Sunday, December 12, 2010

I think this is my favorite Christmas song ever.

Largely because of the repetition of the phrase "see a hippo hero standing there." If I ever start a band we will be called Hippo Heroes. Also yay for Christmas!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Reasons I know I'm getting older.

1. I subscribe to O Magazine. And I love it. I cry at least once an issue. And I always make like ten resolutions I'll never keep by the time I get to the last page. One day I will have that vision board, one day.

2. I find it really relaxing to flip through a nice Land's End or L.L. Bean catalogue. I notice myself stopping to gaze at a chunky, cable-knit turtleneck sweater and thinking, that's pretty and PRACTICAL. I could wear that to a farmer's market, and if I owned that I might start going to farmer's markets! If I get a Land's End catalogue and an Anthropologie in the mail at the same time now, I'm more excited about the Land's End. It's not even that I necessarily like the clothes better. It's just so soothing, all that down and wool and sensible shoes.

3. When I was in Charleston this past weekend, I took a stroll around C of C's campus. I saw a lot of obvious freshman girls, and whereas four years ago, my inner monologue would have gone something like this, "Is that girl wearing tights as pants!? Tights! Why even wear pants. I can see just as much of your butt as if you were naked. And is that other girl wearing pajama pants? That's just as bad. You might just be going to the dining hall, but my God girl, have some self respect,"- now my inner monologue goes more like this "oh girls, oh sweet, sweet girls, my little lambs, you're so lucky to be here in this city at this school, oh how I wish I could just hug you and tell you to hold onto these moments as they pass, and yes I'm tearing up a little, because you're just so young!"

4. I cannot get enough of the show, House Hunters. I can watch boring people tour the insides of boring houses for literally hours and hours on end. And I find it fascinating. Will they love carpet or will they be hard-wood people? Are they granite snobs? Will they pick the big yard that requires a lot of maintenance or the noisy house near the highway? I just don't know. It is the kind of suspense I can handle.

5. I stayed up until 3am last weekend, and I think I'm still recovering from it. How did I do this on a regular basis for years?!

If I buy a seasonal sweater then that will just be the end of youth as I know it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

home, sweet Charleston home

I saw this tree every Christmas for five Christmases, five Decembers I spent in the most beautiful city on this entire planet (and I've seen some cities that could truly boast in the beauty department). And this year even if it's just for two days, I'll get to see it again, go back again to my beautiful Charleston. I thought after two years I might miss this city less, that it might hurt a little less acutely when I think of the white, almost balletic bridge spanning over the Cooper River, of salty, briney, steaming oysters on cold nights, of soft green expanses of tidal marsh in every direction, of spanish moss and cracked bricks, of gas lanterns and sweetgrass baskets, of empty winter beaches and Shem Creek at night, lit up by boats and bars reflecting off of the bottle of beer in your hand. But I don't miss Charleston any less. I don't think I ever could. Because even though Richmond is my home, home, the place I grew up and where all my family is, Charleston is the home my soul chose. And so whenever I am away from my city, homesickness will just be a part of my life, a constant, pressing sense of something gone, something important that I just can't locate.

But this weekend, for two days, I'll be home.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


So apparently Baz Lurman (of Moulin Rouge fame) is directing a film version of what is arguably the greatest American novel of all time, and non-arguably one of my all time favorite books, The Great Gatsby. Now I loved Moulin Rouge. I even liked parts of Lurman's cheese fest, Australia. So maybe the guy could do a good job with this. It definitely wouldn't be a strict adaptation if his other films are any indication. It's possible there may even be singing. And I'm kind of okay with that because this book is perfect, like literally perfect in a way no book has a right to be, and so a strict and literal adaptation would not be the way to go because it could NEVER measure up. So why not get creative? Otherwise there's no reason to do a movie, because the book told this story so beautifully that a carbon copy of it would just be useless and sad.

And I even liked the first two casting ideas I heard, Tobey Maguire as Nick (he's sort of just the right amount of cute/earnest/smart/naive/boyish that I envision Nick as starting the story with). And Leonardo DiCaprio may not be the Gatsby of my imagination, but I think as an actor he could play Steve on Blue's Clues and it would be beautiful (now that I would watch). But then I heard some of the choices for Daisy, one of the most enduring characters of American literature, a character I in equal parts hate and love, an archetype. And well they're all just terrible. Blake Lively!? Serena Van DerWoodsen wishes she could be Daisy Buchanan. Scarlett Johanson? Ughhh doesn't even do that justice. Daisy is this perfect and beautiful on the outside dream of a woman who is crumbling and sad and horrible on closer inspection, and there's so much complexity and nuance to that and Scarlett freaking Johanson?

And then I heard Carey Mulligan. And I wanted to love this idea, because I do love her. But picture her and Leonardo Dicaprio in a love affair, just for a moment, and try not to be weirded out:

She's just not Daisy, not even close. Plus why do British actresses always get to steal our iconic American literature heroines. First Vivien Leigh takes Scarlett and Blanche Dubois and now this? Carey Mulligan has a buttoned up kind of intelligence that is in no way Daisy. 

And I have absolutely no idea who could be Daisy. Funny how the character in this book I like the least is the one I really cannot imagine anyone doing justice too.

Monday, November 8, 2010

awful name, awesome show

So I avoided the show, Cougar Town all last year, even though it came on immediately after one of my favorites, Modern Family. I heard that name and thought "blech." I think the whole cougar thing is one of the most over-used and obnoxious terms in our modern vernacular. But for whatever reason I gave it a chance when the new season started, and it is now one of my favorite shows. You have to ignore the name, because it's not at all about cougars or bobcats or cheetahs or any other feline species. It's about a family of friends, and it's warm and quirky and really, really funny, much like the other show that came from one of its creators-Scrubs. It has that same offbeat but fuzzy kind of humor, a show that doesn't trade in cynicism or darkness, but rather loving relationships and kindness. Plus I am obsessed with everything that Courtney Cox's characters wears, most of all her jewelry which yes I looked up, and yes it is from jewelry designer, Jennifer Mayer (Tobey Maguire's wife-this is why I do well at Trivia), and yes I will never be able to afford it as long as I live.

But the other thing I love about this show is that like Scrubs, it has become my go to source for hearing new music. At least once an episode there is a song that I must immediately own and listen to repeatedly, usually from artists I've never heard of, and might not have heard of if not for the show. Here's a sampling of some of the new, awesome music I've gotten from Cougar Town.

Leona Naess: Leave Your Boyfriends Behind 

Noah and the Whale: Give a Little Love (this song is just so freaking good, one of the repeat 5 times in a row in my car kind of songs)


Nuno Bettencourt: Pursuit of Happiness (this is actually a clip of this song in the show, and any show that ends with grown adults chasing after a balloon has got to be amazing)

t> Matt Hires: Honey Let Me Sing You a Song (could only embed the live, acoustic version of this, but this guy is someone who I can't believe I've never heard before, he just is the personification of my favorite style of music) object width="425" height="344">

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

the Ko Samet moon

A couple of blogs ago I wrote about the "year ago" game. As in a year ago to this day I was in Bali. Or a year ago to this day I was in Malaysia. It's an impossible game not to play when you've traveled for an extended period of time. And I think we play it because it links us, no matter where we are, no matter if its cold and wet and boring, we're linked to a place or a memory by the sheer power of a date on a calendar. Well for me, as far as my time in SE Asia in 2009 goes, my year ago game will expire in a few days. And it's silly really, but I'm finding that very difficult.

As of November 8th, my year ago game will not take me back to a moon-lit island or a windy stretch of cliff but to Richmond, Virginia, to the place I am right now. From now on it will always be a year plus when I'm thinking of Thailand or Bali or Laos or Malaysia, and it shouldn't make that big of a difference, and it's hard to adequately describe why it does. But thinking of it makes me ache, and I feel in a way like I'm saying goodbye all over again, like I'm boarding a plane in Bangkok and watching that hodge podge, smoggy skyline grow fainter until it disappears altogether in a blur of cloud and sky. I feel like I'm about to lose something, and every day when I see the calendar creep closer to November 8th, I can't help but feel a vague but still distinct panic, because I know that time, as it always does, will win. And I won't lose my memories. They won't be any less special. But I won't be able to say "a year ago" when I talk about those things. It will be "a while ago" or "some time ago" and one day it will be "quite a long time ago", and that's necessary of course, but it's also very sad.

