Portugal

Around this time last year a friend and I were preparing to go to Portugal. We had travelled together once before, seven years earlier, and had been bringing up the idea from time to time ever since. The stars finally aligned, and we compared our travel wish lists. She was interested in some northern European countries. I was interested in South America. We both wanted to go somewhere new to us. We settled on Portugal and agreed to travel for one and a half weeks.

Leading up to our trip, my friend read Rick Steves, and I asked a work acquaintance of Portuguese descent what he recommended.

I flew from New York to Boston to meet my friend, and we took the next leg to Lisbon. I remember little of the plane ride. Was it then or another trip that I watched the “2 Dope Queens” HBO specials?

At the Lisbon airport, we first headed to a phone boutique to buy Portuguese sim cards. There was a panicked moment when we thought the sim card had caused her phone to malfunction, but fortunately that was not the case. We hadn’t even gotten out of the airport yet, and already the adventure was beginning.

On the way to the subway, which is connected to the airport, my friend started snapping photos. The subway art was fun and funky.

As we stepped out of the metro and into the neighborhood where we would be staying, our enchantment with Portugal started. The sloping street with colorful buildings told us that we were truly on a trip.

We navigated to the hotel where my friend had scored us a good deal. We couldn’t check in yet, so we sat in the lobby and transferred some of our items into our purses and took turns changing in the bathroom. I accidentally used the men’s room, not realizing that one door led to common sinks and then there were two separate individual bathrooms, one for men and one for women. This usually wouldn’t have mattered, but if I remember correctly, the men’s room had a toilet in a small room with a door and then a urinal right outside it. That meant that when a man came in and used the urinal, I would have had to walk right past him to get to the sinks. By the time I realize this, it was too late. I waited until he was finished to exit. When traveling, I find that bathrooms are always a source of cultural surprises.

We went back out and found an eating place with outdoor seating on a pedestrian street. I ordered a bit randomly, not knowing what the various pastries were. I had studied coffee drinks in Portuguese and knew to order a galão, which is a café crème, which is a latte (I mention the French name first because I knew what a café crème long before I knew what a latte was). With more time to kill, we walked around the area and came upon a plaza and a tuna store with a carnival theme. It was hot outside.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to check out a nearby church, the first of many we would visit. It was not representative of the gilded churches we would see.

Upon going up to our room, which was a few floors up and had a nice view of the street, we lay down to take a nap after the fiddling with the thermostat’s Celsius reading, another sign that we were far from home.

Recognizing Where the Needle Is

At a weekly (virtual) meditation group I attend, the guide said today, “It feels like the world has changed since last week. But it’s not that it’s changed, it’s that we have become enlightened to it.”

I think that’s right. Yes, the world changes, but not overnight in either direction. I think if we’re doing it right, we’re constantly awakening. Awakening and expanding our perception to include more and more realities of others in this world. That might be through getting to know the stories of people around us. It could be through reading. It could be through research. It could be through podcasts. It always means having an open mind.

This week, like many in the United States, I was searching. Dejected, I signed on to the vast e-book collection of my region’s library network. In searching for a number of titles on race, I was heartened to see that all of them had a waitlist. Other people were looking to educate themselves.

The internet is now flooded with reading recommendations, but for those who might want a glimpse into what I’ve read in my corner over the past few years, here is a selection. They range from humorous, irreverent memoirs by Black comedians, to fiction that takes the reader through real neighborhoods, to thought-provoking nonfiction.

Memoirs
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

Essays
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Humor
Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

Fiction
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Queen of Harlem by Brian Keith Jackson
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Nonfiction
Tell Me Who You Are by Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi
Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time by James Kilgore

A couple of quotes from these books that struck a chord with me:

“It does not matter that the “intentions” of individual educators were noble. Forget about intentions. What any institution, or its agents, “intend” for you is secondary. Our world is physical.”
– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“But no matter how it panned out, I knew I’d at least done something good for myself in speaking up about my needs. There was power, I felt, in just saying it out loud.”
– Michelle Obama, Becoming

Sugar, Butter, Flour

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I have rarely baked, but since being home practically all the time, I have taken it up. So far I’ve made:

A carrot cake. Before I recount, please, don’t ever try to shred carrots with a cheese grater. I repeat, do not shred carrots with a cheese grater.

I had made this carrot cake once before, several years ago at a friend’s house for her birthday. She had invited another friend and me over for the weekend, and we each made a cake. This time around, I had no recollection of how I had shredded the carrots. When I went to the supermarket several weeks ago, it was when people were stocking up and supermarkets hadn’t put limits on items yet, so the produce (and every) section was quite lacking if you were looking for a specific item. The only carrots I saw were two measly bunches of skinny little organic carrots at a premium price. I got them.

