On solo travel

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On solo travel

FeetInMiami.jpg

I've been fortunate to be traveling a lot lately- primarily for work but tacking on a day here or two there to explore the cities. Habit is a strong pull, it seems, as I watch people land in a new place only to jet back to where they came from as quickly as possible. "It's just that I'm so busy," they say. Aren't we all? The "cult of busy" I think someone once called it. 

Truth is most of the things we have to do can be done anywhere, and usually we are doing these things on our own- emails, reading, checking Facebook (seems like all the people I see sitting on a train or in a coffee shop are just endlessly scrolling throw pictures of cupcakes and tailgates and poorly lit pasta dishes). Habit again, or so we can hope. Anyway, why not be in a new place, alone? 

Maybe not everyone enjoys the anonymity of solo travel, or has the opportunity to do it, but lately I have and, damn, it feels important. While it can be exhilarating to experience a new place with someone who calls it home, as I did in Portland, there's something different and quietly special about going it alone and knowing no one. Gliding through unnoticed, or in some cases very much noticed. Solo travel is like a great painting, the one that made you feel something. At first glance it didn't look that great but then you got close enough to really experience it and you felt its beauty and power and then a twinge of familiar. 

Solo travel nights are spent sipping slowly on a glass of red wine, dipping baguettes in very good olive oil, soaking in the tub, and noticing the texture of sheets and the way light recedes across the floor. It can also include such luxuries as coffee shop hopping, book store browsing, and vintage shopping broken up by long brunches and early dinners at the bars of nice restaurants. 

I take extra long getting ready (with no one to meet or yell "hurry up!") while blaring 60s French pop. I read good books or, gasp, whole magazine articles. I wear black winged eyeliner (maybe the influence of aforementioned French pop). I do touristy things that are actually really memorable like botanical gardens or self-guided public art tours. I take care of myself.

By the end of the trip I notice friends deep in conversation or family members deciding what to order and miss home in the best possible way. I learn I could do all of this at home- could but don't and probably won't. 

On the eve of holidays, here's to the art of solitude. To making the most of opportunities. To coming full circle. Cheers. 

 

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"Carry it with me like everything that matters"

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"Carry it with me like everything that matters"

"Carry it with me like everything that matters..." These are the words I read on my flight back to Boston on Friday. They were just one line in Cheryl Strayed's gift of a book Tiny Beautiful Things (page 134). They echoed in my ears and traveled down my throat and expanded across my chest like water when you really need it. 

They made me think of standing at the window at Salt and Straw , a much hyped ice cream shop in Portland, Oregon. That city loves a theme and Salt and Straw was a well executed one: small batch shop sourcing speciality ingredients from farms across the country. The Husband got a cone, probably some touchingly childlike flavor per his usual. I tried four or five samples off real vintage spoons before tasting the black walnut and gamay noir jam. That was the one. Cones in hand (well, I had a float with Dry Rhubarb Soda because why the hell not) we stood by the window and looked under the tree canopy. There were so many trees in Portland, with every color and size of leaves. The Japanese maples were my favorite, especially the ones with tiny intricate leaves (like peering out from under a quilt). 

One of these leaves started to fall slowly, circling elegantly down to the ground. When It landed I wanted to run outside and pick it up before anyone stepped on it but hesitated because that's a silly thing for an adult woman to do. Instead someone came around the corner, crushing the leaf. The moment passed- I reached for my phone and Husband did the same, little blue screens reminding us where we intended to go before we even knew how we felt when we'd get there. 

Travel is an interesting thing. It opens you up but can also drive you back to whatever came before. It can be exhausting, a challenge to feel of a place and not just in a place. 

Portland and Seattle were interesting. Seattle had this calm about it. The landscape was beautiful- all those mountains and shades of green. The days were clear for our whole trip and while walking across the bridge near the Seattle Public Library we saw Mt. Rainier off in the distance and I gasped and learned what "majestic" means. 

There wasn't as much good coffee as we'd hoped, though the service at Bedlam was gracious and Top Pot Donuts offered an Ovaltine latte I'm bummed I didn't order (though the best donuts of my life were a consolation). There was also Rob Roy, a gem of a bar in Seattle decorated by old records, vintage cocktail signs, and an antler leg lamp (they've had five stolen already so now the baby is nailed down). Everything at that little place was cushioned: the stools, the bar ridge, the footrests. Why not more of that?

