Travel Karma

30 01 2010

Dear Travel Karma, Whatever did I do to make you angry? I was on such a good run for a while there, with amazing trips to Portland and New Hope and more, but my last three trips have proved rather taxing. Aruba went smoothly as far as flights go, but the actual trip was spent being stressed and lost and telling myself at least it was warm. Then there was my holiday trip home to California, when I managed to bypass the blizzard and get out of New York but weather in San Francisco (yes, California) stranded me in the Las Vegas airport for a day.

Now here I am on my much anticipated trip to Nashville, but I haven’t made it very far. Last night I sat strapped in and hanging in a puddle jumper plane to Philadelphia (while two like teenage girls like prattled behind me about how, like, they were going to party over the weekend and about, like, the airports in the south – a.k.a. Wisconsin, no joke – having, like, barbecue joints in them), only to discover that a snow storm in Nashville had me grounded for the night.

A lesser traveler might have cut her losses then and there and hightailed it back to New York where we aren’t (ahem, most people aren’t) afraid of a little snow, but not me. In true “mishaps are adventures style I accepted a 6:45 flight connecting in Charlotte and booked the “distressed” rate at a nearby hotel. If only that hotel had been in Philly and not Springfield, where the best attraction seemed to be the Target down the road (to which, incidentally, I never made it – too cold). I ate pretzels for dinner, but was warm inside and hopeful that my luck would turn.

This morning I awoke at 4:30, played some some music while getting ready, and remained hopeful while the man from Kentucky on the airport shuttle waxed on about how we were likely to get stuck in Charlotte since the storm had moved there.

It didn’t look much better at the gate, where a a passing pilot gave me a grim look and a warning while I was assessing my chance with the attendant at the gate. The concensus seemed to be that Charlotte was no good today, and yet no one would tell me not to go. Finally the kindly attendant suggested a direct flight to Nashville at noon, a flight that yesterday had been oversold. But my miracle worker got me on it, and I a dose of friendly folks.

And so here I am, at 7 am in the Philadelphia airport, with five more hours to go. Libby is already in Nashville and leaves very early tomorrow, so by the time I arrive later this afternoon we will have a total of six or so hours to explore music city together.

But, Travel Karma, lest my complaints about my last two trips have dealt me this latest mishap, please do not misconstrue this account as whining. Rather, I find it hilarious now, and hey, there are bright spots:

– I will, eventually, make it to Nashville.
– I am penning this diatribe, currently, from my iPhone – the wonders of technology (and kudos to my adept thumbs).
– I’m sitting in a rocking chair – at the airport.

Farewell Jerome David Salinger

28 01 2010

Yesterday nine people contacted me to alert me that my J.D. Salinger has passed away. I suppose that’s evidence of my abounding obsession for the notoriously reclusive and unbelievably brilliant author. He’s best known for the cult classic Catcher in the Rye, a great teen angst novel that captures his chatty style, but by far not his greatest work (in my humble opinion).

He was, however (and unfortunately for his readers) reticent, leery of the press and stopped publishing well before he should have (in my humble opinion). In any case this enigmatic, magnificently intelligent man created a world which I loved, a family of geniuses who have entertained me and taught me and kept me company, since I discovered them in high school.

And so, on this day, I thank Salinger for introducing me to the Glass family, and to the Fat Lady, and to levels and schools of thought that have entertained and sustained me over the years. His are the words one wants to read over and over. He’s mapped New York and he’s inspired obsession in many more than myself.

There is a part of me that’s hopeful that now more of his elusive works will be available. that in his death I may experience more of his genius. But, in respect for his character, only a small part. The rest of me just considers Buddy Glass’s words at the close of his ode to his brother, Seymour, an Introduction: “Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of holy ground to the next. Is he never wrong?”

Farewell, Mr. Salinger. Best of luck on your new piece of holy ground. And thanks.

