This One’s for the Girls

4 02 2016

After years of “retirement,” I’m returning to this blog to document a brand new “wander”: six weeks traveling through Hong Kong, Macau, Myanmar, and Cambodia. It occurred to me last week, while making the final preparations for this journey, that this adventure, perhaps more than any I’ve undertaken thus far, is steeped in “girl power.”

This whole thing started because of a dear friend from New York, one of the fiercest, most fearless ladies I know. Gina D’Ambrosio owned the studio where I established my salsa obsession: Her energy and commitment (and gorgeous dancing) created a wonderful community of New York dancers, of which I was so grateful to be a part. Now, it’s her courage (in picking up and moving across the world) that has allowed me to come to Hong Kong for a visit. I admire her greatly, I’ve missed her a lot, and I am excited for some good long conversations and many new adventures with her.

I should note, though, that my resolve to visit is also a result of some serious feminine intuition. When Gina initially invited me for a visit, I had recently returned to California, and was getting ready to begin my apartment search. While the adventurous side of me recognized the opportunity in taking off (while not having the burden of rent), the practical part of me (that was not feeling awesome about being a grown woman back with my parents) was hesitant. Then, my sister Denise (who had no idea that I was grappling with  this decision) insisted on giving me a birthday gift a month before my birthday, because she was too excited to wait. My only explanation was that this was some kind of feminine intuition, because that gift—a wall hanging with the quote “Not All Who Wander Are Lost”—was just the reminder I needed that I must live b my favorite word, and that embarking on an adventure did not make me “flaky.” It just made me who I am.

With the decision made, I could turn to a project: Seeking out my deceased grandmother, who grew up in Hong Kong. Gaga was the stuff of legend around our house when I was growing up. This is a woman who grew up in Hong Kong, spoke seven languages, threw extravagant parties, married my sea captain grandfather in Japan, and (when he returned to his ship) set sail all alone to set up house in the distant world of San Francisco. As a child, I was always envious that my siblings knew here and I did not, but as an adult I realized that she’s in me too. I am the grandchild who seems to have inherited her sense of adventure, and she has certainly “accompanied” me on some of my other travels. But this trip is about returning to her roots. I’ve been researching our fascinating ancestry, and though I don’t know a lot of specifics I’m going armed with a few details and hoping to suss out a bit more of this larger-than-life woman, in her own place of origin.

But this trip is also turning out to me about girl power on a bigger level. One of the things I”m most excited about is Phnom Penh, where I will  have the privilege of working with the bright young women who form the next class of SHE-CANS (Supporting Her Education Changes a Nation). This incredible sponsors bright young woman in developing nations, helping them to attain admission and scholarships to U.S. universities, so that they may gain education, internships, and other experiences that will allow them to return and make a difference in their nations. All the way, each scholar has the support of her own team of mentors, made up of brilliant and caring professional women, who guide through the application process and act as safety net and support system for young women very far from home.

I get to meet the newest scholars, to tell them about the college common application, and to lead some writing exercises that will get them thinking about their college essays, and when I met last week with Barb, SHE-CAN’s fearless leader, I was overcome by this incredible sense of the female capability. Women are creators and nurturers and connectors. We’re also fearless and tenacious, sassy and empathetic, and most importantly able to come together to support, whether it’s through a close female friendship or a mentorship across the world.

And so, I dedicate this trip to all the mothers and sisters, girlfriends and grandmas, teachers and role models—to all the girls!

 





Best Gifts for (Green) Travelers

6 12 2010

It’s that time of year again, and since I’ve developed a reputation as being sort of an expert in the realm of gift guides (yes, apparently that is a realm), I’ve applied my expertise yet again to a few guides. First up: The Soup to Nuts Eco-Getaway a la offManhattan.com. Check out everything your favorite traveler needs to make his or her trip a little greener (and more fun/fashionable/delicious). I’m personally loving the Ahava gift set, mostly for the cute retro bag.





Big Green San Antonio – Things to Do There

19 11 2010

A couple weeks ago I visited San Antonio to attend a friend’s wedding. It was the first time I’d been in Texas for any normal length of time, save for driving through (speedily) on that college road trip.