So one last "year ago" game then, while I can still play it. A year ago I was by myself on the island of Ko Samet, an island I've written about at length on this blog. This was the island where I was robbed of all my valuable belongings. This was the island that sprained my ankle. This was the island that gave me a scar I still have and will probably always have, on my knee, from a very misguided attempt at night swimming. And so of course when I had a week left in Thailand after my two other traveling companions had left for the US, this was the island to which I returned. This was the island where I chose to say goodbye to Thailand, to South East Asia, to six months that changed my life in absolutely no major way but in every possibly tiny one.

By this point I was completely okay traveling solo in Thailand. I felt nothing but safe. To be honest I felt 100 times safer getting on a bus in Bangkok to go east to Ko Samet than I did getting on a train in Rome to go to Florence alone. Thai men are saints compared to Italian men when it comes to lascivious glances and comments. And I knew by that point, after six months, that traveling alone in Thailand, even if everything possible went wrong, I really would be okay. Because I had more faith that I can describe in the kindness and generosity of Thai strangers, a faith that was cemented by six months of experiencing nothing but kindness and generosity (minus the whole purse stealing incident, but that could have been foreigners!) So after a last couple of nights at my beloved Wendy House in Bangkok (and a few last trips to my beloved Bangkok malls), I went once again to Ekamai train station and got on that four hour bus to the port city of Ban Phe. I spent the by then familiar trip listening to music and staring out the window as the sprawl of Bangkok gave way to tropical fields, as gray became green. Once we arrived in Ban Phe, it was all easy and second hand. I smiled as I remembered my other trips to Ban Phe, the first time when we arrived after dark and took a speedboat to the island, surf spraying our faces as the neon lights of the party, backpacker beach came into focus across the black surface of the sea. I thought of the first time I went solo, when my friends were already on the island and I had to arrange to take a speed boat with some other foreigners on the bus.

But on this day, a year ago, I simply waited for the noisy, rusty ferry that would take me and the other assorted travelers the forty-five minutes or so to the island. My previous three trips to Ko Samet I had always stayed on the backpacker/cheap beach called Hat Sai Kaew, fun and pretty but full of bars and fire dancers and noise. This time, since I was solo and in a more meditative mood, I decided to stay at Ao Thian, several beaches and several rocky outcrops down the island from Hat Sai Kaew. Hat Sai Kaew was always a short songthew ride away from the pier, but as I found out Ao Thian was much father and much more expensive. I also found as all the other tourists get off at closer beaches, I was the only one of the arriving bunch going there. The friendly Thai girl driver motioned for me to get inside the songthew with her (before we were all riding on the bed, basically the same thing as a pick up truck, just with benches), and together we made our way down increasingly rocky roads, passing the occasional dog or chicken. After a solid twenty minutes of bumpy, jostling driving, we pulled into the entrance to Ao Thian. This was the first time I got a twinge of nervousness. I had the name of the guest house written down, but as I looked at the relatively isolated beach, I wondered if I made a mistake. Maybe I should just go back to Hat Sai Kaew with the internet cafes and pizza restaurants and hordes of Westerners. But then I focused on the quiet, still surface of the green ocean, the patches of white sand, and I realized I was a fool for worrying. I hopped out of the truck, paid the driver, and made my way down to the sand.

As I looked around, I realized that Ao Thian was no where near the Castaway island I first thought it was. There was a small convenience store with an ATM, and several guest houses, all with restaurants. There were places to get massages and pedicures. But whereas Hat Sai Kaew was filled with tourists, Ao Thian was perfectly scaled back, maybe one or two dozen, a couple of families, some couples, and of course the many Thai people who worked in the restaurants and guest houses and made it all possible. I found my way to the guest house, which had maybe one other room filled (I was there in October which is right before peak season hits, also it was a weekday). And after receiving a 50% discount on the spot from the smiling owner, I made my way to my ocean front room, complete with AC, big windows that opened right onto the ocean, a tv with a couple of English language news channels, wifi capability, a huge bed, and an open air bathroom with hot water. For someone who had spent the last six weeks backpacking (occasionally in tiny, windowless rooms where you would share a bathroom with 50 other smelly backpackers), this was heaven. All for about fifteen dollars a night.

And then I spent the next three days in this heaven. My days were spent on the lounge chairs propped up on the white sand beaches. I would pick my spot in the morning and read until the sun got hot (which in Thailand in November was like 8am). And then when I started sweating too much I'd go for a dip in the clear, warm waters, letting my toes rest on the sandy bottom, facing the island, so distinct from the beaches of my Southern childhood. These beaches were not flat, low, wide expanses. They were slivers of coast that rose straight into jagged rock and jungle above. I'd come in from the water when I was pruned, read some more, until I got hungry. Then I'd choose from the five or six restaurants on the beach (to get to any of the other beaches I would have had to go back inland and gotten a ride on a songthew, the individual beaches on Ko Samet themselves are crescent shapes and some of them you can walk from one to the other, but others grow too rocky where they meet and are dangerous to navigate, Ao Thian was one of those, which was wonderful because it kept it secluded and private). I never had to actually leave the beach to eat though, unless I wanted some shade. All of the restaurants had tables on the sand, where I could order my Pad Thai or Tom Yum Soup or papaya salad with sticky rice and fried chicken, and sit and eat with my shoes off. As was the custom with all tropical beach vacations, happy hour began at 11am. I'd order a cold Singha or Chang or Tiger or Leo (sigh, I miss my Asian beers), and sip as I watched the water ebb and flow.

After lunch there'd be more lying by the water, more swimming, maybe a nice, long nap as I tanned. I was dark brown by this point, tanner than I had ever been or will ever be again (sorry skin). My hair was light. There were freckles on my shoulders. The closest I had ever looked to that was as a kid, after days at the pool or at summer camp. And even though I was by myself, something in this trip felt like those days had, lazy and long and hot and perfect, where the next thing to do was never a chore or a task but always something wonderful and lovely. For me the next thing was either to swim or to go back to shore, to order a beer or a coconut ice shake, fried rice or drunken noodles. At night I'd go back to the porch outside of my room.  I'd grab my computer or a book and sit on the giant outdoor bed that belonged to my room, complete with mattress (I kid you not, and let me repeat $15/night) that faced the ocean and the black sky, a sky that on those nights in November was bursting with a full moon.

 I'll never forget the way that moon looked. I want to say it was the biggest moon I'd ever seen, or the brightest. But that's not what it was, and even if it had been somehow bigger or brighter than other moons from my life, that wouldn't have been what made it perfect, that wouldn't why to this day whenever I see a full moon I think about that one from a year ago, and how I know to my core that I will never see a moon as beautiful or as right. It was the moon I'd come to Thailand to see. And it was as though all those days and hours and all that pre-trip fear and nervousness and all those moments in the classroom that made me want to jump out of my classroom window-all of those things had been leading up to this moon. It was there and I was there, and that could never be changed or erased or altered. Those six months could never be changed or erased or altered. I could keep them, and I don't know if this makes any sense at all, but something about that moon seemed to cement that all. And so maybe that's why now, even these many days later, when I see a full moon in the sky, I feel a pang, not a good one or a bad one, but just a unmistakable pang of memory, of ownership for that part of my life.

As I sat there, I could faintly hear the celebrations going on a beach over for the full moon party (very big in Thailand on islands). And I kept waiting to be lonely or wish I was over there, but I never did. I had spent many a night in Thailand dancing and drinking and being 23. Several of those nights had been on Ko Samet, where I danced and drank fruity drinks out of fish bowls and hung out with beautiful Swedish boys. And I loved those nights. But this trip wasn't about any of that. This trip was about saying goodbye, just me and this country I had fallen in love with so completely. Although I quickly realized, I couldn't say goodbye to Thailand. It meant too much. It was too close to my heart. And so in Ko Samet, in the kindest, gentlest, most Thai way possible, Thailand said goodbye to me. It said goodbye as I slept with the windows open, the small ocean waves not so much crashing as brushing against the shore. It said goodbye as I swam my last morning before it was time to leave, one last warm, clear swim before I returned to the cold, cloudy oceans of my home. It said goodbye in every beautiful, perfect, tropical paradise moment, so perfect they should have been cliches, complete with a little umbrella sticking out of a coconut, except they weren't, not a single moment was a cliche.

