4.12.14

Rhossili

Until recently, I hadn't been to Wales in about 15 years.

I can't believe I'm old enough to say that!

ANYWAY.
A view of Rhossili.
It seems disgraceful that, going to Bristol weekly and having lived in London for ages now, I hadn't gotten Wales-way since it is "just" a three hour drive to the border-- but there you have it. (I put just in quotations as this distance seems ridiculously far to a British person, but piddling to me.)

A few weeks ago, I went to visit a new friend in Swansea. The train ride was grueling, which slightly reinforced my reticence to go to Wales. In addition, unlike most of my travels, I decided to approach my trip as a minibreak rather than a culturally immersive experience, leaving the planning to chance...and my lovely host. But any doubts I had quickly dissipated because we ended up at one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever, ever seen, Rhossili. And, because of the confusing Welsh accent, narrow roads and my fascination with sheep, I would never have found it on it own, regardless of research and planning.


Rhossili clearly isn't like the sunny shores and warm waters of Koh Phi Phi, or the busy, colorful beaches of Brazil. Its something entirely different- achingly desolate, dreary, windy and, yet, breathtakingly gorgeous. Then again, I like the rain, so I guess that makes sense.

The company wasn't too bad, either.



Looking out at the sheep...and choppy water.



The weather that day was good and bad in equal measure. The clouds hovered pretty much all day, spitting pellets of cold rain that seemed to seep into every little exposed crevice- between gloves and jacket sleeve, hat and nape of neck, etc. But then every few minutes the clouds would part and a little sun would seep through, producing an effect my sisters and I used to call "God's light" over the water. You can see why I think that term fits perfectly with what we saw that day.





Sunset in Wales comes early, as it does in the rest of the UK. But what a sunset it was a soul food-ly stunning end to a soul food-ly stunning day.*

*Sadly, I cannot take credit for most of these photos. Sam is definitely the artist extraordinaire between the two of us; he clearly has a very keen eye for what makes a beautiful photo! Keep up with his amazing shots on Instagram.

26.11.14

From Both Sides of the Fence

There's a time and a place for sob stories from the past, but, if you're in to all of that, a Jerry Springer rerun is probably on your local channel right about now. What is appropriate, however, given the state of the field at home, is an acknowledgement- and frank assessment- of racial conflict, something that I don't much discuss but that I know a thing or two about. Since I currently live in a country riddled with casual racism, palpable xenophobia and one of the least egalitarian social systems I've come across (another blog for another time), I can't help but feel a deep sense of shame looking across the pond homeward at a place I constantly romanticize to be much more democratic and tolerant. The grass is always greener, but in the process of writing this blog, I realized just how much I tend to glamorize the States despite my past experiences as a person of mixed race.

 Mixed marriages weren't as popular in the 80s as they are now, so I look at my parents with a fair share of awe and respect for being trailblazers and raising a middle finger to society, or at least the perceived boundaries of it. My sisters and I were the product of their mixed race marriage, and look about like what you'd expect as a result. We all have dark hair and eyes, but features and skin light enough that we all of us have been asked where we go to get such real-looking tans. It wasn't until fairly recently that I realized that my upbringing spurred on the assumption that we just couldn't be black. We had to have just returned from a far-off, sunny place because, for the casual onlooker falling on assumptions and stereotypes, it was just incongruous to even consider that, perhaps, one or both of our parents weren't white.

 B, J and I were raised in the affluent suburbs of Washington, D.C. As my stepfather's business boomed, we moved on to bigger and better houses until we ended up in what in many places could be a small hotel, complete with pool and stables. (Don't worry, the Jerry Springer part is coming.) We went to great public schools, did every extracurricular you could think of and had literally everything we could want- materially speaking, that is. We always stood out, although the reason was never explicitly stated. Rather, it was in the seemingly small details that we started to notice the differences at a very young age. One of my clearest memories is being six or seven and asking my teacher what race to claim on standardized forms. Was I white or black? She was clearly uncomfortable and advised me to go home and ask my mom. As I got older, the differences were articulated slightly more clearly. Classmates would ask me why my mom looked nothing like me. (If you can get past the slight color variation, we actually could be twins, separated by a generation or two.) In middle school, the few Black classmates I had would ask me and my sister why we didn't "act Black," whatever it means to act a color. One of my close friends in high school once came over and was appalled that I wasn't raised to embrace my Black heritage. I remember her mother coming to pick her up and telling my mother she was disappointed that my family wasn't raising us girls to understand our African American background. And that's true, to a point. In our house, discussions of race were, perhaps especially for a mixed family, abstract at best. The fact that my birth and stepfather were African American was obvious, but not really anything we felt discussion-worthy, any more than the fact that my sister was a girl or I was dramatic. But that coddled suburban existence whitewashed all of us, even my father, and allowed us to be colorblind, or at least ignore the fact that color, in the United States, matters. A lot.

