Tag Archives: travel

There’s still magic to be found

12 Nov

I don’t know what to say and most I know feel the same way. Some of us are silent, others are shouting, and most everyone is afraid. My Trump friends are elated, my Hillary friends are so angry their eyes are turning red, and the city of New York is openly weeping.

On Wednesday, I felt fear when I left work, and the streets were lined with police and protestors, and I felt the hum of violence in the air.

I don’t like being political because politics can be so petty. Two people, two parties, shouting at one another, trying to convince others to vote for them. As a student of history, as a Yogi, as a peace-believer and love-maker, this feels wrong to me; that when there are two sides the only result is a split, a divide that strikes through our systems in irreparable ways.

This goes against what I believe about people; that what sits within us is not so different no matter the nation or nationality. This belief was born when I went to Spain for the first time, at sixteen, and I stood on a beach with people from Italy, China, Switzerland and the US, and we were all teenagers who wanted to be liked – who wanted to explore, be kissed, to dance, get drunk and run the streets of the small town that we were visiting.

Some of us were more privileged than others, some of us more educated, some had happy families and others not so much, but in my heart I knew that we all strove for a similar thing – for the right to seek our happiness, the pursuit of it, no matter what it looked like on the outside; that was our youthful, motivating factor.

I have sat in shacks in Ecuador with families of 12, with 14 year old mothers, and I have stayed with friends in Colombia whose brothers were stabbed by gang members. I have spent days on farms in Bolivia, and  on small, impoverished islands where there are no options other than the sea. I have bused through Nicaraguan towns, and I have biked through the English countryside where I was the first American that some of the villagers had met.

I have lived in Illinois, Indiana, California, Colorado and New York – I have been both red and blue, and I  have always come to the same conclusion. That the ability to live a simple, peaceful life is the greatest gift of all. That fear is our greatest monster, and it’s one we cannot escape, and that people say they want, “change,” but to transform, to shift into a different way of being is never easy –  and is rarely peaceful.

That empathy is the alchemy to the world’s shadows, and so I will never stop listening, and traveling, and reading, and hearing both sides because I know beneath it all I am not so different from the other.

So friends, let us not fight hate with hate; let us not fall into despair because love does win, even the darkness. It’s the light inside of us and when it is ignited, we can let other’s ugliness enter it and they, too, will be warmed by our way of being – for there is still magic in this world.

On Wednesday, to soothe myself, I popped into my local bookstore because it’s the way that bookstores are supposed to be: warm, welcoming and well-lit. Unexpectedly, there was a famous female poet performing. She was speaking to the experience of womanhood, and when I looked into the audience I saw men, women and people of all colors, snapping their fingers, being moved by her words – funny, furious, violent and healing.

And I thought, no matter what anyone tells me, now, or in the future, if they say, “go back to where you came from,” I will smile and say, “okay,” because I’ll know that I am home.

 

 

 

Colombia

27 Oct

I can still taste Colombia – it’s Limonada de Cocoa – slightly sweet, sexy and a refreshing way to cut the heat. It’s blended mangos con agua with sugar, it’s lulo, a fruit that I had never heard of before until I arrived.

It’s Paisa breakfast, so hungover from Aguacaliente that I can barely keep my head up. It’s beans, rice, sausage and chicharron. It’s drinking straight from the bottle and salsa. It’s a man inviting me to dance, a caballero, with a two week old, whose wife is at home, as she should be – taking care of the bebe.

It’s him proudly showing me photos while giving me the eyes – always naughty, always dangerous and yet seeped in tradition, national pride. It’s knowing I could get stabbed at a soccer game, if I was a man who wasn’t wearing a millionarios scarf. It’s standing on the side of the road, waiting for the bus to come, hopping on as it almost stops and then listening to boleros for two hours, wanting to stuff cotton into my ears.

It’s going to the square with Fiorella and Marisa, while negotiating our way onto a boat and jetting off to Playa Blanca. It’s watching shirtless boys hang off the side of the boat, hoping to be taken away from what they were born to – creatures of the sea and island life; future fisherman with threadbare possibilities.