One of my favorite idiosyncrasies about the French language is that when you say you miss something or someone, the exact English translation isn't "I miss such and such." Rather it's "such and such misses me." Now I'm no where near self involved enough to think that the entire nation of Thailand has mourned my absence. But I like the idea of a place being something more than just an passive blob, but rather a living, breathing whole. When I left Thailand, it didn't feel like I was leaving this abstract, unfeeling thing. It felt like I was leaving a friend. And I miss Thailand every single day the way I would miss a friend.

So maybe the point of this whole, long winded narrative is to say that I miss my friend. And I hate that time is putting space between me and Thailand, between me and those moments. But I can't do anything about that. None of us can. Whether it's a fantastic trip or an actual loved one or any part of our lives no longer there physically but which we nevertheless hold onto, time creates distance. And the natural conclusion would be that it fades, that it diminishes and lessens.

Except maybe it doesn't have to. Maybe if something was bright enough to start with, it won't ever change or wear. Maybe that moon will always be that perfect moon, and those days in Ko Samet will always be that sun soaked and endless and content in my mind.

I'd like to think that. Partly because it will make the end of the "year ago" game easier to handle. But also because the evidence is there. All I have to do is close my eyes, and it starts to come back, slowly at first, in bits and pieces, a drift of Thai conversation coming from the workers closing up a nearby restaurant, a horn blowing in the distance from a boat. Then it comes faster, salt air, water against sand, the thick smell of garlic, mosquitos buzzing in my ear, a dark, endless horizon, wind rustling palm leaves.

And then that moon. That moon is still there.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

this makes me happy forever.

i am a mac.

After seven years of PC-ing, I have done it. I've switched to a Mac, specifically a MacBook Pro which I'm sure a computer geek could describe in loving, exact detail. But I'll just say it's really shiny. And it makes swooshing noises. And it's speedy. And there's this thing called Garage Band which I'm fairly sure I can take guitar lessons on, which whoa, just whoa. I've had this new toy for about four hours and already my mind is just blown by the awesomeness.

Also I will be back to my regular posting schedule now. Not having a computer for the last couple of weeks has made the whole blogging thing difficult. But now all I want to do is play on my new computer. I would bequeath my first born child to this computer if it was legally allowed. Hell if humans and computers could get married, I may have proposed by now. I am now officially in the cult of Apple. And the Kool Aid tastes FANTASTIC.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

a year ago.

This month it's really hard not to play the "last year" game. You know, this time last year I was in this place, doing this thing.

October 2009 was a really great month. I mean extraordinarily, once in a lifetime, beyond my wildest expectations great. Exactly a month ago to this day I was in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand-a place so beautiful sometimes I can't convince myself it really existed, that it wasn't just some vivid, colorful mirage invented out of thin air, a place that I could search for years to find and never locate. When Friday rolls around, I can say that a year ago I was in Malaysia, in Little India maybe, where in moments a bustling market turned into the stillest, most serene silence as men and women all around us knelt down on the street to pray. It's hard not to play this game, and it's equally hard not to get bummed out playing it, because well, life was pretty, unequivocally beautiful a year ago.

But then I was thinking, I had a lot a year ago. I had the world and it seemed that I could close my eyes, make a wish to go somewhere, and there I would be. I had life piled on life, swimming and rock climbing and snorkeling with Nemo fish. But there were things then I didn't have that I have now, today, this October of 2010.

A year ago I didn't know my niece. It seems crazy to think that; someone who today I love with every ounce of my soul didn't even exist a year ago. A year ago she was just an idea, the possibility of a person. And today she's introduced me to a way of loving someone I didn't understand before, loving someone not just for who they are but for who they will and can be.

A year ago Haiti was only a place name, a vague picture in my head. A year ago I hadn't looked into an orphan's eyes in a small, cramped room, and seen not devastation or misery, but trust. I hadn't worked side by side with people who had every reason to never get up again, but who day after day got up, faced difficulty beyond anything I can imagine, and lived.

A year ago I thought life after college was fairly simple. Pick a job, apply for said job, and the rest would fall into place. I thought my life was more or less decided. A year ago I had no idea that I would come home and face a solid ten months of rejection after rejection, rejection by phone, rejection by email, rejection by carrier pigeon, skywriting. More importantly a year ago I would never have known that after rejection and failure so complete and total that it would leave me numb and broken, I would have the ability to stand up and start all over again.

A year ago life was pretty wonderful. And of course I wish I could go back to those places, see those clear waters and green, terraced fields again. But if the only way I could go back there was to give up this past year, a year that was without question the hardest in my life, I know I would never do it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

daily inspiration

"I want to write something new — something extraordinary and beautiful and simple."

-F. Scott Fitzgerald in a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, shortly before he wrote "The Great Gatsby"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

geek heaven!

So if you're an enormous nerd like me, go ahead and finish reading through the above image. Then go to the source of the image,, where they have put together several of these, including FB pages for Ron and Hermione and a magical world Twitter feed. Here's the URL:

I'll wait.

These pretty much made my life. First of all whoever got to put these together has the BEST JOB ON THE PLANET. Second, he or she clearly loves the world of Harry Potter and knows that world deeply and truly, the way any HP fan does. Because that's what these books do. They don't just entertain or tell a story. They create this enormous, lovely, weird, beautiful, fanciful world and they let you become a part of it. The details of these internet mock-ups are so painstaking, so almost tender in their adherence to JK Rowling's world, and reading through these I was just reminded again of how much these books mean to me.

I've watched the previews for the upcoming HP movie and will go see it, as I have all the other ones. But it will break my heart. Because these books without question changed my life. I remember so clearly the fall afternoon I walked into a little hole in the wall bookstore in Richmond with my mom. She wanted to get a book for our upcoming beach trip, and I tagged along, probably sulking and being a general pain in the ass. I was in seventh grade, and I was an absolutely shit. I mean really. The only thing I cared about was being popular. I was as big of a dork then as I am now of course, but I wouldn't accept that. I wanted to be one of the cool kids, and so I literally made it my mission. And my silly little middle school brain thought the key to popularity was to ditch everything that made me unique and geeky and well, me. I started purposefully not doing as well in school. I treated some really good friends really badly. And I denied that at my core I was a reader and a writer. I only read for school. I stopped writing stories on my electronic typewriter (yes I really had one of these, I think that means I'm 90). And when I heard about this Harry Potter series and the hype around it, I rolled my eyes and acted above it all.

But for some reason on that October afternoon, in the aisles of a dark and dusty store crammed with used and new books, I picked up the first Harry Potter book. Maybe because I was with my mom, maybe because I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about, maybe because despite how hard I was trying to stifle my inner dork, it was just screaming to get out. But I picked up the first Harry Potter (there were only three out at the time then), and asked my mom to buy it for me. I finished it in one weekend, and a lifelong love was born. Now it would be simplifying things to say that this changed me overnight. I still had a few more years of acting like a brat and trying to climb the so called high school social ladder (suffice it to say I never got above the first rung, like I said, enormous dork, all the popular kids could always see what I couldn't, and also suffice it to say that on that first rung I found my real friends and my real self and movie of the week, super special episode blah blah blah, you know the rest).

But my point is that Harry Potter was like that first movement back toward me. I fell in love with the story of a boy with a scar living in a cupboard under the stairs. I was taken into the warmth of this colorful, odd, wonderful world. And I realized that no matter how hard I tried to deny it, stories (whether being read or wrote) were not just a way to pass the time for me, but a fundamental part of who I was, who I am, who I always will be.

