Posted tagged ‘travel’

Getting Around

June 5, 2008

I just got back from a week in San Francisco, a city that had eluded me in my travels despite my affinity for extremely liberal ocean side cities. I went with my grandma, a lively lady who proudly pronounces her 71 years to anyone who asks and seems to get even more ornery with age. The whole time we were there, Grandma was on the hunt for a street car souvenir of some sort to put next to the miniature taxi cab she got in New York.

Since a small portion of every day was spent seeking out the perfect plastic replica, I had a lot of time to ponder how the street car came to symbolize San Francisco and the big yellow taxi is a clear reference to NYC, especially when neither of these modes are actually the ones most commonly used by locals.

The slow moving streetcar costs $5 a ride and is teeming with oversized Nikons and neon fanny packs. New York City taxis are used by locals and tourists alike but most New Yorkers head underground to make their daily commutes.

For me, subways mean mundane everyday tasks from my two-stop commute to the Rolling Stone offices to the 30 minute ride to go out in The Village. Taxis allude to either special occasions–where my stilettos won’t survive the trek to the 6 train–or the end of a late night adventure, where the subway stations would be too difficult to maneuver or just plain dangerous for a girl to stumble into alone.

The average New Yorker wastes most of his yearly income just to pay the rent so doling out an extra $15 a trip just to get downtown seems unnecessary. That’s money that could go to more mouse traps or cans of Raid, which I personally like to use to line the entrance to my apartment in a vain attempt to keep little creatures out. How can you not love this city!?

But when friends and relatives come to visit, they bring with them a terror of the subway system which I still can’t quite figure out. Is it the rodents or the bums that keeps them on street level? Because we have those above ground too. Is it the crowds? You can’t tell me it is the crowds and then continuously drag me to Times Square, the most obnoxiously crowded area on the island. I can’t figure out the origins of this fear so I can also associate taxis with visitors.

Most guests offer to pay for their taxi rides so I usually don’t mind but I do wish I could figure out the source of their aversion. How can they be so opposed to a mode of transportation I use on a daily basis? Any ideas?

When my best friend from high school came up to visit me a few years ago, we got all dressed up to go out and since it was a straight shot on a nearby subway line, I made the mistake of taking her underground to get to our destination. In a subway scene I have yet to see duplicated, we witnessed a couple get in a knock down drag out fight, a half naked homeless man, and a drunk teenager vomiting over the platform. And that was all after Adrienne and I had to conquer endless flights of stairs in our pointy pumps. Adrienne is my only friend who has not come back to visit me and she is the last visitor I have taken on the subway.

For the Love of Jamón

May 21, 2008

The first photo album I made from Spain was based solely on a specific food that Spaniards seem to worship more than the old ladies worship their fur coats or the young men worship blonde Americans. More than any other country in the world, Spaniards consume about five kilograms a year of a food that gets significantly less respect here in the United States: ham. Five kg of ham. That’s over 25 million little piglets each year.

 Jamon flavored Lays

Similar to New Yorkers and our hopeless obsession with Starbucks, it is hard to walk a block in Madrid with out spotting the popular Museo del Jamón. That’s right, this food is worthy of its own museum. Not an actual museum (thankfully) Museo del Jamón is more like a deli/diner where you can get ham sliced straight from one of the numerous large legs that hang from the rafters soaking up the patrons’ cigarette smoke. If you look closely enough, some of the legs even have bits of hair left prickling off of the skin. And if that doesn’t get your mouth watering you have no hope of surviving in Madrid.

 

 Museo del Jamon

 

Ham played a strong role in Spain’s history, dating back to 1492 when the Christians drove the Moors and the Jews out of the country. It was the time of the witch hunt when Christians who were not sufficiently devout were accused of being Jewish and the Jews who wanted to stay in the country that they called home worked hard to hide their true beliefs behind excessive PDC: Public Displays of Christianity.

 

Ham became a way for Christians to display their religion and for the Jews to hide theirs. Ham legs displayed prominently in home windows and storefronts became a common sight and it is even said that ham would be hidden in dishes to test a patron’s religious beliefs. Six centuries later the tradition has led the way to a full on love affair with the meat. So it is the Christians of the 15th century that tourists and vegetarians have to blame for the endless surprises they find in their potato croquettes and “vegetable” soups. As one waitor told me as he placed a salad in front of me that was weighed down by slabs of ham, “It IS vegetarian, it’s just jamón!”

 

The Holy Trinity (?)

