Category Archives: Travel

Beachside Village

She closed the last plantation shutter and looked down at the room key in her hand. Pale blue, a long diamond with wide font, “Room C” in white, attached to a real key on a keyring. Just as soon as she dropped the key into the pocket of her loose fitting Levi’s her hand drew to her mouth. She bit her finger nervously.

Her eyes fell upon the car seat, and drifted to the bed, still made by someones else’s deft hands. A lone toy sat next to the TV remote. There were trucks and blocks strewn across the floor. The kitchen was clean apart from a trash bin in the sink and two pots on a chair. Within the silence she heard the magnitude of sound that his tiny hands had made with the lids.

Her finger traced the edge of the small kitchen table. She poured a glass of wine and sighed. Only four clementines left and the whole day to get through tomorrow. She knew an extra bushel had been in order.

A Café in Paris

She sat staring at the cars driving by on the busy thoroughfare in front of the café, diagnosing what makes pretty people so mean. She’d been a hostess at the theater’s café for the 52 days since it had been open, and she could write a thesis on all the theater-going Miamians that she had come to encounter. It was a complicated trifecta of events: 1. a limited number of seats serving cooked-to-order food, 2. a fixed theater time to which no one could be late, and 3. no reservations. During the blissful moments when she sat outside and enjoyed her cappuccino each night after the show started, she outlined the thesis in her head.

Part One: Bling

The more the bling the meaner the women. This is especially true the older they are or the prettier.
A pretty young woman with more diamonds than fat content is likely to tell you how bad you are at your job, how horrible the establishment – that she’s been in for about 45 seconds – is run, and how dumb you specifically are. Make her wait for some avocado toast and a glass of malbec and you’d better steer clear, she’s looking to take people down hard and dirty.

Next, are the over-seventies. The men are quiet and polite most of the time. They look at you with the sad eyes carrying a lifetime of resignation. Those eyes paired with a blinged-out bluehair, that’s a code red. Abort. Once you engage, it’s going to be a lengthy, degrading conversation that will make you want to walk into on-coming traffic.

Part Two: Bachelors

This is a grey area. You might get a nice guy who will happily settle for drinks at the bar. You might get a quiet type who evaluates the scene on his own and politely smiles as he leaves. More often than not though, they will be unable to understand why you can’t pull a table out of your back pocket for them, or a burger, or a Ferrari. The entitlement is startlingly limitless.

Part Three: Stragglers

These people knowingly show up 15-30 minutes before the show, appalled that you don’t have something they can “grab.” When handed a glass of water, one straggler once said, “Well, fit it up all the way at least, I’m thirsty for crying out loud.” Because clearly, her thirst and untimeliness, are your fault, so just be gracious, this is America.

Part four, she thinks, relishing the last sip of her cappuccino, wherein I move to Paris and am perfectly, carelessly rude right back.

The First Snow

The first night that the snow fell he had a bag of cocaine in his pocket. It hadn’t snowed in Rome in twenty years. It was beautiful, and it was a party.
We had gone from the restaurant, and their endless supply of house red wine, to the house, and their endless supply of blow. Friends, brothers, and a sister-in-law, laughing, yelling, drinking, watching, whispering, smiling, sniffing, celebrating.
“You know,” said his brother, “I’ve never seen him kiss a girl in front of any of us.”
I just looked at him.
I knew affection was held right next to intimacy, and that they were both reserved for when we were alone. I liked it. It made it like our little secret that no one could see, how we fit into one another without any other.
But I hadn’t known that he had always been that way. Or that those few minutes before when he’d kissed me so deeply that it pulled me inside out I wasn’t the only one who had been left speechless.
He had been mine for months, by his definition, and he’d been mine for years, by my intuition. He had never been one for communication, but that night he seemed to be the only one talking.
“I never met anyone like you,” he said and I scanned the room. Through swirls of smoke I saw other conversations, laughter unconscious of his tone. My reserve mirrored his, even if he’d abandoned it for the night.
“Let’s go outside,” I said taking his hand and pulling him towards the door.
The silence was almost as shocking as the cold. The warmth of the fire and festivities vanished into a vacuum of white.
“You have a really big heart,” he said into the stillness.
“It’s yours,” I promised, placing my hands on each side of his face. His green eyes were glistening and fighting to reveal feeling.
“You are too good for me,” he said. I shook my head. “You are perfect,” he whispered and tears rolled through my fingertips. The snow kept falling around us.

