Category Archives: chalk it up to experience

#45 – Go Camping, Legitimately, in a Tent, in the Middle of Nowhere

This past trip was very nature-centric and unlike any I’ve done before, and so I was very excited to be able to be out of my element and check some things off the Life List.

When we were planning out logistics, the idea of cutting camping from the trip came up and I probably did one of my “wide eyes, tight lips” glares at John in which he could sense my internal freak out.

That was the end of the camp-cutting convo.

We don’t have room in our apartment for an ironing board much less camping gear, so it’s not something we’ve ever thought of purchasing. Plus, we’ve never seriously considered going camping before this. Plus, how would one suggest I travel cross-country with a tent? And a lantern? And those roasting marshmallow pokey things? Am I allowed to carry those on? And a small stove, right? Because we’re going to be cooking fancy campsite meals, aren’t we? OMG sleeping bags! Duh! But those are kinda big . . . but maybe we should bring our air mattress, too?

This was not helping the case for camping.

So we decided that the easiest solution would be to buy all of our necessities before we headed out on the road at a Wal-Mart outside of Vegas.

Wow, this really was an All-American trip.

When we got to Wal-Mart, there was some more hesitation about whether this really was a good idea or not. Pretty valid points like, “uh, what are we going to do with this stuff when we’re done?” and “is it worth spending all of this money on camping stuff when we can probably find cheap hotel rooms for the same price or less? Isn’t staying at a Motel 6 kind of like camping anyway?”

Even I was being swayed.

Plus, everyone was speaking German and so I was off looking at bullets and bait and DVDs.

Eventually, however, it was decided that we were doing this for the experience, not to necessarily save a ton of money, and so we started piling stuff into the thankfully gigantic carts.

We ended up buying the very bare camping necessities: two small tents, two fleece “sleeping bags” (in quotations because these were more like thin, cheap blankets that had zippers), an LED lantern, and that’s it. No tools for s’mores, no fancy-pants camping stove, no fun stuff. We then bought copious and completely unnecessary amounts of snacks. I chose surprisingly sensible things like granola bars and apples. Omesay othersay oschay ingsthay ikelay an eakingfray FUN PACK of 24 agsbay of ipschay. Oh, and a Halloween bag of oppersWhay.

Ateverwhay.

It wasn’t totally planned out where or what nights we’d camp, but I definitely tried to slyly suggest instances in which it would work out to be a day that I had taken a shower in the morning and wouldn’t need to wash my hair that night, things like that. “Tonight? What? Didn’t you just feel that raindrop?” It pretty much worked out for me. I think the trick is to be high-maintenance one or two nights a week so that you can be low-maintenance the rest. I did that with the following tools:

Flat Iron: straight hair is just easier to take care of and wear for a few days of non-washing

 

 

 

 

Oscar Blandi Dry Shampoo – this makes the non-washing thing possible. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of dry shampoo because I don’t like to wash my hair everyday. Sprinkling a good amount of white powder into my hair made me a little apprehensive, but it works!

 

 

Andrea Eye Q’s – the best eye makeup remover I’ve come across. Is gentle, works like a charm, and no water necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

Huggies wipes – ditto. There are fancier makeup removing wipes, but I don’t mind using plain old Huggies because they’re cheap. You can clean your whole face in-tent, without having to trek out in the dark to the slightly creepy bathrooms.

 

 

And no, not wearing eye makeup is not an option. My ipchay-ovinglay endfray was earingway ivefay oundspay of akeupmay every day, and I didn’t want to look completely slovenly. Plus we were taking like 5,000,000 pictures . . . I don’t want ugly memories.

Anywhoo, where was I? Oh yes, right, camping.

This trip was the first time I’ve heard the term “backcountry camping”, which basically means camping in a place, typically after hiking to the bottom of some canyon with your crap strapped to your back, that has no facilities . . . like toilets or showers or power hook ups. Like real manly man camping. This is what I wanted to do, but . . . see the photo of “dry shampoo” above.

We camped on campgrounds with campsites and toilets that flushed – the fancy kind. I was sort of disappointed but mostly relieved. I don’t know about the backcountry campers, but the campsite campers? Soooo hoity-toity. They’ve got all of this sexy camping gear and gadgetry that, I mean, I’m my pathetic little “sleeping bag”, I really looked down my nose at. Why not just stay home if you’re going to completely replicate the comforts of your own living room to a campsite? Wusses.

Not us, though. We didn’t even have pillows!

Correction: I didn’t even have a pillow! I brought one inflatable pillow because over the years my mom has given us some really random crap that at the time seemed totally useless. “Um, thanks mom, a solar powered radio, wow, cool, this is going to be, like, totally useful to me seeing as I don’t even listen to electric-powered radios.” Or, “yeah, this mini-flashlight with your company logo on it is super-rad, thanks.” “An inflatable pillow, how did you know?” I let John have it because I’m the perfect girlfriend like that. Plus he was doing all of the driving and, you know, he sort of deserved it.

It turned out that all of her weird, random cast-offs were completely and utterly useful on this trip. It’s like she’s a Jedi or something.

All in all, my introduction to camping was a good one, despite one night of absolutely inhumane temperatures (upper 40s! Come on! I slept in JEANS!), and I’d like to do it again. As with other experiences on this trip, this was a great introduction. Now that I know a bit more about this world and know what to be prepare for, I think I’d actually like to try out the backcountry stuff.

If not, I think I could do something like this . . .

Don’t Let the Sound of Your Own Wheels Drive You Crazy


Stereotypes, you know, in general, are kind of annoying . . . I mean, not to stereotype them or anything.

One that’s particularly loathsome (and yet one often ensuing of much slapstick hilarity) is that of the prissy girl who isn’t “outdoorsy”. “Ugh, (hair flip) I don’t do camping” is a phrase that has come out of many an uptight, high-maintenance city girl’s mouth according to modern pop culture.

As such, we’ve been led to believe that there are only two types of women on the planet: the Mary Anns and the Gingers:

. . . or better yet, the Vickys and the Maggies:

What we can assess from these characters is that nice, smart, cool girls are just as comfortable in the wilderness as they are in pig tails or flannel shirts. It’s the manipulative, sequin-wearing, gold-digging whores that would ship sweet little Hayley Mills(es) off to boarding school who can’t hack it out there in the wilderness.