May 19, 2008

I once told my old boss at Style Publications that the guys I befriended in Spain were like different action figures: the air traffic controller, the firefighter, the man who owned a motorcycle shop. But for the ones who made the biggest impression on me I think a more accurate description would be The Holy Trinity. I’m definitely not trying to put them on some heavenly level, in fact, for Miguel at least, I’d like to do just the opposite,  but it is funny how, looking back, each one of them seemed to have their distinct role to play. Let me explain: 

MIGUEL

Miguel, the previously mentioned Argentinean, was an air traffic controller who aspired to be, not an actor, but the guy who does the horrible voice overs for the movies. I didn’t understand it at the time but apparently Brad Pitt’s voice over guy is just as famous as Brad Pitt in places like Argentina. In the short time that we dated (mid January just after I arrived until Valentines Day) he made me brownies in the microwave using only sugar, flour and chocolate and they were actually semi decent. Take that Top Chef! Yet he scoffed when I tried to introduce him to the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and despite the fact that he enjoys a chocolate pastry and a cigarette for breakfast each morning, he chided me for eating something so unhealthy.

 

Miguel would be The Father because of his age and because I met him soon after I arrived in Spain, before I knew much Spanish or had even begun understanding the culture. He confessed to lying about his age; he told me he was 25 and then said he lied and was 28. I’m thinking he was probably 30. I was 20 at the time. Not cool. Also if we went a few days with out seeing each other, the next time we got together he would always exclaim in frustration “when are you going to learn Spanish?!” As if he was so disappointed our communication wasn’t perfectly fluid after a couple of days apart. Disappointment is definitely a fatherly quality.

 

 

 

ALEJANDRO aka ALEX

The Son would definitely be Alejandro. He liked me to call him Alex because it was more American and at the age of twenty-something (I was afraid to ask after the Miguel incident) he still lived at home. Because of his history with Americans he knew this living situation might be perfectly acceptable in most European cultures, but for Americans it really threw us off. But because of his lighthearted nature he just laughed it off and could easily joke about the whole ordeal.

 

I met him at the little bar across the street from my apartment–a small cave bar with low ceilings, dim lights, and Moroccan inspired decor and the best hand crushed mojitos you will ever find in Spain. He was with his ex girlfriend, I would later learn, when his radar for American girls picked up our broken Spanish and thick American accents. He invited my roommates and I to his own birthday party the next night and even wrote us directions on a little bar napkin. Uneasy but curious, my roommates and I (we were dubbed The Katies because our names are all variations of Katie which is especially difficult for native Spanish speakers to pronounce) ventured off to see what a Spanish birthday party was like. It would be this same logic that got me in a cab heading towards the suburbs of Madrid one evening to “see what a Spanish house party is like.”

 

The party was pretty much what you would expect, until Alejandro came out in a Care Bear costume swigging champagne from the bottle and pronouncing “I am lover bear!” in broken English that disintegrated into laughter. Any uneasiness The Katies initially felt was quickly washed away with champagne and laughter. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

 

Alex is The Son because like many Spaniards my age, he just seems so much younger! People there were often amazed that I left home at 18 to go to college, as if they couldn’t imagine being on their own that early in life. But I guess in their culture, it is kind of unimaginable. But even if living at home is the social norm, his relationship with his mother is not. She still picks up after him, even wakes him up some mornings and doesn’t flinch if he’s not alone in bed. And as a painter, she has even painted a nude picture of her son, which I was not fortunate enough to see. But all in all, Alejandro’s good natured, laid back personality can often be seen as childish but more in the way of a man who never fully grows up…like Peter Pan. In a good way!

 

 

 

PEDRO 

And that leaves Pedro, inaccurately dubbed “Fat Man,” with the title of The Holy Spirit. He was one of the bartenders at Plaza Menor, the quaint bar across the street, and the only one who spoke a bit of English and tried to understand our Spanish. Although he was only slightly pudgy, I woke up one morning remembering only that I’d met a fat man who was a bartender and whom I thought I’d fallen in love with.  And after telling The Katies this, our three brains were able to put the events of the night together and figure out who I was talking about. While the love turned out to be an effect of the mojitos, the desire to get to know Pedro reamined.

 

The street between the bar and our apartment was so small, maybe 6 steps apart, that we could hear the sound of the large creaky door opening as we groggily woke up from our daily afternoon siestas. The sound of Pedro slowly opening the heavy metal door was often my alarm clock-my cue to awake from my post class nap and start getting ready to go out for evening.

 

Fat Man is The Holy Spirit because he always seemed to be right outside my window (not in a creepy way) and because he is still a very elusive character in my mind. Although we saw him almost every night, whether it be for one of his unforgettable mojitos that I still sometimes crave, or just saying goodnight as we stumble home past his bar, I never felt like I got to know him beyond the superficial neighborly relationship. He gave me his e-mail address on my last night in the city and we both looked close to tears when we hugged goodbye, but I somehow lost his e-mail in my move and I never heard from him. So Pedro, if you read this, my apologies for the nickname and please send me an e-mail! Otherwise, I’m sure I will make it back there soon enough; I just hope Plaza Menor is still where I left it!

