Rutto Libero

I am having a hard time finding the words to describe what it was like being at Azienda Agricola COS in Sicily. To say that I'm still reeling from the experience is to vastly understate. It was, intense...

Six days a week for a month we woke up at 6AM to prune the vineyards/pick grapes/process the fruit/tend to the amphoras, and I wasn't even there for the busiest part of the harvest. Evenings were full of long dinners, lots of wine, and the occasional outing to a bar or restaurant in nearby Acate or Comiso. Usually I wasn't in bed until after midnight. I'm not entirely sure how my body managed to adapt to that schedule (probably all the fresh food and blazing, nearly African sunshine), but it did, and by the time the end of September rolled around I was stronger, tanner, and on many levels, not ready to leave. 

COS is a winery that was founded in 1980 by friends Giambattista Titta, Guisto Occhipinti, and Rino Strano. Their goal was to make wines as naturally and as close to the old fashioned way as possible. One way this has manifested is through the use of amphoras, clay jars that are dug into the ground and used to age the wine. The effect of this, and other biodynamic practices, has resulted in wine that is, on the whole, lower in alcohol than a lot of other Sicilian wines, balanced, and full of bright, delicious fruit. The Frappato (a grape that is characteristically quite similar to Pinot Noir) in particular was one of my favorites. 



Everybody who worked at the winery spoke Italian and/or Sicilian (obviously). Anna, the chef who was with COS for the high season this summer spoke English, as did my roommate and fellow harvest intern Alice (pronounced aleecha), as well as Yumi another intern who arrived on September 15th, and Joanna, the PR director. I mention this to highlight one of the main sources of the aforementioned intensity... a lack of language. I was the only native English speaker on site which meant that in order for me to participate in 90% of the conversations, they needed to be translated. Alice was very helpful in this regard. That said, when you're in a group and conversation is flowing it's incredibly difficult to stop and highlight each shift and turn of phrase. I had to get comfortable, quickly, with not knowing what was going on most of the time, and also with trusting other people with my voice. This is one of the pieces of this experience that I'm still thinking about... specifically, the roles that perception and fluency play when building and maintaining relationships. 

Given the busy schedule and long hours, plus the fact that we spent nearly 24 hours a day together (Alice and I actually did), we became a tight knit group. On Sundays Alice, Anna, and sometimes Joanna, and I would take long lunches, drives out to the beach, or spend hours drinking wine by the pool. Everything about being in Sicily felt accelerated and original. 


(top left) Anna, chef extraordinaire
(top right) Alice and I at the beach on a rare Friday afternoon off
(bottom left) Getting kisses from Pithos, one of the four winery dogs
(bottom right) Claudio and Placido, COS employees, Paolo a fellow intern is the one taking the photo, Alice, and me
My heart hurts when I think about this place... despite the fact that I came away with more mosquito bites than I knew could fit on one person, a ton of sun, and scars from the bites of three yellow jackets. That last one landed me in the hospital, when, after two and a half days the swelling had only gotten worse. Anna took me and it turned out to be sort of funny. The room looked like somebody's home office, the doctor was (at least) half blind, which made the cortisone shot he administered a touch worrisome, and when we left he gave us his cell phone number in case we wanted to hang out sometime. Within 36 hours my hand was almost fully recovered though, also, the visit was free and the prescription cost seven Euro.

(top) Comiso
(bottom left) Alice, Yumi, and me... not drinking wine
(bottom right) One of Anna's beautiful creations. Stuffed squid, peppers, rice, etc.
There's a lot more to say, but this is all I can muster at the moment. Like I said, and to put it mildly, this portion of the last few months is still seeping in. 


Soundtrack: I Took a Pill in Ibiza - Mike Posner



Soundtrack: Tu vuo' fa' l'Americano - Renato Carosone



Soundtrack: Family Affair - Mary J. Blige







FIFA and Fideuà

On my way to Sicily I spent two nights in Barcelona and I'm still exhausted.

The first time I went to Barcelona was in 2009 to visit my friend Melissa who was living with her then boyfriend in an apartment near Las Ramblas. That trip was a whirlwind, this one was a fever dream. 