And so I guess my very long winded point is that Harry Potter will never just be a book to me. And judging from the above internet mock ups which are just so perfect and spot on that they could only have been written by someone who has fully lived in the world of these books, I'm not the only one.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

the YouTube wormhole

Every so often I fall into the YouTube wormhole. Normally I try to avoid the site all together, because you go on to watch one funny video someone was talking about or find a band's live performance, and it's the middle of the day and you're a productive member of society and birds are chirping out the window...and then seven hours have passed and it's like you've woken up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland- it's dark, it's cold, and you don't know where you are anymore. One video leads to the next and suddenly at two in the morning you're watching N'Sync perform at the 1998 Video Music Awards. I mean hypothetically. I've personally NEVER done that.

So anyways I've fallen into a couple of these wormholes recently. And the most recent one was brought on by the premiere of Glee. I had read about "Charice" being a guest-star and I thought this Charice was someone the kids were into, a one named chanteuse of the Monica or Ashanti variety (yeah that's right I'm old). But then I watched the episode and damn girl can sing! There may have been some goosebumps when she performed "Listen." So I made a horrible mistake. I went on YouTube. And apparently this Charice came into our lives through divine intervention. In other words Oprah came down from the clouds to pluck Charice from the Phillipines and deliver her into the American sub-conscious. And anyway there went two hours of my life that I will never get back. But that's okay, because she's tiny and adorable and an insanely good singer. Here's proof. A word of caution: please watch the video here and don't go to Youtube yourself. And if you ignore my advice, well then, God speed.

i love mindy kaling.

A quote from Mindy from a New York Magazine profile:

“Why do all the women have to be klutzes? All these pretty women with no discernible flaws, so let’s make them a klutz! Or what about all the skinny women shoving food in their mouth on dates? It would be so much funnier if the women weren’t skinny. That’s a great Onion headline: ‘Actual Fat Woman Shoves Food in Her Mouth in Romantic Comedy.’ ”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

oh how i love the theater

So in the last two weeks I've suddenly found myself a theater critic. I know! Who would have thought? But it's actually been really fun and I've discovered a cool, vibrant part of Richmond I didn't really pay any attention to before. Plus I don't know if it will ever get old, striding cooly to the ticket office, notebook in hand, glancing to the side nonchantly, then looking to the ticket person, "I have two tickets under" Yes that's right, the PRESS. The press that I am a part of.

Although remove the "cooly" and the "nonchantly" parts of that. In reality it's me jumping up and down, waving my notebook in the air and mouthing, I AM A JOURNALIST! SQUEEEEE.

Plus who knew that all theaters had bars!? And the smaller, local ones you can bring your glass of wine (pinot grigio in my case obviously) with you to your seat. You can't even do that paying 100 dollars a ticket in New York. So I am loving my new freelance gig, even more than the time I got to write about cupcakes and use it as an excuse to eat 100 of them.

And if you're curious about some great theater in Richmond, here are three of my reviews:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

a hero emerges.

Before the US Open began there was a common, snarky refrain from commentators and sports writers regarding Novak Djokovic. In New York the 23 year old Serbian could achieve a career grand retirements.

No one, including myself, had much faith in the guy. When he first burst onto the tennis scene a few years ago, I loved to watch him. He had an abundance of talent sure, but also a knack for comedy and theatrics on the court. When he won a big match he tore his shirt in half. He did exaggerated but spot-on imitations of the other players, including Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova. He was a brash kid, a welcome burst of rebellious, cocky energy amidst the gentlemanly politeness and deference of Nadal and Federer. And he was good. Good enough to reach the finals of the US Open and win the Australian Open in 2008.

And then something happened. It began with frequent retirements, pulling out of the semifinals of a Grand Slam due to less than clear reasons.  He was still a solid number three in the world, he still won most of the matches he should have won. But it was the matches he could have won, the ones against the top guys, the ones he would have had to fight for-those were the matches that began to slip away. Over and over again I watched him get to the semis of majors, a respectable result sure, but one that shouldn't have been enough, not for a player with his talent, not for any player who wanted to seriously challenge the Nadal/Federer stranglehold on the big titles.

There were more retirements, more chokes, and it started to seem that Novak Djokovic was destined to be a perpetual number three in the world, a guy who would always have decent results without really trying, but someone who didn't have the heart or the guys to go further. And then Saturday afternoon came. Nadal was already a lock in the final after beating Youzhny in the other semi-final and it seemed that everyone was already envisioning a Federer/Nadal showdone. The Federer/Djokovic semi might be entertaining, but Djokovic couldn't seriously challenge the 16 time grand slam winner, not at the US Open, where he had lost to Federer the previous three years.

Djokovic would lose to Federer yet again this year, or so the prevailing wisdom went. But apparently no one told Novak Djokovic. Because this year, this match, something shifted. As the match went on, into the fifth set, I kept waiting for the inevitable. Djokovic would start shanking shots, making blatant errors and throw away the match. Or he would call a trainer, have some sudden injury that prevented him from finishing the match. Maybe he'd just collapse on the court this time.

But none of that happened. We all waited for the Djokovic of the last two years to emerge, but instead someone new showed up on that court. This was a Djokovic with fight and guts and courage. This was a Djokovic who fended off two match points, not by waiting for Federer to miss, but by going for his shots, hitting the lines with gusto and verve. This was a Djokovic who was no longer content to be number three, who didn't care that Anna Wintour and Gavin Rossdale were in Federer's box, that most of the stadium was pulling for Federer. This was a Djokovic who was finally living up to his talent, being the player we all hoped he could be. And as a tennis fan there's nothing more rewarding than that. Because more often the player we want to see never arrives. More often we watch men crumble under pressure, fall apart at the seams because they don't have that essential, iron willed belief.

What Novak Djokovic did on Ashe Stadium yesterday was beautiful and brave. It was a promise realized, a promise we had almost forgotten was ever there in the first place. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


In the most recent issue of New York Magazine, there's an incredible article called "skin", written by Mark Jacobson. It's sub-titled, "A Holocaust detective story." This is almost a perfect piece of creative non-fiction. Jacobson tells of a friend named Skip who while sifting through a heap of junk in post-Katrina New Orleans, comes across a lamp shade. It was what appeared to be a "Beaux-Arts style parchment lampshade, most likely made in the middle-twentieth century."

Skip asks the man selling the lamp shade what it's made of.

"That's made from the skin of Jews."

And then he sells it to skip for $35.

Jacobson eventually receives the lampshade from Skip, because Jacobson is a journalist and Skip thinks he might be able to find out if the grotesque and outlandish story is true. And so Jacobson embarks on a kind of quest, investigating historical claims of Nazi lampshades made of human skin, seeking the advice of everyone from forensic scientists to spiritualists. And as his search and the article builds, there's a moment of tremendous honesty from the part of the narrator. When the lampshade is sent out to a lab for DNA identification, Jacobson confesses that more than simply wanting to know if the lampshade is made of human skin, he wants it to be. He acknowledges this is sick, but also a natural human desire, to possess the unthinkable.

Where the brilliance of the piece comes in is that by this point, as a reader, you want it to be "real" too. You've followed the detective story, you've seen the evidence mounting up, you've listened in horror, but also a morbid fascination to the stories about Ilse Koch, the infamous "Bitch of Buchenwald" and her alleged obsession with objects made of human skin. You want it to be real, because it's one hell of a story.

Jacobson receives a call from his friend at the lab. "It's human." And reading the article, those two words puncture something. All the air is let out. You're not excited anymore. You're not fascinated anymore. It's human. For most of this piece, the reader, like Jacobson, is so far removed from the Holocaust. We all know what it was. We've all cried at Schindler's List and read The Diary of Anne Frank. But still there are moments, like in this detective story, where the Holocaust is something that happened a long time ago in somewhere far, far away. There's an air of mystery about it, a distance that lets it become, if even for just a moment, a story, not history.

It's human. Those words took that all away. Jacobson doesn't find out if that lamp shade came from the Holocaust. As he puts it, it could just have easily been from "some poor, unfortunately hitchhiker in Mississippi." But regardless it's enough to send Jacobson to Germany, to Buchenwald, to the place where at least the "idea of the lamp shade" first came to light.