It’s going even further North, to ‘The Dream Hostel,’ and disappointing a man who I told to, “meet me there.” It’s making eyes, drunkenly, at Lancelot, the French bartender who had walked away from everything two years before. It’s going to a club, and standing on a wooden block, shaking, shimmying and observing who I’d want to give myself to.

It’s Raul’s green eyes, flashing, as he tells me, “tu estas loca,” and I laugh and ask, “por que?” and he grabs my hand and twirls me around because it’s Cartagena and we just won the game.

It’s being airlifted above the communas with the three Australians I was trailing because I was too afraid to take the subway alone. It’s going to an art museum that has three rooms, and laughing at myself for seeking culture.

Colombia is wild – it is better than culture, it’s untempered, natural beauty and as haughty  and crazy as the truly beautiful are.

It’s more than taste, that drips down your lips, it’s more than a, “feast for the eyes,” it’s the sound of guitars at one in the morning, while mota wafts in the air. It’s that quiet cup of coffee on a finca and sixteen shades of green. It’s curved roads and snakes with no names that are yellow and black with poison. It’s avocados as big as your face, and the sound of strangers saying, “buenas,” to one another.

It’s standing in a valley with near extinct trees and crossing bridges made of wire and breaking slats, and  paying a guy 5 bucks to be driven to a town that’s just a suggestion.

It’s learning how to fearlessly hop on the back of a motorcycle and being taken into a community that is booming with ramshackle tourism: beach shacks, hotels, juice stands and swimming pools. It’s observing a village that only has school three days a week because that’s how often the teachers are willing to come.

It’s sitting alone in a club while a bouncer watches me and my host does business behind a closed doors. It’s homemade hot chocolate for breakfast and unrecognizable soup before lunch. It’s the Museo del Oro and the sounds of, “Roxanne,” straining from speakers.

It’s floating in Jonny’s pool, while wearing a newly bought, bright yellow bathing suit and staring at the city’s mountains.  It’s smoking meat and dance, always, anywhere, all the time because the doors are flung open, to people like me who just want to soak it all in, who want to inhale and never be the same after.

It’s that place that’s behind me, and in front, at my fingertips, and I can almost touch it, always – because, as one man told me, “tus ojos son peligrosos.”

How Lancelot can enter any hospital tale

16 Aug

Uncle John’s Band fills the room, and I can’t look at my Father. He’s wearing a diaper and his breathing is like a death rattle emerging from deep within. He’s been this way for hours. We have said our goodbyes two days before.

“Daddy, I love you,” I say, and he goes, “I know.”

A part of me still doesn’t believe him. How can he know? How can he know that the distance between us is because I can barely stand to be around him? I don’t know this man with a cane – I don’t know this man who does 2nd grade word problems to help with his memory. How can he know?That looking at this man makes me want to take the fetal position and never get up again – that if I did that I’d be an utter disappointment, but at least he would know how much he was loved.

Though, that’s all done now. A week before I noticed that he was silent, sitting at the edge of his bed with his feet planted on the floor. The TV was on, but I could tell that he wasn’t really watching. It rang out like empty noise that was meant to distract – not entertain.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, and as he usual he responded with, “nothing,” and I didn’t believe him because despite everything he still couldn’t admit to me when he was in pain.

I wasn’t sure if he fully realized what he was doing. How long he sat there like that. I wasn’t sure if I should try to talk to him or leave him alone. Our conversations were stilted, and at times they seemed to take away all of his energy.

Months before I had witnessed his writhing body laid out before me, and while my Mother screamed at me, “tell him a story,” and I began to tell the story of Lancelot – not the knight, but the handsome, womanizing, almost-lover that I had become friends with in the North of Colombia. I had no idea what I was doing, but I went with it.

Under most circumstances, I loved telling the story a Lancelot, and it wasn’t just because of his name. He pulled me into a corner in a dark club in Taganga, infuriated with my inattention toward him and demanded, “but Samantha, who do you like? You seem to like everyone,” and I wanted to explain to him that what I liked was being free.

Outwardly calm, but deeply panicked, I couldn’t stop the story’s telling. My Father murmured, “morphine,” and I said, “Daddy, it’s coming, don’t worry. You know what’s really funny? Well, maybe not funny, but umm, when I met Lance I was traveling with another guy..who was my friend, of course. But, um, I was annoyed with him. Ever heard of helicopter Moms? He was kind of like that, and when I saw Lance what I was really seeing was an opportunity to get rid of him.”