 

A Belated Introduction

May 18, 2008

Jungle in Ghana

I started this blog as an experiment–a test where I could try out promoting myself and the writing I have published–as well as play around with writing in an unedited arena where I can pick my own topics. Its still coming together but I just wanted to introduce myself so many the jumble of posts will seem less random!

I just graduated (literally! Like last week!) from New York University with a double major in Journalism and History. Writing and journalism have always been passions of mine and after spending a semester abroad in Madrid, traveling became one of my other loves.

I could (and have) written endlessly about my experience in Spain, where I was lucky enough to live with two crazy girls who were just as adventurous and open minded as me and made for perfect companions when we visited something like 11 different cities on a shoestring budget. The three of us learned so many things about traveling, about the cities we visited, and about ourselves while staying in hippie communes in Budapest, communal hostels in Berlin, and unfriendly hotels in Dublin. Before that I had never been a traveler, just a tourist, and it wasn’t until that six-month long experience that I even fully understood the difference. Since then I have spent a summer in a reporting program in Ghana and I’m currently trying to work out a trip and possibly even a move to Buenos Aires.

I have interned at a lot of great magazines in New York City—Seventeen, Business Travel News, Interview, and Rolling Stone—and have done some writing for a glossy in Tampa, where I’m from. And now that I’m finally done with school I’m hoping to graduate to gigs that actually pay!  And despite the economy and the struggling print industry, I remain armed with this false optimism that my friends from Spain like to make fun of us Americans for. I am on the hunt for that elusive fulfilling job that I can be passionate about! 

Home Sick for the Road

May 17, 2008

ba

In between the chaos of graduating, ending my internship at Rolling Stone, and making big kid life plans I often catch myself day dreaming about my next big travel adventure. Last week I filled my Amazon.com shopping cart with over $100 of books. And used ones no less! Now I’m reading Wanderlust and a Fodor’s guide book on Argentina and constantly pulling out my albums from last year’s adventures in Ghana and Spain. I swear my big red suitcases that double as a closet are staring longingly at me from across my tiny NYC apartment.

I’ve been talking about moving to Buenos Aires since I got back from my semester in Madrid over a year ago. Although I met so many interesting, intelligent, and just totally fun Spaniards while I was there, it seemed like wherever I went I met someone from Argentina. The first “local” friend I made in Spain was an air traffic controller/wannabe voice over actor from Buenos Aires. Because I met him before I really got a handle on the Spanish language, and because he admitted to lying to me about everything from where he lived to if he smoked, our relationship did not last past one honey rum soaked Valentines Day, and it really wasn’t all that memorable as a whole, but the way he described his home country really was.

The Paris of the West, the Big Apple of the South, something in me is convinced that this thriving city is where I’m meant to be. Something about a place that has overcome hardships, both political and economic, makes it so appealing in a strange way. Much like in Berlin, a city that has endured not only the loss but the shame of WWII and The Cold War, the attitude of perseverance just invigorates me and makes me optimistic.

If I ever want to move down there, now would be the perfect time in my life, but since it feels like I’ve been working to get a good job (both in school and in the six magazine internships I managed to pack in during college) it feels like such a huge leap to run away from that path even if it only is temporarily.

But for now I will continue reading about other people’s wanderlust and try to contain my own while I try to make decisions about the very near future.

Guggenheim Review By Katie Lee Hull

May 4, 2008

If you have ever wondered what an explosion might look like in slow motion, this exhibit is for you. From February 22 until May 28 the Guggenheim Museum in New York City is featuring work from renowned Chinese artist, Cai Guo-Qiang, in an exhibit titled “I Want to Believe.” In what Thomas Krens, Director of the Guggenheim Foundation calls “the best artistic transformation of the Frank Lloyd Wright space we’ve ever seen,” nine plain white Chevy Cavaliers are suspended into the air of the museum’s rotunda mimicking the motion and color of a vehicle explosion. The cars hurtle into the air, the back end flipping over as an explosion of red, orange, and eventually blue spew from the vehicle in spears of flashing lights. The artist draws inspiration from pyrotechnic science, Chinese myth, and Feng Shui, creating an aesthetic appeal blended with science and architecture. Because the exhibit is located in the entrance of the museum, tickets aren’t necessary to enjoy it from the ground level, where you can stand directly underneath the suspended cars and look up for a dizzying view of flashing lights and colors. Instead of a fear that these nine cars might come crashing down from their nearly invisible wires, there is a feeling of weightlessness as you gaze up and see an airy white on white interrupted only by the quiet and continuous blinking lights.