There’s just one problem, though . . .

I, like, don’t do camping.

And yet, here I am, finding myself in a position where, yup, I’m probably going to be doing some camping-like activities in the next few weeks. I need to un-Vickify myself posthaste.

My next trip is something that every American should probably do, and so naturally it’s something that, as a bad American, I haven’t really done much of: visit National Parks.

It appears that, like the stereotype or not, I am kind of a city girl. I am usually drawn to places because of cultural attributes, not necessarily by nature. I like food, art, architecture . . . “things”; scenery is nice, but it’s most beautiful when one is looking at it from the terrace of a really lovely restaurant, holding a glass of wine. Is the ocean not more magnificent while looking at it through rosé colored glasses?

It never even occurred to me to question this mindset until I met John, and his ability to inspire me to see all sorts of things from a new perspective is one reason why I fell in love with him. We’re like a reverse Pocahontas & John Smith.

Ok, I really need to lay off the Disney movies.

While John has never sung to me about painting with all of the “colors of the wind” or anything (that I’m allowed to talk about in public, anyway), he has been on three cross-USA road trips. He’s got photo albums full of impressive canyons and arches and mountains and wide open space: things that I’ve sort of seen while playing Oregon Trail, but never really felt the need to see in person. He’s done these types of trips several times, so obviously he really enjoys them, and when you love someone, you get a particular kick out of seeing them in their “element”, even if it’s not necessarily something that you get. The last USA road trip John took was with his very good friend from Germany, and so for historical accuracy, he will be joining us along with his girlfriend, which is really cool.

We’re retracing some of their steps, meeting in Vegas, and then heading off into the sunset to the Grand Canyon, followed by Canyonlands, Monument Valley, Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and all sorts of other anti-Vegasy things that will allow me to expand my horizons. Jury is still out on whether the other girl is a Vicky or a Maggie, but the point is, I’m really going to try to not be an uptight whore: I want to be outdoorsy. I want to prove that I can sleep outside and do things like raft or bike or eat beef jerky. I want to be able to survive without my flat iron. I want to wear a flannel shirt, and if I didn’t just have my hair chopped off at Frederic Fekkai, I would try out ponytails too.

These things, combined with living in Manhattan and craving the novelty of unused space, are why I’m particularly looking forward to this trip.

Right now I’m in my typical travel-only-type-A mode, mapping out a route and doing all sorts of research on must-sees and creating The Perfect Playlist on iTunes, you know, the most important stuff. Next, we’ll talk packing for a trip unlike any I’ve ever been on.

Anyone been to these places and have any suggestions? More importantly, what are you favorite road trip songs?

Baby You Can Drive My Car, and Maybe I’ll Love You

 

Now that you’ve seen all of the beautifully lit, perfectly cropped, and undeniably gorgeous photos sharing the most sublime moments of our incredible trip, let’s talk about the things that we don’t normally think to capture on film: those moments of screaming and sobbing, of hair-pulling and head-butting; knee-to-the-groin incidents that will always hold a special place in my heart.

No, I’m not talking about in the bedroom. I’m talking about mishaps that, no matter what, are most certainly going to happen when you go on a trip.

If you have any experience with traveling whatsoever, there are certain situations for which you can prepare, at least mentally. Lost luggage, missed flights, sickness, bad weather, been there, done that, know what to expect. Big time suck-fest. Luckily, we managed to (mostly) (narrowly) escape the typical vacation-ruining nightmares, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t without our own special brand of “WTF?!?!?!?”

When an American thinks of cars in Europe, one of the first adjectives that will typically run through our minds is “tiny”. With this in mind, we packed accordingly.

Haha, siiiike!

Again, luckily, our rental car turned out to be big enough for our American suitcases. Unluckily, it turned out to be too big for European roads. On our first day of driving, we went from outside of Madrid all the way to Lisbon. The highways are in fantastic condition, the speed limits are very high, and we were making excellent time. We got to Lisbon much earlier than anticipated and were excited to have the extra time.

But then we actually got into the city.

Portuguese and Spanish cities are beautiful and charming partly because they’re, well, old and have lots of narrow, winding alleyways mixed with broad thoroughfares dotted with enormous circles showcasing elaborate fountains and sculptures. And in an effort perhaps to keep things beautiful and cohesive and with a sense of timelessness, they like to hide their street signs.

In Lisbon, it literally took two hours (if not more) to find our adorable little hidden, unmarked hotel that was located on a technically nameless something that wasn’t really a street. To say that this was a frustrating endeavor would be um, well . . . an understatement.

When I get frustrated, I have a tendency to get extremely snippy. When asked a question, I give my snotty little answers rapidly, only after exasperatingly expelling deep and bitter huffs of hateful breath. I purse my lips after I bite them. I roll my eyes. I jolt my head around like a pigeon in a strobe light. I shout “I’M NOT MAD!!!!” You know, typical girl stuff. John expresses his frustration in the typical German way, meaning scary silent until something happens that forces him to break things which have, thankfully, thus far only been inanimate objects. It’s not good idea to have Miss Snippy-Pants and Herr Angst-Hosen in a small, enclosed space for very long.

When we finally, FINALLY located our hotel, I did what any sane person who has the luxury of not being behind the wheel of said enclosed space would do: I JUMPED THE FECK OUT OF THERE.

John sort of looked at me in confused disbelief as I quickly, liltingly yelled “ok well I’m just going to check in, see ya, bye!!!!!!!”, slammed the door, and ran into the hotel.

It’s not like the place had a parking lot, so where he went after that, I have no idea. To make up for my snippiness and abandonment, I decided that I’d lug both of our suitcases up the five (5) flights of stairs, you know, as a symbol of apology and peacemaking. An olive branch, if you will. “Wow, I am, like, so nice for doing this”, I thought as I climbed the narrow stairs. Once I got to our room, had a sit on the bed, looked around, and starred out the window for some time, I went back to the front desk with all the urgency of Prissy from Gone with the Wind.