All the while I kept thinking, “I’m a terrible person. Not only did I ditch that guy and use Lance to do it, but now I am telling the story of Lancelot to my Dad whose every nerve is tensed in excruciating pain.”

So, I paused and wracked my brain for any other story, and all I saw was nothing.

Everything was covered in this mist, and I couldn’t even see my own recent experiences. I gripped my Dad’s hand, and plowed on, moving onto the part where Lancelot bought wine and cheese, and we laid by the pool, flirting, until I slipped and hit my head on the concrete in an attempt to be both sassy and sexy. After a bottle of wine, it seemed okay to stalk off, in false indignation, on a slick surface.

When it came time for the apology behind closed doors, I paused again. I couldn’t go on with the story, even the beginning wasn’t really parent-appropriate: the nightclub, the traveling with a man who I ended up leaving. It was all in my first months of backpacking, and it was a delicious chaos that I had never permitted myself.

But, here I was, standing in an equal chaos, and in response to my Mother’s demands to distract, it was the only story that lit up in my terrified mind.

She kept screaming at me, “what’s wrong with you? Talk to him, you’re not helping – can’t you think of anything?” and I wanted to lean across the table and scream at her, “how are you making anything better?” I wanted to weep for my life, which took me far and wide, and yet always yanked me back to where I began.

Eventually, the morphine kicked in and my Dad fell asleep. I looked at the white walls and laughed to myself; it was all so absurd.

In the silent room, I took in the white: the sheets, the pillowcases, his gown and the walls, and I knew that each room contained another person who was wearing the same thing. Some had families and some didn’t, and we had been there so many times over the years that the staff knew us. That they were witnesses to our families’ story; that they probably knew us better than our closest friends because they had seen our pain.

I looked down at my Father, “my Daddy,” and again I was wordless. Overcome, I knew that nothing had come to me because everything was nothing in the face of this – that Lancelot needed to enter into this moment because I was trying to save my Dad through a story.

Through my fully lived life; that was rich in experience, many of it joyous, adventurous, and I drove myself into the ground at times with it all because when the time came I knew I wanted to grip each moment into my hands and offer them up as worthy.

Looking into the grim reaper’s eyes, and whisper, “I’ve learned.”

Today in New York

22 Mar

Sometimes I just feel the rhythm of this city – the energy that swells up from beneath the layers of concrete.  It throbs through me, and echoes out of all of the layers of myself; all the Samanthas piled up on top of each other.

People ask me, “Where are you from?” all the time, especially since I’m new to this filthy, rat-infested, glorious, crumbling empire.  I feel that; that I choose to move here and watch it all fall, but I know that it’s already fallen.

“I don’t know where I’m from,” I say because I’m not from anywhere. I’m a culmination of all of my experiences, of all things forgotten and remembered.

Sometimes I sift through my memories, like pages of a book that I cannot put down.  I am terrified of forgetting and know it’s the inevitable conclusion.

But my experiences are my most precious possessions – the shining jewels of my mind.  People don’t realize that when they tell me I have a good memory I shine brighter than when I’m told I’m beautiful.

I don’t care about being beautiful, really.  But, when I look at my aging face I know that I am lying to myself.  That my life will change as my body changes because people will respond to me differently.

And who I am if I am not pursued and shouted at?  Who am I when I no longer look like the person that is recognizable to me?

And yet, when the young waitress, whose beauty is so obviously flourishing, serves me my glass of white wine, I don’t envy her.

She is too fresh, too ignorant – her beauty is in the blossoming and not in the experience; her beauty is a shiny shell and not the nooks and cracks – the marks that chaos leaves behind.

And what is beauty anyway?  I have seen so many different types and faces, and when I sit across the table and ask two woman of color if they have a difficult time dating, their response is, “”yes, thank you for asking.”

Asking is my pleasure, as is knowing others, or, “the other.”  The unseen city, the yet-to-be climbed hill, the person I haven’t yet met.