A Hitchhikers Guide to Finding A Greyhound

Do you remember when Jay-Z and Beyonce got married?
I do.
I was standing in a gas station somewhere on the border of Montana and Idaho waiting for a shift change to be carried out. On a Greyhound bus, I’d just learned, each passenger must disembark before the drivers change places at a different location. I had boarded the bus four hours previously in Bozeman, Montana at 3:15am and while I’d rather not have parted with my seat and my pillow, I held my tongue and walked sleepily into the freezing cold morning. Had it been a less ungodly hour, I might have protested, or at least had the wherewithal to grab my purse.
Instead, I walked into the gas station groggy and shivering. It was heated and like a dog curling up in front of the fire, I settled in to the magazine rack. This was 2008, long before Bey ran the world, when Jay was still the power of the couple by my estimation and before they named their child a color. People magazine had printed a story about their very private penthouse nuptials. “From the White Orchids (70,000!) to the Famous Guests and the Crazy-Expensive Cigars, Inside the Power Couple’s Ultra-Private New York City Wedding” read the by-line.
Seventy thousand orchids, I thought, I better see what that looks like. And, obviously, I hoped to see a picture of the dress.
I didn’t get to see pictures of either. I shut the magazine a little disappointed, but also kind of happy that they’d actually pulled off a celebrity wedding that the paparazzi hadn’t infiltrated.
Good for them, I thought, placing it back on the shelf.

“Weren’t you on that bus?” the meth addict cashier said to me. I looked through my red eyes at her brown teeth trying to process the tense she was using.
“What?” I asked, mentally preparing myself for some kind of atrocity.

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Acquitted, Evicted, Conflicted.

 

“Go,” Chris insisted to an audience that couldn’t hear him. His right hand fumbled blindly around the deep center console of his 1989 Bronco. It hit upon its target and he slipped a Marlboro Mild between his lips, pressed the old knob of the cigarette lighter in, and met the eyes of the woman in the car next to him briefly before she looked away. Chris shook his head. The woman’s eyes had glazed over like she didn’t know what she was doing in this world. In Alaska she would have smiled.

The knob popped out and with a familiar fluidity he touched the fiery orange coil to the tip of his cigarette, inhaled, removed the poisonous stick with his left hand and exhaled. He put the car lighter back in its place. The smoke was stagnant in the afternoon heat. It hung around him like the cars amassed in the Miami rush hour traffic.
Continue reading Acquitted, Evicted, Conflicted.

The Old Head of Kinsale

It was dark when we arrived. The lights of the city stretched farther than I had expected. Traffic was bad, but not as bad as it had been in Dublin. John took the first parking spot he saw and we headed into the Pub across the street. There was some sort of meeting going on and we invited hostile looks from people present. One woman glared like we had come to ruin her conspiracy.
“Hey mates,” John said. “Hope we’re not interrupting, just lookin’ for a pint.”
“Oh, Dear,” an Irish mum called getting up, “Come in, come in, excuse my manners. What’ll ya have?” She smiled and in the wrinkles around her hazel eyes I saw years of worry, strength, and laughter. Her hair reached out in tight curls.
“Guinness,” I smiled.
“Of course, dear, and for you?”
“Same.”
“There you are.”
She was endearing and nervous and her strong hands and rosy cheeks were everything I expected from an Irish barmaid. She was going on about some old head and John was paying close attention but I was drifting, taking in the authenticity. It was the Irish pub that I had always wanted to be in. I admired the flags and lace curtains and shamrocks that someone had painted on every spot of empty wall, gaily. At this point such space was hard to come by. There were top to bottom pictures from all sorts of celebrations, weddings, birthdays, football matches, all that looked like St. Patty’s Day and all to which we were at least 20 years too late.
“We’ll join,” John said and I turned back to the conversation I had missed. “Won’t we?”
“Sure,” I said trusting his judgment.
“Hey, Pauly,” she called both excited and more serious than I had heard her sound, “we’ve got two new recruits.”
“Sorry, we’re full,” snapped the vicious woman.
“Oh, bollocks,” the barmaid said ushering us over to the group.
A dark haired man with crystal blue eyes rose from the head of the table, “I’m Paul.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said trying not to sound too American.
“This is Violet, I’m John, and we’re always up for fighting the good fight.”
I nodded and wondered what he had gotten us into. I felt like we accidentally stumbled into the den of a revolution, and I liked it.
“Do you know anything about the Old Head of Kinsale?” the steaming woman asked still glaring at me. I shook my head. Her hair was long and deep red and poured over her thin shoulders like the fire she seemed ready to spew.
“This is Nora, don’t let her passion frighten you. She grew up outside Kinsale so this matter is very dear to her heart.”
I wanted to ask what the matter at hand actually was but I was not about to say anything, lest she might rip my face off.
“Well, its nice to meet the lot of you. How can we help?” John asked

Continue reading The Old Head of Kinsale

New York City: Passion Personified

Four years ago, I had never worked in the hospitality industry. I had lived with four servers and one bartender from Applebee’s in college, and I had seen the movie Waiting. I had actor friends who were either wait staff or baristas. I’d had the fortune of eating in outstanding establishments, but I had never heard the term Back of House, or Yes, Chef.