Around the World With Flat Olivia (the Second)

27 01 2010

It was nearly three years ago that Flat Olivia returned to Real Olivia, and to be honest I hadn’t given her much thought since. Until, that is, I found a manila envelope, decorated in peace signs, in my mailbox a few months back. Inside was a paper doll, not so extravagant at the first, but wearing a pink dress (with peace signs) and sporting incredibly long eyelashes.

She came with a note: “Dear TT, I am doing Flat Olivia again for myself. Please take her around NY. I’m just doing this because it’s a do nothing day. Love, Olivia”

Lucky for me, this time there were no requests for the American Girl Store or other hard to reach New York landmarks. Instead, the paper doll embarked with me on the randomness that is every day life. Together Flat Olivia and I watched the New York Marathon and joined friends for dinner and drinks.

She accompanied me on my trip to Aruba, and kept me company as I made my way form hard to find hotel to hard to find hotel (if only her navigational skills were better…), and she came along with me to a celebration at El Museo del Barrio, where we got to watch a live salsa band, and Flat Olivia even managed to shake her groove thing a little.

And then she returned to California with me at Christmas, where she joined Real Olivia’s cousin Gio and I on our excursion to visit the elephant seals, a very special occurrence since, Gio being my godson, our dates are generally limited to just the two of us; but we agreed that she could join since she is quiet and doesn’t take up a lot of room.

Earlier this month, Flat Olivia rode first class, compliments of the U.S. Postal Service, home to Real Olivia (who, I’m told, had been dragging her father out each night to check the mail for some weeks prior). Along with her she carried several photos of our adventures, plus a box of paper dolls, some stationery, and a new friend: Flat Titi. I’ve been missing my sometime paper companion, but yesterday was treated to a nice surprise. In my mailbox was a letter: “Dear Real TT, I’m having a really fun time with Olivia. I hope your [sic] having a good time. I am. I love you so very much. Love, Flat TT”

I was delighted to hear that the flat version of me is enjoying herself, though I do wonder what she is doing in Colorado. I imagine she’s gone skiing (something at which the real Titi isn’t all that adept) and I do hope they are reading lots of good books and maybe having a tea party or two. I suppose with that I should go write to my mini-me.

The Adventures of Flat Olivia

26 01 2010

There is a children’s book called Flat Stanley, which, though more than 40 years old, has become something of a phenomena of late. In recent years, Flat Stanley, the little boy who was flattened by a dresser, has traveled the world as the star of many books, and as such, he’s become a teaching tool to help elementary age children learn geography.

My brother Gregg’s youngest daughter, Olivia, is one of the world’s most charming children. At eight years old, she’s inquisitive, sweet and has a spirit so endearing it’s impossible not to adore her. And, for some inexplicable yet very happy reason, I happen to be her favorite person. When the family is together, Olivia can generally be found by my side, and she relishes in referring to herself as my appendage (yes, she understands what that word means).

Me and My Shadow

When we’re together, Olivia is fond of tea parties and hours of reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and when we have to part there are always tears and promises of letter writing. Wherever I go (with or without the stilettos) Olivia receives a postcard, and when, Olivia’s first grade class created “Flat Me’s” to send to relatives, Flat Olivia arrived in my mailbox. She was dressed in pink, with the hair of a real doll and stickers for earrings.

Per Real Olivia’s request, I was to take Flat Olivia to “the Statue of Liberty and the American Girl Store.” Anyone who’s passed American Girl Place knows it’s relatively hellish, especially if you don’t have someone under the age of 12 along with you, but not wanting to lose my status as favorite person, I went, and Flat Olivia received much fanfare, and even some real clips for her real hair at the Doll Hair Salon (yes, Virgina, there is a hair salon for dolls.

The Flat Olivia returned to Real Olivia, with a pile of postcards portraying Flat Olivia’s adventures in New York (plus a couple of American Girl hats for Real Olivia and her mini-me doll). And now little Olivia (the real one) has a better idea of New York, the big, strange place where her Titi (that’s me) lives.

