Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Human Sheild

As I was crossing the busy intersection of 57th St. and Broadway today I realized how strongly I rely on ‘the human shield.’ My level of reliance depends on my surroundings and my mood, but I’ve stopped paying full attention to the cars in the street and moved my focus to the pedestrians working to cross the street with me.

When I’m faced with a red-light situation and one of my fellow pedestrians step out into the street I take a look up or down the street to see what the oncoming traffic looks like. If several people step off of the sidewalk in anticipation of crossing, I usually step out onto the street before glancing onto the street for cars, bikes or busses headed our way. Although most of this has become instinctual, based on thousands of city-street-crossings over my lifetime it’s still a bizarre realization.

I must believe that my fellow pedestrians will create a human shield to protect me from the metal fenders or handlebars barreling down the street at me. I must think that NYC strangers are only there to protect me and watch over my every move as I sail through the city unharmed (well, usually unharmed.) And unfortunately I must think that others, in packs, will not make stupid mistakes like walking out into oncoming traffic.

As I think this out loud it sounds asinine…insane…and clearly stupid. And, I’m not exactly sure where this habit came from or how to stop it. I wonder if they have some sort of insert you could put in your shoe to shock you from doing such silly things as using the human shield in busy streets during the day. I don’t know whom I’d trust to hold the remote to any such shocking mechanism but perhaps that will be my next invention.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Winter Finally Made it to NYC

There's nothing like freezing your ass off for 3 months straight with nothing to show for it. No heroic stories of how you brazed the blizzard of '05 or endured endless hours of 'snow watch' on TV because the newscasters keep interupting your favorite TV shows. No photos of snow angels or memories of playing silly games in the car stuck while stuck in a winter storm. Nothing...

It's an odd feeling, wishing for snow. It's like hoping your fingers will turn red when your trying to pull your metro card out and praying that you will not be able to wear any of your cute winter clothes out on a Friday night. But, I do hope and pray for snow along with thousands of other New Yorkers ever winter. When it arrives, I run around like a little kid in a candy store. I run out of the front door and into Central Park like I did today to watch kids sled down the hill and help build snowmen. Then, as the snow turns brown and is taken over by the filth of all the consumers in this city I hope and pray for it to go away and spring to arrive.

But in the meantime, I got some great shots of the snowfall today.

In our neighborhood....

And in Central Park....

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Am I Addicted to Happy Endings?

I’ve always loved film, and I do a decent job of keeping up with the stellar movies of the year but I’ve never generalized myself as a lover or one genre of film over another. While discussing some recent movies with my friend at happy hour yesterday I realized most of my complaints and criticisms were about the negative emotions that a specific movies brought up for me.

Like Rocket Science, which was utterly painful for me to watch based on it’s neo-realism take on high school and all the suffering kids must endure during this right of passage into adulthood (not that I consider myself an adult.) The stuttering kid who stumbled his way through his first love, anger and a year-in-the-life of a high school kid played the part beautifully but I still despised the movie. It was too real to ignore and the final scenes of the film did not provide any closure to the story for me. But, perhaps that’s the point, life just goes on and…. I’ve just become addicted to happy endings.

I’d prefer to think that I’m a storyteller who appreciates hearing (or watching) a good story. When a story doesn’t have a solid ending, it’s not a real story it’s a beginning and middle searching aimlessly for an ending. Occasionally these half stories work in film, and story stories, which leave the audience guessing and wondering about the final outcome of the characters. But, it only works when the characters are developed well enough to make the audience care. Which is a rare find in film these days.

I think I’ll just subject myself to some more films and find my niche…. which I hope is not just happy endings.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Field Trip: Williamsburg

Although it wasn’t an official field trip, I spent Friday night exploring and enjoying Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And, since I haven’t had the opportunity to write about one of my favorite NYC neighborhoods yet, I figured now would be the perfect time.

J, Bon, Enrico and I headed over to Williamsburg after work on Friday and took advantage of the nice weather (as in, above 30 degrees) to explore the neighborhood. We took the L-train to Bedford and headed south on Bedford Street towards our final destination, The Slackers concert at the Luna Lounge.

Every time I visit Williamsburg I never make it more than 1/2 mile from the train station before I get sidetracked and stumble into a vintage clothing shop, boutique, bar or restaurant. So, heading in the opposite direction of the Brooklyn Brewery essentially opened up a whole new Williamsburg for me. Of course, I can’t wait to spend another sunny afternoon at the Brooklyn Brewery’s Friday happy hour once the snow melts and my bones de-thaw, but I digress.

My amigos and I made it all the way to Visa Versa, a fun unique clothing shop along Bedford Street, before we veered off the beaten path and into a store. There, J found a killer Fedora/Stemson black and white checkered hat and Bon found a perfect white disk belt. Having worked up our thirst for our first Friday night cocktail, we headed down the road to a thirst quenching bar. We found the perfect spot on Grand Street at a placed called Iona (, which kindly served us some tasty cocktails. It was the kind of place you’d love to call your neighborhood bar, with plenty of room on a Friday night to actually choose between a table or a bar stool and friendly faces to share a drink with. Although it was cozy inside, snuggled up next to a table of Brits watching soccer (yes, the real football) I’m looking forward to coming back for some outdoor ping-pong and BBQ.