When I woke up today, on September 11th, I thought of this article. There was a piece I saw recently, in either the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal, with what was essentially a "human splatter map" of lower Manhattan. It showed where pieces of human remains had landed near the Towers that day. A human splatter map. They were human beings, the same way whoever that lamp shade was made of was a human being. They're not artifacts. They're not something to file away in a memorial or in a museum. They were people.

I worry about what will happen ten years from now or fifty, when Ground Zero has been rebuilt and there's only a memorial there to remind us of what happened one clear morning in September. I worry that the farther we get from that day, the more removed we'll be. It's easy for things that were gruesome and barbaric to soften with time. I've written about this before, but the only way I can think to combat this, is to every year on this day, take time to watch a documentary or read an article or look through pictures that the rest of the year I would avoid. The NY Times has these picture slide shows on their website. And as I click through the pictures I wait for the one I dread, yet also the one that tends to fade into the recesses of my memory more than the image of the plane flying into the tower or the towers crumbling. It's the image of a person, seemingly trapped in time, still, frozen, but in reality falling, falling from a burning tower to the ground below.

Out of all the images from that day, that's the one I tend to shelve away. Because every time I see it, whether it was a year or nine that has gone by, I feel a faint bit of surprise mixed in with the shock and horror. Maybe it's because something like that should never have been real. Humans shouldn't have to jump from a building, because it's the better alternative. And because it shouldn't have been real, maybe if enough time passes we'll let ourselves believe it wasn't.

That should never happen. That can't happen. Our children will look at 9/11 the same way we look at historical events we didn't live through, the death of Kennedy, even the Holocaust, with a dutiful sadness but at the same time detachment. Because it won't be theirs to remember. It is ours to remember. I was a teenager on 9/11. I realized recently this means that years from now, my generation will be the last to really remember what it was like on that day. That means a lot of things, but more than anything I believe it's a duty. Remembering is an obligation that is painful and hard, but it's the most important thing in the world. Without it, we're not human.

So today I choose to remember, not just in a vague, detached way but in a painful, difficult, horrible way. Because they were human beings on those planes and in the Towers and the Pentagon. They were human beings who should not have died like that.

In the "skin" article, the spiritualist tells Jacobson that the lampshade wants to stay with him. He says the lampshade never wants to leave him.

Jacobson protests. He can't keep it. After all why would he want to hold onto something so grim and terrible. The spiritualist relays this message and then relays one back.

"He says there is nothing he can do. He leaves his fate to you. But it is good."

"Good?" replies Jacobson meekly.

"It is good because he trusts you. You're the only one he has now."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday musings.

Went to see "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at the Firehouse Theater on Thursday night. My review for will be posted on Monday. This may be the second most fun freelance assignment I've ever had (after my piece on cupcakes). First of all, opening night of a show at the Firehouse Theater apparently includes free drinks! Which could very well be a cheap ploy to butter/liquor up reviewers, but well I'm not above cheap ploys. And while I enjoyed my polite glass of wine, the four characters in the play got absolutely schnockered in brilliant, devastating, breathtakingly well-written fashion. My word can Edward Albee write some dialogue. Acerbic, lightning paced, witty, sad. This play is what would have happened to Don and Betty Draper if they stayed married for another twenty years-simmering resentment ready to go up in flames at any moment. Runs until October 2nd, and ddefinitely worth seeing if you live in Richmond.

I've been doing a little fall shopping (in my defense I pretty much missed the entire season of fall in 2009 because SE Asia does not have it and when I got home it was brutal, winter for the next six months), and I feel like everything I'm buying is gray, camel, or black. And well, I love the odd pop of color. I have a berry coat I'm obsessed with. But maybe this makes me plain or boring, but I really love gray and beige and nut and heather. It's comforting and comfortable, and it makes me want to stand by a bonfire cupping a mug of cocoa in my gloved hands. I am proudly declaring my love of neutral colors. If there's one thing I've learned in my years of fashion missteps, is that I do not have the fashion eye or taste required to be "trendy." For proof see the lovely ensemble I put together one summer trip to NYC after my senior year of high school-pink Uggs, short denim skirt, bright pink, bedazzled tank top and a denim coat-it was like the slutty version of the Canadian tuxedo and with PINK uggs! This is what happens when I try to be trendy. So I'm trying to find what I like and stick with it. And darn it I like beige!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

it must be love.

There's always something magical about the change from August to September. Maybe it's the new crispness present in the night air. A cool breeze running through a warm day, suggesting things to come. Yellow pencils and pink erasers in the aisles of Target. Scarves and coats pulled out of moth boll scented storage. There's a part of all of these things that make the slow, hazy climb from summer to fall feel so especially acute the first days of September.

But nothing fills me with more end of summer, beginning of fall magic than the two weeks of tennis at the US Open. The ads for the tournament this year use the catchphrase, "it must be love", and well, judging from my irrational, besotted behavior while the US Open is on, it must be. How else to explain the hours upon hours I spend watching grown men and women swat little yellow balls across a net at each other? During the US Open, time becomes an unnecessary way to measure the days. Instead hours and minutes are counted by points and games and sets. I know that evening has arrived when the lights come on and flood Arthur Ashe stadium with a preternatural glow. During the US Open, I go to bed thinking of tennis and wake up thinking of tennis. Whereas other days are spent on to do lists and calendar schedules, US Open days revolve around order of play. I become a part time meteorologist, checking in on the weather in NYC, inspecting satellite images for tell tale signs of rain, that most persistent and relentless foe of a tennis fan. For two weeks at the end of every August and beginning of September, I live and die by scorelines. I dissect draws and curse the gods when a favorite goes out. I shout at my television and cover my eyes. If I have long finger nails going into the US Open, they are completely gone at the end of the two weeks. I find myself caring desperately about a wild card or a qualifier who until that week I may never have heard of. I will aging players that I've followed for years to fight. I can't tear my eyes away.

It must be love. Because why else would I forsake all other television for two weeks. I'm a TV person. Normally I chart my weekdays by what TV is on that night. During the US Open I could care less. My television is on ESPN 2 from 11am until sometimes well past midnight. I watch tennis on mute while I work. I watch it while I eat. I poke my head out of the shower to hear the score. I submit friends to this insanity as well. I arrange plans around the US Open. I beg off responsibilities. It isn't normal. It isn't sensible. But my God it's love.

 And why? Why would I love a tennis tournament so damn much? Why would I let it break my heart or fill me with exhilaration? I love all tennis, and follow the other grand slams almost as closely, but there's something about the one in New York. Maybe it's because it's in the same time zone and I don't have to wake up at two in the morning to watch a match like I do for the Australian Open. Maybe it's because the US Open is my country's open, and I'm simply doing my patriotic duty. But I think the real reason is that while all tennis is about stories, the US Open always knows how to tell a great one.

There's a million overlapping narratives present in any grand slam, stories that collide and intersect and meet in the middle over the course of two weeks. I always try to explain this to non tennis fans. It's why I love this sport so much. In tennis, there's the story of the calendar year, this grand, messy Dickensian arc, with a shifting point of view and a million different voices. And within this story there are spectacular flame outs, injuries, come backs, rivalries, talent squandered and promise finally realized. There are heroes who dominate the field, villains who upset the favorites, and journey men- day players who show up and do their best and who are good, brave even, but never great.  There are the stories of the smaller tournaments, slim novellas that may lack heft but which can contain beauty or ruin nonetheless. And of course, there are the stories of the majors, and the thousands of stories contained within.

And at the US Open those stories just seem to be amplified. Maybe it's the bright night session lights, or just the energy of NYC, but every story in New York feels vital. I love how you can immerse yourself in a grand slam the way you can in few other sporting events. It's not just a diversion on a Monday night or an afternoon in front of the TV. As a tennis fan, for two solid weeks the stories of a grand slam become a part of your life. And like I said before, there are hundreds of different narratives, heated battles carried out for hours on outer courts, quick and ruthless dominance by the top players on the show courts. There's the story of the elements, mercilessly hot days where even the fittest players become staggering zombies, where tennis stops being about a ball and a racket and starts being about who has the strongest will to survive. There are the days when upsets seem to get carried by the wind, gripping the whole tournament as unseeded players find a way to change their careers, change their lives, and play above themselves for a few short hours, defeating higher ranked players who everyone thought would win. There are the aging men and women, who come into every tournament knowing it may be their last, willing their bodies and minds not to yield, not just yet.