I told our super cool, friendly, and helpful innkeepers about the situation, how I had abandoned my boyfriend and he was now lost, roaming the streets of Lisbon, probably running over old men and small children and generally going postal. They thought it was totally hilarious, and were laughing in the background as I made a call to John. He was not so amused. Word to the wise: do not laugh when John is angry. It’s best to excuse yourself, walk into the next room, and laugh into a pillow.

 

I am the devil.

 

But all’s well that ends well, right? The guy from the hotel actually got into the car and showed us to a parking garage. We found wine. Everything was beautiful. Good times.

A few days later, we drove to Sevilla.

The same. Exact. Thing. Happened.

Except in Sevilla, the roads are windier, narrower, and even more unmarkedier. Our car mirror hit a building. Seriously. That small.

And this time, we couldn’t find our hotel at all, so there was no escape. I cried. When we finally did find our hotel, they had given away our reservation and we had to go to somewhere else. I had to excuse myself.

Even with a GPS, maps, and extremely thorough directions, it’s virtually impossible to traverse this part of the world by car without getting hopelessly lost. We wasted a lot of time and a lot of money, which we weren’t prepared for at all, and as you can imagine, it’s hard to have fun and relax after such frustration, especially when you’re pressed for time. The challenge is being able to put that aside, take a breath, and get over it. Wine helps, but it’s good to have someone with you who can snap you out of it and make you look at the big picture. In Lisbon, I did that for John as I pretended that the whole car thing never even happened once we both made it to our hotel room. I said, with a smile, “ok! Let’s go look at Lisbon!” And just by simply giving the impression that all was fine, we were able to move on. In Sevilla, John did the same for me by holding me back by the elbows as I attempted to swing a few punches at the hotel employee who told us we had no room. Give and take.

Problems, cliché and unforeseen, will always happen despite superb planning. We all lose it. Just try to be with someone who will not completely lose it at the same time that you do.

Beep beep, beep beep, yeah.

Oui Oui Oui Oui All the Way Home

 

Days: 21

Countries: 7 (including Gibraltar)

Languages Spoken: 8 (including English . . . in Gibraltar)

Kilometers Driven: 4,900 (well, by John . . .)

Pictures Taken: 3,800

Passport Stamps: 7

Birthdays Celebrated: 1

Nervous Breakdowns: let’s not get into it

Euros Spent on Tolls: let’s not get into that either

Hotel Employees Who Felt My Wrath: 2

Days on the Beach: 0

Monkeys Jumped Onto Car: 6

Hottest Guys: Madrid

Hottest Girls: Sevilla

Gorgeous Things Seen: 7,382

Relationships Intact: 1

 

Welp, the fun is over. I’m back on my living room couch, laptop on my, well . . . lap, TV on, suitcase unpacked, apartment cleaned, kitty wrangled into her cage at friend’s apartment and transported back to the Upper West Side . . . all that fun stuff. Ick. It makes it a bit easier to be coming home to New York, which even though we live here seems like another destination in itself.

I’ve never been on a three week vacation, but it’s unsurprisingly not enough time and surprisingly just enough time. While I’d much love to have a few extra days in, say, Monte Carlo or Madrid, a very small part of me is glad to be back. That part is mostly my hair because one thing that Europe definitely does not do as well as the US is shower. Not that Europeans smell or anything like that, on the contrary. They just haven’t taken advantage of the modern miracle that is water-pressure. Environmental friendliness aside, I do my best thinking during nice, hot showers resembling biblical floods, and that time was cruelly stolen from me during my trip. In fact, I’m not sure that I had one single good idea the whole entire trip. I suppose the bright side of being home was today’s shower, the subsequent flushing out of my clogged genius pipe, and a bagel with cream cheese and lox.

So, trip, trip, where to begin? I guess the most logical place would be pictures. But, oh, right, we took FOUR THOUSAND of them. I’m going to have to get back to you on that one. For now, here’s our crazy final itinerary:

25 – 28 September: Berlin

28 September: arrive in Madrid, head immediately to Talavera de la Reina for the night

29 – 30 September: Lisbon

30 September – 1 October: Albufeira & Tavira in the Algarve, Portugal

2 -3 October: Sevilla, Spain (with a stop in Cadiz), overnight inTarifa

4 October: Tangier, Morocco and Gibraltar, overnight in Marbella,

5 October: drive through Marbella & Malaga, decide we don’t like it, continue on to Nerja (ahh), overnight in Valencia

6 October: Valencia, drive to Barcelona

7 – 9 October: Barcelona

9 October: Avignon, France

10 October: PARIS

11 October: San Remo and Bordighera, Italy with a night in Menton, France

12 October: Monaco with Nice and Antibes, France in the late afternoon

13 October: Cannes and Saint-Tropez, drove to Barcelona in the late afternoon (I KNOW)

14 October: drove to Madrid

15 October: Madrid

16 October: home again, home again

 

I understand that this doesn’t really look like a relaxing vacation, and compared to a week in the Caribbean, no, it wasn’t. But the quantity and quality of the trip was incredible, and I still can’t really believe everything that we saw, not to mention that there was so much of it that I’m trying not to forget! I’ll get pictures up soon and will then make sense of all the notes I scribbled throughout.

 

It was gorgeous and I really want to take a moment to publically thank John making this dream of mine happen. Besides doing every single kilometer of driving, he just made the trip so special in so many ways and I’m so glad that we got to see these places for the first time with each other. We may be thinking twice about auditioning for The Amazing Race for the time being as that’s pretty much what we’ve just been through, but I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be losing my mind with.

 

 

The Long and Winding Road

Finally, a chance to catch my breath! At 2 AM, but I will take it. I’ve now been in Europe for nine days, yet I think I’ve crammed in three weeks worth of emotions into that short time.  It’s been a jammed-packed week at full-speed ahead, but it’s been fantastic. I’ve only had four negative emotional breakdowns! Yes!

So to do a little recap of the madness thus far, let’s all travel to a magical, cold, rainy place called Berlin . . .

