Thursday, March 03, 2016

On the Road Again

Recently it has come to my attention that I need more exercise than I am getting. (This news comes to me by way of my pants-based early-warning system.)

For this reason—and also the simple fact that I missed it—I’m reviving the Oakland walking project. For those just tuning in, the goal here is to walk the length of every street in Oakland, CA, the city I live in. I was very devoted to the project for a few years, but then I joined a gym and drifted away from it. But like I said, I did miss it, and it’s time to step up my regimen, so we’ll see what adding a walk or two a week does for me. My prediction is that it will have more of an effect on my blog than my waistline. I can live with that.

This photo was taken last week during my first exploratory walk in years, in the northern reaches of the Rockridge neighborhood. The cat carving is exactly the kind of senseless weirdness that I love about Oakland. I have missed small discoveries like this.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

An Oasis of Calm in Santo Domingo

I’ve had another article published on the Girls That Roam site. It’s a review of the hotel I stayed in last summer in the Dominican Republic.

I think I come off as a little bit of a wussy traveler in this one, whining about the heat and how everyone speaks Spanish. In real life, I wasn’t a bit disappointed that people spoke Spanish; I was disappointed with myself for not speaking it better. Or at all, almost. I thought I would be able to get by, having taken a year at U.C. Berkeley Extension and done respectably well. But I was rusty, and Dominican Spanish is different from Mexican Spanish, and to my chagrin, I struggled with basic conversations.

Consequently, I found my hotel to be an oasis and a safety zone. I’m not proud of this, and I assure you, I did leave the property and venture out into the real country. But I sure appreciated the comfort when I was there. Here is my review of the hotel I stayed in, the Renaissance Santo Domingo Jaragua Hotel & Casino.

(Spoiler: I liked it. I’m going to like most places with exotic cocktails.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Good Eats in Orlando

Florida is a little bit of a scary place to me. It’s full of tropical bugs, snakes, alligators, and hurricanes. My marriage wasn’t legal there until a few months ago, and I think the governor might be an alien. Not an immigrant; an actual bird-necked, hairless, laser-eyed denizen of another planet.

Still, there’s really good food in Florida, so I’m willing to cut it some slack. I went on a press trip to Orlando at the end of 2013 and was pleasantly surprised at how good the dining scene was there. I wrote a review of a few restaurants I really liked, and one just saw the light of day. Quite a bit of time has passed since my visit, so it’s possible that some things have changed. I did check out Yelp, and I am happy to report that the place, called Ceviche, is still around, and people still seem to like it.

(There are a few Ceviches. I can’t speak for the outposts in Tampa or St. Petersburg, having never been, but I definitely recommend the Orlando Church St. location.)

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Write What You Know

Most articles that I write are on subjects that interest me to some degree—I never would have pitched them or been sought out as the writer if someone didn’t think they were in my wheelhouse.

So there are articles where I enjoy the research and then there are articles I may have been born to write. This one, on eating in Tuscany, is one of the latter. It’s about a week spent dining in and around Florence with my parents and sister, and was by far the most fun to research of any article I have written in recent memory.

I’m fairly proud of it. I still like the humorous touches, and I think my love of Italian cuisine comes through. If it had been up to me, I would have written it in the past tense, because I think present tense makes jumps in time more confusing. But it wasn’t up to me—the Girls That Roam site requires articles to be in the present tense. I can live with it.

If anyone wants to send me back to Italy for a follow-up, just to make sure that that gelato place is as good as I remembered, I’m up for it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Pom Pom Girl

Here’s yet another article that took a little siesta before getting published. It’s about a really interesting restaurateur in Orlando whom I met about two years ago, the last time I was in the city. The time lag is not a big problem, though. The restaurants are still open and unchanged in theme, so just about all the info is still relevant.

Pom Moongauklang, a.k.a. Pom Pom, was born in Thailand and lived all over the United States before opening a pair of restaurants in Orlando. They serve the wackiest and most delicious fusion sandwiches and tacos I’ve ever had. Her restaurants were one of several pleasant food surprises I had in Orlando. Pom herself also turned out to be a delightful interview. If you are ever in Central Florida, check out her restaurants, Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria (best at lunch) and Tako Cheena (best in the wee hours when Thai peanut tacos sound like something so crazy they just might work—and they do.)

Thursday, December 03, 2015

My Divas Turn

Here’s an article I wrote a long time ago that just saw the light of day. (I think I wrote it toward the end of last winter; a late-fall appearance is probably more appropriate.) This was a funny assignment from the start. When my editor gave it to me, we both were under the impression that Divas SnowGear--the subject of the article--was a skiwear company. It’s not; they make snowmobile apparel. When I explained our goof to the editor, she suggested I go ahead with the company profile anyway to see what happened.

What happened was this piece, about Divas SnowGear and its founder, Wendy Gavinski. I knew nothing about snowmobiling when I called Wendy up and asked if I could interview her by phone. She made it easy for me, though. She’s a genuinely nice person and helped me learn a lot that I didn’t know about the sport, and also helped me unlearn a lot of things that I thought I knew but which aren’t really true. This one was a pleasure to research and write because it opened a whole new world to me. (I still haven’t ever been snowmobiling, though.)