Portland was interesting in a different way and not in the one we expected. There really weren't that many hipsters or bikes, but there was an overwhelming amount of good eating and drinking in a very spread out city. We drove from the SE to the SW to the NE and back again, passing the same landmarks many times but always from a different direction. It was a tough place to grasp. 

Pieces of it I was immediately grateful for: lots of food carts offering cheap food of every kind imaginable and not, the evening spent at Hale Pele (a tiki bar) with the kind of staff that sends you out the door a nicer person than when you came in, whenever my husband suggested we take a side street because he knows I love architecture but won't remember to seek it out, and meeting people who made that city their home with an admirable intent and clarity. Other pieces, like watching the Red Sox win the World Series at a crowded sports bar far from home with polite nice people, left me unexpectedly nostalgic for a thing I don't generally pay much attention to (sports) in a place where I often question I belong (Boston). Travel, I learned on this trip, is just as much about the search to find meaning or interest or delight or belonging as it's about doing the work that will allow you to appreciate all those things when they find you.

As we pulled into the airport our cab driver, a quiet guy listening to jazz, said, "Get home safe and in one piece. Each of us are billions of tiny pieces." 

 

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Coolhunting or something more?

Around 1999 Bonne Bell put out a sheer red lip balm that came in a translucent red tube with silver lettering. Closed the lip balm looked like a cross between a lighter and a mechanical pencil, which to my 7th grade self was one of the coolest things I could imagine (that alone just about sums up teenage Crystal). When you slid a tab on the side of the tube a little silver flap lifted up and a thin bullet of cherry-flavored "I'm experimenting with womanhood" elegantly appeared.

I carried that balm around in my JNCOs for weeks until one day I got bored in English class and absentmindedly began to balm up. A boy I never talked to before but thought was funny whispered, "What is that thing? It looks like a lighter crossed with a mechanical pencil." He would go on to become one of my best friends, someone who really "got me" which as we adults know is a gift that doesn't come along often.

So sometimes a cool thing is just a cool thing you and you alone delight in. But other times it starts a conversation or connects you with someone, and that brings your world in to focus just a little. I can't promise any of the cool stuff I found this week will do that, but we can have fun trying. 

The latest Coolhunting installment:

  • Local: Speaking of connecting, Rachael Ringenberg aka @girlpolish, one of my favorite Boston Twitter people/bloggers, just started a new series on her Erstwhile Dear blog called "what's on your homescreen?" and in the first installment I learned of Simple. It's no secret I'm a sucker for a beautiful logo but this bank has more than that- Google Analytic-like tracking of expenses and intuitive savings tools.

 

  • Design:  If you like my '90s denim reference let's go for deep cuts and consider the leotard aka "bodysuit" aka thing made of green velvet I wore for a week straight in 5th grade. Bradamant makes some grown-up versions, including this chambray one

 

  • Tech: Not that I've been binge-watching "Scandal" or anything, but I've got "moving on" on the mind. If only Olivia Pope could break out of her Microsoft sponsorship and get an iPhone, she could download KillSwitch, an app "making breakups suck less." (Don't leave comments about how the President would have a Page and not a FB personal account- I already went there and decided it didn't matter because after all its a fake TV show and I could make this caveat longer but blog posts are supposed to be short and tidy and oh boy now I'm speaking Huck...) 
Chambray leotard needs to happen 

Chambray leotard needs to happen 

KillSwtich app

KillSwtich app

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What It Do: 10/18-10/20

 

What's up for the weekend? Probably will go off on the bubble tea per my usual but here are some other intriguing options: 

preview of "what is left unsaid" 

preview of "what is left unsaid" 