It was in Berlin that I discovered I took something besides a spoon and blanket from my otherwise completely delightful Lufthansa flight (window seat in the bulkhead, hello!): pink eye! Yes! I don’t know about you, but I LOVE starting my vacations off with a disgusting, crusty-eyed bang. That was breakdown one. I went to the doctor, he reprimanded me for wearing my glasses on the flight (I know, I know), and gave me some drops that I had to take for EIGHT DAYS. So, no contacts or eye makeup until today: the makings of blurry vision and fabulous pictures. Ho hum. Besides the eye crap, it also poured and was FREEZING the entire stay in Berlin, so not the best for doing much of anything.

We then flew to Madrid and immediately got on the road towards Lisbon, stopping for the night in a city called Talavera de la Reina, where we were introduced to the beloved and very popular Spanish custom of unmarked roads that resemble a bowl of spaghetti.

The drive to Lisbon was great: beautiful scenery, nice roads, high speed limits, but we soon realized that the beloved Spanish custom was also practiced in Portugal. Roads that were built for one horse 500 years ago should not allow cars to traverse them. Just a thought. Emotional breakdown two. But as soon as we found our hotel and dumped our car in a garage, everything changed. We absolutely loved Lisbon and from there moved south to the coast, to the Algarve, as I mentioned in my previous post.

From there we headed back into Spain to Sevilla and yet another clusterwordthatrhymeswithduck. Mental breakdown number three. But, again, once we got to the hotel (and by hotel I of course don’t mean the one I reserved online, nooo. I mean the one we had to move to because the first one cancelled our reservation. Something about me entering ONE number of my credit card wrong, blah blah blah. Needless to say, I’m not allowed to make hotel reservations anymore. HA, jokes on you, John!) . . . uh, where was I? Oh yes, everything was great! No, seriously, it was. Sevilla is magical, and at every turn there is something that makes you go “oh my god, I’m in Spain”. There are guitar players on corners, tapas being eaten everywhere, incredible buildings, narrow streets that open to grand plazas, and beautiful women. Seriously. All of them. If you are into Spanish women, go to Sevilla. There is an endless supply of stunningly beautiful girls. Shockingly, this did not cause mental breakdown number four.

From Sevilla we drove to Tarifa, which is Spain’s southernmost port. We were pleasantly surprised by how cool this little Spanish surf town was. Chic restaurants, lots of young people, and a laid-back atmosphere. In the morning we took the ferry to Tangier, Morocco. Here I had a mini-breakdown because I forgot how stressful it can be to travel in the Middle East. The second we stepped off the boat, we were surrounded by people trying to sell us things, give us tours, all of them with their specially crafted story. I’ll get into this in greater detail at another time, but I’m not going to lie, I really wanted to just get back on the boat to Spain. I really was not in the mood to deal with a pushy dwarf with a fake New York accent chasing me around Morocco at 8 AM. No. Really. But we stuck it out, figured our way around, and ended up having a great time. Puts finger to chin and tilts head upward. So close to Europe, such a world away in so many ways. Audience rolls eyes.

And speaking of a world away, we soon found ourselves in Britain: Gibraltar. Gibraltar is obviously geographically Spain, but you go through customs (no stamp – whatever!) and, whoa, everything is in English, and I don’t mean just the language. Bobby’s on the beat, the red telephone booths, pubs, fish & chips, the Arsenal/Chelsea match . . . it was like being in some sort of even more surreal Epcot . . .  with monkeys! Gibraltar is home to Barbary Macaques and they are maybe my favorite animal. So unfazed by the stream of humans making way through the park, they have no problem jumping onto your car, or even you. So much fun.

Next was the Costa del Sol. Marbella and Malaga were the two main destinations on our list, but we ended up kind of hating them so we moved on. I’ll get into it later, but that was last breakdown, number four. Well, for now of course. We found two far less sprawling and far more idyllic places, Torre del Mar and Nerja and fell in love with them, particularly Nerja. Absolute paradise. I only wish we had skipped Malaga and Marbella all together and spent more time there. But no matter, because who has time anyway?

This brings us to today where we spent the day in Valencia wandering around the City of Arts and Sciences, which is a feast for the senses to say the least. We had a very relaxing day just strolling through the futuristic compound and the aquarium there, which is astonishing. So well done. The animals look healthy, are active, and everything is just so gorgeously put together. We weren’t going to go because the admission is pretty pricey, but it was well worth it.

In the early evening we drove to Barcelona (about 3.5 hours) and I’m now writing this in our chic little hotel room very near the Sagrada Familia. From here on, things should be a bit more relaxing. We’re finally spending more than one night at the same hotel (ahhhh) and are ready to finally experience some of this laid-back, siesta-loving way of life we’ve been hearing so much about. On Friday night we’ll head to Avignon for our friends’ wedding on Saturday, and then it’s through the Cote d’Azur, which should be less break-neck.

We are clearly insane, but I look forward to sharing more details and actual stories, because hoooo boy, there have been some doozies! Good ones, crazy ones, bizarre ones (hello, did I mention the MOROCCAN DWARF WITH THE FAKE NEW YORK ACCENT?), and sentimental ones all in just a little over a week! And we still have like TEN days left! I hope you don’t get sick of trip talk because I have enough material to last through the end of the year.

Oh, and a word about the terrorism threats: we live in New York City. Our life is a terrorism threat. Kill me here or kill me there, just let me eat some dates wrapped in bacon first, please.

Tagged

“I Simply State That I’m a Product of a Versatile Mind in a Restless Generation”

 

If you know me IRL (that means “in real life”, mom) then you are probably aware that I have no idea what the hell I am doing with my life 95%* of the time. Thankfully, the New York Times recently came out with a story that makes me feel like slightly less of a total screw up and more of . . . well . . . a total screw up who is not alone. Woo hoo!

Although the article was really fascinating and a must-read for anyone who is or deals with us loafers on a regular basis, it had perhaps an odd affect on me. For a day or so I continued to putz around, proudly accepting my fate as a member of the nouveau Lost Generation. But then it reared its head again, that Socratic bane of my existence: what am I DOING with my life?

So, ladies and gentlemen, I have decided to actually DO something with my life: I am going to Med school.

I decided on Saturday and, yes, in September I will be taking my very first classes towards a Med degree. Impetuous and yet very noble of me, right? I know! Take THAT New York Times! I DO know what I’m doing with my life, thankyouverymuch!