San Antonio, though, is stunning. A bit like a dreamworld, actually. It’s full of history and delicious food and southern hospitality. And, it’s incredibly, surprisingly green. Read more about things to do in San Antonio here.





I Heart I Rub New York

14 11 2010

Thursday evening I attended a screening of the film my dear and lovely friend Lauren DeFilippo directed. I Rub New York is a documentary about the eponymous public art project spearheaded by urban artist Carol Caputo. The art is just what it sounds like: Carol goes out into the city and passes out paper and crayons, encouraging passersby to literally rub New York City.

Rub what?? Well, step out onto a New York street or into a New York park. A quick look around will prove that this city has myriad “rubbable” surfaces. Anything with texture goes. That means pavement, brick walls, signs, railings, and all those beautiful buildings with their incredible cornices and columns and adornments.

Why rub?? The answer to this, it seems, is manifold. First, some pretty incredible artwork comes out of New York’s surfaces. Then there’s the fact that crayons are a very happy thing (when was the last time you were angry while coloring? Think about it). More to the point, it’s something everyone can do. Artistic or not, anyone can take a crayon and rub a textured surface. This is what makes the project so liberating: There’s a certain thrill that comes from making something beautiful from those crazy cellar covers (yes, I’m using the technical term) that make so much noise when one walks on them on the street. The simple task of taking pad to paper and literally taking to the streets is liberating, and at the same time it brings people together in a communal project, a communal love of this city.

In short, this project really encapsulates much of what makes New York great. Here we are, millions of people on this crowded, yet lovely, island, living together and working together, playing together and, now, making art together. United in our love for this city. I Rub NY helps to solidify that bond, both with New Yorkers and with New York itself. Caputo notes that there is so much about New York that we miss. We hurry along the streets, all too often ignoring the sights and sounds and smells — and feels — that make this city, and its individual neighborhoods, so unique. This project, brings us back to the nitty gritty (often literally) of New York, allowing us to touch the streets on which we walk daily. It makes art out of the daily objects we’d ordinarily pass right on by, and asks us to notice things we’d otherwise ignore.

What really got me, though, was when after the film Ms. Caputo talked about the layers upon layers of New York that exist, different in each neighborhood based on that ‘hood’s history. I have an obsession with that idea of layering here, of the urban palimpsest. Whether it’s layers of wallpaper in an old, much inhabited apartment of those faded advertisements and signs one sees on the facades of buildings, evidence of this city’s long and storied history are ubiquitous. And what I love about this project is that it invites “ordinary” people to leave one more layer (made from the other layers) upon this incredible, multi-faceted city.

Follow Ms. Caputo’s blog here.

Oh, and here is my rubbing from the School of Visual Arts, lots if brick and railings and even some of the grating. I warn you: Do one rubbing and you’ll find you want to rub all surfaces in the city — in a strictly artistic way, of course.





Book (Series) Crush: Vintage Travel Writing

11 11 2010

Here’s the unfortunate history of travel writing (and, incidentally, of travel itself): It came about thanks to imperialism. While we owe much to the great explorers and their great explorations, original travel writing came about, for the most part, because of that rotten “E” word: Empire. Some texts, like the fictional Gulliver’s Travels protested imperialism. Countless others, however, chronicled real life (and fictional) adventures in foreign lands as a means of supporting, of getting people excited about, the expansion of Western culture (consider anything written by Rudyard Kipling).

But enough of my soapbox. The fact is that we as a people have a curiosity of the unknown, the exotic. While these days it seems we have to go off to space to find the unexplored, there is still the desire to travel, actually or via a good book. And with that, I flash back to a series of early travel guides, from none other than that classic publisher Penguin Books.

The first of the “Travel and Adventure” series of Penguin Books, with their signature cerise (cherry red) covers was The Dark Invader, recollections of a German intelligence officer in the first world war. From this first in 1936 to the last in 1959, Penguin cerise put out 96 travel and adventure titles, some by writers who are now literary legends, like Vita Sackville-West and D.H. Lawrence, others who have faded into obscurity.