I arrived in the city on a Thursday morning, dropped off my things at the hostel, signed up for a dinner the hostel was offering that evening, and wandered around for awhile. I love Barcelona... culturally, historically, aesthetically, culinarily, it's one of my favorite cities on Earth (so far). 

top left Passeig de Lluis Companys
top right St. Mary of the Sea
bottom left Cathedral of Barcelona

bottom right Barcelona's Head

The dinner that night was a lot of fun. There were people (not gonna say I was the oldest by a mile, buuuut, at least half a kilometer) from all over the world hangin' out in the kitchen, drinking wine, and shooting the shit. As I've found in many cities over the past few months, there were quite a number of solo and tandem travelers moving around as a result of some gnawing dissatisfaction. In this particular hostel there were quite a few Americans, which of course made the election a big topic of discussion. Nobody seems to want this guy to leave... 






The Europeans I've met seem to be equally, or perhaps even more, freaked out by the looming implications of November 8th. This could, perhaps, have something to do with the way the international media has covered this election... generally speaking, with a concerted, thoughtful emphasis on facts and global ramifications as opposed to spectacle. Either way, one of the first questions I get when Europeans learn I'm from the states is, what do you think of Donald Trump, and of course I usually respond with befuddlement, who?


So this dinner, prepared by a local chef, was a Valencian/Catalan seafood dish similar to paella called fideuà, and it was absolutely delicious. Afterward a group of us went to a bar known for its list of over 100 shots, many of which were served on fire. Toootally my kind of place. For dessert we ended up at a night club that played unbelievably loud techno versions of top 40 songs. Crawling into bed at 3AM that night felt like a luxury. It should be noted that according to the rest of the group, I left early... even 22 year old Erin would have called bullshit on that one. 





The next "morning" I went on an incredibly informative walking tour with, it should be noted, none of the same hostel guests from the night before. On the tour I met Aniket, a super genius from New Delhi who currently works in marketing/PR for FIFA (talk about having your work cut out for you). An avid, lifetime fútbol fan, that afternoon he was headed to Camp Nou—the home of FC Barcelona, the largest stadium in Spain, and the location of the 1982 FIFA World Cup semi-finals as well as the 1992 Summer Olympics fútbol competition—and he invited me to tag along. 



I'm certainly out of my depth in terms of knowledge, or cultivated interest in the sport, but wandering around the locker rooms and learning about the history of the place with a pro was pretty damn cool. 


Fútbol is so culturally important to Spain (and nearly every major country outside the U.S.) that its resonance with fans is nothing short of mythical. Aniket relayed multiple stories about specific games, as well as his own experiences playing, that profoundly affected the trajectory of his life. In his words, "I went rogue not going to med school, but I felt like I had no other choice if I was going to build a life worth living." 

After Camp Nou and a coffee Aniket and I met up with the group from the night before for wine and tapas. Then... lots of walking, a little singing, bottles of wine on the beach, cab rides, more walking, and finally, we ended up here.

The flight to Catania left at 7:10 "the next" morning, and somehow, after sacrificing almost two full nights of sleep for fun, I managed to be on it. 


Soundtrack: Can't Sleep - Gary Clark Jr. 




Soundtrack: Devil Like Me - Rainbow Kitten Surprise








There's an acre outside these wide new windows.

First of all, Lisbon has great taste in bridges...

25 de Abril Bridge
(same architect as the old Bay Bridge, not the Golden Gate...)
Secondly, it feels like it's in the early phases of a serious renaissance. The economy has strengthened exponentially over the past couple years, drugs have been decriminalized, and the city has filled up with artists, chefs, and musicians of notable ilk. The number of local residents who mentioned how great Lisbon is almost made it sound like propaganda, but, alas, the proof is in the pudding (a saying I've never understood), and the city certainly delivered on the hype. 