Of course by “Med” I mean “Mediterranean” and by school I mean . . . um . . . traveling.

What? You thought I meant medical school? Are you insane? ME? A DOCTOR? The hypochondriac who eats off of the floor? You want THAT kind of neurosis to be responsible for living beings? 

Oh, I see, you’re relieved! Ok then, good, we’re on the same page.

So yes, that’s my big news. After quite the travel hiatus, John and I are headed to Europe next month for a super fabulous, very check-off-the-life-list-worthy trip throughout the Mediterranean. We’ve been talking about this particular trip for some time (years) but finalized things over the weekend – well, at least that’s when I was told. On Saturday I was having a perfectly rational discussion** with John about how stressed and disappointed and frustrated I’ve been with certain situations in my life at the moment, and how I can’t go on a trip because I can’t afford it and that he needs to be tough and just tell me that we’re not going so I can close the book on it for the moment and focus on other things wah wah wah. Instead, he took the sweater off of my head, looked me lovingly in the eyes*** and said “well, you’d better figure out how you’re going to afford it because I already booked the tickets. We obviously really, really need to get away.”

All together now: awww.****

I know. He is such a sweet, wonderful enabler.

So on September 25th I head to Berlin to meet John (he’ll go to Germany a week earlier to visit family and friends), and we’ll spend a couple days there before heading to Spain and commencing Med School 101, wherein the only anatomy I will be studying will be in cured meat form . . . and I plan on being an excellent, excellent student.

For now, we plan and countdown: one of the best parts of traveling and one of the most infuriating. This trip is truly my dream trip and so I don’t mind the anticipation: a month is nothing at all and I know that the trip will be OVER before I blink, so I’m fine with time slowing down and relishing in what is to come. I’m not sure how I can even express my excitement, but it’s probably something along the lines of being proposed to by your dream man on Christmas morning when you’re 6 years old and he has, like, tickets to Disneyland and a private jet in your backyard that’s full of Moet & Chandon, Shake Shack cheeseburgers, and boxes and boxes of Sees candy and all of your favorite people in the world (you know, like George Clooney and Audrey Hepburn) are waiting in the super-plush fully-reclining seats, waiting for you to board so that you can all watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers together in your jammies.

Yeah. Something like that.

It’s not the best time to travel at the moment as I’m not exactly rolling in any form of dough – phyllo, Pilsbury, or otherwise – but we’re attempting to do these very lux destinations as economically as possible. This takes a lot of research and planning, so over the next few weeks I’ll share some of my tips on how I organize for trips this involved.

 So, no, I still don’t know what I’m DOING with my life. I’m still a member of this century’s Lost Generation. And even though it’s stressful and difficult and at times depressing and unstable, I think I’d rather be a part of the “Lost” Generation than the “Greatest” Generation. The Losties had The Great Gatsby and A Moveable Feast, they had Paris and Picasso; the “Greatest” had, I don’t know, The Joy of Cooking and white picket fences. While that idea is enticing to me sometimes, I don’t think I’m a Jello mold type of girl.

So we’re lost and we wander and it appears aimless. But I haven’t given up hope that all of this wandering leads to what I’m looking for . . . even if all I’m looking for at the moment is Chèvre chaud, wine, and paella.

*ok, fine, Jesus, 100%. Jerks.

**total, hysterical mental breakdown of epic proportions that involved tears and snot and crying into/covering my head with a sweater

***shuddered in disgust at the snot running down my face

****feel free to barf/roll your eyes/etc.

New York State of Whine

Happy New Year!

Ok, so it’s July, but I think that when you’re a renter, signing or renewing your lease is actually a better judgment of time passed than any sparkly ball dropping. John and I have now lived in New York for (over) a year and boy oh boy, what a year it was.

I suppose that anytime you move to a new city it’s a bit of an adjustment, but holy mother, we had an incredibly hard first year here. I think I’ve made it pretty obvious that I love living in New York and am so, so glad that we took the plunge and moved here, but just about everything that could have possibly gone wrong did, so I guess you know my love must be very deep and really true. It’s ugly “I will change your diaper when you’re old” love – none of that “awoken by true love’s kiss” crap.

Man I would really, really like some of that true love’s kiss crap.

Anywhoozle, as I’ve mentioned before, our foray into New York began with John landing a really great job with a big international company, rah nah nah nah nah. I had a couple of really excellent, very promising job leads as well. Ones that I was certain would amount to a fabulous, meaningful, life-fulfilling career. Because I pretty much expect for things to fall into my lap. We were thrilled because we had wanted to make this move for some time and given the economic climate were baffled by our good fortune. Recession, schme . . . um . . . cession. Take that economy! We’re moving to the most expensive city in the country! HA! I laugh in your grimy, black & white, Hooverville-living, tattered clothes wearing face! NOW FETCH ME MY TOP HAT.

So there we were, thinking that our combined income was going to be, like, a million dollars a year and all of a sudden, not two months after our arrival . . .

. . . the big international company decided to close their New York office.

Whee! I did not end up getting either of the fabulous, meaningful, life-fulfilling jobs the universe had promised me either. Yahoo! We quickly realized that the easily MILLIONS of dollars we were supposed to make would now actually, well, according to my calculations, be more along the lines of, well . . . zero. Zero dollars a year. Hmm. Ok, we can work with that, right? Right? Hey – hey! WHERE ARE YOU GOING WITH MY TOP HAT?

So here we were, hatless and stuck in an iron clad lease on a very expensive apartment. You know, the one we signed when we were to be making a million times our new income of zero . . . which, I guess technically IS zero, but you know what I mean. Top that off with the rainiest summer of all time in New York and you’ve got yourself quite the cheery environment. Yippee!

So yeah, there was THAT to deal with, but luckily John was able to continue working with his previous DC employer remotely and I managed to find some temp work. Not the best circumstances, but something to survive on without having to head back to DC with our tails between our legs. Oh how the mighty (for five seconds) had fallen. Had everything worked out the way it was supposed to, things would have been a lot easier, but relocating to New York is probably never easy.