Since we had some great foodie recommendations from a local Williamsburg resident at Enrico’s office we gathered ourselves and headed over to Fette Sau, for some BBQ. Unfortunately, we hadn’t read about how popular the place was and decided not to wait it out for a table (or eat outside, which was option B.) The BBQ and sides smelled and looked phenomenal and I loved the interiors of what is actually an old auto body shop. But, the few interior tables weren’t enough to hold the crowd and we had to give way to the 20 or so diners who had made it there before us. Again, another great spot for a summer day where the great outdoors can be enjoyed to the fullest. If you’d like to check it out here’s a link (

So, we headed back up to Bedford Street and around the corner to Bonita (, which was crowded but seated us quickly. I’m a native Californian and don’t expect much from NYC places who boast ‘real Mexican food,’ based on several lack luster experiences I’ve had since I moved here. Luckily, Bonita proved me wrong. The Mexican-cart-style-corn ranked favorite among our table and the unique evening specials made ordering fun. Items like the breaded chicken burrito with cilantro aioli sauce and the deep-fried quesadillas with succulent pork and chili sour cream put a new twist on NYC Mexican food for me. My fish tacos with shredded cabbage and crema brought me back to the beach in Cabo San Jose (even if tacos were only a dollar in Mexico.) The only downfall of Bonita was the lack of beverage options, which was limited to beer and wine. Based on their location, next to a church they don't have a full liquor license. But, living in Harlem, I’m getting used to that.

After dinner we headed over to Luna Lounge for The Slackers show. The venue actually reminded us of somewhere in San Francisco’s Mission District; with it’s bar like atmosphere and unprotected stage. The few tables and chairs kept the skaners in the center of the floor but once Tonight and Sister, Sister came on there was no way to avoid dancing. The band, originally from Brooklyn, told stories about growing up in the neighborhood before locking into one amazing set after another. It was an awesome show to say the least.

Heading back to the L-train we found one last bar, filled with friendly locals who only served to remind us that Williamsburg is an awesome place to spend a day…or night.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine's Day….an afterthought

I’m not a Valentine’s Day fan, or naysayer but I’ve never pretended to understand this supposed ‘holiday.’ Religious holidays make perfect sense, along with holidays commemorating some of the leaders and activists who founded and shaped our country. But, a single day to commemorate love seems a bit silly to me. And, I hate to admit it but it’s female holiday. And I being a female do enjoy the few of the perks of Valentines Day.

I always email my girlfriends to let them know they are loved; this year I sent them all kisses from Abreva, which in turn gives a donation to Operation Smile. And, I do love making dinner with my boyfriend, which is our Valentine’s Day tradition. But, what I don’t understand is why this ‘love and appreciation day’ is confined to one day a year. I’d prefer if Valentine’s Day could be renamed ‘Monthly Appreciation Day,’ or even ‘Love a Friend Day,’ and be celebrated monthly, inspiring each of us to reach out to our best friends, our parents, our boy/girlfriends monthly to let them know they are loved and appreciated. With all the shit in our daily lives aimed to make us more self conscious or get us down it’s worth a monthly reminder to tell our friends and family how much they mean to us.

And now, cheesy girl has left the building...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Unforgotten

Now, after working my way through the busy holiday season and defeating my technical difficulties on I can finally post again. Yey!

So, where have I been and what have I been up to? Well, just because I haven’t been posting doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. So, from finishing up my volunteer work (and hopefully making a positive impact on humanity) to completing my Portugal travel journal I’m looking forward to catching everyone up. Sorry if the posts are a little out of order….

Along the Portugal

Jerome and my flight to Lisbon, a red eye, was fairly uneventful after a tablet of Dramamine and a beer in the airport I don’t recall much of the flight. The food, which we supplemented with our own local fare, was unmemorable and I medicated my body with plenty of water during my waking hours.

When we arrived in Portugal around 8 am local time, I was disoriented, tired and lost. The customs checkpoints and baggage claim were fairly simplistic as was finding the Hertz rental car pick up. But, arriving in a new airport, in a new country half awake can certainly disorient a girl. But armed with Internet maps, and googlemaps driving directions to our next destination I felt secure…until we got on the roads.

Partially because Jerome thinks I’m a crazy driver and partially because he’ architect he decided to drive. While I’m not exactly a stellar ‘map-girl,’ I had come prepared and printed out directions for our 5-hour drive from Lisbon to Porto days in advance (placing all my trust in Googlemaps). I even worked in several stops along the way, which I centered around breakfast, lunch and rush hour traffic. Our maps and directions worked well, although the hidden freeway signs and uniquely lettered or numbered highways sent us in the wrong direction more than once.