There are the epic chokes and the equally epic comebacks, guys who squander a lead or guys who crawl their way back from the abyss. This is tennis at its highest stage. There's no room to hide. And you watch so many players fail to live up to a grand slam, who have all the talent in the world but who for some reason can't find a way to use it. But then there are the players who have squeezed every ounce of talent out of their game, whose passion and heart and fight carry them from round to round, garnering fans along the way. And of course the fans are part of the story. They are the Greek chorus to every match, particularly the ones that go the distance. Best of five set tennis is what I believe makes this sport so great. Because there's nothing like a fifth set in a grand slam tennis match, where the rest of the match is rendered irrelevant. Because no matter how long it's been or how the games have played out, suddenly these two players are on even ground, and it's no longer just about technique or fitness. It's more than anything about who can mentally pull it off, and the crowd is such a huge part of that. I like that in tennis fans sit during points, because there's nothing quite like the sight of tens of thousands of people simultaneously exploding out of their seats.

And there's no story better than the story of a night match at the Open. This is what a tennis fan lives for. It's pure electricity. It's the antithesis of Wimbledon, a tournament I also love, but one which is about tennis as poetry and art and precision. A night match at the US Open is about tennis as theater and heart and fight. I have so many memories of watching night matches at the Open, from back when I was just a kid. I can remember seeing the clock creep past midnight and beyond, knowing I had school the next day, but not caring at all. I can remember jumping on my bed, cheering vociferously but mutely (it was the middle of the night after all), or pulling my hair out with frustration. I can remember matches that ended in tears (on my part and the part of the players) or matches that ended in giddy relief.

The US Open is a story that I come back to year after year, and will always come back to. And of course there are the days where the matches are routine and the commentators are boring. There are the days when my favorites lose. But every day begins the same way, as a blank state. And as a fan you know that every day, every match, every game, every point, there is the possibility for greatness, for a moment that is bigger than the players or the venue or sport itself. For two weeks we all live on the brink of that greatness, and sometimes we reach it.

So yes, it must be love. And it always will be.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


In honor of this most hallowed of days, 90210 day, I present you with this outstanding clip wherein Gossip Girl is given the full Beverly Hills treatment.

Gossip Girl wishes it could be as awesome as 90210. I vaguely remember watching this show in the early 90s when it was actually on, when I was far too young to be watching such things (perks of having older siblings). But my full love for 90210 came in college when thanks to Soap Net (soon to be no more, sad) I was able to watch all 29 seasons of this show in chronological order. It got to the point where I was scheduling classes around the 2 hour block in the day when 90210 was on. I am so serious.

Friday, August 27, 2010

this song.

This song "When the Night Comes" by Dan Auerbach hurts my heart it's so beautiful. God aren't the best songs always the saddest ones?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

i die.

Can someone please buy me all of Madewell's new fall looks? Please, pretty, pretty please! I pretty much am in lust with all of them, but here are some of my favorites:

This dress.

This blazer.

This scarf.

This sparkly blazer. Oh how I love a sparkly cover up.

This blouse.

And oh, these boots.
Aren't these all just so beautiful and feminine and lovely? And don't they make you so excited for fall, for crisp afternoons and golden leaves and brunswick stew and chilly nights with whisps of breath in the air.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bali: Part One

Tara, Caitlyn, and me in Bali, near Lovina

I saw Eat, Pray, Love last night, and during the Bali parts I sat back in my seat with a wide, idiotic grin plastered across my face. Even on film Bali is irrepressible. It seemed too big for the movie theater, like it would suddenly explode and cover everything and everyone in green and gold, soak the seats with incense smoke. Yet as I watched Julia Roberts bike across rice paddies, I couldn't help but feel that my own memories of Bali, nearly a year after I was there, are starting to fade. They're not as vivid or as sharp as they first were. And I know the more time passes, the blurrier they'll get, until one day they'll just be pixels, fragments of color and sound that have lost their connective thread. And so I want to continue where I left off many months ago, with my traveler tales about the five weeks I spent backpacking around SE Asia after my ESL stint ended. I last wrote about Railay, the first stop on our trip, and I should really be writing about Ko Phi Phi or Malaysia, since those came first. But because Eat, Pray, Love brought Bali right back to the forefront of my mind, I'm going to skip ahead a little. I want to put everything down I can about Bali, because even if my memory is shot I want to have a way of going back there, back to a place that has refused to let go of me more than anywhere else I visited. I want to be able to see the terraced rows of green rice paddies, the gray volcano on the horizon, packs of dolphin breaking through a sea surface streaked with orange from the rising sun. I'm ready now to go back there.

It started in the airport in Kuala Lumpur, this thing that continued to happen over the course of the next ten days. I would think one thing, presume something, and then be proven completely wrong. My flight was delayed by several hours, and I was alone, because my two friends had booked their tickets separately on an earlier flight to Denpasar (the capital of Bali). So I did the best thing you can do for a few hours in an airport, made myself comfortable in a bar. The bar was full but I found the last open table. I ordered a ridiculously expensive glass of wine and opened a ridiculously expensive American magazine. A few feet away a table full of drunken Australians laughed and talked and generally made more noise than all of the other patrons combined. As I went back to my magazine, a man showed up at my table. He was in his late 20s or early 30s, very handsome, and wearing an apologetic smile. He asked if I minded if he sat down, since there was nowhere else free in the bar. I told him it was fine, asked him a few cursory small talk questions like where he was heading (Singapore, where he lived and worked), where he was from (Perth, Australia) etc. Then as he ordered a beer I went back to my magazine. Now if this was a romantic comedy the sudden arrival of a handsome stranger at my table would be the best possible thing to happen. But in real life I was a little unnerved. Maybe it's because I'm shy and have a hard time coming up with small talk with strangers.  Maybe it's because after five months in Asia I had learned to mistrust foreign men (don't get me started on the hordes of gross, old men in Thailand who come to Asia for the sole purpose of purchasing young Asian prostitutes). Maybe I just really wanted to read my magazine. But I was a little uncertain. Maybe we'd just sit in silence and share the table. But then he asked me another question, what I have no idea, and I answered. And suddenly we weren't just making small talk. We were talking to one another. We were having a conversation, a really great one, and maybe I was in a romantic comedy after all, maybe it really did work this way in real life!

My flight got delayed again. His flight was also delayed. He ordered me another glass of wine. And we proceeded to have one of the best conversations of my life, about travel, about drunk Australians (as an Australian himself he was very familiar with the type), about our families and histories. When it finally came time for my flight to leave, I said goodbye and took his business card. His name was Liam, and I wish we could say we're married and have two kids now. But it wasn't that romantic comedy, more the wistful, brief but beautiful connection only to never see each other again kind. But I will always remember the two hours I spent in an airport bar in Kuala Lumpur talking with Liam. It would have been easier for me to keep reading that magazine in silence, but instead I chose to open myself up and talk with a stranger. And all of my worst suspicions and fears were proven wrong. Like I said this was only to be the first of many times this happened over the course of the next ten days.

In the pouring rain our plane left Malaysia and landed in Bali two hours later. When I walked out of the airport in Denpasar it was hot and humid, even though it was past midnight. My friends were waiting for me on the sidewalk (the whole time I was drinking and chatting up handsome Australian businessmen, they were hanging out at the Bali airport waiting for my flight to get in, sorry guys!). But they weren't alone. Without leaving the airport they had already befriended two Balinese men, one of whom was a driver (I would say taxi driver, but 1) that is such an understatement as to what he does and 2) he drives a minivan). I was greeted warmly and by name by the Balinese men. They had already apparently heard a lot about me. "And now we go to the guest house?" one said, who had introduced himself as Guspur. I looked at my friends with a wary eye. If there was one thing I had learned from my travels was to never trust a driver who approaches you at an airport, bus station, train station, helipad, etc. More than likely they are on commission and will take you directly to some roach infested hell hole that's not even that cheap. But there was no official looking taxi stand and it was late so I agreed. We climbed into the van, and Guspur told us that since he was from Denpasar he knew of lots of good guest houses.