I’m from the east coast and so before I moved here I felt confident that my basic knowledge of the city, in my ingrained intuition of a subway system, and experience with the general assholeyness of northeasterners would be a nice foundation. It turns out it doesn’t matter how many times you have come to visit, how many weekends you have spent here, it takes a good, solid year of Manhattan living to really figure things out. And by “figure things out”, I of course mean just start scratching the surface. But now that we’ve survived year one, things are slowly starting to get a bit easier. We’ve moved to a neighborhood that suits us much better, into an apartment that is much cheaper, and barely remember what it’s like to have all of the conveniences of a suburb. Things like, you know, gorgeous in-house washing machines. And gigantic cereal boxes. And cars. And central air. And grocery stores with aisles bigger than my bedroom. And . . . and . . . ahhhh.

Ok, so it’s hard. It’s harder than I thought it would be, but oh, I love it. It’s worth it. I don’t remember what it’s like to not walk 15 miles in a weekend (no – really), just wandering around, because there is so much to see and do. In fact, I don’t remember what it’s like to be frustrated with the whole “there’s nothing to DO” problem, on the contrary. There is too much to do. Like, I barely have time to watch The Real Housewives of ______ anymore . . . ok, that’s a lie. But almost.

I don’t know how long we’ll live here. If it were feasible to live a normal, nuclear family life in Manhattan without being one of the High hat and Arrow collar set, I think that even my restless self could live here forever. There is a family that lives in the brownstone a few houses down from us and sometimes I press my face against their window and repeat over and over “Chicle? Chicle?”, in hopes that they’ll mistake me for a small Mexican child and will adopt me. Shrug. So far no luck, but I think a snowy winter will definitely add to the effect, so fingers crossed.

So where am I going with this . . . hmm. Ok – let’s end with trite things that everyone knows that I have just figured out: well, for starters, when you’re an “adult”, nothing is easy. Like . . . nothing. And it will never, ever be. Last summer I hurt my back and even STANDING UP was hard. Ah, note to universe:  I get this lesson. I am a master. Stop quizzing me. I don’t need my doctorate in it. What else . . . hmm. Oh! Everything is a trade-off. There are good and bad things about living in *elsewhere* and there are good and bad things about living in NYC. According to my research, everyone is dealing with the same set of problems. In New York, there are just more distractions, and I am very happy with being distracted for the moment because I have, like, way over 99 problems that absolutely include bitches, so take that Jay-Z.

So it’s been a fun-disastrous-lesson learning-adventurous-disappointing-exhausting-incredibly-filled-to-the-brim year. But why would you live life any other way?

Sick on a Trip? Aw, Crap.

 

Last weekend, some family members and I swapped our various tales of gastro-intestinal nightmares while traveling . . . at a wedding. Over dinner.

Hey, the invitation said SEMI-formal. If it was formal-formal we would have polished our monocles and discussed Wittgenstein and the bridge column, but we aren’t invited to events like that.

Anyway, it turns out that we all had some pretty good (and gross) stories, and because I can’t think of anything useful to write about at the moment, I thought I’d share mine.

John and I did a trip to the Middle East in 2007, visiting Egypt, Jordan, and Israel and this was the first time I was traveling someplace that came with a CDC warning. They recommended that pre-travel I get various vaccines, and to avoid tap water, ice cubes, etc. While that didn’t bother me, being a green traveler it did make me slightly cautious and a little worried about getting sick. To begin with, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. In fact I’m pretty sure that at this very moment I have a brain tumor and perhaps even, my latest favorite, cervical cancer. So the idea of coming down with a case of, oh, HEPATITIS in EGYPT sends my mind absolutely reeling. No, really. Even now just thinking about it makes me short of breath. Also, and far more importantly, I’m a cheap-ass and this trip was expensive. It would be an enormous waste of money to be holed up in some crappy Sheraton for days when I paid thousands of dollars to see some thousands-of-years-old-built-by-aliens crap . . . I mean treasures.

But no matter, right? After all, we were staying in western style hotels, how bad could it be? No tap water, no ice cubes, careful about produce, wash my hands, I can handle that, I do that anyway. Everything started out fine. On our first night in Cairo we had a lovely meal overlooking the Nile, I had a glass of wine, everything was going great, and I couldn’t wait to get moving throughout the rest of Egypt. The next day as we were walking through the famous Khan el-Khalili souk I petulantly told the CDC to go fuck themselves as I ate a chickpea straight from the what I’m sure was the horrifically filthy hand of an Egyptian con artist (no, really, he was a con artist, but that’s another story for another time). And I was fine. I felt like Anthony Bourdain – no reservations, biyatch! Pass me another chickpea!

Um, just kidding.  Hello, the guy was a con artist. He TOLD me to eat that chickpea, and I was a slutty western woman who causes earthquakes in post-9/11 Islamic country. I didn’t want to upset him.

OH GOD NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Despite the auspicious pea, I continued to be cautious about water, brushing my teeth with the bottled stuff, keeping my lips tightly sealed while in the shower (which is a task in ENORMOUS will-power for those of us who feel compelled to sing Part of Your World with each shampooing, let me tell you), and even going so far as to WIPING MY LIPS OFF as I dried off. If you’ve seen the Sex and the City movie scene where Charlotte suffers the same compulsive neurosis, then you can imagine how hysterically I laughed. This was me, right down to the facial tics.

And like Charlotte (and as in life), I did fail at my quest to keep my mouth shut. I, too, swallowed the evil un-American water and freaked out just a tad.  Despite all of this I was fine, healthy, in total vacation and tourist mode.

But then it happened.

I don’t know what it was, what did it, but it happened. I got sick. And you know, we should probably add an extra “t” to that “but” because yup . . .  butt happened. Butt happened like you would not believe. And I was on a boat. T-Pain did NOT include that in his song and dear god, a boat is the last place you want to be when your intestines revolt. Oh, and speaking of places you DON’T want to be when your intestines revolt? Anywhere within a ten mile radius of your boyfriend, the person you are attempting to fool into believing you are sexy and attractive. But guess what, lucky me, I WAS IN A 6×6 FOOT CABIN WITH THIS PERSON.

just moments away from sticking my head in a trash can

Honestly, you guys wonder why we’re not married? THIS IS THE REASON. He is still considered to be under post-traumatic stress.