Lisbon is bright in every sense. Sunny and warm, energetic, full of buildings splashed with color surrounded by vibrant murals that cover entire blocks. I'm unclear if it's a development mandate or just an encouraged practice, but many of the newer residential and commercial buildings in Lisbon have been reconstructed with the original facade kept in tact. As a result you may approach a café covered in centuries old sea green tile, walk in, and end up sipping a cortado on a couch that looks like it belongs in the lobby of the MOMA. One of my favorite examples of this was a bar located on top of a parking lot near the center of the city. From the street the building looked like it might fall over with a mighty enough push, but upstairs lives a very hip cocktail bar (three bars in fact) with a dance floor, and a view that makes you feel like you've made some top 100 list and doubled your bank account. 

I ended up in Lisbon because my friend Jessica (from Paris by way of Vancouver) rented an Airbnb right next to the Palace of Ajuda, a gorgeous neoclassical monument, for the month of August. I stayed there off and on for nearly three weeks because she's the absolute coolest. We spent many days and evenings getting to know the city as we prefer to, through cafés, restaurants, bars and lots of walking. We even convinced Theran to come visit for a couple days so we could have a Paris reunion. 

Now for a gratuitous number of photos:

Friendship. Yes, the wine counts as a friend.
That's Theran and me on the top left, Jessica and me on the bottom left,
and Jess looking glorious on the bottom right. 


We're all in love.
Pastéis de Belém, Pastel de Bacalhau, Porto, and Mateus. Thank you, Portugal.
Cabo da Roca, complete with windblown hair.
As far as latitude and longitude are concerned, this is the stunningly beautiful,
western most point of continental Europe. 
38°47′N 9°30′W
Sintra

A Portugal post would not be complete without Fernando Pessoa... Lisbon born poet, writer, translator, and critic. His poetic autobiography of sorts, published posthumously, The Book of Disquiet, is one of my all time favorites. 
Here we are staring into each other's eyes (well, at least I am)...


...here's the inside of his preferred café, Café A Brasileira...


...and here's one his poems:

The Herdsman
BY ALBERTO CAEIRO (FERNANDO PESSOA)
TRANSLATED BY EDOUARD RODITI
I'm herdsman of a flock. 
The sheep are my thoughts 
And my thoughts are all sensations. 
I think with my eyes and my ears 
And my hands and feet 
And nostrils and mouth. 

To think a flower is to see and smell it. 
To eat a fruit is to sense its savor. 

And that is why, when I feel sad, 
In a day of heat, because of so much joy 
And lay me down in the grass to rest 
And close my sun-warmed eyes, 
I feel my whole body relaxed in reality 
And know the whole truth and am happy. 


Soundtrack: Half the City - St. Paul & The Broken Bones


Soundtrack: How You Like Me Now - The Heavy




Gallows, pronouns, and a Coupe Dänemark part II

Prague is a weird place. I say that lovingly. But it really is. Especially in the Summer. It's packed and hot and at any given hour every tourist in the city is itching to see the same exact bridge/clock/church that you are. It has also surpassed Barcelona as the pickpocket capital. That said, it's also beautiful, (cheap), and a lot of fun. The summertime boom is of course a good thing for the city, and the frustration, well that's on me. I could have chosen literally any other time of year to visit.

In 2015 over 27 million people visited Prague (San Francisco had 24 million), and the numbers keep rising. Average spending per day by tourists is around 2,769 CZK, approximately $115, which is quite a bit of scratch being funneled into the city thanks to a bunch of wide eyed foreigners running around drinking beer and eating sausages. My time in the city was limited to about thirty-two hours total as it was really just a layover before heading out to Jaromer to have conversations with a group of eager, thoughtful English learners.