"Well," I said, as politely as I could. "We'd really like to go to this one." I read out the name of the guest house from the Lonely Planet. Guspur hadn't heard of it. He shook his head in concern. But using my best authoritative voice, I asked if we could please be taken to that one. I'm not a cynical person. I like to believe the best in people. But sometimes when traveling I can be somewhat guarded. Maybe it's because at that point in Asia I had already had my wallet, camera, cell phone, i-pod, credit cards, passport, and flip flops stolen, but I wasn't going to just trust anybody. Guspur dutifully took us to the guest house, not without lots of concerned murmuring and suggestions that it might be closed. We arrived to a modest looking compound with a locked front gate, but we buzzed as instructed in the Bible (aka Lonely Planet), and were ushered in by an older Balinese couple. All of our bags were still in Guspur's car. I suggested that one of my friends stay with the bags (oh how I cringe when I recall these things now, but in my defense at that point in my trip I really couldn't afford to have more of my personal belongings stolen), while we checked out the room. The guest house was a compound of smaller buildings with a small shrine decorated with red and yellow flowers(as was per usual) and a covered area with low tables and mats for eating. The room was clean and big and had running water and AC. That was all it took for us to be sold. We got our bag from Guspur who told my friend, Caitlyn. that he would see us the next day.

At the look on my face she explained that Guspur had offered to drive us up to Lovina (a town on the north coast of the island of Bali) and stop along the way at various sites. Once again my scam red flag went off, but after some cranky bickering we agreed on a modified version of the plan. I fully admit now that Caitlyn was completely right. I was the cynical, jaded traveler convinced everyone was out to get us and that CONSTANT VIGILANCE was the only solution. As we settled into the room there was a knock on the door. Even though it was now past 1 in the morning, the wife and co-owner of the guest house was there with towels, blankets and bottled water. She also asked if we'd like any food, which I can only assume she would have had to cook herself. We told her we were fine, and with a smile she left us. As I fell asleep that night I remember thinking to myself that I already really liked Bali.

Guspur picked us up as promised the next day. He arrived in his white minivan wearing a colorful sarong, a white Western style shirt, and a scarf tied around his head. The night before I thought he was in his 40s, but on closer inspection he looked to be younger. That was one of the continual mysteries of the trip, the true age of Guspur. He loaded all of our gear into his van, ushered us inside and then handed us packages of jack fruit chips, for the drive he explained as if he were the indulgent parent and we were his children. As we drove, Guspur alternated between official tour guide type speeches (that monument is for that, this town is such and such), questions about our lives and personal details about his own. He talked at length about other tourists he had driven around. He loved Americans, but as we soon found out he loved all of his charges. Guspur it turned out was not simply a tour driver but a musician, music produce, radio dj, and soccer coach. He had an unabashed love of American music and he played us mixed CDs throughout the drive which alternated between ACDC and Kenny Loggins. At one point he slipped in a music video he had made for his soccer team. There was a video screen at the front of the van that we all craned our necks to see. Intercut with footage of the team were shots of Guspur dancing and singing. After a few minutes we also realized that he was the one singing on the track. To put it mildly he was something of a Balinese renaissance man.

Guspur also knew his Balinese history and geography. On the way to Lovina he took us to the water temple, a beautiful, misty Hindu temple set on a lake up at a higher altitude. We got out of the car to a temperature a good twenty degrees cooler than in Denpasar (only about an hour away, Bali is about the size of Delaware). The temple was centuries old and one of the most peaceful places you can imagine, stone statues of various gods rising straight from the water, fog surrounding all of it, while gentle waves lap against the shore.

Bali is the only Hindu island in all of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country on Earth. It has a similar topography to Hawaii (judging from pictures I've seen and episodes of Lost), flat near the coast but rising sharply into jagged mountains and volcanoes inland. To get to Lovina we had to go to the highest possible altitude in Bali then back down. While half listening to Guspur's various tales and stories, I watched out the window as the island went by. I couldn't, still can't, believe how beautiful it all was. Green wasn't supposed to be that green. It was the lushest land you can imagine, every shade of emerald, in the rice paddies, in the palm trees and bushes. But then against all of this deep green was every possible color, colors you've only dreamed of. I saw flowers so delicate and patterned it looked like they were made of silk. I saw every possible fruit and vegetable, ones you usually only find imported from miles away, just growing by the side of the road, cocoa and vanilla bean, avocado and mango, chilis and bananas and durian fruit and rambutan. The only word for it is bounty, this mythical idea of an endlessly fertile Eden come to life in front of my eyes. Dark crags of mountains and volcanoes ranged in the distance, and once we were up in those mountains a shimmering blue sea came into view. It seemed impossible that there was so much beauty on this tiny island. I kept waiting for something ugly to even it out, some hideous scar in the scenery, but instead I only saw more beauty, waterfalls and quiet lakes in the craters of dead volcanoes.

We passed hundreds of temples, ranging from tiny stone structures to massive, ancient buildings draped in colorful silk and long garlands of bright yellow flowers. Women lit incense offerings and placed them on shrines decorated with palm fronds and pink and yellow rice. Children in school uniforms waved as we drove by. We drove past cows and massive black pigs (either alive or roasting on spits). In one area we drove past dozens of monkeys, sitting idly by the road, completely bored by cars and people. And then finally after driving through the town of Singaraja (translation: Lion King! also as Guspur solemnly informed us the hottest spot in all of Bali, and that's saying something) we reached Lovina. The happening beach scene in Bali is in the south. That's where the fabulous expats stay in the fabulous five star hotels and go to fabulous restaurants. But Lovina is a little less fabulous. If you know Charleston, I'd say Lovina is the off season Folly Beach of Bali, a little grungy, a little quirky, but on closer inspection, quiet and laid back, pretty and full of charm. We had decided to stay three nights there, because we were all exhausted and burnt out from a hectic five days of non-stop travel in Malaysia. And to facilitate our relaxation, we decided to find a quiet, comfortable, guest house by the beach. And oh did we ever. This may be my absolute favorite place I stayed during my time in Asia.

Guspur, once again murmuring in worry and uncertainty (wouldn't we rather stay where his good friends stayed the time they were in Lovina?), turned down a dirt road littered with holes and rocks. There were a couple of driveways for other guest houses, but mostly the area seemed rural and quiet. After a bumpy couple of minutes we arrived at the guest house. We hadn't pre-booked, but within seconds our bags were out of the van and into a stunning room on the first floor, a couple of feet away from the pool. The entire guest house was comprised of only six rooms, and only two of them were in use during our stay. As the men at the guest house unloaded our bags, Guspur stood in the doorway, clucking and muttering. Were we sure we were okay? Did we need him to stick around? Were we being over-charged? After assuring him we were okay and making plans for him to pick us up in three days, we did the only logical thing to do in this situation, took a seat at the small open air restaurant by the pool and ordered a very large beer and some food. There was a tiny kitchen right off the kitchen with only one or two people in it at any time. If we ordered mangoes or bananas they simply walked to a tree and picked some. Even in the late afternoon the heat was incredible. If Singraja was the hottest town in Bali, then Lovina might have been a close second.

But I didn't care. Surrounding the pool and guest house was lush greenery and explosions of purple or blue flowers. I could see cows a little farther off, and beyond them was the ocean. Everything was quiet and soft. No cars drove by. We ventured out a little later to the beach and had to basically walk through a tiny Balinese village to get to it. The beaches in Lovina are black sand, the result of volcanic ash accumulated over centuries, and while it was nowhere near as spectacular as Railay, it was still pretty gorgeous, relaxed in a remote, rural kind of way. How many other beaches do you go to next to an active farming community?