P.S. “…a metaphor waiting to happen…” I kinda like that line. And the subtitle made me laugh out loud, and sent me digging through last year’s files to check to see if I submitted the copy with that sub-head or if my editor added it. It’s mine!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

….And Getting Smaller

I took this photo in the spring of 2002, at Disneyland Paris. I was there on a press trip. It wasn’t the first time I had been on a plane since September 11, 2001, but it was my first trans-Atlantic trip since that day, and I remember feeling uncharacteristically uneasy preparing for the flight. My father called me on my new cell phone at the airport to assure me that everything would be all right. I hadn’t told him I was nervous; he just knew. It was a nervous time.

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The Paris I arrived in that March wasn’t the fabled Paris-in-the Springtime, and it certainly wasn’t the Paris I remembered. I had last been in the city during the summer of 1987. That was the break between my junior and senior years in high school, and I was staying for the month of August with a French family that had a daughter my age. They didn’t live in Paris, but had friends who did and the mother and daughter and I spent nearly a week exploring the City of Light based out of the friends’ apartment.

It was a tremendously exciting time for me. Coming from a college town two hours by car (not that I had one) from the nearest major city, just walking urban boulevards felt like an adventure. Riding on the metro (just like the song!), speaking a foreign language, stepping on cobblestones older than my own country, sniffing Peugeot exhaust, eating in cafes…it all seemed too good to be true, like I’d been offered a glimpse into an impossibly exciting larger world that awaited me as soon as I was old enough to get out of my hometown. (It also helped that in the late ’80s, French teenagers thought there was nothing more hyper-chouette than America. These were kids who could drink beer any time they wanted, and somehow they still thought I was cool.)

Every day was a different arrondissement. Montmartre one day, the Picasso Museum another, and, on one particularly memorable day, Paris’ Arab Quarter. Bustling, spicy-smelling, and punctuated by the staccato sounds of languages I didn’t understand a word of, this part of the city struck me as the most exotic place I’d ever been. We went to a Moroccan restaurant for lunch, and I had couscous for the first time in my life. Like any teenager, I worried this new dish would taste strange to me, but it was delicious—nothing odder than grain, vegetables, and sausage. Afterwards, I walked the streets of the neighborhood with a little more confidence. Sure, the swirl of music and chatter coming out of the shops was incomprehensible to me, and yes, the smells wafting around were unfamiliar, but these people liked couscous. I liked couscous. Common ground already. The yawning gulf between my preppie life and the Arab world got a tiny bit smaller.

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France, six months after 9/11 (and with me now in my 30s), was cool, gray, and glum. I spent all but about a furtive hour of my trip on or near the grounds of Disneyland Paris, which was not even trying to live up to its Happiest Place on Earth reputation. The park was populated—barely—by sparse crowds of ruddy English tourists, cast members dressed as the most nihilistic Disney characters you’ll ever see (I swear I saw Mickey Mouse smoking, but that must be my memory playing tricks on me), and, inexplicably, David Hasselhoff, strutting around with his entourage, wearing a duster and sunglasses at night.

The atmosphere was unsettled in a very literal way—it rained on and off the whole time I was there. There was never a purging downpour; nothing that gave you a sense that and end was in sight. It just drizzled sporadically out of a heavy sky that hung low over a close horizon.

The mood was unsettled, too. America was reeling from attack, but we hadn’t yet made the decision to go to war and stop eating French fries. Six months removed from the day, I still sensed a little bit of the sentiment that nous sommes tous Américains. But teenagers didn’t exactly light up when they heard my accent, either. It seemed none of us knew what to make of each other anymore.

Personally, I struggled in a very literal way to know what to do with myself. I was a childless adult trudging around a wet theme park. What was the story here? Four days in France had seemed like an impossibly short trip before I left, but standing in the rain surrounded by depressed Disney characters and D-list celebrities, it was starting to seem like at least three days too many.

During one break in the weather, I found myself standing in front of a familiar ride, one which I’d first ridden at the age of three in Florida, and which seems to exist in more or less the same form in every Disney park around the world. A series of banners flew out front against a threatening sky, proclaiming bravely in several languages—including French and Arabic—that, “It’s a Small World.” Childhood felt very far away at that moment, but strangely, my teen years, the times when Gallic Parisians and north African immigrants coexisted peacefully and at least one American found the Arab world beguiling, seemed even further out of reach.

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And now I feel that way again. When I look at this picture, I can remember exactly what I was thinking when I took it, because I’m thinking exactly the same thing now. I remember that I was struck by the achingly idealistic slogan silhouetted against the eerie clouds. I liked seeing the flags with lots of different languages waving together, and wondered if this uneasy alliance of nationalities would ever be possible again. Mostly I felt—and still feel, acutely, that the world really is small. And not because we’ve built bridges across our differences. It just seems that whenever something explodes on one part of the planet, we all feel jostled. (And in the time-honored tradition of people everywhere who feel their space nearing capacity, we start putting up velvet ropes and making up rules about who can and can’t come in.)

How is it that people who trace their roots to Charlemagne and followers of Islam once shared Parisian streets peacefully? And that observing this neighborhood made me think the world was full of possibility, not calamity? How do we get back to this place? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure the answer is more complex than couscous, less violent than airstrikes, more compassionate than turning away refugees, and more laborious than putting a French flag filter on our profile pictures. But beyond that, I don’t really know, either.

(Couscous, though…that couldn’t hurt, right? Never underestimate the power of kitchen diplomacy.)