  • Friday: Opening night reception "what is left unsaid" at Voltage Coffee & Art  (suggestion: get some boiled peanuts and a whiskey/espresso cocktail at Hungry Mother after; that's how I spent my night last Friday and it was pretty perfect) 
  • Saturday: "2nd Annual Quick Draw Event at Good Life":   I didn't get to go last year but if you saw the cover of this week's Dig complete with lick and stick tattoos you got a sneak peak at some of the art. Per the event's FB page its "the group is a national low brow, urban, and modern art..." which sounds right up our alley. A  rare chance to see art created on the spot.
  • Sunday: Better grab some brunch (or afternoon tea) at UpStairs on the Square before everyone's favorite restaurant that reminds you of your-crazy-glamorous-but-lipstick-teethed-aunt closes. Eater broke the news this afternoon and I'm bummed. I celebrated my 21st birthday there with my first cocktail ("Venus in Furs") as well as my engagement, birthdays, and just-because-I-want-the-world's-best-turtles moments. Every girlfriend of mine falls as hard for the decor as I did- it's just out there and beautiful, it has this way of reminding you, and making you feel like, the woman you dreamed of being as a little girl. And they stoked the fireplace throughout the winter. There was also that time a friend and I found ourselves trapped in the middle of a Harvard glee club impromptu performance, complete with bunny hops and too much gingham. I threw my eggs up in my mouth and crawled under the table but it was just that one time. 

See you around, cool kids.  

Ali 'Jersey' Nebel, one of the artists participating in Saturday's "Quick Draw Event" 

Ali 'Jersey' Nebel, one of the artists participating in Saturday's "Quick Draw Event" 

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This cool thing- Every Everything @ Voltage Coffee & Art

My friends over at Voltage Coffee and Art have done it again. Well, really they keep doing it. It’s just what they do: inspiring art by beautiful people. If you haven’t checked out one of their shows this one is a great place to start. If you have you already what a good time you’ll have and you don’t need me to tell you. This is just justification of your awesomeness. 

EVERY EVERYTHING, New Work by Matthew and Nicholas Zaremba

Closing Reception: Friday, August 2nd, 2013 7-9pm. Free (!!)
Twitter: #everyeverything
Instagram: #everyeverything 
    Matthew Zaremba: beautifulthengone
    Nicholas Zaremba: nnnnnnick_
Interview with SMDLR.com.
  
Details, details:
Voltage Coffee & Art Gallery
295 3rd Street, Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA 02142
Accessible by Red Line stop: MIT

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Something about yesterday

Boston has been my home for five years, but it wasn’t until last April that I experienced the Marathon. Kait had already moved to Austin, but her dad Claude was running and she flew back to cheer him on. For the first time I was working at a job that actually observed Patriot’s Day (/”Marathon Monday”) so I took the holiday as, if nothing else, an excuse to walk around with a friend on what usually feels like the first day of Spring.  

So like many it was a simple connection to one person that got me out among the crowds. I expected something like a parade scene, I guess, and while it looked similar it was also something much more. It’s so hard to put in to words the experience of watching the Boston Marathon- this day where the people of what can be a cold, surly city look each other in the face, smile, and line every foot of the 26 mile route to cheer on strangers. “Why are their names written on their shirts?” I naively asked Kait, overwhelmed by the horns, clappers, cheers, and smell of sidewalk BBQs. “So we know them,” she replied.

In Cleveland Circle we caught a glimpse of the leading men and women- the professionals. Their forms were the definition of elegance, legs and arms gliding through the air in practiced arcs. The sight of it was enough to make the crowd hush just a bit. As a group they seemed to make no sound at all. I had never seen anyone move like that- it was captivating. Seconds later they were gone. Not long after came the soldiers, fully uniformed with heavy backpacks. Beads of sweat ran down their foreheads as they marched in tandem. A man in front carried the American flag while a women held a banner that said something about fallen comrades. I couldn’t exactly make it out through tears and mascara sting.

That’s the thing with the Boston Marathon, the thing that I think makes us all at least a little emotional- it’s the pride. Pride for the runners who train and sacrifice and dedicate and push themselves to a place beyond what most of us can comprehend. Pride for the friends and family who stand, like we did, on the sidelines with makeshift signs and scream themselves hoarse until the moment they see the person they came for and then absolutely freaking lose it. Pride for the kids who hold out their hands for high fives. Pride for the volunteers, with their reassuring (knowing) smiles and endless cups of water. Pride for a city that celebrates all of this.

Yesterday I was supposed to meet people in both Brookline and near the finish line. I headed to Brookline first- it’s closer and the crowds are usually more local. It also seemed like a good place to catch my friend Jamie, who was running at a pace of 8 minutes a mile according to the text alerts. She’d run a few marathons before  but this year was her first “Boston.” She trained and raised money for months, and watching her process had inspired me to start running. I’d only worked my way up to a 5k, surprised at the peace and focus it brought, but Jamie supported and cheer -leaded me every step of the way. She told me about oranges (apparently running=never getting enough citrus) and I told her about acupuncture. She approached the Marathon the same way she approaches everything: humble, selfless, and determined. “It just matters, you know?” she’d say.