This is what I love about New York, it’s a city of extroverts, of people constantly wanting to tell something to the other because we’re all standing so close together.  Piled up in so tight that it can be stifling.  Elbows are bumped, drinks are spilled, and apologies are rarely made – there is no room.

The mountainous, sea-smelling spaciousness of other places that I have lived reminds me how I didn’t fit because no one had the need to talk or listen.  No one wanted to scream out their story to me – people had too much room to, “journey.”  Here people need to cut through to make space.

And sometimes I feel my joy radiate out of me like an incandescent light that others smell – I strut down the streets, smaller than most, and yet, still noticed.  At other times I feel so lonely that I can’t get out of bed, feel that I’m trapped in, weighed down by all of my unshared experiences.

I’ve been so loved by so many people, but never really loved; never had a man (or woman, for that matter) want to spend the rest of their life with me.

I know it’s me – I’m the common denominator.  I keep people at arms length or throw myself into and/or against things.  The thought of truly giving myself to another horrifies me but so does my ever-abundant freedom. 

A friend of mine told me I was looking for the perfect partner, but aren’t we all? Aren’t we all looking for that puzzle piece that just naturally clicks itself in, forming a greater picture, making a single soul larger with it’s connection?

Maybe God is my soulmate – maybe I am just a child of the world, the universe because the only thing that I’ve been in love with these past two years is life.

I’ve looked up at the sky, on a boat in Bolivia, floating along a lake were sea meets sky because its 3,812 meters high.  I felt the sky’s nearness.  I wanted to take my fingers and poke them through the scattered clouds that were hanging above; to swing across that lake with clouds in my hands.

My heart was so full – the richness and luck of my life so apparent; time and time again, I looked up and whispered, “thank you.”

And when I stride down the streets of New York, on my way to a meeting, an opportunity, a date, and I feel the millions of people who are also going somewhere, I believe that I can do anything.  That putting myself out there into the world is an accomplishment; that I am here because I am willing to push forward, persistently, toward the image of Self that I hold in my mind.

That unattainable Perfect image that isn’t real; that is a mirage in the distance, the person we all believe ourselves to be if we were just a little bit more or less of something.

I hear the hustle outside my window, steaming out with sound, and I look to the handsome man sitting next to me, and I pretend that knocking over my coffee is an accident.

He turns towards me, offering one of the napkins piled high on his table, and our fingers brush, just for an instant.

It is in that instant that I lower my eyes, and then quickly look up.  My hazel meeting his blue, and I breathlessly say, “thanks and what is your name?”

Beginning again what I’ve done before, and will do again, in cycles, one piling on top of the other, seeking out and writing all of life’s unwritten chapters, and here in New York with it’s abundant stories, ferocious underbelly, with it’s bloody gorgeous rhythm that rips people apart is where I will dwell, for now, as I write my endless, infinite chapters.

It All Ends Eventually: Turning 30 & A Year of Travel

14 Aug

I wanted to write something profound when I turned thirty. A Joan Didion – esq kind of thing about the end of it all and what it all meant. Instead, my computer stopped working, and then I thought, “but really, computers are on the out anyway,” though I’ve never enjoyed writing on my phone or tablet. Ask my friends, I barely text.

So now it’s a month later, and I’m sitting here trying to write something profound about the end of this year and what it all meant. As if I have the capacity to capture it when I’m still somewhat in it, or in-between it and what’s ahead.

To inspire myself, I looked at all of my photos, not just of my trip, but of the past ten years, and all I could think of was, “Wow,” which was frustrating.

“This is how articulate I am?” I thought. Wow.

In my 20s, I kept telling myself (and those who would listen) that I would get to writing; that the book was coming. I also told people I was lost, and confused, and sad, and then occasionally people wouldn’t want to live with me anymore, which lead to me to moving a lot.

People would wonder why I moved so much, why I left things, why I was so disorganized, “how could such a smart girl not know this or do such stupid things?” or “why in the hell aren’t you leaving him?” and I thought people were pretty hard on me, but really I was hard on myself.

I agreed with the questioning, and I had no answers. I didn’t know how a smart person could, at times, choose so poorly for themselves, or how a confident person could be so insecure. I didn’t understand how a courageous person could not let go of things, and I certainly didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my life. I just knew that I expected myself to do something amazing, and I knew even that expectation wasn’t original.