I didn’t want to miss out on seeing the sights, so despite all sense, I ventured out with our group. At one point I started feeling really weak, so I broke away from the tour and sat down somewhere, and that’s really when and where I threw up: right there in a four thousand year old temple, a UNESCO world heritage site, a place of worship and extreme importance to ancient Egyptians and the world and I barfed on it. Screw you, Osiris.

I was sick in just about all modes of transportation

So usually when you think “food poisoning” you think of a 24-hour bug type thing, right. I was hoping I’d flush this thing out of every possible hole in my body and just be done with it and get back to my normal self.

I was so horribly wrong. I got sick on about day four of the trip and didn’t recover until about TEN DAYS LATER in Tel Aviv.

Now, I think that according to most medical practitioners, when you have diarrhea (yeah, I said it) for TEN DAYS you are technically supposed to die. But I didn’t JUST have diarrhea for TEN DAYS. I had diarrhea in a foreign country where toilet paper can be a rarity (oh, don’t even get me started on what I went through in one fateful restroom in Jordan), with my boyfriend in extremely close quarters, in brain-boiling heat, having to pass on delicious Middle Eastern food for bananas and toast, as hypochondriac, FOR TEN DAYS, you are officially more badass than Chuck Norris. Kiki > Chuck. Obviously.

sick, and yet still dead sexy

 

Ok, well, “badass” perhaps was the wrong choice of word.

Honestly, it was really awful and I thought I was going to die, but somehow I managed to press through, not really missing out on any of the trip. The adrenaline of seeing all of these amazing things and being in this incredible place somehow kept me going.

At the end of the trip when we made our way to Jerusalem, I was saved by a nice Jewish doctor. Promised land, indeed. Have you ever had to answer the question “so the diarrhea, is it explosive?” in front of you boyfriend? No? Well I have, and he is still with me. Write a song about THAT, Taylor Swift.

I’m not a religious person, but you can’t be in Jerusalem and not feel that it is a very special, very spiritual place. It’s the birthplace of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism; home of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa, the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall.

Most importantly, it’s the home of the Dan Panorama hotel where, for future reference, you can get Cipro from their in-house doctor.

Shining, Gleaming, Streaming, Flaxen, Waxen

 

Hair is a shockingly important subject to women, and I suspect men too, or else women probably wouldn’t care so much. We have too much here, too little there, the imperfect color, the undesirable texture, and on top of all this, we have 5,000,000 products out there to attempt to remedy the situation. Demi Moore apparently didn’t go to the Golden Globes on Sunday due to a “bad hair day”, and really, if there’s no hope for disgustingly rich Demi Moore, why do mortals like us even bother?

As ridiculous as that is, I get it. I get how a good or bad hair day can completely change one’s mood. I continue to buy different shampoos and conditioners and all sorts of other crap hoping to find the miracle product that will finally make my hair look the way I think it should. For women who are as silly as I, this is an expensive (not to mention futile) mission. A cut and highlights at a mid-range salon can cost up to $250 (not including tips) and I am embarrassed to admit that yes, I have spent this much on my hair.

Current circumstances have forced me to accept that a person in my near-homeless status does not need a $250 haircut, and I have done quite a good job convincing myself that my hair will end up looking like a mess 48 hours after a haircut anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s a good cut or not . . .

. . . but then a little bird told me about a little something called the Frederic Fekkai hair model program, and well . . . you know, now that I think about it, hair actually really is extremely important.

A free haircut! Doesn’t that seemingly wonderful phrase conjure up all sorts of awful images? Yes, yes it does, but they asked me to do it and against everyone’s advice, I agreed. Besides, a creative director at one of the most expensive salons in the city? I think I can probably handle that.

My appointment was yesterday morning and though I was seriously nervous, I trotted down to Soho, envisioning what was likely to go down; you know, generically foreign people fussing over me, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, severe plastic square glasses upon their noses, and deciding upon, “ahh, mais oui!!” something that looks like this:

 

Whatever, I can run, right? If I feel uncomfortable I will just scream and run away. Grow a pair, grow a pair, grow a pair, I kept chanting to myself, knowing too well of my overly polite ways. When I walked up the stairs and into the lovely salon, I started to feel slightly more at ease. Almost immediately, two men led me in front of a full length mirror as they sized me up, head to toe, boots to earrings, and fluffed, pulled, and yanked my hair while speaking far-too-fast French that was way beyond my “bonjour, je m’appele Kiki, et tois?” abilities.

“So, you’re okay with that?” asked the younger one of the two, who proceeded to laugh at my stunned face. “Just kidding”. Whew.

Shockingly, this went very much like any regular hair appointment would go – he asked me what I wanted, what I do, how I style my hair, if I was looking for a change, and then made his suggestions. At that point, I felt totally at ease and told him to just go for it.

There were three of us “models”, and one by one we stood in front of a group of regular stylists as the creative directors explained what they had in store for each of us and why and how they would go about doing it. I was thrilled when my stylist laid out his plans and everyone responded with “that is a great idea! Perfect!” Whew, ok. Ten people wouldn’t lie to me, right?

After our hair was washed with that luxurious Frederic Fekkai shampoo and conditioner that smells divinely of spring and rich people, we stood one at a time in front of the “students” while our stylists cut our hair. The funny thing about being a model is that people talk about you as if you aren’t a real person: “with her long, thin neck, would you ever cut shorter?” “this girl is very tall, and short hair makes one look taller” “we have here a very pretty girl, so there is not only one style for her, with her we could do anything” “she is too pretty to have a regular haircut, she cannot look like everyone else”, “is her hair colored? It doesn’t need to be, she has such a lovely base”. I sat there in awe, eyes wide open like a dork, wanting to say “ohh, really?? Wow, thank you so much! Oh my goodness!”, but I don’t think models are allowed to talk.