I’m a little fascinated by this whole Flat Stanley thing. It’s become a major to-do and a pretty amazing one at that. It’s linked students and teachers around he country in a new exciting way. Check out the Flat Stanley Project.

Origins – and Aunty Mame

25 01 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about my origins lately, specifically about Gaga, my maternal grandmother. She passed away the year before I was born so I never knew her personally, and yet I know so much about her that she sometimes seems a real memory. I know, for example, that she threw amazing parties, parties during which she threw glasses into the fireplace, parties that lasted for days. She loved music, always had a purse full of lemon drops and her favorite Christmas song was “Oh Holy Night.”

My siblings−and pretty much everyone else who knew her—speak of Gaga with what can only be described as reverence, and I suppose I tell her stories in much the same manner, perhaps even more so since I have created this vision in my mind of what I imagine her to be.

Nearly a year ago now, back on the island of PSV, I got into a random, very deep conversation (with a total stranger) that somehow made its way around to Gaga. Suddenly there I was telling story after story about this woman I never really knew, stories that may as well amount to folklore given the way I seem to have romanticized him. But my new friend was fascinated, and insisted that I go home and rent the movie Auntie Mame, since Gaga and her parties and their craziness sounded so much like this lovely creature in that movie.

Well, it’s many, many months later, but I’ve finally seen this treasure of a movie, a late 1950s classic starring Rosalind Russel as the eccentric, entertaining aunt who breathes life and amusement into the life of her sheltered nephew when he’s entrusted into her care after being orphaned. Mame is a spirited woman to say the least, a flamboyant flapper type in the 1920s who makes her way through the hardships of the Depression with strength and grace, and who is strong-willed and spirited to say the least.

I don’t know that Gaga was really much like her, but I like to think she was, a fun lady who’s just a little bit crazy in the best of ways, a woman who knows how to live and who is fearless and unflappable. That’s how I envision Gaga, and perhaps why I idolize her so much. It’s certainly, at any rate, the way I’d like to be.

Salsa for Haiti

21 01 2010

As though the rush of the dance and the addicting beat of the music weren’t enough, another reason I love salsa so much: the community. I already had amazing friends in New York, but through salsa I’ve become part of a whole other community, a family really. There’s a sort of indescribable bond that comes along with this passion for Latin dance, something only others who are as passionate can truly understand.

It’s also, equally amazingly, a community of doers. Which is why I’m so happy to be attending the Haiti Relief Effort fundraiser at International Food House this Saturday. The band Orquesta Dee Jay will be on hand with live music, and the $10 entrance fee plus half of all food sales will go to the Red Cross Haiti Relief. Can’t beat fun for a good cause.

Saturday, January 23

6-10 pm

International Food House

240 W 35th St (btw 7th and 8th Ave)

$10 admission (also gets your free admission to Sangria Saturdays at Iguanas)

Sparkly Silver Salsa Shoes

20 01 2010

The gold stilettos are pouting. There is a new addition to the shoe rack, and they are getting a lot of attention these days—a lot more than the stilettos are (especially in light of the frigid weather of late). For some months now I have been meaning to properly introduce these snazzy new (and highly alliterative) shoes, so here they are…

I’ve been enamored of salsa for a long time, officially since I first took lessons in Spain during my summer abroad in Granada. Since then, I’ve tried to no avail to convert countless friends, until finally I met Liz in Buenos Aires. As regular readers know, we bonded instantly over our mutual love of travel (specifically Latin culture) and sweets (specifically alfajores), but even more fun—and perhaps a little surprising—was the discovery that we both loved salsa. This led to the infamous night early in my Argentina trip where I (and my poor feet) learned painful lesson that dancing shoes should not be purchased in a hurry (cue silly Arthur Murray song, which really has no relevance, but I like it).

On Liz’s visit to New York, we of course went dancing, but it was a major struggle to find a place. I searched Salsa New York until my head hurt, but it was simply too overwhelming to figure out where to go. We ended up at a club called Latin Quarter, but only managed to get a few dances in. She left, and I continued to say I was going to find places to dance (shouldn’t be hard in the city that is said to have coined the name, right?), and continued to fail in my pursuit.