 In 2008, when the financial crisis hit, my step dad went bankrupt. The cushy suburban existence we knew was suddenly gone: my parents divorced, the family home was sold and my sisters, now in a smaller house in a less-than-whitewashed neighborhood, were forced to new schools. There were no more questions at PTA meetings or lacrosse games about where they'd gotten those beautiful tans. In these schools, not "acting Black" wasn't something you could just roll your eyes about, or ask the inquirer how one acts a color. In these schools, administrators sized you up in two seconds and could tell everything about you, just from your name, skin color and neighborhood. In these schools, where the minority was the majority, kids often didn't- and don't- stand a chance.

 I remember being pulled over by a cop outside of my old neighborhood when I was 17. I was going about 50 in a 25. But I drove a nice car. I had a license with a good address on it. I made a teary joke with the cop and was told to go on my merry way, albeit more slowly. This may have been luck, but I'm going to wager that it helped that I was part of a social group that had no reason to fear the police. Even at house parties broken up by a cop or two, we'd get our wrists slapped and perhaps an eye roll and a lecture about privileged suburban kids being kids before being ordered to keep it down. My sisters new networks exposed me to incidents I never realized could happen: cars being searched with drug dogs after a routine speeding stop like my own. Kids being beaten as a house party was breaking up. And yet we're surprised as a nation that Black youths mistrust authority figures, and we constantly ask why and how these violent incidents occur. The easy answer is that these kids are more aggressive, more "troubled," than their affluent peers, but that's a cop out (no pun intended). It seems to me that we all got up to the same stuff, and the only difference was our perceived socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, and the stereotypes and assumptions that come with them.

All of this is to explain how it is that I can see things from both sides of the fence. And from that perennially uncomfortable position I listen with a certain degree of incredulity when I hear people talk about how none of what's been going on lately has anything to do with race. Instead, its apparently racial hucksters and victimhood-mongers who simply want to do "untold harm" to our nation, and blacks more specifically, for shady, undefined reasons. I just can't agree. I may not have a perfect picture of "the system," but from what I've seen, it seems pretty inherently against African Americans (not to mention other minorities, but that's another topic for another time) from the start. The grand majority of the minority have been put out to pasture before they had a chance for anything else.

19.10.14

There and Back Again


At the end of August, I started to gear up for a very busy "autumn," as the British call it. (As long as there is pumpkin spice latte, I don't care what you call it.)

First, one of my oldest friends came for a visit and, as all Americans are wont to do, she requested a trip to Paris. As you know, my experiences with Paris have gotten increasingly better, although it has been a slow burn in terms of growing to love it. This trip solidified that, though. Paris, je t'aime!








I of course had to hit the best spots in the world, such as Les Refuges des Fondues, Champs Elysees, the Jardin de Tuileries and the Luxembourg Gardens.










Wanting to branch out a little bit, since I tend to be in the City of Light quite a bit, we explored lots of areas I am less familiar with, including Montparnasse, Abbesses and the 18th.
I would highly recommend Coutume on the Rue de Babylone for lunch, its a new (delicious) discovery.
My favorite tombstone from the Montparnasse Cemetery. 

A place I've been to a thousand times, and will go back to thousands more!


Finally, FINALLY got to try Berthillon ice cream- the salted caramel flavor is literally the BEST thing in the world, can you tell?!

The day we got back to London, I had to pack up (and eat a cronut) because I was on my way to #epicwed, the nuptials of two good friends (and all-around amazing people) in Colorado.

Once I got there, though, I figured, since I'm in the neighborhood, I might as well go to my favorite place on earth...who knows when I'll be around again! With views like these, can you blame me?

Shaking off jet lag, I jumped in the car and drove the seven hours to Santa Fe.

Our first day, we decided to run up to the San Antonio Hot Springs. I hadn't been up there in years; the last time I was in New Mexico there was a massive fire near the hot springs that made the sunsets heavenly but devastated a lot of the local area, including the area around the springs. We drove up and started our 5.5 mile run up the trail to the springs, but came across this:


I promptly decided we needed to turn around. I wanted a piggyback ride back to the car but being about two miles in, I didn't get one. Luckily, I escape unscathed anyway.