Grating them was a battle. I did over half of each carrot with a cheese grater, then chopped the rest into small pieces. Rubbing my hurting hands, I swore to buy shredded carrots next time.

All that said, the carrot cake was delicious. I made two loaves and forewent icing (yes, the word ‘forewent’ exists, apparently). Later, I spoke with my friend, asking, Did we buy shredded carrots that time I made it?? She had a food processor, she said. Oh.

A honey and apple cake. It contained three and a half apples. It was pretty, but I would turn down the oven down five degrees next time. I discovered my mom’s old springform pan, as well as what a springform pan is.

A half-pound cake (meaning a half portion of a pound cake recipe because the original called for SIX eggs and FOUR sticks of butter. In my area households are limited to one carton of eggs right now!!). My friend in Florida had told me that she and her friend would be making it at the same time while over the phone and invited me to join them. It was called the million dollar pound cake. I ended up making mine later and told her it was a 500 thou.

White chocolate chip cookies. I think it was my first time making cookies from scratch. They are white chocolate chip because that’s what I found in the pantry. I have no idea why we have white chocolate chips. I did learn that flour lasts forever and brown sugar kept in the freezer will thaw and soften, whereas brown sugar kept at room temperature will become a rock.

I hand mixed for the first two cakes and switched to an electric beater for the third one and for the cookies. I am wide open for recipe suggestions.

P.S. You may have noticed that sometimes my post titles refer to songs. This one is from the musical Waitress, written by one of my favorite singers, Sara Bareilles.

“What’s Inside”

Sugar, sugar, sugar, butter
Sugar, butter, flour
Sugar, butter, flour
Sugar, butter, flour

My hands pluck the things I know that I’ll need
I’ll take the sugar and butter from the pantry
I add the flour to begin what I am hoping to start
And then it’s down with the recipe and bake from the heart

What’s inside, everyone wants to know what’s inside
And I’ve always told them, but I feel something needs to change

You wanna know what’s inside?
I could tell you if I wasn’t hiding
My whole life is in here
In this kitchen, baking
What a mess I’m making

In Tonight and Every Night

It’s week 6 of working from home for me. When I talk to people in my circles, we ask each other how we’re doing, and my answer is, “Every week is different.” I’ve also found that the things that made me happy before this semi-quarantine still bring me joy, and the problems that existed before it still worry me. Of course, daily life and stresses are different, and they bring with them new joys and worries as well.

Week 1: Feeling the confusion and excitement that comes with a blank slate. Trying new activities to create a new routine. Tried yoga for the first time. Worked out at home for the first time. Wasn’t sure when to eat snacks or what to eat when, as I am used to bringing all my snacks to work and eating them throughout the day at my desk. Every conversation with anyone was about coronavirus. Spent the workday tapping into the dialogue being had all over the country in my field. Felt part of a larger community and invigorated by the possibilities for new initiatives and ability to create positive impact through work. Talked to my mom on the phone almost every day, which was not in my previous normal. Stayed home every night, also definitely not in my previous normal. Took a walk in the middle of the day and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Every day made a little progress on organizing my work space. Talked to my beau frequently.

Week 2: Slid down. Discouraged at work and stressed by the news. Worried about people in my life who are struggling in different ways.

Week 3: Climbing back up. Not reading a lot of coronavirus news because I receive it from family and friends. Need to know the essential points, such as local restrictions. Routine is stabilizing. What I find most worrying is hearing my doctor friend’s accounts of the worsening situation in the hospital she works in. There’s no escaping the reality of the pandemic there.

Week 4: Emotional highs and lows. Being in a temporarily long distance relationship with someone in the same state is… not hard, exactly, when you’re with someone who communicates well… but not ideal. Remind myself to not let the nighttime thoughts run wild too often. Work is fun again. Phone and video conversations with friends do me good. We talk about the challenges and also laugh. Good conversations with family make it into my gratitude journal.

Week 5: Going to sleep later and getting up later. Productive during the time I am working. Walks are now in the afternoon, after work. A couple of quality nighttime conversations with the beau. Still with the highs and lows in life happenings, but that is life. I notice that green is replacing the cherry blossoms that I have witnessed over the past five weeks. On Saturday I had probably the most screen time I’ve ever had, hosting a language group for an hour and a half and playing an online board game with a friend and his friends for three and a half hours (!). On Sunday I broke my undesired streak of getting up late for the past two Sundays. Biked for the first time this season.

