. Those early posts remain up because they are a reminder of where this all began. They show the evolution of the Everywhereist. They taught me who I am as a writer, and who I am not. I’m not exactly proud of those posts – they aren’t my best work, they’re often contrived or feel insincere – but I’m proud of where those posts have led me.
I’m proud of this blog. I’m happy with what it’s become. I think that I occasionally write things that are fun. Sometimes useful. Maybe even beautiful. I hope that I show people important things.
And I’ve realized that occasionally I am distracted from that goal. The comments on the Roseburg post are precisely that – a distraction from what this site is, from what it’s grown to be. So, for the first time in the history of the blog, I am closing the comments on a post.
Furthermore, I have decided (after years of urging from my husband and many of you wonderful readers) that negative comments which are insulting and threatening (even mildly so), will be deleted*. In the past I’ve approved many of these, in the name of free expression. I figured it would help me grow as a writer. But I’ve realized that the truly ugly things people say really don’t do that. They are merely distractions from the important things that we should be talking about. Like love. And history. And Cupcakes. And how the world is both really big and really small at the same time.
(Also, please don’t put links to your blog posts within the text of a comment. In the appropriate field is fine, but inside your comment just looks … tacky. Unless it’s absolutely relevant to the post, don’t do it, please.)
If you disagree with a post, if you have opinions that are contrary to mine, if you think I am flat-out wrong, I ask that you phrase your comments in a respectful manner, and I will readily approve them. I love having discussions. I love when people disagree with me (I am Italian. Fighting is how we show we care). I love when people encourage me to look at the world and myself in a new way.
The rule is simple: be excellent to each other. And not just in the blog comments.
*And for those of you thinking, “Well, I’ll submit the hateful comment anyway, at least she’ll see it.”, I’ll tell you now: my memory, while vast, tends to be short for matters like these. And there are far more important things that I will carry with me to the end of my life. The little plastic spoon, offered to me by a chubby toddler, for example. That wins out, no matter what you say, or how often you say it. So do us both a favor and don’t bother.
I’ve heard that when Anthony Bourdain first saw Angkor Wat, he stopped taking vacation photos. He realized that he couldn’t capture this place on film, and reasoned that there was no point. So he put his camera away and just enjoyed it. That’s lovely and rather poetic, but let’s be fair: Bourdain has a […]
Angkor Wat: Photos
I’ve heard that when Anthony Bourdain first saw Angkor Wat, he stopped taking vacation photos. He realized that he couldn’t capture this place on film, and reasoned that there was no point. So he put his camera away and just enjoyed it.
That’s lovely and rather poetic, but let’s be fair: Bourdain has a film crew following him around, so it’s very easy for him not to take photos. If I had a film crew following me everywhere, I wouldn’t take many pictures, either. I’d probably stop picking my nose, too.
Just like fancy-pants Bourdain over there.
Here I am, attempting to look reverent and also NOT PICKING MY NOSE. #winning
But since I didn’t have a film crew, I took an obscene about of photos at Angkor Wat. And, no, they don’t capture how immense and incredible and awe-inspiring it is. Or how the air felt, so heavy with humidity and heat and the smell of incense that we felt faint. Nor was I able to record the buzzing of insects, or the sensation that the sky might open up and dump rain on us at any moment. These things you will just have to imagine.
I figure if these photos convey even a fraction of what it was like, that’s still pretty damn impressive. Here are some of my favorite images from Angkor Wat.
The entire place was covered with carvings like this.
People would bathe in these pools before going to pray. There were four of them, corresponding to each of four elements (earth, wind, fire, water.) You’d choose which pool according to the element that corresponded with your birth date.
A touch of saffron.
Empty pedestal: a statue once stood here, removed by the Khmer Rouge.
And this one, taken just outside the temple, of a little one working:
The mat was wider than he is tall.
Now – and I realize that this is a terrible place to stop, but you will have to forgive me – I need to move on from our Asia trip, if only momentarily. I realize that I haven’t even gotten to Vietnam (and the worst, and possibly most important train ride of my travel life). But so much has happened since Asia. Africa is pressing down heavily upon me, insisting that I write about it while the memories are still fresh (in exactly the way that I didn’t write about Cambodia). So I am pausing on this adventure, briefly, and moving on to the next one.
I think the pack on the left cost me about $1.50 in Siem Reap, which is on par with U.S. prices, not accounting for the size difference in the packs. As for the mango flavor, it was exactly that, and kind of enjoyable (though still oddly minty at the end). I didn’t end up finishing […]
TicTac Comparison, Cambodia
I think the pack on the left cost me about $1.50 in Siem Reap, which is on par with U.S. prices, not accounting for the size difference in the packs. As for the mango flavor, it was exactly that, and kind of enjoyable (though still oddly minty at the end).
I didn’t end up finishing the pack. Some children were begging us for money, and you aren’t supposed to give them any, so Nicci handed them a roll of Oreos she had in her bag. And then they came back, so I gave them the mango TicTacs.
And then they came back again, and I was just about to put my foot down about how we weren’t giving them money and I’d already opened my mouth and said, “OH NO,” when Nicci pointed out that they just needed helping getting the pack open.
So I opened the pack. And the three of them – the oldest no more than five or six, the youngest a naked infant in her arms, the middle one perfectly in between them in size and appearance, like Russian nesting dolls – ran off with their spoils.
If Nicci hadn’t seen them, I might have missed them altogether. Or just looked over them, and tried to ignore them, the way I do when people ask me for money in the states. Because I’m not sure what else to do.
I couldn’t take them home. And I wasn’t supposed to give them money. So I gave them my TicTacs. An exercise in futility if ever there was one.
There are no florescent lights. Or aisles and aisles of junk food. There is no plastic container full of beef jerky, no row of humming soda dispensers, waiting to pour out sugary elixirs. There are no walls, or ceilings. There aren’t even gas pumps. Gas stations are different in Cambodia. They usually aren’t much […]
Cambodia Lesson #14: Gas Stations
There are no florescent lights. Or aisles and aisles of junk food. There is no plastic container full of beef jerky, no row of humming soda dispensers, waiting to pour out sugary elixirs.
There are no walls, or ceilings. There aren’t even gas pumps.
Gas stations are different in Cambodia. They usually aren’t much more than a solitary person, standing on the side of a road with repurposed bottles full of yellow fuel. The tuk tuk driver stops next to them, hands over a dollar or two. The contents of the bottle are then poured into the gas tank.
And then you’re off again, but not before you realize that you’ve never actually seen fuel before. At home, you pump it directly into the tank. If someone had asked you, you’d have guessed that gas was as dark and thick as molasses. Instead, you find it sort of looks like canola oil.
None of this is particularly notable, but it makes you realize that you are very, very far from home. And even when you get back on familiar turf, it won’t look the same ever again. It isn’t just that Cambodia is different – it’s that Cambodia makes home feel different.
And that, you realize, is probably the whole point of travel, anyway.