Liquor tasting seemed like a much safer idea, so we hit the Don Quijote Distillery and Winery in Los Alamos on the way back from the hot springs. I tried the merlot, sangria, vodka, bourbon and gin. I was surprised by how good everything was. The vodka, gin and bourbon were made from blue corn, a signature New Mexican product. I found everything a bit sweeter than their "regular" counterparts (which I like, being American and all). I left with the merlot, sangria and gin, so you can probably tell I kiiiiind of loved it.


Feeling a little worse for wear after our tasting, and determined to do something outdoorsy, we stopped by White Rock National Park, which overlooks what I personally think is the best view in the world.




On the way back to Santa Fe, we came across the second Don Quijote location in Pojoaque. We decided to do the tasting all over again. I tried the port and chardonnay but stuck with the liquors. We also had an amazing chat with our bartender. Everyone in New Mexico that I've ever met is ridiculously nice.

After all that drinking and hiking, we needed food pronto. Luckily, New Mexico is known for massive portions. We went to Maria's, a new place for us, where I had what I always have when I'm in NM: chile rellenos. I basically finished everything, including a few sopapillas, and I'm not ashamed to admit it!



Even though I was slightly buzzed and exhausted from a long day and digesting a massive amount of amazing food, the sunset was too amazing to turn down. We drove to our favorite lookout, where you get a truly amazing panoramic view of Santa Fe, the Sangre del Cristos and whatever is southwest of the city. Have you ever heard of God's light? Growing up, my sisters and I would always say that when streams of light were penetrating the clouds and shining down on the ground, it was God's light. There was a lot of that, that evening.


New Mexico is truly a special and magical place. I hope I have the opportunity to go back soon even though I never see myself returning to the Southwest to live again.

After a few days in the south, we hopped back in the car and drove like madmen up to Tabernash, where the wedding was taking place. Tabernash is about 20 minutes outside of Winter Park, a pretty popular Colorado ski resort. The fall colors (yes, switching to American-isms now!) were out in full force at altitude, adding to the decorations.





I was really busy running around with the rest of the wedding party all weekend, so I didn't get many snaps of the beautiful bride or the party. But I will say one thing: It. Was. Awesome.

The day after the wedding, I pulled my tired (and slightly worse-for-the-wear) little self out of bed and spent the next day and a half catching up with old friends around Denver. There just wasn't enough time to take advantage of everything the city has to offer, but I DID go to my favorite, Pinche Tacos. Just looking at the menu made me miss cheap midwestern city prices.

Sufficiently stuffed with an amazing last supper from my favorite restaurant in Denver, I climbed into bed that night happy as a clam. Sunsets, desert views, (almost) hot springs, autumn colors, good friends and the Louvre, all in just a few weeks. Plus, a few snaps of home from the sky.





Whirlwind, but worth it!

20.8.14

What's With America?

I was recently chatting to an English friend about an American acquaintance of mine who was visiting the UK for the first time. Among the items my acquaintance chose to pack: hand soap, shampoo, bandaids and other toiletries that could have been easily found at the nearest Boots (and cheaper than paying the over 50 lb. luggage surcharge).

"Well, I didn't know what to expect," she said defensively when I showed her the drugstore in my neighborhood. "I had no idea what I'd find in England."

While I thought her quaint and sheltered, my English friend loudly interrupted my story to inform me- several times over- that Americans are stupid. My blood pressure immediately shot up. I was trying to form a clever retort along the lines of a nation so stupid that without us she'd be sans iPhone, Hudson jeans, Google and Cheryl Sandberg (though to be fair, the assembly of these items, sans Cheryl Sandberg, is thanks to China) when I decided- stupidly- that pointing out her offensive and idiotic prejudice wasn't worth the argument. So instead of telling her that I've met plenty of stupid people here, at home and everywhere abroad, I diplomatically told her not everyone could afford to travel as often as she did, and then ranted about her in my loud American accent behind her back. In public. With emotion. Everyone listening, including my captive audience, seemed mildly uncomfortable. But that's the plight of being an American abroad; I need to act as an ambassador for my country and often, with all the best intentions, this fails miserably.