On my first morning I threw some laundry in the machine at the home of my lovely Airbnb (cheaper for two nights than any hostel in the area) host, Ondrej, and joined a free walking tour that Angloville provided to the program volunteers. Bridge, clock, church, witnessed a wedding toast, toes were stepped on a lot, ended with a beer and a three course meal on Angloville. After the tour two volunteers, a 30-something couple from Florida, our program coordinator and I went to an ice bar. As in, a bar made out of ice, in a room that is nothing but ice. You buy a ticket that entitles you to one drink, parka access, and about 30 minutes of freezing cold novelty. After that we wandered to Letná Park over one of the gorgeous bridges (not the Charles which was hardly accessible due to people) that crosses the Vltava river, drank some Czech beer, and ended the afternoon in a pool hall. 

top left Awkward Family Photo at the pool hall. On the far left are Hungarian friends of the couple
from Florida in the middle. Liam, our Angloville coordinator is next to me.  
bottom left Michael and Rebecca from FL eating sausage and drinking beer at a proper beer garden in Letná Park. 
right Ice throne at the ice bar.

View from Letná Park

The next day all the native English speakers (Angloville volunteers) met at Praha Hlavni Nadrazi, the main train station in Prague, and boarded a bus to the Nova Amerika Golf Resort, located about two hours outside the city. For six days we worked with about 20 Czech and Slovak participants to help them strengthen and develop their conversational English. The program consisted of multiple, daily one on one conversations, games designed around vocabulary expansion, and lots of beer centered socializing. It was sort of like English improvement summer camp. All the Czech/Slovak participants were encouraged to give a presentation at the end of week on a topic of their choosing, and were assigned a mentor to help them prepare. I worked with a screenwriter and a mechanical engineer for LEGO. Mentee jackpot. The screenwriter, Mirka Zlatníková, wrote a beautiful film about aging and family called Tiger Theory. Here's the trailer. 



left Charles Bridge tower.
top right View from the Charles Bridge.
middle right Incredible meal on my first night in Prague (that dish cost $8).
bottom right View of the Charles Bridge. 
left A sculpture by Matthius Braun, Czech sculptor and carver, outside a Baroque spa in Kuks.
top right A house on a corner.
bottom right The spa in Kuks. 

After the Czech Republic it was off to Zürich to hang with my friend Pietro and his wife Ceci (short for Cecilia, pronounced ché-chee). ps Fly Swiss airlines any chance you get and eat the damn pretzel.  

Pietro and I hadn't seen each other in at least three years, when he was doing his Economics PhD at the University of Chicago. Now he's a full fledged professor at the University of Zürich. We met in 2001 when he stayed with my family as an exchange student for a few months. He's Italian, and he and his wife are the absolute best. Day one we did a short hike, swam in the clean, beautiful river that runs straight through the center of the city and had a BBQ with some of their friends. Day two Pietro and I did an alps adjacent hike and walked a total of 14 miles. I was sore for two days, and it was of course, stunningly gorgeous (the hike not my soreness, that shit was pathetic). Day three I toiled around, Coupe Dänemarked, and floated down the lake with Pietro post work. Zürich is a fairytale. A quaint, bright, sweet, fucking-overpriced-despite-its-highly-progressive/not-free-social-policies fairytale. 

The completion of various hiking/floating feats. The top one is Uetliberg and behind us is a panoramic view of the city. 

Day two hike. Clearly lots of cows.
top The river on a Monday afternoon.
bottom left Coupe Dänemark... aka the most delicious sundae on planet Earth.
bottom right Street aRt

Could have stayed in Zürich another few days at least, the water and air are as crisp as the Swiss say they are, but my bank account said no, go to Portugal where desserts don't cost 14 Euro, GO.  



Soundtrack: Fresh Blood - Eels


Soundtrack: Lindsay Perry - Dancin' With the Devil



Gallows, pronouns, and a Coupe Dänemark part I

Never have I ever seen, or stood, in a more paradoxically beautiful city than Edinburgh. This park for example, this bright, green, charming little park, check it out...


...the castle in the background, a well kept walking path, people leisurely enjoying a picnic and/or a drink in the sun... yeah, that's a giant grave. Essentially. Those greens were designed and developed after the draining of the Nor Loch, a lake that was once used for dumping the bodies of suspected witches. Cool, huh?!? To take your mind off the image of bound, burned, women being thrown into a lake for no sensical reason, here's a photo of a castle at sunset:

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh is practically its own fable—haunted not only by a rich and yes, often violent, history—it's storied to the core. Makes sense that one of its more recent claims to fame is as the birthplace of one of the most imaginative and fantastical novel series of all time. J.K. Rowling is god around these parts, and the city's character is well embodied in her text.