I soon realized why haircuts here are so expensive: “here, have some tea, relax, and let us compliment you over and over again while we make you even MORE beautiful than you already are! If that’s even possible, as you are the incarnation of the perfect woman I usually only see in my dreams!” HERE, TAKE ALL OF MY MONEY. What else do you want? Lip gloss? Gum? Keys? Here, take my whole bag. Need a green card? Sure, I’ll marry you. Compliments are just better when they come from complete strangers who happen to be charming French men who know how to make you pretty.

This, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with the world. Society works in a way that allows rich people to feel better about themselves all the time, in nearly every possible situation, while regular people are made to feel like worthless crap. Typically when I go to my normal salon, they’ll reprimand me for using a flat iron and tell me that my hair is damaged and try to guilt me into buying some more products. It’s just not right and I for one refuse to stand for it.

And that’s precisely why I’m going back as a highlight and color model next week.

I have a dream, my friends, I have a dream.

You can check out my new dreamy look here.

I Wish I Could Quit You

 

If you’re a bit, um . . . how do I put this . . . “socially lazy”, as I am, it’s wise to pair yourself up with someone a bit more outgoing. I don’t think I’m antisocial, I honestly just never have the desire to go out to bars or clubs, and that’s what the majority of people my age enjoy doing. At heart I’m 60, so I like to do things like go to dinner or to a show or to a lecture or a museum. Embarrassed by this, for good reason, I am rarely the one to initiate plans, unless they’re with 40 year old gay men. John is far less socially anxious than I and always stuns me with his ability to connect with people.
 
He tells me that it’s a European thing; that people take relationships much more seriously there, and often times he and other Europeans will complain about the superficiality of Americans when it comes to community and staying connected with each other on a deep level. When it comes to friendships, I’m unfortunately more stereotypical American – bad at keeping in touch, flaking out on plans, and only superficially interested in getting to know people. I’ve always blamed this difficulty to connect with many people on my oddness, but John has shown me that not everything happens immediately as I’d like them to; relationships take a lot of maintenance.
 
I’m not completely learned of this lesson yet, so I’m glad to have John and other European friends who are much more proactive. Case in point, I went to a rodeo on Friday night.
 
I’m not sure I would have ever expected that phrase to come out of my mouth. I went to a rodeo on Friday night. I spent my Friday night at a rodeo. Rodeo rodeo rodeoh-what-the-hell? Rodeos? In Manhattan? I didn’t even have time to say no to my French friend – and these are precisely the kind of people I need in my life.
 
Though I wouldn’t normally think to go to a rodeo (especially in New York City in Madison Square Garden), I’m always open to trying new things, and so I decided to go for the experience and to give my country the benefit of the doubt, just like I would do with any other country’s traditions. Besides, this is Manhattan; I think it’s safe to say that the crowd would be more Brokeback than Bonanza . . . on the other hand, Bonanza was kind of . . . well, nevermind.
 
So there we sat, the Germans, the French, the Bulgarians, the American, trying to figure out what the rodeo was all about: “Oh, eight seconds! Yes, that number must be important. There is a movie about the rodeo with Luke Perry called 8 Seconds”.
 
It turns out that’s really all you need to know: a bunch of guys try to stay on a crazed bull for eight seconds each. No semi-finals, no finals, no contest to see who can stay on the longest, just . . . eight seconds. It’s the perfect sport for my short little American attention span.
 
But then we notice the sheep . . .
 
German accent: “I vondah vhat they are going to doo vith all of those sheep!”
 
American accent: “Hmm, maybe they’re going to have some sort of herding contest? You know, like on The Amazing Race!”
 
French accent: “Mebbe zay ave meedgets ride zhem!”
 
Midgets, kids, what’s the difference? Yes, they had a rodeo for the kids . . . on sheep. They weren’t exactly bucking like the bulls, but . . . well, just take a look:
 
 
 
 
Is that not the most awesome thing you’ve ever seen? I have to mention that most kids fell off immediately, but this little girl held on for dear life and then did an AMAZING victory dance which I sadly didn’t capture. Hilarious. When John and I went to see The Nutcracker a few weeks ago I whispered to him, “If we have a kid, it’s doing ballet . . . even if it’s a boy.” So naturally during the sheep races I yelled, “Oh my god, if we have a kid they are SOOO doing this! And ballet!”
 
All in all it turned out to be a fun night. It’s funny how things I would normally be inclined to run away from turn out to be worth the experience. The next morning I remembered that tidbit, and decided to head over to Lincoln Center to wait in line for discounted tickets. It had been a late night and though I had planned to get there by 9 when they started handing out wristbands, I just couldn’t pull myself out of my nice warm bed. Finally around 11 I jumped up, threw on some clothes, and yelled “what am I doing?! $20 tickets! I have to go!!”
 
The box office opened at noon, and while people had been waiting since much earlier, I was still able to get a wristband and so it looked like I would still be able to get tickets to something that night. I waited and waited and waited. Two and a half hours went by, and my first choice, South Pacific sold out. “That’s ok”, I thought, “I really want to see Turandot too.” So I waited and waited and waited and another hour went by and it was finally my turn to get in the ticket booth line. I was so excited, “Turandot produced by Franco Zeffirelli for TWENTY DOLLARS! I am SO glad I got my stupid ass over here!” So I waited and waited and I was almost to the window, just a couple people away, when “Ladies and Gentlemen, this evening’s performance of Turandot has just sold out.”
 
WHAT?! NO! ARE YOU SERIOUS?!
 
I went John McEnroe on the Lincoln Center . . . but I kept it all inside. I left the line and stomped my way across town through Central Park in a big, angry, teeth-gnashing, Hunter boot stomping huff, cursing the rodeo and my friends who made me stay out so late and drink so much so I didn’t get up to my 8 AM alarm, frustrated that I wasted nearly five hours of my Saturday eavesdropping on middle-aged Upper West Side-rs.
 
Clearly my rodeo antics upset the art gods, so I just want to put it into the universe that it was a one time thing. I’m ready to be elitist again. I probably won’t really enroll my future children in a junior bull-riding league. Ok ok, I definitely won’t enroll my future children in a bull-riding league. If you find you need to make a human sacrifice to make up for this shift in axis, I recommend Luke Perry. I promise I will never do anything like this again, and I most certainly am not looking at working ranches in Montana as vacation destination for this summer . . . no way.

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