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The Comfort of the King

The road stretches out before me unwavering, like the heat. The little brown camper that we’ve called home since the start of our month-long trek across India moseys along crookedly, leaning always away. Dried up ditches frame the road and I imagine them as gushing rivers in the wet season. Beyond the dusty windshield, the sweeping flat land extends utterly unoccupied but for an occasional tree and the man that I love riding an elephant that we call Elvis.

The orange tweed interior radiates against my freckled skin like a fake tan. I’ve been wearing the same white linen shirt for so long that there is no longer a white thread to be found. I smell curry spice and compost coming off of my own self as much as anything else, and it has been weeks since I’ve actually minded. This makes me feel like I could belong, something I desperately hope to achieve.

Gone with the town we just departed from are the two men who stood beside the camper each dawn screaming at each other through the dewy haze in a language that I simply can’t understand. The possibility that we might sleep in tomorrow is stifled, like everything else, by the heat. I yawn and stretch, feeling sand stuck to the back of my neck. When I wash I find it in my nose and in my eyeballs as well. The humidity is relentless. Soon, we’ll be to the coast.

The camper finally leans too far away. It takes all my strength to keep it on the road, but in the end I give up and surrender it to the ditch. I step out casually as the rusty mess settles itself into the non-river.

“We’re leaving it,” I say swiftly, deliriously, amused. I hope the lightness of tone will prevent a quarrel.
“Lucy,” Wyatt says, his voice loaded with disappointment, but he stops himself. He looks up at the sky as if for an answer. When he jumps down off the elephant I smile in a way that I hope reads remorse. He walks over to where the camper is.

“Be careful!” I call.

A few minutes later he returns with our packs, the necessities and our sleeping pads. He fashions them to Elvis in silence. I stroke Elvis’s trunk as he tries to fish non-existent peanuts from my pockets.

The man who sold us the friendly mammoth spoke no English. From what Wyatt could gather the elephant was either twenty-four or forty-eight years old and called ‘aracan,’ which means ‘the king.’

“Elvis,” I say looking into his big black eye, “I hope you don’t mind me hitching this ride.”

“Will that be all, Pricilla?” Wyatt asks and I pout. He kisses my cheek and I’m smiling again before he’s through. I stand on my tiptoes to sneak a kiss on his lips before he turns. He gives me that half smile that fills me up with love, and then shows me where to step.

Sorry, I mouth to Elvis as I place one foot on the back of his knee. I take Wyatt’s hand and it feels like I’m climbing up a strong tree trunk. Elvis’s abdomen is hard, stable and sturdy. Aside from the coarse hairs poking through my khakis, it’s not at all uncomfortable.

We both jerk as Elvis starts down the long dirt road. I grab tight to Wyatt and then the animal’s massive shoulders fall into a rhythm that moves us up and down with him. We rock as if in a hammock strung above a small boat in calm water. I loosen my grip. There’s the slightest hint of a breeze. I feel fearless. A surreal sightseer, a tour by the dirty blue sky.

This is why I’m here. This is the adventure I seek.

Elvis’s grey skin reminds me of old people in a winsome way. It makes me think back to the wrinkled faces I’ve met in the villages we’ve passed through. There have been many of them over the last month and yet I feel myself missing the individual strangers. How easy it is to settle into a small towns routine. The beast’s appalling scent overpowers my nostalgia. I remember something that I forgot to tell Wyatt, my nose begs for the distraction.

“I made a friend yesterday,” I say straightening the little saffron colored towel we’re sitting on.
“The girl at the market?” he asks.
“Yeah. She gave me a pear and watched me until I took a bite. It was like she wanted to know if I would eat what she gave me, or if I chewed the same way as her.”
“And?”
“She was glad to find out that I did. Her eyes sparkled and warmed to me.”
“That’s beautiful,” he says patting my thigh.
“It was,” I say, resting my hand on his for a moment. “I really thought that I’d gotten acclimated to the smells. Elvis, I’m sure it’s not your fault but it doesn’t seem very like a king to smell like old baby diapers.”
“You mean to tell me, diarrhea and old eggs aren’t regal?”
“Ew,” I squirm and pretend to vomit over his side.
“He smells better than you do,” Wyatt says smiling.
I laugh so hard I almost fall off. I grab Wyatt’s chest and hold onto him like a seat belt, feeling my ribs shake against him. Better to laugh than to pass out from the scent.