Luckily, our comical 4-volt car which I lovingly named Wee-Man (although Jerome wouldn’t stop calling him Man O’ War after a Portuguese jellyfish) made it safely onto the correct freeway and topped out around 80 MPH.
Our first stop was Obidos ( in the Estremadura region, which we reached about 10 am. After reading about it’s romantic past, as a medieval walled city gifted from King Dom Dinis to Queen Dona Isabela in 1228 and it’s divine annual chocolate festival, I was eager to add it to our list of ‘must see cities.’ The city was everything I wanted for our first stop, historical but not overwhelming, quite but open-for-business and big enough to offer options but perfectly walkable. We toured the small city by foot and saw it’s churches, schools, shops, omnipresent castle and aqueduct before we sat down for a snack of homemade hummus noodles. It was a sweet city and a great first stop just a hop, skip, and jump away from Lisbon.

Our second stop, a short time later was the inconspicuous city of Alcobaca, which I choose based on the description of its monastery, Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaca Some of my favorite travelers reviewed this 12th Century monastery as one of the main architectural and historical wonders in Portugal. It also held one of Europe’s largest kitchens, the tombs of star crossed lovers Dom Pedro and Dona Ines and the sleeping quarters for 999 monks which was more than enough to entice me to visit.

Traveling in the off-season has its perks and here, in the monastery, the lack of tourists and the beauty of silence was the most obvious. Jerome and I wandered from room to room through the abbey completely alone; fully armed with our maps and history books we took over the entire place for a few short hours. As we entered the nave of the church the doorway put us in our place, towering over us in a frightening way that only gothic architecture can do.
Once we entered and paid the small fee we began our circle through the interior corridors of the cloisters, which took over 40 years (and thousands of monks) to build. Although I can still remember each room clearly I’ll just tell you about my favorites so you don’t have to skip over this part.

The Portuguese are well known for their blue and white paintings on Azulejos, or ceramic tiles. The first room we entered was covered in beautiful Azulejos paintings from floor to ceiling and told the story of the Portuguese kings, prices, and warriors in the 12th and 13th Centuries.

The next on my list of favorites was the kitchen and refectory, which came alive before my eyes. It’s massive size, which apparently came from alterations made to the abbey in the 18th Century must have allowed from some extravagant meals. They even included a water channel which runs directly through the center of the room, suppling the entire kitchen with drinking water at their fingertips (or fee as the case may be.) The spit and open air chimney (see photo) was big enough to fit Jerome in….not that I tried. The hidden staircases leading up to the refectory were almost enough fun as the refectory itself. And the pint-sized doorway between the kitchen and refectory is said to be the monastery’s size-meter. If a monk was unable to pass through the doorway due to his weight, he was forced to fast until he was thin enough to move through the doorway with ease.

My last, but not least, favorite room was the main chaple. The nave of the chaple houses the tombs of Dom Pedro and Dona Ines, which gives the entire church an overbearing sense of sadness and betrayal. Their tombs, both intricately designed, feature guard dogs, angles, and thorny crowns which tell the tail of their dark past and hopefully bright future.

The story of the star crossed lovers:
Prince Dom Pedro, the son of Portuguese King Dom Afonso IV, fell in love with Dona Ines who was his wife’s ‘lady-in-waiting.’ Due to her families Spanish ties the Portuguese king would not allow them to marry. So, as any crazy young couple in love would do, they snuck off and got married secretly under the moonlight. In 1355, still unaware of his son’s secret marriage, the king sent his men to kill Dona Ines based on his advisors urging. Once Dom Pedro was crowed king of Portugal he ripped the hearts out of Dona Ines’ killers and forced his court to kiss Dona Ines’ decomposing hand to pay respect to their queen. He requested that their tombs were positioned foot-to-foot so that when they wake up they can rise and see each other immediately.

After leaving the monastery we had our first Portuguese meal at a local restaurant. We shared a fish stew with delicious chucks of hearty white fish, shellfish, bread and a light tomato broth. The fish and spices differed significantly from Chippino, which I’d grown to love when I lived in Italy. It was just different enough to make me feel like I was traveling but familiar enough to make me feel like I was at home.

Our last stop before Porto was Coimbra, which was a couple of hours up the road in the Beiras region. The Romans founded Coimbra but were forced out by the Moors who prospered in the city before they were evicted in the 12th Century. The city’s rich history is topped off with a towering university, situated atop the city’s steep hilltop. The university was the first in Portugal, founded in 1290, and brought many teachers, artists and intellectuals to the city making it a cultural melting pot. By the time we reached the city center the light rain that had been following us around all day had turned to heavy showers. Unfortunately, we had to cut our tour of the city short but still had enough time to see the grand Universidade de Coimbra.

The cobblestone streets and piazzas leading up to the university created the perfect setting for the beautifully constructed school. The original university, including multiple buildings that are still completely in use, is centered on a traditional square. The square, of course over-shadowed by a statue, is so high above the city it appears to be floating on thin air. The historic buildings surrounding the square including a library, an overwhelming clock tower, and multiple museums flooded my senses. Each building, unique in its architecture and culture, drew me in through the rain. Despite the pending sunset and rush hour traffic we spent some time getting to know the University and it’s cobblestone streets before heading off to Porto…