It has been interesting to see how people in my life have reacted to being under quarantine (I say quarantine for brevity, but in my region we are still allowed to go out for exercise, unlike in some other countries). Introverts seem to do better, but not always. Some are glad to be living with people, and some are glad to be living alone.

What I noticed in the first week is that we will always find a way to stay connected. Right away people found alternative ways to communicate with each other. Technology makes it possible, but human nature drives it.

Spring to Spring

It’s been five weeks of living under semi-quarantine. In my state we can make essential trips to places like the supermarket and go out for exercise. Contact between people from different households is to be limited to necessary activities like caregiving.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and thought about how I danced in the street in Portugal last summer. A friend and I happened upon some people dancing to music in an outdoor plaza in Lisbon, and I was drawn in by the beckon of a lovely woman to join her for a few moments in the evening sun. It wasn’t a wistful thought, more of a “how lucky was I to have that experience.” Which led me to revisiting other travel moments in the past year:

Briskly walking at night in Montreal with a friend while she huddled over our takeout poutine to keep it warm until we reached our hotel.

Sharing a gyro sandwich from a food truck in chilly Washington, D.C. with my beau before we went back to our hotel to order dinner.

Taking photos of murals with family in hot Charlotte, North Carolina.

Lounging on an airbed in my sister’s new apartment in Massachusetts.

Camping for the first time with friends in Washington state.

Taking the tram in Portland, Oregon.

Walking a quiet woodsy path with a friend and her baby and dogs in Connecticut.

Standing under a waterfall with a friend in New York state.

Running through Epcot with a friend to catch a ride ten minutes before it closed.

And to think all those trips were done with different family and friends whom are near and dear to me, so to speak! Not to mention all the local outings with other friends (you know who you are). Now that most of us are apart, these experiences are all the richer as I dig into them.

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The Seattle Public Library

After lunch and conversation (about fundraising) at a café, my friend and I walked to the Central Library, which was designed by architect Rem Koolhaas and built in 2004. The library is part of The Seattle Public Library system.

What lines and angles.

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And waves.

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I’ve never seen a library like it.

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This wall seemed a bit prisonlike.

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What is a books spiral?

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My friend wanted to show me a weird red hallway.

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Even the bathroom, which I did not capture on proverbial film, was strange. When you stood up in a stall, you could see over the top. It felt very exposed—someone who walked up to the stall door could look right in at you. My friend explained to me that it was to prevent people from injecting drugs in the bathroom.

After I had taken in the architecture and my friend had found her books on Native American history in the Northwest, we perused in the gift shop (!) and then ventured back out, where it was raining. Our day out was on foot, and by the time we reached the supermarket, my feet were wet and I was ready to go back to her apartment. We had some food shopping to do first, though, for our camping trip the next day.

We gathered up our ingredients and snacks and trekked back to her place, where her little cat was waiting.

Seattle, Washington

On the heels of a trip to the South (literally the weekend after), I flew to Seattle and stayed with an American friend I had made in Paris. Seattle had been on my list for a long time, but I had not yet been there. In truth, I’m not sure that I knew much more than a snapshot in my head of Pike Place Market and that it was a city on the west coast that I had never traveled to. I think I also learned about the Seattle Public Library in my Intro to Architecture class my first semester of college, and the buildings I saw for the first time on slides in a dark classroom gave me the desire to one day see them in person.

I opted for Air Alaska after booking and then cancelling a United Airlines flight that I had not initially realized did not include a carry-on. Did you know that regular (non-budget) airlines are doing this now? At the time I did not, but I have certainly become aware that many airlines have this type of ticket. They call it “basic economy” or some other such name that should actually be called “less than basic economy.”

Standing outside the Seattle Airport, I saw that my friend had texted me that she would be picking me up in her “dirty silver pick-up truck.” She was indeed hard to miss. I like my friends.

We dropped off my belongings at her new apartment, then walked to Pike Place Market. It was much vaster than I had imagined. I had thought it would be a fish and produce market, but beyond that there were halls of little stands and shops. We stopped in a Native American store.

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Shepard Fairey murals always catch my eye.

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The gum wall was… unique.

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After a walk around the market, we went outside, where it was drizzling. Surprise… not. One of the items my friend had told me to bring was a rain jacket. I do not own a rain jacket, nor had it ever occurred to me to purchase one. However, apparently it is a Northwest staple, especially since they do not use umbrellas. My sister happened to have a rain jacket that I borrowed.