I take the scarf from my hair and cover my face with it like a bandit. It helps the way a single rose might mask a pile of manure.

The winning purchase of the journey has been the cone shaped straw hats we were sold in the first town. They have served as gallant protectors from the sun and the rain. With the hat on my head and the scarf on my face I feel less like a foreigner. I yearn for someone to believe that I’m a local. My dream would be to assimilate so fully that I could shimmy right out the light skin I’ve always worn and try on this culture’s for a time.

To see what they see. To feel how they feel. To learn all the details.

To walk mile after mile on the back of a hard stinky elephant passing salt fields and plantain tree farms, slowly, pontificating over weather patterns, placing space before time.

Westerners aren’t always accepted in the agrarian villages that we explore. Some embrace us, some fear us, and some have no idea what to think of us. I think that people are either fond of those different than them, or not. It doesn’t matter where you are. It’s the same with the people on the subway back home.

Elvis walks steadily, but with purpose and direction. I feel powerful floating on the giant, like a goddess from an ancient world. He carries us proudly down the flat brown road away from the pumpkin sunset.

Wyatt whistles “Fools Rush In,” I sway to the music, and after only a few bars Elvis begins raising his trunk in tune with the notes. He’s so smart! I hug Wyatt, lay my head on his back and close my eyes trying to commit the moment to memory. This is joy.

We stop when the night falls around us. The moon is small and the stars are vast.

We sleep on mats beside the riverbank under a tarp shelter that Wyatt fabricates with sticks and twine. I can smell the sea in the air.

“The coast isn’t far,” I say. “Do you think Elvis likes the sand?”
“I don’t know,” Wyatt looks at the elephant grazing in a patch of grass.

We lay to sleep and within my imagination slow-paced fishing villages that haven’t changed in two thousand years are busy with commerce. I can’t wait to meet the people. In all of my travels I have always felt most at home on small islands, like the one where I grew up.
One never knows if the sea will be fair or furious, but we always have absolute faith in her anyway. Those who reside near the ocean are equipped with an intrinsically easy feeling. For me that faith is simple.

I dream of lush mountains falling into a turquoise sea.

When I wake the sky is light grey and it’s so quiet that I can hear the dust blowing across the road.

Elvis is gone.

At once my eyes well up with tears. I jump to my feet. I walk up and down the road but its no use. He is an elephant in the middle of an even, far-reaching land, and he is nowhere to be seen. I let out a sob and cup my mouth with my hand. I feel tiny and lost, suddenly stuck in the middle of a strange country without a guide.

“Wyatt,” I whisper. “Wake up.”
He squints one eye open and looks at me. “What’s wrong?”
“Elvis is gone,” I say sweeping tears away with the back of my hand. He carried us across the broad land all the time sinking his elephantine footsteps deeper into my heart.
“What!” he sits up quickly, looks around for a moment, blinks into the daylight, and gets up. Shielding his eyes from the sun he looks in every direction.
“We took him from his home,” I sob, “and he left us for it. Why didn’t we tie him up? Why didn’t he want to stay? What’s wrong with us?”
“Shhh,” Wyatt coos, his arm around my shoulder squeezing me to him. He kisses the top of my head and I collapse into my hands sobbing. “Breathe,” he whispers after a minute or so. I try to get it together.

Wyatt stares down the way we had come for a long time.
“Well,” he says finally, “we wanted to live like they live here. This is part of it.”
He takes my face in his hands and speaks sweetly wiping my cheeks, “We have enough water and food. We’ll survive.”
I gaze back at him, dumbstruck and heartbroken.
“It’ll be ok,” he promises and kisses my salty lips. Then he gets started rolling up our mats and packing our things. He distributes most of the weight to himself.

My friend’s abandonment sits on my spirit. Why hadn’t Elvis wanted to stay with us on our voyage? Were we just dead weight to him? Will we only ever be dead weight to the rest of the world? Worthless and spoiled and weak? This is what I came here to understand.

An hour into the walk the rain starts. It soaks us to the bone. Before long my pack weighs as heavy as my heart, like the saturation has added one rock for each of my deficiencies. The road turns to mud. I concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other on the wet ground.

With each step I fight the muck as it sucks at my foot. I pretend I’m trying to step out of that circle thing on the tentacle of a giant squid. The slurping sound is a small kind of reward. I can’t distinguish my skin from my sandals. My toes might very well be growing webbed.