On our first night we found a restaurant on the water, the kind I had become so used to in Thailand where you can eat with your toes in the sand. There were a good number of foreigners but also a few Balinese people. We chatted with a table full of Balinese guys who made us promise to come out to a club on the outskirts of town (we didn't). We ordered some really good seafood as well as some incredibly bland variations on Western food including a very sad plate of nachos. But the food was kind of besides the point. The insane heat of the day had softened, but the night was still warm and pleasant. Waves softly crashed a few yards away. I slid off my flip flops and let my feet rest in the sand. And next to us a band played Western standards that were so heavily accented the lyrics were unrecognizable. There's something downright poetic about listening to a Jason Mraz song when even though the lyrics are sung in English they might as well be in Balinese. But that's the great thing about Bali, at least if you're not staying in one of the five star hotels. It's not Disney World or Times Square where everything is rehearsed and shiny and perfect. Instead Bali, even with its physical beauty, is perfectly imperfect, full of mangled lyrics and missing teeth and cows on the beach.

After dinner we planned on going out for a drink, but the nightlife in Lovina is not exactly what you would call lively. As we admitted defeat and began to walk back to our guest house though, we heard live music. Across the street there was a tiny bar with a band, just one guy on a microphone, one on the drums, and another on the guitar. At the bar stood or sat some Balinese guys. When they saw us craning our necks to see what was going on, they motioned for us to come in. And because who could resist cute Balinese boys playing music, we went inside. For a while we sat at the bar while the band played. Every so often another Balinese guy would drift in, usually someone who worked in a hotel or as a tour guide getting off work. They always greeted us with friendly questions and big smiles. As with the band from the restaurant, this one had a big book of Western songs that we could request. Their repertoire was a little smaller and a few of our requests were met with blank stares, but most were taken up enthusiastically, everything from Bruce Springsteen to Radio Head (they loved Radio Head). And of course Jason Mraz. I heard his song "I'm Yours" every single time I went out anywhere in South East Asia.

When it was close to midnight they told us they had to stop, because of noise laws in the town. But no one really wanted the night to end and so we all moved to a booth at the very back at the bar and continued the concert, unplugged. The beautiful Balinese boys (and they were beautiful, one named Made, pronounced Ma day, had what my mother likes to refer to as bedroom eyes, and all three of us girls were practically drooling by the end of the night) sang and strummed guitar. One grabbed a small, hand held drum. And in soft voices, they kept on singing, blowing through all of the hits of our American childhood and adolescence, Third Eye Blind, Wheezer, James Blunt; I believe there was even some Nickelback in there. They were talented and wonderful. We were tipsy and tone deaf (at least on my part) but we sung along with enthusiasm. At some point some drunk Germans wandered in and joined us. One of them kept requesting Lady Gaga and getting deeply upset when they wouldn't play one of her songs.

If I could have stayed in that booth forever I would have. It was the closest I will ever get in life to an Almost Famous bus moment, where suddenly you're having this group sing along and what starts as silly and ironic turns into earnest and meaningful and you know you should probably be making fun of yourself but it's just too damn lovely. And that was Lovina, absolutely lovely, all of it.

One morning we went dolphin watching at the crack of dawn, and even though the dolphins spent most of their time racing away from all the crazy tourists, they did make some spectacular leaps. And even though we muttered bitterly over the lack of coffee (it was five in the morning, they promised us coffee!) it was hard to be jaded once the sun began to rise over the mountains behind us, soft hints of pale orange at first and then all at once a brilliant gold that glinted off the dark ocean all around us.

Another day one of the men who worked at our guest house took us on a little tour expedition to go to a coffee plantation and see a famous waterfall. He was not quite as chatty as Guspur, but he also knew his way around a minivan. It was the day before an important Hindu festival on the day we went, and so he took us by a temple to see the preparations. He told us that on that day all of the women in the community went to their local temple. They would help use rice flour to bake little cakes that would be part of the next day's festivities. Women of every age went, and mothers even took their babies. At the temple we were given sarongs to cover up our legs and shown around by a toothless man who claimed to have over a dozen children and possibly multiple wives. Interspersed with the legitimate information he gave us about the temple and Balinese history were some very colorful jokes about some of the more suggestive carvings on the temple walls. But he was so exuberant and joyful that it was impossible to get weirded out. We watched the women in the temple as they rolled out white, pink, and yellow rice flour and pounded it into shapes. They smiled at us, but then continued dutifully with their work.

After we left the temple, our guide took us to the coffee farm of a family he knew. Our guide sat down in their house to have a snack and waved at us. One of the family's sons would accompany us to the bottom of the waterfall, which judging from our guide's aversion to continue onwards, was a decent hike. We followed our new mini-guide down a long path, starting in concrete and then becoming dirt. All along the path was a virtual Whole Foods of produce, every possible fruit or vegetable you could think of side by side. We passed the boy's grandmother who was surrounded by a crowd of his younger cousins and siblings. We passed women washing clothes in creeks and chickens strutting around outside of houses. Every so often a Western tourist or two would pass us on the way back up, their faces flushed and breathing hard. It was soon apparent why. We came to an overlook and saw a massive waterfall gushing down a sheer cliff. The bottom of that waterfall and our destination was down several hundred very steep stone steps.

Somehow I managed to only fall once (and only when we were at the bottom and on slippery rocks). But even with a sizable bruise forming on my butt, I knew it had been worth it. Where we stood at the bottom of the waterfall felt like we were on a different island entirely. It was cool and breezy. A heavy mist hung in the air and the sound of massive amounts of water crashing on rock filled the valley. As soon as we got close the mist turned into a full fledged spray. Even a good twenty feet away we were soaked within seconds. A pool spread out beneath the waterfall, its surface a never ending ripple. I looked up and saw the origin of the fall far above. I cannot describe how incredible this was, how much power and raw force was in that waterfall. Tiny rainbows criss crossed in the air as the sun hit the streams of water pooling down the surface of the rock. I reached down into the cool water and found a smooth, round pebble, probably made that way from years of pressure. I put it in my pocket, because at that moment I knew it wasn't enough just to leave that place. I needed a way to keep a piece of it with me.

Our day ended with a traditional Balinese meal at a quiet restaurant across from the ocean. I sat and watched a man in a cone shaped hat work in the rice paddy next to us. Once again I was struck by how impossibly green it all was, how it looked like someone had fiddled with the color enhancement and over saturated the entire island.

And I ate this, and I did the most annoying thing a tourist can do and took a picture of my food, but it was just so freaking gorgeous:

Coconut rice, fish and pork satays, shrimp, vegetables in coconut milk, crispy skinned chicken. Full and happy we went back to the hotel for the evening in Lovina. I think I spent three hours in the pool, lounging in the shallow end reading a book. And then when our stomachs had stopped expanding, we sat at the restaurant and ate appetizers and sipped beers. We had planned on going out, but there was a city wide blackout, something that is apparently common in Lovina. But the people who worked at the guest house simply brought out candles and told us everything on the menu was still available. The beer was still cold. The food could still keep coming. The birds and bugs chirped in the background. And when the lights finally did come back on, it hardly mattered.

I've written a ridiculous amount, but I still feel like I'm missing things about Lovina. Like the night we went out to an Internet cafe, and a man came up selling necklaces made of cocount shells and shells from the beach. As was my usual inclination, I tried to say no thank you. But like many Balinese, this man was a little more persistent. Would we each like a free necklace, as a gift to our mothers? And how could we really say no to that. So he sat with us and let us pick out our necklace (and of course we all proceeded to buy five more, clever man), but in the space of minutes he went from a tout I would go out of my way to avoid to a new friend. He asked if we would mind if he sat and had a drink with us. And then as it always happened in Bali, our lives simply spilled out, details exchanged, stories told, everything effortless and easy.

I was proven wrong again, proven that it's okay to trust someone when all of your instincts say to do the opposite. And that was just Bali. You go there as an American with your guard up and your scam filter turned to high. And every single day things happen to break that apart. Bali fills you up and gets under your skin and removes every single cynical defense you may have. You want to believe it's smoke and mirrors because you can't understand how anywhere could be so beautiful, how any people could be so kind and open. But the longer you're there the more you realize that maybe it really is that beautiful, maybe the people really are that kind.

That's the very long story of my first three days in Bali, an island which in 72 hours had thoroughly found its way into my heart. To be fair, I never really stood a chance.

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