It was a beautiful day- it’s just starting to smell like spring and the light doesn’t have that bluish winter hue anymore. Shiny, happy people were making those familiar sounds of clapping and encouragement punctuated occasionally by the drone of drunk college students.

My favorite people to look for are the individuals, usually women, that stand alone and seem out of place. They smile to themselves.  Or the people needing to cross the street- you hold your bag tight and book it, praying that you don’t panic and cause a runner to slam into you. This year a National Guard volunteer had a whole line of people just waiting for her to help them. She scanned the road a block up and could estimate  exactly the moment you could cross. I watched her place her hand on each person’s shoulder, point, then gently nudge them across.

Walking up towards Cleveland Circle to meet some friends I passed a small card table with the sign “Jay and Elijah’s Cookies and Lemonade.” The cookies were ten cents and the lemonade fifty. A boy about eight years old sat behind the table, legs tucked under his shirt as he read an Abraham Lincoln biography.

My friends and I scanned the stream of runners for Jamie. We saw barefoot runners, a tattooed runner with a mohawk and jean shorts, runners with huge posses (“That’s Paige, scream for her!”), old men runners, a little girl with pigtails and bright pink tights running with her dad, runners dressed up like hot dogs and bananas, and a guy in briefs with serious butt cleavage. Every few minutes we’d notice someone that made us smile or laugh, or we’d just stand there, in awe. It didn’t get old, the cheering and the clapping.

At 2:42 PM a text message came, Jamie had finished with a time of 3:56:26. We missed her. Bummed out and hungry, we walked down Beacon in search of a BBQ. Minutes later I got another text message from my husband: “There was an explosion at the finish line, where are you?” On Twitter there were just vague reiterations of “explosion at finish” until I clicked on someone’s picture. It was of the Grand Stand area, except the bleachers and barricades were on the ground. People were laying all around, some getting CPR, and there was blood. There were reports of a second explosion and more pictures. I stopped looking and started thinking of everyone I knew who might be down there, including my friend who would have crossed the finish minutes before the blast. Some calls went through, others didn’t.

It was another twenty minutes before most of the people around us started getting word. Slowly everyone took out their phones. The cheering stopped, the clapping died down. People huddled together, texting or calling to find people or get more information. The race was still taking place, and more and more runners started to notice the change . One guy was telling his mom about the explosion just as an older man ran close to the sidewalk. “They are saying people a lot of people are hurt at the finish, people losing limbs…there might be more bombs,” the guy said. “What’s happening?” the runner asked. No one knew what to say or do- how do you tell someone who’s running to that very same finish line, where their families are waiting? Some people kept running, others accepted stranger’s cell phones and stopped.

The next few hours felt eerie and chaotic as everyone texted or called loved ones, trying to both get home and make sure everyone was accounted for as the streets that were only hours ago filled with celebration grew quiet. I got home safe thanks to my friend, who packed as many people as he could into his car and drove us each to our front doors. My husband was able to leave work and drive downtown to  pick up Jamie and her friends who waited at the finish right before the bridges closed.

Everyone I know is okay. Many of my friends and coworkers were blocks from the blast site and we all are rattled by what we saw, heard, or feared yesterday.  It is bizarre and unsettling, too real and unreal at the very same time. I keep thinking about that National Guard soldier, that girl in pink tights, that boy with the cookie stand and I’m grateful for those moments that took me out of myself to appreciate the world around me before things shifted. I’m still in awe of the runners and what they accomplished, or set out to as many couldn’t make it to the finish, and that awe exists in the same place as deep sadness for those that lost their lives or were injured.

I was in nursing school years ago, where we were trained to see injury and loss and push ahead to focus on helping. Keep the hands moving, go on to the next thing, be helpful. That’s what I’ve tried to do since yesterday, pushing all the what-ifs and anger and sadness somewhere else.

That was until this evening. The sun was setting as I drove into Boston, the sky pink and the clouds large. My drive goes right along the banks of the Charles River, where I spotted a group of about five boys, around eight to thirteen years old, running alongside one another. They wore blue and yellow (Marathon colors) and on the back of their shirts wrote “Boston Pride.”

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