I watch the steady patterns in the puddles. I count steps. I sing show tunes in my head, almost the whole first act of Wicked. Anything to keep the crushing load on my shoulders from my mind.

The dutiful clip-clopping of a cart approaching comes on slowly. The animal pulling it towards us has hooves that are just as slopped in the latte colored mud as my own feet. I look up having to crane my neck in order to see the driver around my hat. An elderly man smiles at me in front of a grey sky. As I blink into the rain at him he closes his toothless mouth and nods. The uncomplicated act of human compassion carries me farther down the infinite path.

The dull ache of my feet is punctuated by intense jabs that I know mean the blisters are giving way to lacerations in the places where the straps of my sandals meet the backs of my heels. I try not to think of that, or the knotting pain in my back. I think of Achilles and how his mother tried to protect him and failed and what pain my own mother might know if she witnessed my current suffering. I’d like to know what that feels like, that all encompassing maternal love.

The rain lets up and when I no longer feel my skin being saturated, I take off my hat. I say a silent prayer of thanks to Achilles’ mother, though I can’t remember her name, and my own for always staying with me. The clouds have finally relented and a low, verdant mountain stands before us. The wet leaves are like glittering emeralds radiating greetings our way.

“Look,” I say, blinking back tears. My voice cracks and it occurs to me we haven’t spoken in hours. Wyatt looks up and I hear myself let out a long, raspy laugh.

He drops his pack and I drop mine and I lean against him, trying to hold some of my weight. I wrap my arms around his middle and squeeze. The jade mountains are a gleaming symbol of our feat. The ocean is on the other side. I stare in awe, satisfied by the road we never wavered from.

The sun breaks through and begins to dry the happy tears that joined the raindrops on my cheeks. I wonder how hard it’ll be to cross the small mountain range. Wyatt has absolute confidence. I can feel it under my fingertips in the muscles on his back. I love him for his conviction.

We sit on the side of the road. He eats wet salami from the bag of emergency food. I lay down resting my head on his leg, too exhausted to eat. Looking up at the new blue sky, my back pressed into the muddy ground, soaked, starved, and blistered, I have never felt such contentment.

When I wake its twilight. The stars are barely shining through the violet sky. Wyatt is asleep. In the absence of rain I hear the sound of the mountains: trees rustling, birds chattering, water rambling down a hill.

I stand and stretch, my back and hips competing for attention with their throbbing. My feet cry at the movement, each millimeter of ripped skin sears with pain. I blink twice into the dark horizon and shriek. The sound of the scream hangs in the moist air.

“Lucy?” Wyatt calls out of sleep.
“Look,” I whisper.

At the foot of the mountain stands an elephant.

“It’s Elvis,” he says, already on his feet.
“You think?” I ask laughing. My eyes are so full they’re over pouring yet again.
We study the possibility, our faces frozen.
“It can’t be him,” I say, sure that it is.
“I guarantee it is.”
“Get back here!” I call. “Elvis! Don’t be cruel!”

He walks leisurely towards us.

I wipe my eyes, and give Wyatt a happy shove. I know in my heart that I proved something to myself. I might be a Westerner, but I’m not worthless, or spoiled, or weak. Tomorrow we have to cross that mountain and it’s sure to wipe this grin off my face, but today I’m a survivor.

I have never seen something so beautiful as that sparkly green mountain, nor felt more humbled than by the comfort of that king.

like a girl

“I’m not going paint balling,” said one TSA official to the other across the conveyor belt that had just delivered one of my boots.

“Come onnnnnnn,” the agent on the other side replied.

“Not gonna happen. It’s too cold out there.”

I watched the screen of the X-ray machine in the distance wondering if it was possible that this could turn into a washing machine eating my sock episode. I had just had those boots resoled and shined.

“You’re supposed to go paint balling in the cold,” he kept on, “that way you can run around and you ain’t sweaty.”

“Bag check,” the woman sitting at the X-ray screen called stifly.

“Fine,” he said, “but you sound like a girl.” He smiled and shook his head back and forth, then he picked up the bag to check. It was mine.

“I would go,” I said.

He looked at me. One boot, one tennis sock with leggings tucked in to it, a hoodie and a panda scarf, but I had my hair did and my eyebrow game was on point. I smiled.

“I would go paint balling in the cold,” I said. The X-ray girl smiled at me. “I would out run you, and get sweaty, and aim to fire. So don’t go calling him a girl, he’s nothing like a girl.”

He blinked at me and put the suitcase down.

“Do you think you could be a dear and find my boot now, please, like a girl?”