However, that expectation was what I lived by, and so I began to blindly and fully throw myself at things like, “Account Executive,” “Chicagoan,” “Girlfriend,” “San Francisco,” and these things began to pile up on top of one another, giving me a drawer full of experience with no definite answers.

I began to feel that I wasn’t writing because my life was my book, and that subconsciously I was acquiring the outrageous to create stories that were to be written in the future.

Privately, I raged at the memoir genre and wanted to ask everyone in the world to stop writing in the first person because there needed to be an existing market for me and my experiences when I felt ready to commit to the solitary discipline of “the work.”

“I tried to at 25,” I would answer to those who asked, “but I just wasn’t ready for the loneliness that comes when it’s just you and your computer,” and I knew that answer was true.

When I turned 30 I was in a town in the Netherlands called Ultrecht. I sat down to an Italian dinner with practical strangers, and drank tea because I was recovering from being sick.

This number that I had been looking forward to seemed so anti-climatic, and as much as I wanted to not care, I couldn’t help but feel sad.

“Why was I even there?”

The year before I had a dinner with 20 friends, went a club, kicked a go-go dancer off the stage, and did a solitary performance to ‘I Am a Woman,’ and I thought, “hell yes I am!” but that was the end of something.

This year of travel was an in-between, an intermezzo of wonderfulness that I needed in some intuitive, inexplicable way. I can’t rationalize it. I can’t pretend that I don’t have terrified moments of questioning; the haunting doubts of what am I doing with my money, or why am I with four strangers in Ultrecht turning 30 before a plate of Italian food in the Netherlands?

“Maybe going to Asia would have been the better option, maybe I should have taken this money and invested in the business I want to start, maybe I shouldn’t have visited so many countries?”

And then it occurs to me that these are the same questions as, “how can a smart girl be so stupid?” or, “why did you do that?”

I know exactly what I am doing. I can articulate who I am and what I want in ways that I thought were unreachable, but most importantly, I have proven to myself that I am a capable woman who has the courage and knowledge to live her life as she wishes – that is the point.

This is what will lead me into the next chapter of my life, no matter how daunting it feels in this moment; this piece of proven belief in myself founded on my experience is what separates my 30s from my 20s.

I am now in the process of reconstructing my life from this place, and no, I don’t know what’s ahead, and yes I will write my book – maybe two.

And yes, this year, this ending, this transition is something I will never forget, though parts of it will fall away with time, or old age, or dementia, or maybe I’ll get hit by a car tomorrow and all that will be left of me are the words that I’ve left behind for others when I found the time and patience to jot it all down.

The Spectacle of Versailles

20 Jun

I was awed by the gates of Versailles and the golden arrogance of them.  I could tell how Louis and  Marie had no sense of the world that they were living and the people that they were supposed to rule.  There is no reality in Chateaux Versailles.  It is a magnificent and isolating universe.

My mind almost couldn’t comprehend the enormity of Versailles.  All I could think of when I took my first steps on the stone plaza was, “I can’t believe people walked here in heels.”

The ancient stones are uneven and have large spaces between them.  The marble staircases are somewhat slanted and the dirt paths are full of small stones.

Though, I didn’t know all of these details as I waited in the queue to get in.  I was just trying to maintain my balance and extricate myself from the German tour group that I got stuck in the middle of.  Finally, I asked if I could  move forward and the leader said, “of course Princesses can go to the front.”

I inwardly laughed because I was staring at what a real Queen created, and I know that never will I possess such audacity nor would I be comfortable inhabiting it.

My pounding hard could barely take in the gate, which was blinding in its brilliance each time the sun struck it.

Everywhere there were swarms of people from all over the world.  Once I finally entered the Chateaux, I saw an American man lean over to his son, glance at a Tibetan Monk and say, “bet you don’t see that every day,” as if the Monk was the spectacle.

The ceilings of the Chateaux were works of art.  They made me feel like I was standing inside a painting.  There were long halls of marble statues, magnificent chandeliers and a battlefield of paintings.  Each detail enhancing and adding to the theme and beauty of the room.