Hogwarts
(Technically it's George Heriot's school, but the inspiration is pretty clear.)
(left) Harry Potter nerds don't need me to explain that one. Greyfriars Kirkyard is the name of the cemetery. William McGonagall is also buried there.
(right) Both of those shots are from the inside of The Elephant House where the first book was written. Word is Rowling would buy one coffee and sit there for hours and hours every day. Eventually the staff kicked her out, no joke, and she went to another Edinburgh café called Spoon. Elephant House is now practically a shrine to her. 


Child wizards aside, in Edinburgh the mythology truly abounds. The hostel I stayed in offered a complimentary walking tour, and the guide was diligent in his relaying of the city's lore. Burke and Hare for example, the murderous duo fueled by (money) advances in medical science that resulted in a growing need in Britain's medical schools for cadavers to study. Edinburgh Medical School in particular relied heavily on body snatchers—people known as "resurrectionists" who would hang around grave sites and dig up the bodies of the freshly buried in exchange for monetary compensation—Burke and Hare, being the innovative and creative young men that they were, took things a step further. In ten months they killed 16 people and received a total of approximately £127. In 1828 two lodgers staying in Tanner's Close, where Burke and Hare lived, went to the police on suspicion of fowl play, a body was found, and Burke was sentenced to death and later hanged in the public execution square known as the Lawnmarket. (Fun fact: The Grassmarket was Edinburgh's first public hanging site and the gallows once stood just feet from the front door of my hostel.) Hare was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony against Burke. Another fun fact: Tanner's Close, the lodging house where over half of the murders took place is now a strip club called... Burke and Hare. You can't make this stuff up.
(top left) Tour guide at the gravesite of Greyfriars Bobby. A Skye Terrier who, according to legend, spent 14 years guarding his owner's grave.
(bottom left) The Scotch Whisky Experience at Edinburgh Castle.
(right) Sign outside a bar on the Grassmarket.

(top) National Monument of Scotland aka "Scotland's Disgrace"
(bottom left) That's a Bobby West Terrier and the most photographed statue in Edinburgh, rub the nose for good luck.
(bottom right) Calton Hill
One night I wandered into a pub called Maggie Dicksons, "half-hangit Maggie," named after a woman who was sentenced to death on charges of concealing a pregnancy in 1724, survived her hanging, and lived for another 40 years. There I had a drink with a group of guys from Iceland in Edinburgh for a bachelor party, talked to a couple from Tel Aviv, and listened to a local musician named Nathan Fynn. As if the evening couldn't get any cooler, at one point Nathan went rogue (stopped taking requests), and played an absolutely beautiful cover of a rare, and one of my all time favorite, Bob Dylan songs. Here's a clip.

The next evening was the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour. A ten year old production that pits opposing interpretations (Bohemian or Academic) of Edinburgh's Literary history against one another as portrayed by two actors who lead you through the city pub by pub. It was equally fascinating and just fucking fun. A small group of us went out afterward. It was a few Americans, a Canadian, and a Scottish kid on holiday. The evening ended with a walk around the castle and a mildly intoxicated heart to heart that took place on the Covenanters Memorial which, as stated on welcometoscotland.com, "marks the spot where over 100 Covenanters were hanged for their religious beliefs between 1661 and 1668." It's inescapable, this paradox. At the very site where hundreds of people were once executed for crimes as broad and benign as, "making false declarations," or behaving, "indelicately," or, "indecently," I spent hours discussing relationships in the middle of the night with a man I'd known for one evening. According to 18th century decorum (and law) that makes me a regular harlot. 