The point is, these books are fascinating. Yes, most were written during the time of Empire, and many promoted Empire, but they are like any other literature from that period, now a little bit of history. There are adventures to the Arctic, journeys on the Oregon Trail, and war stories from the Spanish Civil War. Best of all, there are eight adventurous ladies in the mix, one of whom, Rosita Forbes, penned three cerise titles.

Sometimes, travel is as captivating to read as it is to do, and these titles certainly underline that fact. See a full archive of the books on this handy guide, and check out this great history of them.





The Insane Thing I Did (for Sanity)

2 11 2010

Some 200,000 folks descended on the National Mall this past Saturday, and I was among them. Yes, I departed my house at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, and then stood (for what seemed like hours) in the freezing cold in front of Citi Field, waiting with throngs of strangers for my turn to board one of the buses so graciously provided by Arianna Huffington and her eponymous Post. I was certainly not alone. Reports that the Huffington Post had corralled some 200 buses to take New Yorkers to D.C. and back (in one day!) did not exaggerate. In fact, I’m guessing it was more than that, since it seemed like there were nearly 10,000 people standing outside the field that morning. Crazy, huh? Or just crazy enough?

Now here’s the thing: I hate crowds. I avoid Times Square like the plague, and grumble the whole time I’m forced to walk through it. I once had a mini-panic attack on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. But this was different. Whether it was because it was 5:30 in the morning, or because it was so freezing, or, more likely, because these were “sane” people on the way to a Rally to Restore Sanity, this crowd was polite, friendly, fun even. There was no pushing to get out of the cold and onto a bus. There was no pushing period. Pleasant conversations, funny signs, friendly people. It was rather uplifting, exciting to be part of something so huge. (Read this guy’s great account for more.)

The bus ride was uneventful. A little sleeping (or trying to sleep). A break at a rest stop in Delaware. A conversation with the girl next to me about how winter is terrible but how California (she was from LA) does not have these gorgeous leaves at which we were looking. And then some traffic. Turns out, though, that I was on the lucky end. We arrived in D.C. around noon, while many others on the buses made it even later, missing much of the rally.

Once there, I pushed my way into the subway (er, Metro), still feeling rather spirited despite the now somewhat pushier crowd. Making my way out of the Metro took a good 20 minutes, as the crowd twisted serpentine and wound its way to the massive escalators. (I tried to get a photo of the throngs moving up the escalators, which looked like something out of a sci-fi thriller, but it didn’t come out.)

The rally itself was more of the same. Crowds. A bit more pushing now. Some irrational yelling to turn the sound louder (irrational, because the yelling itself drowned out what little sound you could hear). I heard about half of what was happening onstage. I saw none of it. I did not manage to meet up with my friend from California who was somewhere in the crowd. I was bumped by backpacks and elbows and maybe a silly sign or two.

And though a couple times I wanted to shove annoying backpack man who refused to stand still, for the most part, I was happy, even in the madness. Stephen Colbert was funny. Jon Stewart was, though some say tame, also uplifting. Tony Bennett sang “America the Beautiful.”

Then I, (by this point, I’ll admit, somewhat worse for the wear from the crowds) made my way back to the Metro, back to more lines, and back to the bus. I spent the next four hours gazing out the window, listening to my Buena Vista Social Club, and wondering if I’d just wasted a day. But the leaves were rather incandescent, and when they finally opened onto a vast river, lighting up either side with burnt oranges and fiery reds, I had my answer.

Yes, it was somewhat crazy to rise at 5:30 a.m. and to spend eight hours on a bus for a measly three hours being pushed around in a crowd on the Washington Mall, unable to see and barely able to hear. Yes, it might have been “saner” at stay at home and watch the live stream. But the fact was that i was part of something huge. And that’s what Saturday was about. It was about doing something insane to support something saner, and it was about being a part of something amazing. So the crowds, while first exhilarating and then exasperating, were a crucial component to what was ultimately a strange, but incredible, day.





Petit St. Vincent in CBS Watch

19 10 2010

Recently spotted: The article I wrote quite a while ago has finally been published in CBS Watch!. It was fun to relive that ultra-luxe experience. Check it out.








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