After an hour inside I had to get some air.  It was almost too much to see the King and Queen’s bedchamber, to imagine the Lords and Ladies that strolled these halls.  I could see the many spaces for intrigue. I could see how easily once could slip behind a stunning chair or curtain and exchange an unnoticeable secret.

The weight of history was apparent in Versailles every particle, though it’s also a neighborhood.  As I went to the Garden, I saw people running through it.  Versailles is where they exercise and this almost blew my mind more than the Chateaux, though this is Europe – where one lives with history and sleeps within it.

And what is history anyway?  Is it the iconic lanes shaded by the vertical pines?  Is it the canal where now laughing families row boats?  Is it the site of Petite Trianon and the thousands of people that enter and leave it daily?

I don’t know if I heard the ghosts of all those that tread before, but I do know that when I was invited to take the same walk that Louie did daily, my brain wasn’t fully comprehending.

The sun was too strong, and I saw the need for these trees and the intelligence in which they were shaped.  And my heart broke a little when I saw the floating garbage in the fountain that was home to four stunning Grecian statues.

How could one so casually desecrate one of man’s greatest accomplishments?

And yes, it’s easy to see Versailles as the blood it took to built it.  To see it as a symbol of our gluttonous egos that use others to construct the things we want to be remembered by.

But often our greatest accomplishments are also a product of what is both good and bad within us.  We have the capacity to imagine Versailles and the horror that happened within – we are both the brilliant golden gate and the garbage in the pond.

We are what we’ve dreamed and forgotten, and the forgetting haunts our days.

 

 

 

 

 

How I Walked Through Lyon

17 Jun

I’m sitting next to a sleeping Colombian on a bus that’s making it’s way toward Paris.  Outside my window the rolling hills are green, the grass is yellow and the small houses are cream with red roofs. 

The scenery feels provencal, but I know it’s not.  It’s just the backdrop from Lyon to Paris, and I’m not sure if Paris will imprint itself on my mind like Lyon did.  Paris is an expectation, Lyon was not.  It was small, scenic and sliced by two rivers that people sat by day and night.

How can I describe Lyon and its many moments?  How can I share with others what Lyon will always be for me?  A city that I walked through.

There I am, strolling with an upper-class, British student.  We are discussing our Faith over ham and cheese crepes at a cafe we stumbled upon. We are saying what God means to us after attending my first Mass in the most beautiful Church I’ve ever seen.  While we are of very different faiths, the grounding act ritual sits at our centers; it’s how we connect with what we believe.

Again, I’m standing on Medieval cobblestones, gazing at the ruins of a Church that was built in 150 A.D.  Then I’m visiting a Sunday market and devour Macaroons made from the local candy.  

But really, I’m sitting at the Hostel bar, making friends with the owners over a glass of Rose.  They make me a plate of some of the local cheeses, which are mountain and blue.  Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye play in the background, and I can’t help myself. I quietly sing along.

Oh, but I am so tired, and feel that we will never find the Hostel after our Lyonnaise dinner of duck tartan and chocolate mousse.  My new Israeli friend Daniella, is absolutely finished, exhausted after a night with a Puerto Rican who reminded her of how one should be treated by a man.

We are giggling and watching the Gypsy fire dancers.  We are acknowledging that we can only share these secrets because we will probably never see each other again.

I am speaking Spanish to the Colombian, and his French friend Matias is talking with Max in German, but English is what we always go back to.  It’s the only language all four of us know.

The waiter is joking in French, and he smiles in my direction, trying to make me laugh.

The city, both Medieval and Modern, with a Basilica up on a hill that I continue to claim I own is always overlooking us, an ever-lasting symbol of Catholic Faith.

And the young Brit tells me he loved traveling the States because all the girls went mad for his accent.  He said that his East Coast friend got caught pretending he was from London as well.

The ham and cheese crepe is the perfect antidote to my hunger.  The nourishment I need after walking for hours.

Passing by the new and the old, the Arabic and the French, the student, professional and tourist blend of this unforgettable city of shops, cafes and of walking without purpose, toward nowhere, toward the game, toward the river where the boats float from beginning to end, to the bus that I’m on now, toward Paris and all that I expect.