Scotland has obviously come a long way. Today there are more Scottish LGBT MPs representin' in the House of Commons than there are from any other country, and despite its own (incredibly logical and specific) desire for independence, when it came time to weigh in on Brexit, all 32 districts voted to remain in the European Union. The capital city in particular is doing incredibly well. It's full of young people and families, its economy is the strongest of any in the UK (outside London), and unemployment rates have remained in the 3-4% range over the last half decade, at least an entire point below the Scottish average. Plus, it's home to the UK's largest art festival, which runs almost the entire month of August and brings all sorts of music, writing, comedy, visual art, and theater to the city. You can feel all of this when you're there. The place is happy, and booming, and it's hard not to get swept up. 

Edinburgh Coast
After three, too short, days I hopped back on a train to London where I stayed for one night, and then it was off to the Czech Republic to volunteer, as a native English speaker, in a week-long Angloville program. 

Soundtrack: Jack Savoretti - Nobody Cept You









Frexit

Well, it happened. An all too swift and varied series of mostly rhetorical possibilities led to a complicated decision that was purported by the notion that investing in emerging markets would lead to a brighter, more autonomous sense of wellbeing. Yes, you heard it here, I left Paris.

Gone are the days of sleeping on hot pink sheets in a trendy Neuilly-sur-Seine apartment, and I assure you, the adjustment has been fierce. After only a few days in Paris I was practically ready to bust out a Champagne and strawberries picnic in the middle of Luxembourg gardens, get down on one knee, and lay it all on the line in the hopes of reaching municipal matrimony. It's interesting because Paris is not exactly an easy city to live in. The bureaucracy is thick (slow as, I'd imagine, an escargot drifting through a vat of molasses), but right away it opens itself up to you, even facilitates a sense of longing. In its presence you want to see more, experience more, know more. Paris is like the friend you had a crush on in high school who was always running around with Laura, and after Laura, Jillian, and then Caroline, and who kept in touch in college and flirted effortlessly over the phone and who finally, finally, at your ten year reunion, after over a decade of playing it cool, told you to meet him outside before the cocktail reception and when you showed up with fucking curls in your hair, took your hand, led you into the bar, and introduced you to Elizabeth, his pregnant girlfriend—it's familiar, dapper as ever, unnecessarily complicated, and idon'tevencareabouttheothergirlsILOVEYOU.


Top: Sunset over the Seine at Quay of La Mégisserie
Middle Left: Eiffel Tower and West facing (in the direction of New York) Statue of Liberty replica on the Île aux Cygnes. This shot was taken from the deck of the Batbobus, a ferry that runs in a loop past all the major sights. Fun fact about the statue, it used to be East facing, toward the Eiffel Tower, but it was turned West for the world’s fair in 1937 which was hosted in Paris that year. 
Middle Right: Arc de Triomphe on the morning of 14 Juillet, Bastille Day
Bottom: Marcel Proust's grave at Cimetière du Père Lachaise

There is nothing magical about a burial site, but there is serenity in standing among the dead. Wandering around the 44 hectare (110 acre) Cimetière du Père Lachaise amounted to one of my favorite afternoons in Paris. Not only is the place beautiful, but as I strolled down the cobblestone paths I found myself feeling deeply connected to the storied and rooted biography of the city. Paris does not hide its scars or obscure its improprieties. In the wake of the extreme violence that has devastated the city—and now Nice—in the past year, facts and recounts are rarely euphemized. The details of these events are scrawled on public monuments (see: the photo in the last post of the monument in the Place de la République, the red script is a response to the attacks at the Bataclan and it reads, "vos guerres, nos morts," meaning your wars our victims), and discussed openly among friends and acquaintances over bottles of wine. The pain and hardships experienced by its citizens are no secret, and this unmasked acknowledgement is part of what keeps Paris so vibrant and alive. The fact that on a Monday afternoon a cimetière that boasts and guards the remains of not only war heroes but also artists, writers, composers, and scientists, was full of curious and welcomed spectators illuminates the sense of pride that is woven into the city's perception of its past (and present). 
Top Left: An ivy covered and somewhat hidden underpass near the Porte Maillot Metro stop.
Top Right: First meal of the day at Café de Flore and how I expect all breakfasts to look and taste from now on.
Bottom Left: Notre Dame actin' like a real showoff.
Bottom Right: One of my favorite places in all of the city, Stravinsky fountain at Centre Pompidou.
LAST NIGHT IN PARIS PART I
Top Left: That's one of my new favorite people, Jessica from Vancouver. We're at the Paname Brewing Company.
Bottom Left: Another one of my favorites, also Canadian, and a fellow wine nerd, Theran. 
Right: Fixing my hairs on the bank of the Bassin de la Villette.
LAST NIGHT IN PARIS PART DEUX
Top Left: La Villette
Bottom Left: Theran and another, obviously cool, new Canadian friend named Sean at a cocktail bar called the Little Red Door. 
Right: Natural rosé and Suze at Gravity