Finally, this past September, I gave up on trying to cajole friends into coming with, and started taking classes at Salsa International. Fascination quickly turned into obsessed, and soon I was shopping for my very own salsa shoes, which have now been in the family for a couple months and are already very well loved. Their suede bottoms slide easily on the dance floor (though require that I periodically brush the soles to maintain the suede) and they’ve been getting so much use they’ve started to feel a bit like a second skin. I’ve also made a whole new set of friends as equally obsessed with salsa as I, so I’m no longer strapped for people to go dancing with.

The lesson learned here is twofold: 1) don’t wait around for friends to develop the same interests; if you want to do something, go out and do it; and 2) the shoes make all the difference. (Just don’t tell the stilettos that.)

Help for Haiti

16 01 2010

Like everyone else, I have been following the travesty of Haiti’s earthquake, more sick to my stomach with each new detail about the devastation and more near tears with each new image of hungry, thirsty, exhausted people. I want to go there and help myself, but since I can’t currently, some thoughts on how those of us left at home can help:

Paella Bliss in New York

13 01 2010

I’m not the best person for eating paella. While I do like the dish (a lot) it is generally a seafood-laden dish, so my dislike of seafood is a bit of a hindrance.Thus, it’s a yummy dish, and when in Spain… But it’s never really been something I sought out. Until Socarrat.

This past weekend, my good friend Becky visited from Baltimore. Since we hadn’t seen each other in over a year, and on account of the frigid temperature outside, New York exploring came second to lots of chatting and enjoying each other’s company (and trying to stay warm). But Saturday evening, we decided to try a new restaurant, and given the chill outside, a cozy Spanish restaurant with a sizzling pan of gooey rice seemed just the thing.

We were not disappointed. The restaurant is  two rooms, both long and narrow. The first is more of a bar-ish area, though there is no actual bar: high tables where folks can enjoy wine or a perfect sangria while waiting to sit in the main room, that is one long communal table. The menu has a number of tapas options, but the main event is certainly the paella, which is served family style in its huge cast iron pan.

There are eight different options including a paella de carne, which includes every type of meat one could want and no seafood. Amazing seems too small a word. It was rich and full of flavor and decadent. The  name Socarrat means, literally, the “crust that forms on the bottom of the paella pan when the liquid is rendered and the rice reaches its peak of succulence.” And that socarrat was, in our pan, crispy to perfection, a dining experience close to nirvana, and I’m not exaggerating. Certainly going on my list of favorite restaurants, and my list to take guests, for that matter.

Reasons I Love New York

11 01 2010

New York Magazine has its reasons to love this city, and as I mentioned last week, I love New York for all those reasons too. But I also thought, as I sit here, pining for California, where my sisters will be visiting my parents this weekend and wining in Napa, I should reflect on my own personal reasons for loving New York. And so, I resurrect “the list”:

  1. Art Deco is lustrous, and everywhere.
  2. No one does St. Patrick’s Day better (except maybe in Ireland).
  3. There is a reward for surviving awful winters: incredible springs.
  4. Even after three years, I get a chill every time I see the Statue of Liberty.
  5. We can enjoy picturesque landscapes and dance in the streets, all in the same day.
  6. Fashion Week.
  7. We know how to celebrate.
  8. People stop on the street to offer directions, or slow down in the subway to help carry a stroller up the stairs.
  9. We’re living in, and on, history. And also unearthing it.
  10. It causes mothers to pick up friends in coffee shops.

New York is a gritty, fast-paced, difficult place. You have to have a lot of determination and a little bit of humor to make it in New York. But that’s what makes surviving it all so satisfying. Additionally, a good portion of New Yorkers are transplants, folks who flocked to New York to follow a dream, whether it was to make it on Broadway, or simply to live in New York. That makes for a very interesting crowd of people, and amid all that grit and determination shines optimism and a whole lot of energy.