My willing tour guide took us past the original Starbucks, which I was more than happy to take a photo of instead of lining up to go inside.

I got good use out of that rain jacket.

Anna Sui, Scarves, Dumplings

In the fall I suggested to a date that we visit the Museum of Arts and Design on a Thursday evening, the weekly time that it is suggested contribution (I got all those free museum days down). I was interested in the exhibit on fashion designer Anna Sui’s work. I didn’t know much about her but had an inkling that the exhibit would be enjoyable based on my past visits to MAD and a few images of her creations. The World of Anna Sui was indeed a colorful walk through her different styles.

My date was drawn to her grunge looks because they reminded him of his high school days, whereas I unsurprisingly loved the room with feminine and whimsical pieces.

And how about this horse?

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There was a wall of color themed inspiration boards that I took a photo of for possible inspiration in my own work.

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We hopped to another floor for the exhibit Vera Paints a Scarf, which as you may have guessed, displayed… scarves. By Vera Neumann, to be precise. It was surprisingly entertaining to look at and comment on the displays, which in addition to scarves included her illustrations of patterns that gave insight into her design process; newspaper advertisements from the mid to late twentieth century for the scarves; and a video of a woman semi-seductively standing on a staircase demonstrating different ways to tie a scarf. We also spent an inordinate amount of time standing in front of a crossword puzzle silk handkerchief in a glass case to mentally do a few clues.

After, we had a bite from one of the dumpling counter underground in the subway station nearby. It’s nicer than it sounds, I swear. That hallway of eateries is pretty new, well-lit, and clean, and I had walked through it before but never sat at one of the public tables lining the center of the tunnel. And it’s, well, convenient, since it’s literally a few steps away from the turnstiles to enter the subway. Too bad I then put us on a slightly incorrect train, one that got us fairly close to our respective stations but was not the most direct route. But as I remind myself sometimes, though it is difficult to remember in New York City, life is not always about efficiency.

Durham

Driving back up from Charlotte (yes, I am still writing about a trip that happened in spring—this is why I have a blog and not an Instagram), we stopped at Durham for a few hours at my request. The night before, I had quickly messaged my friend who is from Durham and asked for restaurant recommendations. One of her suggestions was a barbecue place.

There was hardly anything around the restaurant besides an ice cream shop; we definitely wouldn’t have found it just driving down the main street. Perfect.

The spacious restaurant was almost empty on an early Monday afternoon. As hoped for, portions were generous with multiple sides so we could try southern fixins’.

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Décor was blatant: pork comes from pig.

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One of the reasons I wanted to visit Durham was that a colleague told me she loves it. After lunch, we parked in what seemed to be downtown. It was very quiet. Thinking we might have missed something, we stopped in the tourist office, where we were greeted by a very friendly man. He was enthusiastic and cheerful. He recommended visiting the American Tobacco district, which was redone and included shopping. I asked what he’d recommend in an hour (poor guy). He directed us to the sculpture of the bull, symbol of Durham. I made note of directions, not wanting to get lost, and it turned out the bull was pretty much behind the tourist office.

Days later, back home, I asked my colleague what attracted her to Durham, and she said the restaurants and the breweries. Somehow I had translated that in my mind to a lively downtown. She, who is from the south, told me that it was a typical southern city.

On quiet Parrish Street there were some sculptures commemorating historic black-owned businesses, or what was known as “Black Wall Street” in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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A short drive away was a breathtaking gem—the Duke Gardens. Part of Duke University, it is free and open to the public (parking is paid). We could have spent a whole afternoon there, but we had to hit the road to drive up north, so my mom and I enjoyed a brief exploration of the gardens under the sun. I suppose drinking in a portion of those gardens is enough to last more than the standard walk.

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NoDa

My road trip with family in May this year had a destination: Charlotte, North Carolina.

In Charlotte it was hot, unlike back home 650 miles further north.

We spent a few hours in the arts district, NoDa. Our walk down the street was a visual feast, with murals, trompe l’oeil, and a lady selling hand knit bikini tops and purses. We saw a bachelorette party on a “Trolley Pub” (a new concept to us). Later, the same women showed up at the place where we had fish tacos, a popular restaurant with surfboards on the walls and a bit of a wait. During the meal, there were several bearded waiters that kept us guessing. What is that term—facial hair bias? After lunch, my mom chatted up the restaurant hostess, who gave us stickers with the establishment’s name and logo on it.

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Mosaic bench. Is this a southern thing?

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