Lingering headache and perpetual sleepiness pushed aside, on Thursday afternoon I made my way to Gare du Nord to board a train and head across the pond. Everything was fine until, at the passport checkpoint, I couldn't produce my London friend's address (we had agreed to meet at a Tube stop), nor could I provide evidence of a flight back to the states (because I don't have one because I'm never coming back because we might elect an orange, racist president). After ninety minutes, two luggage inspections, and an "interview," I was deemed only mildly threatening and granted entrance into the UK until Friday, the 29th (the day I am planning to leave anyway). At first the ordeal was fairly stressful, but the comedy became quite blatant following the question, what is the status of your romantic entanglements? 

Two Aperol spritzes that evening at a bar with this view also helped. 


London is an interesting place. I'm honestly not quite sure what to make of it yet. It's beautiful, of course, full of stunning architecture and historical precedence. It's also incredibly Western. Seems like a silly thing to say, no duh, but despite its rich international population, at times over the past few days London has felt exactly like home. That being said, staring across the Thames from the Tower Bridge, and wandering the gardens around Buckingham Palace felt pretty damn cool. Also, on Saturday night a major Eurolifetime highlight transpired when Tamas and I met a friend of his at The Scotch of St. James. Today it's sort of a generic nightclub, albeit uniquely decorated, but don't be fooled. It's also the first venue Jimi Hendrix played when he arrived in London, and its alumni include: The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys, The Animals, Chuck Berry, Sammy Davis Jr., The Temptations, Percy Sledge... and many more etcs.
Top Left: Buckingham Palace with my Hungarian brother and host/tour guide extraordinnaire.
Bottom Left: Big Ben
Right: I have no idea what this is I just liked the color.
Top: Wembley Station
Bottom Left: Queen Anne at St. Paul's Cathedral
Bottom Right: Buckingham Palace grounds

Top Left: Birthday celebrations with one of Tamas' friend's from Hungary.
Top Right: Tower Bridge
Bottom Left: Somewhere in Westminster
Bottom Right: Pizza and Prosecco in the West End
Sometimes, lately, I wonder what in the hell I’m doing out here besides blowing through my paltry savings and silently judging other tourists. Then, I look out the window and realize that I’m writing this post from the inside of a train that is racing toward a city I’ve never seen (Edinburgh), in a country I’ve never set foot in, by myself, and I think that even though it may be selfish, and even though this itinerary is not original (or particularly practical) in the context of an even remotely curious person’s life... there must be edifying value in the practice of earnest, gracious exploration. 

So bring on the whiskey.

p.s. Behold, on the right, Tamas in his natural habitat trying on one of two suits he purchased yesterday, and on the left, one of the most attractive—seriously-is-that-a-live-person-or-the-mirage-of-an-ideal-man-?—human beings I have ever seen in real life with my own eyes (sorry, dad). 


Soundtrack: Stand Up — The Revivalists


Au-dessus des nuages

Edward Abbey wrote that, "wilderness [see: desert, ocean, forest, etc.] is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit." As far as reasoning goes...


That would be Gran Canaria. The second most populous of the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago, located off the northwestern coast of Africa. Last weekend I had the isthisforreal? fortune of spending a few days there visiting a friend. To say that the place is beautiful, or serene, or extraordinary is to vastly understate. It's difficult to precisely describe the sort of calm that standing on the edge of those cliffs demands. No room for apprehension or uncertainty, all that exists there is purely elemental. Also, look at how clean and blue that water is! 