One thing I've noticed about England is that people keep themselves to themselves- unless, of course, you want to air your anti-American sentiments. I admire this trait and wish I could emulate it (the keeping oneself to oneself, not the anti-Americanism). I find that, in general, an American is much more wont to warm up to an individual or group quickly and dish all her dirt, whereas I've spent years cultivating my friendships with several English people only to have dinners that are still full of witty banter and little else, unless I'm the one to have an emotional meltdown (which is all the more likely when banter is involved). I often wonder when, between 1776 and the modern day, our two cultures diverged so vastly. I want to talk about my problems with my friends, my cat, my elderly neighbor, the grocery clerk and the homeless guy who hangs out in the parking lot across the street from my house. The preponderance of English people seem to prefer we discuss the weather, the weekend, the children and increased energy prices- all whilst wishing I'd play my personal stuff a little closer to the chest.

Sorry.

Do we Americans have less of an issue airing our laundry- clean and otherwise- for the world to see? I guess so, on a personal and national level, and I personally find this transparency refreshing, at least in some ways. I mean, when its all out in the open you mostly know where things stand (unless you run into a self-appointed ambassador such as myself- then trust nothing). But then again, the worst is always more newsworthy, whether that's something as silly as someone making a sweeping generalization about 365 million people, or something as horrific and unjust as the racially motivated murder of a teenager in a small southern town.

I'm not one to say I'm "proud" of being American. My opinion on nationalism is another story entirely. I will say, however, that there are some things about the States that I love. Love love love. The fact that optimism and exuberance aren't readily dismissed or downplayed. The diversity of languages, people, backgrounds and topography. Our ability to really say something when we talk, instead of falling back on senseless banter. Generally, our friendly and open attitude toward strangers of all background. And, of course, breakfast burritos.

Lately, though, what with the erosion of women's rights, the exponential increase in shootings, unresponsive and polemical political discourse and racially motivated police brutality, I have no justification for getting upset when people here ask me, "What's with America?!"* Well, except for the fact that this kind of stuff goes on everywhere. The events may have different names. Different mechanics may be used (knives instead of guns, for instance). And goodness knows we like to talk about it more. But hatred, ignorance, bigotry and basically all the best of the worst of humanity happens everywhere. There are stupid people everywhere. Americans just seem to like to put it out there for the world to see.

I for one have no problem airing my dirty laundry more or less publically. This is who I am: take or leave me for all the good, the bad, the ugly, etc. But then again, I wonder what would happen if I was more staid and stiff upper-lipped, if I could handle everything with class and composure rather than spilling my guts in my nasally valley girl voice amidst the hushed exchanges of quip and quibble at my local. Would it make things any better, or any worse? Would I get more done with a calm and composed discourse rather than an emotionally charged one-way rant? Would I feel better than I do bitching loudly about wanting to sue the protagonist responsible for my most recent life disaster? One thing I do know: I'd get quite a few less dirty looks and inquiries, "What's with that girl?!"

*Except the fact that America also includes Canada and Mexico, but that too is a geography lesson for another time. Remind me later, because conflating the two is a huge pet peeve of mine!

15.8.14

Listography

I have a confession to make.

 I love making lists. Like LOVE.

Being "slightly" neurotic (I know, I know, some of you may take issue with the adjective I used) lists give me a sense of control and calm that keeps impending panic attacks at bay.

 I've touted the power of list-making before elsewhere, and it actually works when it comes to organizing my life, getting me places on time(ish) and meeting deadlines. I.e., all the boring stuff. But what about fun lists? Yes, lists can be fun. And so I make those, too. They're actually kind of therapeutic, and helpful to organize thoughts and even think through preferences. So as a Friday exercise in clearing my head for the weekend, I've put together a few lists of my favorite things- try to sing them to the tune, it kind of works!

My Top 5 Fav Songs

While my tastes vary based on my mood and how long my commute is, these five will forever reign supreme.


Top 5 Fav Books

I'm starting a book club with the lovely LS, so I'll probably make her read these again to so we can have lively debates. I DO reserve my right to change my mind on this list as I read more and more.

Disgrace by JM Coetzee
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Top 5 Fav Places

New Mexico, USA
Jökulsárlón, Iceland
Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Montreal, Canada
London, UK

Top 5 Fav Places to Shop

Nordstrom
H&M (particularly the one in St Pauls, it is never busy)
Sephora
Bon Marche (for the macaroons!)
Whole Foods (where it gets real in the parking lot)

Top 5 Pet Peeves

the words "moist" and "meal"
bragging
being self deprecating
talking too much/loudly
people who don't write back to emails

Top 5 Fav People
...wouldn't you like to know?