As for Paris... People seem to have recovered from the big Eurocup loss. Futbol is far more than a game around these parts. The soundtrack of the city on Sunday evening was the French national anthem, in unison. Being out that night felt a bit like how I imagine being on the Las Vegas strip during the Superbowl would feel. 

Not the best sound quality or shooting here (was trying to exude at least a modicum of respect for the beloved pastime), but this video pretty much sums up the night:



It's raining here today as it likely will all week, which only makes the architecture appear more striking and the covered cafés seem more romantic. The past few days have involved a fair amount of "getting lost." Wandering around without a clear destination and stumbling upon whatever is around. It's always stunning. I think people love this city because they have no other choice. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel small, and lucky.

Top left: Dinner last night on Rue Oberkampf before open mic night at Au Chat Noir.
Top Right: Place de la République
Bottom: Palais Garnier
Top Left: A bookshop in the Galerie Vivienne
Right: Galerie Vivienne
Bottom Left: Skate ramp in the Place de la République




Soundtrack: Sugar — Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds





Canadians, écrivains, and sudden downpours.

On one of my first jet lagged evenings in Paris I wandered into a bar near "my" apartment called the James Joyce Pub. The reference did elicit a kind of pull, but also it was close, and open, and yes, it was appealing to suspect that my foggy, exhausted brain might only need to be able to string together a few English words to get a drink. It was lazy, but it also turned out to be a wonderful decision. The bartender and I, he's a Canadian living in Paris to study wine, quickly bonded over thinly veiled sarcasm and an obvious, instant affection for the city. 

Per my new friend's recommendation, the next night I attended an open mic at the Highlander, the caliber of which far exceeded any snickering assumptions of what an open mic night might entail. The bar was packed and the music was great, and there I ran into one of my new Canadian friend's friends. She is also Canadian, here to teach English and vivez la vie en français. This is how things seem to go here. You wander, you drink, you eat, you meet. Friendliness is certainly built into the expat expectation, but among the French too, there is an open kindness that pervades in even the simplest interactions.

Since the highlander, the two Canadians and I have danced in front of Notre-Dame in the middle of the night, shared one of the best meals I've ever had, tapas style at a place called Freddy's, split a bottle of wine in the rain, and traipsed around the city with unfettered, (we-might-be-too-old-for-this-but-we-don't-care) guileless abandon. C'est paris, I swear it, c'est paris. 

On my own I have consumed a super human number of cappuccinos while reading in cafés, climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, been caught in the pouring rain on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur, lost my way, spent all night with interesting strangers who drank Champagne and stopped at monuments to sing the French national anthem—that night ended with a 6AM invitation to the Louvre by a man with a seemingly indispensable supply of cash and a friend, he claimed, who could pull us some strings (spoiler by Google: turns out he was an art dealer with a forgery habit)—and of course, ingested some form of bread and cheese with I am almost certain, every meal. 

Last night I attended a workshop in the room where Burroughs finished Naked Lunch. Well, allegedly that was the place (really it could have been anywhere sturdy enough for him to remain upright). The workshop is a weekly meeting hosted by the spoken word paris folks and I must say that to be sitting upstairs in the library at Shakespeare and Company, listening to a group of 15 or so lit nerds talk writing felt like an ideal, somewhat surreal, conflation of details. 

That sort of sentiment occurs here quite frequently. I'll be wandering around a series of narrow rues and suddenly up pops an ancient statue, or the Eiffel Tower, or a little park surrounded by trees and flowers and a view of the Seine. The true beauty of Paris, rooted in that famous historical mystique, seems to be waiting around every corner. The goal for now is to keep turning as many of them as possible. 

Now for some photos...

A manhattan from Harry's New York Bar.

Sacré-Coeur Basilica in the rain.

One of many cappuccinos (this one by far the best) from Loustic.

These are sold everywhere (sans logo optional)—in gift shops, dispensers in the metro—just all over.  Further proof that  Europe > U.S.

Soundtrack:

Foux du Fafa — Flight of the Conchords